Picture Book Masterclass

So, here’s a confession. Sometimes other people’s talent overwhelms me.

And so it was at the Picture Book masterclass I attended on the weekend. I was expecting people who could write – yes – but here’s the clincher – people who are wonderfully talented artists who can also write – well, they, of course, must have an edge

So often when I’m writing a picture book text, I can see the pictures in my mind. It’s so frustrating when people talk about leaving words out so the pictures can do the talking but surely this can only happen after the illustrator has come to the table – before that you need to communicate your vision and this requires words.

But, I can’t have been too discouraged, because yesterday I sent off three manuscripts. Yes, three. Not, the one I presented to the Masterclass – that still needs a lot of work. But three perfectly good picture book manuscripts that are just waiting to be snatched up 🙂

Erica Wagner, Children's Publisher at Allen & Unwin

Erica Wagner, Children’s Publisher at Allen & Unwin

The day was coordinated by Allen & Unwin’s Faber Academy. And that, of course, was a huge part of the attraction – ah, if only Erica Wagner (Children’s Publisher at A & U) and Jane Godwin (Children’s Publisher at Penguin) could see my work, I’d be ‘discovered’.

Was this what everyone else was thinking in their heart of hearts?

I believe so.



A few techniques we employed:

1.  Get your character to do various things  – walk on the beach, part with something, go somewhere for the first time, get lost, etc.

2. Rewrite your story from a different point of view – ie. change the tense or whether it’s in the first or third person.

3. Make a dummy of your book so you can see where the page breaks are and if you have enough different illustrations. We didn’t actually do this but were shown a few demos. You can see them in the foreground of the shot below – the tiny little 32 page books.


Then we went around the room and read out our stories and Erica and Jane gave us feedback. The literary equivalent of getting off your kit and hopping into a Japanese bath.

There were some stories that were too long and Erica suggested they might be reworked as chapter books. A few of the quirky animal stories (mine was one) needed work on their ‘inner logic’. There were some great stories that just needed a little tweaking.

And then there was the stand-out.

Erica joked that her and Jane would have a ‘bidding war’ in the car park later.

Needless to say, the rest of us  turned into piles of green jelly. Something like this Jelly

Or maybe that was just me…

Jane Godwin shared her picture book tips:

1. Share the vision – leave space for the illustrator.

2. Avoid slightness. Find an inner reason for the story; something important that means something personal to you. Make the personal, real, honest and universal.

3. Let ideas come.

4. Remain relevant to children – try to harness the concerns you had as a child.

5. Refine, revise and read aloud.

And, after the course, I would add one more – create a character that readers will ‘root for’. They don’t have to be a hero; they might even be a wimp but we need to want good things to happen to them.

And don’t worry folks, I have my green-eyed monster under control. Really… o_O


5 thoughts on “Picture Book Masterclass

  1. upcycleblog says:

    I empathise. I did the picture book masterclass last year and the same thing happened in my class but when the going gets tough the get going and I believe keeping going and evolving our work, when it’s not us being picked, is the rite of passage to becoming a professional writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kaye Baillie says:

    Hi Heather, I really enjoyed reading this because I was in that class and chuckled as I shared your feelings. Great overview and I certainly took home some gems of information. Lots of things didn’t sink in until the next day as I went over things again. Good luck with your submissions.

    Liked by 1 person

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