Writing a picture book – Tania McCartney

Today Tania McCartney is celebrating the launch of her newest picture book — Tottie and Dot — with a Blog Blast. She’s visiting a whole truckload of blogs all day today. Heaps of them. (A special welcome if you’ve blog-hopped from somewhere else to read this post!) 

Firstly, a bit about the book. Here’s what the publisher says:

Tottie and Dot live side by side. They drink marshmallow tea in the morning. Side-by-side. They water blooms in the afternoon garden. Side-by-side. They make speckled eggs for tea. Side-by-side. All is calm and peaceful until, one day, things change between Tottie and Dot.

Tottie and Dot cover

How long did it take you to write Tottie and Dot — from solid idea to having the final draft ready to submit to a publisher for consideration?

Timings are so hard to delineate! I write very fast, so the actual original writing time spent on this picture book would have been less than a day. I wrote the first draft back in 2010, and pottered with it on and off (I usually have many picture book manuscripts going at once). That same year, I submitted the text to a couple of publishers with no result, then again in 2011. In 2012, I submitted a revised version to the CYA awards and although it didn’t place, it scored highly and I received some very encouraging words from the judges, so I felt inspired to rework it one more time. It was accepted by EK Books in April 2013, almost immediately upon submission.

So, EK Books accepted it in April 2013. How long did it take the book to be published? (From acceptance to publication.)

From April 2013, I began liaising with my illustrator (and friend) Tina Snerling on the design and layout and imagery for the book. Tina had already worked with me on An Aussie Year so we had a really great working relationship, and were very familiar with how each other worked. Tina began drafting what Tottie and Dot would look like, and in July 2013, she sent through a first glimpse of Tottie and Dot.

tottie and dot july 2013


It was instant love. I adored them on sight. I loved the fuchsia pink but I did ask Tina to make the blue a little more aqua, and the result was wonderful.

From there, we set up a google spreadsheet (August 2013) and began working on the page layout and matching imagery with text. This continued through to around late January 2014, so I guess it was roughly six months all-up from acceptance to finished files. Next came the printing period, and as the distributor is Scholastic, we needed a long lead time before publication — hence the gap between our January end-of-production date and the book’s September release. This kind of timeframe is pretty standard — oftentimes even longer.

How do you like to write the very first draft for a picture book like Tottie and Dot? Are you a pencil-and-paper fan, computer … ?

I find it really, really hard to write longhand now. I’ve been pretty much typing since I was 11 and type up to 100wpm (but I don’t touch type!), so using a keyboard is really the only way for me. It’s especially helpful because I write quickly, my brain works quickly, and I need the speed to get the words down in time. Sometimes I pen part of some texts in a notebook, but it’s very rare. I like to work at home, in complete silence, but if I’m researching or drawing or revising, I do love to write in cafes (always on a laptop).

OK! Tottie and Dot is out in the wilds — what are you working on now? 

Tina and I are midway through our next EK book—it’s called Peas in a Pod and is a picture book for slightly younger readers. It’s fun and kooky, and Tina’s draft illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. A glimpse:

Peas in a pod preview

It’s going to be very colourful and retro in style. I’m also working with a new illustrator — Jess Racklyeft — who I met on my 52-Week Illustration Challenge. She creates soft, whimsical illustrations that are perfect for my tender picture book Smile Cry — a topsy-turvy picture book for 2 — 7 year olds, where half the story starts at one end of the book, and the other half from the other end! Both books will be out 2015/2016. I’m chipping away at several more picture books and I’m also writing some junior fiction — Ava Bloom, and older junior fiction — Ella McZoo. I’m absolutely loving this genre.

Do you have a piece of advice for writers trying to get that first (finished-and-submission-ready) picture book manuscript submitted and accepted?

I have more than one piece! Let your work ‘breathe’, allowing it to sit for at least a month before redraftings. These revisits will help hone and make it much better, but don’t fall into the trap of overworking. Remember, a publisher will always value a great story idea well over perfect, grammatically immaculate text. Write what you know and love, and whatever you do, write something different. Don’t do what’s been done before. Be sure your narrative is clear and tight, and has a firm story arc, with a solid beginning, middle and most especially — a great ending. Your work should be a story not an account. It needs plot points, twists, conflict and resolution. Add humour, charm and strong, active characters that kids can relate to. When submitting, carefully research your publisher and align it with your work. And lastly, don’t give up. I know it’s a cliché, but just don’t give up. Publishing is a game of perennial patience.

Tania and Tina (Tottie and Dot’s illustrator) are stopping by lots and lots of blogs today. Click on the flyer below to be taken to the Grand List of All Blog Stops:

tottie and dot blog blast flyer

In my garden – September 2014

I love pottering around in our (rather small) kitchen garden and I like to plant seeds rather than seedlings. I’ve got some seed packets of vegetables — heirloom varieties — but last year lots of the seeds I planted directly in the soil didn’t germinate. So this year (three weeks ago, in fact) I decided to try planting them in seed-raising trays and then planting them out. Here are some before shots:

seed tray

In this tray I sowed seeds of lettuce, sunflowers, beetroot, tomatoes, tansy, and capsicum. (There were actually two trays like this, but they looked exactly alike, so … well … you know.)


In this tray I sowed cucumbers.

My kids eat a lot — A LOT — of cucumbers. So, in the second tray I planted three varieties of cucumber: burpless, mini lebanese, and lemon. These are in cups I can plant straight into the soil and the cups will break down naturally as the seedlings grow. (Cucumbers don’t like to be disturbed too much, so this makes transplanting them easier. <– I almost sound like I know what I’m doing, don’t I? Ha!)

Two weeks later — ta-daa!

seed raising tray 2 weeks

Magic! (The giants are sunflowers.)

Only 4 out of 12 sunflowers germinated, but then they took off pretty quickly. The second biggest are lettuces. I sense a few salads in our future …

cucumbers after

Very happy cucumbers. Look at them grow!

I planted the cucumbers and the sunflowers into the ground today. Spring is here!

Do you grow your own veggies or fruit?

Writing in Winter

The winter months have been busy ones. The most exciting Busy Thing was that I set off to the east coast of Australia for the SCBWI* conference in Sydney. I caught up with so many authors and illustrators I don’t get to see very often (because they live on the east coast of Australia). Mostly I forgot to take photos because I was too busy conferencing, oops. But here I am catching up with the lovely Katrina Germein when I did manage to organise a photo:

With Katrina Germein

With Katrina Germein (I’m the shiny one. Hmm.)

When I got back to Perth I was feeling inspired and started work on my long-neglected idea for a middle grade novel. (You should feel free to applaud). It doesn’t have a title yet. I’m still thinking.

Then I was feeling brave and I signed myself up to a writing course through the Australian Writers’ Centre (specifically: this one) as a sort of Personal Development because mostly I write picture books and poetry and tackling a story as long as a novel is a bit scary sometimes. (It turns out I’m a very succinct writer.)

And when I haven’t been writing I’ve been preparing my tiny garden for spring. More on that in another post soon. (Because I do get excited about my tiny garden and Growing Stuff.)

I can’t underestimate the importance of Distraction and Procrastination in the writing process. So, this morning I found myself looking longingly at this site featuring 10 Stunning Writing Studios. I can’t decide which one I covet most — possibly number 2. (I’m thinking of creating my own 10 Inordinately Unimpressive Writing Studios list. At least I’d have a faint hope of making the cut for that list … )

Lastly — What I should be doing: taking up Sally Murphy’s latest Poetry Tag challenge. She’s thrown me some new words. I’d better get to that this week …

* SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. If you write — or illustrate — for children you should check them out. Really. 

My latest poem

I’m just stopping in quickly to say you can now read my latest poem on the Poetry Tag site. Sally Murphy’s words for me this time were:





At a first glance they feel like they belong in a loud-ish sort of poem, don’t you think?

Oh, and Happy Start of Winter, too!

~ Rebecca

Odd Socks

On Friday I found a yellow envelope in my post office box with two copies of The School Magazine. This was because I have a poem published in the June issue of their ‘Blast Off’ magazine. (If you get it at your school, my poem is on page 7, it’s called ‘Odd Socks’.). I was especially thrilled to see Kerry Millard‘s gorgeous illustrations to go with it. Lucky me!

Then on Saturday my Poetry Tag pal Sally Murphy (who was in Sydney for the CBCA conference over the weekend) sent me this exciting tweet:

Sally Murphy tweet

I like to think that someone in the audience might have been wearing odd socks. I was actually wearing odd socks at the time but I was also on the other side of the country so I couldn’t prove it.

You never know what might happen when you wear odd socks …

The Writing Process Blog Hop

I’ve been tagged by Lorraine Marwood to answer four questions in the Writing Process Blog Hop. (Thanks, Lorraine!) You’ll find my answers further down this post  — but first, a bit about Lorraine …

Lorraine Marwood


Lorraine is an award-winning writer. She has several poetry collections out (Guinea Pig Town is her most recent) and another poetry collection will be out in 2015. Lorraine also writes stories, novels, and verse novels.

Check out her website and don’t forget to read her ‘Tagged’ post, too where you can find out about her writing process and what she’s working on at the moment.

And now, my answers.

1. What am I working on?

A folktale-style picture book. It’s a bit dark. I’m also building a collection of children’s poems. I’ve been having fun experimenting with skipping rhymes because my youngest daughter and her best friend really love skipping and the rhythm gets into my head and won’t leave me alone …

And there’s always a new poem to tackle for Poetry Tag whenever it’s my turn to write one.

2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Music features strongly in most of my writing. I’m sure that’s why I especially love writing (and reading) children’s poetry, I love the  rhythm and musicality of it.

3. Why do I write what I write?

I suppose it’s the result of years and years of filling my head with the sorts of books and poems I read. The age I remember best from my childhood was 8 to 10 and the 8 to 10-year old me does a lot of my writing. I like stories and poems that stick to kids’ bones and stay with them forever and I’d like mine to be like that too.

4. How does my writing process work?

What I do is walk around with my particular story (or poem) in my head for a long time. Weeks. Months. Every time I go out for a walk, the words shuffle themselves in my head and I go over and over them. And then, when the first draft is pretty much all there in my head ready to go, I sit down and write it in one go. I use a fountain pen. Once I have the first draft written down, I  type it up and I do the rest of the drafts on the computer.


Time to tag some more writers … here are some of my favourite children’s writers. Keep an eye on their blogs where they’ll be answering the Writing Process questions sometime soon. If they can take a break from scribbling in their notebooks.


cristy burneCristy Burne is the author of zany adventure fiction for kids aged 8 to 12. She has worked as a science circus performer, garbage analyst, Santa’s pixie, and atom-smashing reporter at CERN in Switzerland.

Her first book, Takeshita Demons, was inspired by her years living in Japan, a healthy fear of ghosts, and a plastic head she found in her rubbish bin.

 Check out her website where you can find out more about her and her books.


sandy fussellSandy Fussell lives south of Sydney. She studied mathematics at university, is intensely interested in history, and works in IT. She is the author of Polar Boy and Jaguar Warrior as well as the hugely popular ‘Samurai Kids‘ series.

Check out her website and also her blog. Samurai Kids also has its own site where you can take the ‘Which Samurai Kid Are You?‘ quiz. I got Niya, by the way. 🙂


christina boothChristina Booth lives in Tasmania, near the city in the bush with her family and pets. She works from her studio overlooking a lake and a variety of wildlife where she illustrates her own books and great stories for other authors. Her latest picture book is Welcome Home

[I commissioned Christina to do the artwork for the header of my website. I love her artwork.]

Check out her site for more about her writing and gorgeous illustrations.

Playing tag … with poetry

I love reading poetry (especially out loud) and I’ve been scribbling poems in a notebook for quite a few years now.

2013 was a big year for me poetry-wise. Around the middle of the year The School Magazine sent me an email to say they wanted to publish two of my poems. If you’re in NSW and/or you are a regular reader of The School Magazine, you can read the first of those poems in an issue coming out very, very soon. (It’s a poem about … something quite odd.)

1st Tag

The first words on the poetry tag blog. For Sally!

Then in October 2013 I  started playing Poetry Tag with Sally Murphy. We take it in turns to throw a bunch of words on to the Poetry Tag website, yell ‘Tag! You’re It!’ and then the one on the receiving end has to weave those words into a poem. When they’ve posted a poem, they get a turn at throwing a bunch of words on to the site. It’s just for fun and there aren’t many rules. Other than the rule that the challenge words must be included in the poem, the poem-writer can come up with any sort of poem they like. Sometimes it’s tricky and the challenge words won’t behave and I desperately want them to go into places they won’t. And other times the poems almost write themselves. (Want to read my latest poem? Sally gave me the words ferocious, two, hole and brilliant and I came up with a ferocious poem. )

If you’re stuck in a rut it’s a fun way to get unstuck. You could use our words when they go up on the Poetry Tag website if you like. We’re generous like that. Or you could ask someone sitting nearby to give you some words to play with.