This self-effacing human is Emma Perry. She’s the backstage mastermind that makes My Book Corner happen. Emma spends her time showcasing the work of kidlit authors and illustrators, and bringing the best new books to our attention.
But as you might know, Emma is an author in her own right. Her debut picture book – with illustrator Sharon Davey – is about to hit the shelves, published by David Fickling. It’s called I DON’T LIKE BOOKS. NEVER. EVER. THE END. and I hear it’s pretty special.
So I’ve wrestled Emma out from behind the scenes and coaxed her into the spotlight for a chat, because next week is publication day!
Zoë: Hello Emma. Thanks for taking time out to talk to me about your writing – it’s definitely your turn! So, how did I DON’T LIKE BOOKS come about?
Emma: aaaa, it’s beginning to feel real now! This was one of the very first scripts that I actually tried to write. There are approximately 2,356 drafts! All the advice said, ‘write what you know’ – well, with my time occupied by My Book Corner and International Book Giving Day, it had to be about books, don’t you think?! I loved the idea of books coming to life, imagining what their personalities would be… and that was my starting point.
Initial drafts were set in a library, and Mabel was always there – although she didn’t have a name in early drafts. BUT the books really didn’t behave. In the end, I huffily stuck the script in a drawer for at least twelve months. When I dragged it out again, well, I’d learnt a lot more about writing by then, and the story was ready to be told.
Zoë: This is SO heartening to hear, Emma! Your first tentative steps into book writing, thousands of drafts AND it languished in a drawer for a year – there’s definitely a lesson in quiet determination there.
So, what will readers love most about this book?
Emma: Quiet determination – I like that! I’m hoping readers will enjoy being transported into the stories. Sharon Davey has done an amazing job of conveying that on the page – she’s really ensured that the reader feels like they are somewhere different. I love that!
The team at DFB have got a wonderful eye – matching the script to Sharon was a genius move.
Zoë: Yes! Sharon’s cover art is brilliant – I can’t wait to see inside.
You mentioned ‘writing what you know’, and you really are totally immersed in children’s books – you must have developed a sixth sense for what works and what doesn’t. When you write, are you consciously thinking about ‘the market’ or do you prefer to fling your stories out and see what sticks? (A valid approach, in my opinion!)
Emma: Most of my ideas begin as words or phrases that I like. Or with a character that’s in my head. I don’t consider the market – although maybe I should – to me that feels too prescriptive and takes the fun out of it. I want to write what I find funny and enjoyable, and I want to have fun doing it. Once the idea or title is there, however, it’s always worth double checking that someone else hasn’t already come up with and published the exact same idea, before you get too far down the road!
Zoë: That sounds like a really good balance. I agree, it’s so important to be free in the early stages, to avoid creating a block. Can you tell us a bit more about your writing process? Do you free write? How do you drum up ideas?
Emma: Ideas often appear when I’m not looking for them. I have a notebook I use to jot down funny sounding words and phrases. My latest script came out of one of those phrases… although it had been in the book for AGES!
Zoë: I’ll take heart in that too then! As well as everything else you do, you teach – I’m picturing roomfuls of discerning five-year-olds being used a guinea pigs for your story ideas.
Emma: They are VERY discerning! But, I don’t test out my ideas on them until I have a proof with the illustrations. I always take in heaps of already published picture books with me. What’s really interesting is seeing their reactions, and seeing if they match my thoughts and feelings. It gives me a really good feel for what kids like to see and hear at storytime, and the ways in which a narrative can engage children. Reading out loud to a large group is a whole different ball game to reading at home.
Zoë: And it’s so great when children respond in ways we might not have considered! So, what would your desert island book have been aged five? And ten? And which picture book would you pick now?
Emma: Whaaaaaaaaat?? Pick one book? That’s a crazy idea. Crazy I tell you! Hmmmm, okay, by the time I was into school I remember Mrs Pepperpot making an appearance. I gobbled up as many Faraway Tree books as I could, and then dreamed of moving to America with my best friend at the time, after reading books by Judy Blume. (FYI we were going to spend all our time roller skating next to the beach!)
Zoë: Ah Judy Blume’s books were my obsession! Is there anything you’d like to see more of in children’s publishing today?
Emma: Children’s publishing is absolutely fantastic at the moment – so many talented people out there. What I’d really, really like to see is greater space being given, by the bigger media companies, to children’s books – shouting loudly about the wide, exciting range out there.
Zoë: Hmmm shouting loudly about kids’ books, you say? Right, YOUR SECOND BOOK WILL BE CALLED ‘THIS BOOK HAS ALPACAS AND BEARS’, and it’s illustrated by the marvelous Rikin Parekh. Will you tease us a little and tell us what we can look forward to?
Emma: Marvelous is spot on! He has brought a HIGH level of humour and giggles to our book, that’s for sure. Alfonso is a very excitable alpaca, who gets a little frustrated that there as so many bears in picture books. (There are, aren’t there!). Obviously, Alfonso believes HE should be in a book and well… Let’s just say that involves a series of crazy antics and his long-suffering friend Colin – a bear.
Zoë: It sounds wonderful! And while we’re at it, your other baby International Book Giving Day, is coming up on February 14th. Remind us how we can get involved.
Emma: Ah, International Book Giving Day knocks me sideways every single year. I can’t believe how much it’s grown since it first began – over 44 countries took part last year! How cool is that?! Anyone can get involved simply by gifting books on 14th February – share the love of books. There are free posters, bookmarks and bookplates, created by the talented illustrator Sanne Dufft, which are available to download from the website. There are also plenty of ‘How to’ guides with heaps of info. #BookGivingDay
Zoë: It’s such a brilliant initiative, and I love how it’s just snowballing year after year.
Emma: Me too!
Zoë: So, penultimate question… Now that you’re about to become a published author, what has surprised you most about the publishing process?
Emma: It feels like there is a lot of waiting. Maybe there isn’t, and it’s just because I’m very excited! What I’ve loved about the process is how brilliant David Fickling Books have been – they’ve kept me up to date every step of the way, and they’ve included me in everything. It’s been a great journey and I’ve really felt part of a team that cares.
Zoë: That’s really lovely to hear. Ah yes – the waiting though… *Gazes into the middle distance.*
One last thing, Emma – in anticipation of publication day next Thursday, will you tell us a secret about I DON’T LIKE BOOKS?
Emma: Ooo I’ve got a nice fact for you… straight from Sharon Davey. She has put nearly ONE THOUSAND books into the book! Can you imagine that? Well, I guess you don’t have to – they are there. Tucked inside the cover. A thousand drawings of books! She is superwoman!
Zoë: And so is Emma.
Emma: You are TOO kind. xxx
Can I have my website back now? Please…