Write a story for the Walker Books/Mumsnet Book of Bedtime Stories
In October 2012 Walker Books, Mumsnet and Gransnet launched a writing competition to find 10 bedtime stories for a new children's book.
Whittling the 350 entries down to 10 was no easy task. Then began the process of preparing the winning stories for publication and next, designing the book and finding the right illustrators.
Blog: Designing the Mumsnet Book of Bedtime Stories
This has been such an exciting project to work on. From the moment Michael Rosen gave us his shortlist of the 10 winners it's been a whirlwind of activity – re-reading the texts, building up a visual image of what the stories could look like, and then choosing the illustrators to bring them to life.
The whole process began six months ago when we launched the competition, and we have all been on the lookout for new illustration talent, keeping a clippings folder in the office and scouring the degree shows. It's been heartening to see the amount of talent out there, and it's been a pleasure to work with all of the illustrators, who have brought a wealth of creativity, originality and enthusiasm to the project.
Before the illustrators start working on the book, there are all sorts of other decisions to be made. What size should the book be? What paper should it be printed on? Should it be hardback or paperback? What typeface should it be set in? How many pages will it be? As a designer, that involves flowing the text in, seeing it on the page, working out the ratio of text to picture, and building up a vision before the commissioning process even begins. It also involves reading the stories and pulling out the key visual moments - working out how the story should pace, where the page turns should be, and how the pictures should punctuate that. It's only at this stage that the page galleys are sent to the illustrators, and they begin sketching out initial ideas and compositions.
Making a picture book is a collaborative project, and one we hope everyone has enjoyed being a part of
We always ask an illustrator to provide rough sketches before finalising the art. We look at it editorially, and we also send it to the author so that they have an opportunity to add any comments. It is their story being visualised! There are sometimes minor tweaks, for example when Philip wrote Bedtime at the Lighthouse he had a specific lighthouse in mind, and so sent us through some references so Joanne could tweak the pictures. Sometimes the characters need adjusting – they may look too young or old, or the focus of the picture may need changing. Making a picture book is a collaborative project, and one we hope everyone has enjoyed being a part of.
Just as each of the authors has their own voice, each story has its own visual identity, and so all of the 10 illustrators have their own distinctive style and their own mediums - from screen printing to inks, acrylics, watercolour and pencil. Nearly all the illustrators work digitally, so the art now arrives via email, which speeds the whole process up, and means the art can be immediately dropped into the layouts. It's been interesting weaving the stories together to shape the final book, both in terms of the text and pictures, and incredibly satisfying as the final art has arrived.
Blog: Editing the winning stories
We are really pleased with the 10 stories Michael Rosen has chosen as the winners of the Walker/ Mumsnet/Gransnet bedtime story competition. They range from sweet, gentle stories for babies, to hilarious or poetic tales for older children. What they all have in common is that they are well-structured and well-written, with exciting plots and engaging characters – and they are all perfect for reading aloud at bedtime.
The lucky winners will, of course, be paid for their stories and see their work published in a beautiful book. But for many the real prize is getting to work with an editor to make their stories the best they can be.
As soon as we knew which stories Michael Rosen had chosen, we contacted the writers to get the editing process under way – a process that goes a little something like this...
The editors read through the stories, making notes on what works brilliantly and what doesn't work quite so well. When we suggest changes, we explain why we think they are necessary, and try to be as specific as possible about what we think the author should do instead.
However, everything an editor suggests is just that – a suggestion. Editing is a dialogue between editor and author. Nothing the editor says is a commandment, and if an author feels really strongly about something we will usually keep it in. But we always want the books we're working on to be as brilliant as they can be before they go out into the world – just like the authors do – and any changes we suggest are aimed at making the stories even better.
After we've edited the stories, we send them to the authors, who then respond to the edits – agreeing with what we've suggested, or rewording things in their own way, or, sometimes, disagreeing with us.
When an author doesn't agree with an editor's suggestions, the two of them talk it over and come up with a compromise. They might agree to leave the story the way it is, or come up with a different solution to whatever the problem is.
All of the Mumsnet and Gransnet winners have now sent back their edited stories. We've absolutely loved working with all of them, and we hope they have enjoyed the editing process, too.
Now the stories are being designed – ready to be sent to the wonderful illustrators who will bring the words to life...
Blog: Choosing the shortlist
By the closing date, we were thrilled to have over 350 entries. Mumsnetters and Gransnetters are a creative bunch and we were not surprised to uncover some really exciting talent.
We were impressed with the variety of the stories and the freshness of the narratives – subjects ranged from the everyday to the fantastical. We also enjoyed the exploits of many memorable characters, from fearsome pirates to feisty princesses and adventurous animals. Many of the stories made us laugh out loud and a few almost moved us to tears.
As we sifted through each weekly batch, we developed our own system. We read each story aloud, sometimes several times, as the way a story sounds is a vital attribute of a good bedtime story. There were several characters and themes that we repeatedly encountered and unsurprisingly, fairies, princesses and monsters all proved to be popular characters.Lots of stories also focused on day to day events that might seem scary or difficult to a child, such as brushing teeth, the first day at school, potty training and bedtime, and sought to transform these daily routines into something less threatening and fun. Thematically, we found that many stories focused on friendship or belonging, and tried to teach children into accepting that each of us is different.
As we read through the entries, we looked for interesting and original ideas; stories that weren't afraid to depict the world in a different and exciting way. We also looked for ones that had imaginative depth and that delighted in transforming the everyday into something extraordinary. We liked being made to laugh, but the stories we really loved also had an emotional pull which meant we could believe and identify with the characters.
The most successful entries were undoubtedly the ones that completely understood and immersed themselves in the child's world and trusted to the power of the imagination. As we gradually narrowed down our selection, we also began to consider the way the stories would work with pictures. The best stories do not reveal everything through words, and can be brought alive by illustrations. The stories that made the shortlist were all ones that we felt had successfully created a world that could be visualized.
Our final twenty we feel represent the very best of the stories submitted and their authors should be praised for the quality of their ideas and writing. We would be proud to publish any of the twenty. There were of course a few favourites that we were not able to include for one reason or another. To everyone who entered, we would all like to say, keep writing, keep practising your craft and good luck.
We have now passed the shortlist to Michael Rosen for him to make the final decision and are really looking forward to seeing which stories he picks. Watch this space!
Denise Johnstone-Burt (Publisher) and Louise Jackson (Art Director) - Walker Books.
Big congratulations to the twenty authors from Mumsnet and Gransnet who have been shortlisted in our Bedtime Stories Competition with Walker books. The stories have now all been sent to author and former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen who will be judging the final stage of the comp and picking the ten winning stories that will feature in the Mumsnet Book of Bedtime Stories, published by Walker books in the Autumn.
The twenty shortlisted stories are:
A Parcel for Theo – Claire McCauley
Allie to the Rescue - Helen Yendall
An Elephant Lived Upstairs – David Hughes
Bedtime at the Lighthouse - Philip Bell
Celeste Who Sang to the Stars - Kate Wilson
Hannah and the Seals – Sara Huckett
Peacock, Owl and Parmesan Cheese – Rachel Rowlands
Polly the Jumping Cow – Jools Abrams-Humphries
Princess Imogen's Independent Day - Christine O'Neill
The Adventure of Brave Hannah – Imogen Potter
The Dancing Bear - Suzy Robinson
The Dusty Kitten – Emily Fellah
The Hedgehog Who Wouldn't Sleep – Alison Webb
The Night Thief and the Moon – Katherine Latham
The Sheriff of Rusty Nail – Sophie Wills
The Sun and the Moon – Jo Dearden
The Treasuresaurus – Amy Firth
Time for Bed - Angela Michelle Eckhaus
Too Many Meerkats! – Jane Heinrichs
When You Dream – Cathy Rushworth
For the best children's books, look for the bear: www.walker.co.uk