Dogs, Doodles, Dinner Ladies and a Dream Come True!

Today we are celebrating the success of South West SCBWI member, Claire Barker! Claire is an author currently living in North Devon, enjoying the fruits of her hard labour as the second book in her series for middle grade children is published with Usborne.

We asked Claire, represented by Zoe King at The Blair Partnership, about her journey to success. You can read all about her adventure, including what happened and how, here!

Writing came about by accident and rather late to boot. After spending many happy hours poring over picture books with my children, I developed a burning ambition to become an illustrator. With toddler and baby in bed, I took myself off to an evening course run by a rather scary, very talented man. 

That man turned out to be Korky Paul.  He didn't suffer fools, was brutally honest and very quickly I realised that it was going to be a tough road. As I was very busy cooking fishfingers, warming milk and being generally exhausted in those days, I quickly strayed off the path and returned to my sketchbook doodles.

Zoom forward to three years later, when I was painting tiny daily watercolours and putting them in my daughter's school lunchbox. I hoped it would help a reluctant eater. Instead I got taken to one side by a dinner lady who said could I 'stop it' because the queues to see the pictures were holding up lunchtime. I realised I might be on to something.

Feeling more confident and together,  I signed up to a 2 year part time HNC Illustration course at my local college. They were quite clear that the likelihood of finding employment was most unlikely as a) we lived in the back of beyond and b) it was a terribly competitive field. But this time it was a different story and I was full of focus. 

By the end of my course I was taking the occasional commission to design a logo or illustrate an educational pamphlet. I joined the Association of Illustrators and used their contracts.  To my lecturers' surprise, I had an image selected for the industry journal 'Images' whilst still a student. I imagined this would be the pinnacle.

As part of my course I had to approach publishers and ask for dummy briefs. They looked like more fun than logos. By then I was also working as a teaching assistant and felt I had a pretty good idea of what sort of books children liked to read. 

Before I knew it, I had got hold of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and sent out  a selection of illustrated letters from fairytale characters. The letters were just a vehicle for my illustrations but they got me noticed very quickly by an agent. This turned into my first book, Magical Mail. It turned out that I actually liked writing best which, when you consider that I have an English Literature degree, is not that surprising really! Then, after some difficult false starts, I moved on to my current agency who are wonderful. They placed my latest story with Usborne who signed me up on a three book deal.

It sounds simple, but it wasn't, taking 16 years from the spark to now. There has been a lot of waiting, a lot of dashed hopes. I'm still pretty poor. There have been plenty of times when I've wanted to give up, for example when the sequel to Magical Mail was signed up and then quietly dropped as the Credit Crunch hit, or the time when I had a whole picture book commissioned and the editor left the publisher at a crucial moment, causing the project to be abandoned. 

I'm glad I didn't quit though because somehow I've become what I wanted to be, despite the odds: a storyteller. I'm the Reading Zone's author of the month and I'm performing at the Edinburgh Festival. The book has sold in several different countries and last week the audio book was recorded.‎ I'm currently putting finishing touches to the third book in the series due out next summer and preparing for an autumn book tour. 

Luck has played a huge part but, as the saying goes the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get...

What a fantastic journey! Thank you so much Claire for sharing your ups, downs and journey to success. You can read more about Claire at her website and more about her books in this Usborne press release.

Click to enlarge image

In the meantime, please join me with a glass of champers, piece of cake or a cuppa as we wish Claire and the Knitbone Trilogy every success in the future! 

Clare Helen Welsh lives in Devon with her husband and two children. She teaches in a primary school and has over ten years experience in Early Years and Key Stage One.  Clare received Silver Medal at The Greenhouse Funny Prize 2014 for her picture book, Aerodynamics of Biscuits, which is due to be published by Maverick Arts Publishing in September 2015. Clare is represented by Alice Williams of David Higham Associates.


  1. What a lovely, inspiring journey! It would be great to have seen some of Clare's illustration in there too, rather than just a link. I'm a little bit confused though, the article is written by and is about Claire Barker, so why is there a bio of Clare Helen Welsh at the end?

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