Welcome to Justin’s Debut-Dance Ball, a virtual party to celebrate SCBWI-BI members’ debut publications. Such is the success of writers in SCBWI-BI, that there just aren’t enough months in the year to celebrate every debut. This month, Justin catches up with picture book writer, Lucy Rowland, who probably wouldn’t have had time to come to his ball in 2017. Let’s find out why…

Lucy, thank you for coming to the ball. The band are just taking their places, so how about a favourite tune from you to kick things off? Or perhaps a song inspired by one of your fabulous characters?

It’s New Years’ Day, and as I’m writing this I’m in a positive mood anyway, but a bit of reggae never fails to make me smile. How about 3 Little Birds by Bob Marley? I love that song! Click here for some Marley magic.

2017 brought you a parade of picture book successes, Lucy, with not only your debut picture book being published, but three more! How would you sum up the past twelve months?

It’s been BUSY, that’s for sure! I’m still working four days a week for the NHS, so my writing has to fit around that. With the excitement of the book releases came a rather steep learning curve: school visits, festival events, blog writing, and, of course, trying to work on new and existing texts… all at the same time!

Let’s have a roll call! Take us through your debut year in books…

Gecko’s Echo by Lucy Rowland and Natasha Rimmington. © Copyright Bloomsbury 2017

Gecko’s Echo by me and Natasha Rimmington and Pirate Pete and his Smelly Feet by me and Mark Chambers both came out in April 2017. After waiting for nearly three years for these books they ended up being published on the same day! I was at Bologna Children’s Book Fair at the time so, as you can imagine, it was a VERY exciting day for me. The Birthday Invitation by Laura Hughes and myself came next… that was in May, and then around September (just in time for Halloween) mine and Mark Chambers’ second book was released – Jake Bakes a Monster Cake!

All four books have very different characters and ideas. Where do you find your inspirations?

Ideas are all around us. They come from the things I see, from the people in my life, from the funny things that children say, and from asking that very important question ‘what if?’ I also love poetry and rhythm. Occasionally I find a rhythm that I really love and then I will challenge myself to write a story around that rhythm. That can be fun!

Lucy, your books are with two publishers. How does their approach to bringing your stories to life differ?

I’ve actually found the approach has been quite story-dependent, rather than publisher-dependent. For some books, regardless of the publisher, there was very little editing to do, just the odd line here and there, whilst other texts required a whole lot of work! I really enjoy the process of working with my editors to shape stories. It’s a real journey and can be tough at times, but it’s always worth it in the end.

In your other professional life, you’re a children’s speech and language therapist. Does Lucy the writer find herself helping Lucy the therapist, or vice versa?

Hmmm, that’s a tricky one. I love language and I suppose, because of my job as a therapist, I think about language a lot. I find that sometimes stories pop into my head because I’m playing with words. Gecko’s Echo very much started out as a funny-sounding title (and because there was a very noisy gecko in my room in Bali!)… I then built the story up from there. I try to listen carefully to the children I work with and I think about what makes them laugh, what makes them tick, or what worries them. Sometimes these things influence my writing. I’ve definitely always been aware of the link between book sharing and language development, and I often promote reading of picture books to the families I work with.

Rhyme and rhythm take centre stage in your writing. Do you have a favourite rhyming book or poem that inspires you?

I love A.A.Milne! I re-read When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six over and over again! My favourite poem by A.A.Milne is Forgiven - it’s all about a beetle called Alexander. In fact, I think I shared it with you at the SCBWI conference this year, Justin! I also love reading Elli Woollard’s poetry. She’s such a talented author.

When writing your stories, do you already have an idea of how you’d like them to look on the page? What level of input have you had with your illustrators?

I may have a vague idea of what is going on in the scene, and occasionally I write short illustration notes if there is something integral to the story which I haven’t included in the text. In terms of what the characters look like, though, I have no idea at all! It’s always such an exciting part of the process to see the initial character sketches and I feel like I’m meeting the characters for the very first time. I often think ‘Hello! So that’s what you look like! It’s nice to finally meet you!’ I’m able to view first pencil roughs and colour art work too and can input a little at this point, but I mostly leave it to the designers and illustrators if I’m honest. That’s their job and they’re rather brilliant at it.

You seem to be on something of a roll, Lucy. I’m guessing there’s more to come from you in 2018?

Yes, I feel very lucky to have quite a busy 2018 lined up. My first book with Ben Mantle, Little Red Reading Hood, publishes in January with Macmillan and I have four further books to come after that. I was really excited to hear that The Knight who said No by me and Kate Hindley (to be published by Nosy Crow in 2018) has recently been chosen for the Summer Reading Challenge so I will enjoy doing some book-spotting in libraries this summer.

Thank you, Lucy, for joining me at the Debut-Dance Ball.

Thank you for having me!

The Birthday Invitation and Gecko’s Echo are published by Bloomsbury. Pirate Pete and His Smelly Feet and Jake Bakes a Monster Cake are published by Pan Macmillan.

Feature Illustration by Louisa Glancy 

Lucy Rowland. Follow Lucy: Instagram: lucymayrowland Twitter: @lucymayrowland

Justin Nevil Davies leads two distinct lives. In one, he flies around the world as cabin crew. In the other, he writes middle-grade novels with the aim to make kids laugh. Sometimes, his lives converge. Justin is part of SCBWI South East Scotland.
Follow Justin: Twitter: @flyingscribbler, Instagram: flyingscribbler, Blog: The Flying Scribbler

Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures. Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org
Twitter: @Louisa Glancy

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