On this the first week of 2023, I’m excited to share with you my interview with debut picture book author, Emma Pearl.
The questions I posed Emma, to a one, revolved around the kindling of the imaginative spark. I felt this focus was just the thing to accompany the sense of possibility and new opportunities that the new year brings.
Interview Q&A with author Emma Pearl
Emma, after finishing a project do you ever feel lost as to what project you’ll do next?
No, I don’t really find this a problem. I write for all ages and have far more ideas/projects/WIPs on the go than I could ever hope to complete in a lifetime! I’m usually drawn to the next one naturally when I finish something, but if I’m ever in doubt I just read through my endless files, lists and notes until something shouts ‘WRITE ME!’
I currently have a YA novel about to go out on submission in the new year so I’ve just finished final revisions on that. I’ve also just finished the first draft of my next novel – a YA with similar themes/synergy – so will be tidying that up before sending it to my agent. And I have a sequel for that one planned too, which may or may not be the next one I write. I’d like to get an MG novel out on submission next year too – I have one completed that needs a rewrite and several more that I’m keen to work on – I’ll be discussing with my agent which one to focus on.
I have quite a lot of picture book texts ready to submit and am waiting on my agent to look at them all (I intend to keep her quite busy next year!). I love writing PBs because they require such a different skill set to novels and completion can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, so I often work on them in between novels or when I get stuck in the middle of a novel.
It sounds like you are super busy!
Do you have any brainstorming techniques to get your ideas flowing?
I’ve gathered so many ideas over the years that I don’t actively need to look for them any more. But I do make sure to write them down when I get them – ideas usually come from reading other books, watching movies or conversations. There will be a nugget of something that I find fascinating and then ideas will spin off from that. Also, I constantly mine my childhood memories – what were the things that made me feel the biggest emotions? Even the most ordinary events, habits or people can be turned into amazing stories if you can identify and connect the emotions associated with them.
I also highly recommend taking part in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm in January (https://taralazar.com/storystorm/) – it’s really great for generating not only ideas for stories but also ideas for where to find inspiration. This post from author Brian Gehrlein has some brilliant brainstorming techniques too: https://www.pbspotlight.com/single-post/zombies-brains-brainstorming-oh-my
I agree, Storystorm is a great way to kick off the year with ideas and inspiration!
Emma, Do you have any routines that encourage your writing process?
Not really. I write as often and as much as I can, which is most days, but there’s not a strict routine (life tends to get in the way of that!), and there’s a lot of time spent on things that are essential to my writing career (which is still very much fledgling) that are not writing per se – admin, marketing and promotion, networking, learning, mentoring, critiquing… etc. I am most productive in the mornings from about 9 to 12 so try to maximize writing time then whenever possible.
What have you found to be the best writing advice you ever received?
I’m not sure which one of these is the best, but all of the following have been invaluable:
– avoid filtering language, i.e. words that draw attention to any of the five senses. This is a quick and concise guide https://writeitsideways.com/are-these-filter-words-weakening-your-fiction/
– Abie Longstaff’s picture book 101 free course https://twitter.com/AbieLongstaff/status/1397819681436733444 covers all the basics thoroughly and efficiently. I often find myself referring back to it.
– first drafts are supposed to be rubbish! I spent many years not getting anywhere with my writing because I was scared of writing rubbish. But a very important lesson was learning to write anyway. You can improve a badly written story but a blank page is worth nothing.
– there is no set of rules, no one way of doing anything, no set path to follow. There are a huge number of amazing resources available, and many of them are free. Find whatever works for you and don’t be distracted by anyone else… but also:
– connect with other writers whenever possible, they will be your greatest comfort/support/cheerleaders/learning… etc.
Thank you Emma, for sharing your excellent suggestions and links to helpful resources!
There was one last question I asked Emma. It was in regards to her great uncle, Roald Dahl.
Emma, I read that Roald Dahl dedicated The Twits to you and I wondered if it was your favorite book of his, or was there a different one that was your favorite?
Great question on the Roald Dahl books! Of course I loved The Twits. It was so very exciting to have a book dedicated to me – I was a real bookworm as a kid and it was just about the best thing ever. It’s a wonderful story of oppression, courage and just desserts, and I’ve loved monkeys ever since! But in all honesty, I think I loved reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more. I read that countless times, over and over from a very young age (well before The Twits was published). I also loved Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny (I used to play in the gypsy caravan that inspired the story). But my favorite now, as an adult, is Matilda. I think I was 13 or 14 when that came out so it wasn’t part of my childhood as such. But I have a suspicion (that might be completely ill-founded) that there is the tiniest part of Matilda that was in some small way inspired by me. Roald was very close to all three of his sisters, one of whom was my grandmother, and I was the first grandchild to be born to any of them, so I was a little bit spoiled and doted on by them all! I was a huge bookworm and reading long before I started school (not War and Peace, mind you!). Also, a little later on I had a very scary teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Miss Trunchbull (my teacher was also an ex-Olympian shot-putter!). So even if just a tenuous link, I’ve always felt a connection with the character of Matilda, who is one of my favorite females in all of children’s literature and always fills me (and countless others) with inspiration.
I’ve attached a link to 10 year old Emma’s (she’s the little girl at the center of the photo) interview of Roald Dahl. It brought a smile to my face and I hope it does the same for you.
Emma Pearl writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Speilburg Literary. Mending the Moon is her debut picture book, and Saving the Sun will be published by Page Street Kids in September 2023. Emma is a picture book mentor for WriteMentor (2021/22) and a freelance editorial consultant for picture books. She lives with her family in New Zealand.
Purchase links to Mending the Moon, Emma’s debut picture book: