Winner of the 2018 Joy Cowley Award, Elaine Bickell lives in central Wellington with her partner, three children and dog named Molly. She was born and grew up in London and then West Sussex. Her love of books led to her studying English Literature at Bristol University.
Elaine talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about The Little Ghost Who Lost Her Boo.
Well it is a fun story full of animal noises and opportunities for interaction between child, parent and book. But actually, like all good children’s books, it has layers of deeper meaning. To me the book is all about knowing who you are, not being influenced by others and being true to yourself. It is also about determination, perseverance and never giving up. Traits that, as a writer, I have needed in spades!
What inspired you to write this book?
A few things actually. Firstly I love Halloween, I always have. We hold a big Halloween party every year and I suppose in my subconscious somewhere there was a cute little Halloween inspired character just waiting to come out and become a book.
Also we have a family motto which is “We never give up in this family!” And to me the “Little Ghost” is really the embodiment of this family motto.
It has really helped me in my quest to become a published author and I find that my kids, when they feel like giving up, will often say “But I can’t because we never give up in this family.” I like to think that it really drives them on when things are tough. It did backfire recently though when I was playing one of those claw machines with my daughter and trying to win her a troll. Having put in way too much money already and no sign of a prize I said “I give up!” "Oh no," she replied, “What happened to we never give up in this family?” It took a lot of explaining that actually there are a very few times in life when we really should give up.
What research was involved?
Just a tiny bit. The animals Little Ghost meets needed to be true to themselves too as in they are awake at the right time of the night. I had to find out a little bit about Pigeons and when they sleep and wake. They are diurnal so just like us they sleep at night hence the pigeon has got up extra early to enjoy the starry view which is why she’s awake in the early hours of the morning.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I have the same routine every day. While my youngest child was at preschool three days a week I spent about 2-3 hours writing. She just started school this week so now I will be able to spend 2-3 hours writing every day. I can’t wait.
Before I start writing I always know exactly what the story is about. I plan out the action including the beginning the middle and the end and I also make sure I know all about my characters. This helps to keep me on track and not get thrown off by words that might rhyme brilliantly but don’t deliver the story I intended. Once I have a first draft I will spend a good few weeks polishing the language and rhythm to be as good as I can make it. There’s always a lot of cutting involved but the polishing is the really fun part. I can spend a whole day on a couple of lines just tweaking words and adjusting until they sound just right to me.
How did you work with the illustrator, Raymond McGrath?
I didn’t work with Raymond directly and actually I have yet to meet him. Scholastic arranged for Raymond to illustrate the book and they briefed him. I was not involved at all although I did get to see early versions of the illustrations and comment at that point. I had no comments to make because I loved his illustrations immediately and couldn’t have been happier with the way he brought the story to life. He is clearly extremely talented. Actually the weirdest thing happened, the night before Scholastic sent me Raymond’s portfolio to say he was the illustrator they would like to use, I had randomly borrowed a book of Raymond’s from the library and my eldest son had picked it up and read it. He came downstairs to me and said you need to get this guy to illustrate your book. I agreed with him. Imagine our surprise when the next day I heard that he was indeed going to be the illustrator!
What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?
It was so much fun to write. It was one of those books that just fly straight out on to the page and need minimal revision. I hardly remember writing it in that i didn't really labour over it like I do some manuscripts. I do remember laughing a lot as I sat there making animal noises.
Since we began editing the book I have been blown away by the skills and professionalism of Scholastic, and of course I got to work briefly with Joy Cowley. How exciting is that.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
So far we have had a big family cuddle and there have been lots of smiles. We are having a celebration in Wellington on 5th September at Unity books. Before that my mind is on the offical launch which is 23rd August in Auckland at the wonderful sounding Storylines event at the start of the Booksellers conference.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
This is hard for me. I am a book addict. For picture books this year I would have to pick “The Cook and the King” by Julia Donaldson. I just love the effortless rhyme and superb structure of the story and how she can make the simple phrase “like anything” work so hard and so well.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
The next few weeks will no doubt be all about launching and promoting the book. I have also had a number of requests from schools for author visits which I am looking forward to doing. I have also been invited to take part in the October Storylines Story Tour so I can’t wait to get on the road with other writers and illustrators and share "The Little Ghost" with children in NZ.
And after that? Well, I am a writer and I have an enormous pile of wonderful stories that I have written and I am hopeful that amongst them there is another one that will make the journey to becoming an actual book and find its way into the hands and hearts of children in NZ and beyond.
The Little Ghost has a big year ahead of her. The rights have been acquired by Philomel Books in the USA so she will be heading off for her North American debut during 2020.
Other than that I will just carry on writing, it’s what I love to do more than anything else and I am literally bursting with ideas of what i want to write next.