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Interview: Emily McDowell talks about Sleep is for Babies

Emily McDowall has always loved reading and writing. Her mother instilled a love of literature in her by reciting classic poems such as ‘The Highwayman’ and ‘The Tyger’ when Emily was young. As a teen, Emily was a member of the School for Young Writers, tutored by Glyn Strange. After a spell of writing mostly university essays, blogs and work reports, motherhood inspired Emily to get back into creative writing. Emily talks to NZ Booklovers about her first book.

Tell us a little about Sleep is for Babies.

Sleep is for Babies! is a bedtime story for children in rhyming verse. It features a little boy called George who refuses to go to sleep and instead slips out of bed and into the night. Julia Hegetusch is the illustrator, Vida Kelly the designer and the book was published by the Scholastic publishing team of Lynette Evans, Penny Scown and Abby Haverkamp.

What inspired you to write this book?

Our son inspired the story - he was four months old when I wrote the first draft. I've loved being a mother and feel very lucky to have him, but of course, there were times at the beginning, especially when I thought, "If only he'd just GO TO SLEEP!" So a poem came to me about a child slipping out of bed at nighttime and exploring the garden and forest.

What research was involved?

No research! But my mum used to read me poetry aloud—with a wonderful voice, as she'd done Speech and Drama—and I love music, so this helps me find a rhythm to the words.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I like writing poems, so the first couple of verses came fairly naturally, and then I just played around with the idea from there. When I submitted my script to Scholastic, they liked the concept but not the original ending, so I rewrote the ending for them, and they decided to run with it! I’d been a corresponding member of the School for Young Writers as a high school student, and this experience taught me to always look for ways to refine my work.

How did you work with the illustrator?

Scholastic matched the text with an illustrator - they gave me a preview of Julia's work and I was so impressed. I love Julia's style - so imaginative and nostalgic. I think it works perfectly for Sleep Is for Babies!

If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Hmmm, maybe "The Teddy Bears Picnic"?! Something for children that's upbeat but with a bit of fun and intrigue and a restful ending!

What did you enjoy the most about writing this picture book?

Making the whole story come together—you never quite know when you first start working on an idea if it will pan out. Then, having it accepted for publication was a real thrill!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I read it to our son! That was pretty cool. And I'll be having a low-key book launch soon, so that'll be a nice chance to celebrate.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Catherine Chidgey's "Pet" – it is beautifully written and very clever and suspenseful. There are some wise observations about human behaviour in there. I've also read and enjoyed "The Axeman's Carnival" which is another of hers – a book which has you both laughing and crying – and I’m currently reading "Remote Sympathy" – I wouldn’t say I’m ‘enjoying’ it (the book is set at the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp) but it is highly perceptive and exquisitely crafted, with each word and line there for a reason.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I've got a bunch of scripts at varying stages of completeness. Whether or not they're any good is hard for me to judge as some days I'll think a script is all right and the next day I might think it's rubbish! But more reading and writing certainly. I’m also completing a children’s writing course by correspondence with Janice Marriott and learning a lot from that.

Scholastic NZ


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