Today the spotlight is shining on debut author, Alison Paige, who will be sharing her publishing journey.
Title: The Tale of Mrs M’Grady
Author: Alison Paige
Illustrator: Paddy Donnelly
Mean old M’Grady is up to no good and it’s up to Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White and more to stop her! Delightfully dreadful and marvellously macabre, this is a unique take on classic children’s fairytales told in rhyme.
Hi Alison, Can you tell us a little bit about the book and the inspiration behind it?
Mrs M’Grady is a mean old lady who lives in a town full of familiar faces. When Jack is climbing his beanstalk one day he hears Mrs M’Grady sounding cheerful and instantly knows something’s not right. Upon further investigation Jack discovers that mean old M’Grady has captured Red Riding Hood.
Jack hatches a plan and enlists the rest of the townsfolk to save Miss Hood. However, once in Mrs M’Gradys house things don’t go quite as expected. Red Riding Hood tackles M’Grady and makes her escape leaving Jack, Snow White and the gang suffering the consequences.
The story was inspired by my niece’s love of fairy tales. After reading an original version of Red Riding Hood with my niece Isabel, she became obsessed with the story and would dress up as Red Riding Hood and boss the rest of the family around giving us all our characters such as Grandma and the big bad wolf.
I realised whilst reenacting the tale of little Red Riding Hood that I would like to write my own version of a fairy tale. A story that could be enjoyed by children and adults alike but with a new character. I decided I wanted to create a character that people would love to hate just like the big bad wolf or the wicked witch. I put pen to paper and Mrs M’Grady began to emerge on the page.
Who is your favourite traditional fairy tale character and who is your favourite character in Mrs M’Grady?
I have many favourites when it comes to traditional fairy tale characters. That’s why I have tried to cram most of them into the book. I don’t think I can decide between Red Riding Hood, Jack and the beanstalk, Goldilocks and Hansel and Gretel.
All show that they are both vulnerable yet brave and have just the right amount of stupidity and luck which in my opinion are great qualities for interesting characters.
My favourite character in Mrs M’Grady is the mean old lady herself. The illustrations by Paddy Donnelly really bring her character to life and allow the reader to understand that she is definitely the ‘baddy’ of the book. She is my wicked witch of the town and I loved seeing her come to life.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I have always written short stories and poetry but never really shared them with anyone. As an adult I never envisaged myself becoming an author (despite my love of writing) but in primary school I was inspired by an author visit from Anne Pilling. I had forgotten all about this until clearing through some old boxes recently in the loft. I came across some old school work. One of the items I found was my autobiography project from when I was aged 10 which clearly documents my desire to be a children’s author. And it all stemmed from Anne Pilling’s visit so thank you Anne.
How did you find writing a whole book in rhyme? What was the hardest verse to write and what is your favourite verse?
I actually find it really difficult to write prose. Once I find a rhythm then writing in rhyme just feels very natural to me. Writing the book in rhyme wasn’t difficult but keeping the word limit down was tough as I knew I wanted my nieces to enjoy the story and if it was too long they would lose interest. The hardest verses to write were the ones where Jack has a plan about how to save Red Riding Hood. Jacks plan changed a number of times before he decided to ‘kill her with kindness’. I had no idea how the story was going to end so these verses had no initial direction. Once the characters got to Mrs M’Grady’s house I got my rhythm back but those few verses where the characters move from the square and into M’Grady’s home were tricky.
My favourite verses are the very first verses of the book where the reader learns that the story is a new kind of fairy tale and they are introduced to Mrs M’Grady as an old lady who enjoys French cheese and red wine. At this point when I’m reading the book I always see cheeky smiles from the children who realise this story may not be what they or their parents were expecting!
Can you tell us a bit about your publishing journey? How did it feel when you saw the illustrated version of your story?
My publishing journey was very unusual. I actually wrote The tale of Mrs M’Grady just as a bit of fun. It was going to be just a story for my nieces, something I would recite to them at story time.
When I had finished writing the story I read it to my mother in law. She giggled throughout and then when I’d finished reading she said, ‘You know it’s publishable don’t you?’ Well I hadn’t really thought about it but now she had sparked a fire in me and I decided I wanted some professional feedback.
I knew that there was a publisher locally so I looked into their submission guidelines. All I really wanted was some feedback but when I saw that you didn’t need to have an agent to submit to Tiny Tree I thought I’d give it a go.
I contacted Tiny Tree and stated that I may want to submit a story to them but really just wanted a little bit of feedback as I didn’t have an agent and had only got the word from family and friends that the story I had written was any good.
As I lived locally I was fortunate enough to be invited into the office for a quick meeting. I sat down and read my story for the staff in the Tiny Tree office.
Once I had finished reading I looked up anxiously and heard the words ‘Yes we’ll publish that!’. Tiny Tree said they would be in touch to discuss contracts and I then floated out of the office in a state of shock.
I am aware that I am extremely lucky and am so grateful to James Shaw at Tiny Tree for allowing me to be cheeky that day. I expect that this could have gone very badly and I certainly wouldn’t recommend my approach to others but at the time I only hoped for feedback and never dreamt I would actually get a publishing contract.
Seeing the illustrated version of the story was an absolute dream come true. Paddy Donnelly was fantastic at keeping me involved. Paddy sent me lots of different illustrations of mean old ladies and I was able to pick out the ones I felt looked most like the character. Between us we came up with the Mrs M’Grady in the book and I love her. The illustrations are really fitting to the style of the story and I feel honoured that Paddy was able to take on the project.
What were your favourite books growing up?
I love Roald Dahl books. My favourites growing up were The Twits, Georges Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes.
I love a tale with a twist and a nasty character that everyone loves to hate.
I recently bought my nieces one of my old favourites, ‘On the way home’ by Jill Murphy and I love it just as much now as I did in the 80’s.
The ending-no spoilers-leaves us with a bit of an open question. Will there possibly be one more twist in the tale, and a sequel??
I have been waiting to see how well received Mrs M’Grady was before deciding if she would be let loose in further adventures. But Mrs M’Grady is already on its second print run so I have embarked on another little journey with her. I’m not sure if the story will end up on bookshelves yet but I can tell you that the story is a prequel and is actually about Mrs M’Grady as a child so if you were wondering why Mrs M’Grady is so mean and nasty then watch this space…
What advice would you give to someone trying to write in rhyme?
If you’re trying to write in rhyme, my advice is to take your time.
Use a plethora of adjectives and verbs to accurately convey your thoughts into words.
Choose the wrong words and you’ll get stuck and you will struggle completing the book.
If you find rhyme just gets up your nose, why not try writing in prose.
Sorry. I couldn’t help myself! J
Thank you so much, Alison – best rhyming writers’ advice ever!
I love rhyming books AND twisted fairytales, so I was instantly drawn to The Tale of Mrs M’Grady. You quickly forget that Mrs M’Grady is a new fairytale character that Paige and Paddy created as she fits right in next to Red Riding Hood, Jack, Snow White and the rest of the crew.
It was a little darker than the books I usually read but there was enough humour in there to balance it out. I laughed out loud at sassy Snow White telling the Big Bad Wolf to “pipe down”!
I really like Paddy’s illustrations of Mrs M’Grady – she certainly is a villain you love to hate! And I’d be fascinated to know what made Mrs M’Grady so nasty, so Alison, prequel please!!
Publisher: Tiny Tree
Publication date: 3 October 2019
About the Author:
Alison Paige is an author from Stockport, Greater Manchester who loves classic fairy stories and writing in rhyme. Alison writes children’s stories, poetry and flash fiction which often has a dark twist or turn along the way.
Alison has a history of working with children and young adults with emotional and behavioural difficulties, learning disability and autism. Her experience in social care has developed a love of reading as a form of education, skill development and escapism.
Alison Paige is an avid fan of the fabulous works of Roald Dahl and his influence can clearly be found in her debut children’s book, The tale of Mrs M’Grady.
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book. This feature contains my honest opinion.