Today is my stop on Dot and Duck’s How Selfish! blog tour and I have been chatting to the wonderful Clare Helen Welsh all about the series. PLUS – there is a chance for you and a friend to win a copy of the book.
Title: How Selfish (Dot and Duck)
Author: Clare Helen Welsh
Illustrator: Olivier Tallec
We first met Dot and Duck at a tea party where Duck was being very rude indeed, scoffing his face without a please or thank you to Dot.
But then, well, Dot was not about to let Duck eat ALL the cake so…
Ultimately, they learnt that being polite was far nicer. Now, the cheeky pair are back and this time there is also a flag. Or is it a sword?
Prepare yourself for even more giggles in this sweet story about sharing, manners and friendship. But first, Clare is going to reveal all on how the books came about, and also share some tips for aspiring writers…
Hi Clare, can you tell us a little bit about Dot and Duck and the inspiration behind the series? Did you always plan for it to be a series?
Hi Rachael! Thank you so much for having me on your blog. When Dot and Duck initially went on submission, the text was called ‘Luke and the Penguin Problem.’ Before that it was called ‘Don’t Poke the Penguin.’ It was written back in 2016 when I had a lot to learn (I still do, of course!) By the time we had signed contracts with Quarto, I had rewritten the text from first person, into third person, into dialogue only AND changed the animal and main character!
I think there’s a lot to be said for being flexible with early ideas. How Selfish! wouldn’t be the book it is today if I hadn’t been open to trusted feedback.
I often get carried away when new ideas appear, imagining them as blockbuster animations advertised in tube stations, and yes, as hugely successful series! But with Dot and Duck it was more of an accident. At acquisitions, the editor wanted some pitches should the text be successful and further titles developed. The team felt that one of the pitches I’d written was a stronger title to lead with (How Rude! …no, I mean the pitch they liked was called How Rude!) So, How Rude! was published before How Selfish! even though they were written in the reverse order.
As far as inspiration goes, let’s just say with 12 years’ experience as an Early Years teacher and two children of my own… I didn’t need to do much research! There’s a little more about the beginnings of Dot and Duck here.
What were your favourite books growing up?
There are a few stories that stick firmly in my mind. I remember Peepo! by the Ahlbergs being read at many a bedtime. I also recall that we had a copy of Burglar Bill with a read-a-long cassette! (which tells you something about how long ago that was!) I still vividly hear the narrator’s voice all this time later; ‘I’ll ‘av that!” I also remember my Nan had a big collection of Mr Men and Little Miss books.
Thinking about it, my most-loved reading memories are as much about who I read with, as what I read.
As an independent reader, I read all the Secret Seven, Famous Five and Narnia books. I still love quest stories now!
Did you always want to be a writer/storyteller?
I’ve always been creative and experimented with mosaics, sculpture, collage, painting and almost every kind of craft over the years. I was even allowed to decorate my bedroom as a teenager (BIG MISTAKE!) I couldn’t choose a design so painted 30 coloured blocks on the walls, each with a different texture (coins, string, leaves, bubble wrap… you name it, it went on the wall!) I didn’t fall in love with writing until I became a teacher. It was then that I started being creative with words; using books and the power of imagination to teach children about the world. Plus, I read many, many books aloud, which gave me a good idea of what children love (and what they don’t).
Can you tell us a bit about your publishing journey?
Writing a children’s book was a New Year’s Resolution in 2013 (I know… such a cliché!) I had no idea what I was doing until I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators). Then I was incredibly lucky to have been placed second in 2014’s Greenhouse Funny Prize, which kickstarted everything. Mostly, it gave me the confidence to pursue my career as a writer. Within a year, I had won a SCBWI Scholarship to attend a Writer’s Conference, signed my first book deal and met the person who has helped and supported me more than I ever could have hoped- my agent, Alice Williams.
How does writing a sequel vary from writing a standalone picture book – did you enjoy taking the characters on another friendship-adventure?
These days I always put thought into whether a new idea has series potential before I start writing. I think it’s a good habit to get into because whilst books are almost certainly acquired on individual merit, it never hurts to make sure your concept is as BIG as it can be.
I don’t count myself as a natural plotter, so having the structure and world of the first book, helps lots with the second and I actually have two more mini-series on the way. However, it was quite hard to write How Rude! (which was book 2). It turns out there are lots of different kinds of rude, not to be confused with bossy, grumpy and mean! There is also a certain amount of pressure to make sequels as good as their predecessors, if not better.
Do you have a favourite out of How Rude and How Selfish?
Shocking, Rachael! You can’t ask me that! It’s like choosing between children (!) But I’d say How Rude! at the moment just because it’s SO much fun to read and perform in front of an audience and it gets the BEST reaction. I haven’t had chance to perform How Selfish yet, but very much look forward to it when lockdown is lifted. Then I’m sure I’ll love it just as much… if not more!
You run picture book courses for writers via WriteMentor and also have a critiquing service via your website. What’s it like working with buddying writers and what would be your number one editing tip?
My first critique buddies, who were much more experienced than me, taught me everything I know. So ultimately, it’s very rewarding to give back in the same way. Also, I enjoy collaborating with others, and so working with Stuart and aspiring writers is no exception. But there’s been a bonus I wasn’t expecting. Writing and delivering courses has really helped me understand and fine tune how I work. I don’t think it hurts to be aware of your strengths, weaknesses and processes. The opposite, in fact.
As for a number one tip… find a trusted critique group! And if you already have a critique group, create yourself a checklist of all the things you think a great picture book needs. Use it to be objective about your stories. Here’s one I created for Write Mentor in case you need a starting point.
What’s next for you, in terms of writing? Can we expect to see more of Dot and Duck?
I’m continuing to use my teaching experience to write early readers for Big Cat Collins. Plus, I have several very exciting picture books coming out over the next few years. 2020 will see the publication of my first in a funny, non-fiction series with Nicola O’Byrne and Macmillan. I am also hugely proud of The Perfect Shelter which is publishing with Little Tiger later in the year. It’s illustrated by debut illustrator, Asa Gilland and is inspired by real life experiences.
It’s written to support families whose loved ones are diagnosed with a critical illness, such as cancer. Essentially though, it’s a story of hope and so, one for everyone can enjoy.
We find ourselves living through a very challenging time at the moment. Do you have any tips for writing in lockdown?
Hmmm… I’ve probably had my least productive writing weeks on record, so perhaps I need the advice as much as anyone! But I believe the creativity will come back when it’s ready. I’m storing snippets of conversations, names, places, characters in a notes page until then.
For those of you who need or want to write; open a word document, save it, number the pages. Write the title and don’t forget your name. Next, write the beginning or the end, or whatever scenes you have… and before you know it, you’ll have a first draft. It’s as easy as that!
If you’re putting something off, the thought is usually worse, I find. Trick your brain by breaking the task into small and manageable chunks.
Rachael, thank you SO much for having me on your blog. I’ve really loved answering your thought-provoking questions. They’ve been a welcome distraction from general life, plus a very lovely way to celebrate my new book.
I should be thanking you, Clare! It was fascinating to hear how the series took shape – I hope we see more of Dot and Duck!
When Duck suggests turning a stick into a flag, Dot (selfishly) grabs the stick and declares it is a sword. In fact, (very selfishly) Dot wants ALL the toys for herself.
Then Duck comes up with a selfish trick…
It’s clear that this selfish behaviour is not going to end well. Someone is going to snap…
What I love most about this book, is that we’ve all seen the joy a simple stick found in the garden or the park can bring a child. And I’m betting a fair few of us have also seen the tears that can be caused by children not wanting to share their shiny new toy! How Selfish! taps into these fundamental emotions of young children, and through humour and simplicity show us the importance of sharing and friendship.
Publisher: Words & Pictures, Quarto Publishing
Publication date: 21 April 2020
If you’d like a signed copy visit the Harbour Bookshop website.
If you would like to win a copy of How Selfish for you and a friend, head over to Twitter to enter our giveaway:
More About Clare:
Clare is the author of over 30 books for children, including picture books and early readers. She is passionate about using creativity and the arts to promote a love of learning and emotional well-being. Whether lyrical and sensitive, or quirky and funny, Clare hopes all her books bring a special, added something to story time. How Selfish publishes on 21st April. There are a limited number of signed copies and goody bags available from Harbour Bookshop! Clare is represented by Alice Williams of Alice Williams Literary.
Don’t forget to drop by the other stops on the How Selfish! blog tour:
I am very grateful to the author for providing me with an advanced copy of this book and the publisher for providing two copies to give away. This feature contains my honest opinion.