Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
Hi, my name is Lily Roscoe. I am a children’s author and freelance writer. I have published two picture books THE NIGHT PARADE (published by Scholastic) and THE NIGHT WATCH NINJAS (published by Simon and Schuster) and have a third picture book coming out next year called THE HAMSTER HEIST (also published by Simon and Schuster). In addition to writing, I also run a company called All Write Now (www.allwritenow.co.uk), which teaches creative writing to kids.
What is/are the real-life stories) behind your book(s)?
Unless I am working on a commissioned piece, I mainly write fiction so few of my stories come from any real life events. My first book, THE NIGHT PARADE was based on a dream I had about my son Teddy, who was about a year old at the time, going off into the night and having a secret life with all the other babies who lived in our neighbourhood.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
It’s a cliche but my kids definitely are my inspiration. They have such a unique view of the world and a great sense of humour. I’m also a big believer in referring back to the classics. The children’s books I grew up with have had a huge impact on my imagination and use of language. I particularly love William Steig and Maurice Sendack. No one writes for kids like that anymore, but they should!
How do you deal with creative block?
Like all writers I struggle with creative block. When I teach writing I give my students prompts and exercises to help them get their ideas down on the page. I try to practice what I preach, which often means writing something I know I won’t actually use for future work, but forces me to put some ideas out into the universe, which (very occasionally) turn into something useful.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Writing picture books is different to writing longer fiction in the sense that you are limited by your word count. As a writer this means that you have to make compromises and have a keen sense of how to edit yourself down. I think it is easy to make the wrong choices – keeping something in that doesn’t quite work or taking something out that could have made the book better.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
For my first two books I actually started with a title and then worked backwards. However for my new book, choosing a title has proved more of a challenge. It started as “Gangsta Hamsta’ then became ‘The Rat Burglar.’ Now it’s ‘THE HAMSTER HEIST.’ I think sometimes you just have to try a few options out and trust your editor/publisher to steer you in the right direction. As for the cover choice, that’s usually up to the publisher and illustrator, but I definitely believe, in the case of children’s books, that parents and kids often do judge a book by it’s cover so it’s important to choose an image that really stands out.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Luckily I am yet to have a bad review. However, I have had plenty of manuscripts rejected by publishers, which at first seems like a bit of a blow, but then you get used to it. It’s a strange world because some of the books I’ve liked best and thought were the strongest haven’t been picked up so you just have to keep writing and producing work and hope for the best. It’s such a subjective industry, and the children’s market is super commercial so you really have to try to play the game and not take things personally.
How has your creation process improved over time?
I can sort of link this answer to the previous question in the sense that I used to really write for myself primarily thinking about themes and ideas that I thought were compelling. However, now after working in the children’s publishing industry for a few years, I have a much better understanding for the market. I now try to write books with an audience in mind, which means that my creative process has become more focussed.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
I think the best bit of the process is seeing the book laid out for print with all the illustrations in place. It’s amazing to see how the illustrators interpret the text and bring the story to life with imagery. The worst bit of the process is definitely having to edit out bits of text that you really love. We were on a very strict word budget with THE NIGHT WATCH NINJAS, which meant that the text had to be very pared down. I think some of the funniest jokes ended up getting cut out, but that’s just the way it goes. The most surprising element of the process is definitely how long it takes. I had no idea when I started out that it could take years for a picture book to be released. It’s crazy!
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
Obviously both is the ideal. However, I think in the case of children’s writing you really need to aim to serve your audience. Kids know exactly what they like, and they don’t like being condescended to either so it’s crucial as a children’s author to tap into a child’s mindset with total integrity and respect.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
I think that really depends. I have definitely used writing throughout my life as a way to express emotion – usually when I am sad or mad or struggling with something. However, I don’t feel that when I am emotional I produce the most thoughtful or interesting work. Personally I write better when my head is clear and I am guided by my imagination rather than emotion.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
My main trick is not writing things down and instead living out a book inside my head. I often feel I have my best and most creative ideas not when I’m sitting down at the computer, but when I’m out in real life observing the world. I then make notes on my phone or in a notebook of what I was thinking about, which I refer to later when I’m ready to write and turn my ideas into a story.
What are your plans for future books?
At the moment I am finishing up a chapter book for Middle Grade readers. It’s very very different to anything I’ve done before, but I’m excited about it.