This is the third and final part of my interview with Penny Morrison, author of Captain Sneer the Buccaneer, the Hey! series and The Mighty Mighty King Christmas Book. In this installment Penny reveals the patience needed to be an author as she discusses the circuitous path to publication of Captain Sneer the Buccaneer. See part 1 here and part 2 here.
Penny, Captain Sneer, published by Walker Books, was released in September 2016 but I understand all was not clear sailing (pun intended:) ). Can you tell us about the journey to publication of the Captain?
I wrote Captain Sneer, the Buccaneer while I was doing the AWC course ‘Writing Picture Books’ with Cathie Tasker. I got the idea when my four year old son was on the glider swing, swinging back and forth, back and forth calling out, ‘Mum! I’m on a pirate ship. Come and sail with me. Mum! I’m on a pirate ship. Come and sail with me.’ This gave me the idea of a pirate who pretends to be brave while secretly wishing he could call out for his Mummy.
I got feedback on the manuscript during the course, then at my own writers’ group and then through a paid manuscript assessment. It was accepted the first time I submitted it, but this was the acceptance which fell through [see part 2 of interview]. The commissioning editor who had accepted it then moved on to Walker Books, and it was accepted in early 2013. I was only cautiously excited this time. I knew there were many possible things to go wrong and then even if the book really was published, it would take a long time—about 18 months. It actually took 3 years and 8 months, but I’ve kept myself busy enough that the long wait hasn’t bothered me.
It took a long time for Walker to find an illustrator, but Gabriel Evans was worth waiting for. His illustrations are more beautiful than anything I had imagined for Captain Sneer. He worked with the editor and art director on character sketches for a while before they were all happy with a character who looked like a genuine pirate yet appealing to children.
I also worked on the text with the editor, mostly making small improvements. Then, there were big changes at Walker Books. My editor left and this project was handed to another editor. I was relieved Captain Sneer, the Buccaneer was still going ahead, but I was afraid the new editor wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about a book she hadn’t commissioned. I had nothing to worry about. A new set of eyes on the manuscript meant even more suggested changes to the text. I loved working on it, as all the suggestions were in line with my vision for the book and resulted in a stronger manuscript.
I had left the ending of the book up to the illustrator to interpret. I did write up a suggestion for the illustrations, but I was happy for him to draw what he imagined and what worked for him. The first set of roughs must have taken a lot of time and looked amazing, but didn’t really work. I was glad the editor agreed.
The next lot of roughs were wonderful. Gabe had some ideas which I hadn’t thought of, such as having children in the crew. Generally, his illustrations showed what I had hoped. When Captain Sneer says, ‘My crew is safe with ME in charge,’ we see him hiding behind the mast. In other parts Gabe’s pictures have added humour in ways I didn’t expect, such as the lost map being found in Captain Sneer’s own pocket. Most surprising to me was that he chose to have Captain Sneer ‘save’ his mum when she wasn’t actually in danger. This wasn’t what I had intended, but I did think it was a funny ending. My only request was that they reconcile before the end of the book. I couldn’t have the mum rejecting her son! So, Gabe added in the final picture with Mummy accepting a coconut drink from Captain Sneer.
One good thing about wait a long time is that I’ve had plenty of time to plan book launches, find the perfect pirate costume and order Captain Sneer magnets, stickers and bookmarks. Walker Books decided to publish the book in September to coincide with international Talk Like a Pirate Day. The last six weeks have been busy with many piratey events, but I have loved finally being able to read the story to groups of children.
What are three things you think are most important for people writing for children to know/take into account/do?”
I don’t know about other people, but here are three things for me:
- I need to remember what it was like to be a child and write from that viewpoint.
- I need to acknowledge that children don’t like being told stuff any more than adults do. We all want to discover things for ourselves.
- What children want more than anything is to have fun.
Thank you so much for generously answering my questions, Penny. There is something in your experiences that we can all draw from. I wish you every success!
Penny’s Website is here
Here’s a video of Penny talking about her experience with the Australian Writer’s Centre
My website is here