Sunday, September 02, 2012

Bushland Lullaby: The back- story

It is my great pleasure to welcome the exceptionally talented Sally Odgers as she tours with her new and delightful picture book, ‘Bushland Lullaby’, which has been beautifully and warmly illustrated by Lisa Stewart and published by Scholastic Australia for children aged 2-5 years old ...and adult readers.

I’ve known Sally for a number of years in a Yahoo network and from her mega-helpful advice and insights provided through her services. And then there are, of course her books – but I’m afraid I haven’t read them all, Sally. How many is it now? Nearly 300 titles? For the benefit of my international readers, am I right in thinking that your ‘Jack Russell: Dog Detective’ and ‘Pet Vet’ series, written with your husband, Darrel, have been your most popular recent titles – I believe they’re sold in just about every country?

Thanks, Peter! I'm delighted to be here. And yes - the Jack books have been popular. They're available in audiobook, and also in French Canadian as well as US, Canadian and UK publishers.

I hope 'Bushland Lullaby' is also an international hit as it introduces readers to a wide variety of Australian wildlife, with an appropriate gentle and lyrical verse for each. Congratulations to you, Lisa and all the Scholastic team on its publication. Your words are a delight to read out loud and I know children will just love it.

Yes- Scholastic really pushed the boat out for 'Bushland Lullaby'. It’s a lovely book to handle and the design is a nice mix of charm and artistic flair.

Can you tell us about your writing process, please? Was compiling the list of animals the first stage?

Getting the “feel” of the verse was the first stage. I wrote one stanza and polished that and then thought about other animals to include. I went for a mix of iconic Aussies and the slightly less expected so as to cover both readers who want the familiar and those who like novelty.

Writing in verse is never as easy as one imagines from reading the final version in which all rhymes seem so natural.

Do you have any favourite resources or working methods that you use to find the perfect word for each place?

I was blessed with a talent for rhyme and rhythm. It is my legacy from my parents, who were both musical. Dad, at almost 91, still has a fine bass baritone voice and Mum had a sweet mezzo soprano. Dad can sing natural harmony. My sister can do that, too. I inherited volume and timing from my parents, but missed out on tune and harmony. I have some tone, but not enough. Having a partial talent is disappointing, especially when it’s so strong in the other immediate family members, but I have finally realised I did get the talent after all. I just have a different version of it. Mine is an ear for metrical beat and assonance. As for rhyme, I never insist on perfect rhyme – I’d much rather use assonance or consonance and get just the right image than use something banal just because it was perfect-rhyme. Sometimes I look at a rhyming dictionary though – or a thesaurus- just to make sure I haven’t missed that perfect word.

I’m sure you must have found some stanzas easier to compose than others. How long have you worked on this text? Were there many alternatives that you considered for some lines? Was your editor able to make helpful suggestions?

I wrote a few different versions of some of the stanzas, but this is quite close to the original. My editor worked with me over one line in particular –

This stanza:

On a shivering island clad with snow

Where the ocean kisses icy floes

In a stony nest with her mother close

Little penguin may safely doze.

...was originally like this:

On a shivering island clad with snow

Where the ocean kisses chill ice floes

In a stony nest with her mother close

Little penguin may safely doze.

The main shift though, was in the ordering of the stanzas. I had them quite differently arranged, but Ana, my editor, pointed out that with a bit of re-ordering we could go through a day from dawn to starlight.

All books of mine have been much improved through interaction with the editor and art director.

Everyone in a publishing house will think of this as ‘my book’ – even the printer. And I know Lisa will feel the same way. Did you and Lisa know each other prior to this book? Was it a traditional collaboration in which Scholastic chose Lisa to illustrate it without your input, and no contact between you until its completion?

Lisa and I had no contact before 'Bushland Lullaby'. I was visiting the Scholastic offices a while ago with Darrel (my husband and co-writer of the Jack series) and Ana showed me a lovely book with Lisa’s illustrations and told me she was going to do 'Bushland Lullaby'. I was very happy :-) I didn’t have any contact with her, though, beyond asking for (and getting) her email address so I could tell her how pleased I was.

I hope that you’ll be together at an award ceremony! I know ‘Bushland Lullaby’ will be much enjoyed and treasured - and it’s available right now from ‘all good bookstores’. I wish you enormous sales and every success with it!

We are hoping it will be successful and we’d love to work together again one day.

Please share a website address with us.

My website is at

Lisa can be found at  If you click on BOOKS you’ll see Bushland Lullaby among her other works.

Thanks so much, Peter! And I'd also like to offer the following prizes in a contest:

Everyone who comments goes in the draw to win one of three PDF e-books.

Please state your preference when commenting:

Writing a Picture Book Text
Finding Farholt
Writing Metrical Verse

'Bushland Lullaby' is published in hardback by Scholastic Australia
ISBN-10:  174283177X
ISBN-13:  9781742831770

Very many thanks, Sally! I always find the back-story to books fascinating.

Peter Taylor
Writing for Children

You'll discover more about 'Bushland Lullaby' as Sally visits other blogs:

Spinning Pearls 1/09/2012

From Hook to Book with Chris Bell 7/09/2012

Kids' Book Reviews with Tania McCartney 8/09/2012

Reading and Writing with Dale Harcombe 12/09/2012

School Magazine with Jackie Hosking 18/09/2012


Janeen Brian said...

Sally, you have scooped the pool with three of my loves; picture book writing, Australian fauna (and flora) and rich, succinct imagery in verse. Well done to you and Lisa.

PS. If I were to scoop a prize, I'd love to see the picture book writing pdf!

Alison Reynolds said...

Fascinating post, Peter and Sally.
The cover is absolutely gorgeous and what a great idea to have the book pass through a day.
Is poetry your favourite form to write picture book, Sally?


Dee White said...

Congratulations Sally and Lisa on a gorgeous looking book...and thanks Peter for hosting Sally on your blog and sharing the journey with us.

I'm sure Bush Lullaby will be a popular addition to many home libraries:)


Sally_Odgers said...

Thanks for having me, Peter:-)

Dale Harcombe said...

Great to read about this beautiful picture book and its making. Love to hear of the interaction between Sally and her editor.

Peter Taylor said...

Many thanks for visiting and your comments Sally, Janeen, Alison, Dee and Dale.

I find it fascinating how we all write and work differently, and how books get changed from their original concept. Perhaps the journey of my new one, 'Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking' is best explained in a new blog-post, but it was first pitched to the publisher as 'Fun Lettering for Children'.

Wendy Nichols said...

Great interview, Peter. Sally sounds wonderful. I'll have to keep her in mind for appraisals.
Hope she sells millions.
Wendy x

Sally_Odgers said...

Thanks, Janeen. I'm so glad you like this one:-)

Sally_Odgers said...

I've done quite a few picture books over the years, Alison. I suppose half are in verse. I love writing verse (and it seems a pity not to do something I love) but some books do work better in prose.

Robyn Opie Parnell said...

Great interview, Sally and Peter. Thank you for sharing the back story of Bushland Lullaby.
I've had the pleasure of reading Bushland Lullaby, as I'm hosting Sally on my blog on 23rd September, and I love this beautiful book. It's wonderful, a treasure to be enjoyed before bed every night.
Congratulations, Sally and Lisa. And congratulations, Peter, for a fabulous blog.
Love and Light,

Oh, and if I'm lucky enough to win a prize, I'd love to read Writing a Picture Book Text.
Thanks again, Sally.

Karen Tyrrell said...

Hi Sally,
Just love hearing about your latest success story and your writing processes.
I would love to win your picture book writing pdf.
Karen :)

Anonymous said...

Fabulous and insightful post on a gorgeous picture book. Thank you for sharing its making and journey, Sally, and congratulations to you and Lisa on the launch of Bushland Lullaby.

Angela Sunde. said...

Congratulations, Sally, on your brand new picture book. I think you certainly did inherit a wealth of talent from your parents.

My pick would be the Picture Book writing pdf.

Robert Vescio said...

Hi Peter,

Great interview Peter. Sally, you are an amazing author. I love reading your books. Thanks for being such a great mentor to so many aspiring authors.


Peter Taylor said...

Very many thanks for visiting and your nice comments, Wendy, Robyn, Karen, Chris, Angela and Robert - and your responses, Sally.

It looks like many people want to join you in picture book writing! I wonder why that is, because most writers find picture books the hardest of all genres to write successfully? Is it the obvious and amazing joy that they bring to young children and 'read it again and again potential, the special delicious use of words or the anticipation of having a wonderful artist interpret the text ...or the challenge?

Peter :)

Sally_Odgers said...

Interesting question, Peter. I think picture book writing has the same appeal as poetry writing. In fact, picture book texts (even those that don't rhyme) are closer in genre to poetry than they are to most story forms. A picture book text, like a poem, can be tumbled until it's a shining jewel.

Having said that, I often produce five or six versions of the same text that have slightly different slants. Of course, if one is lucky enough to get picked up the others go into limbo.

Peter Taylor said...

Tanya Suffolk tried posting this comment without success:

Congratulations Sally on Bushland Lullaby. This book has taught me so much about literary art.
Also sincere congratulations to Lisa for her incredible illustrations - the quality of Sally's writing is matched perfectly by Lisa's artwork. Altogether this book is mesmerising.Visitors have seen this book on my table and pick it up immediately to read it. I haven't had visitors do this before. This speaks volumes about how eye-catching this book is amongst the many my children and I have recently borrowed from the library (approx. 30).

Thanks Peter for helping spread the word about great children's literature, authors and illustrators. It all takes time, but it is certainly appreciated.

If possible, I'm interested in Sally's Writing Metrical Verse module.

Thank you for visting, Tanya, and spending so much time and effort to provide this comment.

Jeff Rivera said...

Thanks for the wonderful interview , Peter and Sally and congratulations on the book. Sounds very interesting. The cover is very nice and eye catching. I haven't read the book yet but it's definitely a must read and it should be added to my to read list for 2013. Wish you success with your book and I hope I get to read it soon. I'm sure I'll love it.

Jeff Rivera
Bestselling Author