I'm thrilled to welcome Rebecca Colby to the blog today. Rebecca is a picture book author and poet. Her books include: It’s Raining Bats & Frogs (illustrated by Steven Henry and published by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2015) and There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie (illustrated by Kate McKelland and published by Floris Picture Kelpies, 2014).
Before writing for children, Rebecca inspected tights, taught English in Taiwan, worked for a Russian comedian and travelled the world as a tour director. Learn more about Rebecca at www.rebeccacolbybooks.com.
There's a link to a fun scavenger hunt at the end of this interview so be sure to read carefully to find the necessary clue!
But first, welcome to the blog, Rebecca! It’s super exciting to have you stop by.
Thank you, Christina! I’m super excited to be
Before becoming a writer you had some fascinating jobs. I’m sure you could tell us many an interesting story from those times. Are there any you’d care to share with us?
Certainly, my CV reflects my love of adventure and of experiencing new things. But one adventure I never planned to embark on was that of motherhood. Ironically, having kids and tempering my restless soul has led to my greatest adventure to-date—that of writing books for children.
Some of the stories I find most interesting to tell were horrible experiences at the time. Like being chased over a barbed wire fence by two dozen young bulls while walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path. Or listening to gunfire in the streets below my hotel room in the Basque Country. Or being temporarily stranded in an isolated section of the Chilean Andes due to a mudslide. Of course, I can see the funny side to these events now.
Wow - those are amazing stories! Now let's move on to talk about your debut picture book, There Was A Wee Lassie, your debut picture book. Could you tell the readers what’s it’s about?
It’s a Scottish twist on the much-loved rhyme about the old lady who swallows a fly. In it, a wee lassie swallows a succession of Scotland’s favourite creatures to catch a pesky midgie—including a puffin, a Scottie dog, a seal, and even Nessie! After all that, you’d think she wouldn’t be hungry but…guess again. And that’s all I can tell you. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next.
Your new picture book, It’s Raining Bats and Frogs, looks fantastic. Could you tell us a little about and what inspired you to write it?
This book is about a little witch named Delia who has been looking forward all year to flying in the annual Witch Parade. But parade day brings heavy rain, so Delia takes action and changes it to cats and dogs. However, that doesn’t work too well, so she changes it to hats and clogs. That doesn’t work too well either. Each new type of rain brings a new set of problems but eventually Delia finds a solution that saves the day.
I was inspired by my favourite weather—the rain, of course. I knew I wanted to write a book about a witch and I went for a walk in the rain to clear my head. The more I walked, the harder it rained. Soon it was pouring that heavy kind of rain when people say “it’s raining cats and dogs”. Except this was a book about a witch, so it had to rain bats and frogs instead. As my idea formed, I thought of another saying, “It’s raining on my parade.” With that, the rest of my idea took form. I decided to write about a witch parade that was being rained on and how it made the witches miserable.
That's a great idea for a book. Now the question is, have you ever run out of ideas? What’s the best one you ever had? What’s the worse?
I’m of the belief that you can never run out of ideas. What’s more difficult is the execution of ideas.
My best idea? Isn’t that a little like choosing a favourite child? My best idea obviously isn’t my best idea because I haven’t been able to sell the book it sparked. It’s also about a witch—one that’s training to be a rodeo champion. It’s received its share of rejections but it also consistently receives good feedback so I live in hope that one day an editor will take a chance on it.
And worst—well, there’s been a lot of contenders. Ideas like “Drool School” and “The Princess and the Pee” top the list. But again, I like to think it’s all down to how I executed these ideas. Or not.
Hee! Hee! "Drool School" - I'd liked to see that book! Still on the subject of writing, have you ever written in your PJs? If not, why?
I have, but it’s not my writing outfit of choice. The only time I write in my PJs is when I’m sick, or when I wake at 5am to write. The act of getting dressed allows me to feel like I’m taking my job more seriously. (Not that you can’t write in your PJs and take your writing seriously. It just doesn’t work for me.) Although I do most of my writing in bed, I still prefer to change into clothes before snuggling under the duvet with my laptop.
Following on from the previous question, could you describe your writing process for us?
I spend a lot of time staring at blank pieces of paper with the hopes of channeling a talented, deceased writer to do all the hard work for me. Unfortunately, that process has yet to work, so instead, I generally come up with a catchy title and plan a book around the title. Occasionally, the idea for a story comes first. And even more rarely—as was my experience with It’s Raining Bats & Frogs—I work a book around a character. But more often than not, I come up with a title I love and play around with it until I create a story that fits the title.
I don’t recommend this process, but it works for me. In part, it works because I’m so enthused about my title, that I make it work. I believe it also works for me because I allow myself plenty of time to ruminate on the title. I don’t push myself to start writing too quickly. I sit and day dream. This is not a luxury I allowed myself when I first started writing. I felt all writing time had to be spent doing just that—writing, and getting words down on the page. But over time, I’ve realized the wisdom of ample thinking time in advance of writing.
Your literary agent is based in the USA. How does that pan out given that you live in the UK?
There are upsides and downsides. My agent is the biggest upside. She’s a great match for me and has been instrumental in getting my writing career off the ground. Living in the UK, certainly hasn’t proved a barrier to us working together or selling books in the US. While she’s not adverse to selling books to the UK market, obviously, she doesn’t have the same contacts here. That’s where I share contacts I’ve collected. But it’s her position and clout that gets these contacts to take notice.
I know some authors in a similar situation lament the fact that their books aren’t readily available in the UK and that their US publishers aren’t in a position to put them forward for UK author events, but there are ways around that. There’s nothing stopping anyone from approaching event organisers directly. And I’ve found schools don’t mind which market an author is published in, as long as they are published and can inspire children.
This year I hope to reach out to more children worldwide by offering SKYPE visits. Also, I’ve gotten around my books not being readily available in the UK by ordering them myself. Yes, the shipping costs from the US eat up most of my profit, but at the end of the day, I’m able to put them into the hands of UK children as a result. To me, it feels like a small sacrifice, considering my books are already reaching a wider audience by virtue of being published in the larger US market.
are you working on now?
Not much. It’s the summer holidays and I’m taking time off. But in September, I plan to revisit some non-fiction picture books I’ve started, as well as trying to write both a middle grade novel and a screenplay. Wish me luck as I rarely write anything that’s longer than 700 words.
STOP PRESS! I've just discovered that Rebecca's third picture book, Motor Goose, will be published by Feiwel and Friends in 2017. Congratulations, Rebecca!
What’s the best thing about being a published author? Is there any part of the job on which you’re less keen?
The best thing about being a published author is knowing your work is finally in a position to make a difference in children’s lives. The worst part is writing. I’m not really keen on that part at all. The only thing that keeps me at my laptop some days is knowing the house needs cleaning. Some people put off writing by cleaning the house. I’m just the opposite. I put off cleaning the house by writing. Today I’ve put off cleaning by answering your questions, and before I forget, here’s a scavenger hunt answer: Minerva.
noticed that you’re a Funeverse poet. Can you tell us a little about it and how you came to be involved?
The FunEverse started as the brain-child of fellow children’s author, Maureen Lynas, who gathered together 10 UK poets to write humorous children’s poetry. Each poem is inspired by artwork provided by that month’s featured illustrator. We also invite children to join us and write their own poems inspired by the artwork. It’s proved to be a great resource for primary schools!
I became involved with The FunEverse through a competition I saw announced on the British Isles’ Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Facebook page. Recently we expanded our membership to 12 poets, and that’s precisely how we went about choosing our new members—through a further competition requiring entrants to write their own FunEverse poems.
Now it’s random question time!
What’s on your bucket list?
Someday when I have six weeks to spare, I want to walk the Northern Camino pilgrimage route in Spain from Irun to Santiago de Compostela. Not for the religious aspect of the journey--although I do consider myself spiritual—but for the experience of it and for the scenery. I studied in Santander many years ago and fell in love with ‘green Spain’, and what better way to see the rest of Northern Spain than on foot. Besides, walking is a fantastic meditative pursuit and great for generating story lines. Hey, I’m looking for a travelling companion, Christina. Fancy joining me? (Count me in, Rebecca!)
What three items would you take to a desert island?
Sun cream, a sun umbrella, and my life-saving medications. Seriously though, I don’t need much. As long as I’m not banned from singing, I can make my own entertainment. And I relish solitude. But what I don’t relish is too much sunshine. So I probably would be toting what I deemed most necessary for my personal survival—like sun cream, a sun umbrella, and my life-saving medications.
What’s your most lurid daydream?
Ah, that would be the one where I finally own my own house (complete with indoor swimming pool), am in a position to have dogs again, and forever look like I did when I was 25. I shall continue to dream on!
Dancing or swimming?
Despite the previous comment, it’s definitely dancing! I enjoy both but I spent a lot of my childhood in dance halls and I find it hard not to move when I hear music.
Being right or being diplomatic?
Now that’s a tough one, because I don’t like to upset people, HOWEVER, I do like being right. Boy, do I like being right! And sadly, my ego doesn’t always understand diplomacy.
What’s best - living in the US or the UK? (See previous question!)
Oh, no, you didn’t. Let’s just say that both countries have a lot going for them and I’m proud of my American heritage, but I’m quite happily settled here in the UK.
Ship or plane?
Trains. Ships give me motion sickness and I’ve had too many plane scares in the past.
Sweet or savoury?
Take one look at me and you’ll have your answer. Sweet. To take the words of Shakira out of context, “My hips don’t lie.”
Thank you for popping in, Rebecca. I wish you lots of success with It’s Raining Bats And Frogs and continued success with Wee Lassie and with Motor Goose when that comes out!