All posts by Lucy Courtenay

Reasons for Writing an Illustrated Children’s Book #2

wormMy idea hasn’t been done before.

This feels different from ‘I have a great idea’. It implies that you’ve studied the market very hard and have found a space on the bookshelves which you intend to fill or die in the attempt. Your story is called Ernie the Line-Dancing Earthworm. Scissor kicks, invertebrates: this baby has it all! You haven’t thought about the writing or illustrating part yet, but you feel confident that these are secondary to the originality of your concept.

You’re on dangerous ground. There are only a finite number of plots, and they’ve all been done. Anything that remains, generally remains unwritten for a good reason.

GSIWAICBGeorges Polti states that there are thirty-six plots in his book, Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations (1916). Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots (2004) claims, unsurprisingly, only seven. Other theorists have declared that there are just two stories: going on a journey, and a stranger coming to town. Which you could argue is the same plot really, just seen from the opposite direction. Anne Fine, prize-winning author and Children’s Laureate 2001-2003, has said that “plots are overrated,” and she may have a point.

Great children’s books can be about nothing at all, and yet everything at the same time. The story that will succeed is not the madly original idea; it’s the brilliantly well-constructed one.

Get Started in Writing an Illustrated Children’s Book. Out now!


Reasons for Writing an Illustrated Children’s Book #1

book-books-background-backgrounds-sheet-page-writingI have a great idea.

This is an excellent starting point. I applaud you for already putting your imagination to work. It’s exciting isn’t it, that feeling when you have a little kernel of gold in your mind that you feel sure will turn into something wonderful?

I’m afraid having the idea is the easy part. Building that idea into something takes work. But you’re prepared for that, right?

GSIWAICBNinety-nine time out of a hundred, an idea will wither on the vine, not because it’s a bad idea, but because the writer doesn’t know how to nurture it. When the first flush of excitement passes, you can’t see where it goes next. You struggle to visualise the span of your book. You can’t make your characters sound the way you want, or look the way you imagined. Your story only stretches to one page and you don’t know how to fatten it up. This is as true for experienced writers as it is for those just starting out. I would hazard a guess that every published author in the field of children’s books has a drawer full of unfinished stories and half-sketched ideas that simply didn’t go anywhere. You are in good company.

Get Started in Writing an Illustrated Children’s BookOut now!



Purple Horses

A fried egg? Or the Millennium Falcon?
A fried egg? Or the Millennium Falcon?

“A parent saw a child drawing a horse, and it was purple. The parent asked the child, “Why are you drawing a purple horse? I’ve never seen purple horses.” To which the child replied, “How sad for you.”

I kick off with this quote in Get Started in Writing an Illustrated Children’s Book. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s stayed in my head for around twenty-five years, and so naturally I had to use it. Seeing purple horses has always struck me as a vital aspect of being a children’s writer.

It doesn’t specifically have to be a purple horse. It could be a shape in the fog, a tree masquerading as a ship, Bishop Brennan’s face in the skirting board. A log that might be a guinea pig if you squint. Something which proves that your brain is malleable and open to alternatives.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen? Could it be the start of a story?

Get Started in Writing an Illustrated Children’s Book, publishing November 2016.

On the Shelf

As it’shhh-librarians #nationalpoetryday (and I haven’t updated my blog in an age) I thought it was a good opportunity to dust off this old thing. Enjoy.



Bunkum’s Book Emporium: a paper crematorium where books can die unread.

The shelving units date away to 1634, they say (well, Mr Bunkum said).

They told me that my Prince would come and offer me a lordly sum to go and be his wife;

The Prince dissolved, as did his yacht, and left me here to wonder what to do about my life.


I suffer for my trade, and must breathe in an awful lot of dust, which often makes me think

My bones are very likely filled with words that once a public thrilled, my veins must course with ink.

My hair will be the threads that hold the books upon their spines of gold, my skin is soft like vellum;

If customers come in to browse, I furtively adjust my blouse and flex my cerebellum.


The clients are an absent lot, who half the time have just forgotten life this side of forty,

They hem and haw and ask what’s in the work of this Anais Nin that makes her quite so naughty.

I frown and tut (for pleasure, partly), tell them books by JR Hartley don’t in truth exist,

And with a flash of erudition, comment on a first-edition Kierkegaard they’ve missed.


My only hope of rescue lies with Mr Bunkum’s straining flies, which seem to need attention.

Perhaps he’d like a double life? Apparently he’s got a wife he doesn’t like to mention.

I’ll lie in wait and seize my chance and ask him if he’d like to dance, then flash a bit of knee.

The bodice-ripping heroines within the shop remainder bins won’t be a patch on me!




Empire State What?

balloonAfter writing a chapter on the importance of childishness for my new book GET STARTED IN WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING CHILDREN’S FICTION (out November 2015), I heard a fantastic example from my own past yesterday.

I went to New York with my family when I was 4 years old. I remember the skyline as we drove over the bridge from New Jersey. I remember the skyscrapers almost touching each other an unimaginably long way above my head. I remember Bloomingdales, and Father Christmas. My little brother (2) was given a balloon, which sadly popped beneath the wheels of his buggy.


I learned yesterday that my father took me to the top of the Empire State Building as well.

I don’t remember that. Sorry, Pa.

So if you ever catch yourself planning a wonderful book all about a small child’s exciting trip to New York, remember: balloon, not 20th century architectural icon. It’s all about perspective.

Milk versus Monsters

If you pick up a children’s book, should it always contain monsters? Or is a pint of milk an acceptable alternative?

UnknownNeil Gaiman and Chris Riddell’s FORTUNATELY, THE MILK addresses this question beautifully. A dad goes to the shops for a pint of milk, and gets waylaid on his route home. OK, so there are monsters AND milk. But the milk is definitely the star.

A good story can be about a pint of milk as much as about a monster the size of a mountain. As long as we are made to care, a children’s story can be about anything at all.


silly-monster“The most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children.” Jim Henson

How important is it, as a children’s writer, to remember what life was like as a child? I’m devoting a whole chapter of GET STARTED IN WRITING ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN’S FICTION (publishing November 2015) to this question.

Before she adopted her daughter, children’s author/illustrator Lauren Child was often asked how she could create children’s books if she had no children of her own. She used to make the important point that we don’t have to have children to understand them; we were all once children ourselves.

How many of us can remember those days? How many of us want to?

 0511-1009-2817-2318_Various_Types_of_Lighting_Depicting_Lamp_and_Light_Sales_clipart_image.jpg“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Douglas Adams

The boys’ bedroom is looking fantastic. The first coats of paint are on the walls, the curtains are half-made, the blinds are ordered, the new standard lamp is standing to one side wondering a little uncertainly where its designated floor space will be. A magnificent tally.

My deadline is a week today. I plan to have decorated the entire house and demolished the shed by then. Now where are those instructions for pinch pleats?