Today, I’m delighted to introduce Fiona Murphy. She’s an enthusiastic writer, full of intriguing ideas and stories and she’s always keen to make children and parents laugh. She lives in Weymouth with her husband and grown up children. After losing her job she dug out the poetry she had written for her children when they were younger. It was always a dream to get them illustrated and published, but back in the 90s this proved difficult. With the help of social media and the internet she managed to achieve this and while battling with illness, her dream came true. She hopes to continue writing for children and is looking for an agent. Fiona’s collection of children’s poetry titled Down the Plughole is illustrated by Michelle Last and published by Poetry Space.
· Tell us about your writing journey
I wrote stories for my children when they were young and I’d read them aloud. My children and their friends loved to hear these stories and people said I should try to get them published. Instead, I kept them in a drawer and many years later, when ill-health meant I couldn’t work any longer, I revisited the stories. I wondered if I could work as a writer. I had a lot of time to think when I was ill, about my life and where it would go. I wanted to work, I’d had a job since I was fifteen, so during an interview at the job centre, I asked if they’d pay for me to do a writing course and eventually they agreed to cover half the fee. The course taught me how to put articles together and approach publishers. I returned to my children’s poetry and thought I could develop that.
- What inspires you to write now?
I like to come up with characters that make children laugh. I’m always thinking about new characters and the ideas come from chance remarks, comments, anything from everyday life. It’s like a seed being planted in my head that gets me thinking. I like to try out some of the ideas on kids and they tell me whether they like them or not.
· How did you find an illustrator to turn your children’s poetry into a picture book?
I went to a Facebook page called Writing and Illustrating for Kids and typed a comment saying that I’d written children’s poems and asked if anyone was interested in working with me. I got two replies and decided to approach Michelle Last, who lives in Leicester. I loved the quirkiness of her illustrations and the simplicity of the way she draws – it’s quite unique and very suitable for young children. We each signed a non-disclosure agreement and I sent her examples of my writing. She illustrated a couple of poems and sent me other drawings. I thought about poems I could write to complement her style. I wrote some poems in response to her drawings about witches and pirates. Other poems came from ideas prompted by family and friends. We worked via email and Facebook until we had a complete book. Then, we met at the Tate Modern in London in March 2011. We made plans to get published, looked at children’s books in the shop and talked about future projects. I researched publishers of children’s poetry who accepted unsolicited manuscripts and sent off samples of our work. Michelle did the front cover, and I set up a Facebook page. I built a following on Twitter and came in contact with Sue Simms of Poetry Space. I knew Poetry Space was based in Bristol and sent her an email. She asked to see the book and when I didn’t hear back, I sent a chaser. A little later she replied saying she wanted to publish Down the Plughole. It turned out that she loved the book and hadn’t got back to me because she’d been on holiday. We signed a contract with Sue and I began to learn more about publishing and layout. I did more work and found out how to add borders and further images. I tried to make the book as attractive as possible for children.
· Which children’s authors and poets have most influenced you?
I did a workshop about bullying with Michael Rosen when I was ten. I’ve loved his work ever since. Julia Donaldson is another favourite as she writes most of her books in rhyme and they work because the lines flow so easily. Pam Ayres makes me laugh – I like the humour in her work. I like the lighter side of poetry although I’m interested in learning about new styles and ways of writing. For young children, I think books need to have good rhythm and rhyme. Children will then read and re-read stories and this can help them to develop their reading skills.
· What tips do you have about writing poetry for children?
When you’re writing poetry for children, you have to remember that the adults will read it. It must appeal to adults as well as children. Humour is very important. It’s also good to have an educational element in the story. For example, my poem High in the Sky is a conversation between the moon and the clouds told through the verse. Children learn that the moon controls the tides through this poem.
Thank you, Fiona. Your book looks just great and it’s a big hit with children. If you would like to know more about Fiona and her work, please see:
Fiona’s website: http://fiona-murphy.co.uk
Poetry Space: http://www.poetryspace.co.uk