Showing Up


Writing picture books is a strange process.

For me it often starts with a name or a line that pops into my head for no obviously apparent reason.

And I get all excited and rush to the computer. If I’m lucky things start spinning off from it but more often than not I get that first little gem down and it just ‘is what it is’ and no more. It refuses to tell me anything more about itself for ages and ages.

Like this morning. A few days ago a new character turned up and I thought ‘fantastic, here we go’. But for two mornings I’ve sat staring at those opening lines and been completely at a loss. ‘What am I supposed to do with you?’ I keep thinking.

I keep trying things and I’m just not feeling that spark. Sometimes it feels like the ideas have emigrated to warmer climes – or at least they’re hibernating. Most of the time I have to hunt around for them and even the blighters that arrive of their accord I then need to work out what to do with, like this one today.

So where do you get ideas? Some people seem blessed with a head full of the things but surely everyone has duff days. What then?

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Would you trust your book to this man ?

Somewhere, deep down, without realizing, I think I thought all editors looked like this!

But of course they don’t.

Back in May, I finished my first middle grade novel. It was done! Woohoo!

I spent the summer getting feedback, editing the whole thing and really felt I was getting to the point where I could think about submitting. But I wasn’t. Why?

Because there was a problem.

I knew there was a problem with the first few chapters. It didn’t get into the action quickly enough – the pace was too slow. And from reader feedback I knew that was where I needed to put in the work.

The simplest solution would be to just cut it. The trouble was, I loved that first chapter! For me it set up the main character perfectly and (I hoped) made the reader care about him.

But I’ve realised it was more than that. This was the first chapter I had ever written. It was where my story began  (both on the page and off). And boy, was I connected to it. So how was I going to wield the mighty editing axe myself? How was I going to get to the action quicker but still keep what I loved?

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What Mammoths can teach us about creativity

These were designed and made for me by my smallest son. I love how inventive kids are! He has also attempted roller skates by tying felt tip pens to his feet with string. That was less successful but he is undeterred.

It reminds me of a picture book I love called ‘Me and My Mammoth’ by Joel Stewart.

It’s all about a little boy who loves to invent and make things but they never quite turn out right. So he buys a kit – to make an aeroplane. Only instead of an aeroplane he ends up with a very big, very hairy mammoth! Who can fly! It’s a fabulous book and I just love the unexpected jump from starting to make one thing and ending up with something so spectacularly and wonderfully different. Something that then takes him on a fantastic adventure.

I see my two boys doing it all the time.

So what have I learned from a mammoth and my boys’ inventiveness?

If I’m making stuff up and at first it doesn’t look like I thought it would, don’t be discouraged, don’t give up on it – because what comes out instead might just take me off on a whole new adventure!

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The Power Of Vulnerability

I expect most people will have seen this already but every so often I just watch it again. Because there’s so much in it that I need to hear it more than just the once!

And as I sit down to write I like to remember her words and to remember that the definition of courage is ‘to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.’

“What happens when people open their hearts?”…
“They get better.”
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood



Everything is Beautiful When You Don’t Look Down

We spent Sunday on the South Bank. I love the view along there with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament it really is fantastic. But I love the fact that everywhere you go there are interesting views – not just the big sights but juxtapositions of the old and new, the busy and the tranquil.

This was on the back of the Hayward Gallery. It’s called ‘Everything is Beautiful When You Don’t Look Down’ and was built by the arts collective Robots. It was all built from recycled and reclaimed materials and made with help from the children at the Oasis Children’s Venture.


I just love it and the fact you have to look up to see these things as you are wandering along. It reminded me that I have to keep looking up to get where I want to be.

If I don’t look up I could miss seeing someone (or something) that might be right there waiting to help me. If all I do is look down and cling to my tiny bit of wall I might never move.  I also like that to be helped you have to let go of the wall long enough to take their hand.

And that can be a very scary and a very brave thing to do.

To let go.


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A 50-word story

Today I listened to the latest teleclass ( at the Big Writing School ). Suzy was talking through the steps of creating a piece of writing and suggested we wrote a 50 word story to practise the points.

I have always liked Haiku and the challenge of trying to capture something in such a short form, so when she suggested this I thought I’d have a go.

You can see some examples of the mini sagas here on The Telegraph site. It’s quite amazing what people have done.

I’m not sure if this is on point but it’s 50 words. I think I might try this more often though, definitely gets the creative juices flowing.

Here’s my first attempt anyway.

When you’re right you’re right – Except when you are so very wrong.

‘You know I’m right,’ she said.
Words rage inside me like warring birds.
‘You know that.’
Pecking each other’s eyes.
‘You’ll see I am.’
Blood and feathers falling everywhere.
Until one bird finds a gap. Flies out.
‘Enough,’ I cry.
And the rest follow into a wide blue open sky.

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Andy Shepherd

andy new headshotAndy is a UK-based children’s author. She is represented by Jo Williamson at the Antony Harwood Literary Agency and her debut, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ will be published by Piccadilly Press in June 2018.

Watch out for ‘The Boy Who Lived With Dragons’ coming September 2018 and ‘The Boy Who Flew With Dragons’ in January 2019.


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Writing again

Today I took a picture book I wrote a couple of years ago and started playing with the idea of it as a longer book for 7 – 9 year olds. I think the idea will hold up, I just wasn’t sure if I had the character’s voice. But I decided to follow the advice I keep reading and JUST WRITE. And actually there he was, on the page. And he made me laugh. And when I nervously read it to OH he laughed too.

And it did feel good to write again.

I’ve got 7 picture books ready to submit and I finished my first middle grade novel in May which is currently with readers. But since finishing that I have been wrestling with the Nay Sayer in my head. Which is particularly vexing because didn’t I say at the start of this process, ‘ If I can just finish this book I’ll have proved I can do it. Finally I will have proved to myself and that’ll be that. There’ll be no stopping me.’ ?

And yet here I am. I’ve finished a whole book and yet the nagging voice has just found something else to latch onto. ‘Yeah but that was a fluke.’

So how did I get back to the page today?

Well after summer hols and with the kids back at school, I have cleaned the kitchen, sorted the attic, decluttered, read blogs, got all my picture book submissions in the post, and read A LOT.

But I’ve been grumpy and crabby with a head full of:

‘You cant expect anything to come of these submissions’

‘You managed it once but don’t think you’ll write anymore’

‘You’re living in cloud cuckoo land if you think that’s going to sell’

Then lying in bed the other night I just saw my Creative Self slumped under the weight of all this jibing jabber. This ‘Me’ chained up by it all. Deflated, fed up, looking miserable and I thought:

‘And I really expect you to turn up and create something? With this barrage of non-stop bullying?’

I felt pretty sorry for my Creative Self, actually. So I decided to be a bit kinder. Take a bit more care of her.

But the first step was noticing she was there and feeling miserable.

Earlier in the year I joined The Big Writing School run by Suzy Greaves and I have to say I’ve got to know a lot more about my Inner Critic and how to deal with her thanks to Suzy!

I have called her ‘Lady Blah Blah’.


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First Post

Ok so my first blog. And it’s appearing because my husband has got so fed up with telling me to start one that he has threatened to log in and write it himself – as me – if I don’t do it soon. And I can’t possibly let him on here. So ok OH, you’ve won. I’m here.

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