SINGAPORE (Reuters) - New Zealand’s Lynley Dodd fills her books with juicy words and rhymes that effortlessly roll off the tongue, but the celebrated children’s author admits writing them is anything but easy.
Dodd has won multiple awards and her picture books have sold over four million copies worldwide. She has been delighting children and parents alike since 1973, when she collaborated with author Eve Sutton on the classic “My Cat Likes To Hide In Boxes.”
The book proved to be the launchpad for Dodd’s writing career with the illustrator and trained artist saying she loved working on it so much she became a full-fledged children’s author.
Her first solo effort in 1976, “The Nickle Nackle Tree,” became the first of 34 books Dodd has had published so far. Her
latest book, “Hairy Maclary, Shoo,” published this month, is the 10th installment in her popular series about a small, black dog.
Dodd, who has written at least one book a year since 1981, spoke to Reuters recently about why writing children’s books is still so hard after this many years.
Q: You’ve been writing children’s books for over 30 years. Has it gotten any easier?
A: “I still find it hard! I do at least 22 drafts for every book, as with rhyme it is a lot harder to get it right. I try and make sure that it sounds spontaneous, and you have to work very hard at that. Once I start in earnest, it takes me about six months to write and illustrate a book.”
Q: You specialize in picture books. What’s their appeal?
A: “I was trained in art, and I taught for years before I had my family. But while working with Eve Sutton on “My Cat,” I realized just how much fun it would be to combine the words with pictures, and I wanted to have a book all to myself, I’m greedy! So, I decided to try writing there and then. When you’re illustrating, and writing, you control exactly what you want the reader to get out of the book. It’s very fulfilling.”
Q: Your books are mainly about animals, and often have words that children are not really familiar with. What inspires you?
A: “I come from a bookish family, and as a child, I was always preoccupied with language, how words sound, how they roll off the tongue. I keep an ideas book, and I guess it all started in 1979, when I penned a sketch of a little shaggy dog. I decided to name that dog Hairy — the “Maclary” came because I wanted another name that rhymed with that — and then all the other characters came along because he had to have a circle of friends, and they all had to be different!”
Q: Are the animals you write about based on real pets?
A: “I do draw quite often on family experiences, but not all the animals are real. Slinky Malinki (a mischievous black cat) was based on our cat at the time, and I did own a Schnitzel Von Krumm (dachshund) at one point. Hairy is a mixture of terriers I’ve known. Our garden is also full of hedgehogs, and they inspired another one of my books.”
Q: Has it been difficult to keep up the Hairy series for 10 years now? Are you getting bored?
A: “I’m not sick of them yet, but there is a limit to the number of adventures he can go on! The difficulty of coming back to the same subject over such a long period of time is that you have to keep the characters and the illustrations very consistent.”
Q: How have you managed to keep writing so consistently over the years, especially as your two children were growing up?
A: “My children thought all mums wrote books. For years, I worked while they were at school on the dining room table and then had to promptly put it all way when they came home. The children have left home long since, and now its just the three of us — me, my husband and Burmese cat Suu Kyi — and I work at a large desk in my own room upstairs. I am disciplined.”
Q: Any advice for aspiring children’s authors?
A: “Don’t ever think its an easy job! You simply cannot be satisfied with second best, you have to work at it very hard. And don’t be wedded to a good line: make sure whatever you write really is the best it can possibly be.”
Editing by Jonathon Burch