As I’ve mentioned before, I write book reviews for the Sacramento Book Review. I only review books for kids — young adult, middle grade, and picture books. It’s great fun and I get to read many books I might not run across otherwise. Recently I reviewed a fabulous picture book called You Can’t Eat a Princess. It is now my granddaughter’s new favorite book. When the review ran, the author, Gillian Rogerson, left a comment thanking me for the review. I wrote right back and asked if she would be willing to do an email interview for this blog. She agreed! Yay!! So today you can read first my review and then the interview with the wonderful answers Gillian sent in response to my questions. Enjoy!
You Can’t Eat a Princess
Everything was perfect. Princess Spaghetti’s birthday was coming up. There were chocolate sandwiches, chocolate milkshakes, and a wonderful chocolate birthday cake nearly as big as the princess herself. Nothing could possibly make the party anything less than perfect … except, the king’s disappearance! His throne was empty. Princess Spaghetti found a note from aliens from another planet. They had kidnapped the king and taken him to their planet somewhere in space. It’s a good thing the princess has the royal soldiers at her disposal. But when they are all busy or afraid of catching cold, Princess Spaghetti has no choice to but to go into space to save the king. How will she find the right planet? Can she save her father? What secret weapon does a little princess use?
“Said one alien. ‘We love princesses here.’ ‘I like mine with chips,’ said another alien.’”
Sarah McIntyre’s charming illustrations are the perfect completion for Gillian Rogerson’s sweet and funny story. Little girls (and boys and moms and dads) will delight in this extraordinary adventure. One could not ask for anything more than princesses, aliens, and chocolate swirled together in an appealing birthday surprise.
Your latest picture book, You Can’t Eat a Princess, is a delightful romp. How did you come up with the idea for it?
I had an idea of using a princess in a story for a while. I pictured her in different scenarios and I suddenly thought of Space. Then I began to wonder what she was doing in Space and the idea of a rescue mission soon came to me. I thought that the princess just had to meet aliens and the dialogue line of, “I like mine with chips” popped into my head.
Princess Spaghetti is a pretty spunky little girl. Did you model her on someone?
I work with young children, age 4, 5 and 6, and all of the girls could be models for Princess Spaghetti! They don’t take any nonsense from the boys and they love making up their own adventure games. I’ve even seen some of the boys dressing up in princess clothes because they could see the girls were having so much fun.
What kind of response have you had from the book so far? Are you hearing from children? Will Princess Spaghetti have her own Facebook page soon?
The book has had a wonderfully positive response. There have been some brilliant reviews. I particularly like reviews from young children as they are so honest! When I’ve been to schools to read the book, the girls love Princess Spaghetti and how brave she is, and the boys love the part where the aliens want to eat her! Quite a few schools in England have had topics based around the book. One nursery had decorated their entire hall with aliens. Although it was a 2 hour drive away I went to see them. One of the little girls screamed, “It’s Princess Spaghetti! She’s here!”
I had a lovely fan letter from a girl aged 6. She has some good questions for me. I sent her a reply and a signed book.
There has been talk at the publishers for a website devoted just to Princess Spaghetti. We shall have to see what happens. I’m not sure if characters are allowed on Facebook. I read a piece recently about a teddy bear that had tried to join Facebook but he wasn’t allowed in.
Was Princess Spaghetti invited to the Royal wedding? She’s every bit as cute as those flower girls and she’s a princess!
She was invited but she had to stay at Cupcake Castle to sort out a pirate problem. However, the idea of a Royal wedding could be a good plot for a story…
Getting a picture book published in the states is really, really difficult. Even finding an agent who will handle picture books is extremely hard. What is it like on your side of the pond?
Very difficult. It took me over 5 years of submitting stories before I got my first offer of publication. I did try an agent in the early days but was told to come back when I had had some publishing success. I was determined to be published and kept submitting stories and learning all I could about writing. My first publication offer was for ‘The Teddy Bear Scare’. I received a publication offer for my second book, ‘Happy Birthday Santa’ within 2 weeks of sending it to the publishers! So, you never know how long it could take for you to receive an offer.
It was at this stage that I got my lovely agent, Eve. She has been so supportive and is really pleased that Princess Spaghetti is doing so well.
Was You Can’t Eat a Princess published earlier in England? What was the process like for you to get your book into the hands of an American publisher?
‘You Can’t Eat A Princess!’ was published here in March 2010 and was an immediate success. It wasn’t long after that my publisher told my agent about the sale to America. So, I didn’t have to do anything! Sometimes, luck is on your side. I am so pleased that it is out there. I can see from Google searches that this book is the subject of story time in many stores across America.
I have only been to America once and the thing that really impressed me was the friendly attitude of everyone I met and the thought that ‘anything is possible here’. I think that’s why Princess Spaghetti is doing so well as she doesn’t let anything stop her from achieving her goals.
Oscar Wilde famously wrote in The Canterville Ghost, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Your latest book is published in the States, but the first three in England. What did you have to change about the way you write picture books for the American market?
My agent for this book was American and she edited the book with an American and English market in mind. There was one major change I had to make. King Cupcake was originally called King Pudding. In England, ‘pudding’ means any kind of dessert. When I pictured the king I thought of him like a small round Christmas pudding. But my editor explained that pudding didn’t have the same meaning in the USA. Also, Sarah McIntyre, the illustrator is American so I have all the help I need in making Princess Spaghetti suitable for an American market.
How was the experience different for you working with an editor here as compared to your British editor?
I didn’t need to work with an editor at all as the American version is exactly the same as the British version.
Your earlier three picture books – The Smallest Hero, Happy Birthday Santa!, and The Teddy Bear Scare! – all have different illustrators and You Can’t Eat a Princess still another. In the U.S. it is quite common for the author and illustrator to never meet or even talk. The decision is made by the publisher. How does that process work in the U.K.? Did you have any say on the illustrator for any of your books?
The publishers have always asked for my opinion on the illustrators. I have been extremely happy with each one. I was a bit worried about seeing a picture of Princess Spaghetti as I had a definite picture in my mind. But when I saw the first illustration I was delighted – she was perfect!
I am great friends with Sarah, the illustrator, and we have met a couple of times. We started out with emails and then a few phone calls. There was a comic convention in the town where I live and Sarah organised for us to have a table. I met her at the station and when we first saw each other we just stared at each other. We both had the same thought, “I can’t believe it’s you!” We got on really well and still keep in touch. We met again at an awards ceremony and when we saw each other this time we screamed and ran towards each other. No dignity at all.
Sometimes we hear real horror stories about writers having their hearts broken when they see the illustrations for their manuscripts. I’ll bet you were thrilled to see Sarah McIntyre’s whimsical drawings. She’s such an amazing illustrator. Every time I read You Can’t Eat a Princess I found new, funny details in the illustrations. I see she is illustrating You Can’t Scare a Princess which is coming out in September. How much communication have you had with her on these books?
We get on really well and Sarah sends me previews of the illustrations. She is utterly amazing and works so hard. The thing I love most about her work is the small details that she puts in. Sometimes, you don’t spot these until a second or third reading of the book. I have my copy of ‘You Can’t Scare A Princess!’ and the detail is astounding. I’m still finding extra details now. I’ve read the story to the children I work with and their mouths were wide open as I read. Afterwards, I heard some of the girls arguing over who will play Princess Spaghetti at break time.
Do you have other adventures planned for Princess Spaghetti? I certainly hope so.
I have already sent a batch of further adventures to the publishers. I have many more ideas in mind, some of them my own and some from the children I have visited. I have to make sure that the stories appeal to girls and boys. When I first started writing, one of my dreams was to create a strong character that could have many adventures. I’m so pleased that Princess Spaghetti is proving to be a popular character and that children want to hear more about her.
Do you work with a critique group? If so, is it in person or on line? What is that like for you?
I don’t work with any critique groups. Although I have had a few writers asking me for help – which I am always happy to give. It’s so hard trying to become a published writer. I tell people that their story could be the next best seller that we are all waiting for so they mustn’t ever give up.
What advice do you have for picture book writers who haven’t yet found success in getting their manuscripts published?
Look at the market. See what is being published but don’t write the same kind of stories. Publishers are always looking for something new and different. Look at author websites as a lot of authors give advice. For picture books, when I’m writing I split my story into 12 parts as this is how a picture book is usually published – on 12 double page spreads. You need a problem set up by page three/four; it gets worse through to page nine/ten and then have a solution in the last few pages. Don’t worry about describing everything as the illustrations will tell half of the story.
What was the best advice you ever received on your writing journey?
Every rejection is a step towards success. I used to picture my rejection letters as actual physical steps towards the day when I would become published. Receiving rejection letters/emails means that you truly are a writer. The only time that you fail is when you stop altogether.
Picture your success. Go into book shops and see exactly where your book will go. Google yourself and imagine your name on the front page. Get some business cards printed with ‘author’ on. The more you picture your success, the more committed you are to making it happen.
And, of course, never ever give up.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Have fun with your writing. Write like no one is going to read it, just you. You can worry about editing changes later if you need to. I had a lot of fun writing, ‘You Can’t Eat A Princess’, I thought the story seemed too silly and I wasn’t sure anyone would like it – but they did!
Thanks so much for answering my questions.
If you would like to read more of my book reviews, please click on this Sacramento Book Review link to see other reviews I have written. Leave a comment if you will. They love to get comments. I do, too. So please leave a comment at the end of this post. And if you are reading this in your email, please click on the title of the blog so it will take you to my blog and you will be counted. Have a great day!