'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Guest Post: Claire Saxby on There Was an Old Sailor

KBR is delighted to welcome author Claire Saxby with this wonderful insight into her processes behind her award-winning book - There Was an Old Sailor. This gorgeous book has just the peer-voted SCBWI Crystal Kite Award.

There Was an Old Sailor is a book that so very nearly didn't happen. The story itself was a gift really.

My son was doing circus classes and we parents waited for the duration usually, as it was too hard to bundle up other children, go home then bundle them up again and go back to collect circus child.

One day, a storyteller friend (her daughter also attended the classes) rushed in late and flopped down in a chair, exhausted from a day's storytelling with kindergarten-aged children. Why, she ruminated, was there not a cumulative rhyme on sea creatures in that Year of the Ocean. Something, she suggested, like There Was an Old Lady.

Ooh, I'll have a go, I said.

And lived happily ever after...

Oh wait...it doesn't work like that does it?

There is some freedom to having a pre-determined structure for a story, but some challenges too, particularly when that story is in rhyme. So I drafted and redrafted, studying the rhythm and rhyme patterns and finding and rejecting sea creatures for different reasons.

It was quite different to any other story I'd written. I was able to dissect it and attack elements separately. For example, I first sequenced the animals in size-order, then collected rhyme-words before I began to put together each line/stanza. But finally, some months later, many out-loud readings by me and by 'strangers' it was ready. (By strangers, I mean people who'd never read the text...a great way to see if I had the rhythm right.)

I sent the story to various publishers but it didn't find a home and I resigned myself to using it in classrooms as part of a modelled story structure or as a story to share at storytime. I even convinced myself that was enough.

Then, at a writer and illustrator gathering, the same person who gifted me the idea was talking about the story and I realised there was a new publisher I'd not tried. Walker Books. They'd been in Australia for some time but were only just establishing a local list. And long story short, Walker Books Australia accepted and published There Was an Old Sailor in Feb 2010.

It was the first book for illustrator Cassandra Allen and she did a wonderful job of bringing visual humour to the text. I love Sailor's twinkling eyes and Popeye forearms and the beautiful sea creatures. Working with Virginia Grant at Walker was a delight.

I have a Sailor puppet with a wide open mouth and sea creatures to feed him. Children from toddlers up love to help me feed him when I visit their kinder or classroom. Older children write their own new story full of wonderfully absurd happenings.
There Was an Old Sailor was shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Awards in 2010 and also shortlisted in the Korean Picture Book Awards 2010.

I was thrilled when There Was an Old Sailor was short-listed for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards this year and then dancing-around-the-house-excited when Lin Oliver of SCBWI in the US rang to tell me Sailor had won! What makes the award even more special is that it is peer-voted. I love that so many writers and illustrators voted for Sailor. The award provides opportunities to share Sailor with new readers.

Stay tuned for KBR's review of There Was an Old Sailor . . .