I met Andrew King a few months ago when he was giving a presentation to Write Links, a newly formed children’s writers group in Brisbane. He talked about his experience in getting his first picture book Engibear's Dream published. And even though it sounded like an epic journey, his enthusiasm and drive were catching and inspiring.
Of course, I rushed out and bought Engibear's Dream as soon as possible.
Being the mother of sons and being married to an engineer, it seemed that Andrew must have written the book with my family in mind. The story is fun and engaging. In the story Engibear designs and makes various prototypes of 'bearbots', and in the process introduces children to basic engineering ideas. And if that wasn't enough, the story has also been beautifully illustrated.
Since that first meeting, I have had the pleasure of sharing the same critique group with Andrew, and I couldn’t resist asking him a few more questions about his writing and the creation of Engibear's Dream.
Engibear's Dream written by Andrew King and illustrated by Benjamin Johnston was published in partnership with Little Steps.
So let’s get into it:
How was Engibear born?
Engibear was created while playing with my kids. We spent a lot of time in sandpits and playgrounds and drawing. As an engineer I always seemed to put a bit of an engineering spin on the games we played or the things we drew. However, at the time there did not seem to be an engineering character in children’s literature that we could involve in our games. Therefore, one of our teddy bears became the character Engibear who did things like drive trucks and operate cranes in the backyard sandpit. From there Engibear developed into a consulting Engineer in the fictitious city of Munnagong and we shared lots of stories about his work. Over time Engibear spread outside my family and friends and we have developed him to become a “friendly face” of engineering - a way to introduce engineering to young children.
From start to finish how long did it take you to complete the finished manuscript, and from there how long did it take until Engibear's Dream was released?
We had early stories many years ago – the stories we used to share as a family. However, it was not until early 2010 that we started to write a proper picture book. It took just over a year to get the story into the right format and then another 18 months for the book to be edited, illustrated and published.
Where are some of the places Engibear has travelled to as part of the publishing journey?
Engibear is starting to get familiar with parts of Australia; he has visited Sydney, Canberra and a range of places in South-East Queensland. He has also had some international travel; trips have included the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair (thanks to Little Steps) and engineering conferences in Slovenia and Singapore (thanks to Engineers Australia). In early 2013 Engibear’s Dream was also published in Korea.
Have you got any good tips for beginning picture book writers?
I am pretty new to this game so I think all of my tips are borrowed from others. There are far too many to include here; however, I have included a few that have been helpful for me on my journey so far:
· read and write every day
· look for inspiration everywhere and allow it to come from anywhere
· become part of the writing community – workshops, festivals, conferences, writing groups, reading groups
· continually educate yourself - learn and understand the structures and rules that apply to your craft
· be yourself and tell your stories your way
Any golden tips on self-publishing or partnership publishing?
I think it is a great way to get your product out there and achieve a great milestone - publication. However:
· There is a lot more to publication than just writing the book. Be prepared to do all of the follow up work in the post publication phase; presentations, marketing and sales and distribution.
· Don’t try self-publishing for the money. Work out a marketing plan and make sure you really understand the economics and the associated risks before you decide how many books you want to publish.
When you write a picture book and have it published through a publishing house, generally the author and illustrator have minimal or no contact, but if you self-publish/ partnership publish you have the great benefit of being able to work closely with an illustrator. Engibear’s Dream talented illustrator is Benjamin Johnston, how did you collaborate on Engibear's Dream? What was the process like to work with the illustrator?
I really enjoyed working closely with Ben (during the course of the book development we exchanged over a hundred emails). From my perspective, it really helped with Engibear’s Dream – especially as it was our first book together and we needed to do things like establish the style and the characters. However, once we had established initial ideas for the illustrations Ben took them way beyond what I ever imagined they would be and I am really glad he did. Working with Ben also helped me with the final versions of the text. In some cases the text changed to suit the illustrations, for example including “Tiger Grip Tyres” in the text to match the billboard sign. In other cases we modified both the text and the illustrations for a better story – we even changed one entire page after it had been completed to better fit the story line.
As children’s writers we are often told not to write in rhyme. You chose to write in rhyme, what went into that decision?
Engibear's stories started off as short poems / rhymes with accompanying pictures (see attached example by Douglas). When doing these it just seemed natural to write in rhyming verse. The book really became an extension of this style and the rhyming stayed. I must admit I was not sure whether to stick with it or not for the second book but I have been encouraged by people who have said they enjoyed the rhyme. Perhaps there is also an element of my own personality in it; I am an engineer and an amateur musician and from both perspectives the structure of rhyming verse is appealing.
Would you like to share anything about your next book/ project?
Engibear’s Bridge is a story about building a dinosaur shaped pedestrian bridge across Munnagong River outside Munnagong State School. The kid’s at the school thought of the bridge, council agreed to it and asked Engilina, Munnagong’s Chief Engineer, to manage the project. The kids get to learn about bridge building while following the bridge’s design and construction, month by month, through a whole year. The book also includes a subtle sustainable transport message.
Is there anything else you want to share?
Keep on writing, drawing and reading and encourage your relatives and friends to do it as well…
Thank you, Andrew, for taking the time to do this interview. I am am looking forward to the release of Engibear's Bridge.
You can get your own copy of Engibear right here.
Children's Writer and Illustrator