Thursday, 12 January 2012

A Little Bit of Trauma goes a Long Way by Wendy Meddour

When you tell people you write picture books, they assume that you're a right old softy with an enormous fluffy toy collection and a tendency to sing in the rain ....


Sometimes, I go along with them: "Oh yes - I have an altogether happy disposition and love ALL babies - even when they scream."

But sometimes, just sometimes, I feel the need to tell the truth!

My rhyming picture books aren't the product of sugar and cuddles. Oh no. Far from it. My picture books are always induced by .... TRAUMA. Not a fluffy pink rabbit in sight!

Now, don't log off or be alarmed. Trauma isn't necessarily bad. (Well, technically it might be). But what I mean is, it gives rise to wonderful things ....

Take, for example, my first picture book (Ooh, that sounds a bit vain! Forgive me: 'trauma gives rise to mediocre things' doesn't really work ). Anyway, I was suffering (nay, nearly dying) from heat-stroke on the 10th floor of an apartment block in North Africa - and the temperature had just reached 50 Degrees Celsius! I repeat: 50 DEGREES CELSIUS! (I don't care if that was in 'the shade'. We hadn't been in 'the shade'.) And we couldn't get out because we were on the edge of a busy city and exit routes were blocked by forest fires.

(I'm behind one of these stripy curtains, busy being nearly-dead:)



Though I like to think of myself as a bold explorer, my delicate constitution is not made for such temperatures. Whilst everyone else was coping admirably, I was most certainly not. Friends sipped mint tea in an adjoining room whilst I panted and gasped for breath.

To be honest, I wasn't at my most glamorous either. You see, thanks to the kindness of a woman called Zarfa, my clothes were stuffed with bags of frozen chickpeas and my feet were in a bucket of mineral water. (The taps had all run dry).

But just when the situation seemed hopeless, something wonderful happened. You guessed it: the MUSE arrived!!!

And my brain wouldn't stop ..... my first ever picture book was born!

Now, I'm still sworn to secrecy - but think heroines stuck in towers - desperate to get out and fed up of waiting for a prince. (Oh, and I should point out that she doesn't die of heat stroke or fill her top with frozen chickpeas). Of course, I had to rework it (again and again and again), until it finally went 'click'. But what I produced was really rather nice and publishers actually loved it.

In summary: without a bit of trauma - my picture book career would never have begun. It was worth it - frozen chickpeas and all! So you can keep your fluffy bunnies: we don't need them. Picture-book writers prefer to live on the edge!

Or is it just me?

(Note from the author: 'If it is just me, please delete this entire post from your memory immediately. Many thanks.')



11 comments:

  1. Nothing like a bit of stress and trauma to get the creative spirit moving, Wendy!

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  2. Absolutely, Wendy. The first picture book I sold (Owen and the Mountain) I wrote while looking after my daughter Hannah, who was very sick at the time. On top of that, I'd watched The Hanging Gale on TV the night before - about the famine in Ireland - and was deeply moved. I went to my writing desk and said 'Right, Malachy. Enough pussy-footing around. It's time to put some REAL EMOTION into a story. It's time to write something that MATTERS!' Within two weeks I had my first offer of publication.

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  3. Wow! Great story Malachy.
    Get digging deep, wannabe picture-book writers :)

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  4. Certainly works for me... big stress makes for a reality hit... perhaps creativity of any sort is a good way to exorcize all that pain...

    BTW I love "Owen and the Mountain" ... looking forward to Wendy's now (;

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    1. "creativity exorcises pain" .... I like that Lisa T.

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  5. Great blog, Wendy. You're right, sitting at home gazing at the computer isn't particularly inspirational. But as to fluffy bunnies - well, I've always felt that beneath their cute exterior lurks savagery!

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    1. I concede your point, Paeony. We had bad experiences with Benjamina (who wasn't actually Benjamin at all).

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  6. Great story and it is strange when the muse decides to take over your brain and get to work.

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    1. Thanks Lynne. As I'm fairly new to all this writing lark, I'm hoping milder (not-quite-so-nearly-dead) traumas will also work!

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  7. Love this, Wendy! Maybe it was the frozen goods down your front that woke up your muse!

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  8. It's excellent that your muse coincided with the trauma. Sometimes life-changing experiences are stored and come out later in a flourish of creativity. I've been in 43 degrees and that was hot; another 7 degrees - no thanks!

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