It’s Monday, and I’m just back from holiday, so obviously I’m in chaos and the family are playing pranks on me. In fact, I feel like the farmer in this fabulously funny new book from one of my favourite picture book authors, Elizabeth Dale on the publication of her 86th book!!!!!
I laughed like a drain at this. Seriously, it’s one to read on your own even if the children are 26. Fabulous flowing rhymes, hilarious situations (and the best horse poo joke ever). If you like Julia Donaldson books, you’ll love this.
In anticipation of the launch, we had a long chit-chat. She’s also set us a writing challenge, plus we have a few bespoke colouring sheets.
Your latest book, Mix Up Monday, is hitting the shelves. Can you tell us how it came to be?
I normally like to write a picture book with a subtle message, but sometimes it’s good to write something that is just pure fun, especially as long-suffering parents or carers are the ones who have to read picture books over and over again – so they should enjoy the story too. And reading a funny rhyming story is the best fun of all. So I knew the kind of book I wanted to write, I just needed a plot. And I find a good way to think up a fun plot is to ask ‘What if?’ and let my brain go wild. So for this book, I thought ‘What if a farmer gets up late, half-asleep and does everything wrong? How might his animals see his confusion and capitalize on it to have even more fun? How crazy can everything get? And once I started off with the sheep pretending to be cows and so Farmer Fred tries to milk them, the other animals on the farm joined in one by one and the story seemed to write itself. All I had to do was make sure that the rhymes and rhythm were right!
Why did you decide to become a children’s writer?
I’ve always loved writing stories, and after having been unsuccessful with my novel for adults – which took SUCH a long time to write – I decided I would always write something shorter in future! So I started writing short stories for magazines. But then, when my daughters were born, I was reminded just how lovely children’s books are and decided to try writing them, too, and found that to be the greatest fun of all. I’ve always loved writing poetry, so writing rhyming picture books is now one of my favourite things to do.
Can you describe where you work and your working day?
I sit by a window overlooking my garden, which can either inspire or distract me! I’m a bit of a workaholic – but simply because I love writing so much. I am usually on my laptop by 6.30. And then I spend all day doing any admin emails, chasing up publishers, commenting on illustrations etc. but most of all writing, whether it’s editing or writing something new! And on sunny days I am out in the garden plotting and thinking up ideas. Bliss!
What children’s books have inspired you recently?
Oi, Frog! (pic bok) by Kes Gray and Jim Field, and other ‘Oi’ books in the series – I think they’re so clever
The Princess and the Pea (pic book) by Jonathan Emmett and Polly Bernatene – very funny fairy tale twist
I, Cosmo (MG) by Carlie Sorosiak – such a brilliant insight into the mind of a dog
A Boy Called Hope (MG) by Lara Williamson – another funny insight – this time into the trials of a boy whose father has left home – and turned up on his TV screen.
What makes you happy?
Writing! Getting a book accepted! Time with family, country walks, reading and holidays in the mountains or by the sea. Oh and it’s so, so wonderful to see children enjoying reading/listening to my books.
What’s your worst habit?
Untidiness! In my writing it’s using too many !!!s (see?!!)
What are your top tips for budding young writers?
1.As a child, you are a far better expert than me on what makes a great, fun children’s book. So you are the best person to write fab kid’s stories. So get writing!
2.Don’t worry about the spelling or getting the words down right at first. Just write away, letting the story take you – getting words on the paper/screen and telling a good story is the most important thing. to begin with.
2. plus The best stories have a problem at the start that your characters want to fix. But if they fix it too easily, it could be very short! For longer stories, make things go wrong and then fix them – and do that again and again all on the way to the final satisfying end. I call these ups and downs ‘Uh-oh!’ and ‘Yay!’ moments. Try looking out for those in the next book you read.
3.When you’ve finished writing your story, read it again and change any bits you don’t like. All writers have to do it. No one writes their best story the first time.
4.When you think your story is as good as it can be, try reading it out loud or ask your mum or a friend to. Hearing the words spoken really shows you what isn’t quite right.
5.If you’re not happy with your story, don’t just throw it away. By all means start another story, but come back to that first story another day. You brain may well have been working on it while you’ve been doing something else and you will suddenly see how to change it.
6. Don’t ever think ‘I will never be good enough at writing to grow up to be an author.’ Every author has probably thought that when they were young – I know I did! If it’s what you want to do, then go for it! Someone has to write the books of the future, why not you?
7. If your dream is another career altogether, then go for that instead. But if you love writing, too, just do it for fun. It’s great to escape into a world you’ve created.
For your next story, why not try to think up a plot the way I did for Mix Up Monday? Just think ‘What if….?’ And imagine the craziest or scariest or most awful or exciting situation you can think of. How would everyone react? What might happen next? How can it all end well? Remember everyone wants a great ending!
Get your Mix-Up Monday Colouring activity here
Farmer Fred is more than a little sleepy this morning ― and his animals know it! Everyone wants to join in on the Monday mayhem but what will happen when he starts mixing up all the animals?
I began writing magazine fiction and have sold thousands of stories all over the world, but when my daughters were born and I started reading to them, I was reminded just how wonderful children’s books are, and decided to try writing them myself. They are the most fun of all and I have had over eighty books published from picture books up to novels for up to age 12.
Some of them deal with issues I have faced with my own children such as a pet dying – Scrumpy (Andersen) or an over-adventurous hamster – Hammy (Orchard), others cover issues common to many children, such as being scared of monsters – Nothing Can Frighten a Bear (Nosy Crow), being different – Delightfully Different Dilly (Quarto 2021) and being small – Billy and the Balloons (Salariya) and Off to Market! (Frances Lincoln -a runner-up in the Dundee Picture Book Award and based on my journey on an over-crowded minibus in Uganda filled with villagers, furniture and animals!