A few years back when I cleared out my parents’ house, I found some of the long-forgotten books of my youth, packed in a taped-closed box at the back of a cupboard. There was Noddy and Big Ears, Peter the Rabbit, Harry the Dirty Dog, The Famous Five (Even then something linked me to George), a lovely colour-illustrated Charlie Brown omnibus, and The Cat in the Hat, which frankly scared the hell out of me.
Why had my mother packed these away? At first I thought it was that post-war frugality, where everything was saved for a later day. I know she’d lent them to people. And then I felt again I’d failed by not reproducing.
Some were in good condition but some, like Peter Rabbit, the spines were flaky and torn from use. My mother said we liked Peter so much she could repeat it verbatim. These were living memories. I had the spines repaired.
But the books left me wondering about the powerful effect they’d had on my imagination. Perhaps not having children, I have a missed an opportunity to pass on these tales (tails in Harry and Peter’s case). So it was great fun when Prue Batten decided to write a children’s book, the first I’d bought or read in many years. And I thought it would be more fun to ask some questions.
Greg: What is the first whiff you had of Nugget?
Prue: We have a pair of wombats on the farm and I was watching the darker chap one day and wondering what he got up to when weren’t looking. That was the intitial ‘whiff’. Then I was approached by www.bopressminiaturebooks.com to write a short story on a wombat which I subsequently did and which the press illustrated and bespoke-bound. It sold brilliantly across the globe to collectors of miniature books and was reviewed very favourably by Microbibliophile, which could be seen as the NY Times review of the miniature book world.
Greg: It’s quite a step from your usual Historical and Fantasy writing? Was it hard to make the adjustment to your Voice, play down the vocab?
Prue: Yes, it is quite a step away from the intensity of historical fiction and the glorious inventiveness and language of historical fantasy, but my voice is my voice, no matter what genre. It’s something I rather like – that a PB voice is resonant throughout. In terms of the vocab – I have a vivid memory of reading to my own children, I have friends with grandkids and I have honorary godchildren, so I just used the style that sat best with those interactions.
Greg: Even though the text is only a few hundred words, I would imagine the editing must have been just as gruelling and fraught. If not more pressure to be succinct.
Prue: Not at all. I have been writing short stories for amusement since I was little and professionally for collaborations since 2008. I have written six miniature shorts for Bopress over the years as well. One thing that writing for a miniature press teaches one is that the story has to be shaped and concluded in a very small space of time because of the constraints of binding. So frugality of language and style is implicit.
With the e-version on Nugget, I sent my text to the illustrator and left it to him to transcribe it amongst his illustrations. Apparently it’s very different to publishing a normal book. All I know is that he had immense issues with the file, it became corrupted, he had to have it stripped out and re-built word by word, line by line and illustration by illustration. At that point, I was head and shoulders under the water with an historic novel about to be edited and then published, so I really had very little, if anything, to do with it. I am also a Luddite, so better not to be involved!
The print edition was professionally line-edited and formatted for Ingram-Spark as per their specifications. We are hoping the end-result will be a little Australian book worth reading with children.
Greg: How did you meet the illustrator?
Prue: Dave Slaney had done a few clever and amusing illustrations for a wonderful older children’s historical fiction book by SJA Turney, called The Crocodile Legion, and he is also a cover designer for a few of my online writer friends. I wondered if he could tackle Australian animals, and so approached him. He’s the nicest chap and thought it would be a great challenge and off he went!
Greg: I would imagine creating a character in your mind and then having it drawn might be quite frustrating. Did you have input into the conceiving the images?
Prue: To be honest, I had no preconceptions in terms of the illustrations. I just knew that I wanted children and adults alike to be charmed by the simplicity of the illustrations and to laugh at what emerged. Children’s lives these days are fraught, courtesy of the media and the changes in society. They have nothing of the joyous freedom that you and I had. I wanted to give them something of what we felt – that unencumbered joy. I think Nugget might have achieved that because on a reading and showing to a whole school (over 180 kids!) during BookWeek, not a child squirmed and they sat mesmerised. A good sign, I hope!
I had as much input as Dave wanted to give me. He would send me images from the UK and I would say yes or no. In every case, he got it spot-on. Except for the very first image of Nugget where he was much thinner and paler than the final Nugget. Wombats are cuddly and it was important to portray that. Dave has never seen any Australian animal in the flesh and ultimately, I think he has captured their essence brilliantly!
Greg: What were your favourite books at that age?
Prue: I have a series of ‘little books’ that I loved when I was tiny. I still have them and occasionally pull them out and enjoy the language and the illustrations.
Greg: Will there be more adventures of Nugget?
Prue: Never say no. But I have a list of future projects that is quite daunting. Two further historical fiction novels (one to finish a trilogy), a fantasy trilogy and a collaborative historical fiction. That’s six books. At the slow rate I write, I will probably be in my eighties by completion! Yikes.
Prue is one of the most prolific writers I know. Apart from having just released Nugget – The Black Wombat, she has also released Guillaume (The Triptych Chronicle Book 2) And as it’s coming on Christmas, I’ve just bought a copy of Nugget for someone special…