Showing posts with label Moira Butterfield. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moira Butterfield. Show all posts

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Illustrators and designers. I salute you. Moira Butterfield

Today I would like to celebrate two groups of people. Without them children's books would not exist in the glorious form we find them. 

The illustrators I have been working with come from all corners of the globe because it's a truly international business. I feel privileged to be associated with them and they have all left me speechless at the way they have brought my words to life. I like to reach out to them to give them words of personal encouragement - usually through Instagram as lots of fabulous illustrators show their work on Insta. I'm aware that they're putting in many hours and it's not always an easy process so I like to say hello and good luck. However, I also make sure I leave them well alone to do their creative thing! When their work arrives it's a glorious moment. It's really important that all our illustrators get lots of credit whenever books get mentioned btw. Here's a selection from recent times: 

Vivian Mineker. From Taiwan and the US. Currently in lovely Slovenia! 
We've also done The Secret Life of Bees together. It's out in 2021. 

Jesus Verona, from Spain but living in Sweden.
2 books coming out in 2021 due to the virus. 
Claudia Boldt, out in L.A. 

The delightful Fago Studios in France. 

Fabulous talent Bryony Clarkson, living in Oxford. 
                                                                   This book out 2021. 
Taiwanese illustrator Cindy Wume.
We're working together on something exciting for 2022. 

Bryony Clarkson's fantastic work. 

A snippet of gorgeous upcoming work from Jesus Verona. 

An upcoming book with the genius Salvatore Rubbino,
who lives in North London. I think it will be out in 2022. 

The designers - I've been incredibly lucky to work with some magicians/designers this year. They've chosen the perfect artists, then taken my words and moulded them into great layouts. The designers help to manage the whole tricky process that is the recipe for an illustrated book. I salute all of you for your hidden but vital input. I know it hasn't been easy this year grappling with big computer programmes while at home and trying to make sure you know what your editors and sales department are thinking. Chapeau! 

If you'd like to celebrate some of the in-house talent that has helped you this year, please go ahead below! 

Moira Butterfield

Twitter: @moiraworld

Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor 

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

"I've written a book. Can you help me?" What to do if someone says this to you. Moira Butterfield

 I reckon that all professional authors will - at some point - get the question above, probably more than once. Someone you know contacts you to tell you they've written something and they want your advice - to judge it, edit it and/or pass it on to a publisher. It might even be about to happen a bit more regularly, as more people may have started writing during their Lockdown furlough time.  

It's hard not to feel irritated - for all sorts of emotional reasons you will be familiar with. You are spending your time putting your heart and soul into your own work, after all. Plus said heart will probably sink because, let's face it, the work could be dire. What are you going to do then? 

Here's what happened to me recently. It taught me the best path, by far, to take. 

An old friend sent me a novel out of the blue. This old friend lives far away in another continent and we don't communicate much. I had no idea he'd been writing a novel. I immediately sighed and worried. What if the book was rotten? How would I handle it? 

In fact, in another twist, my friend had already had a 'publishing offer', which had made him very excited. He wanted my advice on whether to say yes (but also would I read the book). He'd googled publishers who would take submissions and top of the list was an infamous company who calls itself a publisher, with marketing et al, but is really a 'hybrid publisher'. Its marketing and list-building was plainly perfunctory - nothing like a true publisher - and it asked my friend for upfront payment. It also took care to flatter him immensely on his wonderful work. It was a vanity publisher in disguise. 

With some help and wise words from the other authors on this forum I was able to convince him not to go down this route. I sent him quotes of other people's experiences and directed him to some damning online comments. 

Meanwhile I read the book. It wasn't bad. It made me laugh. But it was a first draft with lots of issues. I wasn't surprised. Anyone who writes for a living knows about first drafts not being the finished item - and I felt really angry that the vanity publisher had tried to suggest it was the finished book, so they could get a payment from my eager friend. 

What to do? Should I edit this draft? I could make suggestions and point out weaknesses, but it would be a lot of work and what would it do to our friendship? The answer was obvious...It was a big NO! I didn't think our friendship would survive the honesty I would need to employ, and though I am used to people pointing things out about my work, perhaps he wasn't. In fact I felt pretty certain that he wouldn't be too pleased by me telling him there was a lot still to do on the manuscript. 

The answer 

I directed my friend to a reputable editorial agency. Thank goodness they exist. I searched 'editorial agencies UK' and researched a few further. I found a number of my own author colleagues involved in them and felt confident in passing on a list of links. The cost was remarkably reasonable for top-notch editing and mentoring, including helping with the process of agent-finding. 

My friend took this route and so far he was been helped brilliantly, it seems to me - and is very content to be supported by the editor he was paired with. I did check in with him and she sounds great. 

So, to recap - I was supportive. I steered him away from the fake publisher. I did not 'pile into' his manuscript. Instead I helped him find a professional who knew how to handle the work far better than me. 

I'm so relieved I didn't criticise because I then discovered that my friend had a serious illness and that this writing probably mean a lot more emotionally to him than I had known. That's something really vital to take onboard - We don't know, when we receive these requests for help, what emotional freight the work is carrying. It's like being tossed an emotional grenade! 

So recommend a good professional editing agency to help instead of trying to do it yourself. Pass your friend onto someone who is objective and can help without smashing up a friendship. 

PS: If you provide editorial services for any genre - or have recommendations - perhaps you could add them to the comments below. 

Good luck! 

Moira Butterfield writes for children, including international success Welcome To Our World (Nosy Crow). This year saw three non-fiction books published - Dance Like a Flamingo (Welbeck), The Secret Life of Trees (Quarto) and A Trip to the Future (Templar).

Twitter: @moiraworld 

Instagram: @moirabutterfieldathor 

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Poetry reads and a radio show to enjoy and inspire - Moira Butterfield

I went back to reading poetry during Lockdown, like many people, apparently. This is partly because I had time to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, partly due to Poet Laureate Simon Armitage (see below) and partly because I managed to get this book delivered (shout-out to Toppings Bookshop in Bath for that).



 It’s A Little History of Poetry by John Carey, published by Yale. Having read glowing reviews of it I decided to try it and it did not disappoint. It really is a triumph of accessible reading and I would buy it for anyone who has a literary bent. Below are three quotes from the back of the book. For once they are absolutely spot-on.


“Books about poetry are rarely page-turners, but Carey’s little history is gripping, is unputdownable!”  Daljit Nagra.


“Warm in tone, informative, generous in its sympathies, inviting in its choices, with a clear emphasis on human stories underpinning poetic achievement.” Emma Smith


“An elegant history of poetry, what it is, what it does, why it matters….Masterly.”

Ruth Padel


 This book has illuminated poems I have read before but now they feel new and shining. What a treat. It’s reintroduced me to several poets that I intend to re-read – Donne and Browning for example – and it’s also introduced me for the first time to some wondrous-sounding Chinese and Japanese poets that I am keen to try, plus some astounding female poets of the past who are at last being set alongside their better-known male compatriots.


 It’s also made me feel angry that I was taught poetry so very badly, both in school and at University, where I ‘studied’ English Literature but was in fact mainly force-fed the sayings of a few venerated pre-war Oxford and Cambridge dons, sayings which I had to quote in essays to get marks. ‘Modern poetry’ was deemed to stop at Larkin (and was apparently only white British or American) even though this was the 1980s. John Carey is actually an Emeritus Professor at Oxford but he has a much fresher approach. 


I feel the same anger about my so-called art education, too. I did an art A-level but my teacher was too beaten-down by comprehensive life to care what was going on and so I got all I knew about art history from the E. H. Gombrich Story of Art book written decades before in 1950. Now I watch great art TV presenters such as Andrew Graham-Dixon and Waldemar Januszczak and marvel at what I don’t know.


I’ve just bought a second poetry collection – The Fire of Joy by Clive James, published by Picador. 


I’m really looking forward to reading both the poems and Clive James’s entertaining and erudite commentaries. I’m not sure whether I’ll learn any to recite but I might…I do know one poem off-by-heart. I learnt it for a public speaking competition in primary school and it’s given me pleasure to still remember it down the years, so perhaps Clive James was onto something. This is his last book, prepared before he passed away last year. He spent a lifetime learning poems and he wanted to pass on his favourites and his love of memorising them.


I’ll be spending a day this week reading a new rhythmic picture book text out loud to an empty kitchen, to make sure it’s a good read, so perhaps learning some new works might also help me with my own rhythmic writing in the future.


Finally I recommend the brilliant Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s Radio Four show – The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed. He’s made the recordings in his writing shed where he's supposed to be busy translating a medieval poem – The Owl and the Nightingale – but he's stopped every now and then to invite interesting guests to chat to him in the shed (or remotely once Covid arrived). It’s on BBC Sounds and it’s a charming relaxing listen.


Happy readying and listening. Think of it as feeding your own writing with a mulch of nutritious relaxing joy! 


Moira Butterfield is a writer of non-fiction and picture books for 3+. Increasingly they are becoming mixed up together. due to the delays of Covid she has had three books published since August - Trip To the Future (Big Picture Books), The Secret Life of Trees (Quarto), Dance Like a Flamingo (Welbeck).
Twitter @moiraworld
Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor  


Thursday, 10 September 2020

Rhythm in language– it’s vital to humankind! Moira Butterfield

Forgive me for recycling today. I have adapted and updated a blog on rhythm, which first appeared a few years ago on Picture Book Den. This is because a) we have a new baby in our extended family this week and b) I have a new book out on Sept 17th, which brings rhythm and dance to first non-fiction (3 or 4+ age-group). It’s called Dance Like a Flamingo, illustrated by Claudia Boldt (published by Welbeck). Anyway I think it’s worth repeating what scientists have discovered - It turns out rhythm is probably vital to humankind!
Book cover - learn and move, too!  


Good rhyme helps to anchor a text beautifully and is a joy, of course, but this blog is about rhythm – a pattern of beats in a sentence that makes it easy, natural and fun to read. It does a lot more than that, it seems. I was going to relay the good news that rhythm, offered to small children in the form of songs, poetry and picture books, helps to develop the brain. Now, thanks to scientists, I’ve discovered that rhythm is even more important than that. It turns out it’s probably had a hand in making us who we are. 

A BBC TV programme (see link below) featured a toddler with a little hatful of brain sensors popped on her tiny head. Experiments proved that her brain was not merely responding to rhythm but predicting what would come next. She had the innate ability to follow sound patterns, which would in turn help her to develop language (and possibly maths, too). This, the scientists suggested, was what separated humans from the rest of animal kind and might have helped them to start communicating in a sophisticated language when everything else was still squeaking and growling. 

 In other words, it seems we’re hard-wired to pick up on rhythm and it helps us eventually to learn to speak. 

Scientists studying brain development confirm that rhythm helps small children to grow their neural pathways. Very young humans grow their brains at a phenomenal rate, sparking up these neural pathways all over the place – like a tree growing branches. These brain connections help us to do things. Babies start off not doing very much, and as they grow into toddlers and beyond they make more and more neural connections and so start engaging with the world. Rhythm helps to create the neural pathways and repetition helps to strengthen them. 

Perhaps all this is why adults instinctively sing nursery rhymes, ‘coo’ to babies and speak in what the scientists call ‘parentese’. It most definitely suggests that it’s a good idea to read and reread rhythmic text to all small growing children, even the tiny ones. It turns out that babies quickly start to look intently at lips to work out how to copy the shapes that talking makes. So repeated rhythmic sentences (rereading that seemingly simple but well-crafted picture book regularly) can only help. 

 Science is beginning to prove what we already innately sense. I like to think of parents in prehistory starting it off, perhaps imitating a rhythmic bird call for their babies, then trying it on a drum. 

 For my part, I think rhythm has an amazing power to help memory. Many’s the time I’ve marvelled at how my brain recalls great chunks of meaningless non-rhyming pop lyrics from long-forgotten songs that weren’t important to me. They just stuck in my head. I think they were glued in by the musical rhythm. So hey presto! Why not combine learning about animnals with rhythm?

Apart from having these learning superpowers, rhythm in a sentence is a great help to someone reading out loud, of course. It makes the reading smooth and natural. Bad rhythm snags the reader, like tripping over a stone. 

 So, to sum up, rhythmic sentences – those that have a good working beat pattern like the beats of a song line – are a powerful tool for helping children learn communication, and they are a great aid to the reader. You can bask in the knowledge that by writing rhythmic sentences you are not only making them easier to read but you are helping to develop children’s brains. 

 You probably knew that, but now scientists have said so! 

A link to the research: 

Two spreads from the new book are below. No rhyme, but plenty of rhythm.

Moira Butterfield 

Twitter @moiraworld 

Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor

Friday, 10 July 2020

Yes I'll do social media, but does it work for non-fiction? - Moira Butterfield

I have a new book out this week but I might not hear about it much in my own country…Not yet.

Here it is! 
Children’s non-fiction gets no media reviewing in the UK (though I'm aware here's precious little for anyone). As a genre it’s only begun to get bookshop support in the UK over the last five years. Before that time we were shoved down in the darkest far corner of the kid’s book area, and we were never offered royalties.

Things have changed. We’ve got more respect. However, we still get the minimum of publicity. I’ve never actually heard of a non-fiction book launch unless it’s a book that’s first and foremost a picture book.

Currently this seems more likely than a non-fiction book launch event!
(from the new book. Illustration by Studio Fago). 
There’s a good reason why publishers don’t direct their UK efforts towards us, I think. Colour-illustrated non-fiction sells big around the world. We can launch with first-year print runs for ten countries or more and that’s how the authors, illustrators and publishers make money. Sales in the UK are not the major source so expending publicity department power on a big UK launch isn’t economically sensible. We tend to ‘slow burn’ in the UK, with sales building over time. Non-fiction awards help with that, plus word-of-mouth - especially teacher-generated book selections.

It often feels as though we're more likely to get big book sales here than in the UK 
Having said that all authors are being asked to make more effort on social media, as publishers have decided that this could help them to sell more in lockdown times and in the months afterwards. They're asking how many followers we have. For the reasons I've mentioned I don't see how that's a particularly relevant question for non-fiction. I stand to be corrected, however, if someone thinks I'm underestimating the effect of social media on 'international' non-fiction.

I'm up for doing anything to help so I’ll be doing YouTube movies (once I get a haircut) and trying to get to grips with my website so that I can update it properly with activity pages. I’m also doing my best on Instagram and Twitter. However, to be honest we non-fiction authors can’t conjure a vast UK following out of thin air – and as our sales are elsewhere it does feel rather like we’re ‘barking in the dark’ on these platforms. I hope that publishing departments take that into account if they decide to look at our follower numbers. Things will change over time, I hope, but we non-fiction authors being featured in bookshops are frankly early pioneers when it comes to publicity. 

So now you will have got the picture that writing non-fiction isn’t going to get anyone on TV, but we do have a couple of big hidden advantages - buoyant foreign sales and the fact that UK celebrities generally haven’t bothered to stick their noses in to take our cake slice for themselves (a couple have got involved but I doubt they’ll do it much once they see the size of the UK slice).

So look out for my book and I hope you buy it for all the primary school children in your life, to help them get inspired about the future...But, despite my best efforts, don’t expect to see it trending on social media any time soon!

(Am I wrong about the effect of social media on children's non-fiction? Please tell me if you think I am. We're all trying to learn what to do for the best.) 

Moira Butterfield’s new book, A Trip to the Future (Big Picture Press), aims to inspire kids to think creatively about science and about inventions they would like (or dislike) in the future world. It encourages them to imagine the future based on today’s science developments, and it’s excitingly illustrated by Fago Studio.

The endpaper of the future!
Moira Butterfield
Twitter @moiraworld
Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor 

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Catching the glitches. Non-fiction authors have checking duties right up to the wire - Moira Butterfield

I’ve spent some days the last week working on a non-fiction book that I finished writing nearly a year ago, for the 8+ age group. There’s careful pre-press checking to be done, and it’s a very vital stage of illustrated non-fiction writing.

I've been pre-flight checking my book this week. 

 The book I’m talking about has spread headings, captions and labels that work closely alongside the illustrations, like an orchestra of musicians playing different instruments to create one piece of music. There’s a glossary, credits section and contents spread, too.

An illustrated non-fiction book for the 8+ age range has a lot of different features that work together. 

It’s up to the non-fiction writer to be available at the right time for checking duties leading up to press date. That means consulting with your editor so you are aware when you are likely to be needed, and not disappearing off the grid without warning.

Er...Where did that writer go? 

 I usually get a slightly panicky feeling at this point. Will I miss something? Will I let a big mistake go through that will ruin my book? It’s unlikely, because I won’t be the only eagle eye on the case, but the fear of letting something slip through does concentrate the mind on doing a thorough job.

As a young inexperienced editor I once made a big pre-press mistake. I was given loads of colouring books to organize, featuring characters owned by different Licensors such as Disney and Hanna Barbera. Each book had to have the right copyright notices on the back, but I got some of the Licensors mixed up. This would have been a big deal and would have led to the pulping of the books and consequent costs if anyone had noticed. Luckily I was getting friendly with the young man in the sales department who was responsible for sending out approval copies to the Licensors. He…ahem…omitted to send the colouring books, so nobody ever noticed. I was saved and yes, reader, I married him.But that was definitely a one-time only bacon-saving strategy!

"OK, I won't tell!" 

 In case you also find yourself checking a complicated visual project, here are the most common things that I have found I am likely to spot:

A last-minute art error appearing - Has the artist illustrated something that contradicts the text? I will have checked art roughs and, hopefully, caught anything untoward, but small details could have been added since. For instance, on the space spread I’ve just been checking some of the people are weightless but some appear not to be. Children will definitely notice that, so some judicious seatbelt-type straps will need to be added to figures casually sitting down.

Has some of the text been put in the wrong place? This is a common issue as non-fiction book text can comprise lots of small sections and often, with the amount of work involved the pressure is on and the deadline looms uncomfortably. It’s easy for a section of text to be accidentally placed wrongly at the last minute.

Are the labels near enough to the pictures to make sense? It’s relatively common for them to be misplaced because they’re small and fiddly, and there are sometimes lots of them.

Have I written consistently? In position, text issues can sometimes become suddenly clear. For instance, have I used the same terms throughout? The glossary inevitably gets written much later than the rest of the text and that’s where terms can sometimes accidentally change. Did I say nanobot in that glossary when I’ve been saying nanorobot everywhere else?

Are all the extras correct? It’s perfectly possible for everyone in a team to miss mistakes in the extra material – Headings, contents lists and folios. The author should always take a moment to check them because they’re all too easy to forget.

 My name – I don’t know why but it’s often spelt wrong. I make a point to check the spine, where a weird version of it may well have slipped through.  

How hard is this name? It's surprising! 

It’s a very good idea to do this checking process in a calm state without kids running around or people wandering in demanding your time.

This will never work!

Finally, remember this - All will be well and, even if something small did slip through, so what? It can be changed on a reprint and, really, will anyone even notice or mind?

The book will be born and it will be marvellous. Fingers crossed.

I have been ‘preflight checking’ A TRIP TO THE FUTURE, published by Big Picture Press in July. It’s my shot at inspiring the scientists and inventors of the future.

See you in July! 

Moira Butterfield
Twitter @moiraworld
Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor 

Friday, 10 January 2020

Locavore and Sadfishing. Some new words for 2020 Moira Butterfield

Pesky sniffling and coughing has left me sitting on the sofa a lot in the last few days, giving me time to peruse papers and magazines more closely than usual. I’ve noticed some new words being used and I thought I’d pass them on for interest because we writers tend to be unusually interested in these things. However, I'd avoid actually using them in work unless you're writing about a newsroom or magazine set in January 2020.  Please share any new words you’ve recently read or heard. I'd love to hear! 

Affluenza –As life gets easier it seems to get harder, but only because we have more time to fret about it. EG: Lucky people moaning nonetheless.

Breadcrumbing – Putting out flirting signals. Something from Love Island, I believe (she said, sniffing).

GOAT – Greatest of all time.  This is not my GOAT blog, but hey, I’m ill.

Hot take – An instant response to a current event, of the type found on Twitter or rolling news channels. Could be described as uninformed shouting, possibly! 

Locavore – Someone who tries to get all their food from local sources such as a farmers’ market.  We should all try to be more Locavore, I guess, but it’s a word that’s definitely easier said than done.

Nudge...Nudge Theory is the art of using clever unnoticeable ways to influence the choice someone makes. The idea of nudging even won someone a Nobel Prize for economic theory. We can expect to be nudged regularly, apparently. 

Prolier-than-thou – Overstating your working class credentials Monty Python-style (“We lived in a shoebox.” “Well we lived in a hole in the road”).  Currently being used by the press to poke fun at some of the Labour Party candidates, and because the journalists seem incredibly pleased with themselves for thinking of it. 

Sadfishing – Influencers and celebrities overstating their mental health issues or bad life experiences for personal gain –trying to sell an autobiography or promote a movie, for example. There's a lot of it about. 

WOAT – Worst of all time. “My WOAT Christmas present was an ironing board.”

There’s no guarantee these words will make it through 2020. At the bottom you'll find a BBC Lost for Words link - a hilarious list of words we don’t use any more. Enjoy! 

Wishing you a happy year. 


Moira has a number of narrative non-fiction books coming out in 2020, for Big Picture, Nosy Crow and Quarto. She has just been nominated on the longlist for the 2020 US Green Earth Book Award.