Cover of Marjorie Magic, by Joy Norstrom,
illustrated by Anushka Shenoy
Joy joins us on our blog today from Treaty 7 territory, Calgary, Alberta. Joy has previous experience writing short stories and novels for older audiences; however Marjorie Magic (out in early 2023) is her first picture book for children. While Joy is a Canadian author, her publisher (Dixi Books Ltd.) is based in the UK and the Marjorie Magic illustrator (Anushka Shenoy) is from India, making the creation of this book a global collaboration! Please read below for our interview with Joy.
Q) Could you share with us one of your favourite picture books growing up? What do you remember most about it?
Joy) The first picture book that had an impact on me was The Best Nest, written and illustrated by P. D. Eastman. It’s a classic Dr. Seuss Beginner Book, so perhaps many of you may have seen it.
Eastman’s ability to convey emotion and character in The Best Nest is probably what made such an impression on me. The birds' delight in creating their perfect new home. Mr. Bird’s sorrow when he was unable to find Mrs. Bird. I was often scared of losing my parents while shopping or at large events when I was a child, so seeing Mr. Bird alone in the rain resonated with me. And of course, his sweet relief finding home and his loved one again. Nothing beats a happy ending!
Creating an emotional response in readers is exactly what I want to do in my own stories too.
From The Best Nest, by P.D. Eastman
Q) Do you type or handwrite your stories?
Joy) I type! I used to write in journals, however after a decade of writing fiction on my laptop, I think I’ve trained my brain to think creatively while I’m typing. It’s almost like I don’t come up with ideas unless I am tapping away at the keyboard, a mug of tea beside me, and an hour to myself with no distractions.
Q) What was your process for creating the Marjorie Magic manuscript?
I originally had an idea for a book of fantastical recipes where each recipe required an ingredient that was created in the previous recipe. So if the first recipe was for a unicorn, you would need the assistance of a unicorn as one of the ingredients in the second recipe and so on. This was very early in my writing career; I was reading a lot of picture books with my own children at the time and experimenting with lots of ideas.
I also began taking creative writing courses. I learned about story structure and how plot helps to give stories forward propulsion. I took my recipe idea book and started to write some scenes about what would happen if someone found the book. Then I put my ideas away for several years and began writing fiction for older readers.
One day in the summer of 2021, I decided to pull the manuscript back out and see what I might do with it. I had changed a lot as a writer, so I had new ideas and was less scared to cut pieces that weren’t working and try again. After several revisions I printed the manuscript out, cut it into pieces, then pasted them into a 32-page dummy book to see how the story would flow. A dummy is basically 16 pages folded in half and stapled to represent the length of a picture book.
Sometimes seeing a picture book story in this way makes it easier to identify what is working and what is not. To decide where the story is too wordy, too confusing, or where the pacing is off. I read it out loud to my kids and then had them read it back to me so I could hear how it sounded. Together we brainstormed ideas for tricky parts and tried different variations.
While this process resulted in me being much happier with the manuscript, I could tell a few things weren’t right but didn’t know how to fix them. My next step was consulting with an established children’s book author. This was an amazing process because getting another set of eyes helped me develop solutions that previously weren’t coming to mind.
I made more revisions based on that feedback, cleaning it up till it was as polished and as concise as I could make it. Then I sent the final draft to my publisher and was thrilled they were interested in it.
To learn about the illustrator’s process, which begins after the story is written, read my interview with Anushka Shenoy here. https://www.joynorstrom.ca/unblog/introducing-anushka-shenoy-the-illustrator-of-marjorie-magic
Q) When did you know you wanted to write stories? What led you down this path?
Joy) I’ve always enjoyed recounting and telling stories. I especially enjoy sharing odd things that happen in life that make people laugh. I also believe we can find power to heal from painful experiences when we can find meaning or make sense of what we learned through story.
I grew up in a family of readers and do a lot of reading myself. It was when I was on maternity leave with my second child (who is now 13!) that my mother suggested I should write a book myself. I initially dismissed her idea; I didn’t know the first thing about writing or publishing a book and had never met an author before. In my mind authors needed to live in glamourize cities that were home to large publishing houses. I remember telling her, ‘How can I do that from western Canada?’
However, it was too late, and the seed had been planted. I started to think ‘what if…’ I began borrowing books from the library on writing and studied some of my favourite stories to try to understand what made them work.
Q) What advice do you have for emerging writers of children's books?
Joy) Find a community of writers. The encouragement and friendships can be a huge support in the writing journey.
And of course, keep writing, keep learning. Don’t throw stories away, even if they aren’t working. Save them so one day you can go back and unearth them. You never know what gem is hidden there, just waiting for you to find the right way to make it shine.
To learn more about Joy’s books, follow her on Instagram or check out her website.
Pre-order Marjorie Magic: https://www.bookdepository.com/Marjorie-Magic-Joy-Norstrom/9781913680534
Picture books, eh!
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