I interviewed Frances Tosdevin for the #244 8 Jun 2022 issue of Writers’ Forum about her writing process from conception to final draft for An Artist’s Eyes.
An Artist’s Eyes is illustrated by Clémence Monnet and published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. It is the story of a little boy, Jo, who goes on a walk with artist, Mo, to look for colours. But it soon becomes clear they don’t see things in the same way, and Jo gets increasingly frustrated because he thinks he’ll never be able to see like an artist.
It isn’t a book about painting, as such, but about the process that comes first — how you see something, what you notice and what sparks your imagination. Frances revealed she got the idea for an An Artist’s Eyes whilst sorting socks into pairs. The blue ones were so many shades of blue she found them impossible to pair. When her husband told her they all look the same to him, she realised people might see variations in colour tones differently.
Frances said all children’s book writers should grab these crazy thoughts, the ones that come at random times when you’re doing ordinary things, and use them in their writing. She told me she decided to focus primarily on colours because these are familiar to children from a young age.
“An Artist’s Eyes is an empowering book – a clarion call to creativity, if you like – and I hope that it will help children to embrace their own unique way of seeing the world and all the wonderful things in it. I would love the book to be used as resource for parents and teachers wanting to start conversations about creativity and I hope that it will encourage children to find their own inner artist’s eyes whilst, of course, having lots of fun doing so.”Frances Tosdevin
She elaborated that colour is also used in the artwork at key points to convey Jo’s feelings. For example, there is an almost totally black spread, scattered with tiny bursts of colour, to convey Jo’s increasing sense of frustration at not being able to see things in the way Mo can, whilst red is the key to his turning point, when he finally starts to believe in himself and to trust his own artist’s eyes.
Frances explained she prefers to work on several picture book texts at once, because that way, if she hits a block with one and something needs to swirl around in my subconscious a little longer, she has other texts to be working on. She is often found pacing round the kitchen in the middle of the night, working out tricky plot points or strengthening characterisation.
“I love it when the house is dark and quiet, and it’s just me, my thoughts and two slumbering cats.”Frances Tosdevin
She continued her stories go through numerous drafts, during which time they can change quite dramatically and she spends a good deal of time identifying, and replacing any word or phrase that sounds ‘flat’ to find a more exciting approach. She also roots out text that goes sideways, such as unnecessary details that slow down the story, rather than forwards.
Frances tries to think visually when writing, and pays special attention to page turns. to set up opportunities to surprise the reader. She explained it is a bit like delaying the punchline of a joke, or eeking out a spooky moment before something goes ‘Boo!’ Page turns are all about timing. Plus, in picture books it’s important to build tension until the main character’s lowest point (which is usually in Spread 9) and then to wrap up the story and provide the resolution quite quickly.
Frances warns all picture book writers rejections are the norm when you are querying, but you just have to keep going. She told me she had numerous rejections from multiple agents over several years, and although it can be crushing, each rejection just made hermore determined to write something better.
Her top tip is never to discount any idea, however small. Ideas can fly into your head at any time of day or night and it’s crucial to jot them down. Don’t delay, you might forget your idea. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown concept, it could simply be a pleasing phrase, a quirky title, or a character that demands attention. It could be a feeling you are experiencing, or a sense of place, or a funny situation.
She told me she currently has over 600 ideas on her phone, and a full notebook, as well. One of these idea often wriggles its way to the top of her writing brain and keeps making itself louder until she gives in and writes it. She recommends you take opportunities that come your way, sign up for 121s with agents and editors, go in for writing competitions and attend writing events whenever you can.
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You can read my book review of An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet here: Book Review: An Artist’s Eyes.