Category Archives: Blog Tour

Blog Tour – Monty and the Monster by Rhonda Smiley

Today I am joining Rhonda Smiley’s blog tour for her is an exciting middle-grade adventure, Monty and the Monster.

Rhonda Smiley is a writer living in Glendale, California. After graduating from Concordia University in her native Montreal, Canada with a BFA in Film Production, she began writing for television – everything from family adventure to cop shows to cartoons. Her passion for storytelling led her to become an author, and her first novel, Asper, was awarded the BRAG medallion.

Rhonda Smiley

Monty and the Monster is a story of friendship and learning to trust your own instincts is about a boy who finds it difficult to make friends so decides to create his own friend using potions he discovered in a secret chamber. However, his new friend does not turn out quite as expected.

Monty and the Monster by Rhonda Smiley

Before we start I would like to thank Rhonda for agreeing to be interviewed for this stop on her blog tour. I really enjoyed reading Monty and the Monster and was intrigued to discover more about how you wrote the book. So without further ado, let’s us begin…

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Q&A session with Rhonda Smiley

There’s a strong theme of friendship and bullying within your novel. What made you want to explore these themes?

They’re both very relatable themes, especially for children. I was shy as a child and making friends didn’t come easy. At the time, I thought I was the only one who felt that way, which of course wasn’t true. There are a lot of children who feel the same way, and I wanted to make them the hero of their own story. At the same time, I thought it would be interesting for those who do make friends easily to see through Monty’s perspective and get an idea of how it feels from the other side.

Bullying came into play when considering obstacles to Monty’s goal. Even though he can be his own biggest hindrance (can’t we all), I wanted outside complications as well, and bullying is a very real and scary one. It was important to show the emotional effects of it. It made normal everyday events, like going to school, very daunting for Monty. But I also wanted to convey that sometimes bullies have their own inner issues and use bullying as a means of acting out.

What gave you the idea of a child creating their own friend?

I wanted the book to be really funny, full of incredible adventures, and truly heartfelt, and the literal interpretation of “making” a friend was the perfect springboard for all of that.

Of course, Monty tries the conventional way to make a friend at first, but it’s a bust. I love that he doesn’t give up and proactively turns to the replication formula, which is its own humorous undertaking. And when he does make his new friend, well, that opens up a whole new set of challenges. It is a stinky hairy eight-foot-tall monster, after all.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am definitely a plotter. I started out as a pantster, but when I began writing for television, I was required to do outlines. I dreaded them at first, but soon realized how incredibly helpful they were and ironically how liberating. It’s much easier to write details of a story when you have the structure plotted out and you know where you’re going. That said, if a character or situation sparks a new and exciting direction, I’m all ears, but I always refer back to the outline to make sure it fits within the overall story and that important points aren’t lost.

Talk us through your writing process for Monty and the Monster.

My writing process is pretty much the same for all my works. I start with the broad strokes of an outline, the beginning, middle, and end, and then open it up and fill in the gaps with goals and obstacles and the characters involved.

Once I have the outline, I dive into my “words on paper” draft. That’s where I just get it down and don’t worry too much about phrasing or on-the-nose dialogue. If I come across something that needs researching, like Monty’s skateboarding tricks, for instance, I make a note to do it later and don’t let it interrupt my momentum. It’s the kind of draft you’d never let anyone read, but it’s a wonderful way to lay out all the pertinent information. Once I have that, the real fun begins with finer details, character development, dialogue, and phrasing.

I’d like to say that’s my official first draft, but honestly, I do several more passes, looking for redundancies, crutch words, inconsistencies, and mistakes. When I think the manuscript is as good as it can be, I give it to an editor for overall story notes, which inevitably leads to more drafts.

After that, when I’m absolutely certain it’s as good as it can be, I send it off to beta readers. Getting outside eyes on it is extremely helpful. Of course, more drafts follow. It’s a long process, but every step adds to the depth of character, story, and the world.

How did you develop your characters and their voices so children can identify with them?

My background in children’s television has given me a lot of experience with different age groups as well as a wide range of characters. I’ve written for Little Bear, Rescue Heroes, The Adventures of Chuck and Friends, The Stinky & Dirty Show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Totally Spies just to name a few. From adventurous boys and girls to crime-solving teens to mutant turtles living in the sewer!

It’s really fun to lose yourself in the mind-set of a child or tween or teen (or bear or truck or turtle) and look at the world through their viewpoint. Many times I’d step back and put myself in Monty’s sneakers to understand how he’d perceive what was happening. Even though the book is on the fantastical side, the characters’ reactions and emotions are still based in reality.

What is your favourite thing about writing for children?

You can’t ask for a better audience. Children are naturally curious and open-minded. I can tackle important topics without being didactic or preachy because children are eager to learn and grow. They pick up on the themes within the entertainment.

What writing advice would you give to people aspiring to be a children’s book writer?

Research your demographic. Are you writing Chapter Books, Middle Grade, or Young Adult? It’s important to know who you’re writing for, how they see the world, and what’s meaningful to them at this stage in their lives.

If you’re writing for a younger age group, consider what parents would want their children to read since the parents are most likely buying the book. Kids can’t fall in love with your stories if they never get a chance to see them!

And finally, don’t underestimate kids. Even though you want to use language and themes appropriate for their age group, it’s okay to have a word or two they can learn from context. I learned a lot of new words from reading when I was growing up. Actually, I still do.

Thank you again Rhonda for joining me on my blog. You have given us a great insight into your writing process for Monty and the Monster.

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You can find out more about Rhonda Smiley and her books on her website: www.rhondasmiley.com and follow her on Twitter @RhondaJSmiley.

You can buy a copy of Monty and the Monster by Rhonda Smiley from Kobo UK and Amazon UK here in the UK and in the US you can get your copy from: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble and Kobo US.

Check out the rest of the blog tour here:

I would like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this blog tour and inviting me to take part. Hopefully this will be the first of many more. Thank you.

Blog Tour – How Messy! by Clare Helen Welsh

It is with great pleasure and excitement that I host my first ever blog tour. The blog tour is for renowned picture book writer Clare Helen Welsh who will be telling us about her latest book, How messy!

Clare Helen Welsh

How messy! is the first in the Dot and Duck series written by Clare Helen Welsh and illustrated by Olivier Tallec. More titles in the series include How Rude! and How Selfish! and they are published by Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto Publishing. How Messy! is about Duck’s very untidy habits, much to his best friend Dot’s despair.

How Messy! by Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec

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Q&A session with Clare Helen Welsh

Thanks so much Clare for being the first ever of the blog tours featured on my blog. I love your picture books. This is the last stop of your tour so we have a lot to live up to. Let’s get started with the first question…

Tell us a little about the book and your inspiration.

How Messy! is the third book in the Dot and Duck series, illustrated by Olivier Tallec and published by Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto. It features two characters – Dot who hates mess and Duck who hates tidy! In the story, the friends learn the importance of teamwork and to embrace each other’s differences.

The book started out life as a title! When the first book in the series went to acquisitions, I was asked to suggest some follow up ideas if the books were a hit (Happily there were!)

The Dot and Duck books are very much inspired by family life and my time as a school teacher. In How Messy, which is set near the beach – I love the beach! – Dot and Duck are partly modelled on my husband and me (although I shan’t tell you who is who!) There’s also a lot of younger me in Duck, too. My family often tell me I was messy when I was growing up, but I always (usually?!) knew where everything was. It was creative, organised mess that made perfect sense to me!

Do you have a favourite spread in the book?

That’s a hard question to answer – I love all of Olivier’s artwork! There’s a twist at the end, which I think has been brought to life wonderfully. But to avoid spoilers, I’ll choose the spread where Duck is making pancakes but wearing most of the mixture. It feels very authentic to me!

Tell us about some of the other books in the Dot and Duck series.

How Rude! is the first book in the Dot and Duck series. Dot invites Duck to a tea party, but from the moment Duck enters the house, the tea party descends into chaos; from licking sandwich fillings to spitting tea, Duck gets ruder… and ruder… and ruder.

How Rude! by Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec

This book was followed by How Selfish! in which Dot and Duck find a stick. But Dot thinks it’s a sword and Duck thinks it’s a flag. Dot refuses to share the new toy and goes to any lengths to make sure Duck doesn’t try to take it.  Both books have simple, funny, but ultimately touching arcs that we hope will appeal to any child who is learning what it means to be a true friend

How Selfish! by Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec

What was your writing process for the Duck and Dot series?

When Dot and Duck initially went on submission, the text was called ‘Luke and the Penguin Problem.’ Before that it was called ‘Don’t Poke the Penguin.’ It was written back in 2016 when I had a lot to learn (I still do, of course!) By the time we had signed contracts with Quarto, I had rewritten the text from first person, into third person, into dialogue only AND changed the animal and main character! I think there’s a lot to be said for being flexible with early ideas. How Selfish! Was the first story, but when I was asked to pitch alternative titles if the book were to be made into a series, the team felt How Rude! would be the stronger title to lead with.  

With all the books in this series, I’ve known the ending before I begin writing and I start by jotting down a pitch line to sum up the takeaway, thinking of scenes that build to this point. My original pitch line for How Messy was ‘Dot hates mess and Duck hates tidy. On holiday together, can they find the perfect compromise?’ This helps keep me focused and allows me to see clearly what to put in and what to keep out. My pitch lines often evolve as the book is written, but there isn’t any space for waffle in a picture book so I find this helps.

Do you have any writing rituals?

How I write a book usually depends on the type of book, how well thought-through the idea is and if there is a deadline for it or not! These days I tend to start on the Notes pages on my phone, where there is less white space and less pressure to create something perfect. I always write in spreads and sometimes jump to the end or the crisis point – not necessarily writing in order. Then I email these notes to myself and beautify them in a word document. It’s less intimidating as far as first drafts go.

Is there a particular place you like to write?

I’m quite flexible as a writer and I can write pretty much anywhere – in bed, on the sofa, on the beach, in a traffic jam… I’ll refrain from saying on the toilet… in the bath! At the moment, I’m very productive in my living room, which is my office in the daytime. I have all my essential to hand – blankets, snacks, a drink, background noise and a pooch for company.

What writing advice would you give to people aspiring to be a picture book writer?

It’s not a new piece of advice unfortunately, but an important one. READ! Read books like the ones you want to write. Read the books you wish you’d written. Read books you like and books you don’t. Read unpublished texts such as those of your peers. Do read for enjoyment but also read critically. Join a critique croup and get into the practice of analysing what works and why and what works less well. These skills will help you in your own writing and will also give you a sense of the industry, so you can find your way in.

Anita, thank you SO much for having me on your blog. I’ve really loved answering your thought-provoking questions – a very lovely way to celebrate How Messy!

And thank you Clare for giving us such a useful insight into the world of writing picture books. I love getting a peek into an author’s writing process. It has been fun being the last stop of your How messy! blog tour.

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You can find out more about Clare Helen Welsh and her books on her website: www.clarehelenweslsh.com, on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh and on Facebook: Books by Clare Helen Welsh.

Take a look at the schedule below to catch up with the other blog stops that have hosted Clare’s How Messy! tour.

How messy! and the rest of the Dot and Duck series is available to buy now from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

I have previously reviewed The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland. You can read the review here: Book Review: The Perfect Shelter.