The Next Big Thing is a blog chain for writers and artists linking together and talking about their current projects.  It gives you a chance to discover new writers and blogs but also brings together writers across different genres.  Each creator is required to answer a set series of questions and then pass the baton to someone else.

Last week children’s author Penny Reeve shared about her upcoming picture book ‘Wonderfully Madison’, illustrated by Jemima Trappel, which will be published later this year by Growing Faith.  Penny kindly asked me to follow her in the chain.  So here’s my contribution.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

Emily the Energetic Elephant.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

When I was working on Marty’s Nut-Free Party, people kept asking me if I was going to write another book about allergies.  I had always intended Marty to be a stand-alone book, but after I saw the beautiful illustrations and the wonderful characters that Leigh Hedstrom had created, I thought it might be nice to give the other characters their own story too. Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness and my eldest daughter has had a long struggle with it, including being hospitalized a number of times, so I knew the next book had to be about that.   I wanted to write a book that would teach children to recognize the triggers for and symptoms of their asthma so they can learn to manage it better, while still living an active lifestyle.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a children’s picture book, which will be illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom. 

4. What actors would you choose to play the parts of your characters in a movie rendition?

I think you’d be hard-pressed to make a movie out of a 500 word picture book – it’d have to be more strung out than Seven Years in Tibet and I don’t think anybody would want that.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Emily was full of energy.  But sometimes, when her asthma got bad, Emily was not allowed to be active. How can Emily improve her asthma and find an outlet for her energy?

(OK I know that’s three sentences, but they’re short ones!)

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Emily the Energetic Elephant is being published by Wombat Books.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I slaved away on it for twelve years, went through three marriages and lost most of my hair in the process.  Actually it was a very fast process.  I created the first document on August 22, 2012 and I received the final edited version back from the publisher on October 26, just two months later.  In that time I did six rewrites and the ending changed a number of times, but essentially it’s the same story.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I actually haven’t found too many books that teach children about health issues within the structure of a good story, but the closest would probably be Coming Home by Sharon McGuiness and of course, Marty’s Nut-Free Party.  There’s also a great book from the US called The Princess and the Peanut, which is a fun take on peanut allergies.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The main inspiration was the number of long nights we’ve spent at Westmead Children’s Hospital with Caillie when she’s had severe asthma.  There was one time a GP told me Caillie didn’t have asthma because she couldn’t hear any wheeze.  Caillie was extremely lethargic by this point.  The GP told me to give her paracetemol, wait half an hour and then if she wasn’t showing any improvement, to take her to hospital.  Seeing how floppy she was when we got home, I decided to go straight to emergency, where they tested her oxygen and discovered it was dangerously low.  The doctor there told me the reason there was no wheeze was because she wasn’t getting enough air into her lungs to make the wheezing sound.  After she’d been on ventolin for 20 minutes the wheeze appeared and Caillie became more alert again.  It made me realize how important it is for families to know as much as possible about their child’s condition, the triggers, how it presents etc so they can make good decisions about their child’s health.

There were also a number of powerful images that inspired me in the creation of the story line.  I saw a beautiful underwater video of elephants swimming in the ocean and was struck by what a lovely and unusual image it was.  I also saw a funny CG video of an elephant bouncing on a trampoline and I thought it might be humorous to have an elephant doing all sorts of athletic and energetic actions, such as trampolining, scooting and swinging.  I also wanted to write a story that would give the illustrator lots of potential for creating fun, energetic pictures, full of life and movement.  And of course, Emily has to take control of her health and find positive ways to work with her condition. 

10. What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

Marty makes a re-appearance in the book, as does a number of his friends.  I’m hoping there will be a lot of humour in the illustrations (no pressure, Leigh!).

Next week on Wednesday Jan 30, Cecily Paterson will share about her new teen fiction novel, Invisible, available for download as an ebook.