Stephanie’s top tip for aspiring authors: Believe. If you can’t believe in yourself (because so many of us writers are plagued with self-doubt), believe in your story. Or believe in your characters. They deserve to be heard.
Stephanie Ward is the author of Arabella and the Magic Pencil, illustrated by Shaney Hyde, published by EK Books in September 2019. Her next picture book is due for release in 2020, but it’s all under wraps at the moment so stay tuned for details! After many years in marketing, Stephanie now spends her time writing sweet, silly and sidesplitting stories for children. Too old to blame it on youth, she still hasn’t settled down and spends her spare time traveling. At present, she can be found in London, England with her husband and young son.
To find out more about Stephanie and her writing, visit her website: www.stephaniemward.com
Why do you write? I write because I have stories to tell and I want to tell them my way. I love playing with words and letting ideas take me into uncharted territory.
How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s author? Both Arabella and the Magic Pencil and my forthcoming picture book (top secret for now) are based on things I did in my childhood. The freedom I had then to imagine, create and try new things without any ulterior motive or goal set a wonderful precedent for allowing time for exploration in my writing life.
How much inspiration do you draw from your own family life? Do you test your early drafts on family members? My seven-year-old son and his friends are an unending source of inspiration. From their raw view of the world to the kooky words they use and their radical emotional swings, it’s hilarious and heartbreaking all at once.
I do force my son and husband to listen to my stories, but it doesn’t always end well. It’s like living with critique partners whose feedback you never use. Awkward.
Arabella’s Magic Pencil is a delightful take on sibling rivalry. It’s full of whimsy and a wonderful use of language. I found myself smiling as I turned each page. How did this story come about and what do you hope readers will take away from it? Thank you for your kind words. I first wrote this story in Year 8 as an assignment for English class. At the time, I was 13 years old and had recently become a big sister, again. The new addition to our family was a little brother who was then almost two years old. I’m sure I was channeling my annoyance at having a toddler messing up all of my important teenage stuff when I decided to write about a girl who could draw anything she wanted and erase things she didn’t.
I hope the story resonates with families who are welcoming a new child. It’s hard for children to identify what they are feeling about a new sibling, especially when emotions can change frequently. I wanted to write a story about all of those feelings.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Figuring out the publishing industry – who is open to submissions, what they want, who to pitch, how to submit, and on and on ad infinitum – is a full-time challenge.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the illustrations? Once the contract was signed, I was out of the picture while the wonderful artist Shaney Hyde worked her magic. I didn’t have input, but I got a couple of sneak peeks along the way and I was truly blown away by the end result. Maybe Shaney has a magic pencil?
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being able to write stories that are swirling around in my imagination and then share them with children who totally get it is amazing.
—the worst? Not being able to write down coherently what is so clearly the best story idea in my head is immensely frustrating.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wouldn’t worry about what everyone else is doing or how they did it and simply forge my own writing path.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Being an author is more than just writing in pyjamas, so get ready.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Forget about anyone who doesn’t get what you are trying to do with your story, even if they are a publisher. Move on and find someone who does. (There was actually some profanity when it was told to me, but it certainly stuck with me!)
How important is social media to you as an author? For me, living across three continents, social media is a necessary evil. I don’t love it and I’m not good at it, but I can cheer on fellow authors in Australia, be a mentor to a school in the US and virtually join a chat in the UK from anywhere. That’s pretty amazing.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I can’t think of anything to write creatively, I revise something or critique someone else’s story or send out submissions.
How do you deal with rejection? I reject rejection! In my experience, publishers never actually use the word ‘rejection’. I decided early on that I wouldn’t believe that I or my story are ‘rejected’ when a publisher doesn’t take it. I work hard to find publishing houses that are a good fit for my project. But if they don’t agree, I move on.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Sweet, silly and side-splitting
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? I have read Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman so many times (I even bought the Spanish edition and I don’t speak Spanish) that I’d love to meet him. I’d ask him to explain to me what it is – the X factor, that thing, the special something – that makes a book really ‘good’? Are You My Mother? breaks a lot of today’s picture book rules, but it has certainly withstood the test of time.
Written by Stephanie Ward, Illustrated by Shaney Hyde
Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything until her brother, Avery, arrives. While she loves him, it’s sometimes hard to like him. She spends her days creating marvellous things with her magic pencil, and ignoring him. But when he spoils her tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! Can she get him back? Arabella and the Magic Pencil will appeal to any child with a new sibling and to caregivers who are supporting changing family dynamics.
Arabella and the Magic Pencil is available from ekbooks.org and wherever good books are sold.