Today I am so pleased to have the wonderful and gifted author/illustrator Frank Rodgers here as my guest blogger. I am thrilled to turn the mic over to him... Frank, welcome to Storywraps.
Imagination, Ideas and Reading
We all need imagination. The bigger the better. It broadens our understanding of the world and helps encourage empathy with others. Luckily for us, it’s something we all possess.
But if bigger is better, how do we make it bigger and better?
The good news - imagination is like a seed… give it the right conditions and it will grow.
The bad news - deprive it of the right conditions and it won’t.
That’s why reading is so important for children. Its a watering can for the imagination. Apply reading daily and watch the seeds of imagination grow, push into the light and eventually flower.
For very young children, nursery rhymes, songs and word play plant the seeds… then for toddlers reading and sharing picture books kicks in the growth surge. And, as children grow, the acquired, sunny habit of reading for pleasure warms up the imagination buds ready to flower.
Water the imagination every day with books and just watch it grow bigger…. and bigger…. like a beanstalk. There’s no limit on how big it can get. There’s no reason not to have (to paraphrase Douglas Adams from ‘The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’) a brain with an imagination the size of a planet!
A big imagination fosters creativity. But of course there are many types of creativity and having a big imagination doesn’t necessarily mean a person will be a writer or an artist. Imagination has to work in a particular way for that to happen. But having a good imagination does mean that creativity will be understood and recognised, and appreciative and critical qualities will have a chance to flourish.
So, how does a children’s writer use their particular kind of creative imagination?
Well, most obviously, to give a story idea wings and help it take flight, soar and have a happy landing.
But imagination is also required for the initial story spark. Ideas can’t exist without it. Without imagination, ideas stay on the ground, forever looking up and wondering what it would be like to fly.
So how does a writer get the spark of a good story idea? How does this writer and illustrator do it?
Well, the idea can arrive out of the blue, unannounced…. suddenly jumping to the front of your brain from the jumble at the back through a happy combination of circumstances. But that doesn’t happen often. You can’t rely on it. You can’t wait for it to happen. I know, I’ve tried! There were days when I drank too many cups of coffee and went for lots of long walks. Nothing. The jumble was unforthcoming.
No, the best way to get a story idea is to have access to a place - an organised place - where you know there will be a good chance of finding one. But you have to create this place for yourself.
I learned this lesson pretty quickly - right at the start of my career as a freelance writer and illustrator of children’s books. Over twenty-five years and seventy books later the lesson still applies - an organised ‘place’ is essential - because inspiration strikes when there is fertile ground. To dig into the gardening metaphor again, you need to prepare the soil. This means building up a list of possible subjects for stories. A notebook of themes or starting points. An actual notebook, I mean. One that’s kept in a drawer, not a ‘virtual’ one which might disappear if your computer crashes or a ‘memory’ one that ends up in that jumbled heap at the back of your brain.
Many children’s story ideas come from leaps of the imagination into fantasy. But just as many come from real-life experience and that’s where I found the first of my picture book ideas.
The first two to be published - ‘Who’s Afraid of the Ghost Train?’ and ‘The Bunk-Bed Bus’ - had their beginnings in my experiences with my own family.
What I found out from my own kids (and re-remembered from my own childhood) was that, to children, the world can seem a strange and puzzling place. Scary too, when they apply their fledgling imagination to things or places they don’t quite understand. Places, for instance, such as the wig department of a city store which my very young son imagined was the lair of hairy monsters!
It was this wild use of the imagination which inspired the idea for ‘Who’s Afraid of the Ghost Train?’ In it Robert’s big imagination conjures up scary things… until he finds a way of using his imagination to make himself feel better.
‘The Bunk-Bed Bus’ was also inspired by my two kids. When my wife and I bought bunk-beds for them they immediately saw their potential as a play area… and the first game they played was ‘Let’s pretend it’s a bus and we’re going to the seaside’. “Let’s pretend”, of course, being another way of saying “Let’s use our imagination!”.
I’m glad to say that both our children grew up to be great adults with a fine understanding of the world, empathy for others and, of course, big imaginations.
Reading played a huge part in that and I’m just so thrilled that the process is being repeated with our grandchildren. What a pleasure it is to read to them. What a delight to watch their growing imaginations. And what an honour for me to be just a tiny part of that.
Interview with Frank Rodgers...
Rapid fired quesitons...
What is your dream car?
A 1955 Citroen ID19
Do you prefer to give a gift or receive one?
Do you prefer a sit down meal or a picnic?
I love to do both: it depends on the weather!
Are you left-handed or right-handed?
What is your favourite drink? (alcoholic or non-alcoholic)
A ‘flat white’ coffee from my local cafe…. or
any fine single malt Scotch whisky (Bowmore, Glenmorangie, Dalwhinnie etc)
What was your favourite book as a child?
Bows Against the Barons by Geoffrey Trease. Written in 1934, it’s a Robin Hood story with its basis in real history - a young serf’s view of the struggles of the peasants against their masters.
What person influenced you most in your lifetime?
At the beginning of my teaching career a colleague named Allan Shedden became a kind of mentor for me. An english teacher and intellectual, he introduced me to Scottish folk music, poetry and intelligent and balanced discourse.
What motivated you to become an author?
A desire to be creative and to share my stories and characters with children.
Were you a good student in school?
What do you like to do to relax?
Read, walk, play blues or Beatles on my guitar and piano or Scottish and Irish jigs and reels on my mandolin.
What famous person, either living or deceased, would you like to met in person and have dinner with?
What adult authors do you like to read that you can pass on to us?
William Boyd (Any Human Heart, Ordinary Thunderstorms etc) Patrick O’Brian (Master and Commander and the entire ‘Aubrey/Maturin’ series) Patrick Leigh Fermour (Between the Woods and the Water, A Time of Gifts) Barbara Kingsolver (The Lacuna, Flight Behaviour)
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
A rock star. (I was actually in a band for a short while but I guess the world wasn’t quite ready for us!)
What’s more important in your opinion: character or plot?
I’m a great believer in stories which are both character-driven and plot-driven.
Do you have any plans for your next book?
I have a few ideas bubbling away but at the moment I am illustrating a series of children’s books for Faber.
Are there any last thoughts for our readers you would like to share?
Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Read on and read always!
It's a wrap.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org