The Deputy Head of Primary at the British School of Beijing (BSB) Shunyi campus published her first children’s book, Mrs. Vickers’ Knickers, which launched Monday, May 6 in the UK and Korea. Author Kara Lebihan is from the UK and has lived in Beijing for two years, and her picture book (with illustrations by Deborah Allwright) is about Mrs. Vickers, who is hanging her favorite pair of knickers to the clothesline when a gust of wind sweeps them away. Mrs. Vickers follows those knickers on wild adventures, but will they find their way home again? Lebihan answered a few of our questions about her book and the love of writing.
How did the idea for Mrs. Vickers’ Knickers come about?
When my son was a baby I spent many an hour pushing him around the streets of Altrincham in the UK in his pushchair. Every now and again we would pass a stray sock, shoe, glove or hat lying on the pavement or thoughtfully placed upon a garden wall. The story of Mrs. Vickers’ Knickers was initially about a lost sock that fell from a pushchair, was discovered by an energetic dog and taken on a journey around the town, only to be dropped back in the same spot as it had started off. However, socks are nowhere near as funny as knickers. And so the story changed…
Will the book be available in China?
At the moment it is available in the UK and in Korea – the foreign rights were bought by a Korean publisher too. I am talking to Alex Goh at Star Kid’s Bookstore in Beijing and he is hoping to start to stock the book in August. I am also in the process of contacting Bookworm in Sanlitun so we hope to have it on the shelves in Beijing soon.
Your site says you’ve been writing since you were eight years old. What advice do you have for children who love to write and want to pursue it into adulthood?
First, keep a notebook handy and jot down any ideas you have. We don’t all have time to write all the time so it is handy to have bank of idea for when you do have time.
Do lots of reading and see what other writers are writing about. It’s good to investigate the styles of different writer and it’s okay to have a go at writing in the styles of different writer too. This will help you find a style that you are comfortable with yourself.
And keep trying. My dream became in 1978 and my determination and perseverance paid off in the end.
How can parents help support or encourage a child who loves writing?
If children want to write they will write. I’m sure my parents didn’t have a clue I was writing books when I was a child – they were well hidden under my bed! If your child wants to write then leave them to it. If they want your help they’ll ask. If they don’t ask then leave them alone.
If they want to share their ideas with you then show an interest but don’t badger them. All I wanted from my parents as a child was a nice new notebook and pencil at the start of each holiday. I still want that – there’s something exciting about an empty book and new sharp pencil. I guess they want a computer these days though!
Your site says you wrote A Jumper for Zac, but that it wasn’t published. How do you overcome the frustrations of trying (and sometimes not succeeding) at getting something published?
I’m a very determined a person and I like to see things through to completion. I’ve never really been that frustrated by the rejections. I just always saw it as part of the process of getting a book published. I’ve always just kept going and tried not to be put off when a book doesn’t make it. I’m finally getting to the completion stage so I’m happy I kept going with it.
How did you manage your time between working, being with your family, and writing your book?
Most picture books are under 300 words so there isn’t a lot of text. The initial draft of a picture book only takes me about three nights. First night – get the idea down. Second night – refine it, add illustration notes. Third night – check the formatting is correct, do a word count and email it to my agent (London-based Eve White).
Of course that’s not the end of it. Once it reaches Eve there will be lots of editing and rewriting to work on but nothing hugely time consuming. Picture book writing is perfect for me because it doesn’t take a lot of my time. I can start and finish the initial stages of a project quickly and then wait for feedback and make changes when I have time. When I have an idea I work very late at night and just keep going until I’m happy with the manuscript. Then I sleep lots!
Do you have another book in the works?
I have lots of titles buzzing around in my head at the moment. I have them all noted down with a few ideas to go with them. I’m waiting for a good story line to pop up which usually happens when I least expect it. I got my very first picture book idea on a bus in Singapore when I was heading to the supermarket. Ideas come from nowhere – I usually need a bit of continuous relaxation time for the ideas to start flowing. Maybe this summer when I’m by the pool in Spain!
Photo courtesy of Kara Lebihan