Saturday, May 2, 2009

Writing Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

For me, picture books are one of the most difficult genres to write in. It looks dead easy - heck, how hard can 600 words for 4 and 5 year olds be? In my opinion: very.

One of the things I discovered after a number of years of bashing my head against the proverbial brick wall, writing dozens of flat, uninspiring picture books texts, is that I can't write picture books on demand. My picture book texts generally come to me unbidden and usually in response to something I have witnessed or experienced that has stirred me emotionally. I've also discovered that I need to leave that initial flash of inspiration to simmer in my brain for quite sometime: until the rhythms of the language and the voice of the piece, toll bell-like in my mind; until, in fact, the text is almost fully formed and begging to be written. Then, only then, can I can risk putting words down on paper.

So when the publisher at New Frontier rang and asked me if I'd like to write a picture book text for their new Music Box series, I felt very uneasy - so much so, that I nearly refused. You can't write picture books on demand, I told myself. Don't try. You'll regret it, you fool.

But the concept behind the series was intriguing: writing picture book stories inspired by great pieces of classical music and I was sorely tempted. Then when I was given The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker Ballet as my inspiration piece - a piece of music I swirled to in my ballet slippers in front of my wardrobe mirror for most of my childhood - I was more or less hooked.

So I agreed to have a think about it and at least to have a try. But heck - was I nervous, definitely out of my comfort zone!

Then thanks to cyberspace, with a couple of mouse clicks, I was able to find U-tube clips of the ballet and within minutes I was six again, spinning (recklessly) in twirling pirouettes around the lounge room and bending into deep (and clumsy/painful) pliƩs, and gradually an idea started to form. Ah - here's to the magic of music and the power of our childhood memories! Several brisk walks around the neighbourhood, a bit of research into the story of the ballet, a visit to Sticky (candymakers in The Rocks, Sydney) and I was ready. Ready to start, anyway, and happy that I had a story to tell ...

Here is a link to one of the many Sugar Plum Fairy U-tube clips. Enjoy.


  1. Hooray, love your blog!

    As you know we have the book now and how I personally love it. I know it's going to be one that it is read time and time again, as it is both entertaining, and beautiful. I love how Mary is so pragmatic and optimistic. My five year old Eloise was pre-empting Mary's optimism!

    I look forward to tracking the very deserved and imminent success of 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' - well done! xx

  2. Hey, Liss, thanks so much! Feedback like this is absolute gold. Say hi to Eloise for me.