I often hear people saying that anybody could write a children’s book: plots are simple, characters are often one dimensional, and as long as there are bright colours and a giraffe involved somewhere, you should be on to a winner. But just like peeling a melon or riding an emu, writing a good quality children’s book is a lot harder than you might think.
I began writing children's books due to my niece and nephews demanding new and exciting bedtime stories after having exhausted their own library. When a couple of the stories got some good reviews - as stated by the children (the harshest of critics), I began to develop the stories in more detail. For my first book, the process of postulation to paperback took around 18 months and was a tremendous learning curve. The now infamous 'Nana's Knickers' hit the shelves in the summer of 2014.
The book takes the reader on a fast-paced and amusing adventure as Nana wakes up to find that her favourite pair of knickers have gone missing. Disaster. On the excellent advice of her grandchildren she retraces her steps from the previous day in an attempt to solve the mysterious disappearance of her prestigious pants.
I was very keen to produce a book that was both fun and easy to read but which would also broaden a child’s vocabulary - something I feel that every book should do. The font was chosen particularly to help young children learn letter shapes and plain backgrounds in the book were coloured yellow to help those suffering from dyslexia see the text more clearly. All the illustrations were hand-painted and full of colour and detail with new things to see and find with every read. Since being published, 'Nana's Knickers' has been a best seller in a number of high-street outlets and on Amazon, and has received fantastic reviews on Mumsnet, Amazon and various social media sites. The book was chosen by the patients of Alder Hey Children's Hospital as the one to launch their new reading initiative 'Word on the Ward' and was privileged to attend the event. I have been invited to some fantastic primary schools across the country to read the book to young pupils and hold creative writing workshops for them.
When I was growing up I loved rhyming books like Roald Dahl's 'Revolting Rhymes' and any sort of funny poems and limericks, for example Spike Milligan's 'Sardines' and I would often spend ages thinking up my own. As we studied the war poets in school and I got exposed to the meritorious lines of Owen and Brooke and the more romantic verse of Keats and Shelley, I realised how immensely powerful poetry could be, though I never wrote anything of that sort until 2010. One morning the headlines stated two young British soldiers had be killed in Afghanistan, both from my own town. It was then that I wrote a poem entitled, 'A British Heart', paying tribute to the sacrifice made by those in our Armed Forces on behalf of us and for our continued freedom. I sent the poem to the local Regiment who in turn sent it to Regiments all over the country and various military publications. I was contacted by The Household Cavalry who requested permission to use the poem at fundraising events for their Operational Casualties Fund and I was also very moved to receive letters from a number of families who had lost loved ones in conflict, stating how much comfort the poem had brought them. In 2012 the poem won the United Press National Poetry Award, beating thousands of other entries and making me the youngest winner in the competition's history.
A British Heart
Down beats the drummer’s hand to lead them on their way.
Faultlessly they march in line, no single stride astray.
Immaculate from head to toe, this military perfection;
These highly polished men, today in personal reflection.
With heads held high and shoulders back, they carry him with pride;
Their ally and their friend, who on the battlefield had died.
The English breeze caressed the air and dried the springtime dew;
As children watched in wonder at the draped red, white and blue.
He was just a boy himself, yet the job had made him older.
To most he was a fearsome sight, an armed and dangerous soldier.
But to his doting mother, who now numb forever more;
He’d always be her tender son, snatched from her by war.
The streets were lined with mourners: those he knew and had not met;
There to do their duty and whisper, “We shall not forget”.
He spent his life in service, to his Country, to his Queen;
He gave his life for freedom, a better future, now unseen.
The essence of a British heart: proud and brave and loyal;
Returning home to peaceful rest, within the British soil.
I have no idea where the source of my next poem will come from - it could be formed around a curious word I hear, a strange dream I have or even a tasty corn-based snack I’m eating. The poem below, 'A Woman of Easy Virtue' came about entirely from reading about the phrase ‘a gibbous moon'. Although this might not be the typical way to write poetry it seems to work for me. I'm also not a great fan of 'free verse' and only wrote 'Fat Man' after I was challenged to write something in under 5 minutes that made absolutely no sense but could probably win the Booker Prize.
A Woman Of Easy Virtue
Her face was hid like a gibbous moon, behind the feckless bounder.
I’d ransacked half of Soho ‘til eventually I found her.
Canoodled in the corner of a joint near Leicester Square;
I recognised her raucous laugh and erogenous flowing hair.
Uncouthly quaffing coups of fizz, the philtre that he gave her;
I smiled with grim delight to know this moment I would savour!
I made my way between the brutes all bragging of their Porsches;
The air so dense with self-important scent it made me nauseous.
Her face jerked up with eyes a-wide like a dog expecting treats,
But all I had to feed this bitch was knowledge of her deceits!
Her cheeks transposed like litmus as she heard my words of acid.
To both of our annoyance the young cad remained quite placid.
"There was a time a gentleman would stand up for his lady.”
He calmly cocked a snook and sniped, “She’s hardly Marcia Brady.”
This received a soaking in the subjects’ Champagne Charlie;
And nearly found a fist upon the nose he’d fixed on Harley.
And as her tears welled up within those eyes I once thought pure,
I felt a tinge of sadness as I turned towards the door.
She was once a woman whom I truly loved and cherished.
Feelings, so emphatic, with perfidiousness had perished.
So listen when I warn thee of the one who’s sure to hurt you,
And never give your heart, my friend, to a woman of easy virtue.
When I Awake
When I awake on dreary days,
I lie a while and softly gaze,
Upon the beauty next to me;
The prettiest girl there’ll ever be.
Cocooned within these sheets of cotton,
Worries of the world forgotten;
Replaced with thoughts of summer skies,
And feeling, still, the butterflies.
Your lips a delicate soft delight,
That smile and make the darkness bright.
And eyes that when they meet with mine,
Reflect your soul’s eternal shine.
I stroke your warm and tender skin,
That shrouds your beating heart within.
A heart, I pray, that beats for me,
As mine shall always beat for thee.
When I awake on dreary days,
As you remain in dreamy haze,
I smile and thank the Gods above,
As once again I fall in love.
The Girl From Sporange
(To be read in a Scottish accent)
I fell in love with a girl from Sporange,
Her eyes were blue and her hair was orange.
We met on a train coming back from Dundee;
I sat on her sandwich, she sat on my knee.
Skin was pure white, like a summer’s day cloud,
Her bosom was ample, crested and proud.
She came from a bloodline of fisherman long,
T'was shown in her hands and her delicate pong.
She rode on her bike selling salmon and shrimp,
And thanks to no saddle she walked with a limp.
On Christmas Day’s eve, a kiss did I slip her,
Then gave her a goose; she gave me a kipper.
I went to her father, old Angus McDougal,
A pallid old man, both doomsted and frugal.
Asking permission to marry his daughter,
He looked at me like I’s a lamb to the slaughter.
“Aye” groaned the fossil, “But when will it be?
From Monday to Sunday I’m working at sea.”
Perfect, I lied, we shall wed on your trawler.
T'will be quite a squeeze but the cost will be smaller.
This news met with anger as she felt I was skimping.
"You expect us to marry while my father keeps shrimping!?"
"The day will be perfect", of that I assured her,
And this she believed the more whiskey I poured her.
The day came along with an overcast greeting.
The sun said hello, but its presence was fleeting.
We convened at the harbour and boarded the vessel
Admiring the buffet laid out on a trestle.
Fat Man - Free Verse
(Written in protest to free verse)
The sound of the gravel inconsistent with the weight.
Crushing. Biting. Screaming.
The corrugated sofa which flexed as dust settled on the road,
And over my shoulder I see him. Large.
I make my way were love had been, and itch my corduroy knee.
I hear the pennies jangle in his pocket like the bell on a Milking Shorthorn,
And over the misty lake of soliloquies he turns his head to my door.
The gravel compress together like their distant pebble forefathers,
And for an instant everything is calm.
Blum. Blum. Blum. Knuckles of fat bounce back and then return.
A fruit-fly lands on my shirt and I pinch it, staining the cotton.
Blum. Blum. Blum.
Sardines by Spike Milligan
A baby sardine
Saw her first submarine:
She was scared and watched through a peephole.
"Oh come, come, come,"
Said the sardine's mum.
"It's only a tin full of people."
"We all enjoyed reading it and I felt that the quality of the rhyme and the illustrations were both very high."
Alison Keeley - Booktrust
"It's great fun and romps along at a terrific pace, Nico is clearly very talented."
Rona Selby - Andersen Press
"We love the book, Nana's Knickers, it's fantastic! It's such fun and the illustrations are wonderful. It's the most popular book on the ward!"
Irene Axon - Alder Hey Children's Charity
"Nana's Knickers is the best selling children's book that we have ever stocked"
Linghams Bookshop - Heswall
"My son (aged 3) really enjoyed it and actually sat still throughout, which is praise indeed - only something Julia Donaldson had achieved prior to this!"
Georgina Edwards - Mumsnet Chelmsford
"I bought this book for my grandson and the text and pictures are so engaging. This will become a family favourite for many years to come."
K Sinclair - Amazon Customer
"It's a good title, and as we know knickers are always a winner. The scansion is consistantly good which is itself surprisingly rare, I find!"
Suzanne Carnell - Macmillan Children's Books
"It flows beautifully and the rhyming keeps even the smallest children fixated on the story. Nana's Knickers has quickly become a book that all the family can enjoy together."
Sarah Debnam - Mumsnet Newport & Gwent
"Wow, this story really packs a punch! It's a jolly, calamitous read that moves along at a very neat pace. The character of Nana is very humorous and I really enjoyed the way she speaks and the way that Nico has written her."
Maria Tunney - Walker Books
"Charlie Meyer's beautifully coloured hand-painted illustrations on the front cover of a very flummoxed Nana had my daughter intrigued. Her 'Ooohs' and 'Ahhhs' before we had even opened the first page were definitley a good sign."
Julia Roche - Mumsnet Rutland & Leicestershire
"I really enjoyed how the comic tone of the story was emphasised by the use of rhyme."
Emma Layfield - Hodder Children's Books
"Even on the fourth time round my daughter was finding new things, the little mouse was a particular favourite."
Julie Harwood - Mumsnet Peterborough
"Absolutely fantastic! Read it last night to my grandchildren and they couldn't stop laughing, the four year old didn't get past the word 'knickers' on the book cover! At times even I was wondering what was coming next."
Brain C - Amazon Customer