Our last post offered a brief overview of the fantastic depth in the collections of Helen Craig and Katharine Holabird held at Seven Stories. One of the interesting aspects displayed by these collections is the attention to detail that goes in to creating a series of books as successful as the Angelina Ballerina titles. Particularly noteworthy is the level of research and planning that goes into the books, as evidenced by the stacks of drafts and rough versions of stories and illustrations, created by both Helen and Katharine.

More than anything else, the collections highlight what an absorbing experience it can be to write and illustrate children’s books. The level of work and dedication required to succeed in the world of children’s books is keenly felt by Michelle Robinson, author of picturebooks such as How to Wash a Wooly Mammoth and the forthcoming There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes.

We spoke to her about her experiences finding her way into the industry and developing her own distinct style. In her own words…

“Agents and publishers are always seeking original voices - ones that grab us from the first word and hold us beyond the last. Forget interesting marketing angles, bestselling trends and clever manuscripts - a fresh voice is the only thing that will give you a chance of publication.

So how do you find that voice? Where does it come from? When you do find it, why won’t it leave you alone, even when you’re in the shower? And why must it insist on asking questions instead of providing answers?

I found my voice through hard slog. Like a child learning to ride a bike, I started off writing with the stabilisers on. I read a lot, absorbed a lot and wrote my early stories in the style of other authors. I didn’t mean to, I just hadn’t found my own way into it yet. But I was getting there.

The more I practiced, the better I became. I gained confidence, loosened up, experimented, gathered pace and was soon freewheeling in my own style. I could push the metaphor further and say I fell off a few times (and still do, regularly), but it’s getting rather tired. So, forget bicycles and picture yourself in Devon.

The birds are singing, you’re drifting in a digital-free haven and there’s nothing to do but write. Because if practicing is how I found my voice, a writing course is where. The course came at just the right time. I needed to be challenged. I had to work harder. I relished the chance to show off. I was ready to go, I just needed a captive audience: my tutors. Thanks to them I secured an agent and the first of many book deals. I’d found my voice - and I had an awful lot to say.”

The Seven Stories collection is a unique resource for aspiring writers and illustrators.

For information about research opportunities, please contact collections@sevenstories.org.uk

Michelle Robinson’s next book There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes is due out in July, published by Bloomsbury.