I can’t remember now exactly what she used to do, but she had some truly inventive ways of delaying bedtime for as long as possible. One night as I was trying to put her to bed, feeling exasperated but none the less impressed by her creativity, the line came to me; Elisabeth did not want to go to bed so she said she was a monkey instead.
Originally the story was titled It’s Time All Monkeys Went To Bed. I don’t remember if Elisabeth was actually pretending to be a monkey that night, (she turned 30 last year!), but that’s how the story came to me.
The rhyme in the first few drafts was all over the place. It’s hard to match the rhythm of the name E-lis-a-beth for a start! So I tinkered with if off and on for years. Reluctantly, I changed the name of the main character to something easier to work with. Elisabeth gets Bitty for short, but that seemed too unusual, so the main character became Milly.
|The original Bitty aka Possum|
Then one day I was looking for a picture book manuscript to send into a competition. When I read out the first few lines of the story, all three of my children (who were adults by this time) said, ‘Send that one!’. So I did. It came nowhere but I was encouraged to continue working on it because of their enthusiasm. Finally, I sent it to rhyme expert Jackie Hosking for assessment and that helped enormously.
I submitted the story to several publishers over the years but no one was interested. Then I happened to mention it to Davina Bell from Affirm Press at a CYA Conference editor appointment in July 2018, and she asked me to send it to her, which I happily did. I’d also written an all-Australian animal version of the story by then, titled, It’s Time All Possums Went To Bed which I mentioned in my email to her. Editors are busy people. I knew this, but when I hadn’t heard anything for 18 months, I assumed it was a definite ‘no, it’s not for us’.
Then two weeks before Christmas, a time when you wouldn’t expect a publisher to be asking for manuscripts, I got an email from Davina asking about the Australian animal version. Surprised and elated, I sent off It’s Time All Possums Went To Bed for the very first time.
Three months later I got an email from Meg Whelan (Davina had moved on by then), to say she’d taken it to acquisitions and the team loved it, and they would be sending me a contract! This was in March 2020, just as the lockdowns for Covid-19 were starting. To me it was a sign of hope, an encouragement to keep writing despite what was happening in the world.
This story has been a longtime coming! But it just goes to show that good ideas for stories never go to waste. Some just have to percolate for 20 years or so.
Title: It’s Time All Possums Went To Bed
Author: Jacqui Halpin
Illustrator: Gavin Scott
Publisher: Affirm Press, $19.99
Publication Date: March 2022
For ages: 3 – 8
Type: Picture Book
Jacqui Halpin is a former registered nurse, tuckshop convenor, and now author. Never a reader at school, her passion for children’s books came when reading bedtime stories to her now adult children. She has a Diploma of Professional Children’s Writing and attends writing workshops, conferences and festivals with alarming regularity. She is the Brisbane coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an active member of Book Links~The Centre for Children’s Literature Queensland, and a founding member of Write Links.
Jacqui’s first picture book, Parmesan the Reluctant Racehorse, illustrated by John Phillips, was published by Little Pink Dog Books in 2017. Her second picture book with Little Pink Dog Books, Where’s Lucky?, illustrated by Sandra Severgnini, was shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards in 2019. Her short stories appear in The School Magazine, and in anthologies by Creative Kids Tales and Stringybark publishing.
Discover more about Jacqui via her website. Or read our 12 Curly Questions interview with Jacqui.
Keep an eye out for our KBR review of It’s Time All Possums Went To Bed, coming soon!
July 17, 2022 at 12:32AM DimbutNice