Why daughter brought spin to Thatcham mum's book
Mummy and Sam are preparing to go out and Mummy asks Sam to put on his hat, coat, boots, gloves and scarf. Sam keeps asking ‘Why?’, ‘Why?’, ‘Why?’ to each request to put on extra items of clothing – and ultimately gets a slightly exasperated response from his Mummy!
Four-year-olds ask a lot of questions. Studies show they ask around 200-300 questions per day, so yes many carers of children will be very familiar with Sam’s endless stream of questions and will enjoy the clever twist in the tale in Why, Mummy?, written by Thatcham author Melanie Nicholson-Jones and illustrated by her daughter Amy-Scarlett.
Melanie often used to write stories for her children growing up and this story was one of them. This picture book, aimed at 3-6 year olds, has been designed to be read aloud by a parent or carer or can be read independently by fledgling readers.
“Why Mummy? was inspired by my own children asking constant questions when they were young and occasionally by me getting fed up and giving them an exasperated reply – just like ‘Mummy’ in this book. The story sat in my files for about 15 years until the Covid-19 lockdown came along in Spring 2020 and having more time on my hands, I decided to ‘dust off’ some of my old stories.
“By the time I got around to transcribing the original story onto the computer in 2020, my daughter Amy-Scarlett, who (along with my son Alexander) partly inspired the story in the first place by being unfailingly curious and always asking questions – had grown up and become a talented illustrator in her own right. She immediately ‘got’ my design concepts for the illustrations and contributed many visual ideas to bring the story to life.”
As a copywriter and ex-newspaper journalist, Melanie may be used to seeing her words in print in one form or another, but this is her first children’s book and “it felt pretty exciting,” she said.
“I was particularly thrilled to see my daughter Amy-Scarlett’s amazing artwork in print, as the illustrations are fabulous and I was delighted to see how well they came out. They are beautifully drawn, really colourful and in places are actually quite funny in their own right.”
This was the mother and daughter duo’s first collaboration. “Working with Amy-Scarlett was wonderful! I can’t think of anyone I’d rather work with on a project like this, as we get on really well and bounce ideas off each other. I had some specific ideas in mind for the illustrations, as I’d originally intended to illustrate the book myself and she immediately ‘got’ them.
“Amy-Scarlett really made my initial concepts come to life and added her own unique spin on them. She also contributed lots of fresh ideas, which I was happy to go along with, including the creation of a little dog for Sam, the main character. The dog isn’t named or even mentioned in the story, but he appears on almost every page and has effectively become the other main character. I can’t imagine the book without him now!
“One of my favourite illustrations is in the book is one of Sam’s ‘thought bubble’ sequences, showing a family having a picnic. It is pretty special to me, as it bears more than a passing resemblance to myself, Amy-Scarlett and my son Alexander in years gone by.”
After so many years filed away, you’d think the original story might have changed once she revisited it, but Melanie says not really.
“ I changed a few lines here and there, but the story is pretty much as I first wrote it. I simplified the sentences slightly and added some deliberate key word repetition, so that fledgling readers can try reading it themselves. Hopefully it works as a story that a parent, teacher or carer can read aloud, as well as a book for young children to read independently.”
As the book was only published on 28th June, it’s very early days yet and anyone who ordered in the first few days will only just be getting their hands on a copy. Yet Everyone who’s seen advance copies has been very positive about it.
“Why, Mummy? seems to strike a chord with parents and anyone who’s been around young children, as they know how many ‘why’ questions they ask on a daily basis! People also seem to enjoy the twist in the tale.
“I’ve been sharing a few of the illustrations on social media as a teaser over the last few months and people from all over the world have been very complimentary about them. I hope people will like the book as a whole once they see it all together.”
Why, Mummy? has been picked up by booksellers as far afield as Australia and Japan, so Melanie regards that as a really positive sign that they think it will have widespread appeal.
And there’s more to come.
“I’ve got quite a few stories in the bag which I’ve written over the years – including a kind of modern fairytale, which I’ve polished up ready for Amy-Scarlett to start illustrating this summer.
“I also have outlines for a couple of follow ups to Why, Mummy? such as Why, Granny? and even a Christmas version - Why, Santa?
“I definitely want to continue working with Amy-Scarlett in future, but as time goes by, I think she’ll be very much in demand as an illustrator, so the time may come when I may have to wait in line.”
There are so many children’s books on the market – what advice have you for anyone wanting to write one?
It certainly is a very competitive market, but I don’t think that should put anyone off if they want to do it and have a story to tell. My advice would be to just go for it! You’ll never know what you can achieve unless you try. That goes for most things in life and writing is no different. Lots of famous authors had their work turned down by publishers initially, but it didn’t stop them trying again. My best advice as a starting point would be to buy or borrow a copy of the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. It’s full of good advice about writing for children, as well as practical information on finding and approaching publishers.
A beautifully written and illustrated picture book by Berkshire mother-daughter duo
Melanie Nicholson-Jones trained as a journalist and worked as a news reporter on regional and national newspapers for several years, before going into PR and media relations when her children were young as it was more ‘family friendly’. She has a first-class BA Hons degree in Social Sciences from the University of Westminster and achieved her qualification in journalism at the University of Central Lancashire. Melanie works as a PR and marketing consultant and copywriter and lives near Newbury in Berkshire. Together Melanie and Amy-Scarlett Nicholson-Jones form the mother-daughter creative partnership behind Why, Mummy?
Amy-Scarlett Nicholson-Jones has a BA Hons in Fashion and Costume Design from Birmingham City University and an MA in Theatre Design from UAL (University of the Arts, London, Wimbledon College of Arts.) Amy-Scarlett works as a teaching and boarding assistant at the Royal High School in Bath and runs arts and crafts activities for the school’s boarding pupils.