We are delighted to welcome author Barry Timms to Story Snug. Barry’s picture book, A Pinch of Love, illustrated by Tisha Lee, oozes warmth and love. It’s a deliciously heartwarming read for Valentines Day.
The Story: A boy and his grandmother spread love through the community as they bake cookies and share them while they are out and about. But later when they need help they also receive it from a friend. The story culminates in a busy bake sale which raises money for the newly built community centre.
There is so much we love about this book. We love the way that love and baking are intertwined to bring a diverse community of characters together and the way we are left with a warm glow as everybody enjoys caring and company while raising money. We love the way that the cookies bring smiles to various members of the community, the builders, the tired mum, grandpa on his birthday and we love the way that a friend helps when the supermarket shelves are bare. There’s love on every page 🙂
Thank you for visiting Story Snug, Barry and congratulations on the publication of A Pinch of Love.
Thanks so much for having me!
We always love to know how our guests became authors. What was your first book and how did it come to be published?
My first proper picture book was Santa to the Rescue!, published by Little Tiger Group in 2016, where I was an employee. I’d been working an an editor in the children’s book industry for about 14 years by that point, and had never really fancied myself as a writer. But we needed to create a festive book so the publisher and I dreamed up the basic idea together.
It wasn’t worth handing it over to an external author so I agreed to write it up, something that my fellow editors often did for a few projects each year. I went on to write a couple more texts in-house, but it wasn’t until I wrote Where Happiness Lives for Little Tiger in 2017 that I suddenly got the bug and began to take writing seriously. That book was a very significant turning point.
We love the way that A Pinch of Love intertwines themes of love, kindness and community. Is there a particular message that you want the story to convey to readers?
I really notice when a stranger thanks me for letting them pass, or the person on the supermarket check-out cheers up my glum morning with a witty comment. That might not be love with a capital L, but it certainly counts as love for your fellow humans.
So even though the story centres around a boy and his grandmother, for me it’s the smaller, more transient moments that resonate most. I love the boy with the grazed knee being offered a cookie to cheer him up. There are little things we can all do that cost us nothing – not even seconds of our time – but make a real difference. Like tiny little stitches, they can bind a community together.
How did the story evolve from the original idea to the final version. How different is the book to the first draft?
The book is essentially a follow-up to Love Grows Everywhere, which used the metaphor of plants and growth to convey a message about love and community. What with the enduring popularity of TV’s Bake-Off, and baking generally, my editor was keen to try something similar but with a food-related twist. So the stakes were quite high in a way – I really didn’t want to produce something second-rate that might dilute the success of the first book.
I typed reams of notes into my phone over several weeks before I came up with the title and the opening lines. Even then, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. The text needed to work on two quite different levels – the love level and the food level – but if it pulled too hard towards either of the two, it could easily unravel. The writing process felt like walking on a tightrope at times, but I got there in the end.
To loop back to your question, though, we did change a few things from first draft to finished book – some to avoid being too schmaltzy (which is a concern I sometimes have and was shared by the editor) and others to better align with the artwork. Which brings us to your next question…
Was there a lot of collaboration between you and Tisha Lee, the illustrator, before the book was published?
Indirectly, yes. The normal path of communication is via the book’s editor and designer. Most picture books are extremely collaborative in their process and this one was no different. It’s really important for the author to be able to let go and see in which ways their words inspire the illustrator. So sometimes Tisha was keen to take the text in particular directions – she played a big role in choosing the setting, the characters (who are not directly referred to in my text at all) and also certain ways of conveying the love message.
I really believe in this sort of creative freedom for the illustrator and normally only push back when I foresee a genuine problem. I love the surprises that collaboration brings, and it almost always makes for a stronger finished product.
We love the bright colours and boldness of Tisha’s illustrations. They convey so much kindness that it’s difficult to choose a favourite! But we really love the vibrancy and the diversity of the illustration showing the bake sale.
Do you have a favourite illustration?
I love the spread showing the birthday party for Grandpa – it’s the movement of the dancers, the bright colours, the joy in the faces, and the secondary characters from other pages who have grabbed their banjos to help get the party started…
I almost chose this as a favourite too!
Also, I always linger on the knitting circle scene when I look through the book. There’s something so well observed in the looks of concentration and the poised nimble fingers. I don’t knit myself, but something about this image captivates me every time.
Is there any advice that you would give to aspiring #kidlit writers?
Yes – firstly, if you’re serious about getting published, do as much research as you can. Study books in bookshops and look at which ones are being promoted. Use your local library to view both new and classic titles. Use YouTube as a research tool – there are readings of most popular picture books. Develop your analytical and critical awareness – what do and don’t you like about a book? What works well and why?
It’s one thing to have an idea for a book and spend time crafting and perfecting it, but if you operate in a vacuum then the result could be days and days of work that ultimately lead to nothing, when actually an alternative idea might have twice the chance of bringing commercial success. When you’re first dipping your toe in, I think it’s fine to just write. But as you become more serious about getting published, try to back the right horse. Most of us long for more creative time, so be sure to use any time you have wisely.
Also, carry a notebook or use the Notes app on your phone and be sure to stop and capture it when you have an idea (even a not especially good one) – don’t wait till later in the day unless you really have to. Over time, this will create a sort of mind map of where your imagination has been. As well as being able to return to half-formed ideas, you’ll get a better sense of what makes your imagination tick and the themes that most interest you. Good writing tends to grow out of passion and enjoyment.
Finally, try to value any feedback you receive, whether good or bad. I’ve written texts that have kept me amused and engaged through the whole process, and that I’ve felt proud of. But it no one snaps them up for publication then there’s usually a reason for that. The text is either not sufficiently on the money, or it’s simply ‘nice’ but not knock-out, or there’s some other reason. Try to listen to any feedback and take time to process it. Again, it all helps in building your market awareness.
Do you have a favourite location or environment to write in?
It really varies. I like being at my desk, which is very free of clutter, but most of my ideas land while out walking or in the shower – while walking especially. Also, although I’m not someone who tends to lounge on my bed during the day, I’ve written whole books in that position when the mood has felt right – some really productive sessions.
Which authors have influenced your writing? Authors that you may have read as a child as well as current authors.
I’m a big fan of Jeanne Willis. Having worked in advertising originally, Jeanne has terrific commercial sense. And as well as her brilliant wit and rhyme, she also writes the most exquisitely economical prose. In picture books, every word should count, so economy is a skill I admire hugely.
Actually, I’m not only influenced by children’s writers. Because I write a lot in rhyme, there are lyricists who have had a big impact on me – from the genius wordplay of the late Stephen Sondheim to the zeitgeist-capturing lyrics of Taylor Swift, both writers at the very top of their game.
We’re always interested to know what authors enjoy reading. Which recent picture books have you particularly enjoyed?
It’s several years old now but I recently stumbled across Home by Carson Ellis in my local library and ending up buying a copy for my shelf. The artwork is a feast for the eyes – it’s just glorious. At first, the text and structure seem very simple, but with repeated reads it becomes obvious just what a finely crafted piece of work it is – each page never delivering too much or too little. It’s a terrific conversation starter for young children and their parents, its value extending way beyond what’s actually printed.
I also really loved Dan Yaccarino’s The Longest Storm, which was the author’s response to the pandemic and, in particular, to families being cooped up at home together for months on end. It’s a brilliant study of love, family and frustration, with virtuoso graphic images that sometimes need no words at all to say absolutely everything about human experience.
Are you able to tell us about any future titles or projects that you’re currently working on?
Errrm … I can give a few hints! For anyone who enjoyed This is NOT a Unicorn! and This is NOT a Dinosaur!, there’s a third title coming out in time for Christmas 2023. I also have a brand new series in the works – something very silly and cheeky, with a sprinkling of educational value – but it won’t hit the shops until 2024.
This all sounds very intriguing! I look forward to hearing more…
About Barry Timms
Barry is an award-winning storyteller with over 20 years’ experience of making children’s books. He lives by an old water tower in South London and can often be found with pencil in hand, writing or drawing or both. Barry likes road movies, ghost trains and exploring forgotten side streets.
His book This is NOT a Unicorn! won the Stockport Children’s Book Award 2022 and was shortlisted for the Laugh Out Loud Books Awards 2023.
Thank you to Quarto for sending a review copy of this beautiful book 🙂