NNFN: On finding inspiration for non-fiction writing – A guest post by Kate Pankhurst

cover_600Today’s guest post for National Non-Fiction November is brought to us by Kate Pankhurst.

Kate, a descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst, is the creator of Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, a wildly wonderful and accessible book about women who really changed the world.


“Most of my best ideas have started life as a small doodle, and that’s exactly how the idea for Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World was sparked. I’d created this character – Lady Winkleton, for my fiction series, Mariella Mystery Investigates. In the Curse of the Pampered Poodle, Lady Winkleton stars as an aviator, explorer and owner of a famously cursed poodle.


You might be able to spot that my inspiration for Lady Winkleton was none other than the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart. Seeing my sketches of Lady Winkleton my agent came up with one of those ideas you can’t quite believe you didn’t think of first – Amelia Earhart! Great women! Suffragette ancestry! Wouldn’t I, with my Pankhurst connection, be well suited to writing a book that celebrated the achievements of women?

My initial response was – THAT IS A BRILLIANT IDEA! A BOOK LIKE THAT NEEDS TO EXIST! GO THE GIRLS! But Initial suffragette-embracing enthusiasm was closely followed by self doubt. My previous published work had been fiction titles, so essentially, making stuff up rather than sticking to the facts. The thought of the book going to print containing wonky information and worry about whether I could do the stories of such amazing women justice gave me sleepless nights.

Once I started my research I realised the process of writing and illustrating non fiction isn’t actually that different to working on a fiction, the heart of non-fiction is still telling a good story. Non-fiction tells a story using facts and in this case, the life stories of real people. Much to my delight I found that that massive fear of the blank page I’d had working on fiction, having to create new characters and worlds from nothing, was removed. Thanks to the amazing lives of the great women featured in the book the highs and lows of the stories are already written! (Many of the women’s stories are so full of adventure, bravery and creativity that they really do feel like works of fiction.)


The agonisingly long hours I’d spend attempting to get out of a plot hole when writing fiction were replaced by indecision about the details to leave out. I spent hours trying to squeeze in a paragraph explaining that Pablo Picasso gave Frida Kahlo the hand-shaped earrings she wears in my illustration of her, just because he thought she was cool. Sadly, there just wasn’t enough space to include it even though it set the context of her life and work so perfectly.


When we think in pictures new concepts, characters and meaning is more memorable. That’s why I wanted visually rich information for readers to build a picture of each Great Woman’s life. I loved picturing Marie Curie dozing off to sleep after a hard day in the laboratory, bathed in the gentle green glow from the jar of radium she kept at her bedside. (Using radioactive substances as a nightlight wasn’t the best idea for her health, but is a beautiful snapshot of how immersed in scientific discovery she was.)

This book was such a treat to work on because there wasn’t just one design style to play with. Each spread has a different look to suit the time in history and events surrounding each great woman. Readers need to physically turn their books to read Emmeline Pankhurst’s spread, designed like the suffragette newspaper – Votes for Women. Rosa Park’s spread is coloured in a zingy 1950’s palette and we can peek at the heath care offered by Mary Seacole in the cross section of her hospital, The British Hotel.


I hope readers feel as inspired as I was by the stories of the Great. There is nothing like a good story, real or made up to help the seeds of an idea or aspiration grow in young readers’ minds. (That goes for grown ups too!)”


Our thanks go to Kate Pankhurst for today’s post. You can find out more about Kate on her website https://www.katepankhurst.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter @KateisDrawing.

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World is just one of the titles which features in our new booklist ‘100 Brilliant Non-Fiction Books for Children and Young People’. You can download the entire list, and find out about the amazing giveaway we’re doing of all 100 titles on the list here: http://www.worldbookday.com/2016/10/100-brilliant-non-fiction-books/.

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