Polly Pecorino is a young girl with an incredible ability to understand animals. She rescues flies from puddles and bears from kidnappers! We are thrilled to welcome Emma Chichester Clark to our blog with a piece she has written about her latest book.
How have you found writing fiction for the first time, and how much of the book is inspired by your own childhood?
Polly Pecorino is set in a mixture of places that I knew well as a child, as well as some that I’ve never actually been to. I grew up in the countryside in Ireland, in an old farmhouse, down a long potholed lane, in the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by wildlife as well as our own dogs, bantams and fantail pigeons. All the stories my father told us were about the animals in the woods where we walked. There were great tall beech trees. There were badgers and foxes, and maybe, possibly, even … bears.
I always longed to rescue something and bring it home and look after it – any wild creature – and was always on the prowl, looking out for them. The ones that I found were usually well past saving – a rabbit with myxomatosis, a cat that had eaten rat poison, a crow with its wing smashed by a car. They all died. But there were some successes, and at that time, I really wanted to be a vet. The idea of being able to talk to animals was something I wished for as a child. I think I thought I could do it. I guess many children believe things like that about themselves. I think, as a child, I believed I would be able to talk myself out of a dangerous situation too – that everything would be all right if everyone really understood what was going on and everyone told the truth; then whatever the danger was would be smoothed out, and everything would be fine. Maybe there is a bit of that in Polly. She believes in herself. She believes that she can do good. She isn’t defeated by the overwhelming circumstances she finds herself in. I think children are brave and straightforward. They have the power … and then it gets forgotten.
What I loved about writing fiction for the first time was the bit that happens before you actually sit down and write. It’s the time when you are carrying an idea in your head, and it’s growing, and you walk around in the real world with this secret wonderful thing that you are inventing. That is the most exciting time. It’s ticking away, nudging you, waking you up in the morning and at that point, it has so much potential. There’s also a little fear that you might get tired of it, go off it and it will fade away, but if it doesn’t, then there’s the moment when you have to commit something to paper, or whatever.
I knew I wasn’t going to have a proper length of time to sit and write the whole thing because I was working on other picture books, so I wrote a chapter plan, 1-30, with a brief synopsis for each one. I knew the beginning, the middle and the end of the story and that made it all seem possible. I planned to write it in between other projects, when I had some spare time. That was back in 2013!
For the first few chapters I went to stay in a friend’s house in Suffolk. There was nobody there, nothing else to do – only my dog to walk – so a routine began, and I was full of hope and expectations. In reality, it was pretty awful. Each sentence I wrote was dreary, plodding, mechanical, like wading through sludge – just not at all how I’d imagined. It was really hard work. I made myself sit and do it anyway. I didn’t allow myself to read through and correct until I’d got to the end of a chapter. If I’d tried to correct every word or sentence, I’d never have finished a page. I hoped if I simply wrote and wrote, it would eventually become more fluent. I think it was hard to get past being self-conscious, but sometimes it happened. I wanted the style to be simple and clear and honest, and to be in my own voice, whatever that was. Sometimes there was too much of it – in fact, in the end there was far too much of it and the editors at Walker Books, having agreed to publish it, spent months and months sorting it out.
It was a wonderful learning experience, especially working with those editors who took such care and spotted a million mistakes, or things that hadn’t been explained properly.
One day, I hope that Polly will have another adventure and do some more rescuing somewhere. I do think about her and miss her sometimes. I’ve got a vague idea about what she might do next. It’s cooking gently on a back burner. I just need to sit down and write a chapter plan.
Polly Pecorino is published by Walker Books and is available now!