We spoke to Pippa Chorley, author of Counting Sheep, on how she became the author of whimsical picture books...
While on the hunt for more awesome reads, we came across Counting Sheep by Pippa Chorley, a delightful rhyming picture book illustrated by Danny Deeptown (who also illustrated Captain Green and the Plastic Scene). The book starts with, “One dark stormy night, when Sam couldn’t sleep, her mum suggested, “Try counting some sheep” and our plucky protagonist has to get to the bottom of why the sheep aren’t jumping the fence – because if the sheep don’t leap, she can’t sleep! The writer, Pippa Chorley, is mum to three awesome kids and, on top of writing children’s books, she has also created craft projects for kids to try at home and does school visits to share her books. We especially love that her mantra is “Dream big, don’t follow the flock” and how she believes that when we do something different, we get the biggest rewards. We spoke to Pippa to find out why and how she started writing and how she fits it into her busy schedule…
Tell us about yourself!
I was lucky enough to grow up in a very beautiful village in Cheshire in the UK that’s full of chocolate-box buildings and crooked alleyways, surrounded by farmland and ancient forests. My sister and I spent most of our time inventing stories in our garden or creating magical worlds on our family dog walks. I used to find reading quite a challenge though as I’m dyslexic – it was often easier for me to invent my own stories than to read other peoples as I found large books with tiny writing quite daunting. It wasn’t until Santa Claus gave me a copy of Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome that things began to change. I loved the book so much and felt so proud of myself for having finished it (it’s a big book with tiny writing!) that I realised if I found another book that I enjoyed as much as this one, then reading wasn’t such a chore after all. Slowly, I turned from being a reluctant reader into a passionate one. I went on to study English Literature and Creative Writing at university where I read a library full of books and I am now a member of two book clubs!
Tell us about your children and family life
I have three wonderful children: two boys and one little girl. There’s Lochie, aged 10, Calum, aged 7, and Caitlin, aged 3. Both of my boys are sport mad and play rugby, football, tennis, and they also swim. I honestly don’t know how they have the energy for it, but I love that it means they are outside every day and it keeps them healthy in mind as well as body. They both play the piano too and are currently working towards their grades 4 and 3.
My little girl is a lovely mix of adventurous, shy and great fun. She joins big school in August this year at Tanglin Trust School where her brothers are and I can’t wait to see what activities she chooses to try. Half of me thinks she will be a demon on the rugby pitch and the other half thinks she would love nothing more than to wear a tutu! Perhaps she will do both, but I’ll have to wait and see.
What’s a typical day like for you?
My day always begins with a dog walk! I take our spaniel Jasper out for an hour every morning along the green corridor. It’s my way to clear my thoughts and recharge my batteries for the day ahead. I often get story ideas coming to me on those walks so they really are an essential part of my day. Sometimes I end up using the voice recorder on my phone as I walk to make sure I don’t forget the start of a new story or an idea that is formulating.
When I get back, I take my little girl to pre-school and then begin writing, editing or critiquing. I typically have a couple of stories on the go at once and when I have got them to a decent stage I take them to my Wednesday critique group for vetting. Wednesday is one of the most important days of the week for me as it’s when I get to test an idea out with my writing buddies; I know I will always get honest and helpful feedback.
During the afternoons, I have to put my paper and pen away as this is my time to be with my kids. You’ll find me cheering on the sidelines at a football or rugby match, refereeing an argument, playing pirates in the pool or hosting a playdate!
What has been your favourite country to live in so far and why?
My favourite country we lived in is India. My family and I lived in New Delhi for three and a half years and it was a formative time in our lives. We loved the colour, the food, the history and the sheer craziness that is life in India, and we made some wonderful friendships there too. Admittedly, the poverty and sheer number of people can sometimes get you down, but we travelled extensively and learned to value family and friendships above all else. Our favourite memory of our time there was washing Tara the rescued elephant in the rivers of Khanna National Park. It was pure magic!
When and why did you decide to become a writer?
I have always, always, always written. I remember being about eight years old and penning my first ever poem. It was about going to the dentist, ha ha! I kept journals as a child too where I wrote down story ideas and lots more poetry. I even chose to write and illustrate (I used to sketch a lot) a picture book at the age of 17 for my English language coursework. It was called The Tale of Fluke the Dolphin! I came across it last summer when I was back in the UK and it really made me smile. As an adult I often wrote poems for friends and family to mark special occasions, which enabled me to keep practising my writing skills. In my mid-twenties I even drafted a full-length adventure novel that I am still tinkering with today.
Writing has always been a big part of my life, even though it wasn’t my initial career choice. It wasn’t until my little girl went to pre-school that I joined a writing group for fun and I was encouraged to take my hobby further. I will be forever grateful to my writing critique group here for giving me that long overdue nudge to send off my stories to a publishing house. If they hadn’t, my manuscripts would probably still be hiding on my computer and never have seen the light of day!
Your latest book, Counting Sheep, is adorable! What kind of stories do you like to write?
Thank you, that’s very kind! I am very proud of Counting Sheep. It’s actually the first in a series of three picture books all featuring the main character, Sam. Each book is a fun-filled rhyming story that encourages creativity, problem-solving and kindness to all.
I don’t always write in rhyme, though. I am currently working on about five other manuscripts that are all in prose ready to send out to prospective editors. All have a similar amusing, light-hearted tone and nearly all feature animals of some kind too. I seem to find it hard to steer away from them as they are a passion of mine and I find the animal kingdom such a diverse and inspirational topic with so many untold stories to tell.
I want to encourage others, particularly children, to have the courage to be who they truly are, and do what they are passionate about, rather than what is simply expected of them. We only get one chance in life to do something wonderful, so dream as wildly and deeply as you can and then give your dreams a shot because you just never know unless you try!
What’s in the pipeline?
As mentioned, Counting Sheep is the first story in a series of books written about Sam. The second one, due out in Singapore at the start of 2020, is called Stuffed and is another fun rhyming story. Sam awakes to find her favourite stuffed toys strewn across the bedroom floor and is sure that they have had an argument in the night. She sets about solving their squabbles so that everyone can get a good night’s sleep. Following this will be a third story, but you’ll have to keep an eye out for more details about that one, as the title is still under debate!
Luckily, my wonderful illustrator for Counting Sheep, Danny Deeptown, is also working with me on both of these books and I can’t wait to see the first drafts of Stuffed when they are ready. He was an absolute dream to partner with and I adore his work, so I am very excited to be doing another two books with him.
I am also participating in local writing festivals this year and next, and have a number of storytelling sessions booked in various locations too, as well as more school visits. My next one is actually in the UK in the village where I grew up, so I am very excited about doing that one in particular.
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