Local Picture Book Author, Alastair Heim
April 17, 2017
Local author Alastair Heim recently launched his picture book career with Love You Too, published by Little Bee Books, No Tooting at Tea, and soon to be released The Great Puppy Invasion, both published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion Books. Alastair was kind enough to stop by MCPL for an interview. Read on!
MCPL: Welcome to MCPL Alastair. Congratulations on having three picture books come out within 10 months! How did that happen? Did you write them all at once?
Alastair: Thank you very much! It all seems to be happening pretty quickly now that my first two books are out in the world, but it has actually been a long road to getting published. I started trying to write picture books back in 2008 and it took me until 2011 to get a literary agent (after a year and a half of querying dozens of other agents). From there, it was another three years before I received an offer on my first book from Little Bee Books in September of 2014. In total, it took nearly nine years from the time I wrote my first story until the day Love You Too was released.
I wrote the first draft of Love You Too back in 2011. No Tooting at Tea was written in 2014 (inspired by actual events), and The Great Puppy Invasion was written in 2015. After I signed my first book contract in late 2014, my agent was ready to go out with something new. I sent her No Tooting at Tea and, after the giggling fits that ensued when she read the manuscript to her toddler daughter, she was excited to show the story to publishers.
We were lucky enough to sign with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion in the spring of 2015. Once No Tooting at Tea had been fully illustrated, Clarion reached out to my agent to see if I had other stories for them to consider (every author’s dream!), and we sent them The Great Puppy Invasion in early 2016.
The publishing industry is still very much a mystery to me—and that includes how they schedule when books get released. I’m not quite sure how it worked out that I have three books coming out over the course of ten months, but I’m so incredibly excited, grateful, and humbled that they are. I hope kids and parents enjoy them all!
MCPL: Three different artists, Alisa Coburn, Sara Not, and Kim Smith, illustrate your adorable books. Did you choose who would work on which book? What was it like to see their interpretations of your stories?
Alastair: Alisa, Sara, and Kim have done a wonderful job of bringing my stories to life in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined. While I did get to weigh in on what my original vision of the illustrations was when I wrote each manuscript, it was the publisher who ultimately made the call (they truly are the experts here). They do, however, make sure that I feel good about who they are recommending and, lucky for me, I have loved everyone they’ve chosen.
I can always see a story in my mind when I’m writing it, but I can’t illustrate to save my life. I call it "The Curse of the Writer Who Can’t Draw." So, to see the thought, heart, and humor these three artists have added to my stories has been an incredible experience. Their styles are so distinctly different from one another, and it’s a dream to see someone else interpret my writing through their own point of view. I’m beyond thrilled with what Alisa, Sara, and Kim have created.
MCPL: As you write, do you imagine your stories being read aloud? Does that influence your writing?
Alastair: My first goal is to try and come up with a good idea for a book, which is easier said than done. I have countless ideas for stories that will never go anywhere for a number of reasons—mostly because many of them are just bad ideas I had to get out of my brain so that better ones had room to jump in.
Once I do have a story worth writing, I do give a lot of thought to what the overall experience for a parent/child will be when they read it aloud. Being a dad myself, I’m lucky enough to have experienced reading hundreds of books with my kids, and have learned a lot about what does and doesn’t make a good overall experience. Again, it’s story first, but the real magic happens when a child wants to hear something over and over—and the parent enjoys reading it again and again.
MCPL: Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
Alastair: Inspiration is a bit of a mystery to me. I equate it to lightening—I never know when it will strike, nor can I conjure it at will. Life would be SO much easier if I could. Sometimes ideas come from just staring out a window or looking at a blank piece of paper. Some of my best ideas, however, have come from being in the right place at the right time.
For instance, the inspiration for Love You Too happened on a car ride home from a restaurant, when my then three-year-old began repeating everything I was saying. As she did, it struck me that it would be fun to write a book where we could BOTH participate in the storytelling. Almost immediately, I blurted out the line, “When I say I love, you say you.” From there, the story basically wrote itself.
No Tooting at Tea came about after I had been invited to an imaginary tea party. The party was going perfectly properly until, suddenly, someone TOOTED. Without hesitation, the tea party hostess said, “There is NO TOOTING AT TEA,” and I thought, “That’s brilliant…I have to write a story called exactly that.” Had I not been in the room on that particular day, or especially, at that particular moment, there would be no book.
MCPL: What’s a typical day like? When do you find time to write?
Alastair: I do have a full-time job and am also a full-time dad, so my week is pretty packed with the usual go-to-work-then-pick-the-kids-up-from-activities-and-the-next-thing-you-know-it’s-Friday routine. I normally find time to write in the evenings and on weekends. We try to stay home as much as possible, when we can, on Saturdays and Sundays—which gives me ample time to stare out the back window until a new story idea pops into my brain.
MCPL: Do you have another book in the works?
Alastair: Yes! I have two more books coming out in 2018. The first one is called Hello, Door, to be published by Little Bee Books. The story is about a fox that sneaks into a beautiful home and gets his comeuppance. Alisa Coburn, who worked on Love You Too, is illustrating this one as well.
My fifth book is a prequel to No Tooting at Tea and is called No Peeking at Presents. I originally had not intended for there to be another book in this series but was inspired to write it after I saw Sara Not’s full illustrations for No Tooting at Tea. The story features the same older sister, who has a lot of rules for her little sisters on Christmas Eve.
MCPL: Wow, Alastair, five picture books! Congratulations, that’s got to be some kind of record. Your first three stories are darling. If you keep getting better and better with experience, MCPL kid-lit lovers are in for a treat! Thanks for talking with us.