When it comes to the ‘craft’ of writing, author Natascha Biebow is someone you need to follow. Not only has she had success with her own works, but she dedicates her days (and more) to helping others realize their dreams of authorship. A little about Natascha: Her favorite crayon color is periwinkle blue because it makes her heart sing. She loves to draw and make stuff, just like the inventor of the Crayola Crayons. She lives in London, where she writes, edits, coaches and mentors children’s book authors and illustrators at Blue Elephant Storyshaping, and is the long-time Regional Advisor of SCBWI British Isles.
In 2018, she was awarded an MBE for her services to children’s writers and illustrators. The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons is the winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, voted for by children, and a NSTA Best STEM book 2020. Talented, giving, kind, fun and incredibly likable, Natasha is an author you most definitely want to follow. And despite her incredibly busy schedule as writer, consultant, editor coach and mentor, (WOW!) Natascha has graciously taken time out of her busy schedule to share with BU readers her a little about her personal journey in the literary world.
You are an author, but what is your day job? In my day job – the one that actually pays the bills! – I am a children’s book editor. I run Blue Elephant Storyshaping, a literary consultancy that aims to coach and mentor authors and illustrators pre-submission. I am also currently the Editorial Director for Five Quills, a small independent publisher, where I am building a list of picture books and young fiction titles.
Did you always want to be an author? Yes! I always loved to write and tell stories, and spent copious hours in the library, especially reading true stories. (I also wanted to be a ballet dancer, but I wasn’t quite good enough . . .).
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? My most recent book is The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons. It was inspired by an episode of Sesame Street that showed the inside of the Crayola factory and a deadline for an online non-fiction writing course.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? The Crayon Man is the story of Edwin Binney, an inventor who had a knack for listening and making what people needed and who so loved the colors in nature that he invented the Crayola crayons. It is an uplifting story of creativity, perseverance and wonder – I hope that young readers (and grown-ups) will be inspired to look closely at the wonderful world of nature and be inspired to create in color.
What are you most excited about with this book? I’ve been writing for a long time and this is my first non-fiction book, so it’s unlocked a whole new world of creative writing for me. I’m excited to write more true stories!
How did writing a book help your career take off? I’ve learned so much since publishing The Crayon Man about how to be a better author, how to market in the online, make connections with audiences all over the world, and what kinds of books I want to be writing. I am hoping it’s a book that will stay in print for a long time and a platform from which to launch future books that I write.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? I have one word: PERSEVERE. In this industry, you have to be willing to work hard at your craft, accept rejection and be flexible enough to listen and re-think in order to make your book the best it can be in a very competitive and ever-changing marketplace.
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing when rejections come in, or your editor gives you feedback that means the manuscript you thought was finished needs more changes. What I try to remember is that there is always a context and editors are looking to make the best book possible for young readers. When I get a rejection or critique of my work that sends me back to the drawing board, I often need to take a step back from the project and focus on something else. This gives me time to ‘digest’ my feelings and get a fresh perspective. It takes courage to re-invent your project, to try to find new angles or even to start again. But, if you’re willing to be open to feedback and willing to persevere, you will no doubt find a book project that finds a publishing home.
How do you hold yourself accountable and achieve the goals that you set forth? The most difficult challenge when you need to earn a living, but aren’t yet earning enough from being an author, is how to balance the two. In order to achieve my goal of publishing the next book, I set aside some time each week to write and research new topics. If I’m engrossed in a project, time absolutely flies this reminds me just how much I like writing! If only it paid all the bills . . . I set goals with my agent or more often with myself. Usually, this means fine-tuning the current project, editing others, and starting a new book. I am always jotting down new ideas also, of course. I have such a long list of books I could write! I work to achieve my goals by deep focusing on just writing when I’m writing – no emails, phone or family tasks that could distract. There really is no replacement for ‘butt on seat’. It’s important though to be kind to yourself – if you haven’t reached your goal, there are other tasks you can be doing such as finding inspiration by reading, going for a walk, visiting a museum or meeting people.
What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? I feel incredibly lucky to have landed on my feet in a career where I do something that I love all day long. With my editing hat on, it’s fulfilling to be part of making quality books that will bring joy and wonder to young readers. I also have a knack for finding the heart of a story, so I enjoy helping other authors and illustrators to shape theirs. With my author hat on, it’s always a thrill to hear how the books I’ve written have meant something to young readers, librarians and teachers in many different places around the world.
What book uplifts you? The book I come back to for inspiration is Robert Fulghum’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I also love to read picture books and young fiction aloud – this is such a special thing to do with a child, especially. A favorite because of the humor is the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald and Peter H Reynolds. Reading centers me in a way nothing else can. I can’t get to sleep unless I read a story!
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers? Stories are all around us, and true stories are stranger than fiction – that’s why I love creative non-fiction. If you’re interested in writing or illustrating for children, I’d recommend joining the SCBWI – it is a community like none other that will help you with your craft, networking, marketing and, best of all, make you lifelong friends. You can find lots of free tips about picture book craft on my website.