Sandra Ann Horn’s first picture book was Tattybogle about a happy scarecrow. It was made into a musical for schools by Ruth Kenward. She has written picture books and adult self-help nonfiction books.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Sandra. You have two distinct genres of writing. One is picture books for preschool to school-age children. The other is for adults on self-help topics such as bereavement, stress management, and coping with pain. How do you juggle two such distinct kinds of work? Are you ever working on a picture book and an adult book at the same time?
Sandra Ann Horn: Thank you for inviting me, Bonnie. I was writing the self-help books whilst working as a Health Psychologist. I took early retirement to concentrate on the children’s books and stopped writing the others then, so luckily there was no need to juggle. I don’t think I could have managed both at the same time – different head spaces needed!
Ferrante: Why do you write about the self-help topics? Are your insights from personal experience or do you have professional qualifications?
Horn: I was/am a Chartered Health Psychologist with a special interest in stress and pain management.
Ferrante: Which of these books has received the most positive response from readers? Do you ever get feedback on whether the books have been helpful?
Horn: Probably Relaxation: modern techniques for stress management, as it has advice on methods and several people have let me know it was helpful to them.
Ferrante: That’s wonderful.
You have 15 picture books listed on Amazon. How long did it take you to complete a picture book from concept to final draft?
Horn: Often, many months because every word counts in picture books, as does the rhythm of the words. Then there is the need for editing once the pictures arrive, so many, many drafts are usually needed.
Ferrante: I so agree. Too many picture books have excessive wordiness or poor rhythm.
Which picture book are you most proud of? Why?
Horn: I think it is Tattybogle, as, to my initial surprise, it has been used in hospices and also to help children prepare for the death of a relative, with its message of renewal. The musical has also been performed world-wide and is still going strong.
Ferrante: Which picture book was the most difficult to complete? Why?
Horn: The Mud Maid, written for the Lost gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, was tricky as it needed to match a walk round the gardens and there were changes along the way. There were pigs in the woods when I started, which then disappeared, and Karen the illustrator changed the location of lake I’d envisaged! We got there in the end!
Ferrante: That must have been frustrating.
Babushka is based on the classic Russian folktale. I believe the rest of your books are original stories. Why did you choose this one folktale to retell?
Horn: My children had a version of Babushka in which she never caught up with the Three Kings and was doomed to wander the earth giving the presents to other children because she had not reached the Christ Child. I thought that was dreadful! No redemption, and just because she made one mistake. I’d always wanted to re-write it with the ‘right’ ending, as I saw it: the redeeming power of love. I found out, by the way, when researching it, that it isn’t a Russian story at all! That was an invention by a playwright in the 1920’s.
Ferrante: Really? I’m surprised.
Your picture books are illustrated by different artists. Why have you chosen a variety of partners? How do you find them? Do you work in collaboration?
Horn: I didn’t have a say when the ‘big’ publishing houses were producing my books; they chose the illustrators, which was fine almost always, but now I’m an independent publisher I can choose. Yes, it’s collaborative and mostly with people I’ve worked with before.
Ferrante: You offer unique programs to accompany each book when you visit schools and other child-based environments. Where do you get your ideas?
Horn: My mind is a ragbag of ideas, some from my own childhood, many from sitting and scratching my head about what might work, some from exchanging tips with writing friends. I like using toys, songs and silly dances so the children can join in telling the story and don’t just have to sit still.
Ferrante: Are you working on a new project?
Horn: I’m working on a colouring-in story book with amazing artist Bee Willey. It’s called Rainbow! Bee also wants to animate it and so I’ve recorded it with sound effects. Good fun!
Ferrante: In your opinion, what is the most significant event that has occurred in world history during the last thousand years?
Horn: I think the discovery of the Americas set the World on a new and previously undreamed-of course which helped to shape how it is today.
Ferrante: Which month of the year do you think would best describe your personality?
Horn: Hmm. April? Some sunshine, some showers, but always looking forward with hope.
Ferrante: If, instead of actually writing out your name, you now had to sign your name with a simple drawing of something, what would you draw each time to represent who you are?
Horn: A scarecrow! Like Tattybogle, my head is ‘full of straw and cheerful thoughts’, and even my very best friends wouldn’t call me a snappy dresser.
Ferrante: Thank you for participating in my interview series. It has been interesting getting to know you.
The Moon Thieves was reviewed on this blog Monday, December 19, 2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.