Clare has shared beautifully the “Story behind the story” in her guest post below. This incredibly moving picture book perfectly encapsulates the emotions and uncertainty of dealing with illness but ultimately it is a book of hope. Gorgeous illustrations fill the pages! Read on for the true story…
The Story Behind The Story: Guest Post
I’m delighted to be writing this guest post for Erin, ahead of publication of ‘The Perfect Shelter’. Thank you for inviting me to talk a little bit about how the story came to be.
Illustrated by debut illustrator, Åsa Gilland, and published by Little Tiger Press,
‘The Perfect Shelter,’ is hugely personal. In my writing I often take painful experiences and turn them into something beautiful. Something that helps me make sense of the world, and to help others make sense of it, too. This story was written after a member of our family died very suddenly from a brain tumour. Here is a picture of Shane, who the book is dedicated to. He was full of fun and always up to mischief. I love this photo of him!
To say it was a challenging time for our family is a massive understatement. It was hard for everyone, not least my children, then 6 and 7 years old, who understood enough to be scared, but not enough to be able to process how unfair it all felt. I find writing hugely cathartic, which is why I put pen to paper and penned The Perfect Shelter late one night.
Actually, it was more a finger to iphone sort of thing! Some of my books have many, many drafts but this one came out in a beautifully, effortless way. I had already been writing a story called ‘The Perfect Shelter,’ inspired by watching my children make a den and hearing my son say ‘It’s going to be a perfect shelter!’ I had the lines ‘We sang as we worked and we worked as we sang, it’s the perfect, perfect shelter,’ and I knew that building the den was going to have ups and downs. The idea of ‘perfectionism’ is tricky for children (and adults alike). I wanted to explore making mistakes and accepting that things can be ‘perfect’ even when they don’t work out the way we think they should or want them to. That day had been full of questions from my oldest about Shane’s cancer; what does it look like? How did it get there? So, I decided to try and ‘answer’ some of them as best I could through a story about dens.
My agent, Alice Williams, sent the text on to my editors at Little Tiger soon after, and I was delighted when the feedback was that they found the story beautiful, powerful and very moving.
As fate would have it, the story turned out to be even more special than I had first thought, when in January 2019 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t really have the words to describe how this felt, and still feels sometimes. But working on this book has been both difficult and a joy.
Åsa and the Little Tiger Team really have done the most beautiful production. The story sets out to unravel the difficult emotions we face when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness, such as cancer. It is not a book about loss, but rather living with life’s uncertainty. I hope that it brings love and support to others going through difficult times.
Once again, a thank you to Erin allowing me to share my ‘story behind the story.’ ‘The Perfect Shelter’ is essentially a book about hope, living in the present and making the most of every day. The subject is painful but the words are lyrical. I hope people enjoy the beautiful contrast between the two.