Who doesn’t love a good children’s book? Frankly, we could lose ourselves for hours looking through all those lovely illustrated books on our shelves, whether it’s reading them with our own children or enjoying the memories of being read to ourselves, surely reading with our children is one of the greatest pleasures of life. So, it was with great excitement that we recently met Pippa Chorley, author of the best-selling children’s book “Counting Sheep”. We quickly found an excuse to have a coffee and chat to find out more about what it takes to write a brilliant children’s book.
When did you start writing ‘Counting Sheep’ and what was the inspiration behind it
I actually wrote ‘Counting Sheep’ many years ago, whilst riding the bus on my way to work. I hadn’t slept very well the night before and was remembering how my dad always told me to count sheep when I couldn’t sleep. I began imagining what would happen if those sheep couldn’t actually jump over the fence and suddenly the story came pouring out of me. It was like a stream of consciousness. I still have the bus ticket I scribbled the first lines of my story on in a drawer at home!
The story has been through many edits since the original was written though, probably a good 20 in total, but the core story is still the same.
Is there an underlying theme to the book – other than to help with getting to sleep of course!
There are a couple of big themes in Counting Sheep that were important for me to share with my readers. The idea of never giving up features repeatedly. When one idea doesn’t work the sheep don’t give up but instead look for a new way forward. This is something I try really hard to instill into my own children. The old saying comes to mind, when at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!
One other big message in the story for children is about inclusivity. By making the fence accessible for all the sheep, not just the big ones, Sam gives everyone a chance at success. Not only is she inclusive but she is also smart, realizing that often the simplest solutions are the best.
Can you tell us a bit more about the main character, Sam
Sam is so many things and I adore her! She loves pink, flowers and cuddles but equally she seeks adventure, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and loves solving problems. She’s a smart thinker and a big dreamer!
Sam has developed massively as a character over the manuscript’s many revisions. When I first wrote the story, my main character was actually a boy called Tom and the story was half as long and far less developed. It wasn’t until my own little girl Caitlin was born and I began re-working the story that I fleshed out the character and she became Sam. I am so pleased I did as it led me to write two other stories about this spunky little girl and I can’t wait for them to come to life too.
Have you always wanted to write children’s books?
Definitely. I’ve been writing stories since I was really young and many of them were aimed at children. This has been a long-standing dream of mine and I feel very fortunate that it has come true.
When I was 17 I attempted my first children’s picture book and even illustrated it. It was called The Tale of Fluke the Dolphin. I had a lot to learn but I knew I loved the process and felt I had many more stories in me. Over the years, I wrote more and more. When my daughter began pre-school I was finally able to dedicate more time to writing and I began re-working my favorite manuscript, which happened to be Counting Sheep.
What was your own favourite book when you were a child? And who read it to you!
My favourite picture book as a child was Janet and Allan Alberg’s ‘Each Peach Pear Plum’. My parents would read to me every night but this was one I knew off by heart, and still do! I used to request it regularly as I loved the rhyming text and beautiful illustrations. It has the type of pictures that each time you look at them you spot something new. When I was 12 my younger brother was born and I often chose to read it to him too. Now it is a firm favorite in my own house with my kids.
Tell us about your own children
I have three children, Lachlan in Year 6, Calum in Year 3 and Caitlin who has just begun in Nursery. I try to be as active as I can in my children’s lives at school and I am fortunate that my writing is portable, so I can often be tinkering with a story whilst at the same time cheering on the side lines of the football pitch or the ballet class!
Did they have any input into the story or characters, directly or inadvertently?
Whilst I wrote the initial manuscript before my children were born, my little girl definitely influenced the development of Sam’s character as I revised it. Being number three, after 2 boisterous boys, she is both independent and full of character and I wanted that to be a big part of Sam as well.
Caitlin was also the sole inspiration for my second Sam story Stuffed which is currently being illustrated. It is all about Sam’s cuddly bed time toys falling out with each other and was written in response to my daughter’s penchant for throwing her toys out of her cot every night!
What do they think of the book and of you being a writer?
My kids are very proud of me, which is really lovely. They were even more excited than I was when I received my first set of books and that is saying a lot! My second son is a big reader too and especially loved it when I came into school as a visiting author last year and took his class library session.
Hopefully I’m going into Caitlin’s Nursery class in a few weeks which will be really special too. She knows ‘Counting Sheep’ off by heart so I’m going to have to prep her not to give any spoilers away before I read it!
How do you juggle writing with being a busy mum?
It’s not always easy. Being a mum is an important part of my life and I am blessed that I can be around to take my kids to football practice, piano lessons and play dates. I try really hard to make sure I get the majority of my work done when they are in school and anything extra gets done when they are in bed. I use incidental times, like dog-walking or driving to and from school to flesh out story ideas or play around with rhymes, and try to squeeze my writing time in wherever I can.
On top of school visits and writing time, every week, without fail, I make sure I go to my writing group where I test out new stories with my colleagues and we help each other develop our ideas. This is one of the most valuable parts of my week and meeting other writers is always inspiring too.
My wonderful illustrator for ‘Counting Sheep’, Danny Deeptown, is currently working on the sketches for the second book in the Sam series, ‘Stuffed’. I am very excited as I get to see his initial ideas at the end of this month. He is incredibly talented and imaginative and brought Sam to life in the perfect way so I am thrilled to be working with him again.
Besides book 2 , which is due to be released in spring next year, I am constantly working on new stories and revising old ones too. I literally cannot stop myself writing, it is definitely a part of who I am and I am so lucky that I get to do what I love the most in my life.
Counting Sheep is available now online from Amazon, Book Depository & Kinokuniya.
Pippa Chorley grew up in a picturesque village in Cheshire, England surrounded by sheep. She spent her time inventing stories in her garden and creating magical worlds in the woods on their family dog walks. Pippa went on to study English Literature and Creative Writing at university in the UK where she wrote, read, studied and wrote some more, and she has never stopped reading and writing since!
Trained as a primary school teacher, she loves to write stories that make children giggle and think outside the box. Pippa now lives in sunny Singapore with her husband and their very own flock.
Pippa also enjoys the chance to visit schools for book readings – if any of our Member Schools are interested to find out more please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org