I first met Patty Toht at the WOW 2015 conference in Helen, Georgia. I found her to be fun, creative, and a truly kind person. Now I get to interview her about her wonderfully poetic All Aboard the London Bus. Let's get started.
About how many revisions did you go through before the manuscript was acquired?
Each poem in All Aboard the London Bus went through so many revisions that it's hard to count, and I'm so grateful to my critique buddies for their help and guidance in that process. The timeline for publication is a little easier to figure out because writing began the last month our family lived in England--November, 2013--and publication was May, 2017.
Did you always intend on a UK publisher? Did you submit in the states?
The first editor to take a peek at the manuscript was here in the States. Andrea Welch from Beach Lane Books critiqued it at the LA SCBWI conference in 2014. She liked it and shared it with her publisher but they felt the market in the US would be too small. But their praise gave me courage to pursue submitting it more widely in the UK. Frances Lincoln is a UK publisher with a love for poetry and was the perfect place to send it.
Do you have an agent?
My agent is Julia Churchill from A.M. Heath Literary in London. I signed with Julia while our family was living in the U.K. We met at the SCBWI conference in England where she critiqued a picture book manuscript of mine. (SCBWI conferences have been great connectors for me. If you are serious about writing for children, an SCBWI membership is a must!)
I know you lived in London for several years. Did you always have a love for all things English?
I always had a love for travel and moving overseas was a goal for our family. Our years in London were magical ones and have cemented my love of the U.K.
My husband and I are returning for two weeks this summer and I can't wait!
Were there some places/stops/attractions you had to leave out in your manuscript, or did you cover all the sights you wanted to?
Four of the poems that I wrote for the book were edited out, and the editor asked for three to be added. I was especially sad to say goodbye to a poem about Piccadilly Circus, but then the illustrator, Sam Usher, set the "Rain" poem in that location, so it ended up in the book anyway.
How do you feel about the art? I think it's fabulous. I especially love the way the artist wove the words into a "river" on the page about the Thames. The Tube page is awesome the way your words fill the page, and the Seek and Find page was an added bonus.
I adore the artwork in the book and was so lucky to be paired with Sam Usher! He's incredibly talented and his illustrations are the perfect mix of architectural detail and whimsical action. The bird's eye view of London is magnificent. I wrote "The River
Thames" as a shape poem and Sam brought it to life on the page, although I had to edit away several lines to make it fit. I often wonder if Sam was ready to throttle me with "Seek and Find Trafalgar"--that's a lot of detail to squeeze into one spread! With "The Tube" poem, I'm not sure if it was the editor's idea or Sam's to curve the text, but what a clever idea that was.
What challenges or surprises have you encountered along the way to publication?
One thing that always surprises me is the variation of time it takes from selling a book manuscript to the time of its publication. All Aboard the London Bus is actually the third book I sold. Two books I sold in 2013 are waiting to be born--Pick A Pine Tree arrives on September 19, 2017, and Pick A Pumpkin will follow next autumn.
Do you have a writing schedule? Where do you like to write? Do you use mentor texts?
I'm really struggling with my writing schedule right now. Between work and marketing my 2017 books, I'm finding it hard to carve out time for writing. Luckily, my school job allows for a few summer months off--now I just have to figure out how to get myself unstuck! I don't have an office, so I usually write in a corner of the living room, much to the dismay of my family who are constantly stepping over my papers and books. And yes, I use mentor texts ALL the time. I firmly believe that reading hundreds and hundreds of picture books has given me an internal rhythm about page breaks and three-part movements.
What is something folks might not know about you?
How about something old and something new? Old--I owned a children's book store from 1988-1995; it was called Never Never Land, and I met my husband there when he stopped in to look at books. New--I started a new job this year working in a middle school library.
What advice do you have for other kidlit writers working towards that debut picture book?
Keep going! I am an incredibly late bloomer. I began writing for children in the mid-1990's, just at the time that children's books were heading into a deep slump. Between raising four kids and facing a tough market, I didn't have much success in selling my work for a long time. But a poetry class led me to writing poems
for children's magazines and that was my stepping stone to publication.