Book Chat: Robert Vescio
I'm really honoured to welcome my second-ever guest to the page: extremely prolific and respected picture book author, Robert Vescio. Robert's first book for children, No Matter Who We're With, was published in 2013. Since then, he has written another 14 books as well as several short stories, featured in a range of anthologies. In our chat, Robert generously shared many deep insights into his work, which will be of great interest to readers and writers alike.
Hi Robert, thanks so much for taking the time to share some thoughts and experiences from your remarkable writing career. It’s a real pleasure to welcome you to the page.
Thank you for inviting me, Cameron.
To begin with, could you share with us a little about your journey to becoming a published author? Was this a path you’d wanted to follow since childhood?
I’ve always enjoyed writing stories.
Way back in high school I was actively involved in the production of the school magazine and yearbook and contributed lots of stories but never really took it seriously.
Then I worked in the publishing industry for over 12 years and it wasn’t until I worked on Studio Bambini – a children’s fashion magazine – that my love for picture books grew. I would read all the amazing picture books that came in for review and be in awe of the beautiful words and illustrations. But never thought I could write one.
And then I had kids and it wasn’t until my separation, in 2008, that I wanted to write a story to help my children cope with the changes in their lives. I couldn’t find anything in the market that was relevant at the time to our situation so I decided to write a story about it myself. I worked on it for months to get it right but kept it in my bottom drawer, feeling anxious about submitting it to publishers and them not liking it.
Then I finally took the plunge and sent it out to publishers. The waiting and the not knowing was the worst part. I had researched enough and accepted the reality that I had zero chance of being accepted. And then I got a bite from a publisher. They loved the story (No Matter Who We're With) and said the theme was topical and accepted my story for publication. I signed a contract with them and the rest is history.
So, from that day onwards, I set a goal to write stories to help children deal with changes in their lives and to better understand their world and relationships. There is no better way to do that than with picture books which are perfect to express ideas and emotions in simple ways and help them to understand.
When you develop the initial idea for a picture book, are you usually thinking more in terms of words or images, or does it tend to be both at the same time?
Great question. I have a weird writing style. It’s very unorthodox.
I think and write in pictures. I see pictures and then the words come to me. It’s like I’m watching a movie and I'm writing down what I see.
This was definitely the case with The Voyage. I envisioned everything as I was writing the story.
There is no right or wrong way to write a story. There is no set rule to say that only some styles of writing work.
Is there any particular working method you bring to the way you draft your stories?
I’m definitely a pantser when it comes to writing. A fly by the seats of your pants kind of writer. Whatever happens, happens.
I’ve always written my stories out of order and then revise and fix everything up. As I mentioned earlier, I’m very unorthodox in my approach.
But I always work with a dummy. I think it’s really important to work with a dummy. It helps to pace my story and allows me to see how it will look first-hand.
It’s not easy to write a story with a plot in under 500 words. I have to make sure the story flows and working with a dummy helps me achieve this.
Each spread should be different to the previous spread. This helps to move the story along - give it the momentum it needs to reach the end.
I always think about page turns. Page turns make the story entertaining. What is the reader going to discover on the next page? Will there be a twist?
My first draft is always the messiest and that’s not a bad thing. I make sure to get everything done on paper first. Then cull away the bits I don’t need like pruning away branches off a tree. However, I never throw the cuttings away, I keep them to grow into new stories.
Remember, if you try to make your story as perfect as possible – you will never finish your draft. Make sure to focus on the important elements of your story like character, setting and plot.
The magic of writing is to expect the unexpected. Your imagination will always change your plans.
Are there any particular take-away messages you usually want your stories to leave with your readers?
A love and appreciation for the written word.
Firstly, I want kids to develop a love of reading. Secondly, I hope they learn something along the way.
As a writer, I put myself out there in a way that will help change people’s lives and to better understand their world and relationships.
My aim is to make my readers think. When I write, I’m writing for a reader. I want to arouse their imagination. I want to strike a chord and provoke them.
And leave my readers wanting more.
Your book Happiness Is a Cloud very cleverly uses clouds and weather as a device to help children talk about their emotions. I’d be keen to know more about how nature inspires you as an author and shapes your ideas.
When you’re outdoors that is when you are truly connected with the natural world.
Nature helps to express my curiosity, insights, feelings and questions. Not only about nature but about myself, as well.
The story idea for Happiness is a Cloud came to me when I was home alone one day cloud gazing. At the time, my kids were on holiday with their mother and I missed not having them around. I thought this would make for a great story to help children express their feelings through behaviour and play.
I think nature helps children deal with emotional issues and anxiety. It gently allows children to share and discuss their feelings and problems with others.
Like Harry in the book, children experience complex feelings like adults but, usually, they struggle to express their feelings through words. So instead, they communicate their feelings in different ways.
Happiness is a Cloud explores our feelings and emotions by likening it to the changing shapes of clouds.
I haven’t attempted to write a picture book for a long time, but I imagine it’s a fine balancing act between deciding what to put in the text and what to leave for the illustrator to convey. I’d love to know how you negotiate this balance when drafting your stories?
Writing a picture book is not as easy as it looks.
People think just because there are few words, picture books are easy to write. But that’s not the case. They’re called picture books for a good reason.
When writing a picture book, the writer wears three hats: The writer’s hat, the illustrator’s hat and the designer’s hat.
The text tells one story and the pictures tell another story. And, all the while, you need to make sure that you leave enough room for the two to work together on the page. It’s a marriage of words and pictures.
Therefore, don’t worry too much about how your character or setting looks. Leave this part for the illustrator. In other words, trust the illustrator.
Leave enough space for the illustrator to tell their side of the story. Leave things open – don’t be too loud when you write. Silence speaks louder.
Your book Under the Same Sky was read by the well-known actor, Tom Hardy, as a bedtime story on the UK children’s show CBeebies. Can you tell us a little about how this came about, and what it was like hearing Tom’s reading for the first time?
That was the highlight of the year (2020). It was the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. I was blown away by the news.
It was a surprise. All credit goes to the publisher and the rights team.
Hearing Tom Hardy read the book was emotional. Tom Hardy has a deep, masterful voice and makes for an entertaining dive into bedtime stories. Just the Intro and Outro of the reading has reached well over 1M views.
It was an honour and privilege to have an A-lister like Tom Hardy read my story on UK television. And I was thrilled to hear from the producers of the show that Tom Hardy loved the book. Music to my ears.
Has being a parent affected the themes and topics you address in your stories? Do you think being a parent makes it easier to write for children?
It helps to have kids. I observe them and the ideas start flowing.
For instance, I wrote my first picture book No Matter Who We’re With following my separation in 2008. Not only was it rough for me on a personal level, with so much upheaval and sadness, but for my children too. So, I decided to write a story that would help not only my children, but also other children going through a similar fate to cope with the many changes experienced when parents separate.
My intention, when I started writing, was never to write self-help books for children, but if you’ve lived life, you pick up life lessons along the way. So you naturally employ those life lessons in your work.
What’s next in the ever-evolving writing career of Robert Vescio?
I have four new picture books releasing next year. So, 2021 is going to be a busy year.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Art of Words with Joanna Bartel and EK Books
Wombat and Joey Roo with Emma Cracknell and Wild Eyed Press
Girl Lost with Anna Pignataro and New Frontier Publishing
A Squiggly Line with Colin Rowe and Little Pink Dog Books.
Where can readers find you and your books online?
For more information, please visit the following sites:
Facebook: Robert Vescio - Children's Author
It's been a real treat to learn more about how you do what you do - thanks again for your time and very thoughtful responses, Robert.
Thank you for having me on your Book Chat, Cameron. Love your books. Wishing you every success with your writing. Take care, mate.
Into the Wild tells the tale of a young boy named Roman who wanders where the hidden and wild lies. But through his travels, he discovers something rare and special – a friend to share his discoveries with.
Young readers will delight in searching with Roman for the unknown and mysterious.
Into the Wild, beautifully illustrated by Mel Armstrong and published by New Frontier Publishing, is a not only a celebration about the power of friendship but is also a journey about self-discovery. It opens our eyes to the unseen and beauty that surrounds us.
Mel’s stunning illustrations are filled with fun and attention-grabbing detail. They truly capture the atmosphere of the story and convey the emotion of the characters expressively. This is wandering all wrapped up in one beautiful package.
Just open your mind.