Wendy McCormick shares the story behind her story …
Daniel and His Walking Stick is the very first picture book I wrote, when I was just starting to take writing seriously by entering a graduate program in creative writing at Antioch University’s London, England center when I was 35 years old. Really, I ran to London to find out if I was a writer, something I’d been asking myself nearly all my life. I never thought I’d write a picture book for children. I always thought you had to be clever for that, or you’d need to be a poet. I felt I was neither.
I spent a week at a children’s writing workshop up in West Yorkshire, in a village called Heptonstall. The area was full of lovely rolling hills and stone churches, interspersed with twisting yellow gorse. The facility was humble, warm and inviting. The tutors were well-known writers, but they’d never run this kind of workshop before. On the very first night of the week, they showed us how to fold 8 pages of paper in half to make 32 pages, the standard length of a picture book. “You want to write for children. Try this to start with,” they said. Hmm, sounds straightforward, I thought. I could at least try.
So, I went for a walk. I had to think. I picked up a stick on the path to use as a walking stick, sure that I’d need one, as I felt like I was either walking up or down a hill, there, never on a flat road. That stick was magic though; it was as if I had opened a door to stepping back to home, to the north woods of Minnesota and almost even further back to other places I’d lived as a child. I remembered past walks in the woods, filled with light and silvery trees and walking sticks I’d found. This was the start of Daniel and His Walking Stick.
I worked in the stone barn loft that week. It was quiet and it felt filled with the spirits of other writers who’d worked there. However, after I had written my list of all the ways you could use a walking stick, I saw that I’d only filled 5 pages of my 32 needed for the picture book to be complete. Yikes, here’s the part where I have to be clever or poetic, I thought. But really, that’s when I had to create a story out of pieces of memory, light and shadow, air and emotion. Something out of what feels like nothing. What a mystery the process is and remains for me. I wanted a girl to be walking with her walking stick, but would she be walking alone? Maybe with a grandparent? But what did I know about that? My grandparents had all died before I was born or had only been a small part of my life. And that was where the real story began for me. Now Jesse opens the book by saying, “I don’t have a grandfather—not like everyone else I know, not anymore.”
I was very nervous, reading the story out at the end of the week. One participant sighed and said: “That reminds me of home. Of Canada.” That pleased me a lot. But it was many years before that story was published as a book.
I wrote Daniel at the workshop in West Yorkshire in 1986. I sent the story out over 30 times over the next several years, and, while it often got a good response, it never sold. In 1987, it won an honorable mention for the Loft’s Children’s Fiction award. In 1991, on the recommendation of another workshop leader, I sent it to LadyBug Magazine and they accepted it and published it in 1993. Finally, I sent the manuscript to an editor at Peachtree Publishers. She felt a strong connection with the story and it was published as a picture book in 2005.
It was a long walk down a long road, but my walking stick was with me every step of the way.
Learn more about Wendy McCormick
- Page 1 of 0