Liz Flanagan Barefoot Books

When I read Starlight Grey and Cara and The Wizard to children in schools and workshops, they often ask, ‘How long did it take to make those books?’

And when I say, ‘Three years,’ they look so surprised! I can almost see them thinking, ‘That’s half my life. Why did it take so long?’

The process began one sunny day in Bath. I met with Tessa Strickland, Barefoot Books’ Editor-in-Chief, at her friends’ house. We spent a lovely day browsing their impressive folktale library. Some of the books were published decades ago, and had that special papery ‘old pages’ smell that I love.

We were looking for exciting stories from all over the world. We identified a list of favourite magic stories, then narrowed the choice down to a final six.

Liz Flanagan Barefoot Books

Back home, I read and re-read each story, highlighting all the key parts till I had the shape off by heart. I went for long walks with my dog, running over the story action in my head, seeing what to keep, what to extend, and what to lose.

I drew my first page plan – a very messy set of notes that told me what would happen on each double-page spread. I even drew stick figures to show the action. Even though I’m no artist, this helped to bring the story alive in my mind.

Using this plan, I sat down to write my first draft of the story. I knew the language needed to be simple and accessible for children just starting to read alone.

Starlight Grey rough draft

To me, this is a really exciting moment: when new readers spreads their wings and makes that first flight alone. Finishing a book you’ve chosen and read yourself feels amazing, especially a book with chapters, a book with real adventure!

I had to tune in to that phase and focus on telling a good story in the clearest way possible. It took a few passes before I was ready to share the draft.

My first editors were my children. Luckily, my eldest was aged seven at that time, and she was delighted to be asked to read my first draft aloud. I knew that if she puzzled over any vocabulary then I would need to think again about my word choice. Both girls made thoughtful comments, and I went back to my desk, fired up by their feedback.

Liz Flanagan Barefoot Books daughters

Finally I delivered a draft to my editor at Barefoot Books, Jessica Saint Jean. She shared the text with her colleague Katie Livesey, who worked with a school to test the stories even further.

Together we worked through an editorial process that was rigorous but very satisfying! It felt like every sentence was put under a magnifying glass and pushed and pulled until it was judged ready.

Next, the text was handed to the designers and flowed in to page layouts. This is where the very talented illustrator Valeria Docampo came in – cue a loud fanfare!

When I saw the first black and white sketches from Valeria, I had tears in my eyes. Her astonishing imagination had brought the stories to such beautiful life that I was really moved.

Valeria Docampo Starlight Grey

For example, at the start of Starlight Grey, there is an old farmer who has three sons. The farmer dies and his ghost returns to give his faithful son Ivan a magical gift. I was slightly concerned that this might be scary for young children, but Valeria imagined the ghost in such a lovely, cosy, familiar way that when Ivan says, ‘Why should I be afraid of my own father?’ we see exactly what he means.

Starlight Grey Ghost

Ivan's father, as illustrated by Valeria Docampo in Starlight Grey

When the illustrations were developed to their final glorious full colour, I realised just how lucky I was to be part of this collaboration.

Receiving the advance copies of Starlight Grey and Cara and the Wizard was a wonderful moment. I nearly hugged the postman!

Starlight Grey, Cara and the Wizard Barefoot Books

I am very proud to have been a part of making these beautiful books. And now I have arrived at my favourite bit of the whole process: reading them aloud to children!

Liz Flanagan Barefoot Books Storytelling

Buy Starlight Grey: US Shoppers / UK Shoppers

Buy Cara and the Wizard: US Shoppers / UK Shoppers

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