Tony Wilson is an author and broadcaster who has been writing books for children for more than a decade. In 2016, the bestselling The Cow Tripped Over the Moon soared to 2016 CBCA Honour Book status, and other titles such as Grannysaurus Rex, Harry Highpants, The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse, and Emo the Emu are also favourites. Tony will be our special guest for May’s #picbookbc Twitter chat and National Simultaneous Storytime themed party on Thursday 4 May.
National Simultaneous Storytime is held annually by the Australian Library and Information Association. Every year a picture book, written and illustrated by an Australian author and illustrator is read simultaneously in libraries, schools, pre-schools, childcare centres, family homes, bookshops and many other places around the country.
This year NSS takes place on Wednesday 24 May at 11am (AEST) and with the picture book The Cow Tripped Over the Moon written by Tony Wilson and illustrated by Laura Wood.
Thank you Tony for sharing your picture book story with us!
‘Migrainysaurus Rex’ – A hallelujah moment
I became a picture book author because one day, out of the blue, I had a picture book idea. I remember exactly where I was. I was doing the dishes in our rental in Birkenhead Street, North Fitzroy, and I was living out my normal but best internalised monologue of jokes and word plays, as I applied elbow grease to a saucepan.
The word that came into my head was ‘Migrainysaurus Rex’. I was thinking about my mother, Margaret, a migraine sufferer, and an alternate reality in which she might turn into a dinosaur every time she got a migraine. ‘Hey that’s a good picture book idea,’ I thought, and then promptly unthought it, because kids wouldn’t know what a migraine is.
But I kept muttering ‘Migrainysaurus Rex’ ‘Migrainysaurus Rex’ ‘Migrainysaurus Rex’ over and over, and pretty soon it started sounding like ‘My Grannysaurus Rex’. It was a hallelujah moment. Every preschool kid on the planet loves dinosaurs, almost as much as grannies! And grandmas buy piles of picture books! My god. I was going to be rich! I ran to the computer and wrote my million dollar idea. Why would granny turn into a dinosaur? Maybe she’d undermine mum’s strict no-lollies policy and they’d go on a hallucinogenic sugar trip together? In the end, it was 1500 words long. I borrowed the ‘Writers Handbook’ from the library the next day, a very 2003 thing to do, and looked up the address for every publisher of kids books. Forty one Tatts tickets.
Two ended up paying off — Penguin wanted it for an Aussie Nibble, and Scholastic wanted me to cull 1000 words and the whinging mum, and make it a picture book. I ended up choosing the picture book, because the idea of having my name on a picture book was beyond my childhood dreams.
[As a side note, and unsurprisingly to anyone who knows anything about children’s publishing, my million dollar idea came up $993,000 short. That still counts as a success, by the way. ‘Bedsosaurus Rex’ got released in Denmark.]
Over the next thirteen years, I’ve had a few of these Eureka Moments. The writing of a picture book may be less exhausting or time intensive than other types of fiction, but the ideas clamber around in the ether, refusing to be pinned down. It’s an almost visceral triumph when you grab one. I was at the lights in Swan Street when I had the idea for The Minister for Traffic Lights inventing a mauve traffic light as a cure for road rage (when the lights turn mauve, you have to jump out and hug your fellow motorists). I was in my back yard, watering the garden under one of those faint, early evening, crescent moons when I decided to write a book about the Cowolympics, and the main event there, the open age moon jump.
That book became ‘The Cow Tripped Over the Moon’. Not immediately. First I had a crack at a middle grade fiction, a bovine sporting adventure story to reflect my love for a childhood favourite ‘The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race’, but I couldn’t make my story soar. It was only when I was singing nursery rhymes to my son, Jack, that I realised I was missing the glorious essence of hey Diddle Diddle — it’s perfect rhythm, rhyme, and romance. It’s stand-alone place in all literature for involving cutlery and crockery as a romantic subplot. I scrapped my Cowolympics, and sat down to write alternative verses, ones where the Cow doesn’t succeed with her moon jumps. It was suddenly enormously fun to write. It seems a moon clearance, takes great perseverance. Probably the best line I’ve ever written.
It’s an enormous thrill to be a contributor to children’s literature, to call myself an author. Like most authors, I feel books built me into the person I am. My parents read to us every night, and the picture books that seeded my love for story include The Story of Ping, Caps for Sale, The Giant Jam Sandwich, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Are You My Mother, all the Dr Seuss Books.
I get almost misty eyed when I read a great picture book to my own kids. Gus Gordon’s ‘Herman & Rosie’ gives me that feeling, and also many of Julia Donaldson’s. I place Tiddler, The Gruffalo and Stick Man in a three way tie. She’s the best rhymer and story builder since Dr Seuss. My kids love the funny ones. I remember exactly which bookstore I was standing in when I first read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. The Book With No Pictures still makes my kids roar, even at the fiftieth reading. Then there is a jaw dropper like Margaret Wild ‘Fox’, which the kids are so-so on, but leaves me weeping.
It’s a beautiful world to be associated with. On May 24th, I get my moment in the moonshine, when The Cow Trips Over the Moon is read all around the country. Half a million kids, jumping with my Cow! Or should that be Laura Wood’s Cow? (let’s not forget the perfect illustrations). Or should that be Mother Goose’s Cow (let’s not forget the person who is too long dead to launch a copyright claim).
Thirteen years, eight picture books. It’ll be the highlight of my creative life.
It seems a moon clearance, takes great perseverance.
~ Tony Wilson ~