Chance encounter sowed seed for literary career
A CHANCE encounter with a young child led to the seeds being sown for a burgeoning literary career for a Bristol author. Bethany Wivell's idea to combine two of her passions in life – writing and the environment – were the start point for her first foray into the world of children's book publishing.
And the idea, which Bethany had been formulating for several months, came into greater focus when she bumped into a young boy being shown how to grow plants by her childminding mother and who became the main character.
And within a year, her first book Sam and the Very Tall Sunflower was on the book shelves in and around Bristol.
Brislington-born Bethany, 25, an English graduate from Reading University, now has plans in place for two further children's books, Rupert and the Runaway Robin, due out next month, and The Carrot Cake Kid, due to hit the bookshelves next March.
All three books have a common theme running through them, making reading fun for children as well giving them practical skills.
Bethany, a former pupil at St Mary Redcliffe School, said: "Ever since I was young I always knew I wanted to write, but it was in which direction that passion was going to take me.
"Having graduated in English from Reading, I looked at journalism, PR and teaching as possible career options. But I was always very keen on gardening and loved being out in the fresh air.
"I'd been writing down story ideas for a while and whilst the plots varied, the vision for my central character always remained the same.
"Sam is based on one of the little boys my mum looked after who had lovely curly blonde hair and even though he is much older now, the memory of him playing in our garden as a toddler has stayed with me and inspired the whole story.
"Growing up, my mother worked as a childminder, so I have always been surrounded by a family of toddlers. It is this experience that has given me the understanding of children's imaginations and combined with my love of writing, I hope to create fun, friendly and educational books for the under fours.
"I had always written down the ideas I had but it was when my mother was showing some of the youngsters how to grow seeds that the first book really began to take shape.
"The children were planting sunflower seeds and one young boy was wanting to know why his wouldn't grow. That was the literally the germ of the idea behind Sam and the Very Tall Sunflower."
But to make the book more appealing, Bethany came up with the idea of attaching a pack of seeds to every book – and that meant using the PR skills she had learnt to contact various suppliers with Suttons finally agreeing to donate the seeds for her project.
The next step was finding an illustrator to bring the book to life create the character of Sam and for this Bethany turned to the internet.
She said: "I posted an advert on Gumtree and was amazed at the response I got. Eventually, I whittled them down to a shortlist and finally chose Roxanne Jelley to illustrate the books.
"Illustrations are such an important part of any children's book and you have to get it right if it is to be appealing to youngsters. We just seemed to hit it off straight away with Roxanne knowing almost instinctively what I was looking for."
Bethany decided that without any major book publisher, she would have to take on the roles of publisher, marketing executive, press officer and advertising guru to get the books into bookstores locally.
Trips to independent book stores, shops and playgroups around Bristol resulted in the book being put on the shelves with the first run of 200 selling out as Bethany toured schools, libraries and book stores to give personal readings during the school holidays.
Such was the success of Sam and the Very Tall Sunflower that Bethany came up with her second book idea, Rupert and the Runaway Robin, this time she is hoping to involve the RSPB in order to put a packet of bird seed on the front of each book.
She said: "It seems as though I've hit on a bit of a formula. Rather than just having a reading book, I want children to be able to do something together to make reading an activity as well.
"I hope that the RSPB will donate the bird seed because the book is all about how birds survive the winter months. So if it comes off it will be a matter of me and my mother sticking the bird seed packets on the front of each of these books as well.
"But the success of the first book has given me the confidence to go on and know that I'm doing the right thing. Now it's all about widening the geographical reach of my books. At the moment, I'm only really selling in Bristol but I believe these books have a wide appeal.
"My third book is all ready to go in March next year and with each book I learn more about how to improve things. Self-publication makes books like this possible and although I sent manuscripts off to several book publishers I've been told that I probably need to send them to more niche educational/environmental publishers. But for the moment, I'm enjoying the process of writing, publishing and marketing the books myself."
Bethany's book is on sale at Scrapstore, Waterstones and via her website at www.bethanywivell.com.