On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, children’s author Dawn-Maria France shares what inspired her to write her hit children’s book, The Adventures Of Jenny And Philip.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed children’s author Dawn-Maria France about her life and career, what inspires her writing, and the creative work that went into her latest book, The Adventures Of Jenny And Philip.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a journalist and Editor-in-chief of the award-winning women’s news magazine, Yorkshire Women’s Life. I’m passionate about women’s rights, equality and diversity. I decided to write a children’s series set in Yorkshire, featuring a confident little girl and following her adventures.
My book, The Adventures of Jenny and Philip is engaging and fun to read, showing Jenny’s journey of life-learning and exploring the relationship between Jenny and her best friend, Philip, the talking cat. It offers fun, imagination and learning for 4–7-year-olds.
It’s the perfect book for adults to read to pre-school children, or for young people to read for themselves.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I wanted to write the book as a youth worker, which was several years prior to researching and developing my own children’s book series.
When did you take a step to start writing?
Many years after being a youth worker, I had the time to do the research needed to write a children’s book. By working with parents and children, I gain their feedback to develop my characters and storybook manuscript ideas. For me, it’s vital to include children, parents, etc. throughout my creativity process as a children’s author.
The images throughout the books were informed by feedback from children and parents, too. I also wanted to write a book that showed a strong little girl, her adventures and her friendships, especially with Philip, her best friend, who’s a talking cat.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It took me three years from researching my genre as a children’s author, consulting and working with the feedback from the children and parents, and finding an illustrator who shared my vision – and getting the right publisher.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Once the first bookwas well-received and the characters of Jenny and Philip were established, it took me another year for the second book to be published. I’m currently working on the third book in the series, too.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Adventures Of Jenny And Philip?
For me, it was trying to find a good literary agency willing to read it, see a good story and run with it. Sadly, I came across agencies who were only interested in reality personalities rather than writers of really good stories. Speaking to other writers, they said the same. I kept hearing “It’s a brilliant story but…”
However, the book has gone on to get amazing reviews in the UK and overseas, and the feedback has been amazing. Perhaps some literary agency should see beyond so-called celebrity status and see real talent, instead.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
My main character Jenny, is inspired by the strength of young girls – to be leaders, know their own minds and create their own journeys. I could never understand why there weren’t many little girls leading in picture-books, when the strength of young girls (and boys) was so widespread and visible when I was a youth-worker, in the North.
This was what inspired me to create Jenny as the main character in my children’s books, The Adventures of Jenny and Philip: We All Need Friends and The Adventures of Jenny and Philip: The Naughtiest Girl in the World.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
This is an odd one, because Jenny is a kind of anti-hero, too. She’s makes mistakes like everyone, and she is able to learn from those mistakes, too. But since she’s the protagonist, her antagonist is her best friend, Philip, the cat, who gently challenges her and helps her on the right moral path. As a child, I had a beautiful female tabby cat she was very much a part of our family – independent and funny – and my inspiration for Philip.
What is the inciting incident of The Adventures Of Jenny And Philip?
When Jenny is sent to sit on the naughty step – because she has done yet another naughty thing – Philip the cat comes to sit with her, and shows her another way of life. Having seen a world in which bad things happen, Jenny promises to be good.
What is the main conflict of The Adventures Of Jenny And Philip?
The main conflict is between Jenny – who has ambitions to be the naughtiest girl in the world – and her aunt and uncle who have adopted her; but much of that happens ‘off-stage’ and isn’t shown directly in the plot.
However, within the story, Philip provides a foil for Jenny’s naughtiness. Like the grit in an oyster shell, he instructs Jenny to create something beautiful, like a pearl.
Did you plot The Adventures Of Jenny And Philip in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I plotted the book out in advance – and gained feedback from children and parents throughout, including the way the characters were drawn, how they should look etc.
It vital as a writer to gain and listen to feedback from your readers, especially when aimed at young readers. I felt the feedback empowered me as a writer to continue to produce good writing that would entertain and make an enjoyable reading experience for my young readership.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Adventures Of Jenny And Philip need?
I did get support with the editing; but luckily, I didn’t need too much editing because I polished the book over several drafts.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Never give up. If you’re unable to find a literary agency – then become an independent author. It was good enough for Lewis Carroll, initially. Being an independent author is so cool now – society and clubs are out there to support you, and even script agencies, too. The world needs to hear diverse voices, and stories need to be told, too.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m currently working on my third children’s picture-book in The Adventures of Jenny and Philip series. This one introduces a new character called Anjeet, a little Sikh boy. This book looks at how Jenny deals with a situation involving Jessica and George from the second book, and how she resolves it – with the help of her best friend Philip, the cat. In the future, I aim to write a series of books with Anjeet as the main character, following his own journey of life learning.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Holding your final published book in your hands for the first time is amazing! I love bringing joy to young readers – so, seeing and hearing their reactions and reviews is great, too. The books have already received much acclaim from around the world. I want readers of my book to derive delight in, and engage with, books – so, if I can contribute to their love of reading, that’s a job well done.
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The adventures of Jenny and Philip book reviews
Through humour and learning, this book aims to teach children about ethics and morals, about the world around them and their place in it. It’s a really good book; I do recommend picking it up for your little ones. Parent Magazine, UK
My girls have had me read it to them several times now, and my 7-year-old practiced her reading with it. All three of my girls love this book and the illustration is bright and helps keep their attention. Parents and Children magazine, USA.
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