Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed children’s book author Wendy Wakelin about her Victoria’s Torton Tales Picture Storybook Series for children, what inspired her, and the advice she has for others who want to write stories.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hi, I’m Wendy Wakelin, married to Lloyd and Mum to two grown up boys (21 & 24) and love writing my children’s storybooks. My hobbies are animals and old vintage vehicles, from steam engines, tractors, cars, stationary engines, motorbikes, to any other old machinery.
I’ve been around old machinery since I was born and went to my first steam rally show when I was six weeks old. My parents would exhibit stationary engines and vintage motorbikes at these shows.
Growing up I loved spending time with my dad in his garage tinkering with engines and anything mechanical. When I wasn’t doing that, I’d be riding and looking after horses.
Lloyd’s family had owned and worked steam traction engines from the late 1800’s until around 1970. In 2002 we bought his Great, Great Grandfather’s original traction engine from 1886. We now spend our weekends during the summer months exhibiting our traction engine, called Victoria, at steam rallies and shows in Southern England.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
It just, sort of happened. I’ve always loved writing stories from an early age. After we bought our steam traction engine, Victoria, I wrote a couple of stories about her for my children when they were little. At the time I didn’t know it, but that was the planting of the seed for my “Victoria’s Torton Tales” journey.
When did you take a step to start writing?
After a friend read the stories I had written for my children and said I should publish them. That was about 2015 and it took a while to pluck up the courage, but I haven’t looked back really. It’s been an adventure of its own!
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My first two books came from the stories I wrote for my children. They were written in a matter of a couple of afternoons as at the time I had no plans or ideas about publishing them.
My more recent books tend to take me a while from starting to think of the story to getting it down on paper or typed on the computer. Once I have the initial draft, I usually leave it for a few days before going back to read it through and embellish. Some of the stories don’t go any further than that and are put to one side for a later date. When I’m happy with a story I then pass it to Lloyd to read and edit. Usually after the first edit my children read it through too.
After editing we go through the story together and when we’re happy that the words are done, and the story has been broken down into spreads we contact our illustrator. He reads through the story and comes back to us with ideas for each picture to go with the spreads. When the ideas are agreed the illustrator produces pencil sketches which allows us to review, request adjustments and finalise the content before for each picture is coloured and finished.
The whole process to write the story and produce the pictures takes a good few months.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My latest book “Victoria Meets Finnigan” had been in my head for a while, probably a year or so. I always have a head full of stories and tales! From writing the first draft to producing the pictures and publishing was about 3 months.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Victoria Meets Finnigan?
My latest book, “Victoria Meets Finnigan”, seemed like a great addition to the Victoria’s Torton Tales series. We have the real Victoria the traction engine, and our eldest son owns a vintage tractor he calls Finnigan. I thought bringing a tractor into the world of Victoria’s Torton Tales would help bring more children into the world of steam as I’m always trying to encourage children to take an interest in the outside world and the history and heritage around us. For me it’s the right thing to do. We now attend events with both Victoria and Finnigan and children love meeting both characters.
What were your biggest challenges with writing the Victoria’s Torton Tales?
When I was at school, I always felt that my reading and writing skills were below par and struggled to read in front of the class and spell. For me, when I write, the greatest challenge is facing having to ask people to help me with spelling and getting the confidence to believe in myself that I can do it. I loved writing stories when I was young but only at home in my bedroom so no one else could read them. I want all children to know they can do things if they believe in themselves, and it really doesn’t matter what others think.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Victoria is the main character in most of my books, hence the name “Victoria’s Torton Tales”. The reason for her being the main character was because we owned the real Victoria the traction engine and when my children were very young, they wanted stories about her and steam engines that go on the road and work in the farms. That’s how this wonderful journey started.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
In my books the main antagonists are not necessarily the characters themselves, but situations that occur. One that comes to mind is in “Roser and Tanner Steam Roller Friends” where Roser is the engine who always uses his scarifier to break up the road surface to make it ready for repairs. Tanner feels she should be able to do the job too and it’s very rewarding to see her succeed. I try my best to write positive, friendly children’s stories about trying to do your best and helping one another.
What is the inciting incident of the Victoria’s Torton Tales?
In my first book “Victoria’s Busy Day”, Victoria discovers a little traction engine at the back of a barn looking very sorry for himself and she tries to help him. And of course, in “Roser and Tanner Steam Roller Friends” Tanner discovers she can use her scarifier and do the job Roser normally does.
What is the main conflict of your the Victoria’s Torton Tales?
In my fifth and latest book “Victoria Meets Finnigan” at first Victoria finds Finnigan annoying with his “noisy” engine, and then she feels even more put out when he starts doing work she thinks she could have done. Gradually she sees that Finnigan is actually very helpful little tractor, especially when he helps her.
Did you plot the Victoria’s Torton Tales in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
The first two stories were just as I wrote them for my children and were written off the cuff. The other stories are a little more planned. I try to think of the plot, then the characters, then I just write, write, write, and let my head take me on the journey in the story.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did the Victoria’s Torton Tales need?
Yes, my husband, Lloyd, is my editor. As I have said before I feel I am a little dyslexic, Lloyd spends a good while checking and going through it with me before we are happy. I guess the editing takes a few days to complete.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Just do it, I struggled with reading and writing at school, and although I did pass my English CSE many years ago, I still struggle to this day. Don’t let anyone say you can’t, just try it. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith. If there’s a story in your head, start writing down.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Yes, I have many stories to tell in my head. I think the next one will be a bumper issue about an event at which all the characters will attend and each of my 9 characters will have their own chapter about their time at the event. I can’t wait to start putting it down on paper, my head is full of ideas already!
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am very proud of what I have achieved, although I’m not well known (yet!) I enjoy what I do, albeit very, very, hard work trying to promote my books, I won’t give up. It’s so rewarding when you have fans come back for new books and say lovely things like “They are such charming stories”, “My children love them”, “When’s the next one coming out?”, the list goes on.
Is it worth the effort? Yes, I think so, although I have yet to make a living from it, but you never know.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Victoria’s Torton Tales Picture Storybook Series
Victoria’s Busy Day
Pop comes to Sewards’ Yard
Roser and Tanner, Steam Roller Friends
Victoria and the Teddy Bear
Victoria meets Finnigan
We also have a young children’s counting book, which is great for very small children.