Written by Fiona Knox
Sooty’s Big Adventure is the story of a dog who found himself homeless at the age of 14. When I offered to give him a home I had no idea how difficult his journey from Romania to the UK would actually be.
Sooty’s Journey Home
When he was impounded in Germany mid journey because his documents had been lost, it looked like I was never going to meet him. What was worse was that he was only in this predicament because I had adopted him. I had a thoroughly miserable three weeks (he says he didn’t have a lot of fun either), as I tried everything I could think of to get him released but to no avail.
I wondered how he was. He was old, almost blind and he must have been completely bewildered. I wondered what he would tell people if he could talk………and that was the beginning of the book.
Telling Sooty’s Story
I started to write the story from his point of view. It seemed to me that his point of view was getting scant attention. It seems that my point of view wasn’t getting much more attention.
As soon as I started to write, the words just fell onto the page. I didn’t have to think, I just had to go back and edit what had arrived. I started to doodle drawings to go with the words. These drawings contained both emotion and narrative. I could feel a child part of me….the one who simply wants to shout about how unfair things are…..pick up the pencil and draw dogs in red old fashioned buses. I let her draw.
I found I wanted to colour in the sketches with crayons and not be concerned about going over the lines. It was an outlet for my frustration at getting nowhere with having him released. While a more grown up part of me battled with the problem of how to get him out of the pound in a rational fashion, this part of me was recording the emotions underneath.
Developing Sooty’s Story
Gradually, as the situation with Sooty started to resolve, the drawings became more considered and calm. I had a pile of potential illustrations but they were not especially coherent as a series. I tried redrawing the initial scribbly sketches in the hope that I could pull them together stylistically. The results were tidy but they had lost their emotional impact and the connection to what had driven me to draw in the first place.
I took a step back. I realised that I was trying to tidy up my inner child’s distress and make her presentable. I considered whether I was brave enough to stand behind the naive untidy drawings or not. I realised I really had no alternative if I was going to love this little book. If I didn’t love it then why should anyone else?
I wrote the story pretty much as it unfolded. I had no idea if it was going to have a happy ending or not. In fact, kind, generous people I had never met stepped forward to help me and eventually he was indeed released. He is snoring beside me on the sofa as I type this article. He is 16 now and as far as I can tell, he is pretty happy with his life.
Publishing Sooty’s Story
I had, meanwhile promised myself that I would get his story published. Covid arrived in all our lives around that time and since I am no spring chicken I wanted it out there in the world before Covid got to me. I decided that I couldn’t embark on trying to find a publisher.
All that I read on the subject suggested that that would not be an easy thing to do.. It was my first book, I had no idea if anyone apart from me would like it. I didn’t have an agent. I decided that the fastest course was to self publish through Amazon. It was a learning curve but I have to say KDP on Amazon is certainly manageable for a beginner.
I promoted it shamelessly to my Facebook friends. I was astonished to see that I sold several hundred copies and I had some really nice reviews and feedback. That was very encouraging. I began to think about getting it into bookshops. My first attempt at that was to try to submit the PDF to Ingram Spark self publishing. I expected that it would be as easy as KDP had been but it turned out to be much more tricky. I gave up for a while. Then I discovered that there are people who offer the formatting as a service. I tried that. I chose badly at the first attempt; another learning curve. I chose well with the second attempt.
Struggling With Social Media
Nathan at Softwood Self Publishing is currently leading me by the hand as I learn how to use social media effectively. I’m terrified of Twitter. I associate it with presidential tweets, hate campaigns and death threats. He’s showing me how to use Twitter….I have a handle for heaven’s sake, who knew I needed one? He’s helping me to use Instagram better.
I can manage Facebook as I hang out there a lot with artist friends all over the world. I also sell my art to raise funds for animal rescue on Facebook. But Facebook, sadly, is not enough. Meanwhile the book is being completely reformatted with better resolution images ready for a print run.
Sooty’s Big Adventure
I have always loved storytelling. I have always loved animals. I discovered later in life that I enjoy drawing. Happily the three seem to have come together in Sooty’s Big Adventure. It turns out to be Fiona’s Big Adventure too.
I’m intending to get back to my art studio (kitchen table) very soon and allow myself the luxury of just making art for a while. But I have more ideas for stories.
Writing for children feels unexpectedly natural. I find I can write from my heart in a very simple way. I have fun making scribbly drawings that are very naive. Combining the two is a more satisfying way of creating than I could ever have imagined.
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