Since giving birth to my daughter Elsi Dyfi in 2012, I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering the world of children’s books. The industry has changed so much since I was a young girl 30 x years ago, there’s now a fantastic variety of Welsh and bilingual books for children in Wales, something for everyone.
Another thing I’ve discovered is how children are the best inspiration for children’s stories! Each day with your child is an adventure, an episode or a whole story in itself! Like so many other children, Elsi loves creating characters, imaginary friends, made up scenarios and role play and it’s both fascinating and hilarious to watch and listen to – and also to join in! Every journey to school is an inspiration for a story book…but how do you actually write a children’s book? How does the process work and what’s the secret to success?
One Mother who can shed light on all of the above is Meleri Wyn James form Ceredigion, the author of Na, Nel!, one of the most successful series of original Welsh story books for children. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Meleri as she prepared to release the latest title in the series; Na, Nel! – Wps! for the Christmas 2017…
First of all Meleri, what inspired you to write the Na, Nel! series?
I have two daughters, and when they were younger I learnt that there were plenty of books available for young children, but when they turned 5, 6 and 7, there were much less books available, and there were barley any original books for girls of that age group. I decided to write my own books for them. I think children enjoy reading about other mischievous children, and for me, it was important that Nel lived in the Wales that our children live in, in the here and now.
How many books are in the Na, Nel! series?
Five story books, including the new title – Na, Nel! – Wps! There are also two other books: Na, Nel! – Ho! ho! which is a small Christmas activity and ideas book, and Dyddiadur Nel – a diary which encourages children to write a little bit every day. It’s also more than a diary, it includes bits of history, legends and Welsh traditions, jokes and all in Nel’s unique and mischievous voice. There’s also a free website; www.nanel.co.uk
What feedback have you had to the series?
Fantastic! I love the feedback from the children, parents and teachers.
What’s the secret to success when writing a series for children?
Mmm… creating characters and a world that’s suitable for the readers, and original Welsh stories. The children’s reactions suggest that they love the humour, and John Lund’s illustrations are also fantastic!
What can we expect in this latest book?
There are three stories in Na, Nel! – Wps! Nel heads off on her biggest adventure to date, in the adventure center, Glan Llyn. But can we trust Nel on the lake where the legendary monster Tegi-wegi lives?
In the second story, there’s a new pupil in Ysgol Pen –y –Daith and the children are extremely excited. But who or what is this new pupil? An animal…creature from a foreign land….a really, really famous person? How will Mair Mwyn feel when she realises that Nel has a new BFF?
Nel has also been listening to the news, and she’s had an idea. Nel is going to ‘leave’. This means Nel has to earn her own money, but what sort of ideas will Miss Mischievous have?
Is it easier/ more difficult to think of ideas as the character develops?
I think I know Nel and her friends very well now, so the ideas just come to me from somewhere. I love creating them.
Next year is a really exciting year as Na, Nel! has been chosen for the Welsh Books Council’s Darllen Dros Gymru national reading competition. It’s also taking to the stage as the series will be adapted for Cwmni Theatr Arad Goch’s summer tour, which means that children throughout Wales will meet Nel in theatres across Wales next summer! There will also be a new book to coincide with the theatre performance.
Why should Na, Nel – Wps! be in children’s Christmas stockings this year?
To encourage children to enjoy reading! There are three stories in each book, short chapters to encourage children to read on, or to be read by their parents. I hope children will enjoy this book and leave them wanting to read more stories about Nel – or inspire them to write their own stories.
Do your children enjoy these books?
Mia Seren is now 13 and Esther Alys is 11, but they did enjoy these books when they were in primary school. Friends and younger members of the family still love the books.
Do you have more/ less street cred as a mum after writing these books?!
Street cred?! Ha, ha!… At the moment, the girls still enjoy the fact that Mam has written these books…but Mia is 13 now, and I don’t know how long this is going to last!!!
What else do you do from day to day?
As well as being a mum (which is more of a pleasure than a job) – I’m a creative editor for Y Lolfa, a publisher in Ceredigion. I help adults to turn their stories into books. I’m fortunate to be working with some of the best authors in Wales – I’m really lucky!
My husband Sion and I also have a holiday let for two, called Cae Bach in Aberystwyth, and we enjoy providing a good place for people to relax and take some time out.
Your husband also works in the publishing industry – is it difficult to switch off when you’re both working in the publishing world?
Sion is a designer at the Welsh Books Council and in his spare time he designs the covers for Na, Nel! We do spend a lot of our time talking about books and new ideas for books, that’s just the way we are! I think it would be strange if we didn’t discuss books now!
What kind of activities do you enjoy as a family?
A bit of everything. We love being creative. The children love exercise – horse riding, running club, and Mia loves swimming in the sea as part of the surf lifesaving club. We spend a lot of time watching them, and enjoy being on the prom. We also enjoy cooking and eating out. We had a brilliant time in Chester Zoo and Zip World recently. We all zipped through the trees – including me!
What advice do you have for other Mums who want to write and what should they do if they have an idea for a book?
Go for it! Do a little bit of market research and enjoy writing.
Contact the publisher of your choice and write them a letter presenting yourself and your idea and why you think your idea will appeal to the readers. Create an outline of the idea and write a few chapters (if it’s a novel) so that the publisher can grasp the idea.
What would be Meleri’s perfect day?!
Writing…but on the weekend, having fun with the family and going out for a good meal with good friends.
Mam Cymru would like to thank Meleri for taking time out to talk to us and or giving us a really good insight into her fantastic series and the world of children’s books. Na, Nel!- Wps! is available now for £4.99 from Y Lolfa and also from your local bookshop.
By Heulwen Davies,