February 4, 2013

Hello Baby!

Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

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I’m often asked where my ideas come from and I can usually explain. But with Hello Baby! I remember nothing other than where I was when the idea hit me. In 2004, about two weeks before Christmas, I was walking with my husband along the esplanade beside ‘our’ beach when something happened: was it something a child called out on the beach? Was it something I thought of saying to a child as we were passing? Was it something I said to Malcolm? I can’t remember. Darn!  

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I know this looks like a photo of Chloë, but actually it’s the BEACH behind her that’s important in this context: ‘our’ beach

I recall being so excited that I left Malcolm to finish the walk on his own and hurried back to the house to write down the idea before it disappeared. I was thrilled to have had another idea because I hadn’t had one for a long time and my beloved editor, Allyn Johnston, was coming from San Diego to stay with us over Christmas, with her husband and son.

‘Oh, great!’ I thought. ‘I’ll have another book for Allyn to work on and she’ll be ecstatic.’

It then occurred to me that I could write the whole story by Christmas and give it to AJ as a real present, all wrapped up. I knew it would be almost impossible to do: usually a picture book text takes me 18 months to two years to complete. But I decided to try. Ooh, the pressure! It was intense but energizing.

I succeeded in finishing a moderately good draft on Christmas Eve—a draft that would at least show the potential of the idea, the patterns of the rhymes and repetitions, and the ending; and I made it into a 32-page book with a cover and everything. I wrapped it like a normal present, around midnight. My deadline was met! Aha!

On Christmas morning Hello Baby! was the very last of all the presents to be given and when Allyn opened it and realized what it was she went white. A new Mem Fox book! Given on Christmas Day! But what if it were embarrassingly bad and she couldn’t adjust her face to be pleased and thrilled? What if she loathed it and had to reject it? I could read her face and I was pretty anxious too. What I had done was bold—too bold, really—and it put her in a very tight spot.

‘I’ll read it to you,’ I said, and I took it from her, opened it, and read the entire thing to the assembled throng. Applause followed. Hurrah! They all seemed to love it. But did Allyn love it? YES! Even though she could have killed me. Wow! What a Christmas!

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Allyn editing the book on my back deck, in the sunset

Much of that first little book remains in the published edition today. Of course Allyn made me tidy this word and that in the text, to make it perfect, but it wasn’t the huge task that she and I had feared. She still has that little book. I think it’s one of her treasures.

The book should be dedicated to her but she already has a dedication in Time for Bed which is surely enough of a gift to any adored editor. Instead I’ve dedicated to four African friends in Zimbabwe because it’s probably the only African book I’ll ever write out of my childhood experiences: all the animals in the book are baby African animals, adorably illustrated in cut paper by the splendid Steve Jenkins.

Hello Baby! appeared in the USA on May 5th 2009, published by Beach Lane Books, Allyn’s personal imprint under the umbrella of Simon and Schuster, New York. It was the first book under her own imprint, which was very exciting for both of us.

In Australia Hello Baby! was published by my dearly beloved Penguin, in Melbourne.

I read this book on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4Q9V2Cvb98