Writing ‘The Marvellous Moon Map’

The Marvellous Moon Map is a very exciting book for me – and not just because the fantabulous David Litchfield has done the stunning illustrations for it!

It’s because it’s a story which came wholly out of my head, without the structure of a fairy tale to steady my hand.   My own Moon Map to show me the way was made of lots of different things: songs, stories, a play, some advice, and something my daughter once said…

It began with just one thought, on hearing the beautiful song ‘Fuel Up’ by Oxford band Stornoway, about travelling on through your life -sometimes losing your way, but keeping on going – with the people you love beside you.

This led me to think of The Wizard of Oz, which I’ve always loved, and also Into the Woods – the idea of going into deep dark woods (either real or metaphorical!) and having friends help you into the light.

So I wrote this little snippet in my notebook:


And the spark was lit.

Around the same time, I was acting in a community production, Remainders, at the Pegasus Theatre in Oxford.

     Me (left) in ‘Remainders’ – with paper boats!

This show was about characters who were all fleeing a flood at the end of the world by huddling together in a library.  At the end of the play, they all sailed off together in a boat made from books. (It was quite a show!)   All this got me thinking about what it would really be like to be in a small boat on the ocean and how terrifying it would be.

My character also made lots and lots of paper boats with another character, so I got to know how to make paper boats VERY WELL INDEED.

A beautiful song, ‘Breathe Easy’, by Rachel Sermanni featured in the show, which I loved.

Finally, there was something my daughter once said (see if you can spot it – it occurs four times in the story!…) to throw into the mix.

With all this swirling around, I wrote some poetry, tried things out – and eventually Mouse appeared:

Bear followed soon after.  Now I had the characters, and I knew they were going on a journey, possibly involving a wood and a boat – but I couldn’t work out why, or where to!  (This is such an infuriating and magical part of writing: not knowing where the story is going, and continually trying to puzzle it out!)

Then one night, after going round and round in circles, I had a conversation with my friend Emma Webb, who is an hugely talented actor and director and had directed Remainders.  With great insight, she said, “Why don’t they make a paper boat and sail off in it?”  (THANK YOU EMMA!!!)

I went home, went to bed – and then instantly had to get up, with the story full in my head!

First pages of the midnight draft

I went downstairs in the dark with my notebook and it all poured out: that Mouse was looking for the moon, or a star, and made a map to find it – and Bear then folded up this map to make the paper boat, and they found the sun instead.

The story took many drafts – handwritten and typed – to get right.  I made a little dummy book to help me work out the shape of the plot.

    Dummy book with text developing

I wrote character studies of Mouse and Bear.  Some day I’ll tell you how they met…

But eventually The Marvellous Moon Map was ready, and I sent it off to my agent, Hilary Delamere, who sent it to Penguin Random House… Then David came on board, and brought the story and characters to life in a way I’d never thought possible, with such light, drama, tenderness and detail.  I feel very lucky to be working with him.

So next time you have the spark of an idea, catch it by the tail – for sometimes a story can come from a line in a song or a scrap in a notebook… 

Mouse and Bear are my old friends now – I can’t imagine a time when I didn’t know them – and I’m delighted to say they will set off on another adventure next year!