Writing Across Genres – Alison Reynolds on tour “A Year with Marmalade”

I am thrilled to welcome a very special guest to From Hook to Book today, my good friend and writing buddy, Alison Reynolds, to celebrate the launch of her fabulous new picture book A Year with Marmalade.

A Year with Marmalade, illustrated by the very talented Heath McKenzie, is the delightful tale of two good friends Maddy and Ella who find everything changes the day Maddy has to go away. Maddy cannot take her precious cat Marmalade and so she entrusts him to Ella’s care, but Marmalade and Ella do not even like one another. Through the seasons of one year Ella and Marmalade share adventures and a budding friendship.

This is a gorgeous picture book on every level, from its delightful prose and story, the wonderful illustrations and use of colour, through to the fabulous design where the playful and distinct arrangement of the text and fonts work to enhance meaning and fun in the illustrations and text.

Alison Reynolds is the prolific author of over 30 books, including the fantastic choose-your-own-adventure Ranger in Danger series and the gorgeous Why I love… and Baby Talk series. She writes across the entire spectrum from board books, picture books, chapter books through to novels. How does she do it? It makes me want to know if there’s a difference in her writing process between these different genres? Time to ask her a few questions.

Welcome Alison. It’s fantastic to have you visit today. 

Hi Chris. It’s very special to be here with you for the last day of the blog tour.

Let me start by asking you, when you get your story ideas, do they arrive fully formed, specifically as picture/chapter/novel ideas or do you work them into the genre you want to write? How do you decide which format an idea best suits?

For the last few years I’ve been doing commissioned work so the formats have been decided by the publishers. I would love to say my ideas arrive fully formed, but unfortunately they don’t. Sometimes I have a scrap of a conversation twisting around my mind. Or an image of something. A Year with Marmalade originated in an image of a cat in a tree looking on, and feeling unloved. It was perfect for a picture book. I think sometimes that many chapter books could be picture books because they are really “cluttered one idea” books. (I’ve been guilty of this.)

Sometimes, a picture book should be a chapter book, but I have found that sometimes you think you need the extra words, but when you look at it closely you don’t have enough plot to justify a chapter book. For me, less words are practically always better.

What differences do you find in your writing process between sitting down to create a picture book and say writing a novel?

I start both with a vague idea or image. I do tend to write picture books in longhand, while I’m very comfortable writing straight on the computer for a novel.

I also write a picture book extremely fast, but I tend to write novels much more slowly. Maybe I am pacing myself! I don’t find either much easier or harder, just different.

Do you have any rituals or habits you follow when writing or to get you into writing mode?

What you want me to tell you how I’m always at my desk at nine every day? That only happens in my every hopeful imagination.

I can’t write in a dressing gown and need to be fully dressed so I’m in work mode. I usually have music. My poor family suffers when I play the same two or three dvds constantly while I’m working on a project. It needs to be music that I know so I don’t listen too intently. I went through a Johnny Cash phase that I’m not sure everybody enjoyed. It gets to the stage if I’m out and I hear the music I feel as if I could start writing. Very Pavlov’s dog.

When I am near a deadline I write every day and work ridiculous hours. I’m a binge writer, but I wish I wasn’t!

When I’m on holidays I rarely write, but my little brain keeps ticking over.

When I’m stuck I’ve been known to flee to the local library or coffee shops. I’ve found that really helps.

Are you a visual writer? Does this visualisation change between your writing of a picture book text and a novel text?

I’ve become much more of a visual writer since I’ve been writing a spate of picture books. Picture books really are a different way of looking at the world. It’s important to have something different on every spread to illustrate. In A Year With Marmalade, I loved how Heath McKenzie dived in the spaces I left for him and created something even better than I could imagine.

I’m currently writing a YA and I feel as if I am much more of a visual writer than I used to be. The scenes roll across my mind and I could tell you exactly what each character is wearing. Writing visually is infectious!

Marmalade and his friends are so cute. Can you see them having further adventures?

Chris, I would love to write another Marmalade adventure. I could imagine him in a talent show or lost.

Thank you so much for dropping by and answering my questions, Alison. I love all your books and wish you and Heath every success and mega sales for A Year with Marmalade.

A Year with Marmalade is published by Five Mile Press ISBN: 9781742488806

A Year with Marmalade Competition (LAST CHANCE TO ENTER)

Marmalade’s personality really shines through in Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie’s newest picture book A Year with Marmalade. Share your favourite picture showing your cat’s personality to win.
The winner will receive a signed copy of A Year with Marmalade and a copy of the picture book Lighty Faust the Lion, a book about a much bigger cat.
Share your favourite picture of your cat by uploading it to author Alison Reynolds’ Facebook page at or email it to Alison as a low res jpeg file at and she’ll upload it on her website
Entries close on the 1st of September.

Today’s visit wraps up a busy blog tour by Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie and, if you’ve missed any of their stops, you can catch up with their other terrific tips and insights into writing and illustrating at the following tour links: (Also check out their websites at and

Tour Stops:

7th  August  Dee White (Picture Book Writing Tips)

9th  August  Karen Tyrrell (How to Get Published)

11th August  Tania McCartney (Review)

13th August  Pass It On (The Marmalade Journey)

14th August  Kathryn Apel (Let’s Get Catty – a competition)

17th August  Dale Harcombe (Review and interview)

20th August  Peter Taylor (How the Book was Created)

22nd August  Susan Stephenson (Review)

23rd August  Robyn Opie Parnell (Writing a Picture Book)

27th August  Sally Odgers (5 Reasons to write picture books)

29th  August  Angela Sunde (Illustrating Marmalade – the process with Heath McKenzie)

31st August Chris Bell (Writing Across Genres)


Share this page


deescribewriting" alt="deescribewriting">


Thanks Chris and Alison for a great interview.

I’d love to see another Marmalade adventure too:)

August 31, 2012 at 10:06 am
christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


Thanks for visiting. Dee.

I can see some real mischief ahead for Marmalade.

🙂 Chris

August 31, 2012 at 10:31 am


Marmalade came alive for me when reading ‘A Year with Marmalade.’ I can imagine him caught up in other stories too. It’s interesting what you said, Alison, about the ‘cluttered one idea chapter books’ and I agree. I see a great chapter book as being a pared-back novella with a strong plot. This was a very interesting interview. Thank you, Chris and Alison.

August 31, 2012 at 11:22 am
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Hi Angela

    It’s a really interesting subject whether an idea can be beautifully evoked in picture book form or whether it has enough scope to expand into chapter book/novel and just as tricky going back the other way. Sometimes I find the genre decision hard, but I tend to write longer than short and even when finished am often thinking – what about if…

    Best, Chris

    August 31, 2012 at 11:48 am
Alison Reynolds" alt="Alison Reynolds">

Alison Reynolds

Hi Chris and Dee!
Marmalade would love another adventure!

August 31, 2012 at 11:58 am
Alison Reynolds" alt="Alison Reynolds">

Alison Reynolds

Hi Chris and Angela,
You both write chapter books. How do you choose whether to write your concept as a picture book or chapter book?
It really is an interesting choice.

August 31, 2012 at 11:59 am
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Great question, Alison.

    For me the decision whether to write picture or chapter books lies in the number of ideas. My picture books centre around the one core idea (and solution). i.e. Rosie afraid of riding the roller coaster; Baby Bear not wanting to go to bed, Rory wanting to stay outside when the storm was coming and Cora needing to get home to her cubs when the savannah burned.

    I have an idea at the moment that I’d love to see illustrated as a gorgeous picture book, but I cannot fight the fact it needs more words to explain the complexities and strands of the story. Once you get into subplots, you need even more words and perhaps a novel.

    If a writer finds they do not have enough ideas, conflict or obstacles, they may need a format requiring fewer words. It’s a fine line but I do have to add that I’ve increased a 2000-word chapter book to 4000 to suit a series and the extra chapters brought much more excitement and scope – not padding. I’ve also reduced stories to fit series and found they became much stronger. So it can work both to add or lose words, it just depends on the story. Of course the proposed audience/readership dictates the genre too.

    🙂 Chris

    August 31, 2012 at 12:41 pm


    I agree with Chris’ response. For me chapter books work best when they have just the one plot thread. But to that plot thread I attach many ideas, obstacles, characters and events. With a picture book, however, the story is best kept simple, focussing on the one idea or conflict.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:52 pm
Karen Tyrrell" alt="Karen Tyrrell">

Karen Tyrrell

Thanks Chris and Alison for this tremendous interview.
Loved discovering Alison’s varied approaches to writing picture books and chapters books … and the tactics she uses to get into the writing mode.
YES, I would love to read another Marmalade book. Please… Karen 🙂

August 31, 2012 at 2:03 pm
sally Odgers" alt="sally Odgers">

sally Odgers

Lovely post, thanks Chris and Alison! I love finding out how other writers work. (And it was great to meet you that one time, Alison – hope to catch up again one day.)

September 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Thanks for stopping by, Sally.

    I also love discovering other writer’s modus operandi. Like Alison, I can’t work in my dressing gown, but I have been guilty of being busy working (reading a book) in bed when everyone else is braving the winter chill and making their way to the day job.

    Cheers, Chris

    September 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm
      sally Odgers" alt="sally Odgers">

      sally Odgers

      I often work in a dressing gown. However I am dressed underneath. It’s too cold to sit in just jeans, shirt and jumper and I refuse to work in an overcoat. It’s plenty warm enough int he house to do housework etc but sitting writing is a lot colder job.

      September 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm
      christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


      I cannot be cold, Sally, so I am often at the microwave in winter reheating my wheat bag and I am fortunate to have a very economical electric panel heater in my office so that I don’t have to run the ducted gas heating sky-high. Otherwise my bones show me very smartly that they are older than me.

      September 2, 2012 at 4:53 pm
Alison Reynolds" alt="Alison Reynolds">

Alison Reynolds

Hi Chris and Sally,
I used to be an early riser, but now I love snuggling in bed with the light filtering through the blinds. I would relax too much and not achieve anything if I was in bed. I actually think I write better when I”m not too comfortable. In winter I don’t like to be cold, but know I write more if I am almost on the cusp of being a bit chilly. Lovely super warm room and I go into relax mode!


September 2, 2012 at 11:09 am


    That’s interesting. Right now I’m in dressing gown fully dressed underneath, just because the room’s a touch too cold for me, but not cold enough for the heater. Yes, writing is a sedentary job, so I sometimes write standing up (like now) to keep healthy and warm.

    September 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm
      sally Odgers" alt="sally Odgers">

      sally Odgers

      At least when we’re dressed underneath, we can always shed the d-g in seconds if someone calls in!

      September 2, 2012 at 4:29 pm
      christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


      Angela, I would love to remodel my office to have a sit-down desk and a stand-up desk. Two of the girls at the office where I used to work used stand-up desks because of comfort and back pain. I don’t think I could stand up all day, but even my physio says that sitting down so often is causing my back and muscle cramps.
      When I was in pain before going o/s, I used to stand up with my laptop at the kitchen bench.

      🙂 Chris
      PS: FGI: One girl had a chair similar to an office chair but able to operate at stool height and shaped like a saddle, which was supposed to be much better for her back.

      September 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm
      christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


      Good thinking, Sally. My only fear that if I was interrupted mid-thought when writing I’d most likely completely forget I was wearing the dressing gown until I saw the stunned expression of my caller.

      🙂 Chris

      September 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Hi Alison
    Posted a reply and promptly deleted it. It was about how sometimes after lunch I find I start nodding off and have to jerk myself awake. About then, I realise my office is too cosy a nest and I’d better go out for a walk because I’m way too way too relaxed to work.

    September 2, 2012 at 5:17 pm
      peterern" alt="peterern">


      Thanks for a terrific blogpost, Chris and your replies Alison. Loved the discussion through comments, too.

      And I thought I was the only one apt to doze after lunch! …but I am productive early in the morning.

      All best wishes


      September 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm
      christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


      Thanks, Peter.
      We writers all seem to have our own singular productive time. I “can” be very productive in the morning, but other times it takes me all day and then I’m on fire and want to power on when it should almost be knock off time. Weird!
      Best wishes,

      September 14, 2012 at 11:34 am
Dale Harcombe" alt="Dale Harcombe">

Dale Harcombe

Interesting to hear the different way of writing different texts, Thanks.

September 4, 2012 at 5:59 am
christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


Thanks, Dale. It’s been a fascinating insight and discussion. Thank you to Alison too.


September 4, 2012 at 9:45 am

Leave A Comment

Praise for No Small Shame

Upcoming Events

Recent Blog Posts