A UAE-based lawyer has written and published his very first children's book.
Aimed at children between three and nine, To the Circus Lights is Richard Chudzynski's debut picture book for kids, and came about when his son asked him when he planned to write one.
British national Chudzynski, is an international privacy lawyer with four kids, all of which are at school in Dubai with the exception of his stepdaughter who works as a bio chemist in London.
We catch up with the lawyer turned author to find out all about his debut book including the inspiration behind the name, how long it took him to pen and ask whether having done it once, he has any plans to do it all over again.
This is your first children’s book, what made you decide to write one?
The journey of the book started circa about two years ago when my eldest son Danny (who was five at the time), came home from school one day and asked me to write a children’s book. Like most dads, I nodded and said yes, not paying much attention, then he paused, and he said, “would I write it before I die”. Now not that I am dying imminently or anything, this did grab my attention and I thought well I could die so I better start to write this. It was the first catalyst in starting to write the book.
At the time, it just so happened that I was doing a lot of travelling around the GCC and thus this gave me plenty of time at airports and on planes to start thinking about the story and writing it, which proved to be the second catalyst. This process took approximately six months until I had what was in my opinion was a completed story (it ran to 16 scenes). I then asked my wife to edit it for me as well as another friend.
The intention was to always self-publish and I started to look into this, however someone said you might as well send it off to some publishers, which I did and fortunately Austin Macauley (AM) based in Sharjah (as well as London, Cambridge and New York), offered to give me a contract to support publishing it. This to be honest was a complete surprise, however I jumped at the chance.
For the next 18 months, I developed which scenes were to be used and we went back and forth creating the illustrations and characters (including at one-point AM, changing the illustrators due to artistic and creative differences). Finally, in mid-February, I signed off the final design of the book and it was published on 29 February 2020.
Who is the book dedicated to?
The book was inspired by my boy Danny and it is dedicated to him. If he had not asked me to write it, I may have never got around to it. I hope in turn as he grows up it will inspire him, it amazes me to think that our children can drive us in new directions and inspire us.
And where did you get your inspiration for the story from?
Once I had decided to write a book, I knew I wanted to write an old-fashioned children’s adventure story, harking back to that more traditional genre of Children’s books where the kids go on an adventure (of course there is always some magic thrown in, for this story it is the fact that the animals are able to speak with the children).
As for the adventure being to the circus, well it is funny how things come about, the real reason behind this is a friend of mine is an artist from a very famous circus family, so I thought that if I did a story to the circus she may wish to illustrate it, sadly she did not have the time in her schedule, however the theme to the story had been set and I continued with developing the story with the circus in mind.
Tell us a bit about the book.
The story is based around triplets, Marlee, Danny and George (who is in a wheelchair), who live in the tallest building in the heart of the city. One morning they see that the Circus has come to town and they decide that it would be good idea to have an adventure to go and visit it. This sends them on an exciting journey, through the city, over the river and through the forest, with twists and turns along the way.
Finally, they reach the circus and watch an amazing show, with the finale being the strongman lifting the entire circus troop on his shoulders. Once the show is finished, they realise they are far from home, it is dark, and they will be late for tea. Knowing their mum will be worried sick about them, Tommy the Tiger and Flopsy the Flamingo, arrive on the scene and concoct a plan to get them home.
The story is aimed at all children from three to nine. I would expect six to nine year olds to read it independently and for three to six year olds to have it read to them.
What did you learn while writing the book?
I learnt so much, and it is hard to articulate them all. The journey of writing the story itself was interesting, as when developing the scenes, I realised that to develop the story, I needed to go back to previous scenes to change them in order for the story to flow.
Understanding how a book get’s published and the back and forth on creating the illustrations was also an interesting journey, especially as I wanted the characters to reflect the family I see. When I got the first set of illustrations I found it very hard to relate to the characters, so the publisher and I discussed it through and eventually they had to change the illustrators due to creative differences. The outcome was amazing with illustrations complementing the story beautifully.
I also learnt that carrying out something through to the end and the joy of seeing the final book in my hand was immensely rewarding.
How long did it take from start to finish to write the book?
The whole book took much longer than I thought. One reason was due to the creative difference with the original illustrator. From the first day I put pen to paper until it was published it took about two years. I should say that I did start writing it by hand, but soon realised that it was much easier on a computer as I would make many edits and changes.
I wrote the story itself in about six months, and mostly when I was on a plane, travelling around the Middle East for work. I found the plane a great space to write. I would always choose a window seat and felt that looking out of the window helped with the creativity. Once I had finished and was happy with the story, my wife and a friend both edited it. I then sent it off to the publisher and it took a further 18 months, until publication. Most of this time was spent creating the illustrations and the lay out, font etc. I was regularly in touch with the publisher going back and forth and making sure everything was as I wanted it along with their guidance.
What does the title mean?
Another great question. You know once I had written the story, I really could not think of a title at all. My wife and I would be around the kitchen table night after night thinking of all sorts of titles, but none ever stuck. Eventually I asked the publisher to come up with some ideas and one day they sent through “To the Circus Lights”. It was just perfect as the story starts with the triplets, seeing the circus in all its glory up on the hill from their bedroom window, and then deciding to go on an adventure to visit it.
What was your writing process like?
I felt I only had about one hour writing creativity in me a day. I understand that this is normal, and people usually only have a few hours a day of real creativity, and I can attest to this. This is the reason, why many creative people wear the same clothes each day and eat the same lunch, so they don’t use up their creative juices picking out their outfit for the day or deciding what they will have to eat.
As to the story itself. I knew the start and how it would end, and this really helped me with developing the story, scene by scene. I don’t have any creative writing experience so wrote it from the heart, then divided up the scenes for a little adventure in each one.
When I set out to write the story, I also intended it to be very much enjoyed by parents as well as children and I wanted it to be a story the parents would pick out for their kids as much as the children would. In this respect I did not want it to be too long and did my very best for it to be read in about 12 minutes. I am conscious of working parents being tired at the end of the day and wanting at times to skip reading to their kids, due to the length of a book or picking a book and skipping pages, I am guilty as charged of this and am sure other parents can relate, so wanted the story not to be such a long read and complemented by beautiful illustrations.
Who are your favourite children’s book authors?
It has to be Roald Dahl, the Twits and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being my favourite stories he wrote. Roald Dahl’s stories are just so mesmerising and take you into a different world, his ability to make up words and names and people, and to have a story about a chocolate factory what else does a child want to escape to. His granddaughter was also at school with me and an old friend, so she would also tell me stories about him.
The stories by Julia Donaldson are also a massive favourite in our household, she really is a genius.
What books do you like reading to your kids?
I read all types of books to my kids, the twins are six and Danny is eight, so they will often each choose a book to read, at the moment Good Night Moon is a current favourite of the twins. It is so cleverly written, and I love the illustrations. The Boy and the Aeroplane is also a firm favourite, this is a great book as it has no illustrations so allows children and parents to interpret the story as they wish. This is great for the kids to develop their imagination. Of course, a story by Julia Donaldson is never far away nor are the Flat Stanley, and Horrid Henry books.
Have you started writing another book or have any plans to do a second one?
Yes, I have actually, it is not a follow on from To the Circus Lights, but I would like to do more stories with these characters in due course.
The new story was inspired while watching a documentary about catfish. The catfish were those found in the Amazon and they can grow up to 12 feet long and are three feet wide. In the documentary they caught the catfish and hauled it onto the boat, it was huge with its wide gaping mouth and iconic whiskers. I picked up my son and held him on his side and pretended to feed him to the cat fish. This then gave me the title to a story Alfie and the Catfish. I fell in love with the title so thought I should write a story about it. I am only two scenes in, the idea is that Alfie and the cat fish become best friends and Alfie swims around in the catfish's mouth while they go on adventures.
To The Circus Lights is available from www.amazon.ae, Jamalon, Neel wa Fourat and direct from the publisher Austin Macauley.