|Kara Lebihan's Mrs Vickers' Knickers helping a sailing boat win first place. Thanks to Deborah Allwright for allowing us this early peek at one of her illustrations from the forthcoming book|
If there was an award for dedication to a writing dream and never giving up, then Kara Lebihan would walk it.
Success has been a long time coming, but it’s nearly here.
Her first book, Mrs Vickers' Knickers will be published next year by the mighty Egmont. The picture book for young children is fewer than 200 words, but a lifetime of striving and working hard at her craft is woven into every sentence.
The illustrations have been done by the brilliant Deborah Allwright, best known for The Night Pirates.
She is the deputy head teacher of the British School in Beijing. They moved, she says, because they were looking for adventure.
They love living out there.
Writing has always been a part of Kara’s life.
“It’s that cliché – I remember saying as a child ‘I want to be a writer’.
“I’ve got some novels I wrote as a child in storage in Manchester (where they were living before they moved east).
“After that I went to secondary school and the writing went dead, but it was still in my mind. I went to university in Newcastle and then trained to be a teacher and in 1994 I started to take it a bit more seriously.”
She and her husband lived in the Far East for a number of years. She remembers sitting on a bus in Singapore writing some notes for a story on the back of her ticket.
She got the idea for a picture book – Jumper for Zak – about a grandmother knitting themed jumpers for members of the family, such as the librarian mum and gardener dad, but not having an idea of what to knit for Zak, before finding the solution and knitting all through the night.
Kara paid an Australian editor to read a variety of her work.
“She basically tore it apart but liked Zak. She suggested I work up a portfolio of three or four picture book ideas to send out to publishers.
A long, arduous road of creativity and disappointment now lay before Kara for the next few years.
She sent ideas to every agent in the Writers and Artists Handbook and every one came back rejected.
Kara persisted, buying each new W&A Handbook as it was published annually. One year there was a new agent’s name in the list: Eve White.
Kara sent her work to Eve. And waited.
Eventually, among all the rejections came a call from Eve who phoned to say she liked an idea of Kara’s called Mrs Butler's Frog about a family who can hear a frog croaking in their house and hunt high and low for it.
“Eve said if I changed the ending she would have a think about it. I did, but she didn’t think the new ending was funny enough.”
She eventually came up with a conclusion that satisfied Eve.
Many people assume that once an agent takes you on, publication, fame and fortune will naturally follow. Not so, says Kara.
Kara was taken on by Eve in 2006 and her first picture book – Mrs Vickers' Knickers - should be published next year. That's a long time to wait for your dream to come true. But persistence is the hallmark of success.
Inspiration for the book came when she was pushing Hugh in his pram around Hale, near Altrincham, where they were living. She spotted a sock lying on the pavement and wondered why it was that stray pieces of people's clothing were often to be found lying in the street or in a tree or draped over a gate or railing.
Agent Eve told her it was good to be rude, so Kara changed the sock into a pair of knickers - Mrs Vickers' to be precise.
Once she'd had that spark of an idea, Kara tried to imagine the journey the knickers had been on. She pictured all kinds of crazy scenarios before the knickers wound up coming back to their owner.
"Apparently rude is in these days," laughed Kara, though she should hardly be surprised given that Roald Dahl, the master of bad taste, was the biggest influence on her as a child.
In an exclusive for Bookengine, the picture at the top of this blogpost is Deborah Allwright's gorgeous interpretation of Mrs Vickers' knickers winning a boat race.
"The knickers are taking the boat into first place in place of a sail," said Kara.
Kara Lebihan now deserves to sail into the forefront of picture book authors.
* My thanks to Kara for speaking to Bookengine. Thanks also to Deborah Allwright and Egmont for allowing me to reproduce the illustration from Mrs Vickers' Knickers.
You can visit Kara's author's page at Eve White's website here.
Visit Deborah Allwright's website here. And Egmont's website is here.