Wandering Star, illustrated by Stephen Michael King, out now

I had intended to write ages ago about Wandering Star, my new picture book, but the Dreaded Flu has struck our house. It is a really horrible one, and I urge anyone who has not had their flu vaccination to do so. (You really do not want to be as sick as my family has been for the last three weeks.)

WS Cover

Natalie Jane Prior’s gentle rhyme makes you feel like you are floating in a dream…enchanting illustrations by award winning author and illustrator Stephen Michael King complement the tranquil verse.

Shelley Stephens, Reading Time, April 2019

So—my new book, Wandering Star, is out now! A picture book inspired by my daughter Elizabeth’s ongoing passion for horses, it has been brilliantly illustrated by Stephen Michael King.

It’s a common thing for picture book ideas to knock around in my head for many years before they actually end up being written. I had numerous false starts with this one, because I couldn’t find a way into the story I wanted to write. All through Elizabeth’s childhood, she wanted a horse more than absolutely anything—well, fact was, we lived in suburbia, we couldn’t afford one, and neither my husband nor I was particularly attracted to the idea of looking after one. (Dachshunds prepare you for most things, but not horses.) So it remained a dream, which I am sure Elizabeth will some day realise for herself; but I wanted to get that essence of actually “living the dream” across. As children, it is often one of the strongest emotional experiences we have, and it can be formational. Also, I have long believed that  the liminal zone between play and reality is the most powerful place a children’s writer can work, and this particular text is one where I particularly tried to explore that.

WanderingStar INT  pdf  page 11 of 19

In a rock pool I see 

something gold wink at me:

it's a pendant, the size of my hand.

I’m not a great fan of rhymed picture books, as I find that really good ones are few and far between. It was thus a big mental jump for me to realise that Wandering Star had to be written in verse for it to work, and it had to have a very particular metre to carry the horse and rider through to the story's logical conclusion. Once I had that gentle canter in my head, I was halfway there, but the text was still written in two chunks about a year apart (see if you can pick the seam). I often get asked by children how long it takes to write a book. In the case of Wandering Star, from beginning to end, producing 464 words took ten years, plus another two to see it through the publication process. But when it was finished, it was completely right: it’s the only book I have ever published without any editorial changes.

I’ve worked with Stephen Michael King before, (he did covers for all my Lily Quench novels, and we worked together on poetry anthology A Boat of Stars), but this is the first picture book we have done together. He was so tuned into what I was trying to do with the text, it was a pleasure to sit back and watch the illustrations coming in. I would like to draw attention this one, because it is so technically extraordinary (note that horses are notoriously difficult to draw, and many good illustrators quail when asked to do them). Here we have a flying horse, travelling over a city at night with a child on its back, all drawn from above. It is one of the most amazing illustrations that has ever been done of my work, and when I saw the rough, I was gobsmacked.

WanderingStar INT  pdf  page 16 of 19

We see mountains and valleys

and fabulous cities,

a whole shining world we can roam.

However, there’s one more picture I would like to finish with, and it’s the last one,  that takes us back to the very beginning, of a little girl and her horse.

WanderingStar INT  pdf  page 18 of 19

I hug my horse tight,

I kiss her goodnight.

I know I can always depend

On the one I love best,

above all the rest:

Wandering Star, my wonderful friend.

Live the dream, Elizabeth.

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