I met Linda Marshall at Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp five years ago. Her wit and humor are only outshined by her talent with words. I’m thrilled to interview her on Writers’ Rumpus today!
Kirsti Call: Welcome, Linda! Peter Rabbit was one of my favorite characters as a child, so I love your book SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE: THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT, You did such a good job of making this book both engaging and informative. What was your inspiration for the story?
Linda Marshall: Thank you, Kirsti, I’m so glad you invited me to the Writers’ Rumpus and so glad you love SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE: THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT. So…here’s the story behind the story. When I was little I loved those little books that I could hold in my hands and treasure. But, I don’t think I actually owned any. As a child, most (all?) of my books were the Little Golden Books that were sold in supermarkets in those days. My connection to Beatrix Potter was born during a Children’s Literary Tour in England with a group called Kindling Words a few years ago. We stayed in one of the cottages that had been featured in Beatrix’s books (I think it was the home of Tom Kitten), visited Beatrix’s first farmhouse there, and had tea in Castle Cottage, Beatrix’s second farmhouse and longtime home. It was during our tea that we heard a talk given by the docent, Mandy Marshall (no relation to me) about Beatrix. Turns out, Beatrix (heavens to Murgatroyd!) had aspirations. She wanted to do something that mattered! She studied as a scientist, investigating fungi, but no one took her seriously. She painted. She dissected. She told stories. She kept reinventing herself and would not let the norms of the day (note: the norms for her particular social class) keep her down. She kept figuring out ways around things. I was smitten. I had to learn more about her. So, I did!
KC: What was research for this book like and how did you decide which details to include in the book?
LM: I love research. Repeat. I love, love, LOVE research. My academic training (I’m not-quite-Ph.D.) is in Cultural Anthropology and I’m, well, kind of a research nerd. First, I fed the flames of my interest in Beatrix. I went to museums (there was one in Near Sawrey, England that was especially helpful), took photos when allowed, read every book and article I could find, talked to every one I could, including to authors of other books on Beatrix. I did a deep dive into Beatrix. And, when I finally felt like I got her, I began to write. I wanted to focus on the good she did for everyone and on her work on saving the countryside. Once I had a focus, I tried to stick to it. Picture books are short…and it was important to me to convey that Beatrix WANTED TO DO SOMETHING IMPORTANT, SOMETHING THAT MATTERED. I tried to keep that mantra in mind. It was hard for Beatrix – a woman – to do something important, something that mattered. It’s still hard for women and, as we so sadly know, for very, very many. By the way, it’s only now that Beatrix’s scientific research is coming to light. Just imagine…just imagine…all the good that could happen if the doors were open to all to research, to publish, to make the world better.
KC: You’ve written many different types of books; board books, silly, biographies, religious, etc. What projects are you working on right now?
LM: I’m working on a Middle Grade novel set on the farm where I raised my children. It’s a project I’ve been working on for almost ten years. I’m also working on picture books and poems, some silly, some serious.
KC: What is your advice for aspiring picture book authors?
LM: Read. Write. Write. Read. Listen. Pay attention to the world around. Write Every Day. Find beauty in life…and share it. Be nice to others. Try to see things from other points of view. Exercise. Be careful: Writing Can Be Fattening.
KC: Thank you Linda!
Swimmer. Hiker. Dreamer. Writer. Logophile. Linda Elovitz Marshall studied cultural anthropology in college, then worked in early childhood education. Teaching, she fell in love with picture books. Later, she began a doctorate in anthropology (never finished), opened her own indie bookstore, raised four children and a small flock of sheep. Linda has written almost 20 picture books, fiction and non-fiction. During 2020, she has five books coming out, two fiction titles (SHALOM, BAYIT: A Peaceful Home – KarBen/Lerner; and HAVE YOU EVER ZEEN A ZIZ? – Albert Whitman) and three picture book biographies (SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE: THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT – Little Bee Books; THE POLIO PIONEER: THE STORY OF DR. JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE – Knopf; and ANNE FRANK: THE GIRL HEARD AROUND THE WORLD – Scholastic). She is working on a novel for middle-grade readers. www.lindamarshall.com.