Rob Peacock Interview
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi folks, I’m Rob Peacock, originally from London, but have been living and travelling in Ireland since 2013. My background is primarily in Special Needs education, Young Offenders Advocacy, and Adult Literacy Education. I’m very much into heritage crafts, and am a qualified saddler, bridle and harness maker, which I’ve put to use over the years, working in stable-yards. I’m also involved in Animal Welfare and am a qualified Wildlife Rehabilitator. I’ve recently been updating my qualifications by undertaking a TEFL course, which I’ll be using to teach street kids in the slums of Kenya.
2. What do you do when you are not writing?
My current ‘day job’ is on the Newtowncashel Tidy Towns, where I maintain the village and the local ‘Quarry’ sculpture park. I understand we’ve won an award this year, so I’m quite proud of my efforts in the village and my contribution to the local community!
Other than that, I freelance as a digital photo-illustrator, beta-reader, copy editor and proof-reader.
I’m still a keen gardener, and the last couple of years, I’ve been into growing giant vegetables – Atlantic Giant pumpkins and courgettes have been the most successful.
3. When did you first start writing and what was your first book?
I’ve been writing for years, mainly short stories and poems, just as a hobby really. I’d pretty much stopped prior to coming to Ireland, though living in Dublin provided plenty of experiences and characters to draw upon for inspiration. I then moved to Co. Clare, and via a turn of events, I ended up living homeless for a few months in a dolmen, not only for shelter, but hoping to draw upon some spiritual connection and find a way forward. It was there that I took up writing again on a more full-time basis.
My first self-published book was ‘Cara and the Mystery of the Missing Ball,’ which is a forty-illustration full-colour picture story book aimed at ages 4+, and depicts scenes from around the Irish countryside, with Cara meeting animal friends who help guide her on her journey. The inspiration came from my travels with my Borador, Cara. At the time, she was my living and travelling companion and we’d photographed extensively around the country. I felt that it was a great opportunity to compile my love of photography, travel and writing, and the intention of my book was to raise money for animal welfare charities.
4. How did you choose the genre you write in?
I chose writing for children, as I felt the process would be fun, and that Cara would have great appeal, being the lively character she is. The illustration aspect for producing a children’s book too, greatly lends itself to the imagination in terms of devising and creating colourful images to compliment the story. It was a great opportunity to teach myself digital art production also.
Having worked with Special Needs children for years prior, I was keen to devise a storyboard format, which features two images atop each page, and compliments the narrative specific to that page. I had in mind young learners who might not be proficient in reading, yet the story could be told by a parent or carer, simply by referring to the illustrations in sequence, and told in their own words.
5. Where do you get your ideas?
Life experiences, coupled with a little bit of imagination! I’m better at working from a foundation based in reality, rather than inventing complete fantasy scenarios
6. Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Not really writer’s block. I’m more overwhelmed with ideas for projects that may never take shape, or I’ll have a thought, and think ‘where or how can I work that in somewhere.’ So I keep notebooks. The only block I have is finding the confidence to put forward certain themes. I’m currently working on a another ‘Cara’ book based on my time in Nyalenda slum, which is intended to demonstrate to kids in privileged countries how relatively fortunate they are. However, I’m being selective as to what I put in that book, as descriptions of life for children in the slum are pretty harrowing, to say the least.
7. Do you work with an outline, or just write?
My process is a combination of documenting experiences in notes and photographs, and compiling the most relevant aspects in a story-telling sequence. I then compose my manuscript, writing around the visual content as a prompt for elements in the text.
8. Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Yes! Hilda Boswell – fantastic illustrator! I adored her work in various compendiums of fairy-tales, very soft, ethereal imagery in beautiful pastel shades. And by chance, she’d illustrated the ‘Strongheart’ comic-strip about the adventures of a German Shepherd. It’s nice to know we’ve a ‘dog story’ in common at least! She also studied at the same art college as my mother (Hornsey School of Art), and she’d been a great fan of Beatrix Potter, who was one of the first self-publishers.
I also enjoyed the work of Eric and Lucy Kincaid (Witches, Goblins, Ogres…) and the illustrative style of Rien Poortvliet (World of the Gnomes).
The Steve Jackson ‘Fighting Fantasy’ series of books held great appeal for me too, not only for the illustrations, but I loved the format – ‘You are in a forest…turn to page X to fight the dragon/head into the cave’ etc.
There was also a story that I can’t remember the name of, in a compendium of random stories, about a kid who left home, grew a beard, and lived in a cave… Somehow I ended up doing just that!!
9. Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
The challenges I had with the first book were more to do with learning how to use art applications, updating my word-processing know-how, learning how to format, understanding level-appropriate language (it’s quite hard to eliminate or downsize the ‘big’ words that we’d usually take for granted in adult conversation) yet still offering ‘value for money’ with the word-count and number of illustrations I’d present. This process of self-illustrating, writing, editing, formatting took hundreds of hours. Both of my self-published books were written and illustrated on a mobile phone with a rapidly dying battery and a cracked screen. Lots of fun!
10. If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your book or getting it
published that you would change?
No, I wouldn’t change anything. I enjoyed the challenge and learnt a lot about writing and producing a book. I was tempted to explore the traditional publishing route, though I know that between dodging vanity presses, having your work critiqued, edited and stripped back to fit in with a certain criteria, and illustrated by ‘in-house’ illustrators, I rather stick to my own way of doing things. It’d be a crying shame to have my work remastered into some God-awful glossy Disneyesque bobble-head format that seems all the rage these days.
11. How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
For me, public appearances have worked best, and I enjoy the interaction between author and audience. I’ve also raised money for charities this way, with a percentage of sales going to good causes, minus the cost of printing individual books. As a consumer myself, I can understand the reluctance to purchase online. You don’t really get to see the content, and you’re never really sure whether reviews are genuine or concocted via inter-writer book swaps. I am online on Amazon, Instagram, and KidsActiveMedia, and have a few free-to-access ‘live read’ podcasts which were kindly produced by patrons. My books can also be found on the shelves of selected Irish libraries.
12. Is anything in your books based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Ah it’s a mix of the two. I’m moving into writing biographical accounts, aimed at adult readers, therefore the content will be entirely authentic. Children’s books though, you need a bit of imagination to make the story more fantastical!
13. How did you the come up with the titles for your books?
The titles write themselves really. Cara, my dog, really did lose and find her favourite ball. And my second book, ‘Cara and the Cauldron of the Round Hill,’ was a play on the name of my locality, Cornadowagh in Newtowncashel, which translates from the Irish ‘Cor na Dabhcha’ – ‘Round Hill of the Cauldron.’ The townland is very picturesque, and is still replete with fairy-forts and a belief in the superstitions surrounding hawthorn and hedgerow!
14. Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
Cara is still my muse for my children’s books, even though she is now a working Therapy Dog and resides with her current human.
I’m exploring new works with a view to bring attention to, and raise money for, those living in abject poverty in the slums of Kisumu.
15. What is your role in the writing community?
I attend the SCBWI Midlands Ireland Social Events and follow SCBWI Ireland events on Facebook. I gave a talk on self-publishing and illustration in conjunction with, Eileen Moynihan at one of these meetings. I am a member of the Independent Irish Author’s Collective, both Longford and Lanesboro Writers’ Groups, Newtowncashel Drama Group as the vice-chairman (though I’m more responsible for multimedia output, poster design, advertising and writing articles for the Longford Leader). I also support the Summer Stars Reading Initiative (children’s reading project) and am also available for beta-reading, editing and proofing.
16. What do your plans for future projects include?
I’m working on further fund-raising children’s books, and moving into photo-documentary and biographical writing, both of which are based on my experiences and interactions in the slums of Kisumu. I’m keen to develop my writing and visual format to include TEFL students (visual elicitation and CEFR vocabulary) also.
17. What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling
There’s immense cultural value in all of these, in terms of expressing ideas, learning new things and sharing with communities near and far, and prompting positive activism. For myself, I’m very much into the idea that the creative arts can be utilised to connect and unite us on a global scale.
18. Have you any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Keep at it! It can be a challenging and frustrating journey, but well worth it when you get that first copy of your book in your hands. Just don’t expect to make millions doing it!
19. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Sure, if anyone is interested in communicating or networking, drop me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m not as active on social media as I should be (time limitations), but sure, I’d be happy to. write back.
Alternatively, type ‘Robert Peacock Cara’ into your search engine, and you’ll find a bunch of stuff about me!