A day in the life of a picture-book writer

Marmaduke Duck creator, Juliette MacIver explains how she’s managed to write such a vast number of excellent rhyming picture books, so we all might follow suit.

How often do I get asked to describe the minutiae of my day as if such mundane details might be of as much interest to others as they are to my navel-gazing self?

Why, almost never! So I present, with great pleasure, a photo of this morning’s coffee:

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I inherited this tea-set from my grandmother, and I rather treasure it.

My liking of coffee is matched only by my aversion to chairs. I much prefer the floor; it is far more versatile. When writing, the stretching of muscles and imagination can occur simultaneously! This is very efficient. To this end, I cut the legs off our dining table a few years ago while my husband was asleep. He is now well-accustomed to this floor-dwelling practice and is admirably supple in his outer-hip musculature. (I can state this authoritatively because I am in the midst of training to teach yoga.)

Here is my writing “desk”:

Our four children, aged 7–15, are also fabulously mobile as a consequence of growing up chairlessly, and can thread their limbs about their bodies like pipe-cleaners.

When said children were all small, I had to slot in the writing of stories around caring for their many and constant needs. I found that writing picture books fitted in well with the busy rhythms of baby-care. I could work on a couple of lines in my head while cuddling little ones to sleep, or on the walk home from school each morning. Thus was I saved from great irritation when a child was training for the Longest Wakeful Period in Toddler History, or some such other lofty aim that I somehow failed to grasp. Off I’d go into the delightful world of rhyming pairs! Crafting the essence of ideas into simple, rhythmic sentences! I found writing stories so mentally absorbing, calming, and infinitely fascinating, it helped me stay committed to the beautiful, demanding, and at times humdrum task of raising children.

It was easy enough though, when they were just hangin’…

As they got older I found, to my great surprise, I had more time.

Last year, I ventured into something that I felt would extend me more: writing a children’s novel. This extended me like a convict on a rack. Where picture book writing for me is pure joy: say 95% inspiration and 5% some kind of effort, writing a novel was more like 70% horrible stretching. And it required discipline. A lot of discipline! Because I am far too haphazard to stick to any kind of time schedule (I have devised them for myself only to break them, inevitably, on the first day), I had to come up with something else. In the end, a thousand words per day worked well, as a strict target. Once I was actually writing, I really did enjoy it. But my giddiness, it was hard work!

I have missed the free-flowing delight of picture book writing, so I am looking forward to swinging back into it. This kind of writing is something I always do on blank paper, never on the computer. But first, I’m devoting all my energy to my daily yoga practice, along with teaching and studying yoga.

What better than to bring these two loves together? I shall write my next book like this:

Or probably more like this:


Juliette MacIver

Juliette MacIver is the author of over 22 much-loved picture books and 3 recent junior fiction titles. Two-time winner of the Picture Book category at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, Juliette has also received the Storylines Notable Book Award six times. She gained international recognition in 2023 whenThe Grizzled Grist Does Not Existwas included on the White Ravens, a recommendation list of outstanding new releases of children's books worldwide. Her books are available in seven languages in ten countries. She also holds a Masters in linguistics from Victoria University.