Author Spotlight: Abigail Rayner

© Karin Belgrave

Aug. 23, 2019

Today we are excited to feature author Abigail Rayner and her latest picture book,  I AM A THIEF! illustrated by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books (September 3, 2019). Enter to win a copy!

Welcome, Abigail!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

I started writing stories when I was about nine, but the dream of being an author seemed far-fetched. I grew up in England, where the aspirations of young people are put out for the birds! I became a journalist, because that was a sensible profession, and at least I would be able to write. I worked for several British broadsheets, and loved the job most days, but I still yearned to write fiction. I was working as a foreign correspondent in New York for The Times (of London) when I started attending an adult fiction writing group. I showed up late every week, after filing updates for the newspaper’s late editions, and shared my rambling tale about a group of unmoored kids and their adventures. 

One evening, a fellow writer handed me a copy of The Boxcar Children, and asked had I ever thought about writing for kids. I have to admit I was a little offended. I was writing serious, literary fiction for goodness sake! It wasn’t until I had kids myself and started reading reams of children’s literature, that I realized the wisdom of her advice. I had always been writing for children, I just didn’t know it.

Congrats on your second picture book, I AM A THIEF! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.

When I was five or so, I stole a magnet off my teacher’s desk. When the teacher noticed it was missing, she told everyone to stay behind after school until The Thief owned up. I was sweating and shaking when I raised my hand in surrender. I’ll never forget the way the teacher looked at me: like nothing good would ever come of me! It wasn’t until my own small daughter admitted a similar crime two whole years after it happened, that it got me thinking: stealing is a much different thing in kids. They usually know it’s wrong, but they don’t know why. They don’t understand the consequences—i.e. that people can get hurt. They also don’t have the impulse control of an adult. And yet we judge them harshly. I also wanted to poke back at adults because we all commit little indiscretions: a packet of sugar here, a book not returned, a pen from the office. I wanted to raise the question, “What constitutes stealing?” Another thing I wanted to get at was the notion of “the good girl.” I was a “good child,” it was my big brother who was naughty! It’s dangerous to call children, “good” or “nice” because a child pins everything on that idea, and feels that one mistake can make it all unravel. 

Like Molly demonstrates with her beautiful spread, we are all multifaceted. We contain multitudes. We are many things both good and bad. It’s good to talk about our mistakes--it unburdens us, and it’s part of the learning process. You would be amazed at the number of hands that shoot up after I finish reading THIEF to a group of kids. They are so anxious to share their own small crimes!

Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

Ha! Definitely long, winding, and mostly uphill! I started writing for children when my daughter was eight months old. I sold my first first picture book THE BACKUP BUNNY, when she was eight, and it came out when she was eleven! I sold I AM A THIEF! a few months later, but didn’t sign with my agent, Erica Bauman at Aevitas Creative Management, until July of this year.

You have another book in the works! Please tell us about it. What else are you working on?

I have been working hard on a middle-grade novel in verse called DAISY FROM SCRATCH. I entered Daisy in the wonderful PitchWars mentoring contest last fall, and that’s how I landed my agent. It is the story of a girl whose dreams of being a baker are shattered when she is diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I also have many more picture books I’d like to share with the world.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?

I’d say get over your imposter syndrome and share your stories with the world. You might need a “sensible” job to support your true calling, but don’t let that stop you calling yourself a writer. If you are writing, that’s what you are (among other things, of course!)

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

I can also art!

Where can people find you online?

Twitter @abiraynerwrites
Instagram @abigailraynersbooks
Facebook @abiraynerwrites

ABIGAIL RAYNER grew up mostly in England with a couple of years in Greece thrown in. She moved to New York City in her twenties where she worked as a reporter for British newspapers. Her first picture book The Back Up Bunny was published in 2018. She now lives in New Jersey, with her husband, two kids, one neurotic cat, and two pups who steal everything.

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  1. Wonderful interview! Can’t wait to read this one!

  2. Great interview! All of your books look amazing.

  3. Cool! I keep meaning to check this book out!

  4. Looking forward to this one! I still remember our Kindergarten substitute teacher keeping 3 girls (including me) after school during a snowstorm because a box of paperclips was missing and she was certain that the only 3 with boxes of Kleenex on our desks must have taken it and hidden in the box (why she didn't check is a mystery). We were all so upset and even more so the next day when she discovered the missing box in her desk! Obviously NOT teacher material!

  5. I'm a fan of The Backup Bunny and cannot wait to read your latest book. Congrats!

  6. Terrific theme, it's something that all kids go through as they try to figure out the world. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  7. An excellent idea to explore in a picture book! I'm excited to read this one and maybe even do some soul-searching of my own (thinking about that "extra" honey packet I currently have).

  8. I love this idea, as I also took a magnet from my teacher's desk in Kindergarten! LOL Can't wait to read it. Thanks so much for sharing :)

  9. I love how you mined your own childhood emotions into a picture book idea. Looking forward to I Am A Thief!

  10. Interesting theme that's sure to resonate! Congrats.

  11. I love the background story of I AM A THIEF! Congratulations on your success!

  12. I bet every kid has at least one story about stealing...or a brother or sister who did. :) Congratulations!

  13. I like your story about stealing a magnet off your teacher's desk bringing you to this story.


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