Who Fed Zed? is a very funny picture book written by Amelia McInerney. It is perfectly matched and enhanced by Adam Nickel’s illustrations and is published by Allen & Unwin. Amelia has achieved amazing success in a short time with her picture books The Book Chook, The Bad Crab illustrated by Philip Bunting and My Bird, Bertie.
We appreciate the piece that Amelia has written about ‘On Writing Who Fed Zed? for PaperbarkWords and wish her and Adam all the best with this darkly comic book.
On Writing WHO FED ZED? by Amelia McInerney
Before I started writing WHO FED ZED? I knew what it was to be ‘in the zone’ as a writer, but never had I experienced such a state of flow until I started writing this book. It was a truly incredible experience and I will spend the rest of my days hoping that this phenomenon, or something like it, happens to me again. I don’t, however, wish to go through anything like the event that caused this story to bubble out of my subconscious mind…
Initially, the writing process began in the usual way; with an intention to write a funny rhyming picture book text. In particular, my idea was to write a story about a bunch of characters whose names all rhymed: Ned, Ted, Fred, Jed, etc. The very first line of text immediately came to me, and I worked from there. This method of ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ was how I always wrote, letting the plot slowly reveal itself with each new line, usually over the course of many months. But this story was different. It came in thick and fast, the words flowing so easily, and a wonderful feeling of excited happiness quickly came over me. I felt like I was in total control over what I was writing but at the same time I felt like I wasn’t writing it at all, but merely channelling the story onto the page. All I wanted to do was write, and I had to force myself away from my exercise book to do the most necessary of tasks as a mother of three young children. A particularly exciting element of the process was that I was writing in mono-rhyme (which is where every single line rhymes with the same word – in this case, ‘Zed’). Knowing this would be much more challenging than writing in regular rhyming couplets or any other form of rhyme, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep it up the whole way through. But in just four feverish days, I had managed to tell the whole story in mono-rhyme (nearly four hundred words) which I think really adds to the fun and playfulness of this text.
However, it wasn’t until I had finished the story that I realised that this funny, slightly off-the-wall tale about a mix-up over feeding a goldfish was really about the importance of food-label reading for kids with food allergies. Only then did I realise that writing this story may have been such a different and powerful experience for me because it actually had a deep, emotional core, and strangely enough, something not funny at all: my own daughter’s severe nut allergy. Only after I’d finished did I realise that the story had specifically sprung from a mistake I had made several guilt-ridden years earlier when, much like in the story, there had been a mix-up and I had inadvertently given my then four-year-old daughter a muesli bar that contained the very thing she was anaphylactic to: peanuts.
Once I realised the allergy connection, I wondered if anyone would notice this aspect in the book, because it was more like a subtle overlay to the story than the central focus. Knowing that no-one wants to snuggle up with a lecture, I was happy that I had written something that was firstly an entertaining story and therefore had a shot at being commercially successful, but that also offers another layer to anyone who might want to begin a dialogue about the importance of checking food labels when someone has a food allergy or intolerance. The book also models positive behaviours around food allergy (in particular, positive acceptance of food restrictions by friends, not laying blame over the mix-up, etc.) and I hope it might also help increase awareness of acceptance of these increasingly prevalent allergies and intolerances among kids today.