When a mother writes – Barbara Hay

Barbara Hay is a children’s author. Her son’s reading habits prompted her to pick up a pen and since then, there has been no looking back. Interviewing her, I realised how much mothers love their children! I think Barbara is a great writer and a wonderful haijin.

She is also an award-winning columnist, reporter, and short-story writer, Barbara Hay is the author of the debut young adult novel Lesson of the White Eagle (RoadRunner Press, October 2011).

Her books, The Bulldoggers Club series has been a huge hit and here’s Barbara talking about her routine and her books.


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Since when have you been writing for children?

My first Young Adult novel, Lesson of the White Eagle, came out in 2010. However, I wrote that in 1997. I started writing The Bulldoggers Club series when my youngest child was an infant, and she is now sixteen years old. The first book in that series, The Tale of the Ill-gotten Catfish, was published in 2012.


Who does your illustrations?

Tim Jessell does the cover illustrations, and he has agreed to do all of the covers for the series. Steve Walker does the inside illustrations and the map of Bootleg–the ficticious Oklahoma town where the series is based.


How do you think of your stories?

My second son, Peter, was the inspiration for The Bulldoggers Club series. However, my older son, Ben, and Peter are only two years apart, so all of their friends that hung around our house have found their way into the different characters in the stories.

As far as how I think of the stories, they usually come to me in bunches–you know, I’ll get one idea, and then another one will spin off of that one. Also, I tend to run into interesting people who, when they find out the type of stories I write, they want to tell me what happened to them when they were kids.


What is your writing routine like?

Well, let’s see. I prefer to get up early and write.  I like to start my writing day by writing a haiku poem, to get the creative juices flowing. I also journal for ten or fifteen minutes, to help dump all of the extraneious thoughts–the things that keep me from being able to focus on the current story. Once the book gets rolling, I write throughout the day, on and off, depending on what else is going on.

As I mentioned, I have a teenage daughter living at home and she is involved in the high school band, so it seems she is always going to one rehearsal or another, as well as various band events. I write my stories in composition notebooks in pencil. I like to leave off for the day in the middle of a scene, so it is easy to pick it up and keep going the next time. Once I am finished the new writing for the day, I will type it up into a Word document, editing as I go. I print out the manuscript and start in the morning with reading through what was written last, making more edits/changes as I go.


What is the ideal period of time that you completed the book The Bulldoggers club?

The first book in The Bulldoggers Club series, The Tale of the Ill-gotten Catfish was written one summer on Saturdays, so my husband could take care of the kids–I have four, altogether. I would drive out to Lake Ponca with all of my reference materials and notebooks and pencils, etc., and spend the entire day out there, until it was too dark to see to write. When I got a chance, I would type up what I had written, editing as I went. Once it was in manuscript format, the whole family would gather in the living room and I would read aloud the story.


It was great to get the feedback from the kids as I went because I could tell if they thought certain parts were funny or if they didn’t work at all. That book took about six weeks to get onto paper, and another six months to fine tune it. After that, though, when my husband became ill and eventually died, I stopped writing for at least ten years. It was not easy to pick up where I left off. The second book, The Tale of the Tainted Buffalo Wallow, took a year to write. Now, the third book, The Tale of the Tumbleweed Witch, which will be coming out summer 2015, only took eight months to write.


Also can you tell about The Bulldoggers Club in detail – how did the idea occur?

In third grade, Peter, had a very difficult year. He came away from it hating school and hating to read. We had a weekly family library night, when we would go pick out books. I knew Pete loved the outdoors, so once we had perused the children’s book section, and he would turn up his nose at most of what was on the shelves, I’d ask him what critter or insect or spider or plant or tree–anything to do with the out of doors–he was interested in that week and we would head to the adult non-fiction stacks. I would try to find a book with a lot of photographs and/or illustrations for him to look at. Once at home, he would sit down and start looking at the photographs or illustrations and his curiosity would make him try to read the captions. Next thing you know, his curiosity piqued, he would begin trying to read the text. Pretty soon, he would have the whole book read. Peter became our resident expert on all things out of doors–plants, trees, wildlife, insects, spiders, and so forth.

I decided to develop this series for kids who are reluctant readers and include lots of outdoor adventures. Since we live in Oklahoma, and there are a lot of ranches, and we live near the remains of an historic one–The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch–I set the book in a ficticious town with similar history to our area. I chose the title to honor a famous African American Cherokee cowboy, Bill Pickett. He is the only individual given credit for an event in rodeo–steer wrestling. He used to perform in the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wildwest Show, where his signature move was to wrestle a steer bite-’em style, like the actual bulldogs would do, thus the title, The Bulldoggers Club series.


What books do you read?

I read books across all genres.


Do you think children should write children’s books or should only adults do it? 

It depends on the child author. There are a lot of old souls in young bodies out there.