A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

How to make a flying unicorn

Writing a book is like making a flying unicorn. When you get the idea, it is brilliant – a flying unicorn is just what the world needs! In a fit of excitement, you promise this creature to your editors with nothing more than the title ‘Flying Unicorn’ and a synopsis, ‘I’ll make a horse, then I’ll add wings and a shiny horn in the middle of its head.’ Like God, you set to work, crafting a thing of beauty in seven days.

Part way down the line you realise something is going horribly wrong. You discover that you have, in fact been making this:

It’s a cat. A really good cat, because you’re great at cats, but you already sold your editors the last cat you made. So you start again. After giving birth to a few kittens, you finally end up with this:


This is not a flying unicorn. It’s a donkey. You can’t hand it in like that. It hasn’t even got wings. So you edit it.


That’ll do. You’re on a deadline after all. Seven days, remember? It’s been, like, seven months. Besides, your editors know what they’re doing, they’ll help you turn it into a flying unicorn, no problem.

Only it’s quite hard to go from a donkey wearing a party hat and fairy wings to a flying unicorn. Turning a donkey into a horse is hard enough. Your editors make some suggestions. Shorten the ears, change the tail, the coat, the bone structure and the temperament. Also the species. Basically, change everything, but keep it the same. Sort of.

You end up with this:


Dammit, where are the wings?! You quickly edit in the party hat and fairy wings, because you’ve forgotten that putting a pair of fairy wings on a horse doesn’t mean it can fly. You’re bored of the whole thing and think that this is the solution. The world doesn’t really need a flying unicorn, this’ll do.


Your editors aren’t quite so convinced. This is not as good as a flying unicorn. They have faith and politely remind you that before you made that really good cat (remember the cat?) you tried to convince them to publish a baby wearing pair of cat ears with whiskers drawn on its cheeks. Before that you’d handed in a gherkin in a jar.

You’d forgotten about that. You can only remember the perfect cat that you ended up with.

But your editors convince you that all you need to do is add wings and a horn. That’s all. You can do it. Wings go there. Horn goes here.

It’s not as easy as they make it sound, but once you’ve cried tears from your very bones, pulled inspiration from under your fingernails and bled through your eyes, you get this:


The instant your vision is realised, you forget the aborted cats and the flightless donkey. Look at this magnificent beast!

Two days later you have a fantastic idea for a fire-breathing badger-monkey. After all, you made a flying unicorn, how hard can it be?

Non Pratt


Non PrattNon Pratt has written a book called TROUBLE published by Walker Books in the UK, and by Simon and Schuster in the US. She is currently stuck at the horse-in-a-party-hat-and-fairy-wings stage of her second novel for teens. That fire-breathing badger-monkey will just have to wait.


About Non

Author of teen novels, TROUBLE, REMIX, TRUTH OR DARE and novella UNBOXED.

9 comments on “How to make a flying unicorn

  1. dansmithsbooks
    September 10, 2014

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes. That is exactly it.

  2. zdmarriott
    September 10, 2014

    *Cackles semi-hysterically*

  3. Jenni Clarke (@JenniClarke2)
    September 10, 2014

    Very good, so clear, now I know I must keep editing !!

  4. clementineb
    September 10, 2014

    This is absolutely hilarious. And lovely. And I liked the cat, perhaps more than the final unicorn #annoyingreader

  5. Nikki Sheehan
    September 10, 2014

    Oh, God, that’s so true it hurts.

  6. Emma Haughton
    September 10, 2014


  7. Pingback: Death Of 1000 Cuts – In The Barber’s Chair: Adam’s Story (by Peter) « Tim Clare

  8. kerendavid
    September 11, 2014

    I love this so much! Thank you.

  9. Rachel Lyon (@RachelSLyon)
    September 15, 2014

    Funnily enough, my new children’s book is called ‘I Wish I’d Been Born A Unicorn’ – and your techniques are scarily similar to the plot of the book. I also went through a similar process when writing it. Nail. On. Head. Hit.

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