• G.M. Berrow Panel At BUCKcon 2014

    Once upon a time, I believe it was around 12:30 on a saturday, at the Manchester Central Convention Center where BUCKcon was being held, G.M. Berrow, writer for the MLP chapter books, took the main stage for her panel.

    After starting a short "Fun fun fun" chant in the audience, accompanied by a just a mic and a slide show, she told about the creative process of writing the books followed by answering questions from those who were daring enough to go up to the mic in front of the stage.

    Now that we got the storybook introduction out of the way, you can find a panel writeup below the break.


    • G.M. Berrow's first name is Gillian (and we can call her by her first name)
    • Gillian has been a MLP fan ever since generation 1, and after a short break during generation 3 she rolled right back into generation 4.
    • She loves and writes books.

    Her work on MLP

    • Gillian writes the My Little Pony chapter books for the Mane Six and has recently completed the Daring Do adventure book set (which will release in October this year)
    • Recently she also wrote for season 5 (With a minor season 5 spoiler at the bottom of this post)

    The Creative Process

    • The creative process for each book starts by coming up with an idea to pitch. Usually this is done by brainstorming plot points. "What would I want to know about the characters?", "What has happened in earlier stories?", "What is relevant to the readers?".
    • After the initial idea has been approved by those in charge, it's time to get working on the concept.

    • First the outline of scenes are written down on sticky notes and put on a board to get a general idea of the book's structure. This part of the creative process consists of a lot of moving, removing and adding of scenes. 
    • The books are written with focus on the "internal thoughts" of the ponies. Because of this the first scene of a book is always the "main pony" of the book without the other Mane 6 ponies around to interact with.
    • One method Gillian uses to gain inspiration for a possible scene is to listen to real life conversations and imagine how the ponies would react to that.
    • The concept is laid out in a 3-act structure, much like the television show scripts.

    • Gillain usually writes the first draft in a notebook using the oldschool pen and paper approach, because she is easily distracted when typing on the computer (cue slide of computer screen with MLP episode and Word open).
    • After the first draft is done it is sent to the editor(s). The editor gives gives feedback and the editing stage begins.

    • After the first draft returns from the editor, in most cases accompanied with some notes, it's time for the editing to begin. 
    • Gillian gives the following tips for revising your story:
      • "Cut everything you can", it helps the flow of the book
      • "Killing darlings" is neccessary. Even if you like a scene a lot and you really don't want to cut it, cutting it on an editor's advice is usually worth it in the end.
      • Save the material you cut. You might be able to use it later.
      • Read it all out loud to yourself.
    • After editing is complete it's time to create the Activity pages of the books (which are also done by Gillian)

    After publishing
    • Take all reviews, positive and negative, with a grain of salt (or a bucket of icecream if you're rarity). In the end both a just someone's opinion and if you take the reviews to heart too much you will never be able to improve.
    • Keep on with both reading and writing. Reading is important to improve your writing and get inspiration.
    • Keep close to your friends and family. You need them for support in your life and in your writing.
    "Because work is important but friendship is magic"


    Q: So far you wrote mainly for the Mane 6 and they are pretty well fleshed out characters. Would you be willing to write for characters that we don't know that much about (Celestia, Discord etc.)?
    A: Would love to, but we will have to see if they want me to.

    Q: Does writing down random quotes a character would say work in the concept phase work to develop a scene?
    A: Sometimes it does. A quote can be a good first step to build a scene around if you already have a general idea what the general outline of the scene should be.

    Q: Do you want to work on any other projects beside pony?
    A: Working on a book right now.

    Q: What books or authors have influenced you?
    A: A lot of authors influence me. I'm in a book club so I read A LOT. More recently I'm inspired by "sassy fairy tales". But to name a few authors: Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling.

    Q: Favorite MLP book to write that has been released?
    A: Rarity

    Q: Does mythology influence your writing?
    A: I usually fall back to the mythology already used in the show. A few of my pitches actually contained new mythology, though.

    Q: Are visual gags (like the one's Pinkie Pie does) harder to do in a book?
    A: They are, because books are not a visual medium. It's usually done by a basic description followed by the POV character thinking "That's just Pinkie Pie" or something similar to that. A way to give the reader more of a impression of the character is to write in a way that symbolizes the character. (For example: a bit more fancy words for Rarity)

    Q: How did you get involved with MLP?
    A: I wanted to be a TV show writer. Back in the day, I took every opportunity to write. Eventually a book opportunity came along for the show Glee. Through people involved with that book I got into contact with Hasbro which led to the current book series. And now I'm able to fulfill my original goal to be a TV show writer with my episode in season 5.

    Q: Did you write stories as a kid?
    A: Yes, I did! I'm embarassed when I read them now though. But I love to see kids write stories.

    Q: Have you ever tried to write something and you just can't find the right words to put on paper?
    A: All the time! But sometimes changing the idea in your head just a little bit works out.

    Q: Any advice for the currently uninspired?
    A: Think of a story you love and see if you can tell it in a new way.

    Q: Have you met any of the show writers?
    A: Yes. I met most of them at cons at first, and of course with me writing for season 5 I stay in touch with them a lot more.

    Q: Do you want to write longer books in the future?
    A: Absolutely!

    Q: How do you keep continuity with the show and even future episodes?
    A: I have access to scripts from unreleased episodes (which is how I knew about the whole Maud Pie thing in the Pinkie book). I also collaborate with the writers now and then. (Not to much though, because I don't want to bother them for every little thing)

    Q: When did you learn of the fandom?
    A: I didn't know about the fandom when I started writing the books. One day I was at the editor's office and one of the people there asked if I knew about Bronies. I was amazed. After that I went to a few 2012 conventions as a "undercover attendee" (no one recognized me) to find out more about it.

    Q: Your later books seem to be less "aimed at really young children"  than the earlier books in the MLP book series, is this because of fandom influence?
    A: Not conciencely. The first books were to be written in kind of a "storybook" style, much like the first few minutes of the first episode. With the later books this changed and they were to be written like an actual episode of the show.

    Q: How was it being asked to work on a season 5 episode?
    A: Amazing! It's what I always wanted to do.

    Season 5

    • Gillian's season 5 contribution will be a Pinkie Pie episode.
    (Photographs in this post by Niels Olof Bouvin)