'The Apprentice': tossing the joy of picture book craft onto the pyre

Last week on "The Apprentice" it was trailed that the candidates would be making picture books. “Oh goody,” I thought. I anticipated gleefully tuning in to yell at the screen. I write and illustrate picture books for a living; it’s always nice to feel that you know more than someone else.

I rubbed my hands together as the opening credits rolled on last night's (4th November) episode. A picture book in a day? How silly they all are, this will never work. But more fool me, it did. They were not the greatest works of children’s literature, but there were some good ideas.

Disappointed, I kept watching. It transpired that project manager Sam took time crafting the story. Plot and a moral focus are essential, he said. I agree. It’s a tall order to ask anyone to write a book in a day. Sam "agonised" over the character’s name for three hours. "Wasting time," declared Sugar. He wasn’t decisive, reprimanded Claude.

“But no!” I shouted. “It takes me AGES to write a book!”

Suddenly I no longer have the upper hand. Their criticisms of Sam’s writing process fling my own idling under a harsh spotlight. Sam is no longer the idiot enemy, he is my comrade.

So what did it all come down to?

Sales. Snottydink, considering the time allowed, was an OK book. But flogging it proved too difficult for Team Connexus. In the end, no one cared about the story, or the illustrations. "Ow much did dey make den?" This cold-blooded show took the joy of picture book craft and tossed it onto the pyre. Money was the objective and sales were king. This was a sour message indeed.

As I cowered behind the sofa I took comfort in the fact that most of the publishers I work with put craft, joy, and beauty before cash. The children’s book business has thrived through years of economic turbulence since 2008, and I put it down to this conviction that these characteristics are the most important things when creating picture books. Thank goodness, I thought as I hugged my knees closer to me, that I work in an industry with integrity.

Poor Sam, bereft from placing his soul into a book spoke of having to flog it for pittance. "What a heartless mother I am," he said. Dear Sam, I couldn’t disagree more. You are the sole beating heart around this cruel and bitter boardroom.

Yasmeen Ismail is the author and illustrator of Time for Bed, Fred! (Bloomsbury).