Middle school instructional coach Scott Riley recently published his first children's book, The Floating Field. Illustrated by Quang Nguyen and Lien Kim (Millbrook Press), The Floating Field is the true story of a group of Thai boys who built their own floating soccer field.
We caught up with the published author to know more about his writing process:
What inspired you to get started on this project?
Having lived in Singapore for years, I’m always on the lookout for articles about interesting people and places in the region. And in pre-COVID times, I’d often go visit them.
Back in 2017, I came across an article about Prasit, his friends, and the floating field. I was amazed. I also had tons of questions—How did these boys build their own field? What inspired them? Was the field still there? Were any of the boys? After weeks of initial research, I knew I had to go to Koh Panyee and find out more.
When did you first realize that this is what you’d like to do? Was there a moment when everything seemed to click?
As an ELA teacher, I’ve been writing with my students for years. About 10 years ago, I got serious about writing books for kids. I attended workshops and courses, I took research trips, and I joined a writing group made up of other SAS teachers. Today, I have folders and files filled with ideas and writing projects at various stages, and The Floating Field is my first published work.
From the beginning, this project clicked on so many levels. Who doesn’t love a story about kids dreaming big and making it a reality? Or a story about overcoming incredibly impossible odds? Or a story that reminds you that we’re all stronger together? This story had it all.
Could you tell us more about your creative process?
I love the messiness of the creative process. When I sit down to write or create art or music, a lot of the magic comes in the tinkering. I used to worry about getting things perfect right off the bat, but I know now that anything great takes time. Working—more like playing—through the process leads me to new ideas or ways of thinking that I never expected. And when that happens, I know I’m on the right track.
"Writing is a team sport. Yes, a lot of it is up to the writer, but I wouldn’t have been able to make this or any story come to life without key players along the way. From Prasit to my writing group to my editor and illustrators, everyone has helped shape The Floating Field into what it is today."
—Scott Riley, author and middle school instructional coach
What were some of the roadblocks you’ve had to overcome?
Oh, there were obstacles at every stage. The biggest challenges, in the beginning, were going to Koh Panyee and finding out if any of the boys were still there. After traveling by plane, taxi, and longboat, struggling to communicate with the language barrier, and breaking out of my locked bungalow, I finally tracked down Prasit, one of the boys who is now a middle-aged man. Better yet, he spoke English!
Months later, with a manuscript in hand, I wrote to over 40 agents, hoping that some of them might be interested. So many were not. All it took was one, though, and after weeks of waiting, my current agent wrote and said she’d like to talk.
Perhaps the most important roadblock I knew I had to overcome was making sure that Prasit’s story was authentic. I had done as much as I could with initial research and my follow up trip, but I needed Prasit to read the story for himself to correct any inaccuracies. I returned to Koh Panyee a year after my initial visit to sit down with Prasit and go over the story line by line. We also talked about Prasit writing a section for the backmatter which is now in the book.
What's your advice to aspiring authors?
To me, writing is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time. It takes training. It’s important to reflect on what’s working and what’s not so you can improve your form. Some days, you may wonder why you’re doing it or if you’re making any progress at all. But you don’t let that get you down—you just keep going. And eventually, you might pause to look back at all that you’ve done, and when you do, you’ll be amazed at how much progress you’ve made.
When reflecting on his experience, Prasit told me, “What’s most important is that anything is possible. And as a community or team, you can overcome incredibly impossible odds.” I didn’t know it then, but Prasit was also talking about my experience in making this book a reality.
What’s next for you?
I’m really excited about a project I’m working on that combines science and poetry. It’s gone through lots of drafts, and it looks totally different than it did months ago. I don’t want to give away too much about it now, but I may be reaching out to some elementary students to see what they think and how I might make it even better.
- aspiring author
- book launch
- for the love of reading
- middle school