How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
Quite hard. I’d written quite a lot working in-house as an editor and publisher. After a difficult redundancy (while working on a Sure Start project as an outreach librarian) I first wrote ‘properly’ – a story about a little book-loving girl called Lulu.
I took it (along with some other projects) to Bologna and sold US, Danish and Dutch rights, but could not get a UK publisher interested. So on the eve (practically anyway – it makes for a better story) of pressing the button at the printers, I decided ‘sod-it’ and set up a little publishing company to publish it in the UK.
It sold 3,000 copies in hardcover in the first 10 months and needed a reprint immediately – and the rest is history.
Now I had a publishing company, I also had to publish other people AND I was published by other companies (Barefoot Books, Chicken House, Annick Press, O’Brien Press).
How long did it take to write?
Probably a few months, then some time to commission sample artwork and some roughs.
How many publishers turned you down?
Six or seven
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
Really positive – Lulu Loves the Library is a simple story about a little book-loving girl goes to a library to choose her book (it’s a simple picture book) so it is much loved by librarians, early years professionals and booksellers – as well as parents.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
Can I have two: one reviewer on Goodreads (so not someone who was sent a review copy) wrote “This book belongs on the shelf with the holy books… this book made me so happy I cried”
Another said, “I freaking ADORE this book. If you don’t want to reach right into this book and cuddle with Lulu, you’re BROKEN” I treasure those a LOT.
What can you tell us about your next book?
The next one is actually the eighth Lulu book! (the seventh: Lulu’s Sleepover just came out last September). The next one comes in 2023 and has Lulu’s Nana visiting her from Tanzania. There are some lovely moments with Lulu, her mum and her nana together. That’s coming in 2023, but before it there are two other new titles about Zeki. Zeki is Lulu’s baby brother and we added a line of his books in 2014. These will be titles 6&7 in that series.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
Yes (though you have to take some of them with a pinch of salt). I like that they are usually from parents, teachers, librarians and other book lovers many who’ve just picked up the books and taken the time to review.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I did one series for ages 7-9 for O’Brien Press which was old for me, and really enjoyed having more text to play with. Picture books are quite challenging in that you have to condense so much into so few pages.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I started life as a teacher, worked as an editor then publisher for many years. After redundancy, I went back to working directly with young children and their families as a Sure Start librarian, combining that with editing freelance. I now do a combination of writing and editing full-time.
Which author(s) inspire you?
My favourite adult authors are Kate O’Brien, Emma Donoghue, Walter Mosley (actually there are too many to mention)
My favourite picture book authors are Suzanne Bloom, Barbro Lingren, Alan Durant, Bob Graham, Simon James, Ken Wilson-Max, Kevin Henkes, Komako Sakai – too many to list, actually.
Which genres do you read yourself?
I used to read a lot of crime, but I’ve gone off it recently.
What is your biggest motivator?
Giving kids stories which take them seriously
What will always distract you?
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
I’m lucky to have a lot of say in these two series since I kind of package them for the publishers.
Were you a big reader as a child?
UUUge! From when I could read I read everything in sight – the back of the cornflakes packet at breakfast, the back of shampoo bottles on the loo!
What were your favourite childhood books?
We didn’t have much choice waaaay back then – I loved Walter Macken and Enid Blyton. I’d read ALL the books in the children’s section of my local library (small, but still) numerous times so the librarian gave me an adult card then supervised what I read!
What is your current or latest read?
Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
I now live in the middle of nowhere now, so it’s harder to keep up. I’ve just ordered Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden and I got Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William for Christmas (but I’m sparing it)
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
I’m kept pretty busy just now with the next Zeki and Lulu books, but watch this space.
Any events in the near future?
My publishers (Alanna Max) and I have just started making plans
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I’m a feminist with an interest in literacy and child development – writing a story about a little girl who loves books and has real agency in her own life brings all these strands together.
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