Today's interview is with Lizzie Exton, author of one of our all-time favorite children's books, "Gordon the Gremlin". Grab a copy today.
When did you become an author?
I’ve always been a writer, for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, I was always scribbling down little stories and poems. I think finally having a book published makes calling myself an ‘author’ feel legitimate, I no longer suffer the same degree of imposter syndrome.
How did you come up with the story?
The hard work had already been done for us! Gordon the gremlin was really our dad’s creation, and when we were growing Gordon took the blame for all those annoying little things which go wrong around the house. If something mysteriously got broken or lost, it was Gordon’s fault. That was very handy if one or both of us had been up to mischief, we could fall back on Gordon as an excuse.
How did you come up with the character of Gordon?
Gordon always existed in our minds, it was just a case of fleshing him out from our separate mental images of him. We wanted him to be naughty but not in a malicious way, more like a cheeky child who will never grow out of his mischief-making.
Did you hire an illustrator or do the illustrations yourself?
I am very lucky to have a talented illustrator for a brother! This was very much a joint project from day one – Tom critiqued my script and I did the same with his pictures. We just work so well together.
Are you self-published or published through a publishing company?
We’re published through the fantastic folks at Tiny Tree Books, which is an imprint of Matthew James Publishing. We were so lucky to find them and they’ve been great from the very beginning, especially given the book came out in the middle of the pandemic.
From the day you came up with the idea for the story until you were holding your published book in your hand, how long did it take you to complete this book?
It was quite a long process, but we knew that from the start. We spent a couple of weeks just bouncing ideas for the plot around, then I did draft after draft of the text while Tom worked on the images. Overall we probably spent a good six months or more on it, in between the day jobs. After that it took a few months to be picked up by Tiny Tree books, then several months before the first print run. I’d guess it was well over a year and a half from start to finish, maybe more like two.
What made you want to publish a children's book?
We’re both creative people and we wanted a way to combine our skills. We were both in a bit of a rut with our own work and decided the way out was to work on something together, so we began to bounce ideas off each other. A children’s book seemed the logical project to collaborate on because it is the perfect balance of writing and illustrations. Once we’d got the idea into our heads, we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
What is one thing you wish you knew before beginning your book publishing journey?
Just how much marketing is involved! Neither of us is particularly outgoing, so public readings and approaching bookshop owners has been a bit challenging. Thankfully we have a fantastic marketing team behind us at Tiny Tree, and they’ve done a huge amount in terms of promoting Gordon the Gremlin.
Any tips for future children’s book authors?
Never give up and never throw anything away. You will get lots and lots (and lots) of rejections, but it only takes one person to say ‘yes’, and if your work is good enough then you’ll find them eventually. Putting pen to paper for a first draft is the hardest part, so just get something – anything – written down and then you can edit and edit to your heart’s content.
What is the best reaction from a reader, so far?
Shout out to Robert Collee who wore a Gordon the Gremlin jumper to school for World Book Day! He is a little superstar and his reaction to the book was fantastic, he absolutely loved it.
What is something you’d like people to take away from your book?
Happy memories – some of my best childhood memories are centered around the books I read or had read to me.
Where do you get ideas for your stories?
Like most writers, from lived experience and everyday life. That’s true whether I’m writing for children or adults, but with children’s books it’s a case of tapping into my childhood self and remembering those little things which seemed so big at the time.
What's your writing process like?
Drawn out! I’m a perfectionist and find it very hard to let go of anything. Most of the time I scribble something very rough down and then keep playing with it until I’m more or less happy, but I can get through multiple drafts and still be tweaking things right up until I submit them.
Do you have any other books in the works?
I’ve already penned a sequel to Gordon the Gremlin, which is set at Christmas – imagine how much fun a gremlin could have during the festive period! I won’t give away any spoilers just yet. I’m just waiting for Tom to find the time to do the illustrations.
What does literary success look like to you?
I certainly don’t measure it by money – nobody becomes a writer for a steady salary! To me, success was achieved when we were holding a copy of the book and thinking ‘we did it’. The best feeling is seeing the smiles on children’s faces when they’ve read it, and wondering if they’ll have fond memories of it when they’re all grown up.
Do you read all of the book reviews you receive?
I do. Thankfully they’ve all been positive so far, but I think there would be as much if not more to learn from any negative ones.
What was the hardest thing about getting your book published?
The silences. We approached so many publishers and had so many rejections, but worse than the ones who gave a straight ‘no’ were the ones who never even bothered to acknowledge they had received the manuscript. It was disheartening but we persevered and that made it all the sweeter when we were finally picked up by Tiny Tree.
What's your favorite(s) children's book of all time?
When I was a kid, it was a book called The Park in the Dark, which I managed to memorise from start to finish. It’s about three cuddly toys who come to life at night and go on a walk to the park, but the big wide world proves a little too scary. I just loved the flow of the poetry and the really unique illustrations.