John Condon has been writing picture book stories for six years. Before that he wrote screenplays and made short movies, a couple of which you can still find floating around on the web. His first picture book, The Wondrous Dinosaurium, was published by Maverick Arts in 2018, and has been nominated for several awards (it didn’t win any though). His second picture book, The Pirates Are Coming, was published by Nosy Crow in 2020. So. OF COURSE we convinced him to pop into My Book Corner to tackle our questions…
Tell us about you in 25 words or less.
Well, I’m a children’s author (part time) living on the Kent coast. I currently write picture books, which I looooove. It’s really hard work though.
Your latest picture book, The Pirates Are Coming! (illustrated by Matt Hunt) has had a great response. Can you tell us a little bit about how it came to be?
Ooh, I’m glad to hear that. It was written so long ago that I can’t really remember how it came about. I wrote the first draft around 2012-13 I think, and initially had no intention of it following the structure of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’. However, once I realized what I had done, I appreciated how useful it would be, so I really leaned into it. I loved the idea of a determined child who isn’t believed by the adults, not because he’s mischievous but instead because he is quite… enthusiastic. That distinction was vital for me. As was the importance of his vindication at the end of the story. I won’t say any more but there is a huge twist… or two! The twists aren’t there for their own sake though; I believe they make total sense for Tom’s story. Thankfully, most people who read it agree that it’s a feel-good story.
Like most of my stories, I came up with the concept first and then the ending. I worked my way back from there.
My editors at Nosy Crow helped me refine it and, of course, they hired the amazing Matt Hunt to illustrate it. Fantastic designers (again at Nosy Crow) then brought everything together beautifully. I am a graphic designer myself, so I really appreciated the skill that went into every spread.
I love the character (Tom) so much I wrote a sequel. I have no idea whether Nosy Crow would want to publish it, and I probably should have waited for them to ask. They might think that, like Tom, I’m being a little too keen, but hopefully that will just endear me to them.
Ok, here’s a challenge… can you sum up your book in five words? [runs and hides!]
Pirates with plenty of heart!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake and have a cup of tea. That’s the first thing I do, even before eating anything. I shower, dress, then drop my son off at school. I’m back at my desk by 9:30am to start my day job as a designer. At around 5:30pm or 6pm I finish work, have dinner, do the bedtime routine (with plenty of picture books) then perhaps watch a teeny bit of TV to wind down.
I don’t have time (or rather make time) for any author stuff until Thursday, which is my day off work. Officially, it’s my writing day, but it’s not easy for me to be equally productive each week. Some Thursdays are great and others I don’t get much done. If possible, I’ll try to do a bit of writing at the weekend too, but this is never guaranteed.
What makes you happy?
Gosh, like everyone, the simplest things can make me very happy, often unexpectedly. In terms of my writing though (I know I shouldn’t, but…) I do read Amazon and social media reviews and some of them are really kind and generous. That feedback is so important to a writer. Especially when the monetary rewards are as low as they are. Knowing that children (and even adults) have enjoyed reading the book and continue to do so time and again really, really inspires me to continue. I find so much happiness in bedtime (and even daytime) story sessions at home that the thought of others enjoying those same moments, whilst reading MY stories, just blows my mind and seriously swells my heart. It really is what keeps me going. If you have read and enjoyed my little book, please do consider leaving a review for it, it would be very much appreciated.
What’s on your TBR pile at the moment?
I always have a pile of recently purchased picture books to read. I can’t afford to do it but buying books is my only vice. And a major one; I have a couple of hundred. I also have plenty of chapter books to read too, as I hope to one day write one (or a series).
What’s your worst habit?
See above. Ha!
What are your top tips for budding writers?
My biggest tips would be…
A. Don’t fixate on one story. A publisher or agent is buying into your future output, so demonstrate you can deliver time and again by showing them several texts. One book isn’t going to make them (or you) much money (unless it is such an amazing text that has never been done before), so you have to show them you can write consistently well. Showing them three of four equally great texts is the best way to do that.
B. Don’t give up. It’s a really challenging industry to try and break in to. The competition is fierce, and the quality of work being published is consistently high. It can feel deflating when you have initial setbacks. We all have those (even once you have found an agent or publisher). It is never going to be smooth sailing, but like any great story it’s all part of the journey.
Is there anything that’s surprised you about the publishing process?
Without exception, everyone I have met in the industry has been lovely. That goes too for all the authors and illustrators, published or otherwise, that I have been lucky to meet along the way. So many of them have become good friends. I feel very blessed to know them.
In terms of the process, I was pretty well informed by the time it became a reality. It is all very slow though. I was aware of that, but it can sometimes be frustrating.
Can you give us a glimpse / hint at your current WIP? (I can bribe you with cake!)
It’s still too early to give too much away, I’m afraid but I will say that should you choose to go to the woods today, you may well be in for a surprise. ; )
Just for fun
Tea or coffee?
I think you can guess the answer to that is tea. I don’t drink coffee at all actually. I used to but one day (about three years ago) I just decided I didn’t fancy it and I’ve not drank any since.
Paper books or e-books?
Paper books. I love them. That’s not to say e-books don’t serve a purpose though.
Cake or chocolate?
I’m not really a sweet-toothed person, but I would choose cake over chocolate (unless said chocolate is on a biscuit. I can be tempted by a Chocolate Hobnob or a Digestive).
Write or type?
I type everything. Even my ideas and notes are written digitally on my phone.
Poetry or prose?
I love to read poetry as well as prose, but I only write prose. I’ve tried rhyme but it doesn’t come naturally and getting a decent picture book idea into shape is hard enough for me as it is without adding rhyme to the mix. Painful! Ha!
Hot or cold?
I prefer hot food, but I would rather be cold (as long as I can wrap up warm) than feel too hot. I’m not a beach holiday person. Although I do live on the coast. Thankfully it’s the English coast, so heat isn’t often a concern.