By Day Lilico
On Sunday afternoon in the Yurt, children’s author Veronica Lamond gave several readings of her Landybook stories, about two Land Rovers who live in Cornwall. Lamond wonderfully takes on the role of writer, illustrator and publisher of all her books. In the reading she addresses the children directly, giving the experience a very personal feel. She takes the time to show the children each picture, to explain and point out interesting features of her drawings. She lets the children interrupt, ask questions, tell stories, and she really engages with them over the text. The reading has the feel of an intimate bedtime story rather than a professional author performing at a festival.
Afterwards, Veronica kindly found the time to sit down and talk to me about her books, her life and career as a self-published author/illustrator.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I haven’t always been a writer and illustrator. I went to Falmouth Art College in my early 30s and I’m 60 now. I wanted to be a children’s author, or probably an illustrator, but life took many twists and turns and I couldn’t really earn a living from illustration because I was a single parent to three children.
I had done a lot of therapy work with children but then I became an office manager in a medical centre in Wadebridge. It was only when I was in my mid-50s that things changed again in my life. I thought I really need to do what I really want to do, so I decided to write in the evenings and at weekends. I became a bit of a hermit really. I’d come home from work at about half 6, start illustrating at 7, and then just keep working till 2 o’clock in the morning, and that’s how I got my first book off the ground.
How long did it take you to write that first book?
Writing is fairly quick for me because I really see myself as an illustrator – I only taught myself to write so I could illustrate. It probably took me about 9 months to bring it all together. The reason I write about Land Rovers is because I wanted to write something that was practical for our children that taught them about real life activities. A friend suggested I wrote a book about Land Rovers, because her kids loved Land Rovers and there weren’t any books about them. I really didn’t know much about them, but I then began to remember really happy days growing up in Africa, when we used to go to the farms and game parks in Land Rovers. Then I was driving around Cornwall over the next couple of weeks, and just saw Land Rovers doing really useful work on farms, with the electricity board, the water board, and builders using them. I thought: ‘that would actually be an incredible vehicle for a practical children’s story.’
So I needed help, and I was fortunate that there was a Land Rover mechanic just up the road from us. He actually had this one Land Rover that I now write about, and he was really excited and he suggested that I wrote about his Land Rover. So that’s my character. I then wove a story about what sort of boy would drive him, I didn’t want him to drive around by himself, so I made up this character called Jack and gave Jack a dog. That’s how I started my first story about Landy being found in the brambles, and Jack clearing him up and living on this small holding. That’s how we began; that was my first story. Then my second story is about Fender, his friend – well, we live in Cornwall so I thought it would be nice to have a Land Rover who lived on the beach. Fender is a Defender Land Rover and he’s owned by Dan, and a dog called Scamp. In the first Fender book they do a seal rescue at the beach, there’s one about fishing, and the two Land Rovers interact in each other’s books.
When did you move to Cornwall?
I came here in 1979. I grew up in South Africa and I came to this country when I was 19.
I know you publish these books yourself, how did you get into that rather than going down the more traditional route?
When I finished my first book I sent it off to a publisher, but a lot of publishers don’t take unsolicited material, and it’s very difficult to find an agent as well. When they rejected it, my daughter suggested that I self-publish. My immediate reaction was ‘no, I’ve got just too much on my plate’; I was still working full time at the surgery, I can’t learn about publishing as well now. But the next morning I woke up and decided to do it.
So I looked around on the internet at what various self-publishing options there were, and there was Author House and various other places, but they charge you a thousand pounds to do this, a thousand pounds to do that. I knew exactly how I wanted my book, I just needed somebody who could do the computer work for me. So I phoned our local printers down at Penryn, and they said they were very happy to work with me. Now I take my work down there, they scan it on, then I work with them to format the book. It’s hands-on publishing. If you start self-publishing, you’ve got to find distributors who will take your work on. I also approached people directly, but I now work under the license of Jaguar Land Rover. They buy my books and sell them in their show rooms, and we’re hoping to do merchandising next year as well.
Would you recommend self-publishing?
For myself, I wouldn’t choose any other way because you get so much more control over the process. I’ve actually published three books this year, and in January I was working on the last two when Land Rover challenged me to write a book on the Defender factory before they stopped production. I thought I couldn’t possibly because it had to be all to the printers by June and I wouldn’t be able to do it, but then I decided I would take up the challenge. I worked like crazy. If I’d been with a publisher I wouldn’t have been able to do that, but I work at my own speed and I could publish a book in two months. But with a publishing house, you’re usually working a year in advance, so it’s completely different.
Obviously though, if you’re self-publishing you’ve got to do all the admin work. Once you’re in the swing of it, it’s alright, but there’s a lot to learn. I’m semi-retired now and only work one day a week at the surgery, so I can focus on my books. I’ve published three books this year now, so I’m going to take a year off. In 2018 I’m going to do another book, about Fender going to Africa.
I think of images because I’m primarily an illustrator in my heart. When I started I wasn’t sure, when I was much younger I had a very tight style and I wanted to loosen up a little, so I had to work out what I wanted to do. I hadn’t done any art really in twenty years, so I got some rough watercolour paper and started messing about. I used to like using crayons when I was a child, so I work with crayons and watercolour. The combination means you can be quite accurate, but you can also scribble. All the work on top of the watercolour is wax crayon. You can also do wax resist where you scribble white crayon and paint on top, it’s quite useful for the windscreens, watercolour paper is quite rough and it gets that texture. I also get a toothbrush and flick the paint, so it’s quite fun because I get to mess about quite a lot.
So you use a lot of different techniques?
Yeah, different things whilst I’m working. Usually when I’m writing my story, I draw my storyboard up and then photograph my friend’s Land Rover. The rest is sort of imaginative, I’ll build the story around the angles: the Land Rover is my starting point. But I’ll go and talk to people a lot, like the coast guard, to get things right.
So you do quite a lot of research, your books are quite accurate?
Yeah I do, for the harbour book I went and spoke to fishermen. They’re quite like Ladybird books really. For the Defender factory book that I was challenged to do, they were absolutely fantastic; they opened the factory up for me on a Sunday and we took Landy up there on the train. It was wonderful, we went to all the parts of the factory they don’t normally let people go to, and we took Landy on the off-roading experience so I could get all the angles I wanted. All the people in the book are the actual people who run Land Rover experience, I even put myself in there for fun. Then on the Monday morning when all the workers came back in, I took pictures of the people and places I had worked out in my head. They bought the first Land Rover ever made down from the museum to meet Landy so it’s a little bit of history.
I’ve got loads of stories in my head still to write and people are always writing in saying ‘have you thought about doing this story, have you thought about doing that story?’. And I’ve sold about 9,000 books to adults.
What kind of age range do you write for?
Well I visualise from two to seven, but I also sell to teenage boys, women (because a lot of women learn to drive on farms in Land Rovers), and I think my oldest customer was 91. I find they’re equally loved by boys and girls, which is really nice. For dads with daughters it’s a real bonding book for them, because dads love reading these stories to their kids. I try to put things in that dads can expand on, like when Fender gets a puncture and I try to put something technical in there so dad can explain it. It’s almost educational; I’m quite influenced by Ladybird books.
Many thanks to Veronica Lamond for the interview. Find out more about Veronica and the Landybooks, here.