Imagine trying to make a living as an independent children's picture book author and illustrator with zero contacts in the publishing and marketing world. Hello, that's me! I mean, look, it's not like I haven't tried to make contacts. I absorbed all the information and advice given to me at Uni on my Illustration course. I entered all the illustration competitions, I read my copy of the "Writers & Artists Yearbook" countless times, I took notes and researched the most relevant Illustration agencies and Publishing houses and I have sent many mock up books of stories to these places.
There was only so much energy I had for these admin-based activities before I realised that I had spent the best part of my free time with my fingers crossed, saying a little prayer to the illustration gods, only to receive another rejection or no reply at all. This was all while I was working in minimum wage jobs, trying to build some kind of life. Inevitably my days off simply became days for resting or catching up with chores. Where was I supposed to fit in "being inspired" or improving my drawing skills? It's pretty impossible to feel inspired after a day of cleaning tables, serving customers or working in zombie-like conditions for very little money.
I'd like to point out that I am actually grateful for those jobs. The monotonous routines and the commutes all gave me valuable thinking time, and actually inspired a lot of what I have been able to create since. Also, working in customer facing jobs taught me valuable social skills which I realise I am now using when it comes to illustration workshops, book readings/signings and school visits.
To get back to the point of this blog (going off at a tangent is a massive family trait), I wanted to record my latest experience of launching a children's picture book in my home town in an independent high street shop. During the various lockdowns in the pandemic, I got very into Podcasts (soooooo late to the party, I know), and like most people, I wanted to listen to something inspiring and uplifting. I've found Holly Tucker's Conversations of Inspiration Podcast so interesting. So many useful nuggets of business advice in all her interviews, but more importantly, a lot of life advice. Actually, not even advice, more like life experiences which feel very relatable and very empowering. I learnt that it all begins with you. You are the only person standing in the way of your own happiness and success. And by success, I don't mean becoming rich off the back of your products, I simply mean living the life you've always wanted to.
The thing that makes me happy beyond anything else is drawing. Drawing stories. Trying to tell stories through illustrations. Using splashes of watercolour, then thin black lines for definition and different crayons to build up layers of texture. I love using my hands to create. I love the challenge of drawing something that seems difficult. I love the feeling of creating a children's picture book from start to finish, complete control over the creative process, then discovering that other people like it too. I love finding my voice as an illustrator (a constant work in progress). I love working with the small local printers and publishers just up the road, Moorleys Ltd. Building real connections with people, working together to create something. Helping each other out. This year I have also loved working with Mandy in her beautiful gift shop, "Memorable Events".
As much as I love to make children's picture books, I do struggle to find where I fit in. I follow so many inspirational small businesses on social media, but I always come away thinking my illustrations maybe don't match the current trends. I can't visualise my books and greetings cards fitting in certain types of indie shops and I have tried selling my products at various craft fairs - but I usually come away feeling like it was a hell of a lot of work for not much return (they are a lot of fun though!).
However, when I met Mandy and I saw her gorgeous shop window displays, it felt like I'd found somebody like me. Like Helen Martinez, Erewash Museum's manager, Mandy seemed to genuinely like my work and actually asked me if I'd like to try selling my products there. This is a huge deal, when you spend most of your time wondering how to get people to at least look at what you do. Mandy is somebody who has supported local crafters and artists for years, she takes a real pride in her shop and she works hard to maintain it. We got on straight away and had similar thoughts about how we could help each other. It's so easy when you find somebody who thinks like you!
It wasn't long before Mandy asked me if I'd like to do a book reading and I took the chance to mention my third picture book. A book launch for "Bonnie's Ball" was planned! As the months went on, she asked if would paint the window to advertise the event. Weirdly, I had already been researching children's book illustrators that I love, and looking on with envy when they had designed and painted windows at independent book shops. It's like Mandy could read my mind! I absolutely jumped at the chance (images available in the Exhibitions bit of my website).
There is more information in this website of how the book launch went, so I won't repeat myself too much. I absolutely LOVED my three days at "Memorable Events" reading my books to children and families, then signing their names in the books they purchased. I feel so proud to have created something, but more importantly I feel proud to share it with the local community. I'm not sure it's very impressive to some people, it's not a sell out ticketed event in Waterstones, and the fact that it's based in Ilkeston, a town most people in the country have never heard of...BUT it's everything to me.
"Dream Big" is a phrase that gets used a lot these days. I like the idea behind it, the ambition it inspires, but for me, big is scary. Big seems a little too much to take on. Small on the other hand - well that's me all over (literally). Small, bite sized chunks is something I can do. Step by step, bit by bit, achieving my little personal goals is something I am getting more enjoyment out of than ever before. Shopping with and supporting small businesses is far more enjoyable than choosing the big brands. Joining forces with fellow local small businesses has rewarded me with friendships, not just good working relationships. And whenever I think of the power of the Small, I always think of Stevie from the comedy, "Miranda", when she holds up an image of Heather Small and sings; "What have you done today to make you feel proud?" It seems like a good way to live your life to me.