With creative industries worth around £8million an hour to the UK economy many individuals are taking the plunge and turning their talent into their livelihood. This World Book Day we discuss doughnuts, discipline and author-entrepreneurs with popular children’s author Mark Lowery.
How did you become a children’s author?
I’m a primary school teacher. I found myself writing a lot for the children in my class – stories, poems, pantomimes – and really loved it. Eventually I came to a crossroads in my life and took the plunge, quitting my job and enrolling onto an MA course at Winchester. I guess that a lot of entrepreneurs probably start their businesses in a similar way – a hobby that slowly begins to take over until they’re forced to make a decision.
CREDIT: THE CAMBRIDGE NEWS
What’s the most rewarding aspect of writing for a living?
Being my own boss is great but the most rewarding thing is just slowly seeing a story evolve from a germ of an idea to something I can be proud of.
We hear increasingly about author-entrepreneurs. In fact, The Guardian publishes a list of top 100 creative professionals which often includes writers. Do you think authors need to be more business minded now?
I would say so yes, and this is particularly true of people who aren’t very high profile. You’ve got to promote and market yourself, send out invoices, organise your tax returns and accounts, chase up tardy payments etc. It doesn’t come naturally to me – I’d rather be sitting at a desk, stroking my beard and trying to figure out how to make chicken nuggets even more sinister than they already are – but I do my best.
What are some of the main challenges of being an author?
Getting published is hard enough but staying published is even harder. It’s an extremely competitive industry, dominated by a small number of very well-known authors. The trend towards online shopping has made it much harder for people to break through, I think, and as a result the industry can be quite risk-averse. You’ve got to be prepared to hit the road and promote yourself.
You teach part-time, make educational visits and, of course, write – how do you have time to fit it all in and arrange the ‘business’ side of what you do?
It’s quite a challenge and it’d be nice to have a gang of minions to do all the paperwork. I try to be disciplined with my time but it’s not always easy – I’ve also got three children under the age of 6 so there’s never a moment’s peace! The business stuff I usually do at the end of the day – I’m at my most creative before about 2pm, so that’s the time when I get stuck into invoices and accounts.
You’ve been shortlisted for the Awesomest Book Award for your latest book ‘The Jam Doughnut That Ruined My Life’. Where does your creative inspiration come from?
All over the place really. Mainly from real-life situations. Usually it’s a question – “What if this happened?” or “What’s the worst thing that can happen here?” Also people are endlessly fascinating and strange. A lot of my characters are composites of people I’ve met, multiplied by a thousand. When you put them into an uncomfortable situation with a bunch of ill-matched other people, the scenes often write themselves.
What advice would you give to those who might be considering taking the leap into becoming a writer?
Go for it! You’ll never know if you don’t try. Write as often as you can. Not just stories but anything – shopping lists for characters, a description of the inside of someone’s handbag or lunchbox, a magazine interview with a character. Be open to new ideas – you never know where something might take you.
Finally, you’ve had three children’s books published so far. What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got a book called The Chicken Nugget Ambush coming out in June (the sequel to The Jam Doughnut That Ruined My Life – bit of a theme here…) and I’ve just started the third book in that series. I’ve also just finished another book for an older audience – a bit darker – which I’m hoping to find a publisher for soon. Watch this space!