He quit his job in retail to become a full time children’s author. Two books in, we speak to author Mark Lemon about life in Bristol with his family, promoting ethnic diversity in literature and using his kids as inspiration…
Mark Lemon, 37, lives in Bristol with his wife Simone, 39, and their two children Otis, five, and Thea, one.
Meet Children’s Author Mark Lemon…
What’s your home like?
Our home is like any family with young children, organised chaos! But a very happy place.
What time are you up in the morning?
Our house is awake by 6.30am, coffee is boiled and poured by 6.35am.
What wakes you up?
Usually a tapping at my head by Otis, while he whispers: “Dad can we go downstairs?”.
How do you feel?
I’m generally a morning person so my creativity seems to flow best at that time of the day.
What do you do first thing?
Stumble on a toy, shower, drink more coffee.
In three words, describe mornings in your house…
Alarm, breakfast, school run!
You left your job to be a full time author. What were you working as before?
I was a retail liaison manager at St David’s shopping centre in Cardiff, Wales. I was the first point of contact for 180 shops and restaurants. My commute involved a 50-minute train journey to Wales and back.
And what made you decide to take the leap?
I realised that I had found a passion and after great feedback when reading to school assemblies of 400 children, I decided that I wanted to be doing this full time. So I took that scary leap of faith. It was one of the biggest career decisions I have ever had to make, but it felt right. Plus, I had Simone’s backing and support, which is the most important thing.
How long had you been writing, had you always dreamed of being an author?
I started to write the Otis and Thea stories two years ago. I loved writing poems and short stories as a child. Then in my twenties I studied vocals at The London Music School and particularly enjoyed writing music. I always dreamt of doing something creative as a career, so this feels natural to me.
Mark Lemon the author…
Tell us about your books…
Otis Lemon and his Amazing Adventures are magical tales about a young boy from Bristol. Each week his inventor uncle, Professor Poopy, invites Otis to his workshop to try out and experience a new fantastic invention. From the spectacular submarine, to the magic flying scooter, Otis and the Professor experience these amazing adventures together.
Thea Lemon and her fantastic fairy godmothers are magical stories about an ordinary girl from Bristol. Thea’s parents own a café, which is so busy at the weekends that Thea is sent to the countryside to stay with her terrible aunt, Fellula, who Thea secretly calls craggy bottom. Each weekend she is visited by a new and fantastic fairy godmother, bringing her dreams to life.
I wanted to create stories which the family could all enjoy when the children were older, creating that magic that I experienced as a child watching films like Mary Poppins and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My favourite times with my children are at bedtime when we are reading stories together, the thought of parents reading my stories to their own children is so lovely.
You’re keen to promote ethnic diversity in your books, as so many kids’ books have only white characters. Why aren’t more children’s authors doing this?
To be honest it’s a difficult question to answer. Whether writers have tried and not been successful, or perhaps the publishers felt that the stories were not good enough, or commercially strong enough to sit on the shelves.
With such diversity in our schools, it’s extremely important to show a mix of diverse role models in children’s books. The feedback from a number of families is that they have struggled to find great characters, which are non-white. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing books out there with fantastic characters, but I feel that the Otis and Thea stories can reach out to a number of diverse communities across the world, filling that gap on the bookshelf.
How did you come to publishing your first book?
I made the decision to release the books on my own self-publishing label, Lemon Drop Books. Being a self-publisher can have its challenges, but I have found that I’m able to produce my own product and have the overall say with how it looks and feels. Being signed to large publishers is brilliant for the authors who are lucky enough, but this was the direction I decided to take with my own books.
How have you found it, so far, being a full time author?
Well so far I’m only in week one, and whilst I type this I’m also feeding Thea some baked beans at dinnertime, whilst she screams at me, so definitely interesting so far! But I wouldn’t change it for the world. We are now gearing up for the next release, Otis Lemon and the Magic Scooter, back from print at the end of May, super excited about this one.
Mark Lemon the dad
Have you always been a hands-on dad?
I have always been conscious to play my part as a dad, making sure that I was home in time to read Otis a story or put him to bed. Three years ago I left my previous job to look after Otis full time. This was the best decision I have ever made, it made me realise how important and special it is to spend time with your children during the early years. This was one of the major reasons for leaving my current job to become an author full time… being around for my children.
Does Simone work; and if yes, from home or outside of the home?
She currently works part time at a primary school, alongside helping me build the Lemon Drop Books empire.
Do you have defined roles when it comes to childcare?
Not really, it’s all hands on deck at Lemon towers!
Is the ‘juggle’ as tricky for dads as it is for mums?
Tricky hmmmmm, it’s an all round tough job. I’m not really sure what I have let myself in for, soon find out I guess.
What hopes do you have for your books?
I would like my books to be read to children, not just across the UK but around the world. If every household had a Lemon Drop Book on their shelves I will be a very happy man!
It’s my passion to promote the importance of reading with your children and this is what excites me. We’re looking to work with a large number of schools, promoting reading and carrying out workshops, which will involve parents/carers. This year we will be looking to expand our empire to Jamaica working with schools across the island, carrying out our workshops and hopefully inspiring some future authors across the globe.
And for your personal life?
A great work life balance. Being able to spend more time with Simone and the children is most important to me.
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
Sunning myself on a beach in Jamaica, sipping a rum punch whilst writing a bestselling children’s book.
Any other comments?
Look out for Otis Lemon and the Magic Scooter, releasing end of May 2016. If you love flying scooters and London, you need this in your life.
Main image credit: Emily Gray Photography