Fri 30 Jan 2015 by Amy_Rogers
Liz Pichon gave a talk at The Marlborough Theatre for the latest BIG meeting. It was an inspiring and amusing evening. Liz never thought she could be an author and is astonished by the success she has had.
As a child, Liz entrepreneurially created and sold a menagerie of clay animals at a local shop. She also enjoyed making scrapbooks and story books.
She studied Art at Camberwell and recalls a tumbleweed moment when she announced that she wanted to do Illustration. Her teachers persuaded her to do Graphics but Liz solved most of the projects through illustration anyway. Learning about typography and design has been incredibly useful throughout her career.
After university, Liz worked as a graphic designer at Jive records. Here she helped design various album covers in a portacabin far from the swanky offices. The management pretty much left her to it so she experimented with a variety of different styles and ideas.
A few years later she went freelance as an illustrator. Liz designed for the London Underground, for greeting cards and also product design. Her illustrations appeared on t-shirts, towels and mugs.
Liz was keen to work in children's book publishing. She advertised self-initiated picture book illustrations in Contact. After that she received commissions in the genre, which was exciting. Following several commissions for religious books Liz craved new stories. She had a go at writing her own but her agent was unimpressed by her first effort. It was another year before she wrote again. Her determination paid off, as her writing was now well received. Puffin published Square Eyed Pat, the first in a series of funny picture books. To Liz’s astonishment, My Big Brother Boris even won the Smarties Prize.
The gouache painting style Liz had at this time was labour intensive. She wanted to try something new, and turned to her old scrapbooks for inspiration. Tom Gates began as a picture book. It was created in the style of an ‘All About Me’ scrapbook. Publishers liked it but didn’t think there was enough of a story there. Liz then wrote a detailed story about Tom. The publishers liked the story and the format but didn’t think they went together. Inspired by the Mary Plain books of her childhood, Liz began writing in a style that involved doodles within the type area. She wrote her drafts in an exercise book, pretending to be Tom writing his diary. The reaction was incredible - within two weeks of completion she had offers from seven different publishers! Liz was excited but also panicked. She met most of the publishers before deciding to go with Scholatsic - she liked the way the team worked together, and that they gave her cake!
Although Tom Gates was not initially sold at Waterstones it went on to win their children’s fiction prize. Winning the Roald Dahl Funny Prize was a big moment. The series is now so popular that it is sold in thirty-six different countries.
The ideas for Tom’s escapades come from childhood memories and also observations of her children. Liz is passionate about the books. Throughout her career she has found that the things she has enjoyed have turned out most successfully. Her advice is ‘do something fun - if you don’t enjoy it no one else will’.
The Tom Gates books have their own special font, based on Liz’s handwriting. Tom wears simple clothes, which she feels helps make him relatable.
Liz plans to write and illustrate two new Tom Gates books this year. She also has a hectic promotional schedule. Once terrified of public speaking, Liz now speaks at events for thousands. To make this less daunting, she treats her events like children’s parties, bringing various props and coming up with workshop ideas. Her diary is pretty much full until 2016!
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