Steven Lenton is no stranger to children’s publishing with his illustrations gracing many favourite texts. He now has his own series for children aged 5-8! Read on for his blog about creating this new series.
I have been in the children’s publishing industry for nearly ten years now and have learned a lot along the way. I cut my illustration teeth on my first book, ‘Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam’ written by Tracey Corderoy, which quickly became an award winner, Waterstones book of the month and to this date the series has sold over 300,000 copies. I was really lucky to have had such a strong debut and this has developed into good working relationships with not only Nosy Crow but with a number
of teams across a wide range of publishers.
Very happy as I am to illustrate other authors texts, I thought as I was approaching my tenth anniversary in the business that I would challenge myself to create my own characters and have a crack at writing a young fiction title. I researched the 5-8 age group and noticed that there were no
genie-based titles at all, and I thought there was a twinkle of an idea there, a possibility of creating a new kind of Genie, one who is fun, appealing and magical but quite hopeless at making wishes come true. This idea wouldn’t leave my head and I starting to jot down lots of random genie story
thoughts, character ideas and sketches.
My agent, Sallyanne Sweeney loved the idea of a genie character and was incredibly encouraging and supportive as I sent her snippets of ideas and my character sketches. Eventually we had a solid storyline, some nice-looking character designs and a couple of illustrated chapters ready to email to publishers.
We thought it would be a nice idea, before we sent the document, to send out a physical little mailer to pique some interest. I designed a little cardboard lamp that opened to reveal a little wobbly genie as a little teaser, and it worked! We got lots of interest and emailed the genie document to all the publishers who responded. This turned into lots of lovely meetings and was the first time I had been pitched to by publishers – a strange but wonderful experience! There were cakes, bubbles, gold teapots and most importantly, interesting ideas and conversations.
This in turn led to an auction between a few of the publishers, more conversations and a final decision which made Harper Collins the happy home of Grant the Genie (the books original title).
My first draft only needed a few minor tweaks to turn it into the final version of the story and with the help of my editor Michelle Misra, the text was ready to be illustrated.
As an illustrator I write very visually, thinking about how everything is going to look, sketching layouts, expressions and ideas loosely as I go to make sure each scene will work. Then I will fully design each new character and rough out the entire book, send to the editor and designer for final tweaks, then do all the final artwork and send to my designer, Elorine Grant who is an absolute star. It’s always so satisfying when you send of all the final artwork to be printed!
Receiving the box of advance copies of your book is always an exhilarating experience and I remember a little tear of happiness rolling down my cheek when I held the first copy of Genie and Teeny in my hands. It had taken over two years to get there but was so worth it!
My favourite thing about Genie and Teeny is the reception it has received so far. I have been touring lots of festivals, schools and libraries over the summer and hearing the children’s giggles and seeing their proud faces as they show me their genie drawings has been a real career highlight. I wanted to create a fun, magical book full of terrible puns but also a story that had a heart and deeper meaning. Yes Grant is silly and his magic wishy word ‘ALAKA-BLAM-A-BUMWHISTLE!’ has readers in fits of laughter, but he and Teeny are lost, alone and are looking for their home; their place in the world.
Grant often feels anxious or worried and through the series we will see how he turns those feelings around to create and entertaining and rewarding experience.
Despite having lots of books published, I was very anxious about putting Genie and Teeny out into the world. I have become accustomed to people seeing my illustration work, but sharing my voice for the first time felt more exposing somehow. It’s taken a wee while to get used to but I’m just so glad that children are really enjoying the series so far and I’m so excited for all our future plans for the series.
Genie and Teeny Make a Wish, Genie and Teeny Wishful Thinking are published by Harper Collins and are both available now.