How Little Door Books are Helping Emerging Illustrators

Alan Windram, founder of Little Door Books

Tell us about Little Door Books – what were your main aims in setting up the company, and what characterises the company?

Originally I was working with the children's theatre company 'Sticky Kids', playing a character called Mac. I was asked if I ever thought of writing picture books on what my character Mac got up to when back on the (fictitious) farm, and this got me, and my wife Susan, thinking. Around the same time I was asked to play guitar for Vivian French at a book festival. She put me in touch with the illustrator Dave Sutton, and together Dave and I worked on my first Mac and Bob picture book.

I wanted music to feature heavily in my books and author events. Vivian loved the fact that I was writing music for my books and also that we took a lot of time finding high quality illustrations. She asked if we would publish her book Captain Crankie and Seadog Steve in 2016. Together we also wrote a couple of sea shanties for it and since then, all Little Door publications come with a free audiobook and specially-written songs.

Early on we decided we would like to give exciting new illustrators an opportunity to be published, and that working with established authors would offer an opportunity to have their work shown on a bigger stage. This would also give established authors the chance to work with new, fresh illustrating talent.

We also encourage greater collaboration between author and illustrator so that there is a real sense of ownership with the resulting book.

One Button Benny is one of your first publications – tell us a bit about that book.

I had worked with the illustrator Chloe Holwill-Hunter on my picture book A Puppy's Tale. During development she showed me some of her amazing robot ideas. Keen to work with Chloe again I started to come up with some robot themed story ideas.

I came up with the story of Benny, a robot who only has one button that says ‘Only Press In An Emergency’. Benny has never pressed his button, but often wonders what would happen if he did. I thought it would be great fun for children, a little space adventure with an almost retro, recycled look about it, so children could create their own robots from recycled bits and make up their own adventures.

I also wanted to show that we are all equally special and unique. Hopefully children can relate to Benny and see that everyone can be a hero and you don't need to change just to fit in, because you are wonderful as you are.

Since its publication I have been taking my One Button Benny event into schools, with stories, songs and lots of audience participation!

What is it like for debut illustrators trying to break into the industry, and how are you helping them?

Vivian French highlighted to us the many hugely talented illustrators graduating every year, but are not getting the chance to show that talent to the world. So much in the creative world can be down to luck, being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people.

As well as pairing established authors with exciting new illustrators, we also recently launched Little Door Debuts - where we give an illustrator the opportunity to write and illustrate a picture book which we will publish.

Our plan is to publish one Little Door Debut per year with the help of crowdfunding. This way we hope to create a real buzz about the author/illustrator, while giving people the opportunity to invest in a talented individual's future. Our first Little Door Debut will be published next year.

Give us an insight into the process of pairing up an author and illustrator.

My wife Susan (the other half of LDB) and I constantly keep our eyes open for new illustrators. We haven't tried to develop a look for our list, we just want to publish great stories with different, quirky, fun illustrations.

Once we have signed an author we discuss with them the sort of illustration style they envisage for their story. We then look at lots of illustrators' work to try and marry up a great pairing.

We have found illustrators at degree shows, in cafes, on Twitter, word of mouth, friends’ recommendations and at book fairs. We like authors and illustrators to meet up - to ensure we all want to work together. Creating a book can be exciting, but also an intense and sometimes stressful process. It's important that everyone feels they have an equal place.

We work closely with both illustrators and authors - being a very small publisher means we can take a few more risks, enabling them to create something a bit different.

What are some of your upcoming titles, and why are you excited about them?

We are very excited about this year's titles - all by award-winning authors and amazing illustrators.

  • How Billy Hippo Learned To Swim - published early April, our second picture book by Vivian French and illustrated by Hannah Foley. It's always a joy to work with Viv, and she introduced us to Hannah, a rare talent who we hope everyone will see a lot more of.
  • Magna Cow - look out in late May for the first picture book from Barry Hutchison, with splendid illustrations by Cate James. Working on Barry's first picture book was great fun and we really wanted a look to capture Barry's wild and wacky sense of humour. Cate's lively, fun illustrations really hit the spot.
  • The Humdrum Drum - our final book this year is a first-time picture book written by award-winning author and musician Colin MacIntyre (the man behind Mull Historical Society). It has fabulously quirky illustrations by Chilean Edinburgh graduate Catherine Thomann. Catherine and Colin are both musicians, and Colin has also written three original songs for a CD that is included with this book.

We are now looking ahead to our 2019 and 2020 lists, with some amazing author/illustrator pairings. We can't wait to tell you, but till then, why not have a little look through the Little Door at our published books so far. And look out for our authors and illustrators at events around the country!

Alan Windram

Alan Windram is the co-founder of Little Door Books and the author of a number of picture books including One Button Benny and the Mac and Bob series. A keen musician, Alan spent part of his career touring, recording and releasing albums before coming to children's theatre and then writing the Mac and Bob books. He founded Little Door Books in 2016 with his wife Susan.