It’s the end of the year, so I thought I’d feature an amazing dad. Mark Lemon ever so graciously agreed to speak to us making him the very first guy we’ve ever interviewed.
Lemon Drop Books – Lemon Drop Books is an award winning children’s book family publishers from Bristol, UK.
Disillusioned with the lack of diversity in children’s books, Mark Lemon decided to create a series of exciting story books with non-white characters. With thrilling tales and beautiful adventures, the Otis & Thea Lemon series is fast becoming a firm favourite in family households.
This Christmas Lemon Drop Books donated proceeds from every copy of, Otis Lemon and the Spectacular Submarine, to children’s bereavement charity, Winston’s Wish. The charity lies close to Mark’s heart after his father’s tragic murder in 1992. Christmas has always been a tough time for him, along with many others who are are not fortunate enough to spend the Christmas period with their loved ones.
Since becoming a Dad himself, the magic of Christmas has returned, and believe me, folks, Mark’s family is beautiful.
SARETA: Tell us about yourself, go on, toot your own horn…
MARK: My name is Mark Lemon. I am an award winning children’s book author & publisher at Lemon Drop Books. I live with my wife, Simone and two children, Otis (6yrs) and Thea (2yrs) in Bristol. I created Lemon Drop Books at the beginning of 2016 to try and change the lack of diversity in children’s literature across the UK. We have now published four beautiful children’s books. Our debut book, Otis Lemon & The Spectacular Submarine, won the Platinum Junior Design Award in 2016 and, Otis Lemon and The Magic Scooter, was recently shortlisted for a Smallish Magazine Award 2017. The books spin tales of wonder and magic as our mixed- race protagonists explore worlds of imagination and exciting adventure. Otis and Thea take children on brilliant bedtime adventures with their sidekicks – the slightly bonkers but brilliant Professor Poopy and the wonderful Fairy Godmothers.
SARETA: At what point did you think, ‘hey! I need to write a book’… or few?
MARK: As a dad of two dual heritage kids, I know how important it is that we continue increasing the visibility of diversity in children’s literature in the UK. While Otis and Thea loved all the classic kids’ books, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were books with characters that looked like my children. Disillusioned by the lack of diverse characters, I decided to take matters into my own hands and started penning our books during my daily commute to work. Diversity in kids’ literature didn’t even cross my mind until I had my own children, I wanted to inspire them and tell them amazing tales with characters that looked like them. I am extremely proud of what we have produced and achieved, so far.
SARETA: Was getting published a hard task? Is there any advice you could give someone thinking about doing the same thing?
MARK: Initially I began by sending out storylines to agents to then hopefully receive a glowing ‘yes we love your work and would love to take you on’, but understandably due to the number of manuscripts top agents receive they can only take on a few writers. Being impatient I decided to set up Lemon Drop Books, and publish my own stories. The best part of publishing your own work is having complete autonomy over your product’s look and feel. Publishing your own work is easier than people think. I’ve been very fortunate to receive lots of great work by authors and illustrators looking to go it alone in the industry, but are struggling to know where to start. My main piece of advice is ‘believe’ in the stories that you’re writing. Test your work out on children first to see if it connects. Once you’re happy with your story then send it out to literary agents. I would never change the way in which I approached creating our books, but I would still advise authors to try and go down the traditional publishing route first. There are lots of pros and cons to publishing your own work but definitely look into all avenues first. It’s all about believing in yourself and your product.
SARETA: Describe Christmas day with your own family, has it changed much since being a kid yourself?
MARK: Christmas day involves a very early wake-up call by the kids, followed by a quick panic to check that we have everything in place post the Big Man visit on Xmas eve! You know, footprints in flour leading up to the Christmas tree, mince pie crumbs on the plate and half a glass of whiskey; I’m not sure how Santa travels around the world in one night after indulging in lots of rich food and alcoholic festive beverages, but hats off to him. It’s all about the kids now. I wouldn’t say Christmas traditions have changed much since I was a kid. I guess the only great difference is that as my father died when I was 12, I have always found it hard during the Christmas period. It was only when Otis was born that I started to truly enjoy Christmas again. Having children has brought its magic and excitement.
SARETA: Losing a parent as a pre-teen is just the worst thing imaginable. At the time, how did you come to terms with the loss?
MARK: After my father’s death, I knew that the only way I could live my life was to make peace with myself for the good of my future. It sounds strange, but I always tried to stay positive after my father’s murder. I still vividly remember his funeral. I was standing outside the church when one of his friends approached me. “You are now the man of the family,” he said. For a 12-year-old boy who had just lost his role model, it was quite a burden to be told I was now responsible for my mother and two sisters. For many years, I wouldn’t talk about what happened. I locked the memories away. But I could never forget my dad’s smile, or how quickly he walked and how I struggled to keep up with him when holding his hand. I had loved spending time with him, particularly playing football or tennis. After he died, I stopped playing sport – it was too painful a reminder of the times we had spent together. The grieving process is strange. No matter how you experience it, one day you are fine and the next, grief hits you like a sledgehammer. I was also very fortunate to be supported by the bereavement charity, Cruse.
SARETA: Do you look at life differently to others who haven’t lost a parent?
MARK: Nearly 25 years after my father’s death, I am married to Simone and have two children. The overwhelming sense of loss is still great and I can’t help but wonder how it made me the parent I am today. The obvious consequence was losing him at such a young age left me without a male figure to go to for advice. I would also find it painful visiting friends’ houses, seeing them with their fathers. I became very close to one friend and his family, I enjoyed the strong sense of family they had together. I have been very lucky to be helped by people who cared. When you experience such a traumatic event at an early age, it gives you an outlook on life that can only come after losing a parent or loved one. I have always believed I have been guided subconsciously by something; perhaps my father has been helping me along the way. I had never really thought about the emotional legacy of my father’s murder until I became a father myself. To hold your child for the first time is magical, but for me, it felt extra special. All of my emotions and heartache washed away in that moment, and all I felt was love.
SARETA: Please share one lil’ goal that you have set for 2018?
MARK: I have recently been in touch with BBC CBeebies to discuss whether we can get one of our children’s books onto Bedtime Stories. Fingers crossed you might see one of our stories on the TV very soon. My main goal for 2018 is to continue to produce books children will enjoy. I am working on a new story away from the Otis & Thea Lemon series that I think kids will love!
Sareta Fontaine is the founder of Kiki Blah-Blah; a modern lifestyle blog aimed initially at mum’s but has since grown. Since 2016, Sareta has worked on the platform, both designing and creating a space for other bloggers to share their thoughts and feelings, while also sharing hers.