For 30 years I’ve been putting words into the mouths of household names.
A former journalist turned TV writer and producer, my credits include The South Bank Show, Top Gear and This Is Your Life. I’ve written or produced for the likes of The Simpsons, Harrison Ford, Pierce Brosnan, Simon Cowell, Trevor McDonald, Michael Caine, George Lucas, Floella Benjamin, Bob Monkhouse, Davina McCall, Paul Whitehouse, Martin Kemp, Jamie Oliver, Bruce Forsyth, youtubers Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee and many more.
All that while I was trying to get published. Novels, comedy books, other children’s stories. All fell on stony ground with countless agents and publishers as I worked on them in between TV commitments.
Although Eoin has illustrated before, in recent times he’s mainly worked in animation. He’s storyboarded for Ray Harryhausen and is part of the team behind animated pieces for CBBC’s Operation Ouch and opening titles for Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. Over a thirty-year career he’s won thirty awards.
Entering the world of books is a thrill for both of us. It’s a very different world. But possibly not such a different process. When I write for TV, be it for an entertainment show, a feature documentary script or gags for a panel show, I picture the scene, the reaction, that moment on screen. For Albert Upside Down, aimed at 3+, it was a case of imagining the illustrated pages and how they might look around the words. How they would catch the eye, engage with children – and adults that might be reading aloud to youngsters. Of course, Eoin and Graffeg then improved on all that massively.
With the advent of the printing press in the 15th century, the production of books increased, and book reviews became more structured and widespread. The first printed book reviews appeared in Germany in the late 15th century.
The 18th century saw the rise of literary journals and magazines, which featured book reviews as a regular feature. These reviews played a significant role in shaping literary tastes and opinions. And the 19th century saw the expansion of literary criticism and the establishment of literary periodicals, such as “The Edinburgh Review” and “The Quarterly Review.” These publications had a profound influence on the literary scene of the time.
It’s been a joy working with Graffeg.
Both Eoin and I have found television challenging in recent years. Presenting your material to ever larger committees of decision makers is not a very rewarding process. I always say, when it comes to writing for television, I make changes more than I write.
Then, as producer, there is the headache of health and safety. Important, I know, but on some shoots, long before Covid, a massive commitment. Fortunately, real Albert the tortoise, the inspiration for these stories, comes with his own protective shell.
Left: Ian Brown’s acclaimed Hugg ‘n’ Bugg titles. Media copies are available for complimentary review.
Having spotted their work on other picturebooks, I targeted Graffeg. Eoin and I don’t have agents. It took a while, but, once on board, Eoin and I were pretty much free to get on with it. Of course, page layout had to be designed, font selected and the small team at Graffeg were great at that. I would recommend targeting publishers who have books similar to yours.
Our first experience in picturebooks was also a learning curve. Page size, technical terms, acronyms in the publishing schedule had to be explained.
With our backgrounds most recently being television, commercials or corporate films, that’s how Eoin and I met and teamed up.
When I had the idea for the first Albert book, I turned to Eoin to illustrate. We discuss the books, then Eoin works on the illustrations separately. I don’t know how others do it, but I almost see the whole books in one go. We wanted a retro feel to the artwork with lots going on for children to spot. Eoin brings all that to life.
The stories are based in part on actual incidents with the real Albert the tortoise. He was rescued by my wife more than fifty years ago, when she was a little girl. Real Albert is said to be more than 80 years old. He does, now and then, find himself upside down.
Publicity and marketing are a big difference to TV.
For most TV shows, the production company, broadcaster or famous names involved will handle publicity. Now, I and the octogenarian reptile have had to step up, embracing radio and Press interviews, social media and the digi-tort age. Albert has an X account, a Facebook page, his own website,he’s on tiktok and we’re on insta. It’s all proved most popular on Facebook where we reach hundreds of thousands with a mix of content on real Albert and the books. It could all go to a tortoise’s head. But it is an effort. You have to push as hard as possible.
I also chose to use agencies like Palamedes for specific launches. This generated some good long-term headlines in particular.
Take your books into bookshops to show the booksellers. Then you try to get into schools – to talk about the books and to read the stories. Then, hopefully, festivals hear about you plus libraries and it slowly starts to build.
Having tried for decades to be published I have embraced my own marketing full-on. That said, do not under-estimate how much you need to do for yourself if you want your books to be seen.
So far, it’s a joy. I even get to do silly voices reading aloud and for the narration of the animated ebooks – Graffeg’s first venture into animated books.
After decades of rejections, we’re delighted to be where we are. Tortoises are in many ways the champions of perseverance – steady and sure. That’s one lesson real Albert passed on. Keep on trying, the tortoise taught us.”
Ian Brown is the acclaimed author of the Albert the Tortoise and Hugg ‘n’ Bugg picturebooks. The Albert the Tortoise series includes Albert Upside Down; Albert and the Wind; Albert Supersize; Albert in the Air; Albert and the Pond; and Albert and the Shed. The series also includes the board book, Albert and his Friends, and the activity book, Albert Puzzles and Games.
His Hugg ‘n’ Bugg titles are Finding Home, and The Comb.