Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to spotlight children’s picture book author and illustrator Alex Willan. Alex, for readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your newest book? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I would describe my books as funny and whimsical. My next book, Yetis Are the Worst!, is the third in a series that stars a grumpy little goblin named Gilbert. In the past two books, Gilbert has set out (unsuccessfully) to prove that unicorns aren’t so special and that dragons aren’t so scary. This time he is out to prove that yetis aren’t as mysterious as everyone thinks they are. My number one goal with each of my books is to make the reader laugh. I think that funny books, especially for young readers, encourage kids to see reading as something that is fun and joyful. I also think that you can use humor to kind of disguise the moral of the story, so the readers get the takeaway without feeling like it was pushed upon them.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
Since these books take place in a magical world filled with mythical creatures, I’m pretty free to make up how I want these characters to look and act. But I do still like to research each mythical creatures’ origins in search for inspiration. For the first book in the series, Unicorns Are the Worst!, I was researching various myths and legends about goblins. In some cultures they were considered to be mischievous household spirits that would steal socks from your laundry and tie knots in your hair while you sleep. That made me wonder what goblins do with all of those stolen socks, so in my book Gilbert has discovered a magical spell that can turn socks into slugs. It turned out that the various sock slugs you see sprinkled throughout the book have been big hit with readers so now they make an appearance in every story.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process?
I actually went to school to study illustration, hoping that if I could get hired as an illustrator for a few books, maybe eventually I would be able to write and illustrate my own stories. So, the fact that I was able to start my career as both an author and illustrator has been the most wonderful surprise. I love writing, but it took me a while to build up enough confidence in my writing to share it. So to hear from young readers that they like my books means the world to me. I still have some imposter syndrome when it comes to my writing, like any minute someone is going to pull the rug out from under me. But until that happens I am just going to appreciate every part of it.
What are some of your writing-related hobbies, crafts, addictions?
Buying all of the picture books! I love spending time in bookstores, checking out the latest releases and then arguing with myself that I don’t, in fact, have to own them all. I love reading comics and going to comic cons. I also love any reality competition about creating things, including The Great British Baking Show, The Great Pottery Throw Down, Making It and Blown Away.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I do! I have a dog named Harley. She is a terrier-whippet mix and the sweetest dog ever. I feel like I get some of my best brainstorming done while taking Harley for walks. She will also start pawing at me if I’ve been sitting at my computer (ignoring her) for too long, which is a good reminder to get up and move around. Harley also makes a cameo appearance in an upcoming book, Got Your Nose! written by Alan Katz.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
You can find my books wherever books are sold (and of course you should check Annie’s first). Yetis Are the Worst! Comes out Nov. 8th and Got Your Nose!, written by Alan Katz and illustrated by me, will be out Jan. 10th and are both available for preorder now.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
You can follow me on instagram @alexwillan.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Alex!