25 July 2018
LRM interview children’s author and illustrator Veronica Lamond
For those of you with children, you may be familiar with the author and illustrator Veronica Lamond, who, through the lovable, animated characters of Landy, a 1956 Series I, and Fender, a 1999 Defender, brings Land Rovers to life for little girls and boys. Her well-loved series of books have sold more than 70,000 copies to date and she has just released her latest book – Fender Goes to Africa, as well as a teaching resource pack for primary schools. We are thrilled to grab a few hours with 62-year-old Veronica to talk about this book and her career so far.
You were born and grew up in Durban, South Africa, but spent most of your adult life in Cornwall. When did you move to the UK? I came to the UK when I was 19 with £50, a rucksack and the excitement of starting life in a new country. I first worked in the Cotswolds and then in Scotland, before I moved to Cornwall in 1979.
Did your early memories of South Africa have any influence on your books? Yes, Africa is in my blood. My Zulu nanny with her warm, relaxed nature was a wonderfully creative person who helped inspire my own creativity. My mother Ruth Keech was a poet, so writing was something that was always going on around me. When I was 14 I read The Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurence van der Post, which made me want to go exploring Africa in a Land Rover, but sadly, I have never had the time to do it – I guess I did it vicariously by writing about Dan and Fender travelling in Africa!
The sketch at the top of page shows the cover of Fender Goes to Africa in progress
What did you do before writing and illustrating novels? I looked after children who had been through difficult times, in a Steiner special school. I ran a house for teenagers with learning difficulties, I taught art, English and maths in an out of school centre for children who were chronic truants and young offenders. I also worked as a carer for young adults on the autistic spectrum and ran creative workshops for them. All of these life experiences – as well as holidays on South African farms and game reserves as a child – have also helped shape my books.
Jojo’s Wire Car was published in June 2014 – was this your first book? To anyone that has not read it how would you describe it? No, this was my fourth book, by this point I had already self-published Landy , Fender and Landy’s New Home so it was a break from the Landybooks. Penguin Random House in South Africa commissioned Jojo, and it is about a child who tries to remain positive in the face of adversity and, of course, illustrated with African images. I wanted to pay tribute to the African children whose ingenuity in making wonderful toys and musical instruments out of scrap is something that fills me with admiration. For that reason, it will always be very special to me.
How difficult was the journey from concept to published book? My main intention was to be an illustrator, for which I studied and trained in my thirties, but I needed a story to illustrate, so it went from there. I did not start writing until I was 53, and had to do it during evenings and weekends, as I still had a full-time job as the Office Manager of a medical centre, which I’ve now cut down to one day a week. I had to learn to write by editing my work over and over again, reading my stories aloud to my daughters to get honest feedback! It was a huge learning experience – I did not set out to self-publish and market my books either, so that was all new to me.
Did you ever intend to create a series? I always saw it as a series of books as the stories are endless really, but I am actually going to stop writing for a bit now and concentrate on the educational side of my work.
What was the original inspiration for these books? I wanted to introduce young children to practical life, as there are so many fantasy books nowadays. My friend Fee suggested I wrote about Land Rovers, and Fender is based on her husband Charlie’s Defender - they have four sons who are all mad keen on Land Rovers. I soon saw the potential in this idea as, not only do Land Rovers do such practical work, they are also very much part of my background in South Africa. I then met Mick Moore, our local independent Land Rover engineer, and he introduced me to his real-life 1956 Series I, which he restored when he bought it in 1993 – it was love at first sight! It also tied in with my nostalgia for the Series vehicles back at home.
Once I have the outline for my story, I visit Mick at his workshop and discuss the practical details of the story and the details for my illustrations. He is a mine of information and experience and I am very fortunate to have him as my advisor. Once I have drawn up my storyboards, both Mick and Charlie get Landy and Fender in position for their photoshoots and they often pose as Jack or Dan for me – even though they look completely different to my boys!
Drawing up the cover for Fender Goes to Africa
The seventh book is a special edition about Landy visiting the Defender Factory in Solihull – was this to coincide with the last Defender rolling off the line? Yes, as some of your readers will already know, Lindsay Weaver, the then Branding Director of Jaguar Land Rover, challenged me to come up with a story of Landy visiting the Defender factory – this was three weeks before they stopped production so I had to think very fast! Within a week I had written the story and drawn up the storyboard. Then JLR opened the factory for me on a Sunday so we could drive Landy around inside to take the reference photos. When the workers came in the next morning, I took pictures of them – so everyone in the book except Jack [Landy’s owner], are the people who were working there at the time.
Landy and his real owner (Mick) meet Hue 166
Please can you talk me through the process of writing up your latest book, Fender Goes to Africa, which is now available? Ever since starting the Landybooks, I wanted to create an African tale, but felt I should first establish my story lines and characters in Cornwall. I still have a lot of connection with Africa as my sister lives there and my daughter works a lot in East Africa doing research work and running a charity. She is also married to a Ugandan.
I had envisaged writing two or three books about Dan and Fender’s trip as it is a huge subject, but then I had to think economically and reduced my vision to just one book. It was a challenge, to say the least, to fit a trip from Cairo to Cape Town into 30 pages, with all the illustrations it would need.
While I was still thinking about the story Victoria Perry, Community Affairs Manager at Jaguar Land Rover, contacted me and asked if I would present JLR’s Solar Light Project in Kenya for four days at the 2017 Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. When I heard what JLR were doing in Kenya, I told her that I was planning to write a book about Dan going to Africa and was looking for things for him to get involved with while he and Fender were there.
We thought this would be great opportunity to collaborate. So, I dived straight into the middle of the proposed book and quickly wrote the Kenyan part, which involved Dan meeting a family who used kerosene lamps. JLR then blew up the images and put them on the new Discovery, which we displayed at the festival during my talks.
Veronica with Landy book at the Hay-on-Wire Literary Festival
After the festival I had to start thinking about how I would start the book – I would have loved to show Dan getting ready for his trip, but I didn’t have enough space. The opening pages show him already in Egypt.
I then heard of the Ethiopian Wolf Project, supported by Born Free, and contacted Jorgelina Marino who helps run the project in the Ethiopian Highlands, for some advice. I thought Dan would like to go meet them so off he went. Fortunately, Will Travers, President of Born Free, was happy for me to use a small image of one of their Land Rovers at the Bale Mountain camp.
When thinking about Tanzania, I saw some footage of a baby elephant rescue and this inspired me to get Fender and Dan to meet some Masai people and get involved in something similar.
While I was visiting my family in Cape Town a few years ago, I heard about Kingsley Holgate’s humanitarian work across the African continent (like me, he also grew up in Durban). I then read up a bit more about him and found out about his One Net One Life mosquito net project. I thought this was a perfect thing for Dan and Fender to get involved with and came up with a story line of how they could meet Kingsley in Malawi. I emailed Kingsley, who was in Somalia at the time, and his son, Ross wrote back straightaway to say his dad would be happy to be included in the book, which was great.
By this point in the story line, I did not have many pages left to fill so I had to speed up Dan and Fender’s journey – I got quite excited about having them arrive in South Africa.
It was a wonderful five months in the making of Fender Goes to Africa. I was totally immersed in the feeling of Africa for that time. There were so many more places that I wanted Dan and Fender to visit, and I wanted to show more of the nitty gritty part of the trip, but there was not enough space in 30 pages. Maybe I will do a second book after all; I guess I will have to see how this one sells!
Kinglsey Holgate stars in Veronica’s latest book Fender Goes to Africa
Which five words best describe your new book? Colourful, warm-hearted, informative, diverse and fun.
What do you think most readers will take away from reading Fender Goes to Africa? I hope a feel of Africa.
What has been the best reaction from a reader, so far? The people who run the Ethiopian Wolf absolutely love what I have done and feel it will help promote the wonderful work they do.
Which character from your series of Landybooks would prefer to go on holiday with and why? Interesting. I would go with Dan as he can take me to Lesotho and the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa! After creating this book, I’m longing to go back to walk on African earth again.
Can you tell us something about Landy or yourself that even most loyal fans may not know? Every time I start a new book I always have a vision of it - I think in images rather than words – but am always afraid that I might not be good enough to translate the vision into good illustrations.
Please tell me about the commissions that you do for people who want a portrait of themselves with their Land Rover. People send me images of themselves, or their children, with their own Land Rover and I illustrate them in the Landybook animated-style. Sometimes I can also create a painting of their child with Landy or Fender, so they feel a part of the books. I have not been taking on commissions in the last year, as I have been so busy with the Fender animation, the new book and my educational work, but come the autumn I will start again.
Tell us about the animation stuff? I’ve always hoped that someone might ask if they could do an animation of my books but, not one for hanging around, I thought with a little help I could do something myself. I did some research and found the Engine House in Cornwall and worked closely with them to create simple animations. I then found Fionn Crowe from Sharksbay Films and together we made the short film.
After I released the YouTube video of Landy last year on my Landy and Friends channel – and discovered how much fun it was, I created the Fender film, which came out in June.
I decided to do the narration myself to keep the whole thing as authentic as possible. I found, from writing parodies in the past for colleagues, that I was able to write the music and song lyrics for both the animations - that was a lovely thing to do. When we recorded ‘Landy’s Song’, I felt something was missing, so Mick brought Landy over to my friend’s garage studio and we recorded his engine running. We then used this as the bass line in the song – so really Landy sings along with me!
Check out Landy read out loud on YouTube
On your journey to becoming an author, what has been the best and worst advice you have received? When I sent my original story to a company who advises you on your writing, I had a note back saying: “Landy should drive himself around and when he’s happy he could dance around the garden.” What nonsense! His relationship with his owner Jack is all-important.
The best advice was from one of the doctors at my place of work who said: “Don’t call the book ‘Jack and Landy’ (as I had done) – just call it ‘Landy’.”
Have you had any setbacks? Life is full of setbacks but I always try to think creatively of how to turn them around, which gives me an interesting challenge. Being rejected by Walker Books is one example - I am now so glad that I self-published as it gives me so much more creative freedom. As we all know, you have to go through the hard times to grow in understanding and also learn to roll with the punches.
Who is your favourite children’s author and illustrator, and why? There are so many wonderful illustrators with different styles – I don’t think I have one particular favourite. I like Harald Wiberg’s illustrations in the Tomten, Joyce Lankester Brisley illustrations in the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories, Arthur Rackham, Quentin Blake and so on…
What is your favourite children’s book? The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge has always been my most favourite children’s book and I loved the Magic Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton.
What do you love about writing stories for children? It is the initial thinking of the story in imagery that I find wonderful – you can take it wherever you want to go. When I write, I am not just writing for children, but for the grown-ups who read to children. I want people to identify with my characters and for my books to trigger lots of conversation between children and adults, especially at bedtime.
Please tell us more about the free teaching resource packs that you have launched… I have always been interested in education and did quite a bit of teaching when I was younger. In 2011, I started visiting schools in Devon and Cornwall to read my Landybooks and talk about how I write, illustrate and publish them. Then, after seeing the amazing project work that some of the teachers had done with the children after my visits, such as getting them to create art projects or write songs, I thought it would be great to explore this side of my books.
I decided to start with the first Landy book and inspire Key Stage 1 teachers to carry out cross curricular work based on this book – including maths, science, and design and technology. I have had wonderful encouragement from teachers and now the first Landy Teaching Resource Pack is ready and available free on my ‘Info for Schools’ website page [https://veronicalamond.com/landybooks-2/].
Why do you think non-fiction books are an important part of a child’s home library? Life itself is so amazing and interesting and it is so important for children to find out about all the wonderful things it offers.
Any projects coming up you would like to share with us. For now, I am concentrating on the school packs and vaguely thinking about the next story involving another character in my books called Annie, and her Land Rover – I would like to do this especially for all my girl readers.
LRM book offer
If readers buy Veronica’s books direct from her website they can request dedicated signed copies.
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