I’m delighted to introduce debut author Lynn McAllister to my blog for a chat about her book Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of Artificial Intelligence and the world domination she has planned!
Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?)
I am a first-time children’s author from Twickenham UK. I have been living in Twickenham with my partner and 2 daughters, who are 12 and 15 now, for some years having grown up in Spalding, Lincolnshire, named South Holland due to the similarities of the flat landscape and tulips! – A rural setting, where I grew up with my parents and the ‘twins’ – my brother and sister!
I first moved to South East London and over the years migrated to the lovely leafy suburbs of South West London! I work as an administrator in a special needs school for students with speech and language difficulties, which only opened in 2019. The whole experience in getting the school up and running had been a valuable, unique experience, with many challenges along the way, but ultimately rewarding. The lockdowns and restrictions have been especially testing for all educators, delivering classes in school, planning online lessons for home schooling and providing support to parents and students.
Over the years I have worked in various administrative roles in private companies, including Cable & Wireless, the telecoms company, which had a lot of business in the Caribbean. I was lucky enough to visit to set up Fraud Prevention training workshops in Barbados and Antigua but did get caught up in a hurricane and nearly drowned in the middle of the night! I worked in municipal roles and lately education, from nursery, when my girls were babies, Primary (ages 4-11), Secondary (11- 18) through to University here in Twickenham.
I love art, drawing and being creative and have an Etsy shop online selling my greeting cards under the name Lynn Carol Designs, which is taking a bit of a back seat at the moment, with all that is going on. I also love reading, writing, and cycling, keeping fit and healthy when we can despite the national restrictions. We have 2 rabbits called Poppy and Pippy – Pippy is now nearly 9 years old – the greeting cards were inspired by the rabbits and are mostly rabbit themed for those who love bunnies!
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)
This is my first book to be published although I do have one called Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of Wind – about excessive sugar consumption and the need to eat healthily. This is a work in progress – but you can see there is a theme running through the books so far.
What genre is it, and what is it about?
It’s a children’s book for 8-13 years, a fantasy story, and a cautionary tale – a fun story with a serious message.
The main message of the book is to be aware of the dangers of online safety and too much screen time which all children can relate to. Reading is hugely beneficial for children from the perspective of developing skills in reading and writing, both at school or at home and is interactive – an activity which can be shared – with parents or guardians, carers, family and friends. Lyrical stories and rhymes can be accompanied by music and can be sung. Check out rappers and poets and songwriters. Children love storybooks, and nursery rhymes and will read their favourites over and over again. We learn so much from reading both in book form and online, which of course is one of the wonders of the internet. We learn to form opinions, share ideas and learn about life and expectations, read about fantasy and developing ideas, and all manner of information. The written word is a vital part of communication that is a life source to us.
The themes of this book include the adverse effects of screen time and refers to the dangers of online safety – as an educational professional we do extensive training on online safety and child protection which is extremely important – prevention is the key, being vigilant and embedding online safety education into the curriculum so that the children are aware of the risks and keep safe.
It is also about empowerment and confidence in a digital landscape so digital literacy and citizenship is enormously important too. I always refer to the NSPCC for guidance on safety which is fantastic and the basis for all online safety – keeping children safe is what they do and so Pixie does too! I wanted this book to be used as a resource to raise awareness about online safety, but it can be used in English and creative writing also. Online safety is a key part of safeguarding. We have a duty of care to safeguard our kids as parents as well as in school. The dangers are wide-ranging and can be horrific – we know there is a dark side and we need to provide the tools for our kids to protect themselves and for us to protect them. As well as online safety there are also adverse effects of too much screen time including irritability, lack of concentration and lack of sleep, too much stimulation on no downtime.
There are many advantages of technological advancement but ultimately children need to be Masters of the Technology which will be part of their lives in the future and be ahead of the game! Know the risks and be safe! I have very quickly realised that having a real positive impact on children’s lives and their safety and education is immensely rewarding so I will use the books and the platforms available to me to promote these key ideas.
The message of the book is to be aware of the dangers of online safety in simple terms, know that there is a dark side (such as cyberbullying and cybercrime, predators and grooming) and observe Pixie’s online safety rules for kids. The positives though far outweigh the downsides – the fact that over 7.5 billion people in the world have access to a mobile phone is phenomenal and that means that a lot of children will now have access to education.
I would like to convey this message to children: To children across the world: ‘Children – have fun, play with your friends, share ideas, live life and explore. Use technology wisely, understand the risks but ultimately wonder at the sheer volume of learning available to you and information you can explore. Read loads of books as they can enhance your lives, extend your knowledge, escape into a fantasy world. There are no boundaries to exploration and imagination, but remember the message – to be safe and know the risks. Be happy! Live well, be kind, be thoughtful, always have fun! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Share, talk, love, be safe….. Ultimately – BE YOU!
What or who inspired you to write this book?
I did not set out to become an author, but I have two daughters who, like children across nations, are susceptible to all kinds of pitfalls, risks and dangers in life and need guidance and education to pick their way through, choose the right paths and blossom into well rounded adults, know the risks and be safe. I wanted to create a 3d character, like them, who loves life, is fallible but strong in character and able to overcome the dangers and ultimately champion the cause. A role model and heroine who can be brought to life in any media – film, TV, animation theatre, musicals – no limit really. I wanted it to be fun and silly and draw children in, to think about the message and the wordplay and discuss solutions, pave the way, develop opinions and stimulate creativity.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
I must be honest and say that I have found the journey to be a little fraught, I have been hesitant and uncertain of the right path, but I have enjoyed the writing immensely, ideas coming at me in fits and starts and you learn so much as you go along. The joy of having a book you have written published and in your hand and out there is truly wonderful and I feel so proud. The writing communities on many different platforms are very supportive and offer great advice too.
If you asked me about the process and timelines I would say that for me, since I needed illustrations and formatting, the production process was around 10-11 months. When I had finished writing the text, that is to say the actual story, which is a rhyming text, (it really did not take me long to write as I had a sudden rush to the head, so to speak), I was not convinced however, it was going to be an actual book. I was a complete novice and not sure what to do but I tried the conventional route which is to approach the larger publishers who are more likely to publish established writers, and was turned down on this basis. I approached Austin Macauley, however, and they sent me a contract. I needed illustrators who came as part of the contract which was great. As part of the deal you pay a contribution towards the production costs and the whole process takes several months, whereby you can share ideas and agree the format and illustrations to the final draft. I was very happy with the production of the book and really proud when the copies were sent to me and I had my book in my hand.
I would say to aspiring authors that you have to give it a go. See what works for you as there are so many more ways of publishing now such as self-publishing and lots of information and tips online. The hard work starts when the book is published though, as marketing takes a lot of commitment and confidence to drive to seek opportunities and have faith in yourself!
What do you enjoy most about writing and why?
Writing is very creative and therapeutic. You can lose yourself in it and forget about everything else. I began writing about Pixie Van Dimple not long after my father passed away, so I feel that I may have used the process of writing as a kind of response – I had a creative rush, and also an urge to create a character who could be a role model and an inspiration to children. Having worked in education for some years now, and as a parent of two girls, I like the thought of my books being read and enjoyed by children. It’s an unexpected surprise that it has actually come about – I am delighted! My English teacher would have been delighted too.
List three interesting facts about yourself
Wow that is always hard to come up with! Not very interesting facts are:
- I have a red birthmark on my left calf. It is probably on my passport.
- My paternal grandfather had one arm (as he lost an arm from the elbow down in the Second World War) and amazingly mended watches upon return and was a fantastic painter.
- My maternal grandfather was killed aged 30 in the Second World War and my mother never knew him but he was an amazing artist and we have pencil drawings he did whilst out in the field – his son and my mother’s brother inherited his artistic talent and created cartoons for the Merchant Navy magazine under the name of Deek. We need to remember the older generations and those who experienced or were affected by the world wars.
What is your least favourite part of the publishing/writing process?
I think that publishing a book is not an easy process and for a first time author, like I have said, is very difficult – to know where to start, and who to go to and how to get the book off the ground. I have not had a huge amount of experience up to now but for me the actual writing has not been so difficult, but the length of the production process does take months of waiting so the lead time is long. Then the marketing is quite hard – I have learned that authors don’t on the whole, become millionaires writing, unless you are really lucky and opportunities present themselves, but the rewards are far more valuable as you can feel proud to have the book you always dreamed of in your hand.
What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
I would be delighted to receive positive feedback from readers, children, parents, and teachers. In order to make sure the word gets out I would need positive feedback and reviews posted on Amazon and social media, and Goodreads. Ask for the book in bookstores to generate interest and create demand for the book shops to stock the book for e.g. Waterstones. Post a picture of the book on Instagram, Twitter or TikTok. If you are an influencer or do book reviews, please feel free to contact me to review my book. We need to blow our own trumpets, and need help to propel our books into the limelight. Commercially, children’s books as a market is huge and those with large marketing budgets and the added advantage of celebrity status, means it is even more difficult for emerging authors.
What is your next project?
The second in the series in the adventures of Pixie Van Dimple is Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of Plastic currently in production – coming out later this year. The themes being ocean pollution/plastic pollution and the effects on marine life and also highlight the need for sustainability in all areas. Another huge issue which will affect us, our environment and our future generations for years to come. Something that children are very interested in and eager to talk about.
I have a full on campaign going on over on LinkedIn involving plastics, recycling, sustainability, circular economy, supply chain, up cycling, refilling, the environmental impacts, carbon emissions, climate change – across multiple industries including food, fashion, cars (Formula E Race against Climate change), packaging, plastic bottles and containers, sustainable goods and services – sustainability has indeed landed and consumers now wish to know how ethically a product has been made and if the companies producing them consider the impact they have on the environment. Young people are more passionate than ever about this and so we need to keep raising awareness and encouraging innovations in these areas. Embedding more into school curriculums about sustainable growth would benefit future generations, and can be taught through different subjects, geography, maths, sciences, English and art!
I have developed brilliant relationships with contacts on LinkedIn and am hoping to work with Prevented Ocean Plastics based in the Richmond area – they have been hugely successful in recent months having only been up and running for just over a year. Promoting the recycling of plastics for bottles and packaging they have a partnership with recycled plastics company Bantam Plastics who produce recycled plastics using plastics collected from coastal areas at risk from ocean plastic pollution. The list of partnerships is growing fast but they supply the likes of Waitrose, Lidl and more chains. They are educators and raise awareness supporting schemes close to their heart and collaborating with other companies forging partnerships – joining the dots to create a truly sustainable future.
I have also been in contact with Seven Clean Seas based in Singapore and who are working so hard in the region to clean up the beaches, collecting plastics and sustain employment for the locals too – their business have grown immensely too. Their mission statement is: Our mission is to preserve the marine environment by ridding the ocean of plastic for good. We exist to clean, conserve, and educate. Our seas and oceans are the most important ecosystem on Earth. We want to help protect all the wonderful life which call them home.
When Pixie’s book comes out I am hoping to dedicate it to these wonderful companies who are striving to make a difference to our futures.
There is much to say on the subject of sustainability – fashion is another polluter – I am loving the work Stephanie Benedetto – Co founder of Queen of Raw – and a sustainability entrepreneur, is doing in the US creating a marketplace to buy and sell unused textiles, keeping them out of landfills and turning pollution into profit. And I have discovered Waterbear Network which is a streaming service associated with the likes of WWF streaming programmes. The first streaming platform dedicated to the future of the planet – watch connect take action.
Pixie can take on more campaigns – Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of…? and expand into comics, gaming, short stories, mashed up stories such as Little Red Riding Hoodie featuring Pixie Van Dimple. A film! Oh, the possibilities are endless.
Connect with Lynn here:
Introducing twelve-year-old Pixie Van Dimple, the centre of all the drama, the protagonist and heroine! She is a typical girl; goes to school, hangs out with her friends in the park, has sleepovers, loves shopping and is always hungry! She also loves her phone! The linchpin of her world. Everyone has one and they are all connected – all is not well in smart phone world though as there are many dangers… she has been warned… what is the fuss about? Well, she will soon find out and it is truly disturbing.