East London-based author Lori-Ann Preston is getting ready to release the second installment in her series Thabo, the Space Dude later this month. Subtitled Log Book 2: Destination Mars, it is a sequel to Log Book 1: Last Days on Earth, published in January this year.
Preston has been writing since she was a child. “I wrote my first book when I was eight years old,” she said.
“I used to cut pictures out of magazines, glue them onto paper or card, and then sticky-tape them together.”
It was while she was still a teacher at Beaconhurst School in Beacon Bay that she was first inspired to start writing her current series.
“I was teaching grade 2 and while reading to them, I just thought: ‘You know what? They would really enjoy a good South African book, something they could really relate to and enjoy’.”
Preston first tried looking for an already- published book for her pupils but came up empty.
However, in her search, she discovered Golden Baobab, a non-profit organisation that seeks to increase African representation in children’s storybooks.
The NPO presents literary awards, called the Golden Baobab Prize, to children’s authors from across the continent.
Preston decided to enter and in 2016 she won the Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books with her story, The Ama-zings!. She then used the winnings to retire from teaching to write full-time.
Preston said the response to her work had has been “really amazing”.
“The kids, when I see them or bump into them, afterwards, they’re so excited to see me.
“One of the comments that really stood out was from a little girl who wrote me a letter and she just said that she never thought that she could enjoy reading.”
When it comes to inspiration, Preston points to French comic team René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, creators of the Asterix and Obelix series of comics.
“I grew up reading Asterix and Obelix and I still read them. They’re also intellectual, you learn a lot from them,” she said.
Preston had plenty of advice for children who want to become writers themselves.
“I would say: ‘start now’. There are huge opportunities for children writers in SA at the moment and they are getting picked up by publishing houses.
“Even if you’re not getting picked up by publishing houses, self-publish.
“Write your story down, get it illustrated, take it to a printer and they’ll put it in book format for you. They’ll bind it, lay it out for you, and even get your ISBN [International Standard Book Number] for you, and then you just sell it to your friends.”
For adult writers, she emphasised the importance of perseverance.
“It’s tough, I’m not going to lie. It’s really, really tough. With Thabo 01, I got 40 rejections. I probably only got eight in writing, the rest didn’t even bother to reply,” she said.
However, she did not give up.
“Our tweens are really in need of stories like this,” she said.