We’ve been shouting a lot about Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew on all our social media channels. It’s a beautifully told, unique love story with the most wonderful shiny gold front cover. Set in the depths of the ocean, the story is all about Merman Nen, falling in love with a fisherman, in a wonderful, fairytale romance. There aren’t loads of children’s books around that feature two men falling in love so we are pushing for this to make its way onto school bookshelves to diversify the stories they’re told and show children that love is love. Books like this normalise and validate all kinds of relationships and help all children see the many options available to them in their lives. It’s our absolute privilege to have grabbed some time with author Ian Eagleton, who has generously answered our ten questions…
Why did you start writing books for children?
I actually started writing children’s picture books when I was 28, so it’s been eight years of sending manuscripts to publishers and getting rejections! Writing books for the children I taught was always hilarious and with brutal feedback! I have been with my husband for nearly ten years now and when we started thinking about having children, I desperately wanted to make sure that our child saw their family in the books they read. I think I was also writing for the little boy who felt different and never saw himself in fairy tales and the gay teenager who was bullied and felt alone.
How did you get your book out into the world?
I wrote Nen and the Lonely Fisherman at the beginning of March 2020, just as the first lockdown was happening. It felt very therapeutic. I remember sitting in the garden in the hazy sunshine and dreaming of mermen and underwater worlds. It seemed like a lovely escape from the stress and worry of the pandemic.
After trying a few different ways of writing the book, I found a style that I liked and sent it off to Owlet Press on a Friday night. They emailed the next day and asked if they could speak to me. They wanted to chat before any other publishers could get an offer in. I had a video call with Sam, the director of Owlet Press, and was signing a contract the next day! Having waited so long to publish a book, it just felt right. Sam ‘got’ the book and what I was trying to achieve instantly and had lots of ideas about how to develop it. We showed it to James Mayhew and he loved it too. It was a huge honour when he agreed to illustrate it. Can you imagine – one of my favourite illustrators creating such a stunning world for a book I’d written!
Why did you write this book?
I LOVED mermaids and sunken cities as a child – there’s something magical and mysterious about them. We went swimming every weekend and I would always pretend to have a mermaid tail as I swam around!
I wrote so many stories about mermaids as a child. And often got in trouble for not writing about anything else!
Children at every age have a right to see same-sex couples represented in their books in an age-appropriate, positive and celebratory way.
This is a story for the children who never saw themselves in fairy tales and for the LGBT+ teenagers, who like me, grew up feeling excluded from the literary space.
Do you relate to any characters in your stories – which ones and in what way?
There are bits of myself into all the characters. I very rarely listen to advice or suggestions – much like Nen constantly ignoring his father! I’m also relatively quiet and shy too, being lonely and on my own for a long time, like Ernest. I also love creating and making things like him too.
What’s your favourite book and why?
Oh, so many! It’s probably best to ask what’s my favourite book right now, as it changes all the time. I love reading crime thrillers – a passion I think I’ve got from my mum. In terms of children’s picture books I love Dapo Adeola, Rashmi Sirdeshpande, David Litchfield and the Fan Brothers. I’m a huge fan of Jessica Love and ‘Julian is a Mermaid’, which made me gasp! I also love Abi Elphinstone, Ross Montgomery, Louis Stowell, Sophie Anderson, so I try and read a children’s book every week!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Apart from a mermaid, I always wanted to be a teacher. I was a primary school teacher for thirteen years and adored it. I love art, writing, music and anything creative and am very proud of all the children I’ve taught. Their resilience, hard work, dedication, humour and passion. I’m taking a step back from teaching at the moment and just do a few days a month now!
What do you want children to get from your books?
Firstly, and most importantly, joy and wonder and that cosiness when you cuddle up with an adult and share a book is magic. I hope children will love seeing Nen and Ernest’s relationship grow and develop. That it might make some subtle suggestions about how we can look after our oceans and each other. The best thing is when children create artwork and their own stories inspired by your book. I’m looking forward to reading children’s own modern fairy tales and seeing all their mermaid artwork!
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
The best pieces of advice I’ve always been given are from my Mum . She was a primary school teacher too and always helped me and let me chat about my day and what had happened.
Finish this sentence for us…Reading from diverse bookshelves….
Helps you understand yourself and others. It helps you to peek into other people’s lives and empathise with them. It helps you understand that, despite our differences, we have much in common.
A message to readers of your book?
I hope you find so much joy, wonder and magic in our little book. That it helps you to imagine and dream and know that everyone deserves a happily ever after.