ONE YEAR ON Leisa Stewart-Sharpe


In this series, Words & Pictures asks a debut author to describe one aspect of their first year as a published writer. This month, Leisa Stewart-Sharpe talks about how the dreaded L-word impacted the last year since her debut.


November 2020 – we get locked down, but we get up again. My debut year has been eventful! It begins on November 5 as Blue Planet II publishes on the same day that England enters Lockdown 2. The shops close, and for a long time, I never get a chance to see my book on a shelf. I’m a baby author and I don’t know what to do. But then . . . families stuck at home, looking for escapism or home-schooling inspiration, begin reaching for children’s non-fiction. And just like that Blue Planet II becomes an online bestseller. It’s a “pinch me” moment for this debut author. My new career has begun.


 January 2021 . . . it’s groundhog day.


The schools are shut. Again. I’m home-schooling my two wild things, and I have three enormous non-fiction books on deadline. I’ve eaten all the cake and my neighbour is shoving more cake through the hedge in the ultimate act of solidarity. On top of that I can’t get my arms around how to have a virtual author presence. I’m seeing everyone else doing amazing things and for the first time in a long while I’m eating a big ol’ slice of imposter syndrome. I’ve never done a school visit, or a festival and as for online events . . . the squirrels have chewed through the phoneline. I’m new to being an author and I’m nervous about putting myself out there. What if I can’t answer all the children’s questions – I’m a writer, not a zoologist. What if nobody laughs at my jokes? So I do what anyone would do . . . I buy a giant, blue shark costume and start making pre-recorded videos. Pre-recorded feels a bit safer, and a good way to ease myself into figuring out what my author offer could be. I’ve become “the shark woman”.


 Leisa in full shark costume

March 2021 – Lockdown hibernation is over . . .


. . . it’s back to school. We’ve emerged from lockdown hibernation, and I’m slowly emerging too, learning from other authors and illustrators that making the book is only half the story. I need a website, that website needs content, postcards would be handy and what about bookplates for all those amazing indies trying to compete against the Amazon monster? I make a lot of stuff, while also making the books. I recommend WIX, Canva and iMovie, for anyone else wondering how to make stuff, on a shoestring, too.


June 2021 – The summer migration


It’s now been two years since I’ve seen my family and my heart is aching for them. So, in a moment of bravery-slash-insanity, I decide to travel to Australia, alone, with my five and seven-year-old. We’re swabbed within an inch of our lives and, after two long days of travel, the Australian army load us into a coach and deliver us to hotel quarantine, six hours from my Aussie home. We’re detained in a Gold Coast high-rise, and our feet won’t touch the ground for 14 days. We eat whatever is deposited at the door – mostly gristly chicken thighs. I home-school by day, then set my alarm for 4am and edit. Being an author is a portable career. I can totally do this. . . on the other side of the world . . . trapped in a hotel room with my kids . . . sustained by Tim Tams. On day 14 my face is glued to the peephole as a policeman arrives with our “discharge papers” and finally leads us back into the light. It was hell, but we made it, and guess what . . . I finished draft two of my third BBC book too.



The Peephole


August 2021 – What a Wonderful book two!


I’m at home Down Under eating lamingtons, when What a Wonderful World, the first book I ever sold, publishes. It’s big news in my hometown and they stick the kids and I on the local news. That then leads to my first author event at a local bookshop. We make loads of noise, pretend to be ​ crabs and I sell a lot of books. It turns out I LOVE live events. What was I so scared of?


Leisa and her children on the news

September 2021 What happened to autumn?


After two months Down Under we come home to England . . . and we all get Covid. That’s that for Autumn then.



December 2021 A Christmas surprise


My first year as an author is coming to a close. I’ve published two books, written another five that are now with their illustrators or at the printers and I’m just putting my feet up and enjoying a slab of Christmas cake when . . . SURPRISE! Book three, How Does Chocolate Taste on Everest? accidentally arrives, three months’ early. The first time I realise this, I'm staring at a great big stack of them in a local bookshop. So, I whip out my pen and start signing. I figure, 2021 has been completely unpredictable – JUST GO WITH IT.


Leisa signing her books at an actual bookshop

That’s a wrap


My first year as an author (and the year we’d all rather see the back of) is now over. It’s January 2022, I’m eating rice cakes, and as is always the way in non-fiction, I’m on deadline. Book four, The Green Planet, has ​ published at the same time as the new Attenborough show on TV and shot straight to online bestseller. I’m so proud to have made this book while home-schooling my kids in a pandemic!


As I reflect on my first year as an author, I feel so very lucky . . .


  • I get to do the thing I love most – to write. 
  • My words become beautiful books that I make with really good people. 
  • Kids then choose to read those books. 
  • And everybody is thrilled to bits when I dress up as a shark.


This really is the best job in the world.

 *Header image: Blue Planet II by Leisa Stewart-Sharpe, illustrated by Emily Dove 



Leisa Stewart-Sharpe is a trained journalist turned children’s author, who writes stunning non-fiction and picture books. Originally from Australia, Leisa's childhood has inspired her love for the natural world and its strange and wonderful creatures. Her bestselling books Blue Planet II and The Green Planet are part of a major new children’s non- fiction series in collaboration with BBC Earth. Leisa has also written non-fiction on conservation What a Wonderful World, and exploration, How Does Chocolate Taste on Everest?, with plenty more books on the way!

Gulfem Wormald is the Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact: Twitter: @GulfemWormald     

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