INTERVIEW Q&A with John Condon



After his book blog tour for The Best Bear Tracker, published on 18th August by Templar, John Condon had time to stop at Words & Pictures HQ for a cup of tea and chat with Deputy Editor Françoise Price ahead of the launch party.

John Condon

Welcome to Words & Pictures, John, and congratulations on publishing your third picture book The Best Bear Tracker. I really enjoyed reading it and loved the illustrations. What made you decide to write picture books?


Thanks, Fran, I appreciate you giving me your time. The simple answer is that I fell in love with picture books, and couldn’t not write them. Although, being the person that I am, I’ll never truly be convinced that I can write them. 

You wanted to be a filmmaker before becoming a children’s author. Do you still think filmically and, if so, how does that help with writing picture books?

I think so. The finished artwork is always different, of course, but being able to see vignettes and full colour spreads in my imagination is a useful tool. I always put illustration notes in. Initially just for my own benefit, but many of them remain in the version of the text that I send out. I assume that any agent or editor not interested in reading notes will just ignore them. I don’t recommend anyone use excessive illustrations notes as a rule though.

John's first two picture books


How did you manage to sell your first two books to two different publishers, without an agent? Did it become easier when you had an agent?


Luck!? I sold two of the first five stories I ever wrote. I attribute a lot of it to luck — right story, right time, right reader. Once I got an agent, we only sold one of about a dozen or so that were sent out on submission. I signed with my agent 10 minutes before Covid struck and I can only assume that didn’t help matters either.

Children love bears! What made you decide to focus on bears rather than, say, unicorns?


I thought about unicorns, actually. And dragons. In fact, dragons were in the story at one point. Unicorns never go out of fashion — lots of fantastic unicorn stories are still appearing on shelves. Even so, I’m glad I chose to go with bears.

 Illustration by Julia Christians from The Best Bear Tracker

You did quite a bit of research into bears in order to write The Best Bear Tracker. How do you think that helped the story?


Had I gone with unicorns I probably would still have done research. They have been around so long and so much has been written about them, I imagine there is enough consistency to suggest a set of rules might exist. Choosing bears however made that job much easier. There is differing advice/rules for different types of bears but I didn’t want to over-complicate the text. I wanted to keep the story as simple as possible, while still including multiple rules. I think this helps ground it in a reality the reader can appreciate from the get-go.

Do your publishers expect a physical book tour, public speaking at festivals, doing school events?


I don’t feel any pressure from my publishers to do events or social media activity. I wish I could do events though. This is now my full-time job, and for several reasons I feel it would benefit me to be seen more, not least my earning potential, as my current earnings as a full-time author are horrendous. It's easier said than done for me though. I did a reading at my son’s school, just for his class. Even then, once I got home, I was emotionally exhausted and I crashed — sleeping for four or five hours afterwards. The same with my book launches. I want to do them so I can celebrate with friends and family but if I do a reading, it drains me. I’m not a natural actor or entertainer. 

People in the know always say Read Read Read! Do you read a lot of picture books? Have you always read?


Yes! And no! Yes, I read a lot of picture books. I love them. No, I haven’t always read. I didn’t read all that much as a child, I was more a TV fan. I do remember borrowing Tin Tin and Asterix books from my primary school library. And when Raymond Briggs sadly died recently, memories of borrowing and devouring Fungus the Bogeyman came flooding back to me too. And I adore The Snowman with all my heart.


Rule number 2, from The Best Bear Tracker

You’re also a graphic designer and have always been keen on drawing. Have you ever been tempted to do both the writing and illustrating?


I’m eternally crippled by self-doubt. I don’t believe for a second that I could illustrate a picture book to a professional level. I do little doodles in books when I sign them — that’s a far cry from illustrating an entire book, though.

How do you find inspiration and come up with ideas?


I try to be open and receptive to ideas, because I believe they will find me if I am. However, since lockdown and moving out of London, opportunities to pick up ideas have massively reduced, so I’m having to adapt my radar a little. I’m still adding ideas to my list but they are currently few and far between. I think I now have something like 810 in total. It sounds impressive but how many of them have I actually turned into finished stories, eh? Eh!?


Do you have a set daily routine and writing targets?


Nope! I just sit down at the computer and attempt to do something that will benefit me as an author, like editing a current picture book WIP or swimming further into the deep waters of a chapter book. Or perhaps a bit of social media activity. I’ve also started visiting local bookshops to show them my books in the hope they’ll order them in. Inevitably, I’ll buy one of the wonderful books I find there too. I absolutely love bookshops. Children’s bookshops in particular are the most wonderful places to visit and fill me with joy.


Back to your question though, I don’t believe it’s healthy for me to set myself big targets, as I know I’d beat myself up if I don’t meet them. I used to write long to-do lists — now I just try to have a couple of things on the go and dip in and out of them.


Illustration from The Pirates are Coming! by John Condon and Matt Hunt

Do you prefer short word counts? Do you enjoy the editing process?


My picture books texts tend to come in around 350 words, on average. Because of that, I have long believed that I wouldn’t be able to write a chapter book length story. Recently though, I did. Or something akin to one. It’s only 12,000 words but it’s the longest thing I’ve ever written. Another reason why I avoided writing something that length was because I find the editing process torturous and assumed that the pain I feel when editing a 350-word story would only be amplified if I had to edit a chapter book, which I obviously would have to do if I ever wrote one. Which, as mentioned above, I now have. I must be a glutton for punishment then.


You’ve just come to the end of a book blog tour for The Best Bear Tracker — you must be exhausted! What’s next?


Actually, I’m not. It was quite enjoyable and is a totally different kettle of fish to in-person events, for me. I organised it myself, approaching all the bloggers and negotiating the publication dates so they would be consecutive. I can sit (hidden away) behind my screen and answer these types of question all day. I’m not saying my answers will blow anyone away with their insight but they won’t exhaust me either. I also paid for an Instagram tour too.


I’m not sure what’s next. I’m editing that chapter book I mentioned earlier. I’m also trying to finish a Christmassy picture book text that I have been kicking about for a while. My dream would be to have a Christmas book on the shelves. Standing in a children’s bookshop during the Christmas period (probably in a woolly jumper) poring over gorgeous Christmassy books, knowing mine is on the table alongside them. Awesome! Perhaps even a child picks my book up while I’m there? The joy levels would be overwhelming.

Standing in a children’s bookshop during the Christmas period (probably in a woolly jumper) poring over gorgeous Christmassy books, knowing mine is on the table alongside them. Awesome! 

Anyway, after that I plan to write the picture book story that convinced me I wanted to be a picture book author in the first place, around 11 years ago. Beyond that, I have four or five other picture book ideas to develop, and if I get any traction with the chapter book, I have two other story ideas for the series that I can get started on straight away.


In terms of books in the publishing pipeline, I have nothing on the horizon. If any publishers or agents want to help me change that, I’m very much open to offers. : )


Thanks for the interview John. Best of luck with your writing journey.

*Header: front and back cover of The Best Bear Tracker. All images courtesy of John Condon



John Condon is the author of three picture books – The Wondrous Dinosaurium, The Pirates are Coming! and The Best Bear Tracker. He lives with his family in Kent and enjoys weekend walks on the beach. Well, that’s what he tells people. In reality he prefers to sit in an armchair, with a cup of tea, dreaming up story ideas. Occasionally he will go for a walk on the beach but only after putting up a fight.


Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact:


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