WRITING Debuting when you're older: Lindsay Littleson

For many children's authors, publication happens later on in their careers. With several published novels and counting, Lindsay Littleson chats to Deputy Editor Françoise Price about debuting in her 50s 

Children's author Lindsay Littleson

Hi Lindsay and welcome to Words & Pictures! You have several traditionally-published novels under your belt. What age were you when you debuted? 


My first book, The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean, was published in 2015 when I was 53. My eighth novel, Euro Spies, came out in April last year.


How many years had you been writing up to that point? Did you come up against any barriers to getting published or did it happen quite seamlessly?


The barriers have been partly of my own making. In my teens and early twenties, I wrote poetry and short stories, but when publication didn’t happen quickly, I lost confidence and stopped writing completely. In 2013/14 it finally dawned on me that my writing dreams weren’t going to happen without effort and resilience. I began writing and sending stories to competitions and this time round, was able to take rejections on the chin. Within a few months, I was shortlisted for the Swanwick Writing for Children Prize and had a children’s story published in Writing Magazine and those successes encouraged me to have a go at writing a novel.


Your first book, The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean, won the 2014 Kelpies Prize… How did you feel when you signed that first contract?


It felt surreal, to be honest. Publication had been my dream for so long and now it had finally come true. Of course, it didn’t take me long to realise that the hard work was just beginning and that my hopes and expectations for my first novel had been totally unrealistic!

Lindsay with her eighth novel, published 2023, Euro Spies

You’ve been busy writing and publishing novels ever since. Did you ever wish you started writing much earlier or do you think the craft of writing is something that benefits from maturity?


For me, leaving my writing career to later in life has worked well. I have met some wonderful writing friends, and overall, the experience has been positive and enjoyable. There doesn’t seem any point in wishing I’d started earlier, because something else would have had to give. I worked super-hard as a primary teacher, loved my job, believe I was really good at it and know I’m a better writer for having been a teacher first. But that’s just my story. I wouldn’t dream of advising other writers to do it my way. We’ve all got to follow our own paths and tell our own stories.


Can you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard you were going to be published?


I was at the Kelpie’s Award Ceremony at the Edinburgh Book Festival, standing with Ian and three of my kids, while YA author Claire McFall made a speech and then opened a golden envelope. When she announced The Mixed-Up Summer as the winning novel, I was rendered literally speechless. Which was terrible timing, as the Kelpies staff were hoping for a few coherent words from their new novelist.


What attracted you to children’s writing?


As a primary teacher and mother of four kids, I spent a lot of time reading children’s stories. There’s something absolutely magical about great children’s fiction and I loved sharing favourite books from my own childhood like The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, A Dog So Small, Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Borrowers. As a child, the stories I read had a huge impact on my understanding of the world, which is why I get so infuriated by the attitude of ‘it doesn’t matter if the book’s drivel, as long as it gets children reading’. It really matters, actually.

 Lindsay signing Guardians of the Wild Unicorns

What were your day jobs before you became a full-time writer?


My first proper job was in the Inland Revenue. I lasted eight years before finally escaping to train as a primary teacher. Most of my teaching career was spent in infants, and I loved helping to develop children’s literacy skills and encouraging a love of reading for pleasure.


With the benefit of hindsight would you do anything differently?


Thinking it was all about the book was a rookie error on my part and if I could do it all again I would become a celebrity first. Then I’d be invited on BBC’s The One Show and my advances and marketing budgets would be humungous.


What in your opinion are the benefits (and pitfalls) of writing/getting published when you’re older? 

For me, the benefits of being published when I’m older is that I have a small teacher’s pension as back-up funds and my mortgage is finally paid off. Most of my ‘writing’ income comes from school visits and school budgets are currently under immense strain. Without my pension, I’d be in a constant state of stress about money!


Do you use any special techniques for writing inspiration and motivation? And what do you do for well-being and relaxation?


When I need inspiration, I like to visit museums and art galleries. I feel very lucky to live near Glasgow as Kelvingrove and the Burrell are full to bursting with inspiring objects and pictures. I like doodling too and always draw my characters first.


Motivation is a perpetual problem. A deadline helps me a lot, as without one I tend to procrastinate horribly. Wordcounts on sticky notes help a little.


Well-being wise, I have joined a gym and actually go sometimes. I have started doing a yoga class on a Friday and can stand on one leg for longer than before, so that’s something. Friday is also my meet-up-with-friends-for-lunch day, and I think that is probably the most important thing I do for my well-being.

Motivation is a perpetual problem. A deadline helps me a lot, as without one I tend to procrastinate horribly. Wordcounts on sticky notes help a little 

Were there any organisations, mentors and/or books that you feel really helped in your goal of becoming a writer?


SCBWI Scotland were amazing. Sheila Averbuch got in touch in 2014 when she heard I was on the Kelpies shortlist and invited me to a SCBWI social event at the Edinburgh Festival, where I met lots of lovely people and felt immediately keen to become part of their world! SCBWI support in the last eight years has been invaluable. Later, I joined the wonderful Glasgow Children’s Writers Group — sharing ideas with talented people like Dean Atta, Tita Berredo and Maisie Chan was totally inspiring!


Did you ever feel you experienced ageism before you became a published writer?


Not openly, no, although it may have been a factor in some of the many rejections from agents!


I’ve found that with advancing age it is all too easy to develop a negative ‘it wasn’t like that in my day’ attitude.  As a primary teacher, I was always aware that I needed to limit the eye-rolling when new initiatives were announced and be prepared to take new ideas on board throughout my career. I think I’ve carried that approach forward into my new life as a writer. I might be older but I’m keen to keep learning.


Did you ever consider self-publishing?


I have self-published a picture book, A Dream Plan for Dottie, in collaboration with an artist friend, Kay Nicolson. It was a lovely, small-scale project and I have no regrets about self-publishing, but promoting and marketing the book is mainly possible because of Kay’s hard work at art/craft fairs. I’m not sure how self-publishing an MG novel would work out for me but would never say never.


What projects are in the pipeline?


At the moment I am working on the proof reads of my new novel, Ice Cream Boy, which is being published in May by Floris Books. The story is set in both Glasgow and Italy and features contemporary issues including racism, family upheaval and financial insecurity.


Here's the blurb: Twelve-year-old Luca Verani has his future all mapped out: who needs school when he's going to take over his family's ice cream cafe? But then his aunt announces she's selling the struggling business and Luca realises that his nonna's memory is disappearing. Plus, he's starting high school and one of his best friends Sitara is being targeted by racist bullies. As Luca's worries pile up, will his dreams melt away?


What would you say to other older writers hoping to get published?


I’d give them the same advice I would give to writers of any age: join a supportive writing group, be willing to take advice and keep writing.


*Header image by Ell Rose and Tita Berredo;

all other images courtesy of Lindsay Littleson



Lindsay Littleson is an award-winning middle-grade author who lives in a village near Glasgow with her partner Ian and their noisy cat, Roo. Lindsay’s books include Euro Spies, Carnegie-nominated Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, The Titanic Detective Agency and Kelpies Prize-winning The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean, which was also longlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize. Her latest novel, Ice Cream Boy, comes out in May 2024.
Find Lindsay on Twitter/X @ljlittleson Website: lindsaylittleson.co.uk



Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at: illustrators@britishscbwi.org

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at: illuscoordinator@britishscbwi.org


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