Alumna Lizzy Mae van Son Receives Literary Prize

Originally from the Netherlands, but raised in Switzerland, alumna Lizzy Mae van Son graduated from JCU in 2014 with a B.A. in Marketing. Lizzie is Chairwoman at Royal van Son Cosmetics and also a writer and illustrator. Her guidebook Check! The Balkans recently won the Premio Speciale Milano Donna at the Premio Letterario Milano International. Check! The Balkans is the first of a series, with the second book Check! Grow it – Cook it – Eat it having been published at the beginning of December 2023. 

Lizzy Mae van Son
Lizzy Mae van Son

What brought you to Rome and JCU?
I did my first year of university at Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland, but I decided to transfer to John Cabot University to be a little further away from home in a bigger city. I loved Rome and I have incredibly fond memories of my time at JCU. 

You recently won the Premio Speciale Milano Donna at the Premio Letterario Milano International for your guidebook Check! The Balkans. Tell us about the book and the process of writing it.
Check! The Balkans is an illustrated checklist with all the cool travel destinations, traditional dishes, and cultural artifacts to buy in each of the Balkan countries. I started writing and illustrating it as a guide for myself since I travel a lot for work. Every time I took a trip I would stop somewhere on the way to visit something on my checklist. I later sent it to Europa Edizioni and they published the book, which received the “Premio Speciale Milano Donna.” Check! The Balkans is different from a normal guidebook because it contains a checklist of illustrations. Another difference is that it also includes things to try and buy in each country, in order to promote local crafts like pottery or lace techniques that otherwise might disappear. 

How did you become passionate about writing? What were the main challenges and rewards of writing this book?
When I was a child, I found an old typewriter in the basement that belonged to my grandfather, and I would pretend to write books with it. As a person with dyslexia, writing was never my strength, but drawing was, and now I combine the two to make the “Check” book collection since I received two more publishing contracts. The second book just came out and it’s called Check! Grow it – Cook it – Eat it. It’s an illustrated recipe book that can help readers to be more sustainable by growing their own ingredients at home. These gardening tips are followed by homemade recipes that the readers can cook after they harvest their ingredients.

The third book, called Check! Aperitivos from Around The World, will come out in 2024, and it’s an illustrated guide that has different aperitivo recipes from around the world. For this last book, going to JCU was very helpful since I made many friends from different cultures who taught me everything about their home country. I illustrated the books myself, as I have always loved drawing and painting.

"Check! The Balkans" book cover and the Premio Speciale Milano Donna
Check! The Balkans book cover and the Premio Speciale Milano Donna

What tips and/or advice would you give to aspiring writers?
A tip for my fellow writers is to just do it! I think that many people who write are slightly insecure about their work like I was. But once you make the step to send your work to the publisher, you might be positively surprised. Of course, it can happen to receive negative feedback, but that doesn’t mean that your work is not good, just that it doesn’t fit that particular publisher, so keep trying.

What JCU class and/or professor impacted you the most and why? How have your Marketing studies at JCU helped you in your career?
Professor Susan Fuller and Professor Alessandro Signorini were by far my favorite professors. Their marketing classes helped me immensely with everything I did, including the books. Since I illustrate the books myself, when the publishers receive my work they like the way they look compared to just text. I am certain that this helped to get them published, so presentation is everything. 

What are your plans for the future?
I am currently writing four more illustrated books, so I hope that they will be published too. Later on, I would also like to work on a book for children or maybe write a mystery novel. 

Anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t forget to follow my Instagram @checkitoffyourbucketlist.