Category Archives: Jenny Landor
Apples, blackberries and pumpkins… Nature’s grand autumnal finale always triggers in me a kind of elation no other season can match. Ever since childhood, it’s been my favourite time of year. The shortening days, tinged with melancholy, the smell of ploughed earth and the prospect of bonfires are definitely part of it. And I still can’t resist kicking up the leaves – especially under the horse chestnuts where the greatest treasure of all might suddenly gleam up at me: the perfect conker.
Last week saw the celebration of one of the country’s most traditional games at the World Conker Championship in Southwick, Northamptonshire. Organised by the Ashton Conker Club, the contest has been running for fifty years. It attracts thousands of visitors and teams from the around the world who fight it out like gladiators, armed only with a nut and 12 inches of string. All of which prompted me to add the following piece of fun to our creative archive. Someone once told me that it isn’t just about good hand-eye coordination and the desire to conquer. You have to psych your opponent out …
Just a game
Okay, now here’s the thing
It’s a nut on the end of a knotted string.
You hit mine, I SMASH yours …
Yes, let’s go play out of doors.
This is my favourite,
See that gleam?
It knows it’s on the winning team.
Good question; how can I possibly tell?
I partly oven-baked the shell.
Ha! Only joking.
Are you ready?
Three fat misses!
My turn, hold steady.
No, the sun wasn’t in your eyes.
That’s the rule, you had your tries.
Don’t go bonkers,
It’s just a simple game of conkers.
Poem and photo by Jenny Landor
Illustration by Julia Draper
One of the first books I ever owned as a child was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis. Lucy, the youngest of the four Pevensie children – my age and clearly the heroine! – won my heart, especially when no-one would believe her about the existence of Narnia. I re-read the book several times over, and whenever I crept with her through the fur coats to that icy world gripped by permanent winter, it sent tingles down my spine. It became a sort of touchstone for what I was looking for in a good story. Though I grew up disagreeing with some of its themes, as an eight-year-old the religious symbolism went right over my head. Aslan shaking his golden mane to bring back spring was, for me, about the magnificence of nature. What the book provided was a sense of wonder at the ordinary world. I made dens in my own wardrobe and lived in a land of make-believe dreaming up stories about seemingly mundane everyday things that turned out to be extraordinary. The iconic lamppost had worked its magic.
So it’s no exaggeration to say The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of the books that turned me into a writer and led me to become a member of Electrik Inc. We refer to ourselves as ‘inklings’, a fun nickname which isn’t only about digital ink and indie publishing, the group’s purpose. It also conveys a sense of magic just around the corner; that goosebump moment when your imagination is on the verge of something fabulous. How strange then to discover that the great C S Lewis himself was also an Inkling – along with his friend and drinking buddy, the author of a vastly different yet equally remarkable fantasy series, J R R Tolkein …
‘The Inklings’ were a small literary circle, mostly academics of Oxford University, who met every Thursday evening in Lewis’s college rooms to read aloud and critique the books they were each writing. Like us, they were a fellowship of friends as much as writing colleagues. Among the group was the lawyer, philosopher and author Owen Bardfield, and it was to his daughter, Lucy, that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was dedicated.
Rather more informal meetings took place in The Eagle and Child which became a favourite haunt every Tuesday for many years between 1939 and 1962. On a recent trip to Oxford I decided to visit the pub to pay homage. It’s a must for Narnia fans. Built around 1650, The Bird and Baby, as it’s also known, is a warren of small wood-panelled rooms that feel a bit like the compartments of an old-style railway carriage. ‘The Rabbit Room’, where The Inklings met, is at the back and the walls are full of memorabilia. Most intriguing of all is a framed letter signed by eight of them and addressed to the pub landlord, Charlie Blagrove. ‘The undersigned, having just partaken of your house, have drunk your health,’ it declares.
It’s probably safe to assume that a few beers had been consumed at the time of signing. Lewis’s handwriting looks especially wobbly. The document is dated 11th March 1948, the year he completed The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. We’re told by his biographer that he read it aloud to his friends. And apparently, Tolkein loathed it. The creator of The Lord of the Rings was meticulous in the way he crafted Middle Earth and didn’t approve of Lewis’s jumbling of different mythologies.
Were feathers ruffled at The Bird and Baby? As an Inkling used to forthright editorial debate I couldn’t help imagining the conversation…:‘My dear fellow, you’ve got a lion, a witch, a magical wardrobe, various fauns and centaurs, a pair of talking beavers, even an appearance by Father Christmas. It’s wild beyond belief. Simplify, that’s the ticket. Give Narnia some rules, for heaven’s sake.’
A jowly photo of Lewis stares down in the Rabbit Room. I could almost hear him harrumphing into his pint. ‘At least it’s about ordinary children. Your protagonist lives in a hole, has pointy ears and hairy feet!’
I must have been intoxicated – not by drink, honest! Simply by being in Oxford, that most hallowed of literary places – but, I swear, as I left and headed along St Giles something about the pub sign was different. The child, who at first glance, looked like he was being abducted by a horrible huge bird, was actually smiling … Whatever you think of the world view underlying Narnia (I’d much rather help build Philip Pullman’s ‘republic of heaven’) it’s nevertheless a fairy tale that expanded the imaginations of a generation of children like me.
The lamp light shines on, creating new inklings.
Wishing you a wondrous spring.
Jenny Landor, Co-founder
It’s like discovering hidden treasure and having to keep it a secret. That’s how the Electrik Inc team felt when they first read Walking on Gold, the new novel by children’s author and Bath Spa creative writing lecturer, Janine Amos.
Aimed at 8-12 year olds, the book is the fourth novel to grace Electrik Inc’s independent publishing list and will be published in paperback and as an ebook on October 1. Among the first lucky readers will be children attending the Bath Literature Festival where Janine will be presenting ‘Buried Treasure!’, a children’s writing workshop organised in association with The Roman Baths on October 5.
Walking on Gold is a gem of a read with an intriguing archaeological twist. The story concerns young Effie, a city girl who is transported to a wild and remote island, her mother’s childhood home. The roaring sea and howling wind are strange at first but she soon begins to love her new home, especially when she accidentally uncovers an ancient golden brooch. But there are family secrets as well as buried treasure on the island and when things go wrong, Effie needs all her determination to save everything she cares about.
Apart from having an exciting and moving plot, the novel manages to mix gritty realism (particularly in its handling of family relationships) with a writing style that is both magical and lyrical. No surprise to learn that Dylan Thomas is the author’s favourite poet and word juggler. Janine’s own Welsh heritage shines through, as does her passion for archaeology. She regularly takes part in archaeological digs herself, which you can read about here on her website.
At this year’s Bath Children’s Literature Festival Janine will be teaming up with The Roman Baths and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, taking inspiration from Bath’s Roman coin hoard. There’ll be Roman coins to handle and props and activities to help children get started on a writing adventure of their own.
Janine, who co-founded Electrik Inc and gave the group its name, has worked as a children’s commissioning editor in London, Bath, Berlin and Chicago and is already a successful author with books translated into 14 languages.
Walking on Gold can be ordered online via Amazon and will be available at local bookshops to coincide with the Festival. Janine will also be signing copies after the children’s writing workshop.
Co-founder, Electrik Inc
Spring has sprung early at Electrik Inc thanks to the design team at The Curved House. They swept in like a new broom sprucing up our blogsite, installing a bright new banner, sorting out the clutter and generally making sure everything worked. We’re delighted with the result and our mascot, Pip, is very happy to be centre stage championing ‘Our Books’. A big thank you to Kristen Harrison and Rowan Powell.
And congratulations to The Curved House on their own new ‘make a book’ project for children. The creative agency have established a new division, Curved House Kids, and are busy creating books which primary-aged children can either illustrate or write themselves. What a fantastic idea! Check out their website here.
And while we’re on the subject of promoting reading and literacy, we’d like to thank everyone who supported our Stories for Stockings campaign just before Christmas. It created a great buzz with the magic spreading far and wide all the way to Japan via more than 100 facebook shares.
Jenny Landor, Co-founder
Children are reading fewer books than ever, with increasingly more time spent on games apps, Youtube and text messaging. Sadly, many are becoming non-readers. After reading this report in theguardiancom, we are campaigning to persuade Father Christmas to include a story in every child’s stocking (ebooks as well as physical ones). We need your help to make this happen.
Treasure This, the startling debut novel by Kay Leitch, former production editor of Cosmopolitan and The Sunday Times Magazine, is the third title to grace Electrik Inc’s independent publishing list.
A whodunit for kids (from 10 to 100),Treasure This promises mystery and suspense, drama and dead bodies – and all before breakfast!
Vivid and fast-paced, it has a plot that would make Agatha Christie herself breathless. At its centre is 12-year-old Addison, a sharp-witted, funny and hugely loveable heroine, who goes out one morning and finds a dead body in her aunt and uncle’s garden shed. Bang. From this explosive opening, a roller-coaster of action takes us into the heart of family secrets and lies, with more than a hint of dark farce along the way. Addy feels sure her lovely aunt and uncle couldn’t have done the deed. But when the body disappears and no-one – including Caitlin, her wannabe Goth sister, and little brother, Leaf – believes a word she says, this modern-day Miss Marple is determined to find out what’s going on … even if it leads her to more buried bodies …
Set in a rambling country house with thugs loitering menacingly nearby, the story has shades of the blood-drenched detective drama, Midsomer Murders, and reading it is a little like sitting in an audience, watching a thriller unfold. Great TV material here.
Written with sparkling wit and often great hilarity, Treasure This is a gritty story which doesn’t shy away from tough issues. It’s much more than a whodunit. As Kay says in her blog, http://kaywritesheretoo.wordpress.com: ‘It isn’t your average mystery thriller. It doesn’t follow rules (I don’t like rules). It throws up questions we all meet on our journey through life, about families, love, actions and consequences, secrets – good and bad – and that grey No Man’s Land in between. Poor Addy has to deal with all that. It’s quite a journey for her.’
We love this book … Definitely one to treasure.
Co-founder, Electrik Inc
‘A book is a series of secrets exposed…’ A wonderful comment from the celebrated children’s author David Almond on Sunday’s Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4. If you missed it and you’re either a children’s writer or a lover of children’s books do listen. You can catch up here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01r50yy/Desert_Island_Discs_David_Almond/
David was talking about the experience of reading with his daughter Freya when she was small and the shared joy and suspense of turning the page.
For me the comment applies equally to the process of writing. It does sometimes feel as if the story has been sent from another realm and the secrets unfold by themselves. Here’s David on the process of writing Skellig, his first children’s novel:
“With Skellig it did seem to write itself, it was weird. And at times I almost had to write it from the side of my eye – you know, I couldn’t look at it too closely. So I almost had to, not ignore it, but just allow it to happen there. It was such a strange book to write… There is a sense when you are writing well – and it also came when I began writing for children – that there’s a kind of world of myth and story which is just beside us and at times you are allowed access to it.’
David Almond is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. We Inklings were in training there, before his time sadly, but his work made an impact. Fired by the magic of reading Skellig I wrote a song and sang it in class, much to the shock of fellow writers. The Seagull’s Song was later set to music by composer Sarah Watts and published in a children’s choir book. Magical moments do sometimes catch you when you’re not looking.