Tag Archives: children’s books

One ring to rule them all…

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The Ring is a rather unique collaborative novel born in the imaginations of the creative writing society at King Edward’s Senior School, Bath. The concept is simple. The novel follows the story of a mysterious golden ring from thousands of years BCE to the present day via Ancient Egypt, Shakespeare’s Globe, the wreck of the Titanic…and much more. The chapters are written by pupils, former pupils, teachers, parents, and some local authors (including me).  I also typeset the book for them. It certainly ruled my life for a while (80,000 words, 56 chapters, 41 different authors). But it is still my precious!

Here’s my story.

1911

Mary hadn’t meant for the fruit to topple out of the painting on the wall. She’d only been looking at it, thinking, What if? Apples, pears and plums thudded onto the mahogany dresser, like the sound of feet on stairs. The fruit was no longer two-dimensional or made of cracked paint, but round and smooth and sweet-smelling.

The boring dinner party conversation stopped abruptly and everyone turned towards the picture, eyes wide and mouths open. Mother tried to divert the guests’ attention by asking in a loud voice, “Do you think women should be given the vote?” But Mary didn’t get to see if it worked as Father took her hand and dragged her outside, banging the door closed behind them.

“When are you going to learn to be normal?” he hissed, his freckled face red with anger. “Go to your room. I’ll deal with you later.”

Mary pushed her hands deep into the pockets of her lace dress. She still remembered the stinging pain from being given several sharp swats to her palm with a tennis shoe when a stone lion disappeared from the Italian Garden and a real one had been found prowling through the local village on the same day. She sprinted up the stairs, her eyes bright with tears. She felt sick, knowing Father would keep his word.

For a long time she sat on the edge of the bed, waiting in the candlelight, still wearing her lace-up boots and the big bow in her brown hair. She could hear the sound of muffled voices and laughter in the dining room below; the party was still going on. If only she could run away and find a happy place to live where she could be herself.

Eventually, she picked up what was left of the candle and walked over to the bookcase. The guttering flame illuminated titles and authors’ names on the spines of the books. She ran her fingers over Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Grimms’ Fairy Tales and stopped on Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets by Edward Lear. Her hand tingled when she touched the cover, and a pins-and-needles sensation travelled up her arm as she pulled the book off the shelf. She flicked through the pages and stopped at the first black-and-white illustration: an owl with a small guitar, serenading a cat in a wooden rowing boat at sea. Stars winked in the night sky. She had a vague recollection of her mother singing The Owl and the Pussy-cat to her as a very small child, but she couldn’t be sure if it was a real memory or if she’d made it up for herself. Still, it was comforting.

As Mary looked at the picture she thought about the curved sides of the boat, the smell of 4c6ad17ccfa7d7830a50cafc2f162c261salt water and sweet honey, rough wood and silky-soft cat fur. She pictured the owl’s talons plucking the guitar strings and the sound the instrument made.

“The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat,” she whispered.

A boat, the size of a small ornament, appeared on top of the book. Mary quickly looked at the door and listened – no-one was coming. She turned back. The boat remained black and white and shaded in charcoal grey, as it had been in the book. The owl had a white, heart-shaped face surrounded by a ring of short dark feathers, black eyes and shaded upper parts, and he strummed a simple wooden guitar. The cat sat opposite him, staring into his eyes. She had the stripes of a tabby and a mark on her forehead resembling the letter M. A big jar of honey rested between them. Mary thought this an odd choice of food for a bird of prey and a cat. Surely, a few dead mice would be much more agreeable to them. Two oars stretched across the benches they sat on, dripping water onto the paper.

She continued reading. In the top corner of the page an island rose covered in bong trees with purple, heart-shaped leaves and hairy trunks. The owl and the pussy-cat went ashore and soon they met a pig with a tarnished ring, inscribed with tiny letters, at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?” asked the owl.

Said the Piggy, “I will.” He wriggled it free of his snout and handed it over.

The owl wiped the ring on his feathers and the cat admired it and purred with pleasure.

Mary smiled at her. “If you’re going to get married, can I be your bridesmaid?”

She was so lost in the story that she didn’t hear her bedroom door open.

“You’re in so much trouble, young lady.” Father’s bellowing voice made her jump.

Desperately, she tried to squeeze the book shut, but neither the creatures nor the bong trees would lie flat. She tried to push them down with the palm of her hand. The owl pecked her little finger and the cat clawed her skin; they weren’t going back into the book without a fight.

“Please, I’m trying to help you,” said Mary.

Her father lunged forward, holding a tennis shoe. He grabbed Mary with his free hand and smacked the characters into the air with the shoe. They tumbled over and over; the owl let go of the ring as it stretched its talons towards its sweetheart.

“Let me go!” Mary pulled herself free.

She reached for the owl and the pussy-cat and, as she did so, the ring grew bigger, and then it slipped onto her finger. The moment it touched her skin it turned from black and white to dazzling gold. It was as bright as the sun. The three characters disappeared into thin air with a pop and a moment later Mary vanished from the room too.

 

*

 

Mary found herself standing alone on a soft white beach. Bong trees rustled in the breeze and the air smelled of coconut and the sea. The pig sat in the boat, but there was no sign of the owl and the pussy-cat – she would give them the ring the next time they met. She now examined the ring more closely. It fitted her finger perfectly and a few words ran along the shiny gold band: Mary sailed away for a year and a day…

She hesitated for a brief moment and thought about home. Then she smiled, climbed into the wooden rowing boat next to her new friend and set off on an adventure.

 

The Ring will be on sale from October 13th in Topping bookshop, Bath.

This story was first posted on my author blog.

Copyright (c) 2016 Kim Donovan. Ring image: Pixabay/ColiN00B. Original illustration of the Owl and Pussycat by Edward Lear

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C S Lewis and The Inklings

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 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe collectors editionthat 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.

The Eagle and Child, St Giles, OxfordRather 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.

Part of framed letter signed by The Inklings

Part of a letter signed by The Inklings on March 11, 1948

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!’

The Eagle and Child pub signI 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.

Lion

(Wikimedia commons) Photo by Trisha Shears

 

Jenny Landor, Co-founder

11.3.2016

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Walking on Gold: Electrik Inc reveals more fantastic fiction

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 coverWalking 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.

Janine digging for treasureAt 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.

Jenny Landor

Co-founder, Electrik Inc

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BELIEVE IN BOOKS!

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Do you believe in books?

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.

If, like us, you believe in books, help spread the magic – please like this post and share with everyone you know.
Thank you.

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Murder Mystery for Kids: Kay’s Halloween Launch

ELECTRIK INC’S NEW ARRIVAL

Talent, hard work, patience and determination – all were rewarded last Wednesday when Electrik Inc’s Kay Leitch launched her dazzling new murder mystery for children, Treasure This. There was only one word to describe the atmosphere as fans, friends, writers and family packed the Comedy Cavern at The Victoria, Bath, to celebrate the crowning moment in Kay’s journey to publication – ‘electrik’.

Mystery, suspense and humour: Kay holds her audience spellbound

Mystery, suspense and humour: Kay holds her audience spellbound

There were no bats flying. And certainly no vampires present. But the orange-jacketed books with heroine Addy silhouetted in front of that ominous garden shed, gave the occasion a decidedly Halloween feel. So did the hunt for dead bodies! Very small, ingeniously hidden, yellow ones, I hasten to add.

Most spine-tingling of all, however, was the hushed silence which fell on the room as Kay picked up her debut novel to read. You could have heard a pin drop. And the faces reflected in the extraordinary mirror on the wall behind her, confirmed that we had stepped into another realm. The wit and humour which infuses every scene of Treasure This, produced laughter in the Comedy Cavern, although the mood changed quickly to shock and suspense as two bumbling thugs invaded the once cosy world of Roseleigh Manor.

It was a fitting evening for Electrik Inc’s second birthday. We were proud. Kay is the second in our author collective to become an independent publisher in her own right. BOLDbooks, her company name, says it all. She follows in the footsteps of Kim Donovan whose St Viper’s series goes from strength to strength, with a growing fan base among younger readers.

The team. From the left: Janine Amos, Jenny Landor, Kay Leitch and Kim Donovan.

The team. From the left: Janine Amos, Jenny Landor, Kay Leitch and Kim Donovan.

‘One of the joys of writing Treasure This,’ Kay told her audience, ‘was being part of the Electrik Inc collective, and knowing that the book would go through three professional editors before it was finished. We want to write and produce quality books for children, and publish them independently. With the seismic changes in digital publishing over the past few years, it’s become much easier to do that.

‘I don’t believe for a minute that physical books are dead – too many of us love them. I certainly do. But books are evolving in really exciting ways. All this means writers can take control – of their novels, of how the cover looks, how the book sounds – everything. I hope quality independent publishing can co-exist with traditional publishing, which means readers get more choice – more good stories, which is what I want to write.’

Book signing begins

Book signing begins

A former Sunday Times and Cosmopolitan production editor, Kay is more used to writing the headlines than making them. Yet she’s already been the subject of a feature article in The Bath Chronicle, with a caption her editors love: Kay’s Killer Debut Novel. The marketing rollercoaster has got off to a flying start.

Treasure this moment, Kay. You’re a star!

Jenny Landor, Electrik Inc Co-Founder

______________________________

The author. Kay Leitch launching Treasure This at the Comedy Cavern.

The author. Kay Leitch launching Treasure This at the Comedy Cavern.

Read more about Kay’s launch here: http://kaywritesheretoo.wordpress.com/

Her book is available via Amazon and Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath.

 

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Treasure This: More Fantastic Fiction from Electrik Inc

Drum roll, please!Pip's drumroll 3

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 …

Treasure This ebookTHEcoverSet 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.’

Find out exactly what went on in that garden shed – Treasure This is available from 29th September, from Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, Amazon print on demand and ebook.

We love this book … Definitely one to treasure.

Jenny Landor

Co-founder, Electrik Inc

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BATH SPA PANEL EVENT: READING THE FUTURE: DIGITAL CHILDREN’S PUBLISHING

For all those interested in independent publishing, children’s reading (and writing) and the digital revolution, this promises to be a very informative night.

Kate Wilson, managing director of children’s publisher Nosy Crow, leads a panel of experts to explore trends that might impact on children’s reading as digital reading experiences evolve and to consider the question: What kind of reading experience can digital offer children? Chaired by Janine Amos, Bath Spa University.

Date04-10-2013
Time6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
VenueGuildhall
Price £7, Adults

bathfestivals.org.uk/childrens-literature/event/bath-spa-panel-event/

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