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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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Great Children’s Books — Or Just Great Books

What was your favourite book as a child? I re-read The Mountain of Adventure and The Valley of Adventure, both by Enid Blyton, till the pages fell out of the spine. I think I kept re-reading them because I wanted to absorb the scenes right into my bloodstream. Even now I’m not sure if I always loved mountains and valleys or if those books instilled in me a love of adventure and wild places.

The Guardian mentions one of the quiet secrets of literature: children’s books are underrated. Children’s laureate Malorie Blackman (http://www.malorieblackman.co.uk) agrees: “Call me biased, but I find the standard of storytelling in children’s books and books for young adults second to none. I find it telling that even now there are far more children’s books and books for teens that I’d like to re-read than books for adults.”

Whether the prize givers wake up to that remains to be seen. To be honest, who cares about prizes? Great books are great books and will remain so whether or not they come with a prize or the label ‘Adult’, ‘Young Adult’ or ‘Children’s’. Children’s and Young Adult books are great reads and more and more people are waking up to that. So perhaps the secret is out.

My personal fantasy favourites are anything by Neil Gaimon (Neverwhere is fab); Eoin Colfer (Artimis Fowel is excellent); Terry Pratchett (the Discworld Series, second to none); and Ursula K Le Guin (take your pick, but I loved A Wizard of Earthsea).

For classics, I could re-read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain ’til the paper wore out. Huck Finn is not only one of the best characters in fiction, in my opinion, but Twain’s descriptions of that Mississippi river world, now long gone, are peerless. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce has a timeless quality, which is interesting as it’s about a boy who goes back in — oh, read it and you’ll see. You’ll like it.

There are also scores of contemporary YA and children’s writers whose work shouldn’t be stifled under one label. John Green, perhaps best known for The Fault in Our Stars (book and film) tells great stories, as well as being connected to teenagers and young adults in a way that makes his work authentic and very readable.

Bath Spa alumni from the MA WYP (MA in Writing for Young People) are well represented in prize listings for this and other years: check out authors Nicola DaviesJill LewisClare Furniss and Sally Nicholls, all long-listed for the Carnegie/Greenaway prize, all great authors for various ages. (Personal interest acknowledgment: I went to Bath Spa Uni and did the MA WYP, so yes, I’m biased. But no, I don’t recommend books I don’t like).

Also worth looking at: Patrick NessThe Knife of Never Letting Go (which was really good, but I got cross when I realised it was leading me on to a cliff-hanger ending so I’d buy the next book… which I didn’t. Proving that some marketing ploys don’t work with everyone, especially bad-tempered Scottish women 🙂  ). But he’s an excellent writer and his books are well worth reading. Among others, he also wrote A Monster Calls and More than This.

I could while away a happy afternoon or three reading David Almond, too, from Skellig to his more current works A Song for Ella Grey and My Name is Mina.

Other great reads are Half Bad by Sally Green, The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton, the series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver. The list goes on.

If you like wolves/werewolves, try Maggie Stiefvater’s, Shiver. Beautiful writing. Lots to choose from from this author too.

Janine Amos’s childhood favourite was The Borrowers by Mary Norton. For her, these were: “Teeny, tiny people living under the floorboards, making good use of all those little things we leave lying around. And when we’re really tired, we can just catch a glimpse of them out of the corner of our eyes, darting from under the sofa to the bookcase. My belief in them is absolute.”

Here are a few of Electrik Inc’s fantastic books, all of which can be enjoyed by adults or children. No secret there!

Unknown Walking on Gold by Janine Amos

 

 

 

 

Treasure This by Kay Leitch

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The Paupers of Langden The Paupers of Langden by Julia Draper

 

 

 

 

And for 7-9 year-old readers: St Vipers School for Super Villains I (The Riotous Rocket Ship Robbery); and II (The Big Bank Burglary) by Kim Donovan

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Kay Leitch
Author of Treasure This; co-founder of Electrik Inc
O
riginal posted on kaywritesheretoo.wordpress.com

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‘Walking on Gold’ is here!

They’ve arrived! My first copies of Walking on Gold, all ready for the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, which opens on Friday 26th September. Bath Festival of Children’s Literature

Walking on Gold publicity picIt’s exciting after all these months of writing and editing to finally have the finished book in my hands, and it’s come a long way from the first draft that I began when I was sitting on a windy cliff, very like the one Effie climbs in my story.

Now I’m busy planning lots of writing workshops with local schools – and one on October 5th at The Roman Baths Museum, in their amazing Education Room. Its window looks over the misty, green Great Bath– a perfect place for beginning a writing adventure….

At The Bookseller Children’s Conference last Thursday, John Lewis (The Bookseller’s charts and data editor) reported that the UK children’s publishing market was up by 10% in the first eight months of this year – making it the fastest growing book sector, with most children’s categories showing growth. The Bookseller’s Y/A Book Prize was launched: the first ever prize for Young Adult books in the UK and Ireland. Y/A books published between 1st January and 31st December 2014 are eligible – the winning author will receive £2,000.

The Frankfurt Book Fair, traditionally the trade’s ‘grown-up’ fair and now only days away, is signalling its interest in children’s publishing, too. For the first time in its history the Fellowship Programme, designed to create networks between young publishing professionals, is choosing to focus on Y/A and children’s literature. The Book Fair says it is sending out a “global signal” about its commitment to children’s and Y/A publishing, recognising this sector’s “dynamic development.” 2014 Fellowship Programme

The 2014 Fair is also acknowledging the growing importance of independent author-publishers, with a two-day International Self-Publishing and Author Programme Frankfurt Fair self-publishing. And in 2015 the Fair will be expanding the exhibition area it is devoting to self-publishers 2015 Frankfurt.

Seems it’s an excellent time to be a children’s author – and an independent one, at that.

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting the Bath Children’s Literature Festival this week, do come along and say Hello!

Janine Amos

Co-founder, Electrik Inc

www.janineamos.com

Walking on Gold

electrikincTM

 

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Commissioning Illustrations

I’ve been having a lovely time lately working with illustrators both near and far. Commissioning artwork can seem daunting to the uninitiated, so I thought I’d post a few lines with my top tips:

janinebooksChoosing your artist
As soon as I saw her samples online, I knew that Sophie’s quirky cartoon style and subtle palette would be perfect for my website. We began with a long face-to-face meeting which was important since she’d be capturing ‘me’ – and she certainly did, even down to the earrings. I think the picture of me writing on a mountain top is probably my favourite – or perhaps the one where I’m being rained on by books. www.sophieburrows.com

I used Dave Bain, another Bristol illustrator, for my Dancing Hare logo, after I’d seen his designs for the RSPCA. Again, meeting in person over a coffee or two (breaking one of the first ‘rules’ they taught me at Oxford Brookes: keep all artwork away from anything wet) helped to work out what we were aiming for. www.davebain.com

janineMaria Forrester, who created my fabulous cover artwork, lives 100 miles from me and we haven’t yet met, although I feel as if I know her through the many emails we’ve exchanged. I researched artists’ portfolios long and hard before I found Maria – I wanted someone who could capture the archaeology in my story. As the montage above shows, Maria used lots of interesting textures and techniques – rubbings of fossils and coins, drawings of grasses, watercolour, acrylic paint and even clingfilm. www.mariaforrester.co.uk

Communication

Illustrators are on your side – they want to get it right just as much as you do. It’s easier if you can meet up but not vital, as long as you manage to build up a relationship, as my experience with Maria shows. I’ve worked with artists in many parts of the world and distance has never been a barrier as long as they know why you’ve chosen them and understand what you want from them.

Illustrators don’t object to making ‘tweaks’ but they’re not mind readers. This means you need to have thought long and hard about what you want before you start talking or emailing. Put it down in writing (that’s your job, after all!), attach visuals if you can: photos, scribbles, even fabric swatches, and refer to examples of their work in the style you’re asking them to replicate.

Contract
Yes, every time! It’s always important to record your agreement in writing – with dates for: delivery of roughs; deadlines for approval; delivery/approval of final artwork; agreed fee (plus the agreed fees for rejected artwork at rough stage and at final delivery, just in case). You also need to specify in writing how you’d like the artwork supplied e.g. jpeg/dimensions.

Check out http://www.theaoi.com/ for their really helpful Guide to Commissioning.

All the illustrators were very generous with their time and attention to detail and were great fun to work with. Thanks, everyone, looking forward to next time.
J.A.
http://www.janineamos.com

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Electrik Inc gets physical

And so, one morning in May  little more than nine months after the electrik inklings dreamed their dream in the Jazz Café  a second piece of magic happened…

BAM!  Their workshop doors burst open and a bright, shiny new story, in a stunning lime green jacket, marched out and made its way noisily into the world.  ZAP.  KAPOW.  FWOOSH!  How the inklings buzzed and cheered as straight away, one – two – three – four bookshops not far from the Jazz Café welcomed the story in and settled it comfortably on their shelves.

Silence descended.  Keeping themselves invisible and trying not to fidget, the inklings waited.  The story was ready.  It was there, within arm’s reach of the first child.  And here he was!  An eight-year-old boy arrived and took the book in his hands.  Buzzz ZZING!  The magic unfolded.  He read it all, cover to cover.  And when at last he looked up…  well, you can probably guess the rest.  This isn’t fiction.  This is a fact.  He hungrily asked for more…

Call me a Luddite, a dinosaur, a crazy misfit.  But it is a matter of great delight to me that the first Electrik Inc book is physical in every respect.  An action-packed romp of a story (written by Kim to keep the boys reading), it’s available not only as an ebook but in printed form  a fabulous paperback with 24 illustrations which local bookshops in Bath have seen fit to put on their shelves.  Physical books in physical shops.  ROAR!

Reading habits are changing fundamentally.  Yes, this old-fashioned bookworm is happy to admit she likes her new ereader very much.  I enjoy its portability and I understand why children and young adults are engaged by the technology, which grows ever more interactive.  I’m also convinced that ebooks are good for print books and will encourage the publishing industry away from its blockbuster mentality towards smaller more diverse presses – commerce and culture more harmoniously balanced.

However.  For all the benefits, nothing on screen  for me anyway  can replace the very sensual pleasure of curling up with a beautifully crafted, beautifully produced paper book.  As a child, when I first began reading alone, it was better than chocolate  the experience inspired me to write.  The weight, the size, the thickness, the glossy cover, the binding, the texture of the paper under my fingers, the sense of knowing where you are in a story judged by the accumulation of pages, the smell, the rustle, the touch…  a physical book engages the senses and lifts the imagination.

While the adult book world goes rapidly digital (one third of Brits now ereading according to the latest study) the children’s book market, especially for younger readers, remains resistant.  One intriguing reason has to do with parental psychology.  According to a New York Times article, even mums and dads who are avid ereaders   ‘diehard downloaders’  want their children to be surrounded by traditional print books.  Why?  Aside from concerns about digital distractions and too much on-screen time, parents see print books as something tactile that can be shared and want their children to have the same rite of passage into the reading world as they had.  For the next generation of readers, or a good many of them, books made from trees will remain treasures.

All of which has to be good news for bricks and mortar stores like those in Bath who are championing local talent from a brand new Professional Independent Publishing group.  Thank you from Electrik Inc to Topping and Co, Oldfield Park Bookshop, Mr B’s Emporium and Waterstones.

Jenny Landor

Electrik Inc

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Calling All Creatives

Okay, peeps, listen up. Radical suggestion approaching at speed. Brace yourselves. I’m about to suggest something subversive. Something momentous. Something over-the-rainbow imaginative.

For a moment, I want you to consider the world without Amazon. No, darling, not the river. We really need that. Just imagine a world where authors (not publishers or technological third parties such as Amazon, Apple, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo et al) sold direct to their readers. You, the author, make the sale, you send your lovingly crafted ebook, you keep the buyer’s email address, physical address and any other information they give you.

That means you have a ready-made mailing list of readers to market your next book to. For the moment, let’s not worry about storage for print-on-demand books, or trips to the post office. I’m talking about ebooks and how technology can help writers. And how corporations who own that technology – well, don’t help writers as much as they could. Some ebusinesses seem to see creative people as much less important than the technology that makes money out of them. They see us as troublemakers, like intelligent monkeys that should be kept in their place. Preferably in a subservient position, scribbling, painting, making music… for others to sell at a nice profit. Remember coal mines? Without miners, they were just dangerous holes in the ground. Technology doesn’t create anything. People do.

 You are important. And that mailing list of buyers for your work is important too. You need it. Every author needs to build an audience either to sell direct to, or to prove to prospective publishers that there is a market for their novel. Assuming you want to keep writing – and selling – your books, a mailing list is a top marketing tool. Without it, you’ll be lost. You’d have to keep going back to… oh look, you’ve guessed it. If you sell your book through Amazon you won’t get that list of buyers. You pay them a percentage to sell on their site and they keep the email addresses you generate and use them for their own marketing – tempting people to buy other books similar to yours. Clever, aren’t they. Penelope Trunk discusses this in Why Smart Authors Are Cutting Out Amazon.

I’m not seriously suggesting we do away with Amazon altogether – or any of the other significant ebook players. I think it’s great that readers have choice. It keeps us all on our toes. Besides, it’s another place to sell books. Also, you need to know what to do with the mailing lists in order to maximise sales, and many authors don’t want that hassle. They want to get on with important stuff, like writing. I agree with all that. Again, it’s about choice. And control. JK Rowling has already made her choice, with Pottermore. She keeps the profit her books generate; she keeps her fanbase mailing lists. Of course, we don’t all have the resources JK has. But I believe the underlying paradigm shift created by this kind of author-to-reader direct service is seismic and is a glimpse into the future (trust JK to give us that J!) As more writers with well-edited and professionally proofread books take control by setting up their own websites, then selling ebooks direct to the reader is only a technological leap away, as is reclaiming our marketing lists. Which would be good for writers, good for readers and good for the ebook economy. That way we all stay on our toes. Not on our knees.

KAY LEITCH

Electrik Inc

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