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The Scream Collector

A quirky short story.

Mr Oddmore looked out of the kitchen window, frowning at the rhinoceros with two horns rolling in his vegetable patch and squashing a neat row of carrots.

‘What would you like for your birthday?’ Mr Peculiar adjusted the burgundy cravat he wore inside his open-necked shirt. ‘I’m afraid you can’t have my Sumatran Rhino; he’s new to my collection. I discovered him in a forest in Malaysia. But what about Shakespeare’s signature? A red diamond or the DNA of a dinosaur?’

‘I’m not a collector of rarities, like you,’ said Mr Oddmore. ‘No, what I want is a certain type of scream.’ He turned away from the window, his long gangly limbs seeming out of proportion to the rest of his body. ‘Come, I’ll show you what I’m missing.’

He led the way to the room he used as a gallery for his collection. It had floor-to-ceiling shelves full of glass bottles with cork stoppers that contained screams. A cloud of colour swirled inside each one. The screams had been ordered by colour and sound, starting with a luminous white scream in the top left-hand corner and ending many rows later with what looked like a thunderstorm.

Mr Oddmore picked up a random bottle, released the cork with a soft pop and they both leaned forward and listened. A high-pitched scream whooshed out. Mr Oddmore shivered and smiled a contented smile.

‘It’s the scream a five-year-old French boy made after seeing a headless ghost in a haunted hotel,’ he said. ‘I had to hide under the bed for two weeks to get it.’

He re-plugged the bottle, put it back in its place on the shelf and then allowed Mr Peculiar to choose a different one. The scream he picked was bright pink. He opened the bottle and a thousand excited female screams filled the air.

‘They were made during a boy band concert at Wembley Stadium.’ Mr Oddmore didn’t smile as much this time. ‘Pop concerts are guaranteed places to get screams, although they are always candyfloss pink and sound very similar.’

‘Only the rare is of value,’ said Mr Peculiar, pushing the stopper into the neck of the bottle and shutting off the noise. He placed the scream back on the shelf.

Mr Oddmore pointed further along the row. ‘You’ll notice I have a gap between lavender purple and deep plum. I’m missing an aubergine-coloured scream; one that is full-bodied, intense and emotional.’ He sighed deeply and added, ‘I haven’t been able to find it. That is what I want for my birthday.’

Mr Peculiar put his arm around Mr Oddmore’s shoulder and squeezed it. ‘Then, we will set about getting it for you. Rarities are my speciality, Old Chap!’

Over dinner ─ Mr Peculiar had brought with him a very expensive gelatinous soup made from the saliva nests of cave swifts for them to try ─ they analysed Mr Oddmore’s collection to identify the likely owner of the missing scream. He had screams from babies through to the very old; from people of every single country; and the screams of animals. He even had Mr Peculiar’s.

‘I’ve got it!’ Mr Peculiar banged his spoon on the table, making Mr Oddmore jump. ‘You’re missing your own scream!’

Mr Oddmore frowned. Why hadn’t he thought of it himself? He ran back to the gallery to collect a bottle and returned a few seconds later sounding breathless.

‘Here we go,’ he said and screamed into the open top.

‘Well, that was easy.’ Mr Peculiar returned to his soup.

‘It sounded forced ─ false.’ Mr Oddmore shook his head and peered at the colour. ‘It’s only tinged with purple, as though it’s been watered down.’

‘If at first you don’t succeed,’ said Mr Peculiar.

‘Try and try again,’ said Mr Oddmore.

Over the next week, Mr Oddmore tried various methods he used on other people to extract a good scream from himself while Mr Peculiar headed off on an expedition to Eastern Russia in search of an animal close to extinction: the Amur Leopard.

Mr Oddmore walked along a dark alleyway at midnight and tapped his own shoulder; he didn’t scream. He dropped a spider inside his shirt collar; it tickled on its way down and made him giggle and wriggle, but not scream. At bedtime, he turned off all the lights and played a recording of ghostly moans; every dog in the neighbourhood began howling, giving him a thumping headache. He sobbed rather than screamed.

As soon as Mr Peculiar returned home from his trip, Mr Oddmore went to see him at his manor house. He rang the bell and various animals answered with shrieks, barks and chattering.

Mr Peculiar opened the door a fraction and peered out. ‘Give me a second, Old Chap’ he said. ‘I just need to shut the cat in.’

He disappeared inside.

Mr Oddmore heard a low growl and a hiss and, somewhere deep inside the house, another door being banged shut. He wondered if he should come back another time, but a moment later his friend welcomed him inside. Mr Peculiar’s ginger hair looked ruffled and he had a jagged rip in the sleeve of his tweed jacket.

‘So, what have I missed?’ asked Mr Peculiar, showing Mr Oddmore into his study and opening a rare bottle of wine thought to have belonged to King Henry VIII. ‘Have you managed to perfect your scream?’

‘No.’ Mr Oddmore slumped on a tan leather chair. ‘I can’t make it sound convincing. I think it needs to be spontaneous, and I so very rarely scream.’

Mr Peculiar’s eyes sparkled and a smile started at the corners of his mouth. ‘Leave it to me. Collecting rarities is my specialty!’

‘What are you planning?’ asked Mr Oddmore.

Mr Peculiar poured the wine and said, ‘None of your business.’ He chinked his glass against his friend’s. ‘Here’s to a magnificent scream.’

‘I second that,’ said Mr Oddmore, smiling back at him.

***

Several days passed. Mr Oddmore expected to see Mr Peculiar’s face pressed against the window when he opened the curtains, or for Mr Peculiar to dangle him from an upstairs window. He wondered if his friend would tie him to a train track… He had constant butterflies.

But nothing happened, and the thrill of anticipation turned to sadness. He thought Mr Peculiar had forgotten all about making him scream, especially after the thought-to-be extinct dodo bird was found alive in Madagascar.

On the day of his birthday, Mr Oddmore felt thoroughly depressed. He went for a walk and got caught out in the rain. His shoes squelched from where he’d plodded through puddles, rather than edging around them.

When he arrived back home, his front door hung open.

Must have forgotten to close it, he thought. But part of him was worried he’d been burgled and he strode straight to his gallery to check on the screams.

He breathed a sigh of relief at finding nothing out of place. It wasn’t until he reached the middle of the room that he saw a leopard with rusty-orange and spotted fur crouched under a table, watching him. It padded out from its hiding place with its head extended forward and eyes fixed on its target.

Mr Oddmore ran for the door, screaming. The leopard catapulted towards him.

Mr Peculiar appeared in the doorway with an open bottle in his hand, blocking the way out. ‘It’s a good scream, but I think you can do even better!’

The leopard caught the back of Mr Oddmore’s shirt. Mr Oddmore screamed a terrified scream and pulled away. The material ripped, leaving his skin exposed.

‘That’s more like it!’ said Mr Peculiar.

Mr Oddmore began climbing the shelves, trying to keep his feet away from the bottles. The shelving rocked and creaked.

He glanced over his shoulder at the leopard looking up at him. His heart was thumping in his chest.

‘I don’t want you to make me scream any more,’ Mr Oddmore shouted to Mr Peculiar.

‘No need.’ Mr Peculiar held up the bottle. It was the shade of purple Mr Oddmore had been missing. ‘Happy birthday, Old Chap!’ He took a bag of cooked chicken out of his pocket and turned to the leopard. But before he had a chance to say, ‘dinner time,’ the big cat leapt onto the shelving, its paws knocking off bottles as it scrabbled upwards.

Glass cracked, screams escaped and flashes of colour criss-crossed the room.

Mr Oddmore screamed and cried, ‘Make it stop!’ as he climbed higher.

‘Come down this instant,’ Mr Peculiar said to the leopard in a commanding voice.

It took no notice of him and lunged for the shelf above. The shelving tilted in the direction of the floor. The leopard fell off, but twisted in mid-air and landed gracefully on its paws. The remaining bottles flew off the shelves and shattered, producing an orchestra of screams.

But no scream was more intense or vibrant than the one Mr Oddmore now made as he watched his entire collection being destroyed.

The shelving followed the bottles and crashed to the floor with Mr Oddmore still gripping onto it.

‘My collection ─ it’s all gone,’ he said, his eyes filling with tears. ‘The only scream I have left is my scream.’

‘There is no point in you keeping it,’ said Mr Peculiar, sealing the bottle with a stopper and popping it into his blazer pocket. ‘I’m the one who collects rarities.’

Mr Oddmore thought about starting his scream collection again from scratch. But he remembered his own scream and decided against it.

Instead, he accumulated the world’s largest collection of rubber ducks.

 

Story by Kim Donovan. Illustration by Julia Draper. Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved.

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The Shoemaker’s Secret

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The Shoemaker’s glass slippers and soft leather boots were coveted by royalty and the very rich. Other shoemakers wanted to know the secret techniques and materials he used to craft them, but his big secret was he didn’t make the shoes; they were the work of elves.

He had found the elves working in his shop late one night, stitching fabric. They were no bigger than dolls and wore tatty, green tunics over woollen tights. He thought he should pay them in some way and presented them with new clothing; they were like excited children on Christmas morning.

Over the next few months the elves produced more and more new designs while The Shoemaker took the credit for their craftsmanship, gaining considerable wealth and status. He continued to pay his workers in tiny shirts, trousers, underwear and socks, but then one night the elves turned the tables. They took something belonging to him before they made the shoes: the book he was reading. He bought another copy and thought no more of it.

But the following evening, the same thing happened. This time they chose a framed picture of his baby daughter and paid him five pairs of sandals. The day after, they took a curl of her blonde hair.

The Shoemaker held his child tight to his chest and said to his wife, ‘I’ll put a stop to it.’

The next night he waited up for the elves. They appeared on the stroke of midnight.

‘I don’t need your services any more,’ he said firmly. ‘Please go.’

They smiled smugly, bowed and left the shop. He hoped this was the end of it all, but in the morning he discovered a pair of sparkly silver shoes taking pride of place in the shop’s display window. His daughter’s beloved teddy bear had disappeared.

He tried moving his family to a nearby coaching inn, but that night they took the child’s little toe. The Shoemaker wept, not knowing what to do. The elves would take her bit by bit; he was sure of it.

The bell tinkled as the shop door swung open and a young man walked in.

‘I’m enquiring to see if you have any jobs?’ he said. ‘I want to be as good a shoemaker as you.’

‘Do you have a wife, children?’ asked The Shoemaker.

‘No, it’s just me,’ he replied.

The Shoemaker sighed with relief and smiled. ‘You can have my business for free,’ he said.

He handed the bewildered man the keys to the shop and left immediately with his wife and child. They were never seen again.

The new shoemaker was the talk of town. His glass slippers were exquisite.

Story by Kim Donovan. Image Pixabay. All rights reserved.

First published on my author blog.

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Johnny in the trees

The Chocolate Brownie

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Johnny has a tree house.

His Dad helped him make it out of strong planks of wood. It has a proper roof, a little door and a window. The best thing is the ladder. It’s made of rope and bits of wood and goes all the way up the trunk. Johnny can pull the ladder up into his tree house and no one can reach him. No one.

When Johnny is in his tree he can feel the branches moving and hear the leaves rustling. He keeps some of his things up there – a very big shell, a poster of sharks, a tin of sweets and his book of football stickers. His Mum cut a log down the middle to make a shelf to put his best dinosaurs on.

She comes into the garden and stands at the bottom of the tree.

‘Johnny, time to do your spellings. Come down please.’

Johnny does not answer. A big crow lands on a branch near him. He likes the sound it makes.

Kark! Kark!’

When the bird makes the noise Johnny can see right into its beak. The crow’s eyes are like two black beads and the feathers are black and spiky.

‘Come on.’ His Mum’s still standing there.

Kark!’

Now Johnny’s little brother Dan is standing at the bottom of the tree.

‘Johnny?’ calls Dan.

Johnny does not answer.

‘Johnny, can I come up into the tree house. Please?’

‘Go away Dan, I don’t want you up here.’

‘Please, Johnny.’

‘Go away. Mum says you’re not allowed up here. You’re too little.’

A clump of acorns rattles onto Johnny’s roof. The noise makes him jump.

Now his sister Beth is standing at the bottom of the tree.

‘Mum’s made chocolate brownies, Johnny. If you don’t come down now I will eat yours.’

‘You wouldn’t dare!’

Johnny looks out of his little window. He can see Beth way down below. He looks down and thinks of the brownie. All squidgy and still warm from the oven. Beth holds the brownie half inside her mouth. Her eyes are all big and round.

Just then he hears voices in the garden below. Beth’s friends have come to play with her. She skips off, still holding the brownie.

He leans out of his tree house to count Beth’s friends. He’s very high up and it’s hard to see down through the leaves.

One’s called Jess, and another one’s called Ali. That’s two. Then he hears Sammy and Holly, the twins. Beth comes back and her friends follow. They stand under the tree, laughing. Five of them. No, six if you count Dan.

‘Well, do you want your brownie or not?’ Beth calls. ‘We’ve all had ours but there’s just this one left.’ She looks around at her friends. ‘We could share it out between us, couldn’t we girls?’

‘…and me,’ says Dan.

Johnny shouts, ‘Wait! Wait, I’m coming down.’

He throws the rope ladder out of his tree house and starts to climb down.

‘Please…’

Johnny climbs down a few rungs of the ladder.

‘…don’t…’

He climbs down some more rungs,

‘…eat…’

And then down the last few.

‘…mine…’

He jumps down to the ground and snatches the brownie out of Beth’s hand. It crumbles into bits. He picks the biggest bit up, but it’s got grass and a slug on it now.

He stuffs it in his mouth. Then he turns and starts climbing back up his ladder. When he gets to the top, puffing, he pulls the ladder up. Then he lies on the wooden floor of his tree-house, listening.

‘He ate the slug!’ says Jess.

‘He can’t have,’ says Holly.

‘He did, he did! Yuk!’ says Ali.

‘I feel sick just thinking about it,’ says Sammy.

‘Brave!’ Dan says.

Beth knows that Johnny would never eat a slug. But she doesn’t say anything.

Story by Julia Draper. (c) All rights reserved.

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Home for Christmas

starfish-picture

Jake found the little orange star washed up on the shoreline on a winter’s afternoon out walking with Mum. The star was no bigger than his small hand. It didn’t glow, twinkle or shine like normal stars but he decided it must have fallen from the sky.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Jake. ‘I’ll help you get home.’

He threw the star as high as he could into the air, but it tumbled back down and he caught it. He tried again and again….

‘You were too low anyway,’ Jake said to the little star. ‘Seagulls would have bumped into you.’

When Mum said it was time to go, Jake put the star in his pocket. They walked through the town and saw two fishermen decorating a Christmas tree next to the lifeboat station. A glittery star perched on the very top of the tree. It gave Jake an idea.

He persuaded his mum to stop off at the park, just for a few minutes. He left her on a bench with a takeaway coffee and ran over to the tallest tree.

‘You’ll be very high when I reach the top,’ Jake said as he started climbing.

He stepped onto some branches and pulled himself up onto others. Normally, Jake wasn’t brave enough to climb more than a few feet off the ground but today he didn’t allow himself to look down and kept going.

When he ran out of branches thick enough to take his weight, he took the star out of his pocket and reached up and placed it on top of the tree. But when he let go, it toppled over and fell to the bottom.

Jake quickly climbed down after it. He picked it up; it didn’t seem to be hurt, although it looked very pale. ‘Don’t be sad. I promise I’ll get you home for Christmas.’

There was only one thing for it ─ he’d have to take the star back himself.

At home he headed straight into his dad’s garage and built a spaceship from lots of different cardboard boxes, using masking tape to join them. He collected a few things from the house for the journey: a packet of cheese and onion crisps, a torch for when it grew dark and his favourite teddy to be co-pilot, and then dragged the spaceship onto their driveway and climbed in. There was only one rubber ring to sit on, so teddy and the little star perched on his legs.

‘Three, two, one… We have lift off!’ he said.

The spaceship shot into the sky above their seaside town and kept rising until the houses looked no bigger than those on a Monopoly board. Jake ate his crisps and switched on the torch as the sky turned inky-blue and then black. Millions of bright stars appeared in the darkness, and Jake lifted the little star so it could see that it was back home. But it still didn’t shine.

‘Can’t you see your family?’ Jake chewed his bottom lip, knowing the answer. With so many stars in the sky, it might take years to find the star’s parents.

He needed help. So, he touched down on the surface of the moon and climbed out.

‘Excuse me, have you seen any stars like this one?’ He showed the moon the little star.

The moon smiled and replied, ‘Oh, yes. Down there.’

Jake followed his gaze. He was looking towards Planet Earth at the ocean, where a cluster of tiny orange stars shone in the dark water.

‘He’s a sea star,’ said the moon.

‘I did find him on the beach,’ said Jake. ‘Thank you for your help!’

He climbed back into his spaceship and they took off once again, this time flying back to Earth and low over the ocean until he spotted some sea stars. It was like the world had turned upside down and the sky was beneath him.

‘You’re home now,’ said Jake and he dropped the little sea star into the water.

It sank down and down until it reached the sea floor.

And then it began to glow.

 

Story by Kim Donovan. All rights reserved. Image: Pixabay.

A note about Sea Stars

I have wanted to write about sea stars (starfish) glowing, like stars in the night sky, ever since I read A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman. The truth is only a few sea stars shine as a result of bioluminescence, not all of them. But it makes a nice story!

 

 

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Ploughing for inspiration

As a city girl, growing up first in London and then industrial Luton, I never dreamed that one day I’d spend more time in wellies than heels – and become a farmer! But that was where my career led me for more than a decade. In a beautiful corner of rural Essex I learned to drive tractors and spent each autumn ploughing the heavy boulder clay from dawn to dusk, and sometimes into the night. Acre after acre.
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The experience turned me into ‘a watcher’, mindful of any tiny change in the landscape. And it forged a deep spiritual connection, especially with the other watchers who sometimes showed up … The deer, for instance, who scattered at the sight of a human figure, yet never seemed bothered by the to and fro of our monster machines as they strained across the fields.

The Watchers

Autumn has drawn a foggy curtain
Over the farm by the church,
Trading rich summer gold for burnt coppers
Scattered and spent among the leaves.
 
In the fading gloom
A tractor driver traces patterns
Across the ploughed land.
Absorbed in mechanical rhythm he moves,
Away from the church, towards the wood,
Away from the wood, towards the church,
Changing the face of the earth
With every pass.
 
A noise disturbs him
Jangling off-beat and out-of-tune.
Resigned and weary he climbs from the cab
To fumble in the mud
And remove a rusty horse shoe
Hooked up in the harrows.
How many bouts to go?
How many have been here before?
 
Later, turning into the homeward stretch,
With just enough light to see,
He is startled by two deer
Watching close by
Like statues – strange, silent and beautiful,
Unperturbed by his roaring machine
As it strains across the heavy clay.
And in that dusky moment
His heart misses a beat,
Filled with splendour so measureless
He holds his breath
Knowing it will slip away.
 
The last rays melt behind the spire.
As he reaches the lane, he yawns,
Thinking of supper and a good night’s rest.
The seedbed is ready, the pattern is complete.
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Poem by Jenny Landor
Illustrations by Julia Draper

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Autumn fun in a nutshell

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.

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Preparing for combat

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.
What’s wrong?
Oh, please.
Don’t go bonkers,
It’s just a simple game of conkers.

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William the Conker leading his minion hordes.

Poem and photo by Jenny Landor
Illustration by Julia Draper

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How to get your writing noticed

Publish stories on your own website/blog

thzm0mn3jlAndy Weir, author of The Martian, first published this story on his own website one chapter at a time. He’d been posting short stories and chapters of different books on-line for ten years, growing a dedicated following.  His readers asked him to produce an ebook version of The Martian to make it easier to read, and this is when the book took off. Suddenly, he had an agent, a book deal and Fox Studios making the movie. Interestingly, the author had once taken three years off work to try and sell his writing to a traditional publisher and failed.

 

Use Wattpad to find a readership

176127761Wattpad has 8 million monthly visitors and a high proportion of YA users. Writers post their books chapter by chapter, and give it away for free. But some authors see it as a price worth paying in order to find a readership. Lily Carmine’s story, The Lost Boys, clocked up 33 million readers! It was quickly snapped up by Random House.

 

 

 

Broaden your readership using social media

Try combining your words with images for sites such as Instagram, pinterest and Facebook to expose your writing to new readers. Even on sites where visual content isn’t required, images have better visibility in the news feed. I write flash fiction for pure fun and post it on Instagram/my author blog.

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 Make an ebook

stick-dogAmazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) enables authors to independently publish their books straight to Kindle. It’s not a passport to getting your work noticed, but if your writing stays in a drawer no-one is going to read it! Producing an ebook is less expensive than making a physical book and is a good way of dipping your toe into the water to see if it sells. Tom Watson, author of the picture book Stick Dog, produced his own ebook because he felt his work was “too far out there” for a traditional publisher. It went on to gain a massive following through word of mouth. Our Electrik Inc books are all available as ebooks.

Do you have any top tips for getting your writing noticed? If so, let us know. We’d love to hear them.

Thanks for reading my blog!

Kim

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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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What Makes Frozen a Hit? A Writer’s Point of View.

frozen

Children appear to grow up very fast these days. They look and talk as if they are older than their years; they aspire to be adults and there are lots of computer games, films, youtube videos… and even books that tap into this aspiration. But my experience of being a mother is that underneath, children are no older than we were at their age. For example, when my son was ten all the boys took a teddy on the school trip to France.

Disney also realise that kids are still kids, and that there is big money to be made from selling child-like things. The animated movie Frozen, about two princesses, a talking snowman, a young man and his pet reindeer, made nearly $1.3 billion in worldwide box office revenue. It also sold 18 million DVDs in 2014 .

It is not only preschoolers that have become obsessed with Frozen. Just a couple of days ago I overheard a girl saying to her dad, “You can be Elsa and I’ll be Anna.” She was about six-years-old, the same age as my nephew who also loved it. At my son’s junior school, children who were seven and eight were talking about the film constantly when it was first released ─ creating buzz ─ many of the nine-to-eleven year olds went to see it too (for their siblings!). In an article on How Frozen Took Over the World, the author Maria Konnikova talks about a seven-year-old who knew she would love it, even though she hadn’t seen it yet, by what she’d been told by her friends. Parents also like it. I asked a Dad who had seen the movie, the sing-along movie version and had also bought the DVD, why the film was so appealing.  He said, “We like the innocence of it. It’s just good family entertainment.”  Konnikova suggests that part of its success “may have just as much to do with parents as with kids. Kids aren’t just liking it more; parents are taking their kids to see it more.” Perhaps parents don’t want their kids growing up too fast; they value childhood.

As you can imagine, business analysts and reporters have tried to identify the factors that made the film so successful (see references below). If you know what worked, you can replicate it. Right? The pre-release marketing campaign was designed to appeal to a wide audience and focused on what was unique about the story; the film was released in November (which is apparently the optimal release timing) and, cleverly, Disney allowed the very singable music to spread through social media; they didn’t crack down on the millions of youtube tributes. It has two strong, not simpering, princesses that children can relate to; the story’s a bit different for Disney ─ an act of self-sacrifice saves the day rather than true love’s first kiss ─  it’s about the relationship between two sisters and growing up; there’s the allure of magic, a wisecracking sidekick snowman and the film has the feel-good factor… However, what the experts all agree on is that you could put all these ingredients into another story and it wouldn’t necessarily work. I don’t think it will stop animation companies from trying though!

I think book publishers could learn a lot from Disney. Imagine a manuscript arriving on an editor’s desk about a bunch of toys that deeply want children to play with them, and the story is told from the point of view of a cowboy doll. Would the publisher say, “It won’t appeal to the readership; they’ll think they’re too old for it” or “Great ─ we’ll call it Toy Story”.

I’d love to know your thoughts …

Thanks for reading my blog!

Kim

References

  1.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frozen_(2013_film)
  2. http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-frozen-took-over-the-world
  3. http://time.com/3656230/why-kids-cant-resist-frozen/
  4. http://metro.co.uk/2014/12/05/kids-wont-let-it-go-why-disneys-frozen-is-everywhere-this-christmas-4975028/
  5. http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/why-is-frozen-such-a-big-hit.html

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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

electrikincTM

 

 

 

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