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International Women’s Day blog. Famous female writers who died from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

In western society it’s easy to think that giving birth is safe, yet according to the World Health Organisation, about 800 women worldwide still die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth every day. In the UK, you don’t have to travel too far back in time to find maternal death was also a very real risk for women here. This blog pays tribute to three famous writers who have become immortal through their books, but tragically died in this way.

international women's day 1Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) was a founding feminist who argued for equality and for women to be educated on equal terms as men. She wrote a number of books, but is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.”

 She was years ahead of her time — it took a century for the feminist movement to really take hold — and incredibly brave to write it.  Her book continues to be cited and inspires women even today.

Wollstonecraft died at the age of thirty-eight, ten days after giving birth to a baby girl. Some believe she’d developed septicaemia (an overwhelming, inflammatory immune response to infection). Her daughter would go on to become an extraordinary writer herself, as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.

Isabella Beeton (1836 – 1856) will always be remembered as Mrs Beeton. Her famous book of Household Management international women's day 2contained numerous cookery recipes, advice on running a Victorian Household and documented the essential qualities for the mistress of the house.

“When a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed. On the contrary, if she remain in bed till a late hour, then the domestics, who, as we have before observed, invariably partake somewhat of their mistress’s character, will surely become sluggards.”

 Oh dear, there is no hope for me! I imagine Mrs Beeton as a prim, mature woman, but Isabella actually died at the young age of 28. The day after she gave birth to her fourth child she too developed a postpartum infection and died a week later.

international women's day 3Charlotte Brontë (1816 – 1855) needs no introduction. Her novel, Jane Eyre, had immediate success and continues to be one of the nation’s favourites. My copy is falling apart from being read so many times.

“Why are you silent, Jane?”

I was experiencing an ordeal: a hand of fiery iron grasped my vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle, blackness, burning! Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved; and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: and I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised my intolerable duty — “Depart!”

“Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise — ‘I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.’”

“Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours.”

Eventually Jane Eyre does get her happy ending — “Reader, I married him.” — but the author’s own story didn’t end so well. She became pregnant shortly after getting married and suffered from extreme nausea and vomiting. Within nine months of her wedding she was dead. Her death certificates states ‘phthisis’ (tuberculosis) as the cause of death, but over the years a different medical opinion has formed. It seems she probably had hyperemesis gravidarum (persistent severe vomiting leading to weight loss and dehydration) or a combination of both diagnoses.  In The Brontës, Juliet Barker writes, “her small frame and thinness would lead to rapid and severe deterioration, and that by fifteen weeks [of pregnancy] she would have been so worn and emaciated by the constant vomiting which in itself would have caused poisoning of her body fluids as her kidneys failed, that the death certificate verdict of phthisis, general wasting, would have been appropriate.”

If Charlotte had been born 200 years later she would probably have been hospitalised, given intravenous fluids and anti-sickness medication, and may well have lived to tell the tale. That’s, of course, if she was born in a country with good maternity care and she had access to it.

Sadly, these brilliant authors died needlessly because medical science and healthcare was not as advanced as it is today. I think it also says something about women’s place in society at a time when they had no rights and no vote; there wasn’t an incentive for political parties to fight their corner. Issues that were important to them were simply not addressed. Worldwide, women are still dying needlessly. The World Health Organisation say unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable or poor-quality care is to blame. They believe that women should not die in pregnancy or childbirth. I do too.

Kim Donovan

This blog was first published on my own site. kimdonovanauthor.wordpress.com

Here are some links to organisations working to reduce maternal death:

http://www.carmma.org/page/why-carmma

http://www.halftheskymovement.org/campaigns/maternal-mortality

http://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/reducing_mm.pdf

http://www.unfpa.org/maternal-health

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Electrik Inc – the power of five

Electrik Inc celebrated its third birthday last month with an important decision – to welcome on board a new member. We already had someone in mind we very much admired, an indie publisher who, like the rest of the team, completed her apprenticeship on Bath Spa’s Writing for Young People MA some years ago. To our delight she agreed to join us. Time, then, to introduce our fifth inkling star … Drum roll, please … Here she is to tell us a little about herself; author, editor, publisher, artist and singer – Julia Draper.

J.L.

Julia Draper

Julia Draper

I have been writing for squillions of years. Despite having a twin brother (whom I love, BTW), I was a funny lonely child; I always felt as if I was on the edge of a circle of people looking in wistfully, wanting to join in but not really knowing how. I think I’m still like that, happier watching and noticing than being watched and noticed. Maybe it’s a common enough writer’s syndrome. I completed the MA in Writing for Young People in 2004/5 and since then have been on a mission to build a little following of readers who like what I write. I love drawing, art, beaches, fish and chips, trees, singing church music, accents (I don’t have one and wish I did). I hate plastic bags and chewing-gum. My ambition is to have an illegible signature and to go back to the Outer Hebrides.

I’m thrilled and honoured to be joining Electrik Inc. There is so much expertise in the group that hopefully we all bring as much as we take. And as my three lovely boys will tell me, I spent a lot of time when they were younger telling them that you only get out what you put in. 

Indie publishing is where it’s at, folks. Beats working in a benefits office, tightrope walking, selling double-glazing and serving carrots to people who don’t want to eat carrots. We have an obligation to make self-published books as good as they possibly can be. That way the status of the profession is raised and it becomes more respected and valued.

The Paupers of Langden My book is called The Paupers of Langden and was published in February 2014. I had huge fun illustrating it and designing the cover, less fun doing the formatting; plates were thrown. It’s been very well received and has a great review in the August 2014 issue of Books for Keeps plus a load of five star reviews on Amazon. There’s a spoiled princessy princess, a plucky servant, some seriously nasty posh people and a murder plot. And a horrible disease you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Actually, you might, in all honesty.

I’m currently working on the sequel, which is called Green Gold.

Julia Draper

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Walking on Gold at The Roman Baths

Signing books at the Roman Baths

Book signing at The Roman Baths

One of my happiest mornings this month was spent at The Roman Baths with a roomful of children scribbling away furiously. Some wore tunics, some wore togas: all were bursting with exciting ideas for an adventure story inspired by Bath’s Roman coin hoard.

Curator David Baker set the scene with Roman coins to handle, pottery, jewellery and a list of common Roman names.

Once we got started on our stories, the air was filled with a hum of creative energy. There were some fantastic ideas for dramatic beginnings with some truly wicked-sounding baddies. Story middles raced along, packed with twists and turns of the plot. And we agreed that surprise endings – or happy ones – were our favourites, and the ones to aim for in our writing.

I hope I’ll be reading everyone’s finished story soon on The Roman Baths website – and I hope you’re enjoying reading Walking on Gold!

Janine Amos

Co-founder, Electrik Inc

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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

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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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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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Exciting Ways to Celebrate World Book Day

WBD2014_lime_leftWorld Book Day is a celebration of books and reading, which is marked in over one hundred countries. At Electrik Inc we love to see children enjoying stories and we’re often invited into schools on this day to read from our books, facilitate creative writing workshops and generally join in with the fun! Here are some ideas from Kim and Kay if you’re looking for inspiration. Happy World Book Day!

Kim Donovan

Produce a School Anthology. This World Book Day I’ll be helping to launch a very special anthology of short stories and poems written by two hundred pupils from King Edward’s Junior School, Bath. My little publishing nest, Squawk Books, is the publisher of this amazing book and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s called Knock Your Socks Off! On World Book Day the children will take centre stage, reading their stories to friends and family, answering questions and, of course, signing books!

Guess the Book. Here is a clever way to get children thinking creatively about their favourite books. Pupils choose a story and tell the class about it using a box decorated in the theme of the book and filled with clues, such as a bottle with a label tied round the neck with the words “Drink Me” for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Bedtime Stories for Reception, Year 1 & 2. Why not hold a bedtime event in the school hall during the early evening? Make the room comfortable with gym mats, project glowing stars onto the ceiling and ask the children to bring in duvets and pillows. Give them an early midnight feast and then settle the boys and girls down for a story-telling session. Libraries could do their own version of Night in the Museum with guest appearances from book characters for a fun bedtime event!

Hold a book quiz. Stage your own show like University Challenge with teams representing a class or house, starter questions – “on the buzzer” – and bonus questions for the team who answered the question correctly. The questions might relate to books that have been studied by the whole class, contemporary and classic children’s literature or featured authors. For the picture round you could show the pupils cover illustrations and ask them to name the titles of the books. The music round could be on stories that have been turned into films – their music tracks. Don’t forget to say, “It’s goodbye from X (losing side), it’s goodbye from Y (winning side) and it’s goodbye from me.” I found the University Challenge theme tune on televisiontunes.com.

Kay Leitch

Take Two Books
Consider a fun afternoon event, where children take two books to school with them. One is their absolute favourite, which they would never swap – and they must tell everyone why they love it so much.

The second is a book they like but are happy to swap, and they must tell everyone why, and put it into a pile for ‘swaps’. There should be a pile of books the children want to swap, so everyone can take something from this pile, if they want.

To make this even more interesting, invite along a local author, who can bring their own published book to talk about and do a Q&A session on. They can bring a book they want to swap, too, and tell everyone why.

Write A Story With Your Favourite Character
Take your favourite character of all time and write a story with them in it. This doesn’t have to be from the same kind of story the character is from. In fact, it’s more fun if you put them in a completely different kind of story. Imagine the Gruffalo as a policeman… or a dentist … what would that be like? A bit like fanzine stuff. Have fun.

Murder Mystery Day
All pupils who want to act a part, put their names into a hat. Pull six (or more) pupils’ names out: one is the victim; one is the murderer; one is the detective; one is the detective’s not-very-bright sidekick. Two (or more) are witnesses who tell conflicting stories…

Just for starters: you could write a script where it becomes clear that the murderer and one of the witnesses know each other and are covering for each other. The murderer keeps changing his or her story and it becomes clear they don’t have an alibi. The not-very-bright sidekick keeps missing clues. That kind of thing makes it fun for everyone.

Anyone in the participating class can ask questions.

If you want to share what you’ll be doing on World Book Day, or if you have any ideas you think children would love, use our Comments box and let us know. It would be great to hear from you.

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