Tag Archives: writing for children

One ring to rule them all…

ring-1671094_1920

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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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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e-volution

In life, we seldom end up how we begin. Of course there are rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-again stories, but usually life gives us things and we grow richer. Even if it’s only in experience, or feelings of joy or grief, we are forever receiving things from the world around us. And forever losing things. That’s how it works.

In life, as in writing. We start off with one idea and find it changing, growing, evolving – like wild flowers colonising meadows, seeds mingling until a breathtaking hybrid appears. Characters surprise us and head off in unforeseen directions. Plots twist and turn. Conflicts blow in on the wind. Our original message and conclusion are ditched as we dig deeper. And more flowers bloom.

We give our novels as much as we can, investing time, energy, love, joy, grief in them. We put it all down on the page – the characters, the adventures, the conclusions – and feel euphoric when at last we type The End. Only to discover it’s not the end. It’s just another beginning. We have to hone it, mould it, work on it. We invest even more time and energy in it, aspiring to make it better. Just like life, where we strive to be better than we were. With a novel this is called editing. Sometimes that’s like teaching a child good habits. “No. Put that down. It’s an adjective.” Or manners: “Don’t waffle, darling. It’s boring.” Sometimes it drives us mad. Always, it’s a labour of love. And, as in life, sometimes it’s our losses that help us grow. Wrong partner? Leave them. Wrong job? Find another. Weak plot? Strengthen it. Turgid prose? Tighten it. Wrong character? Create a new one. When we decide to jettison whatever is wrong with our life we’re making a conscious effort to try and improve it. Equally, it’s what we take out of our novel that can make it sparkle. Lose the waffle (it is boring), lose the unnecessary adjectives. Lose the unrealistic plot, aimless characters or dull dialogue. Be ruthless.

Jo Wyton writes about editing in Notes from the Slush Pile. She compares it to taking off the rose-tinted glasses you didn’t realise you were wearing and says ‘different versions of your novel clutter your brain’. We must all learn to declutter.

We start off with one thing (an idea), and end up with another (a story) that has grown and changed so much sometimes it bears little resemblance to how it started. This magical process is not easy. Well. You know. Life’s hard, too. But whether you get to The End and realise you now have to start honing, or whether you get to The Real End, remember – the magic never ends.

It’s just another beginning.

And so, it occurs to me, is creating a new venture with friends. Electrik Inc will change, grow, evolve. We know we won’t stay the same. We embrace that. We have great plans, and all of them involve great children’s books. So watch this space.

Kay Leitch

Electrik Inc

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