Monthly Archives: April 2015

Artist/Illustrator wanted!

artists-wantedOK I’m having to bite the bullet here. I only have a couple of weeks left before ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ is coming out and I still don’t have a cover. I’ve been contacting a lot of artists on deviant art and other similar websites who seem to specialise in fantasy characters and scenery but none have replied so here I am putting out an open call for anyone who can create images like these (especially the middle one):

moirai_by_pandorasconviction-d4njggqwpid-dreams_by_whisperfall-1.jpgOgre

I’d like to lay out the cover something like Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the kingdom’ books with an interesting but uncomplicated central illustration framed by maybe leaves or a bedroom wall (Nix has a clock face). That would leave plenty room for front cover text, and the back cover could just be leaves or wallpaper which should make it easy to write the blurb on there and add an isbn number. Here’s what Nix’s books look like:

wpid-imag1419_burst002.jpgMy request is as simple as that, I don’t have much of a budget to spend at the moment, the books are self-published so currently all costs are coming straight out of my pocket. In some regards I’m looking for someone in a position like myself who likes to think they do a good job at their craft but who hasn’t hit a point yet where they can do it professionally, full time.

If you might be interested in beginning a working relationship that might allow us to showcase each other’s work then please comment below (or go to the Jack Reusen accounts on twitter or facebook) and we can discuss what might work for both of us. All the best, John

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Drip (a wee glimpse into Fey)

It’s my birthday today so in a reverse of the norm I thought I’d do a wee ‘birthday present’ for my readers.

This is a story set in Fey, the castle in it will feature in the early chapters of ‘The Spark of Dreams’ but the characters probably won’t make an appearance until ‘The Children of Fate’. It’s aimed at an age group that’s a little younger than a normal Jack Reusen story but hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Happy ‘my birthday!’ Allow me to introduce you to Drip:

Part one: Drip’s sitting stone

drip the bogey ogre2

Drip was an ogre, he hadn’t had much choice in that. The people of the town of Dundrove didn’t care whether Drip wanted to be an ogre or not. It wasn’t always easy to understand what they were saying about him but Drip knew it wasn’t good.

Drip was always a little sad. His eyes always had had a sort of shiny look and his nose seemed to run all the time. The local children (being children) called him ‘Drip’. They had been doing it for so long he couldn’t even remember his old name any more.

One day the nastiness got worse. A group of boys chased him, throwing rocks whilst shouting: “Drip the bogey ogre, Drip the bogey ogre!”

Drip ran. He ran till his throat stung. He stopped high in the mountains, where he found a cave. Drip hid in that cave for a days. In fact he didn’t venture back to the road for a very long time. As months went by and the boys were nowhere to be found Drip got lonely enough to venture back down to the road more often.

Eventually it became a daily routine. Drip would shuffle his greenish-white body down the hill from his cave every morning at dawn to sit at his ‘sitting rock’; a little place nestled in the woods where the trees gave him enough shelter for him to peak through the branches and watch the people that passed by.

Drip still liked to be near people. The sound of their voices helped stop him from feeling so lonely. Months and years went by with Drip hiding in the forest, sitting on his rock, listening to the people laughing and talking as they walked or rode along the little forest road.

On one particular morning though, Drip was not woken by the sound of birds but instead by a loud clinking and clunking noise from the woods below. Drip hauled himself up as fast as he could and shuffled his fastest shuffle down the well-worn path, only to find his sitting stone smashed to pieces. Standing beside it was a very shocked, very sweaty, old man holding a pickaxe.

As soon as he saw the rage in the ogre’s eyes he lept for the road, untethered his horse from his big heavy cart, leapt on it’s back, and rode off at top speed. Drip was more angry than he had ever been in his life and before he knew what he was doing he picked up the old man’s cart and threw it up into a tree. It broke the top branches and crashed to the ground. Pieces of cart cascaded from the trees like giant wooden snowflakes.

Some of the guards from the castle were out on patrol and hurried towards the noise. When they saw Drip standing in the middle of the ruins they got an idea about what had happened. The head of the group walked carefully over to Drip:

“What happened here Drip? Did you do this?”

Drip’s nose was dripping and his eyes were filled with big, wet ogre tears:

“He smasheded up my sitting rock! He just smashed it all up! I didn’t mean to smash his cart.”

The guardsman put his hand on Drip’s huge, soft shoulder:

“OK Drip I think it’d be best if you come with us to the castle.”

Drip was shocked at this, he wondered if they were going to put him in the dungeon or something. Drip didn’t want to fight the guardsmen, he had never hurt anyone in his life, so he nodded his big lumpy head and followed behind their horses.

When they got to the castle the head guardsman got off his horse and ran inside to explain why they had an ogre with them. Drip took a second look at the other guards and he didn’t like what he saw. He recognised them all instantly: the rock-throwing boys. All grown up. One of them leaned down from his horse and whispered: “Drip the bogey ogre!”

Drip ran. he had to get away from the horrible boys. Big men now. Big men with swords. Drip was sure they would lock him in the dungeons for ever. He could hear the men jumping off their horses to run after him and he tried to move even faster. Finally he reached a door that looked big enough even for him and leapt inside.

The room behind was huge and smelled like sweet, juicy berries and of the bread and pastries that families sometimes ate at picnics out in the forest. Drip had really enjoyed hearing families playing and having fun from the comfort of his sitting rock, he started snuffling again at the thought of it lying in pieces.

He was still nervous of being found but when he heard the guardsmen’s heavy footsteps running past the door he knew he was safe. Well he thought he was anyway. Out of nowhere a big, loud, high pitched voice echoed around the room:

“And who said you could come into my kitchen?!”

Part 2: A bowl of Soup

drip the bogey ogre3

Drip’s tears became big and splodgy as a huge lady with arms almost as big as his, and legs like tree trunks, marched towards him. He hung his head:

“I’m so sorry, I was just hiding, I didn’t know what was behind the door.”

Mrs Bunt (the castle cook) calmed down a little and went to give Drip a handkerchief, though when she looked at his huge, bulbous ogre nose she changed her mind and handed him a towel instead. Once he’d blown his nose Mrs Bunt grabbed a big mixing bowl from a shelf and filled it up with soup from a big cauldron bubbling by the fire:

“There you are. Have a seat and get that in your belly. You’ll feel better on a full stomach.”

Drip had never been treated so nicely and nearly started crying again. Stopping himself, he pulled out a bench near the big table and sat down. The bench creaked loudly under Drip’s bulk and as he wiggled his bottom to get comfortable the bench gave up completely, collapsing into a heap of broken twigs.

Mrs Bunt didn’t even blink, she simply beaconed Drip to sit on the floor beside the fire and handed him his bowl of soup. He didn’t use a spoon and just slurped up big mouthfuls. The fire beside him and the soup in his belly made him feel better than he ever had. Drip stopped his constant sniffling and even noticed his skin changing to a much healthier deep green. Mrs Bunt took his empty bowl from him:

“Well that should sort you out a bit. Now, if you don’t have anywhere to be, I could do with a hand. We’ve got a big feast to prepare for Lord Borrin this evening.”

Drip had never cooked before, all of his meals had been things he found in the forest, and the closest he’s been to anything like Mrs Bunt’s big cooking fire was when he lit a small campfire outside his cave to keep him warm in the winter. He tried to explain that he didn’t know how to help but Mrs Bunt just marched him around the kitchen in the quickest tour of the place she had ever given.

She wasn’t sure if Drip had followed any of it but she didn’t have much time before she needed to start work on the feast.

Drip had taken it all in. The heat of the kitchen was doing something to his brain. He was surprised at how quickly he understood what all of the different tools and utensils did and after he had cleared away the broken bench Drip popped on an apron, washed his hands thoroughly, and got to work.

Drip was stirring a big pot of stew when the guards arrived at the kitchen door looking for him. Mrs Bunt was having none of their nonsense, Drip had told her what had happened so she told the guards to leave him alone. She explained that Drip would work in the kitchen to help pay for a replacement cart for the man in the forest. That was that.

The guards were silent with shock. The idea of Drip ‘the bogey ogre’ cooking their meals made them sick. They thought that perhaps Mrs Bunt was joking but when they looked into the kitchen and saw Drip stirring the stew all they could think of was blubbering old Drip’s runny nose dripping into their dinner. Drip’s nose was clean and dry now but that didn’t stop the guards from making up their own minds.

No one argued with Mrs Bunt though, she was strong enough to fight off any two guardsmen in the castle at once and, more importantly, she was in charge of what everyone ate. Nonetheless, the guards knew that they’d be giving the food at the feast a miss.

Part 3: Lord Borrin’s feast

That evening, after lots of entertainment from jugglers, dancers, and musicians, the people of the castle sat down to their feast. Lord Borrin and everyone else nodded with appreciation at the incredible food before them. People stopped talking as they dug into one of the best meals they had ever tasted but the small group of guardsmen didn’t notice any of that, pushing every plateful away.

The guards were so certain that the food would be disgusting that they spent all their time laughing and joking with each other about the fact that everyone else was eating bogeys. They were so loud that they they didn’t even notice all of the ‘yumm’s and ‘mmm’s all around them until the end of the feast. Just before the plates were cleared Lord Borrin asked to have Mrs Bunt come out and take a bow for the delicious meal they had all just enjoyed but she shook her head:

“All the thanks should go to my new assistant Drip.”

Mrs Bunt went down into the kitchen and grabbed Drip by the arm, leading him up the stairs to the great hall where a round of applause broke out. It was so loud it made his ears ring. After just one day in the warmth of the castle kitchens, with a steady supply of food from Mrs Bunt, Drip looked like a completely different ogre. His clammy greenish-white skin was darker and greener, and he stood up straighter with not one tear or runny nose in sight. He was still Drip but he wasn’t so ‘drippy’ any more.

drip the bogey ogre4

The guardsmen suddenly realised what they’d missed out on and went to grab at their plates only to have them taken away by one of the maids. There wasn’t even a bread roll left for them to eat. They went back to their barracks that night with rumbling stomachs and the next morning some very, very sorry (and very hungry) guards went down into the kitchens to apologise to Drip for all the nasty things they had done when they were younger. They talked for a long time, and while they all found out about each other Drip cooked them the best omelettes ever.

From that day on the guards always had breakfast with Drip, getting up before anyone else in the castle. They even got into the habit of sitting down at the fire with Drip while they all ate (Mrs Bunt still couldn’t find a bench strong enough to hold him).

***

Don’t forget to pop over to the books page on this site to find out more about this little story’s big brother(s). You can find your way by clicking this link. Hope you enjoyed the story, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Magical Realism

Vasnetsov_samoletFiction is changing but what it’s changing into isn’t something new. For a long time a sub-genre of contemporary fiction known as ‘magical realism’ provided a mind-bending literary experience to those who came across it, but sadly it sat at the fringes while traditional fantasy, science-fiction, and even thrillers enjoyed mass-market backing from readers who would no doubt have enjoyed magical realism if they knew it was available.

I was introduced to it by a teacher of mine (Mr Johnstone) at High School. Famous fantasy writers have been known to denounce it as a fancy way of saying you write fantasy fiction but I think there’s one very clear distinction: just as you probably wouldn’t explain the way that electricity is created and sent down power lines to power your toaster, when describing a scene in which you cook some toast, a magical realist writer feels no demand for an explanation for anything that the reader might regard as ‘magical’.

Terry Pratchett said that saying that you write magical realism is “…a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people…”. In some regards he could be correct, fantasy fiction is certainly seen as more populist (and less literary) than magical realism. What’s more, magical realism sports a host of connections to post-modernist art and philosophy that makes it positively intellectual-sounding. However, fantasy fiction can itself be, though isn’t always, a tremendous vehicle for highlighting philosophical concepts as well. Pratchett was one of the best at doing just that.

But now, within children’s literature, we’re finding works that bridge the divide somehow. Explanations of how the magic works are left to one side as authors launch their characters straight into the adventure. Magical Realist sympathies can be especially evident in works like Pratchett’s Discworld (despite his protestations to the contrary), Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kindom’ series (‘Mister Monday’ etc.), Philip Pullman’s ‘Dark Materials’, and many many more. In these books we are witness to a change in the way that magic is introduced, it is left as part of the fabric of the story with minimal exposition.

However, the exposition is still there, as it probably has to be for children. Perhaps we need to delineate fantastical elements in fiction for children. They are still getting a grasp of the reality and physics of their own world so it seems prudent to provide some explanation as to how things work in an alternate one. What’s more the explanation of the magic can itself often serve as a component of the plot.

I’m in this boat. Jack starts in our world (or something very much like it) and is exposed to things he doesn’t understand, therefore a necessary part of the plot (and his character development) involves him gaining a basic idea about how the magic works.

There are things that I’ve left to one side for now and things that may never be explained but I’m happy to admit that there’s simply too much explanation of the magic in my books for anyone to call it ‘magical realism’. While I still enjoy and respect the genre and can see how it really can work in children’s literature I can’t help slipping into fantasy

For me part of the fun of our world is to be found in finding out things. I couldn’t limit my characters by not allowing them to discover the ‘secrets’ behind the magic any more than I could answer my children with the ever-unsatisfying ‘just because’. For a child I expect that a truly magical realist work of fiction could prove equally intellectually unsatisfying, perhaps its one of these odd cases where a literary genre simply doesn’t scale well into a children’s version.

The books I’ve described above have no doubt been enjoyed by more adults and teens than children of twelve and under, they certainly rank extremely highly within my list of favourite books. However, for children reading what’s known as ‘middle grade fiction’ (more about it here) and those younger than them, I can’t help but feel that authors need to be ready for the ‘why’s and ‘how’s from their readers.

What genre of books do you think would/does translate well into ‘children’s’ versions? Which genre’s simple don’t translate at all? Am I wrong about the books listed above, do you think that children between eight and twelve enjoy them as much as teenagers? As always thanks for reading and don’t forget you can buy a copy (paperback or kindle edition) of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ over on this page.

Was Enid Blyton a bad writer?

wpid-imag1413_burst008.jpgEnid Blyton is responsible for a huge portion of missed sleep from my childhood. The Famous Five books and the ‘Mystery’ series were staple components of my evenings (and long into the night) from the age of about eight or nine till I started high school at twelve (we don’t do middle school in Scotland). She opened a world of adventure to me but I have to admit she also wedged me thoroughly into a literary rut.

With Blyton’s books I developed a love of reading that became a core part of my identity, ever since then I’ve regarded myself as a passionate reader. However, her writing style left me cocooned from other works of fiction; she wrote in a relaxed, easily accessible, manner that demanded little of the reader and simply allowed the story to flow.

In many ways reading Blyton was like watching TV; I simply allowed the story to unfold before me, often going for chapters without feeling as though I needed to put much of my own thought in at all. This is the blessing and the curse of Blyton’s writing. Her books were published at a time when children were just beginning to migrate towards television as the entertainment medium of choice, Blyton appeared with an alternative.

I grew up in the eighties and by then we had access to so much more child-orientated TV than the generations that preceded us. The challenge was even greater for authors then than it had been back in Blyton’s day. Eighties children’s authors had to go foor the popular vote by whatever means necessary. They grasped for the ghoulish in the form of the Goosebumps series or pandered to a growing culture of pre-teen girls who aspired to a fantasised version of teenaged life in books like the Babysitters club. Meanwhile, in a dusty antique book shop on a holiday trip to Lincoln cathedral I came upon the famous five. I was hooked.

Blyton enjoyed (and still enjoys) the backlash from librarians, teachers, and other people who wish to promote ‘proper literature’ to children the world over for her work. Rhiannon Lassiter’s mother (Mary Hoffman) banned Blyton, you can see what Lassiter thought to that by following this link.

For many Blyton was low brow, pandering and, at best, akin to the type of bargain-bin paperback frivolity that adults buy at the train station or airport to help pass the time. In essence it was (is?) seen as just one step up from a magazine.

I can’t help but wonder if this is just a case of the anti-popularism which is often sported by the self-designated cultural elite, who seem to feel the need to put down anything popular as bourgeois and watered-down alternatives to ‘real’ literature/art in general.

I’ve never gone for this kind of thinking, I liken it to the idea that fine dining is always superior to fast food. Of course there’s something to be said for an excellently prepared meal but sometimes you really just want a greasy cheeseburger and fries from a burger van. (Neither fine dining nor fast food have the best credibility as sources of nutrition, in both instances it’s all about the taste, the aesthetic)

I think the same thing is true of literature, sometimes we’ll want to enjoy the complexities and nuances of an exquisite work of fiction but sometimes, and I think this goes ten-fold for those who are just beginning their literary journey, sometimes you just want to be swept up in an adventure.

So was Enid Blyton a bad writer? In my mind the answer is a resounding NO; she provided me a literary foothold in an era in which electronics and TV were taking over every aspect of the life of a child. She let me escape that world (a little) and allowed me access to the world of my imagination in a way that the alternatives simply couldn’t. Was she a literary marvel? Probably not, but the service she did perform well was to allow children to marvel at what a book could do.

I am the first to admit that moving on from Blyton’s style of writing was quite hard but as I noted in a previous post I found a way, as I’m sure many many more people did as well. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the modern book industry would be an shell of its current state if it wasn’t for her prolific contribution to children’s literature, if for nothing else but that her works stood as an alternative to the proliferation of TV into the lives of children. In this sense, at least in my opinion, she stands up as a literary hero in her own right.

DON’T FORGET: Book one of the Jack Reusen series: ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ is available in both paperback and in digital format. You’ll make me as happy as four kids and a dog with a picnic blanket and lashings of ginger beer if you click on this link to pop over to the ‘books’ page where you can find out more about the book and get details on how to get hold of your copy. I hope you like it as much as I enjoyed writing it 🙂