A new beginning

Karen (the cover illustrator) and I did an official/unofficial launch of the new cover for ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ a couple of days ago. It was great seeing the reactions on social media and I’ve been singing Karen’s praises since.

I thought I’d use this post to point out that the cover isn’t the only thing that’s changed. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time trying to shrink the book down a little. The font is still the same (hopefully easy to read) size, but I’ve edited the word count down a bit to make it easier for kids to get through a chapter.

The finished result should be a book with chapters that are just over two-thousand words long (Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone is about five-thousand a chapter) which should work well for children who are just past first chapter books (which are about a-thousand words per chapter). As a rule of thumb I’d say the starting age for readers will be about seven or eight years old. However, children as old as ten and eleven (and some big kids of unspecified age 😉 ) have said that they’ve enjoyed reading the books too.

It’s taken me a while to figure out readership. When I first wrote the books I was writing as a parent who reads books to his kids. I wanted a book that I would find meaty and enjoyable whilst being short enough per chapter to retain my son’s interest. With this in mind I told people that the books were for children aged five or six and up, and I’d say they’re still fine for that age, if you’re the one reading (though ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of dreams is a little scarier than the first).

However, I’m coming to realise that my readership is starting to include an age group of readers who are a little older than my son and I’m finding this an odd experience. For starters I can only guess at what will keep them interested as I have no recent experience of which books appeal to an eight or nine year old. 

Here’s a check-list of things in book one (and a little beyond) that seem to have gone down well at book talks:

  • A girl who can turn into a polar bear (and who eventually learns some awesome magic) CHECK
  • A tiny man who can knock out a powerful Eldar with one kick (and who rides a ‘war chicken’) CHECK
  • A Granny who won’t think twice about slapping a bear of a man right across the face for mistreating animals CHECK
  • A boy who discovers more about himself and his family in three days than most people do in a lifetime CHECK

In talks in schools these things seem to always get a good response and so it’s been a tough job figuring out what subsequent books will involve. I don’t want things to become formulaic but at the same time I don’t want to ignore the ideas that have gone down well in the past. I like to think I’ve managed a decent balance by taking these characters and throwing them into the middle of two very odd situations in the next two books, (‘Spark of Dreams’ is a ‘zombie’ book, and ‘Children of Fate’ will be similar in tone to a disaster movie).

As I say, I like to think that these ideas have worked well for the most part (at least from what I’ve heard from readers) but I’m always interested to hear advice about the books and about what seems to be able to keep kids interested and entertained. I’m in the middle of editing the third (and fourth) book(s) at the moment so I genuinely value any feedback you might have. If you’d like to share your thoughts please take a second to add a comment below or over at the official facebook and twitter accounts. As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

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