Tag Archives: children’s fantasy book

The Ogres: Chapter 4: Miners

To find your way back to the very first chapter click this link

Machines

Huge machines rumbled past the tent and shuddered to a stop. People climbed out to look around, wandering off in all directions.

Mee and Bur-up could tell that something bad would happen if one of these people found them. The Alex and the Logan told them to go back to the cave and do what they could to hide the entrance. They also took most of the stones and metal with them. The boys hid the rest in their jacket pockets.

The people from the trucks were everywhere. The sun had only just come up and these people were busy rummaging through the forest. The family tidied away their tent and did their best to hide too.

The boys’ parents called people on mobile phones and discussed the value of the hill and how much gold they might need to buy it. The Logan and the Alex worried when their dad said “That much?!”

The family had no car to go to and they didn’t want to risk hiding in the cave. If any of these people saw them going into it then all of this would be for nothing.

More phone calls and the boys grew more and more bored. The Alex wandered off with his big brother and played in the forest. Only a few rounds of tig later a man turned up. He was very smart and was carrying a shiny leather case:

“Sorry boys but I’m in the process of buying this place. We’re doing some very dangerous work today. Lots of drilling and digging. I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave.”

Neither of the boys knew what to say. The smart man couldn’t buy a hill could he? They wandered back to their parents just as their mum was getting off the phone:

“What’s wrong boys? You look upset.”

The Logan looked back at the smart man:

“He says he’s buying the hill. You can’t buy an entire hill can you?”

Their mum laughed:

“Actually, I think we just did.”

The angry smart man

They looked back to the smart man with his briefcase. His phone went off. Moments after he answered it, his face turned purple:

“That’s not possible! Who else could have known?…Wait how much did they offer? That’s ridiculous. Keep the deal on hold. There’s no way someone has access to that much money that quickly.”

The man hung up his phone and stuffed it into his pocket. He turned to the quiet trucks behind him:

“OK guys we have to pack up for the day. Deal hit a snag, we’ll be back though. Just have to sort out a few things.”

The angry smart man walked past the family on his way back to his fancy car:

“Looks like you’ve got another day to play boys. We’ll be back tomorrow I think. Enjoy your day.”

He opened his car, got inside, and drove away at top speed. The boys looked at their parents:

“How did you do that?”

Their dad’s eyes widened:

“We promised a lot. Lets hope our new friends can help.”

It took longer than they expected for them to find the cave. When they did it was clear that Mee and Bur-Up were experts at hide and seek. A heap of bracken had been torn up in small patches all around the cave and then piled up in front of the opening. It was so expertly laced that it just looked like a mound of earth.

You would only know the cave was there if you saw people going into it. As the family slipped into the cave someone did see. Far away the smart man was sitting in his car with a pair of binoculars. (“So that’s where they found the sapphire.”)

He climbed out of his car and followed the family’s trail as quietly as he could.

Great big steps

The stairs were very steep. Too steep even for the adults. The boys had to jump from one step to the next and after about fifty their legs started to ache. Surely they would find Mee and Bur-Up soon?

Every now and then they called down the tunnel in front of them, their voices echoing away to nothing. Finally they all needed a rest. The tunnel was getting warmer and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.

Above them a man took off his long overcoat and scarf and sat on a step as well. He could have kept going but the sounds of the family climbing down had stopped. He didn’t want to bump into them, he just wanted to find out where the sapphires were.

Deep below them the echoing voices reached Mee and Bur-Up at the bottom of the stair. The sound couldn’t have come at a worse time. Their leader Biggin was furious to see two bigger-folk strolling down the stairs of Ey-Kan as though it was an ordinary walk in the caverns.

He was figuring out the right punishment when the sound of little-people echoed down to them. Not just little people but little-people who knew both Mee and Bur-Up by name.

Biggin lifted his hands in anger:

“What did you do?”

Mee and Bur-Up hadn’t even told him about the trucks and about being ‘interesting’ yet. When they did he looked like he might just bounce them all the way back up the stairs himself:

“So how do we stop being interesting?”

Mee smiled:

“Don’t worry the boys’ parents had a plan. Though we left before we found out what it was.”

Biggin looked at them as though they had lost their minds:

“What were you thinking?”

Mee was almost in tears:

“It’s hard to explain. When we’re up there it’s like our brains stop working properly. I think it’s the cold.”

Biggin shook his head:

“So all of this bother and the big ice is still there?”

Mee got excited at this bit:

“No, actually no, the ice is gone. The boys explained. It’s just something called ‘winter’. After a little time goes by they get something called ‘spring’ when the plants grow and the animals wake back up again.”

There was a small crowd of bigger-folk gathered to listen to the surface adventurers. A few of them liked the sound of this ‘spring’ thing. In fact even Biggin liked the idea of seeing somewhere new (though for now he couldn’t admit it).

Biggin pulled himself up straight, looking as big and leader-like as he could:

“Right, before we think about anything else we need to see what the little-people’s plan is to make us less interesting.”

Presents for little-people

A lot of the bigger-folk wanted to follow Mee and Bur-Up as they made their way back up the stairs. Some even grabbed gifts for the little people they might meet up there.

As they walked up, each step made them feel odd. Mee and Bur-Up were more used to it now but more than a few of the others had to stop for a rest every few steps.

Their heads got a little fuzzy too, and their arms and legs changed colour and got more wobbly and thumpy (like it was harder to control them).

The yells from the family above got louder and louder (more loud hu-mans) until they could see four little people perched on the edge of a step looking down at them. The Alex jumped up and waved his hands in the air:

“They’re back, they’re back, and they brought friends.”

Further up the steps the smart man listened with great interest.

Who were ‘they’? Where were they back from? and Who were their friends?

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The Ogres: Chapter 3: Shiny Stones vs. Sweets

To start the story from the beginning just click this link

Mee wondered exactly what a ‘Supermarket’ might look like. As he approached the hu-man town a lot of doors slammed and a lot of people got really loud. Hu-mans liked to get loud when they saw Mee.

The old lady had given him simple instructions, follow the road down the hill then turn right. Mee did that. On the way a lot of the rolling boxes called ‘cars’ stopped their rolling and started making loud ‘HONK’ sounds. Mee covered his ears and kept walking.

The food hall

The ‘supermarket’ was beautiful. It was huge. Most importantly it was filled with food. A very shaky hu-man helped Mee find the mush mallows and also helped him use a rolling basket they called a ‘trolly’. It made carrying all the mush mallows much easier.

Mee also grabbed handfuls of other interesting boxes and filled the ‘trolly’ until boxes slipped from the top. He thanked the shaky man and walked back out into the cold outside.

More noisy hu-mans squealed and ran around as he walked back up the hill, past the old lady’s house, past the broken car, and back up to the Alex and the Logan.

The boys grinned at the trolly full of marshmallows, biscuits, and chocolate. For some reason there were also about four large boxes of washing powder, and several Mee-sized handfuls of perfume boxes (Mee insisted that they smelled ‘too lovely to leave behind’). After the initial fun of seeing all the food the boys had one important question:

“How did you pay for all of this?”

Mee shrugged:

“What does ‘pay’ mean?”

The boys’ faces hung long:

“Oh dear.”

Shiny stuff

Mee simply couldn’t understand what made the shiny metal in the Logan’s bag so important. The smooshed up wood sheets made even less sense:

“So I was supposed to give the supermarket soft useless metal before I took the food?”

The boys nodded. Mee laughed:

“When we bigger-folk are little they tell us stories about you. I always thought stuff about soft metal and shiny rocks was a joke. We even used to leave it on steps as presents for the little folk.”

The boys frowned. Mee hadn’t told them the story of the big ice and the steps under the hill. When he did they grew very excited. The Logan’s eyes were very wide:

“You mean there are more of you? And you throw away ‘shiny rocks’ and ‘soft metal’ because it’s useless.”

Mee frowned:

“Mee thought you all would know. Town under hill has hundreds of bigger-folk.”

The Alex looked in the direction of the cave:

“Is anyone else on their way up?”

It was Mee’s turn to look shocked:

“Bur-Up! He’s still following me. He got tired, stopped for a rest. I should go check he OK.”

Mee grabbed two big bags of marshmallows and made his way to the cave:

“Be back soon.”

The Logan called back:

“You might want to bring some of those ‘useless’ rocks and metal with you. You need to pay for what you took.”

Mee waved, a big bag of marshmallows flopping in his hand:

“I will.”

Dark

It was dark when Mee brought Bur-Up out of the cave. He wasn’t impressed:

“You said there was sun. Also this too cold. Listen to my talk.”

Mee shrugged:

“It not so bad, Mee got used to it.”

They followed the glow of the hu-mans’ fire. Two more hairy beasts were with them, bigger than the boys but similar looking. They made the loud noises and hid the Alex and the Logan behind their backs. The Alex pushed his way out:

“It’s OK. That’s Mee and his friend Bur-Up. They’re friendly.”

Bur-Up pushed past the noisy creatures and sat in the fire. The bigger hu-mans got noisy again. The littler ones calmed them down. Bur-up wondered if the bigger ones were pets or baby hu-mans, maybe they aged backwards to the bigger-folk.

Bur-Up could feel his body getting better. Mee smiled at the boys:

“Look I brought you presents. Useless rocks and squashy metal.”

He opened his hands and the jewels and gold glistened in the firelight. Mee laughed at the faces of all four hu-mans:

“You like them. I glad. Here, you play with them how you like, I don’t need them.”

A new idea

The boys looked at the pile of jewels and gold. their mum and dad looked at the pile of jewels and gold. It was hard to tell how much it was worth but easy to see that it was a lot.

The first thing to do was to sort out the bill at the supermarket. People would already be asking questions. The police had probably been called. The bigger-folk would be in danger of being found if the police followed Mee’s trail up the hill.

The Alex and his dad went down the hill to the supermarket. Maybe there was still time to keep everyone safe and happy.

Mee wasn’t sure why being found was a bad thing. The Logan tried to explain that Mee and his family might be taken and locked away. People liked to study unusual creatures, and the bigger-folk were very unusual. They needed to stay hidden.

Mee wished he was warmer, he might be able to understand all of this if he was.

The Alex and his dad took just one of the shiny blue stones. Mee had never heard it being given a name but they said it was a ‘sapphire’. How could a tiny blue rock be worth a trolly full of mush mallows and other tasty things?

Again Mee wished he was warmer. The little people were very confusing.

Why being interesting isn’t good

The Logan and his mum helped Mee make another fire beside Bur-up, gathering as many sticks and logs as they could find. Bur-Up nibbled on some of the glowing sticks as he laid back in the warmth.

The Logan was amazed by this:

“How can you eat that?”

Bur-Up frowned:

“Bur-Up’s mum says Bur-Up has to. Must eat proper food before I have treats.”

The Logan and his mum watched Bur-Up and Mee in fascination as they chewed on white hot coals from the bottom of the fire. Their skin now so deeply green it had almost turned black.

The Alex and his dad came back. They had spoken to a special little-person called a ‘manager’ and also some ‘police’ and the ‘manager’ said the little stone made everything better. Mee grinned but the Alex’s dad shook his head:

“They were very interested in where the sapphire came from. We’re going to have to do something clever to keep you guys hidden.”

Mee shook his head:

“No it OK. We won’t make it hard for you. We just go home. Go back down stairs.”

The little man shook his head:

“It’s too late now. They saw you, and they know you have sapphires. People are going to be very interested in this hill very soon.”

Mee frowned. All this attention didn’t sound good. He didn’t want to be interesting. The hu-mans climbed into their tent and promised to get up early to work on what to do next.

Mee pulled a big armful of branches into his fire and dropped another pile into Bur-Up’s (who had already fallen asleep). Mee tried to sleep but the stars above his head distracted him. He had never slept in an open space before. Even the cavern was only a few hundred feet high.

Mee watched the stars until the sky turned a cold, pale, blue and the sun struggled up from behind a hill. The morning wasn’t much warmer than the night time but it was a lot noisier.

More hu-mans, more noise. Up the road, alongside the campsite came big metal boxes on wheels, much bigger than a ‘car’. They had big, chomping, metal, mouths on the front. Some of them were so big that even Mee could have fit inside them.

THE STORY CONTINUES IN CHAPTER 4: MINERS. CLICK HERE TO READ IT NOW.

The Ogres: Chapter 2: Rolly Box

To read from the beginning click here

Every year the bigger folk talked about going back up and every year they decided to wait. It went on so long that they forgot about the idea. The cavern was home. It was warm. It was safe. But it was dull.

Mee and Bur-up were young by bigger folk standards, but they were old enough to know better. They considered themselves ‘brave adventurers’, everyone else considered them fools.

Either way they found themselves stomping their way up hundreds of stone steps on a fairly normal Thursday morning. Bur-Up got tired. The most exercise he got was lifting food to his mouth. He was good at that, Mee had to admit, but it didn’t really count as training for a walk that hadn’t been attempted since before their great granny was born (bigger folk live a long time).

No one is sure if Mee was the braver of the two or if he was just the most foolish but he decided to continue up. The walls grew colder than anything he had ever felt. He felt sure the ice must still be there above them. Surely thousands of years of snow must have left it miles thick by now?

Instead of ice he found a cave. It was different than the stories. Smaller, more damp, more mouldy, more occupied. That’s when he met the creature.

It was small, slightly hairy, and it looked as though someone had put some clothes on it as a joke. Mee wondered if it was a pet of some sort. The creature made a horrible screeching sound. Yes, definitely a pet or guard animal of some sort. So where was it’s owner?

Mee asked:

“Is you lost hairy beast. Where your bigger person gone?”

The creature stopped shrieking. The hairy little beast talked:

“My Mum and Dad are back at the car. What are you?”

Mee shook his head:

“I’m Mee.”

The tiny hairy beast laughed:

“No I’m me!”

“NO, I’m Mee!”

“No, I’m me!”

This went on for a while until Mee got a little upset and exclaimed ‘My name is Mee!”. The little hairy beast came over to him:

“I’m sorry. I thought you were playing a game. Hello Mee. I’m Alex. You look very different to me. Are you human?”

Me shook his head. He hadn’t heard the word ‘human’ before. Maybe that’s what the little hairy beast was. Mee tried to explain:

“Mee is one of the bigger folk. We live under the hill. We escaped the big ice. Is it gone now?”

The hairy ‘Alex’ didn’t know what he was talking about:

“It’s a bit frosty outside but I haven’t seen any ‘big ice’.”

He led the way to the cave’s mouth and that’s when Mee saw it; a huge ball of fire in the sky. He had heard about this in stories but he couldn’t remember the name for it. The ‘Alex’ called it ‘the sun’.

Mee told the ‘Alex’ about how Ey-Kan had made ‘the sun’ and thrown it into the sky with a machine. Outside the cave the cold air made everything blurry, the sounds were all soft and sort of wet.

When Mee spoke it was like there was cloth in his mouth:

“Two of the Alex. I’m not thinking good. All too slow. It’s really slowing out here.”

The Alex looked round. Mee was right, there were two of him now. Two humans anyway. His big brother’s face poked out from behind a tree; eyes wide, a silent scream struggling to escape his open mouth. The Alex waved:

“It’s OK Logan. He won’t hurt you.”

The Alex looked back to Mee:

“Did you say it’s snowing?”

Mee shook his head:

“No, slowing. My head not work so good out here. Need warm place.”

The two boys helped Mee find his way to their campfire. Their mum and dad had gone down to the car to get their picnic and the rest of their stuff. Logan had a backpack with him. In it were all the essentials for a weekend camping on a cold hillside; four packs of crisps and a big bag of marshmallows.

The bigger folk had nothing like this food. The squishy pink marshmallows were too good to say no to. Mee put twelve in his mouth then sat in the fire to get warm. The flames licked up his back and over his head. The heat melted the marshmallows in his mouth. It would seem that more melted means more delicious.

On Fire

The ‘hu-mans’ were being very noisy. It made it extremely hard to enjoy his mouthful of pink goop. It stuck his teeth together a little:

“What the matter? You both OK?”

The Alex squealed in shock and with laughter:

“You’re on fire! Isn’t it sore?”

Mee frowned slowly, enjoying the last of his marshmallows as they melted down his throat:

“Why would fire be sore? Not like it’s cutting me or bashing me!”

The hu-mans laughed but stepped back. The Logan tried to explain:

“It’s just, people aren’t normally fire-proof. Not many living things are.”

Mee shrugged:

“Hu? How strange. Can I have more mush mallow?”

The Logan slid the bag along the ground. Mee had grown so hot that his skin had changed colour; he was a deep, dark green now. If it wasn’t for the talking, and the moving, and the smiling, and the eating (and he was doing a lot of that now), the hu-mans might have thought he was cooking.

With a belly full of food and a freshly toasted butt Mee stood up and went for a wander in the forest. Cracking branches and knocking down the odd tree with a simple ‘oops’.

His next ‘oops’ came after he bumped into a big metal box. The box was perched on four squashy wheels. One bump was enough to send it rolling away from him.

The Alex caught up just in time to see the car rolling away down the road towards the town:

“Our car! What happened?”

Mee tried another ‘oops’ but the Alex seemed to need more than that:

“I bumped it.”

The Logan shook his head:

“Our stuff was in there. Our food was in there.”

Mee grew a lot more concerned about the runaway box:

“You mean more mush mallows?”

The Logan shrugged:

“Maybe.”

Mee ran after the ‘car’. It was far away, it had stopped, a wall had caught it. It was very broken. Mee went to look inside. He couldn’t find a lid so he just grabbed an end and pulled. It broke more. Since it was already broken Mee started pulling at all the sides looking for ‘mush-mallows’.

He found a smaller box inside, in it was lots of very cold stuff. Some of it could have been food, none of it was a bag of ‘mush mallows’. Mee wondered if they had fallen out, or if there was somewhere else he might find some.

Along the wall from the broken car Mee spotted a house. It was the first thing that looked right (though it was far too small). Mee knocked on the door and a hu-man answered. She was half his size, had steel coloured hair and her face looked strange, all stretched with eyes that didn’t blink. She was noisy too. She liked to say ‘arghhh’.

Mee looked down at the tiny person:

“Hello hu-man, I broke the car box and I need mush mallows. Where do mush mallows grow.”

The lady’s face stopped being all stretched and she seemed to have said enough ‘arghhh’ for now. Instead she became very quiet. Mee breathed slowly but it was still one…two…three, breaths before she spoke again:

“You can get food at the supermarket.”

Mee grinned a grin as big as the old lady’s whole head:

“Perfect. Where is the ‘Supermarket’?”

The tiny old person pointed into the town and told him it was at the very bottom of the hill. He gave her a quick “Thank you!” and went to get more ‘mush mallows’.

*

Thanks so much for reading. I really hope you enjoyed the story. Please let me know what you thought in the comments below.

I’ll have chapter three ready for you next week. Be sure to sign up to the e-mail list to receive chapters direct to your inbox (please click this link). You’ll also gain access to pdf printable versions of the stories (if you’d rather read without screens). I should also point out that the first eight chapters of the Bigger Folk will be available here on the website but later chapters will be released solely on the e-mail list.

As always thanks for reading, All the best, John

READ ON FOR CHAPTER 3: SHINY STONES vs SWEETS

The Ogres: Chapter 1: The Stairs

At the top of a hill in Perthshire is a small cave. I can’t tell you where that cave is, but I should say that if you do find yourself at the top of a Perthshire hill please watch your step.

In films we see mysterious caves leading to caverns filled with treasure (or at the very least mystery). Most caves I encountered as a child were more like cracks in the hillside. We used our imaginations to make them seem bigger.

But there is one cave, one single cave that is very different. It has no name, no one ever thought to give it one. Even a child may have to duck to get in. So much wet, green, foliage surrounds the entrance that during the spring and summer you could walk past it without even noticing.

If you did notice. If you peeled back the moss and the bracken and slipped inside AND if you had a torch, you could walk to the back of the cave. That’s where the steps are.

There are legends about these steps but they are not our legends. These legends don’t lie hidden in the stories we tell our children, they aren’t part of our heritage.

They are someone else’s legends. A kind of people that would shock you if you met them. They are different from us, so very different.

One of their stories is often told around the campfire at the top of that hill. It’s an important story for their people; it’s about the second time they used those stairs. But, to understand it you need to know about the first time they used them.

The metal

Long ago. Long before the grass grew on Scottish hillsides. Long before we had great rivers. Even before we had a monster in Loch Ness. There was the ice.

The bigger folk (that’s what they call themselves) don’t do well in the cold. When the ice came they grew ill. Their food stopped growing. The cold bit them and they had no energy to bite back.

Then came Ey-Kan. He was the biggest and the strongest of the bigger folk. The largest there had ever been. He drew his strength from the earth itself and he made a fire that could fight the ice and warm their homes even when the logs were gone. He was their magic man.

Ey-Kan could only help so much and the ice grew thicker and colder every day. One morning he smashed through three feet of solid ice just so he could touch the ground. He asked it what to do and it’s answer left him colder on the inside than the ice ever could.

The earth told him that the ice would grow like this for many, many seasons to come. Soon food would not grow here, the water would stop flowing, and the few trees left growing would crumble and die. So full of ice that they would be useless even as firewood.

The bigger folk could not stay here. However, unlike the little people, they weren’t used to travel. Tribes of bigger-folk might visit one another but they always came home.

They were built for work. Ey-Kan was the last of his tribe to feel hunger and he used the energy he had left to do what he did best; make metal. The little people learned metal work from the bigger-folk but they could never master it. They were too feeble, too fragile, too flammable, to do what Ey-Kan could.

He ripped the ice away, then tore into the earth. He dug and dug with his huge, hard, hands. At last he found the ingredients he needed. A secret recipe of metal that is now lost from our world. One known only to Ey-Kan.

The Object

Ey-Kan took the ingredients to his forge and fuelled the fire. He grabbed his largest crucible (a huge stone pot almost as big as his leg). The ingredients were dropped in and Ey-Kan made a few more trips out to the hole, collecting as much material as he could. On his twelfth trip it was just right.

He held the crucible over the flames and waited. Once the chunks had melted together, glowing a dull brown colour, Ey-Kan changed the fuel underneath and bellowed air in. The flames grew.

The metal in the crucible changed colour over and over, from brown to purple, purple to blue, blue to red, then red to yellow. If Ey-Kan weren’t one of the bigger-folk this is where he might have stopped. Instead he took off his coat, added a special fuel and watched the other colours show (the ones only the bigger-folk could see).

His eyes were built for looking at fire. They relaxed in the glow. In the heat. A welcome change to the cold whiteness outside. He worked for hours, doing things that only someone with fireproof hands can achieve (and even then, only with practice).

As a new day’s sunlight trickled through his window, lighting the side of the forge bright orange, Ey-Kan lifted the object to inspect it.

Flattened out on one side, a spike as sharp as a needle on the other, and down the middle was a long, thick handle made entirely from the same metal. It was a pickaxe unlike anything the bigger-folk had ever made. It was the object that would save his people.

Digging

Digging was the wrong word for what Ey-Kan did that day. It was more like his pick-axe told the earth and the rocks where to move. It sliced through ice. Through soil. Through cold hard rock. Every swing the same. He pulled back, struck, and the material at his feet parted to let him through.

It took very little time to open the cave. The rock shifted aside with a noise like brick sliding on brick. Another step with each swing. At two-hundred swings Ey-Kan’s tribe wondered what he was doing and made their way to the cave. They stopped hearing him after the three-hundredth swing.

Their food was gone. Their water frozen. There was nothing left for them on the surface and so they followed the newly-formed steps cut ahead of them. As they went further they changed. Their bodies growing more used to the heat under the hill.

Ey-Kan’s steps kept going. So deep that the walls grew red with heat. The bigger-folk could take it. This was all energy to them.

Finally, after possibly a thousand steps their way opened up to reveal a huge cavern. A tunnel at the far end led back up to the surface. Ey-Kan had gone to find more of the bigger-folk.

In time these others found their way down to the cavern. It was here that they built their home. However, it was the last any of them would ever see of Ey-Kan or his pick-axe.

The second time

Years passed and the bigger-folk grew used to their home in the depths of the earth. However, two of them grew tired, and desperate to see the land of their ancestors. They walked up the thousand steps, coughing from the dust. These stairs hadn’t been used in centuries and in the world above, the bigger folk had become the stuff of stories.

There are many tales of their experiences up those stairs. I’ll tell you one of them next week. If you’d like these stories in your e-mail inbox (in an easy to print pdf document) click here.

Thank you for reading, John

TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 2: ROLLY BOX JUST CLICK HERE

Go hug your mum (most kids’ books would have killed her by now)

There’s an almost unspoken rule in kids fiction; before the story begins kill the parents. Harry Potter loses his parents, Sophie in the BFG is an orphan, etc. etc. Then there’s a whole other category of what you might call half-orphans; children who have lost their mothers (i.e. Danny [champion of the world], Hiccup [How to train your dragon], Belle [Beauty and the Beast].)

There must be some literary reason behind all this maternal slaughter but the one that seemed to flair up most for me (after I decided to keep my characters’ mums alive) came as a bit of a surprise.

Initially I assumed that all the parents were being killed off because parents would make the story too boring for kids. However, the more I write mum characters the more I see how brilliant, exciting, and shocking they can be. Turns out mums aren’t so boring after all. So why do so many children’s books commit matricide?

I can boil my feelings on it down to a moment I had when writing ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’. There’s a battle, a character full of malevolence and power is poised to begin a magical takeover of the non-magical world, and all the key good guys are lining up to stop him.

Key among these is a mum with more than enough power to take him on. Originally I had her set up to do just that and then something shoved that option aside; fear. Not her fear (she was brave, bold, and everything I needed her to be), instead I found myself burgeoned with ridiculous amounts of worry on the part of her child. This is when I realised the real reason that parents stay out of the action in children’s fiction; it’s all just too much for the children to take.

As a writer you’re faced with a choice between endless descriptions of a child’s concern for their parent, or you can avoid this and make the child seem uncaring or even callous in their disregard for their mum’s safety.

The simple truth is that you can’t write a believable child without addressing their relationship with their parents. When you take their parents out of the picture, your character can get on with the adventuring.

When you take the mum out, in a strange way, you remove the character’s worries about the possibility of losing a source of deep reassurance, support, and love. Mums can’t always be part of the action because the risk is simply too great for the child protagonists.

It looks like mums are sometimes too big, too emotionally all-encompassing to be included in children’s stories. In other words mums are a bit too awesome for kids books.

Can you think of any kids books that manage to keep the mums involved? Do you have any favourite literary mums? Feel free to share in the comments and over on Facebook or Twitter.

As always thanks for reading, and happy mothers day to all the mums out there.

All the best, John

We didn’t have TV so we all read a book together (it was amazing!)

first aid for fairiesI recently wrote about our lack of connectivity on holiday but another side effect was a complete lack of TV. No cartoons, no youtube minecraft videos (OK they were hard to miss, sorry Stampy, no offence meant), basically no falling back on TV at meal times and other times that we wanted to chill out. This made us fall back on an another old favourite; reading.

Even when we’re at home we read a story together every night, often this becomes a family occasion (like we had with Pugs of the Frozen north). However, this time round I ended up reading myself hoarse as we discovered Lari Don’s ‘First Aid for Fairies and other Fabled Beasts’. We normally read for about twenty minutes to a half hour each night but I’ve been reading for hours to the kids. We read at meal times, we read in the tent, I read in the car on the way home, and of course we read at bed time.

Back home technology has jumped back into our lives (I’ve found my way back on here as well) but we’re still hooked. We’re so close to the end and I’m at that ‘scared to read because it’ll be over soon’ stage. However, with three other books to go in the series I can relax a little.

The first of the ‘Fabled Beasts’ series follows Helen as she discovers that the world of story book creatures is all too real when a centaur appears on her doorstep.

The pace is fast and adventurous whilst giving you a chance to get to know the characters and the stakes get higher as we find out more about the quest that Helen is being drawn into.

It’s a book that has entertained two full grown adult-type people, an eight year old, and even a five year old (who normally still needs a picture or two during a story). No pictures are necessary and it’s been a joy to read the dialogue as well. I can’t recommend this book enough. Please go and check it out.

I’m always interested to hear about good kids books so if you’ve come across any please let me know (I can count it as ‘product research’ 😉 ). Feel free to tell us about it in the comments below and as always, thanks for popping over to read my blog, all the best, John

Where authors are heading in the next 5 years

pocket-watch-598039_1920When I was a kid my favourite authors were distant entities, the idea of talking to them or even meeting them didn’t even cross my mind. I don’t remember one author visit to my school or even seeing them on TV very much.

The one time I saw something close to an interview was a Blue Peter special featuring Roald Dahl in his writing hut (I’ve written a little about how much the idea of writing huts affected me previously).

However, a children’s author is a very different creature now. The chances of talking to a favourite author are increased massively by social media. Along with this grows a sense of accessibility that simply didn’t exist when I was a kid. 

J K Rowling is commonly in the news for her twitter activities (my favourite being her twitter-inspired spontaneous trip to a library on Orkney). It’s easy to see that the next few years are set to see changes to the way authors behave and the way the public feels about them.

Another huge change is the increase in the respectability of self-published authors. We don’t call it ‘vanity publishing’ any more (or at least less people use the term). ‘The Martian’, ‘Legally Blonde’, and the children’s/teen fantasy book ‘Eragon’ all started life as self-published works. Overall, people seem more willing to try out books published in non-traditional ways.

So what does this mean for the next five years? For me I have to admit that interacting with readers has an undeniable effect on my writing. We’re not talking ‘choose you own adventure’ but there’s certainly a level of reader influence that I hadn’t expected when I started writing. If this is the same for other authors I think we’re likely to see books change significantly over the next few years.

If we combine this with author blogging (as many of us do) this could develop into serial-style writing becoming a more common approach to getting a story out. We could see books shaped in (almost) real time by the responses of readers. This might take the form of pandering, as authors draw attention to characters with more of a following. However, it could just as easily go the other way as authors take a slightly sadistic delight in drawing out plot lines, leaving questions achingly unanswered in ways that would put the writer of ‘Lost’ to shame. (George R. R. Martin anyone?)

Add to this equation a touch of fan fiction and we might even see the emergence of a completely new form of fictional world. If authors decide to nominate some fan-fiction writers as ‘cannon’ writers then the in-universe exploits could grow exponentially, blurring the lines between traditional books and role-play. 

To be honest I author ego would probably get in the way of this becoming a reality but it’s easy to see how this could transform things for writers and readers alike.

Rather than having to wait a year for the next book, we could have a new in-universe book to read every week. Children’s fiction has been doing this for years with ghost writers. One of the most obvious examples being the ‘Beast Quest’ series of books. However, even these struggle to release more than one a month.

As an avid reader (and someone who tends to get absolutely hooked on certain fictional worlds, ehem…geek!) I have to say that the prospect of getting access to weekly books is like a dream come true. 

Writing styles would no doubt differ but if it’s put together well this might not be too much of a problem. Imagine subscribing to a weekly Harry Potter book and you get a rough idea of what we could see.

Alongside all of this traditional publishing will no doubt continue along on it’s merry way but the prospect of regular updates changes the way avid readers will address books. 

I’ll predict that in the next five years (for readers at least) we’ll see less TV consumption (it’s becoming more disappointing every year any way) and more readers turning to regular updates in their favourite universe.

What do you think? Is the world of reading about to change for good? Is social media and self-publishing poised to provide a literary revolution? or am I being to optimistic?

As always, responses are welcome in the comments below. Thanks for reading, all the best, John