Artist Selected to Illustrate New Children’s Book For Cats’ Eyes Only

The story so far

  • I got a call from Cathy Newton of Ilfracombe Library asking me to attend a meeting at the home of local philanthropist and benefactor David Tubby. (see his excellent blog on our small but beautiful town).
  • Cathy asked me if I would be willing to write a book especially for the Big Summer Reading Challenge using this year’s theme “Animal Agents”
  • I said yes and we bandied about a number of ideas for the book within minutes. David was persuaded to assist the library with financing the launch of the event and I went off to get writing.
  • Before I got very far, I decided to do some market research among the target audience. My daughter’s form teacher at Ilfracombe Junior School was happy to oblige and I got back nearly thirty filled out questionnaires which helped me to write a well targeted book. (It’s mostly terrible puns, fart jokes, and silliness). The title is “For Cats’ Eyes Only”
  • It took less than a week to write the first draft. A little longer to get beta readers to feed-back and make a few adjustments, and another week for editing. But without illustrations it would miss the needs of the target audience. 6-8 year olds.
  • So the search for an artist began, with many expressing an interest but none fulfilling all the requirements. The money available for this is not huge, because it is an unknown author (me) and a very small publisher (Blue Poppy) and we just can’t pay, up front, the sort of money professional artists demand and deserve.
  • Then a friend suggested I should try the art department of Ilfracombe Academy. I smacked my hand against my head and dashed off an email a.s.a.p. The reply from Mr Lawton was positive and we arranged an opportunity to visit the school and present the brief to a group of young art students.
  • Then last Thursday I saw the submissions. It goes without saying that all of them were excellent, but (much to my relief) one was outstanding and the decision was relatively easy to make.

Watch this space, or keep an eye on the North Devon Gazette for the announcement of the successful artist who is a young student who dared to dream of illustrating children’s books once she had finished her studies. 

Cover art for Women of the Wise Oak – Preliminary Sketch

For me, one of the most exciting things about preparing a new book for publication is the cover art.

With the “Wise Oak” series, that process is deliciously drawn out as Iver Klingenberg sends me the preliminary sketch first, and then usually a work-in-progress close to completion, before I see the final finished painting. Then there is the next step which involves taking the painting to Andy Jones who turns it into a finished cover.

Well, we have reached that very first step and I absolutely LOVE it.

Preliminary Sketch for “Women of the Wise Oak” cover design.

New author reveal

Welcome to Blue Poppy Publishing, Joni Dee
Author of “And The Wolf Shall Dwell”

It really is pretty mind-blowing the speed with which Blue Poppy has grown in less than a year. OK, look, it’s not going to threaten Penguin any time soon, but we have now got three confirmed authors all publishing books this year.

The latest author to the fold is Joni Dee, whose thriller “And The Wolf Shall Dwell” already looks set to outsell Oliver J Tooley on launch based on pre-orders alone.

That said, we want to give more people the chance to get a pre-order in before the launch date which has not be set yet. To that end, please check out his website jondbooks.com/ and sign up for updates.

Early Lessons in Self Publishing 1

The bottom of the learning curve.

I thought perhaps, it might be time to begin sharing my self publishing story from the very beginning. I have made so VERY many mistakes on my journey. I probably still haven’t made them all, but the lessons I have learned could be worth a lot to anyone starting out. Besides, I have a terrible memory, so it wouldn’t hurt to have a handy reference guide for myself.

So, right back to the very beginning. Before I thought of publishing anything. Right back to when mobile phones were the size of small bricks and the earliest days of the internet.

Oh, I will warn you now. This is likely to turn into as much an autobiography as an instruction manual. Later, I may distill it down to a ten point action plan, but for now, it is probably gonna ramble. Sorry.

Writing.

Why write? Some people write purely for themselves and a few close friends; some write for pleasure; a few have future publishing in their sights. I started, largely for the first two reasons, by writing a website.

I was researching my family tree with my new home computer. A Tiny PC with a Pentium II™ processor and dial-up connection. I searched for information about my grandfather, Frank Kingdon-Ward, who was a ‘famous’ plant collector. There wasn’t a single hit on the search engine. There were ten thousand hits for Pamela Anderson. I thought that was a bad thing.

I found a biography (whatever you do, don’t pay more than a few quid for it. It’s not that great) about my grandfather written by Charles Lyte. I remember him coming to our flat in London and interviewing my ‘dizzy’ mother. He didn’t get much from her, but he did borrow a lot of papers which he subsequently gave to Kew Botanic Gardens (with my mother’s consent, although now she denies it) Using a WYSIWYG web-builder I made my very first Geocities website.  It was a bit rubbish, but little did I know my publishing career had begun.

Once you start, you can’t stop.

Like a lot of things, writing can be a bit like a drug. You get hits on your website from people who care about your subject matter. People who know more than you about your subject matter actually send you corrections. If you are sincere in your objectives, then you don’t mind. You don’t mind people correcting your spelling, grammar, facts, or style. It all helps.

Another aspect of my website, unrelated to the Frank Kingdon-Ward biography, suddenly started getting huge numbers of hits and when I started to monetize it with advertising, it began to pay my hosting fees. I was a “professional writer”! Well, sort of.

It was around this time that I started to wonder if I might one day be able to make a living as a writer. Even as I write this, I am still wondering that, so please; if you are seeking a get rich quick scheme, then writing professionally may not be for you.

Cover of
“The Great Explorers” Robin Hanbury-Tenison (Thames and Hudson)

But before I was able to finish writing my first novel, I was commissioned to write an article for a book called “The Great Explorers” by Robin Hanbury-Tenison; published by Thames and Hudson.

I was asked to write one thousand two hundred words and was paid my first ever fee for writing. It was a rather exciting moment.

Interestingly, I recently read some statistics and facts that strongly suggest that writing non-fiction is a better way to make money as a writer. Indeed, the evidence of my own experiences supports that so far, albeit from a very small statistical sample.  I made eight pence per word for that article. I wish I could say the same for my self published stories. 

 

Review of Sealskin by Su Bristow

Cover art for Sealskin by Su Bristow, featuring a fishing net merging and transforming into long flowing hair.
Sealskin by Su Bristow

‘Sealskin’ is a wonderful elaboration of one of the ancient legends of the selkies, seals which come onto land and shed their skins to become like humans. In the story, a fisherman hides one of the skins preventing the selkie from returning to the sea. It also starts with a terrible act, of which more later. (may contain spoilers)*

The story is set in a historical period which is not fully defined but is certainly before the steam age. The fishing village in the Hebrides, is close knit with everyone knowing everyone else’s business. Although they look after each other, and make sure those who suffer misfortune are not left by the wayside, there is still a certain rivalry and gossip is rife. The main occupation is fishing, and the sea claims the lives of men as readily as any other cause.

(While reading it, I visualised the characters in the Ealing Comedy “Whiskey Galore”)

I particularly enjoyed the way Su paints a picture of the village’s social interactions, and the dynamic of riding out a scandal by parading in full view; calmly deflecting accusations. Tight knit communities can be wonderful places to live when you feel included, but can be terrifying if you become ostracised.

The ending was particularly satisfying for me. As it approached, just like I always do, I attempted to second guess what would happen. I could only see two possible scenarios and neither of them was really going to please me. It was therefore a blessed relief when Su found a third way that made much more sense than either of my ideas.

The book has received many five star reviews already and I am not going to buck that trend, however, one reviewer was highly critical. I didn’t want to comment on her review and end up with a long running argument, but I am going to address it below. But warning, it may contain a few mild spoilers.

Potential spoilers.

I have tried to keep this from being a spoiler, but if you are the sort of person for whom any clue at all to the story is a spoiler, then by all means stop reading here.

* I said the story begins with a terrible act. An appalling act of violation of a female, which in the modern world is rightly considered unforgivable. The reviewer felt that the act was subsequently glossed over in the story, and that the perpetrator is subsequently portrayed as a hero. As a man, I hesitate to make any excuse, but I feel here that three points are worthy of keeping in mind.

  1. The author herself is a woman. OK, I know that proves nothing, but I feel the next points establish she does not make light of the subject.
  2. The selkies had been performing a mating dance, and there was a certain magic in the air which made the perpetrator not fully aware of, or in control of his actions. We are not talking about being drunk, or lustful, but being possessed by selkie magic.
  3. He feels enormous guilt for his actions throughout the book, despite the fact that it is strongly implied that he is not in control of his actions. The selkie has magical powers, and can affect a human’s behaviour, as shown later in the book.
  4. The setting is historical, and as such, it is not acceptable to make judgements about morality based on modern norms. Juliet was thirteen when Romeo made his advances to her, King David has many wives and concubines. This story is an elaboration of a folk myth and as such stays faithful to the basis of the original.

Ultimately, every reader must take what they wish from the story, but in my opinion, it would be a shame to dismiss it because of a lack of understanding of the magical elements.

New author announcement coming soon

Blue Poppy is already reeling from the news that Ben Blake, a well established self-publishing author with six titles already in print, wanted to publish his next two novels, “Black Lord of Eagles”, and “Fanged Fish” through us; but now we have been approached by an author from London who had got 750 pre-orders of his first novel before the company supposedly publishing him pulled the rug.

We don’t want to give too much away but it goes without saying we could not pass up the chance to publish someone who has already created so much interest in their first book.

It may mean we have to transform from an imprint, to an actual company with some sort of legal status. That’s going to mean proper accounts and such like. Much to do.

Maps in fantasy books

Interesting thread on Best Fantasy Books Forum recently

Several comments about how maps do not often work well on Kindle. This reminded me that I had intended to include a map for “Children of the Wise Oak” online for Kindle users to look at if they preferred.

I think this would be a good idea anyway for future reference in my series, and in that of other writers for whom maps are important. Even in print books, the map can come out a tad on the teeny side.

 

Map from “Children of the Wise Oak” click to enlarge.

Crowdfunder Launched for Women of the Wise Oak

Here we go; the project is now live.

Already a few pledges coming in, as we expected, from people who have been waiting for this for months.

It would be easy to get complacent at this point but it is a long slog to reach the target.

We had to set the target at £2,400 this time because we need to make sure the book gets separate copy and line edits. The first book was pretty clean, but one or two teeny things snuck through. That’s not the editor’s fault, but mine for not having the budget to do the job properly.

Blue Poppy; what’s it all about?

Introducing Blue Poppy Publishing.

So, last year, 2016, I finally finished my first full novel. I set up a crowdfunding campaign to pay for a professional edit, cover design, and printing. When the money hit my account I went a bit crazy and spent it all and then some trying to produce a really good product. I hope the seventy-plus backers were very pleased with it. I know I was.

Part of publishing that book ended up with me creating an imprint; Blue Poppy Publishing. I say imprint because it could certainly not lay any claim to being a company. It still isn’t; but more of that in future posts.

Why “Blue Poppy”?

I asked my online friends for name suggestions, but it was my son Morton, who suggested the name. It relates to my grandfather, Frank Kingdon-Ward, who was an explorer and botanist. “The Last of the Great Plant Hunters” was the first person to bring back viable seed of Meconopsis betonicifolia, the Himalayan Blue Poppy.

My first website was all about him, and my very first paid writing assignment was a 1,200 word article about him for “The Great Explorers” by Robin Hanbury-Tenison. (Thames & Hudson  ISBN 978-0500251690)


Hence the name.

So what is Blue Poppy Publishing then?

Can we call it BPP for brevity?

It is a very small publisher with absolutely no money, but a big heart and a growing wealth of understanding about the world of self publishing.

We (yes, I can call it “we” now because with the addition of Ben Blake it is no longer just me) are not pretending we know everything, but we are continually learning, and looking for ways to put that experience to good use for ourselves, and others.

We still don’t have any money, but 2017 is the year we will start to change that, in very small ways at first, but building on it.