When I set up Burst, I knew that it would evolve differently from traditional and established publishers for several reasons - not least that I was a primary school teacher embarking on a dream with no publishing experience other than I had read a lot of books published by other companies and knew I wanted to be a part of producing great books for children myself. I wanted to build a platform for other authors (and illustrators) in a similar position to me - knocking on the door of the London-centric UK publishing industry hoping that someone would eventually come and let us in to this amazing, creative world - and I wanted to build it right in the middle of my community, the beautiful South Wales Valleys.
But perhaps the biggest shift from traditional children's publishing was my desire to put children right at the heart and soul of storytelling - as creators themselves, not just consumers. I want Burst to offer purposeful projects that boost skills and confidence, with an end product children can be proud of. So I'm thrilled that Burst's first printed publications are part of our ongoing Creative Burst Wales project, where children are given a platform to create in schools, libraries and the community - even in castles (see previous blog)! We'll be using the hashtag #CreativeBurst to tell you more over the coming weeks and months.
As you can see from the photos above, this July we've printed a magazine written by a team of amazing Year 2 - 6 creators from St. Joseph's RC Primary in Tredegar, and an anthology of stories written by all pupils from Reception to Year 6 in Kings Monkton School, Cardiff. You can read the digital versions of the magazine here and the anthology here.
Happy reading and happy creating!
I can’t think of better surroundings for creating an epic tale of fantasy and adventure than the awe-inspiring Caerphilly Castle! So when I was asked by Head Custodian Catherine Collins to help children and their parents collaborate to create a bedtime story to be read around the fire in the Great Hall, I jumped at the chance.
It was all part of a Knights at the Castle event – with participants enjoying the company of Sir Andrew, the castle knight, and getting the opportunity to make lanterns and tour the site in all its spooky, red-lit glory.
Here is the created story – a culmination of all the ideas, characters, plot devices, dialogue and descriptions thought up on the night by those who attended. Feel free to cwtch up around a fire, lantern, torch or candle to enjoy our ghostly tale of revenge and adventure…
Owain and the Red Revenge
Owain felt a cold shiver run down his spine as his footsteps echoed on the grey stone steps. “Well this is a fine ending to my first day,” he muttered miserably to himself as he descended into the castle dungeon alone. Hot wax from his candle dripped onto his hand and he yelped and then sneezed for the twentieth time that day.
Owain the Sneezer was what the others had started calling him, and he hated the nickname as much as he hated the dusty stone walls of Caerphilly Castle. He wished he was back home by his own fire, with his parents and siblings by his side, and pulled his tatty tunic closer to his shivering bones.
“See that you hurry with that bucket boy!” a voice shouted down from the top of the steps. It was Sir Andrew, who had sent Owain down into the dungeon to find a mop and bucket to clear up the mess in the Great Hall. Owain had sneezed so loud and with such force, it had made Sir Andrew drop his soup bowl and splatter dark gloop all across the floor, right in front of all the paiges sat down for their supper. Now he was being punished, and his stomach sank in the shadowy gloom.
Owain looked all around him, but could see no mop or bucket, only a large oak cupboard in the corner. Perhaps they’re in here he thought, and tried the handle but it was locked. He felt his nose tickling in the mouldy air, and before he could stop himself another sneeze blasted out. His candle dripped burning wax once more, but this time onto his toe, which poked out of the hole in the end of his boot. He hopped madly about in pain, and stumbled into the cupboard. It began to wobble and then lurched to one side. CRASH. It broke apart, and to Owain’s horror, a skeleton fell out at his feet with a loud clatter.
“What in heaven’s name be going on down there lad?” yelled Sir Andrew. Owain thought his legs would give way beneath him in fright, but instead of collapsing in a heap, he sneezed loudly once more.
“Thank you,” said Owain. Then he realised that this voice was not Sir Andrew’s and it did not come from the top of the grey stone steps. It came from right behind him and it sent a shiver down his spine! “Who… is… there?” stammered Owain in a whisper, as he turned to look at the speaker.
A lady stood in the centre of the dungeon, next to the shattered skeleton. She wore a green dress and her skin was pale and glowing in Owain’s candle light. “Come hither boy. Tell me your name, you who released my bones from their ancient prison. Be you friend or foe?”
“Urm…” Owain hesitated and thought once more that he might collapse.
“If you be my husband’s ally, then in truth you are my foe – for I doth hate that man who broke my heart and took my true soul mate in his cruelty.” As she spoke, her cheeks grew red in anger and the dungeon walls were licked with unearthly flames of fire. “That foul demon banished me to this dungeon and he now roams the castle freely. So tell me boy, be you friend or foe?” The bones of her skeleton rattled and shook on the dusty floor beside her.
“Friend… definitely friend!” replied Owain. He could see the effect her anger had on the castle walls, and didn’t want to see what she might do to him if she thought he was her enemy.
“Boy, come quickly! The castle is on fire with cursed flames of red.” It was Sir Andrew calling from above.
The Green Lady swept passed Owain and up the stairs. Owain raced after her and stumbled breathless into the Great Hall. The whole room glowed crimson, and fear was on every face seated around the long wooden tables, as the Green Lady made her way towards the enormous fireplace. “Gilbert, come forth and face me… feel my wrath. Or dost thou know I am too powerful now my bones have been released from the prison you set for them?”
A great rumble echoed down the chimney and around the hall, then a second ghost appeared in a flurry of dust – it was Gilbert de Clare. Owain felt his nose tickling again and tried desperately not to sneeze. “Who set you free oh wretched wife? Show me the one and I will curse him forever!” bellowed Gilbert.
“You would have me banished for eternity, but this boy has saved me.” The Green Lady’s anger rose up once more and flames licked the four walls of the Great Hall. “I will consume you in the fire of my wrath Gilbert!” she shouted.
“Never! I will lock away your bones… and as for that boy…”
Owain couldn’t contain himself any longer, and let out an almighty sneeze. The force of it pushed Gilbert into the fiery walls, and with a piercing shriek, he sizzled and then disappeared. Instantly, the castle walls returned to grey stone once more.
The Green Lady turned to Sir Andrew. “Give me your sword, for I must knight this boy who has rescued me with his valiant sneezing.” Owain knelt down on the cold stone floor before her, and for the first time that day began to believe that life at Caerphilly Castle might not be all that bad after all.
“Arise Sir Owain the Mighty… Sneezer!”
Best wishes for an amazing 2016 - may it be full to bursting with love, happiness, friendship and great new stories to experience!
I'm feeling excited for what 2016 will bring for Burst. It's the first full year for my fledgling company, and I'm planning for lots of firsts - first printed book and first creative workshop being at the top of the list.
As well as discovering new creators to work alongside and producing some fantastic new books (sign up to the Burst newsletter here and I'll keep you posted), I'm also looking forward to a year of reading new books and rediscovering some old classics - and it's one of my resolutions to set aside time to just enjoy reading, on my own and with my children. I've been given a few beautiful notebooks for Christmas (I love notebooks and can never have enough) and think I will chose one to be my reading journal for 2016.
I've just ordered a set of Flower Fairies books by Cicely Mary Baker, as I had these in my childhood and loved them - but somehow they got lost along the way of life and I can't wait to read them again and share them with my daughter. I also recently bought a very old copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales and have started to delve into that which feels like such a treat. And a new book at the top of my To Read List is Cressida Cowell's How to Fight a Dragon's Fury - the latest in her always brilliant How to Train a Dragon series.
One book I am also excited to read is one given to me by my mother-in-law. It's an old, typed and bound manuscript of a children's story written by her grandmother, Dorothy MacNulty, which she found when looking through books belonging to her mother. Some of Dorothy's stories were published in the early/middle 20th Century - but this one doesn't appear to have been so I'm looking forward to seeing if it has publishing potential.
Right, time for a shameless plug of Burst's latest ebook Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin which is available for a limited time at the reduced price of £1.99 / $2.99. Toby has a new year's celebration and a new beginning in the book, and I thought I would include a second extract in this blog (first extract in Boxing Day blog). It's New Year's Day and Toby has recently arrived at Silverbells - a training academy for Vallowen - and is heading to Sigurd's Hall for the First Feast:
"The whole campus of Silverbells looked beautiful in the sunlight, which caught the frost on the slanted roofs of the buildings and they glistened as if they were overlaid with crystal. Ahead of them was the large building with snowy turrets and grand stained-glass windows, the one they had ridden past the night before in the sleigh. Beyond it, and joined by covered stone colonnades, were other impressive buildings; a circular coliseum of white and pink marble, a chapel-like structure made of black stone that had a twisted spire – and a great glass dome filled with odd looking trees and vegetation. All of them were dwarfed by the imposing size of the main building.
‘This place is incredible!’ Leo sighed.
‘Yes, I suppose it is,’ Katie giggled, ‘you get used to it after a while.’
They headed down the path to Sigurd’s Hall. The foyer was packed with students of every age and appearance and the noise was deafening. Toby remembered he’d missed breakfast and his stomach rumbled uncomfortably.
A gruff voice echoed, ‘Quiet please!’ but Toby couldn’t see who was speaking beyond the crowds of students. The noise in the foyer immediately vanished. ‘Good morning. Prepare to enter the Solar in silence. As you move inside, proceed directly to your garrison commander and await further instructions.’
Two great doors swung open at the end of the foyer and sunlight burst through, illuminating the place with a silvery glare. Inside, strains of stringed instruments filled the air with sweet music, and the smell of food made Toby’s stomach gurgle. Slowly, the crowd filed in and the Clock Tower Försters found themselves at the back of the queue.
By the doors, Toby saw the source of the voice – a short but muscly man in his fifties. He had sandy blonde hair, but most of it had evacuated his scalp and seemed to have settled above his top lip. His skin and eyes were as pink as pigs. ‘Come on then,’ he bellowed, ‘no dawdling! Dear oh dear … I see the North Wind has sent us another batch of striplings and dingleberries this year.’ Toby looked at Katie Hendricks in confusion.
‘I have no idea,’ she shrugged when they were inside the doors, ‘Major Snub makes up new insults every year!’
The Solar was a gigantic circular room whose roof was made of some sort of glass or crystal and cut into triangular panels. Sunlight gushed through it and refracted in rainbows all over the walls, making them sparkle. Toby felt like he was inside a kaleidoscope with patterns shifting and changing with each step he took. A deep balcony swept around the back of the room behind Toby, draped with swathes of blue and silver cloth. Ahead of him, above a semi-circular stage, hung a large blue shield painted with a silver bell.
The room was laid out for a feast of some sort, with circular tables placed into four groups. Commander Clemency stood near one group of tables and beckoned them over. As they sat down, Katie Hendricks leant over to tell them that the Solar wasn’t always laid out like that – only on special occasions. Normally they were allowed to mix with all the other garrisons.
Toby suddenly thought of Cadmus and looked for him at the Black Ice Vault area, which was full of students mostly dressed in black. He spotted Cadmus, who was unmistakable with his bright white hair and pale skin. Petyr Grayling was talking to him intently. Cadmus looked queasy. ‘Poor Cadmus,’ Toby nudged Dash and pointed to their friend, ‘he doesn’t look very happy, does he?’
‘Look at Grayling bending his ear,’ Dash grimaced, ‘you wouldn’t be over the moon either. Well at least his fashion sense isn’t out of place. He’s dressed head to toe in black!’
‘Students –’ Major Snub slammed the Solar doors and marched into the room, ‘stand up for the entrance of your teachers.’ Clemency rolled her eyes and flapped her hands at them to stand. As they stood, a door at the back of the stage opened and the strangest oddment of people and reindeer walked out and crossed the stage to sit at a long table.
They were led by a very tall, broad-chested man with a black fur hat and light blue robes embroidered with silver symbols all over. His hair looked whiter even than Cadmus’s did, and he had a long beard that was braided with blue threads. Whilst the other members of staff were seated around the long table, this man stayed on the stage behind a black lectern. He reminded Toby more of a great Viking Lord than a teacher."
Happy New Year and happy reading!
I hope you had a fantastic Christmas Day with loved ones, enjoyed watching them open the presents you had chosen and wrapped (and received some great presents too), and indulged a little (or a lot) in amazing food and drink. I am feeling blessed that I got to do all of that again this year, as every year - something I am conscious I never want to take for granted.
So now it's Boxing Day, a day for chilling out and relaxing after a hectic few days - unless you're heading out to the sales (good luck) or embarking on Christmas dinner round 2 (enjoy). I woke up this morning and found myself thinking about Toby Gentle, the main character in C.G. Hickling's Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin, and how he spends Boxing Day.
In the book, he has just spent Christmas Day with his new GAGs (Government Assigned Guardians) in the great Vallowen city of Bario's Gate - and it proves to be a very different day to the ones he has spent on Bluebell Farm with the Gentles. Toby gets overwhelmed and confused by it all, as I'm sure many children in foster care at this time of year experience. When he wakes up on Boxing Day, he is told that the family are going to the Sentinels' Bout - a McKinsey tradition. It's a boxing match of sorts, and a great visual chapter in the book. As a little treat, I thought I would include an extract in this post for you:
"... Toby studied the ticket Tyra had given him. It read Championship Bout: Odious Kemp vs. Vladislav Jiganov. Donny explained that there were some minor fights first, before the championship match – Wangdak vs. Cambrian and Ritter vs. Flanagan.
‘Is that the Jiganov?’ Toby asked Dash, ‘The puzzle maker?’
‘No, you mean his brother Yuri Jiganov – he’s over there,’ Dash pointed to the box opposite.
Crammed inside were three large people, a man in an expensive looking suit, a boy (in a matching suit) and a woman in a long fur coat. Below them, the crowd began to chant Knock his block off, Jiganov and Vlad the Bad. ‘No one seems to be cheering for the other one,’ Toby observed.
‘They wouldn’t be,’ Donny answered, ‘he’s a first rate scum bag – eats garlic sandwiches and raw onions like they’re apples!’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because he’s my Fitness instructor at Silverbells ... oh and he’ll be yours next week too!’
Toby turned his attention to the stage where Tyra Newland now stood resplendent in her purple suit. She opened out her arms as if she were going to embrace the whole room and the golden flecks in her eyes dazzled in the lights. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,’ Tyra’s voice boomed around the hall and the audience hushed immediately. ‘Happy Boxing Day!’ she shouted and the crowd exploded into cheers. ‘Welcome to the Ellora Hall for our annual Sentinels’ World Championship Bout!’ Another cheer erupted and Toby found himself clapping too. A bubble of excitement filled his belly.
‘Robert would love this –’ Toby found himself shouting to Dash across the din.
‘What?’ Dash shouted back. ‘Can’t hear you!’
‘Never mind.’ Toby mouthed. He hated how he couldn’t share this new world with his brothers and sisters back on Bluebell Farm and wondered what they would be doing at that moment. Had it only been two days? Tyra’s bellowing voice shook him from his thoughts.
‘Without further ado, let me introduce our first contest. Hailing from the mysterious peaks of the Tibetan mountains … fast as an arrow, strong as a lion … Tashia Wangdak!’
There was a clash of cymbals and then a woman in a golden jumpsuit cartwheeled down the aisle leading to the stage. As the audience screamed their appreciation, Wangdak performed graceful acrobatic moves, leaping and spinning and landing at last on the green canvas platform. She ended her routine by doing the splits.
‘Ooooh –’ the McKinsey box groaned.
‘And her opponent, from the ancient Inuit wastes of Northern America … his companions are bears and his neighbours are Ye’ti … it’s Ulva Cambrian!’ Tyra roared.
The lights flicked out to gasps from the audience and then a large moon-like orb hung in the air above the stage. A long and mournful howl pierced the nervous silence, and was answered by another howl just beneath the box. Soon it sounded as though an entire pack of wolves had filled the arena. Their calls made the hair on the back of Toby’s neck stand on end.
As the house lights came back on, another figure had appeared on the stage the other side of Tyra – a very large man dressed in skins and fur with eyes so red they seemed to shine. The crowd went wild. ‘Prepare to fight!’ Tyra shouted. Two smaller men, one in gold and one in skins, rushed onto the stage and wrapped the competitors’ fists in black strips of cloth. They squirted water into their mouths from leather bottles, looked them in the eye, and slapped their faces.
‘What are they doing?’ Toby asked Dash.
‘Psyching them up,’ he said, ‘getting them ready to fight!’
A bell rang and suddenly the fight began. Cambrian, the larger of the two, stood motionless in the middle of the stage, his huge muscled legs bent at the knees, and his fists covering his face. Wangdak, however, was moving around him in swift circles. She slung the first punch, but a forearm block from Cambrian deflected it easily. Then the big man lunged forward with a mighty swing, which missed as the Tibetan leapt over his head and landed behind him.
‘Ooooh –’ the crowd cried in appreciation.
But Cambrian spun – quicker than Toby thought his bulk would let him – and delivered a right hook on his opponent’s nose. A stream of blood splattered down onto the canvas and Toby winced. The fight continued with Wangdak’s elegant footwork and Cambrian’s power-packed swings until the bell rang again. The two fighters, exhausted and panting, collapsed onto corner stools and the two small men came back onto the stage to attend to them with towels and bottled water.
They fought two more rounds until Cambrian smacked Wangdak in the chin with a bone-crunching uppercut. She flew over the ropes and into the crowd. Cheers erupted around the room and Cambrian was hailed the winner. The lights went out for a second, a wolf howled, and when they came on again the winner had disappeared. ‘How does he do that?’ Toby gasped.
‘A little bit of snowcraft and a little bit of theatrics I expect,’ Pa replied. ‘Great isn’t it?’
‘Amazing!’ Toby couldn’t stop grinning.
Below them, a very tall man scrubbed the stage whilst Tyra addressed the crowd. Toby didn’t hear what she was saying because he couldn’t keep his eyes off the cleaner. He must have been at least seven feet tall and had an unmistakably blue tone to his skin. ‘Is that a Ye’ti?’ Toby asked Dash.
‘The cleaner on the stage … is he Ye’ti?’
‘Oh him – yeah. Their kind can’t get real jobs in the city, so they have to clean or pick rubbish up off the streets and stuff like that.’
‘Well look at them … great big lumbering things, aren’t they?’ Toby did look, but the Ye’ti didn’t seem lumbering to him. He was big, certainly, but he cleaned the stage quickly enough.
More theatrics ensued as Tyra announced the next fight. To tumultuous applause, Ritter rode in on the back of a huge black bear that promptly dissolved into a flurry of snow as he leapt down from its back. He was a handsome, rugged man wearing only a pair of dark blue jeans with blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Flanagan arrived with a troop of dancing leprechauns. They tap danced around the ring until they all jumped up as one, then exploded into a green cloud and disappeared – leaving Flanagan to dance solo for a few moments ..."
I hope you enjoyed reading that - and if you'd like to read more, the good news is Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin is now available on Amazon at the discounted price of £1.99 / $2.99 for a limited time, a great excuse for some post-Christmas reading.
Happy Boxing Day everyone!
It's been a week since the launch of Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin by C.G. Hickling, and I'm just starting to feel human again after our mammoth '12 Days of Publishing' project. There's still lots to be done in terms of getting the book out there, read and talked about - and that's a whole new learning curve for me, but definitely an exciting one.
Already, we've had some reviews for the book on Amazon, which is another first - hearing what readers think. Of course, some of the reviews are from people that know the author and are naturally (and rightly) glowing, but there are reviews up from people who we don't know - and I am blown away that they are 5 star reviews with lots of positive comments:
"Brilliant! Utterly spellbinding!"
"An amazing read that draws the reader into a magical winter wonderland."
"A truly exciting story that kept me entranced from start to finish ... To me it's on par with Harry Potter and is of the same outstanding quality. The finale left me wanting more ..."
Hopefully the great reviews will keep coming as I get the word out - but perhaps the best comment so far came from the mother of a child who had been at the book launch last week. She contacted me to say that her Year 6 son had told her it was the best book he had ever read. That's what means the most to me - that children are enjoying the book and are engaging with the plot and characters. Nothing can really top that!
So, if you haven't ordered a copy yet - you can download the ebook from Amazon from this link (to read on kindles, or on any device using the free kindle app):
Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin by C.G. Hickling
We did it! Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin is out now on ebook from Amazon.
In 12 days, we signed contracts, created a cover, edited and proofread a manuscript and pressed that all important publish button on KDP. But the best bit of the whole process was today, launching the book at Libanus Primary School in Blackwood where I worked as a teacher until April of this year when I began Burst.
It was so amazing to see them mesmerised by C.G. Hickling's story, asking questions and getting excited about reading - and coming up with their own ideas for stories too. I feel like it embodied all that I want Burst to be about; finding amazing new authors (which I think C.G. Hickling is) and also getting out there and inspiring children.
So now I'm left with the exciting (but also quite daunting) task of getting the word out there about how great this book is. I also want to be able to get the ebook out on iBooks and other digital distributors, as well as a printed version - all as soon as physically/financially possible.
There's lots of work still to be done, but I'm relieved/thrilled to have got this far - it feels like a massive achievement. I don't think I'll be embarking on another 12 Days of Publishing project anytime soon though!
Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin by C.G. Hickling is available NOW on Kindle and Kindle app. (Yay!!)
I'm astonished that we made it before the deadline and the ebook is now available to purchase on Amazon. There's a couple of tweaks to fix, but after pulling an (almost) all nighter to get it finished, my brain is frazzled so I think I will face that tomorrow. There were some last minute stresses with a lost chapter, a duplicated section, and a contents page that wouldn't link to chapters - but the publishing to Kindle bit was surprisingly quick and easy. (Phew!)
I'm walking a little taller knowing that at last I'm a real publisher, and I'm sure C.G. Hickling feels the same way as he is now officially a real author. Although that's all nonsense I suppose - if you create something you are a creator, regardless of whether you make money or get recognised - that's all just icing on the cake. The real joy is in the creation, and I know that (even though I'm completely exhausted) I've really enjoyed this whole creative journey from signing contracts 11 days ago, to pressing Publish on a laptop today.
So tomorrow is the official launch, at Libanus Primary School - and I'm really enjoying talking to the Year 6 pupils and getting their feedback (they've had a sneak preview). But right now I'm just longing for a bath and then bed.
This is how I'm feeling after a long night of editing the final chapters of Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin, and I'm totally blown away by the dramatic ending and sudden plot twist.
So the content editing is finished (YAY!!!) and now it's time to grab a couple more hours of sleep, shower, eat and start the final proof read.
My amazing friend Ruth, a freelance editor, has been working like a trooper to help with all this (and gave me a much needed pep-talk yesterday over the phone) and also my friend Sarah who works for a publishing company in London. I'm so grateful to have their support and experience. And of course, I am SO grateful to Carl Hickling, who has been gracious throughout this whole process.
Ok, this is starting to sound like an acceptance speech so I'll shut up and crack on.
To capitalise or not to capitalise - that is the question!
Today, I'm feeling bogged down with all the editorial decisions about what words to capitalise and other little things that matter a lot in one way (it's good for the book to be as polished and professional as possible) but not really in the big scheme of things.
The question really is - do I follow convention, or just stuff the rules; like the editors of the Harry Potter series who went with the decision to capitalise lots of things (lesson names etc.) that shouldn't strictly be capitalised. One thing has struck me - that capitalised words stand out from the page, and when you're asking young readers to follow lots of new names for the new world you're creating, then perhaps capital letters will help guide the way.
I'm looking forward to the end of this process for lots of reasons (normal sleeping hours for a start!) but mostly because I want to sit down and enjoy reading the book again from cover to cover without worrying about silly things like punctuation and sentence structure.
C.G. Hickling really is a master world builder, up there with the best - and although that might sound like I'm just trying to make a pitch, I really do believe it. I'm totally absorbed in the new world he has created. If you love children's fantasy and adventure, then you're in for a treat.
The book is full of beautiful snow but all I can see out of my window as I work is rainy gloom. I'm wishing I was at Silverbells, or walking though the snowy woods that surround it - but I'll have to make do with the picture at the top of this post instead.
Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin will be available on Amazon Kindle and Kindle app from 8th December - with hopefully all the capital letters in the right place!
No time to blog today as things are getting hectic, and I'm feeling frazzled from the lack of sleep. But this quote I found is spurring me on!
The ISBN has arrived though - who would have thought a row of numbers could be so exciting?