Its been a very busy couple of years for VCP, their transformation back at the end of 2013, from just a promotion vehicle of Heirs to the Kingdom into a publishing company has taken a huge amount of work. Last month saw them produce their seventh book, which was a children’s book, and we took some time with Robin to chat about his experience’s this year now he has settled into his role as Editor and Writer.
You have a new book out, and it is for children, which is something very different from the fantasy adventure books you write, how does that fit in with the VCP statement of looking for high quality Fiction?
He smiles. It is, and I feel it fits in very well, there is no rule that I am aware of that states Fantasy/Sci fi or Adventure genres are not for children as well. I actually think that using fiction is the very best way to expand the wonder of the world for children, I mean look at the classics such as Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland, I read them as a child, and still do today to my own children, so why not a tale of a little dog called Crumble, especially considering, that the story is based on the real life observations of the authors dog, with a lovely fantasy twist.
So how does a post apocalyptic writer go about selecting what is indeed a beautifully illustrated book about a small dog who appears to be homeless with no friends ?
To be honest it was a member of the family who recommended Mike to us, he contacted us and gave us an idea of what he had, and we asked him for samples of the work so that we could look at it. I think what caught my attention first was the artwork, as soon as I saw it, I felt a strong sense of my own experiences from childhood and the wonderfully illustrated pictures of that time. I then read through the sample few chapters we had, and I felt it fitted in well with my own personal view of what the story should reflect.
So you examined the manuscript and then from that you make the decision. You say your own personal view can you elaborate on that?
Well I must admit I do have a very broad range when it comes to what I read. The thing is, I feel that firstly the book has to be in one sense or another believable. Ok for me that was an easy task, I just gave it to my six year old daughter and asked her what she thought, it got her approval and she wanted the rest of it, so that was a good start. Once I got the full manuscript I read through it a few times, and in my mind I wanted it to hold within it a positive message, I feel many of the books for children today are a little light on ethics, so for my part, I am looking for something that gives children an idea about how we live and how to handle it. That is mainly because even in a work of fiction, I feel there should be good messages and truths of the world. Crumble had that, it has a few issues I liked such as dealing with loneliness, and how befriending someone can make a huge difference to their life, I also like the importance of a stable family, and that sometimes family are not always your relatives. Those messages told me this was a book that was very positive for children, and so I wanted to work with Mike.
So you had a good book and good illustrations, and as we know Mike Beale is a first time Author, which is a bit of VCP’s mantra is it not?
It is, I am not interested in famous or celebrity authors, they have the name and reputation to get the big boys on their side, in most cases the major publishers prioritise them above everyone else. I am interested in those looking for a start up, I want to help and promote new writers, I do feel especially as we have lost some very big name writers in the past five years in the fantasy genre, my part is to encourage and help the new writers that are trying to get a foothold. The market for writers is probably one of the most competitive, so its hard work, I like to think VCP are doing their bit to find some good quality writers who will move on to bigger things in the future. Mike Beale presented a good package and I do think that Crumble is a wonderful step up for children going from mainly picture books into something more structured towards reading for life, which is also another one of the reasons we wanted to do it.
So this really is what we adults would call a proper reading book, but it is aimed at six years and above?
Yes, it is laid out with each chapter clearly marked; I find a lot of the books that school gives to my daughter are still very basic and filled with bright pictures. I think I am a little old fashioned in my approach, because when I was six, I was given proper books to read and I do think it played a huge part in my love of reading. I think we do not have enough children reading, and it is something I feel strongly as a book producer and a parent that we need to try and get our children away from the TV or games consol and reading more. The layout of Crumble reflects that, it is in a larger print, but it still has the defined chapters with the illustrations carefully placed to flow with the text, and I know for sure my daughter and my son have both really enjoyed reading the format.
So You put out HTTK book five in February, and its now been six months, has all that time been spent working on Crumble with Mike?
Not all of it, we were busy earlier in the year promoting the fifth HTTK, I think we began working with Mike in May, I have also been pretty busy writing in between, as I do, as I am always making notes writing back stories and actually writing the series. So for me personally it’s been a very hectic year, but that is good because I hate it when things slow down, I like to stay on the keys as much as possible.
It must have been a different experience working with another writer; we all know how reclusive you can be, not to mention how you avoid writing forums etc… What has it been like for you.?
Chuckles a lot. I avoid forums for writers simply because I have my own set way of doing things, so at times I find they have far too many rules that get in the way of the creative bursts. I honestly believe that shutting yourself away and just focusing on what you want write is the only way to do it, on the few occasions I have stepped out into the world and been involved with these things they have filled my head with notions that were very unhelpful, so for me personally I avoid them.
Working with Mike was actually really fun and a complete eye-opener for me, because I suppose I got see how another writer who works alone with a few supporters to muck in, actually works. Our stuff is at opposing ends of the spectrum, as he writes for children, and my stuff is pretty complex and adult, so yes, for someone like me who loves nothing better than seeing how other people achieve things it was fascinating working with him, he is a really nice guy, and it was easy to see where such a lovely story came from, because he does have a very quiet and caring nature, which again I felt was beautifully reflected in Crumble.
You say your styles are opposite each other, is that not a problem when editing, surely you would phrase things differently?
To be honest no not really. Look we have a very relaxed and informal way of working, lets be honest I am never going to be all about business dinners and fancy presentations. The way I work is very casual and informal, and that creates the right environment for creativity. We did a lot of research into children’s literature to get a good idea of what was expected, long before Mike gave us the manuscript we were pretty much pulling apart the book world to find out as much as possible. Once we started working, we would look at what he gave us and then comb through it and look to try and add as many improvements as we could, it is the very same system we use for HTTK, the only difference being is it is with another writer.
We used the same approach with Ted on Wordsmith with the poetry book. We made suggestions, but at all times the decision lay with the author, which is a rule I set at the very start of VCP, as we want a company that treats Authors fairly, and to be honest we do a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure it. Mike felt comfy at all times, and questions he asked, we gave full answers to. At the end of the day we take it step by step, we gave him our thoughts on things we felt were important, he went off and looked at it, and then came back with his thoughts, after discussion we moved to the next stage and repeated the process until finally we arrived at the final manuscript everyone was happy with, and that was then published.
I look back to my own experiences of first publishing, and that is the greatest aid to ensuring I am taking into account all of the authors feelings, so with that in mind, every aspect of the formatting was given great consideration, it was a lot of work checking and placing each illustration and line of text to ensure it looked the very best it could, and would appeal to the smaller readership it was planned for. I would like to think for Mike it was a better experience than my first time.
So there is no time limit on producing the book?
No we take it step by step until we are all happy, I am never going to say hey in ten weeks you will have a book, I feel that approach which I know some publishers do, is a none starter, as it rules out the fine polishing process, and we are looking for high quality stories, that we can put into high quality print. We try to work to a very high standard, I demand it, and so we will work with an author until the manuscript is right, by the same chalk, I will refuse a book if I feel it does not sit well in our catalogue.
Crumble came out on August 31st, so what now are you taking a break before moving on again?
I did take a small holiday, I wanted to get the kids away as we had been working most of their school holiday, as we wanted the book in full circulation before the children went back to school, so we took a few days in Scarborough, which was wonderful and we relaxed and had a lot of fun. I do admit I never stop working, so while I was there I got some pictures that would serve well in HTTK, after all Scarborough is a main part of the earlier stories. I came back and started the final edit of Book six, which is the next thing we will working on for late Autumn release, and obviously I am doing a lot behind the scenes to give Crumble a good old push into the world of readers.
So Book six soon and then what, as you are almost at the end of HTTK, will you walk away forever and just write other stuff?
The next project is Kingdom six, I want that out as I know I have readers who really want it due to the cliff hanger ending of five, and I don’t want to disappoint them. As always we are looking for writers who fit our remit and so we are pushing that aspect of VCP, and behind the scenes I have a few things lined up for the end of HTTK, I think it is safe to say writing wise I have a constant stream of ideas, so whichever one gets my pulse racing fastest will be the new project when I finish the last HTTK book. Will I finish the series and say no more, I am not entirely certain, I have not given it a huge amount of thought as I am still writing it, but I must admit these characters have been a huge part of my life, in my house they are almost like family, so I cannot really say I am done with them yet, a break would be nice, I wanted to write the Bowman to prove I could write a book, I did it and it grew into a series, so maybe the next challenge is to write something completely different, after that I will have to see.
So VCP is still working towards it goals, has your idea of it changed about where you want it in the future?
I have always wanted it to be a publisher of quality, which will never change. I am looking for new writers who I can work with, and again I hope over time VCP will grow to be a publisher people can say produces good quality reads. We are still a tiny company and have a ways to go, and I am enjoying the journey. I believe in evolution and I think that will always be our way to go, we will learn and expand as we need to, and hopefully create something that will bring joy to the readers of the world, be them little or large. We have had to incorporate and get use to a lot of new technology in order to do this and we are growing each day with more and more competence, we set a plan at the start and so we are following it, and to date we are on target, we have print pretty much running very smoothly, and so we are now looking at digital, as we want to take our authors onto every platform, we have been busy with that behind the scenes, and will start with digital platforms once we are satisfied we have the right level of quality control on the books, that is not that far away now.
You had a lot of nervous moments at the very end of 2013, how are you feeling now?
For me personally it was a huge leap of faith, I knew I had done the research and could in theory do it, but ending my contracts with my other publisher and going solo was a scary moment, especially as it killed my income for six months. I am a lot happier now we are moving forward and doing ok, we have seven books out and an eighth on the way so it’s a big case of so far so good. I have really enjoyed it, and I have also had the joy of seeing two new authors step out into the world, and that has been a really rewarding aspect of all this. Ted has done really well with Wordsmith and I think Mike has started very well, and I hope will see some success, as I think Crumble deserves it. I still feel the most positive thing is getting the word out that reading is wonderful and enhances your life, and I know we have convinced a few more to do it more, so considering December 2013 and now, I am very happy with the way it has all gone.
So What are you up to now?
At the moment I am preparing book six, as I said I want that out soon, but I am also looking at the night of HTTK thing, we have been asked quite a few times to do it, and it is entirely my fault, as the experience of the launch night in Bolton was so bad, it did put me off promoting locally and doing public events. Currently and in between Promoting Crumble and getting out the next book, I am looking at ways that could be possible. I have a lot of ideas, but because readers of HTTK are pretty scattered and I have done less promotion at home, I am not that sure of the numbers, so I am looking at a small event with a view to expanding it should it be successful. I must admit I do like the idea of meeting the readers and talking to them, it is during those kind of conversations you learn a lot about peoples experiences of the books.
It sounds like a pretty exciting idea, what kind of things do you have in mind?
Well we have had a few suggestions from people who would like to see some readings and ask questions, so I think that would be the model to build it round, you know a sort of introduction, and then maybe some guest readers etc… I am sure I can sort something out where I can do some signings of books, and that sort of thing, I have a long list of ideas, it would be nice to bring Louis and Jacy in on it to chat to people about their artwork and stuff, it could be quite interesting, as I say at the moment we are only really looking at it.
It does sound like a great idea and so I will look out for it, and it is looking very positive for Robin and VCP. Book Six of Heirs to the Kingdom will be hitting the book sales stands soon and we do hope that VCP and its authors do well. Crumble’s Adventures by Mike Beale is available now from all online stores, or from your local book shop, as well as all the other VCP published books on the VCP website.
Crumble’s Adventures by Mike Beale illustrated by Maureen Fayle
Submitted for VCP by Jo Lane.