Update with crumble at VCP.

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.

Crumble's Adventures by Mike Beale. Illustrated by Maureen Fayle ISBN 978-1-910299-06-7

Crumble’s Adventures by Mike Beale. Illustrated by Maureen Fayle ISBN 978-1-910299-06-7

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

Crumble's Adventures

Crumble’s Adventures

ISBN 978-1-910299-06-7

Submitted for VCP by Jo Lane.

Advertisements

Talking Pictures, a chat with HTTK illustrator Louis M Slater

Sharing a joke whilst Promoting HTTK.

With book three of the Heirs to the Kingdom series by Robin John Morgan in production, we took a look at the cover of the book, and thought it would be good to have a chat with the artist Louis M Slater, to see if he could shed more light on the HTTK project.
Louis was an out of work artist who came across Robin whilst working on the markets of Hyde and Denton, back in 2005, and he became one of a very small group who were given the chance to read the very first full drafts of the Bowman of Loxley. Since that time he has been very involved with the author and his work, and has played a contributing role not just as illustrator, but also as one of the early readers group. Louis was also employed in late 2006 and 07 by Robin in the final days of Denton Markets based shop, and witnessed the struggle Robin had to save his business, so with that in mind we thought who better to shed a little more light on this new and reclusive writer.
From the comfort of his home we ask. What was it like to read that very first draft in the Heirs to the kingdom series?
It was pretty exciting, I have always been a lover of fantasy and mythology. I grew up reading books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis as well as reading the Greek Tragedies, so from an early age I have been enthralled by the myths and legends in particular the ones that surround British history. This series has touched on a lot of fond memories from those early times of reading in my youth.”
Robin has said that he talked to you in great depth about the book at the time, and it was your understanding and love of the story that convinced him you were the right man for the job of illustrating the front cover, what did it feel like when he suggested you draw a picture of his main character for his book?
He gives a wide smile and laughs, “Yeah, there were a few in-depth discussions back then. Rob was originally talking to another artist about the cover art, I was just a member of the readers group sharing my thoughts on the book, but I do find when I am reading, it gives me inspiration, so I set out my sketch pad and sketched an initial idea of a bowman, it was not so much the main character at the time, just a general picture of how I saw a bowman. I was sketching on the market, and Rob saw it and was quite impressed with the attention to detail, so we just started how I came about the image. It was during our discussions that Rob realised as he put it ‘ I wasn’t reading the books, I was living the adventure.’ It was shortly after that he offered me a chance to submit a picture against another artist, to be honest I still cannot believe I won it.” Louis turns and points to a bookcase on the wall with a smile, and points to a neat row of books stood apart from the regular books, next to a large ceramic figure of a wizard. “I have my copies on display, its nice to see them every day, I am lucky as people have made some really nice comments about them.”
The Bowman of Loxley cover was Louis very first commission as an illustrator, and it is very obvious it is something he is immensely proud of, with this being his very first commission and realising he had the job at the time, I asked him about the process. How did you come up with that very first cover, and what was it like creating the artwork?
“Robin discussed the basic design and we sketched out rough possibilities which was a bowman looking over a ledge. It was Rob’s idea of what would portray the story best, obviously without giving too much of the story away. I took his ideas and sketched out a few possible scenarios, the idea back then was to create a wrap around sleeve for a hardback which we could add the text too at a later date. I couldn’t help thinking there was something missing from the main picture, On the last day in Rob’s shop, we pinned the picture to the wall and took a step back to look at it. I think we stared at it for hours before it clicked, I grabbed a pen and started to doodle all over the picture in blue biro, (He laughs) Rob went a little squeaky, asking what I was doing, its what we now call a Rafe moment, which you possibly understand better when you have read the third book. It needed Rune, I explained while I scribbled her in, Robbie would always have her with him, as the whole undercurrent of the story is about love and devotion between them, and the world of the woodsmen and that woodland around them, and Knox and old modern life. It was that understanding that the rest of the picture flowed smoothly, I took elements of the first ten chapters, so as not to reveal too much, but checking in with Rob as it progressed to ensure I was working within the guidelines, although I did have a relatively free hand and I tried to incorporate the themes of the book. (He lowers his voice) Have you spotted the rabbit? Robin has the original framed on his wall. I was very surprised when Rob asked to use one of the sketches for the rear cover, sadly because he took a different publishing route, the hard back was for the time being put on hold, so he only used a section of the picture for the front, but it still looks the part.”

The darkness unfolds.

The Darkness Unfolds, by Louis M Slater, comissioned artwork for the Darkness Of Dunnottar by Robin John Morgan.

You have since gone on to provide all the covers for the books, Robin has said he can be very specific in what he wants, and your range of drawings is quite a wide spectrum from surreal to portrait pictures. How hard is it to actually work to the principles of the author, knowing you have other ideas about the book and how it should look.
“The best way to look at it is, we all build pictures in our minds as we read, and those images can be very diverse, for example my view is personal and very different from everyone else’s. Robin as the creator of these stories has the defining view on how the characters look; you can see that from the depth of his descriptions. I offer suggestions from my personal views, some he is willing to work in, and others are left out, I think the best way of looking at is, we both have the books in mind and want the artwork to reflect the story rather than interpret it. He (Robin) does take an interest in my artwork, and always gives me good feedback on the range of styles, I have always loved surrealism, and Salvador Dali is one of my personal favourites along with the works of H R Giger, who designed the Alien concepts. I am quite open and broad in my view, liking Frank Frazetta, Alan Lee, John Howe, Van Gogh, and Goya the list goes on, it would be nice if one day I could be in their league.”
We know Robin has had sketches done by other artists, yet he has returned again to use your artwork on the cover of the new book The Darkness of Dunnottar. This is one of your favourite books in the series, it must be a good feeling knowing he feels so confident in your understanding of the books, to the point where he has selected your artwork again?
Yes it does feel good, a bit of a confidence boost really. The Darkness of Dunnottar was an amazing read; I do tend to favour the darker sides of stories, although there is generally a much deeper emotion to this book. I know everybody loves a happy ending, but without the darker struggle it’s just an ending. (He starts to laugh.) Scary, see has me talking in riddles now. With Dunnottar, I was the first of the proof readers to read it, I threw in a few of my thoughts, some of which did make it into the re-write one of which does play a big part in the story, obviously at the moment I cannot tell you, but Rob got really excited and in many ways that has also added to my love of this book. The artwork for this book was great fun, Rob gave me a free hand and I did choose a surreal concept for it, which I do think helps enhance the darker feel to the story. I really wasn’t very sure he would go for it at first it is very different from everything we have done before. I got a call congratulating me on making the front and rear cover, as he has taken two shots from the one piece of artwork, I got to say I cannot wait to see it up there on the self with the others.”
Since that time on the markets you have become very good friends, both of you have appeared together a great deal in promoting the books, and you probably know him better than most. He is a little reclusive, so how would you describe Robin the person, and the way he approaches his writing?
“Rob is great fun to work with, yet very professional, but really great fun, we do try to meet up as often as possible. I think the best way to describe it is its like taking your inner child on a play date. (He starts to laugh) He never leaves things to chance, every plan is backed up, and every experience is carefully noted and stored for future reference. All the promotional events are carefully planned to run smoothly, not that they always do, but its not from lack of effort (He gives a sly smile as if remembering some past moment) We attended the book launch at a historic pub, not exactly counting on the Juke Box being accidentally left on. There was poor Rob trying to read out extracts from book one, surround by his displays when Led Zeppelin starts booming in the next room. It was amusing watching him, a hugely dedicated fan of the band, trying his best to read and not to sing along.
At the moment I am preparing prints for my own LMS stand at the Medieval Market in Bolton, alongside the HTTK stand. This will be my second year when we both don our costumes. It’s a really good laugh; my fiancée and I will be joining Rob and his family to promote the books and also my own artwork. I love it, it’s a good way to talk with the fans and discuss the best and least favourite parts of the books. Robin likes honest feedback and meeting the fans at these events for him is very rewarding, you must remember for most parts, he is actually a very private person but he loves sharing the enjoyment of the books with the readers.
We do have a great friendship and share much of the same humour, which is great, because we have pulled quite a few all nighters preparing for the books ( copious amounts of coffee has been consumed) and we have travelled around a few times looking up historical facts, last year we tried to visit the grave of Robin Hood.”
You have since set up your own Facebook page and we believe you are currently working on building your own website to present your artwork to the world, what are your future plans, taking into account that you will be working throughout the whole of the HTTK project with Robin, what comes next for you?
“My wedding, I am getting married next summer, so that will be taking up a fair amount of my life. On the art side I will be aiming to finish off my new website (louismslater.com) and I am updating my illustrator page on Facebook. (www.facebook.com/louismslater) I will also be continuing to build up my portfolio and adding some pieces in colour, I am setting up a studio with the help of my fiancée, so there will be lots of work going on behind the scenes. I would love to break into the gaming industry as a concept artist, or maybe the film industry, and possible extend out into advertising. On the HTTK front, I know Rob would like to look into fully illustrated copies of the books which I would love to play a part in, and he has a few other ventures, so I am sure to be very busy. (Big Smile) I do still have commission work, I am available for portrait work and concept art. I am also working on a few designs for a tattooist in Wales. I always have something keeping my pencil busy.”

Eyes and the Tower

The new third book in the series of Heirs to the kingdom, The darkness of Dunnottar.

It is hard not to ask about the new book, this is stated as being a favourite of Louis, and considering Robin has said that there is a darker side to this book, we asked Louis if he could shed a little more light on the book, and tell us why everyone should buy a copy and read it.
He bites his lip. “That is a hard one, (Pause for thought) I wish I could describe in detail all the exciting twists and turns that happen in Dunnottar, But I think it would spoil it. What I can say is that so far in this tale, by comparison, Robbie and his friends have had it easy. There have been many trials in which they have been able to overcome as they faced a few heartaches, but in book three we will see that all change. The Knox forces who have been a little quiet will explode back into the story. There will be new friends and enemies along the way and a lot of surprises and secrets will be revealed, and in Robin’s own style, with every answer will come yet more questions. A great deal of past and future events will hang on a knife edge, and history will certainly come alive, I am getting excited just thinking about it again.
The tempo in book three will have you galloping towards book four with the fury of a thousand horses as everything you thought you knew as well as the characters will change as they have everything to lose and yet more to gain. The future hangs on a balance with a major hurdle that appears both impossible to fathom and impossible to overcome. There is anger, with as much love, and there will be tears, This really is a must have book all I will add is wait until you travel North and get a taste of what the Knox Empire can really do.”
He does look extremely excited about it, and it has to be said it feels very catching, we asked if he would give us just a little more, and he began laughing at us.
“Yeah watch out for Harry, he has survived a lot to date, but I am not sure he can handle much more before his karma finally snaps.”
Currently 51% of readers of HTTK are female, who say this is very much a female read, yet 49% are male claiming it’s a great fantasy adventure for males, we asked Louis what it was that made him like the books so much.
“I think its because these books connect on so many levels. Initially it is an adventure story, much like the ones I read as a boy, but its more grown up as if it has aged with you if you get what I mean? There is the romantic undercurrent that flows throughout the whole story, and it has its dashing hero’s, but the characters have both strong female and male lead roles that have a destiny thrust up on them, which does relate well to a teenage fan base. Strong environmental themes backed up with carefully researched history and folklore appeals to a more adult theme, and on top of that the books are a progression upon the tales all of us grew up with and so therefore feel very familiar. So the books have mass appeal to such a wide range of people that there really is something for everyone.
I think it’s a masterpiece and wish him the best, and hope you all enjoy the stories and find the magic and wonder that has captivated quite a few of us to date, but don’t ask me, have a read and then let me know what you think?”
Louis is obviously a very big fan of the books, and it shows not only in his artwork, but also in the passion with which he has talked to us today about the stories. Book three in the series Heirs to the Kingdom will be released shortly, entitled ‘The Darkness of Dunnottar,’ which will feature the artwork of this up and coming illustrator on the front and back covers. We can only wish Louis the very best for his future, and thank him for allowing us into his home to talk with him. All of us at VCP are working hard to prepare for the books release and we will give you the latest updates as they happen.
If you have not read the books yet, then you still have time to catch up, and get book one ‘The Bowman of Loxley,’ and book two, ‘The lost sword of Carnac’ from all major online suppliers, or order it in from your local bookshop. As Louis said Robin will be attending the Bolton Medieval Market held at Churchgate in Bolton Lancs. UK, on October 16th from 10am until 5pm. Louis will be there with the rest of the HTTK promotions team, so if you want more insight, or an autographed copy this is your chance to grab both Author and Illustrator. Once again thanks for such wonderful hospitality, it made for an very interesting interview and a very enjoyable day.

Edited and prepared for this site by Corinne Morgan.