Published by Matador 2009
Genre: Children 9s-12s
What is your book about? It's about an incredible danger that threatens Musselburgh in East Lothian in Scotland. There’s a posionous chemical entering the sewers and it’s giving off a toxin as it mixes with the waste water and enteres the river and sea. And basically, everyone in Musselburgh – dragon and overgrounder – is at risk. The dragons are already in serious danger, as they live in caverns cut out of the rock near the sewers under the industrial park in the town centre. They have magic to protect themselves for a while, but have sent a youngone, as we call them, above ground, morphed as a schoolboy, to investigate the source of the chemical discharge. That’s Farlkris, or Kris, and his success or failure will seal the fate of both Musselburgh and the dragon layr.
Kris joins forces with Hannah, so we have a “boy” and a girl at the centre of the story, and their search takes them into conflict with many people. To quote part of our cover blurb: “Against a background of waning magic powers, dying animals and ferocious storms, Hannah and Kris’s courage, despite unbearable grief, leads to a dramatic and unexpected conclusion.” Well, you wouldn’t want us to give the story away, would you!
Why did you write this book? We love dragons. We also love providing young people with stories of good people and wonderful dragons winning out over bad. There’s a real baddie in the story, whose only interest is in living for ever. He doesn’t care who he damages on the way. And I think we also take pleasure in showing the world that many kids are really loyal and courageous and have great ideas and lots of stamina, whatever the press says against them.
Where did you get your inspiration from? We heard some workmen opening up the pavement one day and and realised there was a whole world down there and that dragons could live there. We were about to write a novel to enter for the Kelpies Prize (run by Floris Books) so we had exactly the inspiration we needed, and set off in search of a place where dragons really did live underground. And that was East Lothian. It’s a wonderfully interesting place to visit, even though it looks like a forgotten area hanging onto the side of big brother Edinburgh.
How does your book differ from others that are similar? We mixed dragons and current-day overgrounder life instead of choosing one or the other. Some of our literary infuences would include adult ones such as the Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey (for the magic ideas) and the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey (for the good type of dragons), though the end result is unlike either. Also, one of us can remember reading the Lone Pine series by Malcolm Saville and they were books set in real places you can visit, and we both wanted to do this. It’s like a bonus for the reader. In Farlkris, you can go find all the places where the events took place and even the road where Hannah lives. One person who bought the book at the first signing looked at the map and said to us: “Is that XXX school?” We said we hadn’t named any school as we didn’t want a law suit – but the detail is that close to reality. So – real world and real dragons, magic, courage and goodness, and places you can visit. I think that’s a pretty unique mix. We’re proud of it.
Why did you choose POD? This was our second dragon book to be published, although it was written first. We knew it was good, as it had been runner up for the Kelpies Prize, so we had no reason to change our POD plans for this one. We felt we could hold our heads high. You have to be a bit thick-skinned when people finally twig it’s self-published, print on demand. Some begin to um and ah, because they’ve heard of vanity publishing and its notoriety. But the market has changed and economic reality means that publishers are refusing all sorts of excellent books as they seek to have only big names or “slebs” on their lists. We don’t feel POD or self-publishing is second rate at all.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method? With this method, we get to choose everything. A significant thing this time round was the choice to make the two books stand together as a brand. The designer did a lovely job with his first idea for the Farlkris cover – but it departed too much in colour and style from Scordril, so we asked to have it altered to match, keeping the circular “insert” as he’d drawn it, but choosing colours and scripts for the wording that suited us better.
I guess one disadvantage is always going to be the difficult decision of choosing how many to print at any one time. You can’t just un-print them and give up. You have to answer for your choices! Yet POD can often not mean “on demand”, especially if you are going to visit schools, libraries and shops to do workshops or signings – you have to have a box of them with you. So there’s a certain amount of stress and gambling involved, and you can’t blame the publisher for any wrong decisions.
How do you market your book? We have a website and a related blog We’ve got better at this and now have excerpts, pictures and even an audio extract to listen to! We do lots of book signings at local bookstores and have copies available via Amazon and their Marketplace. The publisher deals with the main distributors for us but doesn’t otherwise market us except via their website page devoted to Scordril and Farlkris.
We notified all East Lothian libraries and schools that the next Lothian Dragons book was available, and it was obvious at the first signing that people had noted this. We’ve been more confident this time that we knew who to contact and where we were more likely to make sales. We’ve also accepted that we will not be bought by the little local shop in Penzance, for instance. We don’t have the funds to support really wide marketing and will concentrate on the North East and just enjoy it. Of course, there are buyers from many other places through our own contacts. Everyone has those. In addition to bookmarks and posters, we have produced a business card that shows the two covers side by side and the web links, and have left a small holder full of these on the cash desks at the bookstores we visit.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome? After doing this twice now, we’d probably say it’s about turning ourselves into outgoing salespeople instead of inward-looking writers. Some days you just want to write and not be bothered to think of more outlets. But writing is most satisfying if other people read it – so we try to overcome this and get out there. But that’s our biggest challenge!
What would you say to others considering POD? Decide who your readers are going to be – and if the book’s good enough and you can identify readers, go ahead and sell it to them with pride. You’ll have enriched not only their life but yours too. Life’s too short to hang around waiting for the publishing climate to change.
Where can I get a copy of your book? You can contact us for a signed copy via the contact form on our website at http://www.lothiandragons.co.uk/ or you can buy direct from our POD publisher, Matador, at http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=989 or go to Amazon.