So whose stories are they?
You may have noticed, if you follow us on social media, that for the last six months we have been working on a very special philanthropic project with children’s author Tom Moorhouse, illustrator Emmie van Biervliet and WildCRU (part of Oxford University’s Zoology department). As Tom says in the campaign video, this project has revolved around borrowing a collection of lively and entertaining stories from the Cameroon (stories involving tricky tortoises, cunning monkeys and flies stronger than elephants!) in order to give them back to the children of the Korup region, who currently have NO BOOKS to read. You did read that right – that’s NO BOOKS! In fact, the local communities are so starved of reading materials, that even tattered old medicine leaflets are held in high esteem by children absolutely desperate for something to read!
As part of our mission to support children who do not have easy access to books, we decided to support this wonderful project and come on board as the project’s publisher. It would now be our job to compile, edit and produce a fabulous anthology of animal tales from Cameroon, two thousand copies of which would be printed and distributed locally to school children in the Korup region. We also hoped to raise enough money via crowdfunding to produce and print a limited edition of the book for the UK market. So, over the past months, we have given our time for free in order to work with the eleven authors and one illustrator, write contracts, edit the stories, design the ‘look’ of the book and arrange to have it printed.
Read more about this journey and how you can get involved, in the post below.
The evolution of a book
Many books, particularly highly illustrated texts, can be years in the making, but as this is a charity project, we aren’t bound by traditional industry deadlines. In fact, the need for books in the Korup region of Cameroon is so urgent, that, despite the fact that everybody has given their time for free, it has all happened rather quickly!
Alice first met Tom at an Oxford Alumni Children’s Publishing Event where Tom, as a successful published author, was the keynote speaker. After a lot of discussion, Alice and Tom realised that they had a project and a mission in synch and Lantana decided to come on board as the publisher of a yet untitled collection of Cameroon stories. Tom had already recruited several well-known authors, such as Piers Torday and Abi Elphinstone, all of whom had generously agreed to give up their time to re-tell one of the stories and were patiently waiting for a publisher to be found.
Knowing that the project still needed more authors, Alice recruited three more writers who she thought would be enthusiastic about the Cameroonian stories given their special connection with African literature. First up was Beverley Naidoo, a South African author who lives in the UK and who has written many books focusing on life in Africa. Also writing a story would be Elizabeth Laird, previously involved in a project to retell eighty-eight Ethiopian stories and make them widely available for readers on the internet. The third writer was Ifeoma Onyefulu an author and photographer born in Nigeria, who has introduced English-speakers to life in the villages of her homeland through her picture books for young children. Everybody was pretty excited to have such prolific authors working on the project!
During the first months of the year, authors began to submit their stories to Alice for editing. Have you ever wondered how an editor decides what alterations should be made to stories? Presumably authors always submit their best work to publishers, so why do their editors need to suggest changes? Well, in answer to this question, editors of anthologies are absolutely crucial! In fact, they alone are in the unique position of being able to maintain an overview of the complete collection and therefore understand how all the different stories will fit together.
One of the first things that Alice told the authors was that: “I’d like children to feel that they’re reading a series of adventures undertaken by a set of familiar characters over the course of a dry season – a playful insight into jungle life amongst an unlikely group of friends in the Korup. I think this would be preferable to a series of stories peopled by a disparate group of characters, so one of my main tasks as the anthologist has been to try to create a sense of cohesion across the collection.” Animal friends? A jungle? Excited? Keep reading for more information about how you can get your hands on the anthology…
From the poetic arena of story writing to the more prosaic world of contracts: this is also the point at which we started producing contracts for the authors and illustrator involved in the project. Unfortunately, even a philanthropic project with no expectation of profit involves lengthy contract negotiations and each author involved now has a personalised contract that has been written as a result of long discussions about the finer legal points of contributing a story to an anthology. Nothing about making a book is simple!
And now one of the most exciting parts about working on a book project begins! In April, Emmie van Biervliet, the illustrator for the project, began making the initial sketches to accompany the now edited stories. Not only is Emmie a hugely talented illustrator but she is also incredibly generous, giving up an enormous amount of time to produce some of the beautiful images that you can see adorning this blog post (and these are just the works-in-progress). There will be over thirty illustrations in the final book, all created within about a four month window! We think you’ll agree that this is a pretty huge achievement!
Also in April 2016
April was the time for another important decision: what should the book be called? Having spent the most time in company of the stories, Alice was in the ideal position to be able to choose a title. After reading through the stories again and noting down any phrases that really stood out, she sent the shortlist to Tom and together they decided that the most evocative title would be a phrase from Geraldine McCaughrean’s story: A Wisp of Wisdom. Luckily, everybody else agreed!
Now the graphic design work begins…. Putting some words on a page, right? Sounds easy? Think again – there is a whole myriad of considerations that a Graphic Designer needs to keep in mind when ‘making’ the final book. What font should be used? And what font for the page numbers? Hang on, where should the page numbers go? Are we going for fairly plain pages or should they contain decorative features? How many lines should go on a page? InDesign (one of the specialist programmes that Graphic Designers use) has many useful features that make these decisions easier to action, but the whole process still involves many hours of painstakingly detailed work. Told you it was a difficult job!
Also in May 2016
As the publisher, it’s our job to find a printer for the book (in the UK, at least). Obviously, as this is a charity project, we need a company that is willing to produce a beautiful book for the most economic price possible. We’ve had a lot of conversations but we think we may just have found the right partner now. Watch this space for more details!
In order to ensure that the books get to the people that really matter, the children in Cameroon, we will also be transferring the finished file to a printers located there so that the book can be distributed around the Korup region.
And another thing in May 2016
After all the work behind the scenes, the crowdfunding campaign was launched. As with everything in this project, a huge amount of work goes into running a crowdfunding campaign. All credit to Tom here (he’s done a stellar job in putting together a real range of exciting perks for supporters to get their hands on) but everybody involved – authors, illustrators and supporters – have been hard at work tweeting, retweeting and tweeting again in order to engage as many people as possible in what we are trying to achieve.
Now all we need is YOU! You can follow the campaign using #CameroonStories and be the first to hear any important updates. There are still eighteen days of the campaign remaining and we have already raised over £5000 or 45% of our total but we’re not there yet. Please visit the campaign page and pledge your support too.
What does the future hold?
Another big job starts, as the illustrations are combined with the text. Cue triumphant music and the bit where everybody gets to stand back and survey their work with a satisfied smile (at least, this is how it’s supposed to go!).
And then, sometime after this, the book will go to print. And then sometime after that, this lovely book will be distributed around the Korup region and reach the hands of two thousand Cameroonian children, eager for their first book.
But remember that without your help, this could very easily not happen. Please visit the campaign page and check out our website to read more about the project and the Korup region that is so desperately in need of books. If you’re tuning in after the campaign has ended, you can still buy A Wisp of Wisdom from the shop on our website. Additional funds made will go towards translating and distributing copies of the book in French (another of the languages spoken in the Korup region of Cameroon).
Plop! For all those lovely people who bought a copy of A Wisp of Wisdom, the book lands on your doormat – all new and shiny and ready to be enjoyed!