Last Summer I fulfilled a dream, and better still it was a joint project with my eldest son, Sam.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to write a book. Write it, publish it and share it. My house contains boxes of assorted scribblings, ranging from notebooks, printer paper and sometimes random envelopes. There have been many courses, some near misses, and a number of big detours through events such as parenthood.
Last year, after 10 years of teaching, I started a new phase going into schools to run story and drama sessions around the Great Fire of London. With the 350th anniversary rapidly approaching I decided that the session would be supported by publishing the story I was telling as a picture book.
I had written the text but I knew illustrating was well beyond my skill-set. My son, however, is an art student and apprehensively I asked if he would be willing to do the illustrations. He agreed and tentatively we set out timetables and discussed ideas. I had some thoughts about the things that confuse children studying the topic, such as what a bread oven looked like and how it worked. Having taught in London I also wanted to address the idea that the population around the “port and court” would be diverse and varied and should be represented as such. Luckily Sam was keen to take on these ideas.
It would be a lie to say there weren’t nervous moments. I had lived with the story for a long time and Sam needed time to absorb it. That didn’t stop me itching to wake him up before midday, or interrupt a game session. I didn’t. Most of the time.
Gradually as he eased into it and gained confidence the pictures began to appear. Together we engaged with full page spreads, gutters and bleed. It was an incredible learning-curve and I was glad of a previous life, working with colleagues in the publishing and publicity department of a charity. Memories of their discussions about aligning text and editing out excess spaces served me well, especially as some habits are hard to break having learnt to touch-type many years ago. We tried to keep our discussions semi-formal, putting specific time aside and making a point to ensure we were clear about what we had agreed about schedule and outcomes. It was impossible not to talk about the illustrations in the room, but we tried to ensure that they didn’t rule the house. But admittedly as other family members were drawn into making flea puppets and props it became increasing difficult.
As the number of pages grew, so did my excitement levels and my pride in my son.
Finally, we had in our hands THE book. Vlad and the Great Fire of London.
Since our collaboration I have run events and sold the book in schools, libraries and The National Archives, as well as directly on Amazon. Wandsworth Resources Services bought books to supply in their topic boxes for teachers. The response from children, parents and teachers has been wonderful. Perhaps inevitably for a publish on demand book there have been barriers too, often from those who have not seen it, warnings not to contact reviewers, local bookshop who will only do an author event if you pay them.
Creating this book with my son has been incredible. I have been able to celebrate and support Sam’s talents and we have something special we created together. At times, when having a self-published book seems a bit like a dirty secret, I take courage and remember that as a proud mother I can shout about it and will always treasure it beyond its (obviously) superb content.
Vlad (a flea in history) will be back this Autumn in Vlad and World War One. He is available now in Vlad and the Great Fire of London.