Today I’m delighted to welcome Karen Inglis to the blog.
Karen is a children’s author living in Barnes, southwest London.
She first starting writing children’s books over 20 years ago, when her two sons were toddlers. When her children started school she put her writing in a wooden box in her office and went back to her day job of business writing for 10 years.
In 2010 she opened the box up to look at the stories again, and – after lots of editing and rewriting to improve them – she eventually published The Secret Lake in late 2011.
Karen has published five books and an interactive bookapp since then, and achieved close to 10,000 sales. She has held many signings in Waterstones around southwest London and is stocked in local independent bookshops. She also regularly takes her books into schools.
Karen studied French at University and in her early working life taught English as a foreign language. She then worked in New York and Norway, before returning to London. Here she has been a business writing trainer and professional copywriter on money and tax for many years – but she far prefers making up children’s stories and so now concentrates mainly on this.
Karen is the Children’s Advisor at the Alliance of Independent Authors.
How did you come to be a children’s author?
The initial trigger was the many hours I spent reading to my two sons when they were younger (they’re 23 and 25 now – how time flies!). There were many fantastic books at that time – most notably the Hairy McClary series, and Roald Dahl, of course! All of that reading brought back memories of the stories my mother used to read to us each night, and in particular the magical worlds of The Wind in the Willows and Alice In Wonderland.
Then, one misty November evening, I came face to face with a most beautiful fox in the lamplight on a rural path as I was leaving my gym. He had very kind eyes and the most magnificent tail. As he trotted past he seemed to be on a mission. I couldn’t stop thinking about him after that. What was his name? Where was he going? He looked such a friendly fox… Gradually over the next few days and weeks my first rhyming story Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog began to emerge. Over time this was followed by five further stories. Not long after this, I got the inspiration for The Secret Lake – and later, Eeek! The Runaway Alien. At the time I was writing the fox stories JK Rowling was just getting beginning to get coverage, so that probably inspired me too!
The Secret Lake is a time-slip mystery adventure for 8-11 year olds. What is it about and where did the inspiration for this story come from?
The Secret Lake is about Stella (aged 11) and Tom (aged 8) who, while trying to find their elderly neighbour’s missing dog, discover a tunnel and lake that take them to their home and the children living there 100 years in the past. Here they uncover startling connections between the past and present – and get into lots of trouble!
It was inspired when some friends moved to a ground floor apartment in one of the enormous Victorian houses that backs onto the communal gardens of Notting Hill. As we stepped out into those gardens and saw all of the children running around and playing so freely, I was transported back to my time growing up in the Hertfordshire countryside where summer seemed to go on forever, and we’d disappear for hours at a time into the woods. At the same time, as I looked around at the grand houses, I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like if the children playing there that day could meet the children who had lived and played there 100 years earlier. As a child, I loved The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland and I’m sure both books also formed part of the inspiration in that they involved children crossing in secret to another world!
The front cover and ‘lake’ setting were inspired by a ‘Still Pond’ in a magical woodland in London’s Richmond’s Park called Isabella Plantation – we used to take our boys there to play when they were younger. It has the same magical freedom as the communal gardens of Notting Hill. Still Pond really has to be seen to be believed when all of the azaleas are out in May!
Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep, a rhyming picture book for 3-5 year olds, has its own iPad app. Do you think technology is a good way to encourage reluctant readers?
Although I prefer to read in print, I think that technology offers a great way to encourage reluctant readers – albeit not to the exclusion of print books.
Fast-paced and fun shorter print books with black and white illustrations are great for reluctant readers aged 7-10 and this would tend to be my first port of call as a parent, or to encourage this sort of reading alongside book apps and eBooks.
My book Eeek! The Runaway Alien has been praised for getting the most reluctant readers turning the pages and was voted favourite book club read three years in a row by girls and boys in a Richmond primary school. It’s a very satisfying feeling!
However, a book app done well, such as the Nosy Crow apps for early readers, with their fantastic illustrations, word highlighting and touch-activated sound and visual effects, are great examples of how technology can be used to draw in readers who might otherwise prefer to spend their time playing games or watching TV.
For older children, enhanced eBooks that include sound effects, embedded video and so on must also surely be a draw for otherwise reluctant readers. This is all my personal view, and not based on in-depth analysis, of which I’m sure there is plenty!
And I’ve certainly read that the advantage of e-reading for boys in particular, is they don’t need to worry about being ‘caught out’ and embarrassed to be seen reading a book, or a particular book!
In the case of book apps for younger children one thing I’d say is crucial is to get the balance right between story and interactivity, so that the latter doesn’t distract so much as to divert the child from the overall narrative. My Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep interactive book app is, of course, aimed at ‘pre-readers’ so ‘reluctant readers’ doesn’t really come into it. However, when I came to design it, I was keen to offer parents and children the same shared reading experience they would have with a print book, but with optional extra bells and whistles (for example touch-activated word bubbles) that the reader or parent could choose to use or ignore depending on the moment. Certainly, the feedback I’ve had on it suggests I have the balance about right and hopefully it will play its small part in encouraging a love of books for the children who have used it.
Who are your favourite children’s authors? Are there books aimed at children that can equally be enjoyed by adults?
As a young child, I loved CS Lewis (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe), Lewis Carrol (Alice in Wonderland) and good old Enid Blyton. It’s a very long time since I’ve read them, but, from memory, all strike me as ‘children’s children’s books’.
By contrast, just about every children’s book I read nowadays feels equally suitable for adults. For example, I would heartily recommend Phillip Reeves’ Mortal Engines series to any adult – in fact it was my husband (who is an engineer) who put me onto him. John Green’s books – The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns – are equally compelling, and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, which I’m currently reading, feels like a new Harper Lee classic. In short, yes, there are many books that can be enjoyed by both and I’ve barely scratched the surface here!
You also run the website, selfpublishingadventures.com. What are your top tips for someone thinking about going into self-publishing?
My key top tips would be:
- Read as many blogs as you can for free advice on self-publishing. My own above focuses on children’s books. But also check out thecreativepenn.com and selfpublishingadvice.org from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and (once you’re up and running) selfpublishingformula.com
- Join ALLi – you will meet a great bunch of fellow authors with whom you can network and learn from on your journey by asking questions in our closed FB group.
- Never pay someone to publish your book for you – once you have your formatted files it’s easy to DIY! There are a lot of scammers out there waiting to make money from newbie self-publishers. ALLi has a watchdog area that lists firms to avoid at all costs.
- If you’re writing for children, know which age group you’re aiming at and read as many books for that age group as you can. Take note of length, language style and formatting – even down to font size and style. It all matters with children’s books.
- Use a professional cover designer.
- Use an editor who works in your genre – and, engage a proofreader.
- Set up a simple website – you can do it for free on WordPress if your budget is tight
- Start a mailing list as soon as you can.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it!
- Only hit publish when you are certain that your book is as good as it can be.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently mapping out my book Self-publishing and Marketing Children’s Books, which I hope to have out by the autumn when I’ll be running a masterclass on this topic in Leicester. I also have the sequel to Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat waiting for a further edit. Alongside this I’m also experimenting with Amazon Advertising in the US – and am doing a little bit of day job freelance writing for the financial services industry.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love the theatre and opera, so get to the west end and Royal Opera House (ROH) as often as I can. We also have the fabulous Olympic Cinema just down the road in Barnes, and there are times when it feels like my second home. It was previously the recording studio for every band you can think of that isn’t the Beatles! I’m also a regular gym goer – to keep my back in shape. And I love travelling, especially in Europe – and reading, of course!
Thanks Karen, that was great!
Click on a book cover or title for more information.
Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep – a rhyming picture book for ages 3-5 based on the true story of a fox that once fell asleep in her garden.
Henry Haynes and the Great Escape (6-8 yrs) A fun illustrated chapter book in which Henry Haynes falls inside his library book after complaining that it’s boring. Very soon he finds himself caught up in a zoo escape plan being masterminded by Brian, a bossy boa constrictor and Gordon, a very smelly gorilla. (You heard it here first!)
Eeek! The Runaway Alien (7-10 yrs) Charlie Spruit can’t believe his luck when an alien turns up on his doorstep one morning – a football-mad alien who has run away to Earth for the World Cup! Described as“Laugh out loud funny!” (LoveReading4Kids) Used in the Get London Reading campaign.
Walter Brown and the Magician’s Hat (7-9+ yrs) When Walter Brown inherits a top hat from his Great-grandpa Horace on his tenth birthday he discovers that it has special powers, and that his Sixpence cat is no ordinary cat. Magical mayhem follows when they decide to try out their first magic on Walter’s super-cool new neigbhours, twins Harry and George Braithwaite…
The Secret Lake (8-11 yrs) A time-slip mystery in which Stella and Tom, when trying to find their elderly neighbour’s missing dog, discover a tunnel and secret lake that take them to their home and the children living there 100 years in the past. This was Karen’s first book and continues to be a firm favourite at school visits. The Secret Lake was considered for adaptation by CBBC a couple of years ago.
Find Karen on-line
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