Children's author Natalie Reeves-Billing talks about the stumbling blocks of the process of turning a creative vision into a tangible reality.
Today, I’m very proud. Sometimes, it's worth fighting for the things you believe in. If you have a vision, and it is bright and powerful, you must try to preserve it, bottle up its magic, and never let it go.
You know know the scenario.You have this fantastic thing, and you feel so connected to it. Soon, other people start chipping in, putting their slant on it, adding their worries and limitations, allowing doubt to fester within you. It takes away everything that was inspiring about it in the first place, and if you're not careful, it can breed resentment and self-doubt.
I started with the story. I wanted something that broke new grounds. An idea of a mirror- like tale, reflecting the differences between one narrative and the other really appealed to me. The idea that monsters live within us, and it depends what lens you're looking through, as to who that monster may be.
The story became two. A double narrative in controlled scientific conditions. Same scenarios, same characters, different viewpoints. I loved the idea that mirrors or "Monstrometers" provided us with that looking glass into an alternate reality. I found the most creatively talented lady in Lisa Williams, my illustrator. She just got it right from the start. The quality of the artwork provides a landscape we want to jump into with both feet.
We wracked our brains and injected lots of funny, crazy stuff. Reflections that revealed other possible realities contrary to that being shown to us, hidden items for an extra layer of enjoyment. A reason to keep little minds on the journey with us. Through chatting with local teachers, I realised what an excellent jump-off point this book is to broader discussions. One about perspectives and attitudes, understanding, and balance. Abstract emotional concepts that some children, including my own, find very hard to grasp. And when it was done, we knew it needed to be wrapped up like Christmas present. How can books compete in a world of technical distraction? At a time when children can slip into digital realms, how could this stationary thing have a chance?
Then I realised, my stories are figuratively turning things on their heads, so why can’t they literally do that, too? What about a book that flips on its head. One narrative on one side, one on the other? It wouldn’t matter where you started it. Interesting...
It was unusual. Our brilliant book designer had her work cut out, figuring where traditional pages fit. Acknowledgments, copyright information. Do they duplicate? How about the blurb? Is there one?
We would have two front covers, but where will the barcode go? How will people know when to flip it? It was all a bit Blue Peter but I just knew it was going to work.
Proofing a PDF of a book that turns upside halfway through is a bit time-consuming. Still, it was worth it, because, in the end, the thing we were looking at on our computer screen was unbelievably fabulous. When you work with people who see who you really are, collaboration is a beautiful thing. We grow, we build, and we produce magic.
And so, we started with the process of uploading to Amazon. I know this corporate giant is a bit of a contentious and sore subject in the book world, competing with our small bookstores on the high streets and online. Still, for someone starting out, who doesn't yet know her arm from her foot in this industry, it seemed the best way forward. It just isn't easy getting stocked in bookstores as an unknown.
With the book uploaded, I sat back with a cup of tea and waited for my confirmation email. By this point, the world was becoming a scarier place. People were becoming very ill. Talk of things shutting down and elderly people dying, and to add to that, we had illness in our own camp too.
Things slowed down for a little as we gathered our thoughts and healed. Amazon rejected our upload. They don't do flipbooks, apparently, and no amount of reasonable conversation is going to change that.
And so, we decided the only way to tick all the boxes was to create another version. A new version with a new ISBN code. Now, maybe this was the one to stock in local bookstores...
Thus, the linear format Amazon paperback book was created. One narrative right after the other with no flipping nonsense. It still looks ace, but it had lost some of the elements which we loved so much. I couldn't accept that, and even though the price of manufacturing meant any dreams of profit blew away in the wind, I needed to stay true to that initial spark. Although so many friends told me I was mad to make a hardback, complicating an already very complicated situation, I signed off the print. A month later, this happens:
Get in! This is joy. This is accomplishment. A labour of love. I can’t wait to share these limited edition flipbooks with you.