Book Feature: Timeline, by Peter Goes (Gecko Press)

cv_timelineAvailable in bookshops from Monday 23 November

What an incredible, detailed, beautifully illustrated book. The visual style is arresting, and the use of colour sparing and effective. This is a book that fills a very important niche: history for lively, curious minds. If you have, like me, got a child who says “Instead of a story tonight, can you tell me about the history of the world? Like, the real history?” – This book is for you and yours. It will be one that your kids will go back to and back to, and as they encounter more of the context at school and elsewhere, they will delve into the relationships between historical moments further.

This book comes with no small amount of hype: Julia Marshall says it was her favourite book of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this year. Given that the fair was in April, it’s fair to say that they have worked incredibly hard to get this out for the Christmas market, with Bill Nagelkerke being responsible for the translation from Dutch. Nagelkerke is a children’s author in his own right, and has been working with Gecko Press on Dutch translation since they began publishing.

The Publishers’ favourite bits
This is quite a publication, so I thought I’d get the publishers’ input about why it is they love the book to give some context, before telling you how my son and I experienced it. Julia says, “I like the way fact mixes with fiction: I like that Pegasus and ET and Harry Potter are in there with Putin and President Obama and Marilyn Monroe and Edmund Hillary.”

Julia_Marshall_Timeline

Julia presents ‘Timeline’ at the Booksellers NZ Conference in June

Julia goes on to say, “I don’t have a favourite page yet as it is a lovely long process of dipping and diving, and I find it is nice to read with a friend over a cup of tea – every time something new. I like the explorers’ page with the whales and penguins and turtles alongside Columbus and Drake and the great Chinese explorers, and the Polynesian explorers, and seeing all the little lines across the world.”

Rachel Lawson was also on the Gecko team this year – seconded from Whitireia Publishing – and she says, “My favourite spreads are early in the book – the First People and the First Settlements. These spreads encourage you to get up close to the illustrations and see the humour alongside the detail of the history.

“The First People has a fantastic Lucy – probably our oldest human ancestor – stepping out cheekily from behind a tree, shows Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens hunting with their various primitive weapons but also dragging around squalling babies and making cave art. The recent years are also great fun because you find all these things from your own childhood get dragged up from the memory banks. I particularly enjoy the caricatures of famous figures – Putin, Thatcher, Idi Amin, Freddy Mercury…”

Our favourite bits
Mine & my five-year-old Dan’s favourite spreads also occur early in the book – I loved the timeline between the beginning of life and the end of the dinosaurs, with the bones that carry on delving into the earth, to be found so many layers deep by paleontologists later on. He also shows those species that carried on, jumping out of the fiery tar-pit end for the dinosaurs. Dan spotted those that carried on, and enjoyed making the connections between now and all that way back in our pre-history.

Timeline_end of the dinosaurs

The end of the dinosaurs, from Timeline, copyright Peter Goes/Gecko Press

I recorded some of our conversations while we were sharing Timeline, and there have been some really interesting moments that have made me revise what I know of history. This is a book that will do that – and force you to think more deeply about connections you may not have considered as part of a whole. There are a lot of ways of explaining events that I hadn’t quite considered – for instance, the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand being ‘The first shot in World War I’. Some periods of our history just seem insane, looking back from our perspective. I’m pretty sure King Leopold II of 2015 wouldn’t have dreamed of taking over an entire inhabited country – the Congo – as his private fiefdom. Under the European Empire-building conditions of the 19th century, however, it seemed perfectly reasonable.

This is the conversation we had about Jesus, born on the Roman Empire page: “He’s really dead, isn’t he?” Probably less dead than others – you know his name, don’t you? God was his father, or that’s what many believe. “I thought God was a girl, because in my book that we’ve got, God was a girl. In the one that has the cow, the sheep, the pig, with a green cover – God was having a baby.”Ah… Mary. She wasn’t God, but she was how Jesus came to be born. “Why is everybody dead?” Well, the people who descend from them aren’t.

timeline_roman empire.jpg

The Roman Empire, from Timeline, copyright Peter Goes/Gecko Press

Also – the Roman Legionnaires look like Star Wars people (true, and possibly on purpose), at least gladiators had shields and nets and helmets and pitchforks (also true), Michelangelo: “did he turn into a ninja turtle?” (no), and “Why did they make the ships into pirate dragon ships?” To make people fear them “There’s no dragons now, so that won’t work.” (true) I’d never thought about that before, but that was quite a thing back in the day!

For kids – and who else?
While most spreads are dealing with a particular part of, mainly European history, there are a couple that simply talk about great Explorers, or the Space race. The pictures making up the stream across time are labelled, often humorously; there are many more details that you spot every time you open the book. As Julia says – it is nice to read with a friend, in fact I found myself wheeling it out every time I had adult visitors at home, and I will probably keep doing so!

The time and effort that has gone into creating this thing of beauty is massive, and I thank Gecko Press for again delivering a book that will last the test of time. I hope it sells on and on, all over the world.

Get this if you have a curious kid, or if you are a curious adult: whether you have studied history, have a passing interest, or just love big luxurious books. Just get it. If you are wondering about age range – my son is 5. I had to change the language a little to improve his understanding, but if you are looking at a gift, I think from 8 to 99 is a good recommendation.

Feature by Sarah Forster

Timeline
by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570690

Submitting your manuscript – the ask and the answer, by Julia Marshall

GeckoLogoIn mid-2013, Gecko Press stopped accepting general manuscript submissions. Instead we said we would only consider work by previously published writers; writers who know someone we know; or writers whose work has been assessed by a manuscript assessor.

The reason for this was that we were getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of manuscripts arriving in our box (some 500 a year). The reason for adding in the ‘writers who know someone we know’ sentence was because we wanted to keep our doors open to people who are tenacious and committed and who haven’t been published before – somehow to me this sentence leaves just a little room for those writers and illustrators to find us.

pp_julia_marshall_orangeSometimes we say no to a manuscript, but that doesn’t mean we are saying no to all manuscripts from that writer. Just that one. It is not personal. It is just hard to get published, and I believe it should be. It is very hard to say no to manuscripts by writers you think are going to be great. Sometimes they go elsewhere.

I understand publishers always take far too long to process manuscripts from a writer’s perspective and I know that is true with us. Sometimes the longer a manuscript is with us, the better that is.

cv_mrs_mos_monsterGecko Press has published a book that was unsolicited by someone who didn’t meet any of our guidelines. That was Mrs Mo’s Monster by Paul Beavis. (I hope he would have been tenacious enough to send it anyway, but he says he might not have been).

I am reading Ann Patchett’s The story of a happy marriage at the moment – a great book for writers. She advises studying the website of the publisher or agent you are submitting to, deciding whether what you have fits in with what they are publishing and then following their instructions TO THE LETTER (Our instructions are here).

Common misconceptions are that writers of picture books think they need to send in an illustrated text – they don’t, unless they are an illustrator. They don’t need to present their work in person: the story needs to stand on its own. We cannot be bribed by chocolate or ribbons, or even money. Our decision is based on the work, and nothing else.

Although people understand that learning to play the cello is hard and takes practice and craft and commitment, somehow, Ann Patchett says people think writing is easy. cv_this_is_the_story_of_a_happy_marraigeIt is perhaps too tempting to submit a piece of writing too soon. She suggests – in my today-memory at least – comparing it to standing on the stage at Carnegie with a work that is unrehearsed, and a cello that is out of tune. But if you truly feel the work is ready, if you have put your heart and soul into it, then it is time to take a deep breath – and send it in. For every story of famous writers once rejected, are the less publicised stories of publishers who regret saying no. Saying no is their job. It is the saying yes that is hardest.

If your work is rejected, you have to keep writing. And reading, of course.

by Julia Marshall

Submission requirements from Gecko Press
Gecko Press publishes around 15 children’s books every year. Of these, only three will typically be original to Gecko Press rather than translated. Our selection process is therefore very tight.

We judge by our (subjective of course) criteria of: “Is this curiously good? Do we want to read it hundreds of times? Are we emotionally attached to the characters? Must we publish this book?”

Before submitting, take a look at our books to get a feel for what kinds of books we publish.

What we’re looking for
We always like to read picture book texts with energy and originality and a strong story/narrative (not “ideas” stories). Please note we do not publish educational books or didactic books.

We are also looking for Junior Fiction – novels for 6 to 10 year olds. We are looking for original, warm, character-driven work, with a strong plot and voice.

My Heart is Laughing, by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson

cv_my_heart_is_laughingAvailable now from bookstores nationwide.

The cover alone would make anyone, child or adult want to pick up this gorgeous chapter book, two young girls with side splitting grins,a loopy tree and bananas, could not be more enticing.

Happiness however is not the total sum of this book, Dani is struggling to be happy because her best friend Ella has moved away, leaving her lonely and out of sorts, not sure exactly where she will fit in especially at school, where Dani tries awfully hard to keep Ella’s absence as only temporary.

We journey with Dani through pain, loss, grief, anger, confusion and bullying. Dani’s loss manifests itself in frustration and its companion…the temper tantrum rears it’s head and are spectacular and actually understandable.

The book isn’t gloomy and there is some delightful humour and a wonderful sense of adventure surrounds Dani and Ella’s relationship.

The characters in this book deserve a special mention, they are very well drawn and if not always nice, they are interesting and this combined with the illustrations, which are simply divine and so realistic make this a very engaging and relatable story, illustrations that match a story are not always seen but in this case they are just right for the situation they are illustrating.

As always Gecko Press have done a great job, my only query would be the age-appropriateness of this book…my experience tells me that the nuances of this book would go over the heads of anybody under 7-8 years of age.

My heart is laughing is suitable for both girls and boys and the issues raised in the book and the way they are handled make it particularly good for a small group/classroom reading and discussion situation, it would also be a good read for any child struggling with life issues and would also suit a situation where a concerned parent needs a discussion opener.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

My Heart is Laughing
by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781877579516

Breaking the Rules, with Paul Beavis and Julia Marshall

So how do you get published by an award-winning children’s publisher?cv_mrs_mos_monster

Gecko Press are known for the quality of their books, both locally and internationally, but Mrs. Mo’s Monster is the first time they have taken on a first-time author.  One of the rules in children’s book publishing is that you shouldn’t have a yellow cover. Well, author Paul Beavis and publisher Julia Marshall broke this rule, and a few others…

It seems like a very good time to sit down and have a chat about breaking the rules and the journey behind Mrs Mo’s Monster.

Paul Beavis is reading at the Auckland Writer’s Festival this Sunday at 12 noon and 1.05pm. 

monster_sketch_to_final

From sketch to final

The publishing journey with Gecko
Julia Marshall: What does it feel like, being published for the first time?

Paul Beavis: It’s like wearing a new pair of shoes; it still doesn’t feel like me. It doesn’t feel like it’s my book out there. My book is this kind of scruffy thing I sent in and we worked together on. I had been working on getting a children’s book published for close to 12-13 years.

PB: There was a cut-off date for unsolicited manuscripts on 24th April last year. And I had a version which was still very rough; and I was working on a better version, but I thought I haven’t got time, and they are just down the road, so I printed it out, rushed it down to Gecko and dropped it off.

JM: I was mortified to hear from Paul that you almost didn’t send us your manuscript. We were receiving so many manuscripts, and they were piling up and piling up … so we thought we would just test  to see what would happen if we said only send us your picture book MS if you’ve been published before, if someone in the industry says it’s worth a shot or if you’ve been through a MS assessor.  

All these ‘no’s’ were to try to whittle the rejections down. You didn’t fit any of those criteria.

The art of the rejection letter
JM: It’s a difficult thing, the rejection letter. We do have a standard rejection letter, mostly because it is not possible to give good feedback in a short time. 

PB: I could hold an email rejection letter up from about 50 feet and most authors would recognise what it looks like. [With Gecko] I got a postcard back saying I’ll hear back in 12 weeks time, and I thought well, I’ve heard that story before…

JM: Quite a nice postcard though…

PB: And I kept the postcard, it’s the Who’s Hiding one.

JM: Now we have a Mrs. Mo postcard for all our submitted  stories. 

pp_julia_marshall_singlePB: I really was at the end of my tether with the whole process of receiving rejections – I couldn’t make the book any better than the 4th version I had sent around (Gecko Press had the 3rd) – then one Monday night June 15 5.54pm this email came in saying; ‘we don’t normally do this, we don’t normally take unsolicited manuscripts, but we love Mrs Mo’s Monster, and we would like to publish it.’

JM: Aren’t we lucky? Just shows that it is good to be at the end of the road. I think it is interesting this business of being a first-time author. It is important to feel a trust with your publishing company. You did know about Gecko Press from…

PB: I had picked up Gecko Press books in the UK, but it wasn’t until I came over to New Zealand that I recognised the name. My girlfriend, a teacher, had taken me to Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie. And there I found I am strong and Death Duck and the Tulip and Poo Bum and I thought ‘who the hell is publishing all these? I really didn’t think you would be interested, that’s why I took so long to send something off.

Julia Paul Vida Kelly_Mrs Mo's launch

Julia, Paul, and Vida Kelly at the book launch for Mrs. Mo’s Monster

JM: : It was a very collaborative process publishing Mrs Mo. The whole thing was very, very nice, and we had enough time, and we also worked with Vida Kelly. When it arrived I thought ‘this is good’ and it made me laugh, and was light-hearted. I know you didn’t think it was about manners but it is to me, at least a bit. Paul says it is about children trying things out for themselves. So we were good with the ‘yes’, and it was a lovely process working with Vida Kelly.

PB: When first going in to Gecko to meet Julia and Jane, I knew that it was the right home. Occasionally I threw my toys out the pram on certain things, but some of the suggestions were just spot on. Particularly with the ending.IMG_0386[1]

JM: We cut out a gatefold and stretched the ending.

PB: The whole end line was all on one spread, and Julia, Jane & Vida wanted to take the end line and put it on a single page. I didn’t think it would work.

JM: I wanted to be able to turn the page and have the pause, because that’s important. We’ve been thinking about it with digital books vs physical books, the importance of the pause, and what’s on the page and what’s not on the page.

PB: Reading the book to a live audience, you do suddenly realise the power of the page turn; it’s one of the strong points of the book.

JM: And when you read it out at the launch. That can be a moment when you realise it is either a goer, or it’s going to be a nice book but… Sometimes you don’t know that until the last moment.

PB: In the latest reading in Gisborne, I actually brought two of the younger children up and they read the Mrs Mo part and the monster part, and I filled in as the narrator, and there is a dynamic to the story where it says; ‘and off he ran.’ That works well as a narrator. And you do the page turn, and the kid starts again, and you find all these extra levels, that may have been there, but they weren’t really planned, happy accidents, uncovered through editing, until there’s just the bare minimum of text.Mrs_mopage-4-final-version

JM: The genius of simplicity. There’s a wonderful bookshop in Newcastle, Seven Stories,  she/the owner  immediately connected Mrs Mo’s to The Tiger who Came to Tea and said it was going to work really well as a read-aloud, and they are very much a read-aloud kind of a bookstore.

PB: I think if you look at the final book, you think ‘this must have been an easy title for Gecko to publish. But I will send through the original version, and it shows Julia and Gecko Press’s vision saying; ‘there’s potential here.’

JM: We have never published a first-time author before because we normally choose books that are fully-formed. For me it was difficult to choose a half-formed book because it hadn’t got to its final stage. There is a leap of faith in there, and it’s only now that I am more confident about the leap of faith required.

PB: I understand looking at earlier versions, why rejections came back from publishers. It was quite empty-looking, there was not much text. And that is why reading Duck, Death and the Tulip filled me with so much confidence.

The cover and how not to over-egg the puddingmrs_mos_monster_v4
PB: Working on the cover was a really good collaborative process of sending stuff through to you and Jane and Vida. My friends in the UK who work on picture books said it took about 3 months to do the cover and I thought we seem to have a very tight timeframe to fit this cover in to. We turned it around quite quickly, I thought. Because it was a clear idea.

The cover from start to end 

JM: With the cover, I like it when it is my role to say ‘that’s not working for me. I don’t know what it is that isn’t working, but it isn’t working as it is’. That whole collaboration thing works well, especially when you are in the same town as the author.

We had to stop Paul overthinking things. I got taught that long ago by Jill Livestre from Archetype. At the last minute I said, ‘I’d like to change that word,’ and she said, ‘You just remember that and focus on that word and you won’t see all the other ones you’d like to change’.

PB: I had a black and white dummy I had worked up, and I have a notepad note saying ‘stop fiddling with it’.

JM: Well, there is a stage that you get to, when another change is not going to make anything better.

PB: You’re just over-egging the pudding.

JM: I love that expression, over-egging the pudding. We don’t want to over-egg the pudding.

monster!

An exclamation mark that didn’t earn its keep

I am always a bit careful about exclamation marks and I think they are very easy to overuse. There’s the line that sticks with me; ‘An exclamation mark is like ketchup, good meat don’t need it, and bad meat don’t deserve it.’ And so always I try to take away the ! and see whether the sentence is strong enough without it, or is it a really working-hard ! I took the story while I was editing to Julia Eccleshare who is a Guardian reviewer, and she said no, get rid of them. So I was happy.

Releasing Mrs Mo’s Monster out of the attic
JM: When the book was released, that was terrifying for you, wasn’t it?

Gecko_PaulBeavis_1303b_lrPB: I have friends in children’s publishing in the UK, they gave me all this advice, and…

JM: “We’ve only got two weeks’, you said, ‘we’ve only got two weeks ‘til we’re dead and
gone.’

PB: This is what I was told by people I know who work for big publishers; they’ve got a book coming out every week, or two weeks. Whereas Julia and Jane have got one a month coming out. And they don’t over-egg the pudding with their books. That was a bit of a blind panic, but I panic easily.

JM: It was a blind panic, but you’ve got to have all your eggs in… all your ducks lined up, and if you are missing a duck, its hard to put it back again.

PB: Using the Facebook page to drive traffic, create downloads for people… all of that stuff is great, to build up interest.

JM: Doing all that stuff, like how to draw a monster, it’s been a really great thing, because its so teacher friendly, and its funny.

Editing the text
JM: We were reading it out a lot. I’m most comfortable with text, Vida with illustration. For me, not showing in the text what you are saying in the pictures, that’s what I’m busy with.

PB: At one point we were thinking of removing the line ‘And together they started to mix’, then we reinstated it and it became the perfect line. It was telling you the story, but there needed to be an introduction.

IMG_0388[1]

JM: It was a lot more waffly. We took out slight moralnesses. It’s nice that process, when the text is fully yours. The phrase that is repeated ‘What is this you do’ – technically you could edit that down, but it is necessary to the voice of the monster.

PB: I didn’t mind anything being changed, but I didn’t really want that line to go. When it got to that part of the discussion in the email, Julia said: technically this is wrong, but it sounds right. It was a real confidence booster finding those guys knew the story. It wasn’t just a matter of changing the pictures, but the text as well.

JM: Publishers aren’t always very good at saying what we do, but I think the process where you have more than one person working on something, and giving it their absolute best and their undivided attention… and that collaboration where everybody has confidence in everybody because there is no ego, but everybody bringing a special care and knowledge.

PB: Without the collaboration with Gecko Press, Mrs Mo’s Monsters wouldn’t be near this good. I still look at it and wonder how it got made.Gecko_staff_1257_lr


Thank you to Julia and Paul for this amazing insight into the first-time publishing process.

The full interview is available here for those who are interested. If enough people are intrigued by this piece, I will publish a follow-up about the submissions process for various publishers, as Julia and Paul both had a lot of interesting things to say about this process. Please leave a supportive comment below!

Interview recorded and edited by Sarah Forster

Check out www.mrsmosmonster.com, and follow the Facebook page here for more about the book and its creation. You can win a copy of Mrs. Mo’s Monster here.