“I am honoured and delighted to be shortlisted for this award. I am incredibly grateful that independent booksellers around the country have been hand-selling The Secret Hen House Theatre to their customers and I am so happy that my book is having success through independent book shops, which have always been my favourite kind of shop in the world.”
You can read the first chapter of The Secret Hen House Theatre here:
And here’s what Fleur has to say:
“As a reader, I value the input of the bookseller as much as I valued the input of my very best teachers. For me, the bookseller is there to guide through familiar choices into new territory, often thrilling and unexpected. Without this special person’s knowledge, I wouldn’t know what I was looking at. I might easily dismiss a book because I didn’t like the cover – conversely, I might buy one because I did like the cover and abandon it unread after 20 pages. Because after time, the booksellers shape the bookshops and respond to individual customer’s needs, before long, they tend to develop their own special and delicious characters. In my round of my local indies, I find different flavours, like restaurants all sell food, bookshops all sell books, but they can be so different. And that’s what is ultimately important. Independent Bookshops breed choice, variation, and knowledge. They strain away from global homogenization, making the world a better place. I desperately need them, they feed my soul.”
You can also see Fleur talking about writing Dear Scarlett below:
And here’s chapter one:
The full shortlist for the Children’s category is as follows:
Wonder – R J Palacio
The Sacrifice – Charlie Higson
Gangsta Granny – David Walliams
White Dolphin – Gill Lewis
Oh No, George! – Chris Haughton
Dear Scarlett – Fleur Hitchcock
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever – Jeff Kinney
Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner WARP: The Reluctant Assassin – Eoin Colfer
The Secret Hen House Theatre – Helen Peters
Matilda’s Cat – Emily Gravett
Socks – Nick Sharratt & Elizabeth Lindsay
And you can read The Bookseller’s coverage of the awards here.
Last week we learnt that some Nosy Crow books have been shortlisted for not one, and not two, but THREE different prizes. We are as pleased as can be. Here they all are:
The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters has been shortlisted for the North East Book Award (judged by Year 7 and 8 students across the North East). The winner will be announced in June at a ceremony held at the Centre for Life in Newcastle. Here’s the first chapter:
Grassroots support like this – from schools, librarians and local authorities – is absolutely vital for our books and authors. And the emphasis of all of these awards on reading for pleasure is something that is central to our vision as a publisher. So thank you to everyone who’s taken part in these awards, and good luck to Helen, Chris and Leigh!
As a full-time mum of young children, I have trained myself to write anywhere: soft play areas, park benches, tree stumps. But my favourite place to write is in my spare bedroom, when the house is empty. I love the silence and seclusion and the tranquil bareness of the room. And I love to look at the trees outside the window as they change with the seasons.
I write on a laptop but I also have three notebooks on the go all the time. The smallest is the one I take everywhere, in which I scribble random thoughts and ideas for the book and also observational notes on places, seasons and weather, which feed into the descriptions in the story.
The middle-sized notebook is where I plan out the chapter I’m working on. If the writing’s going relatively smoothly, I don’t need to use it so much. But when I’m stuck, I fill pages and pages with tortuous scribble: mind maps and lists and questions to myself that I need to answer.
The largest notebook contains the research notes and big ideas for the book: the overall plan and outline of the story and also poetry and song lyrics that capture the mood I want to create. I try to keep this notebook neat because, in those moments when it feels like the story is never going to come together, then I can at least feel slightly reassured by the fact that there is a Grand Plan. It offers a glimmer of hope that, if I just keep writing, sooner or later there will be a finished book.
You can read the first chapter of The Secret Hen House Theatre below or order the book onlinehere.
Perfect for fans of I Capture the Castle and The Swish of the Curtain, The Secret Hen House Theatre tells the story of Hannah, an instantly likeable heroine stuck in a world of chaos: her mother has died, her dad is lost in grief and struggling to look after everyone, her siblings are unruly, and the whole family faces the threat of losing their home – a dilapidated, rundown farm. Looking for some way of connecting to her creative, theatre-loving mum, Hannah decides to write and perform a play in the overgrown hen house that she’s found – will this be what saves the farm from demolition…?
Here’s what Helen has to say about the nomination:
“I am absolutely thrilled to be shortlisted for this prize. Waterstones have been incredibly supportive of the book and it is such an honour to be selected for a shortlist which is chosen by booksellers.”
And Kirsty, the book’s editor, says:
“The Secret Hen House Theatre shone out of the “slush pile” as a book that just had to be published, and it’s great to see it on the Waterstone’s prize shortlist, a prize that celebrates writers at the start of their careers. We’re sure Helen’s is going to be long and illustrious, and we couldn’t be more delighted to be her publisher.”
If you’ve not read the book, you can read the first chapter for free below.
You can also order the book online from Waterstones here.
The full shortlist for the prize in the 5-12 category is as follows:
The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House)
Atticus Claw Breaks the Law by Jennifer Gray (Faber and Faber)
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Random House Children’s Books)
The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters (Nosy Crow)
The Chronicles of Egg: Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey (Puffin)
Barry Loser: I Am Not A Loser by Jim Smith (Egmont)
You can read more on Waterstones’ website – the winner will be announced later this year. Good luck, Helen!
At the end of last year, I wrote a blog post about our first year of publishing (2011). It’s here. I thought that I’d do the same thing for 2012, our second year of publishing.
It has, once again, been a busy and full year and it’s hard, even after spending the days between Christmas and New Year like a slothful grub wrapped up in a duvet on a sofa reading books for grown ups with a cold as my only excuse, to pick out the key things from 2012 from the whirl of memories and impressions. Nevertheless, here we go…
What we published, and what we signed up:
In 2011, we published 23 books for children aged 0 to 14. In 2012 we published 35 – a 50% increase. The biggest increase was in our fiction output, and we published 19 fiction titles simultaneously as print and ebook titles. Once again, the books ranged from board books for babies to fiction titles for young teenagers (though this year we added a few ambitious novelty books like Playbook Farm).
2012’s books came from talented debut writers that we plucked from the “slush-pile”, like Helen Peters and Paula Harrison, and from established names like Axel Scheffler, Penny Dale, Jo Lodge and Philip Ardagh, and from creative talents inbetween. In 2012, we published new books by ten of the 12 authors and illustrators we’d published in 2011 (the exceptions were Benji Davies, but then we did publish two apps based on his Bizzy Bear character and we’ll publish more of Benji’s books in 2013, and Ros Beardshaw, whose paperback Just Right For Christmas was new in 2012 and from whom we also have a new book in 2013). But – and I hadn’t realised this before I totted things up – in 2012 we published 16 authors and illustrators that we hadn’t published in 2011.
We did our first bit of own-brand publishing and our first “instant” book when we published, at the very end of the year, The Snowman’s Journey, based on the John Lewis Christmas 2012 TV ad, for The John Lewis Partnership. Here’s the story behind it.
But all the time we were publishing in 2012, we were also acquiring for 2013 publication and beyond. We’ll be increasing our output of books in 2013 to 50 titles. We’ve written about some of them here.
We are going to focus on a few, very ambitious apps this coming year, of which Little Red Riding Hood is the first. However, we have other digital plans, including, this month, the launch of our innovative audio book picture book programme, Stories Aloud.
Across our books and apps, we will add around the same number of new authors and illustrators in 2013 as we added in 2012.
Selling our books and apps:
We more than doubled our revenue compared to 2011, with sales well in excess of two million pounds.
Once again, working with Bounce, we had books sold and promoted in a huge range of UK sales outlets from independent booksellers through bookshop chains and online book retailers to supermarkets and toy shops. Many were selected for promotions by bigger retailers and supermarkets – we have, I think, a particularly good strike-rate in this area.
To sell our books and apps, we’ve travelled to the US (where we work closely with Candlewick Press on illustrated books), Australia (where we work exclusively with Allen & Unwin), Germany, France, Holland and Italy. We visited Apple HQ in Cupertino for the first time to talk about our apps.
Having sold our apps exclusively through Apple in 2011, we experimented with Android for the first time this year, selling a couple of our apps for use on Nook tablets. You can read about it here.
This year, we added Japanese and Turkish to the list of languages in which we’ve sold rights to our books, bringing the total number of languages in which we’ve sold rights to 18. Brazil (as a direct result of my visit in late 2011) has been the biggest new source of rights sales. We ran our first two auctions, both of which were in the US, and both of which ended in six-figure dollar deals.
We added Gottmer in Holland to Carlsen in Germany and Gallimard in France as translation partners in our apps programme.
Speaking of Nosy Crow…:
We have had another great year of reviews and mentions in traditional national press from The Wall Street Journal to The Daily Mirror, in specialist press from Kirkus and The School Library Journal to The Bookseller and in many terrific children’s book, parenting, technology and app blogs. You can see some of our most recent high-profile reviews and mentions here.
In 2012, we had 120,000 unique visitors (up 58% on 2011) to the Nosy Crow website (I wrote more about our web stats here and here). From the autumn of 2012, we decided we’d try to blog every week day (though we have had a bit of a rest over the Christmas/New Year break). Judging purely by the number of comments (though some of the comments are our responses to people who’ve commented), these were particularly popular blog posts this year:
As I write, @nosycrow has 9,740 followers on Twitter, @nosycrowapps has 3,164 followers and @nosycrowbooks, more recently introduced, has 654 followers. There’s a bit of overlap between these, but overall, that’s 13,558 followers – up 80% on last year. We’ve 2,438 likes on Facebook and we’re now active on Pinterest and Tumblr too.
Back in the real world, Nosy Crow authors were at numerous literary festivals, including Hay, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham, and staged countless events in schools, libraries and bookshops.
We were hugely proud to win a hat-trick of awards at the Independent Publisher’s Guild Awards in March 2012, based on our first year of publishing. We won the 2012 Children’s Publisher of the Year award; the Newcomer of the Year award and the Innovation of the Year award.
Our apps continued to win and be shortlisted for multiple awards and made many “best apps” listings. Our books, authors and illustrators were shortlisted for awards too: S C Ransom was shortlisted for the Queen of Teen prize; The Baby that Roared was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize; The Secret Hen House Theatre was shortlisted for the Solihull Children’s Book Award.
I ended my 2011 retrospective with a look at what had gone wrong and here are some of the things I mentioned:
The much-investigated drainy smell in the office bathrooms. I am sorry to say that this is not completely resolved, despite plumber intervention, but either it’s less pronounced or I am just getting used to it.
The one or two important UK retailers who hadn’t stocked our books. We did manage to expand our customer base in 2012: we hadn’t sold anything to John Lewis before The Snowman’s Journey, for example.
The key countries we hadn’t managed to sell rights to, like Japan. We did, this year, sell rights in several picture book and novelty titles to Japan.
So most of the old things got better and some stayed about the same. Of course there were new problems and challenges in 2012 – we were particularly sorry to see Kate Burns leave us this summer, for example, but, on the other hand, we were delighted that Louise Bolongaro replaced her at the beginning of November as Head of Picture Books.
2012 was another very good year for Nosy Crow.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us or worked with us in 2012, or who, in 2012, agreed to work with us in 2013 and beyond. One of the pleasures of being a small publishing company is that many of us will be able to show our appreciation for you in person if you’re an author, illustrator or some other kind of creator, if you’re an agent, or a bookseller or a foreign publisher. But we can’t thank, other than in this blog post, the ever-increasing number of people who choose to buy our apps and our books and share them with children, without whom we don’t have a business.
“Curtains swish again in Helen Peters’s excellent debut novel. A stage-struck 11-year-old girl living on a tumbledown farm, her best friend who is a talented designer, a mean rival with her own theatre group also entering the local competition, a pet ram who butts away unwelcome visitors: what’s not to like?”
You can order The Secret Hen House theatre online here and read the first chapter for free below.
“Anyone who likes a Christmas with bling in quantity will enjoy Snow Bunny’s Christmas Wish … You will strike silver here: the ice shimmers, the puddles are glitzy mirrors, the stars twinkle. And the story is short and sweet. Snow Bunny’s letter to Father Christmas asks for a “friend” as a present. But on her way to deliver her message to Santa, she makes friends through her open, generous attitude (handing out delicious homemade biscuits helps) and new friends materialise almost by mistake. A cheery, comforting, sparkling winter’s tale.”
You can order Snow Bunny’s Christmas Wish online here and take a look inside below.
What have been your books of the year – picture books, younger fiction, older fiction? Leave your suggestions below!
The Crows in The Nest received some rather good news – we were CAWING with pleasure! – last week regarding Helen Peters and her much-loved debut novel The Secret Hen House Theatre…. Helen has been shortlisted for the Solihull Children’s Book Award! A cracking achievement and we all wish Helen – and the Hen House – all the very best.
The other two books on the shortlist are Black Ops by Tom Palmer and Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans. Funding for the book award enables the award organisers to buy a copy of the three shortlisted books for every primary and secondary school in the borough as well as for every library. Children in Years 5 to 8 will read, review and vote for the books between November and July, and the award culminates in a ceremony at Solihull Library Theatre on Thursday 11th July 2013 at 2pm.
Well, the weather may have changed (for the better – the picture above is of the colour of the sky from my window), but the good news continues! Yesterday we learnt that The Secret Hen House Theatre has been selected by Booktrust as one of their Great Summer Reads.
“Helen Peters has drawn on her own childhood on a farm, and her memories of writing and acting out her own plays, to create this lively story with a very convincing rural setting. Peters depicts a cast of strong and believable characters, from Hannah’s overworked and under pressure father, to her stroppy 10-year-old sister Martha, who soon proves herself to be a true ‘drama queen’. With a hint of Pamela Brown’s ‘The Swish of the Curtain’, there is much for aspiring young actors to enjoy here, but this hugely enjoyable story of family, friendship and country life will also have a broad appeal for children at upper primary level.”
“Little boys love dinosaurs. Little boys love trucks. Put the two together in the worryingly appealing Dinosaur Zoom! and you have the recipe for a night-time battle over bedtime stories. Resign yourself to reading the same book over and over again for the next two years – and make sure it’s a girl next time.”
On Goldilocks and Just the One Bear, Hall writes:
“With Hodgkinson’s fetchingly retro midcentury modern illustrations matched by her brilliantly animated text, this is a triumph.”
“Penny Dale has a new slant on ever-popular prehistoric animals in her picture book Dinosaur Zoom! Whether driving a blue convertible through the desert or reversing a lorry into the woods, these dinosaurs practically leap from the page.”
On a rather soggy Saturday morning in Herefordshire, after arriving late last night at a cottage with a power cut and the powerful smell of rot emanating from a many-weeks defrosted and prodigiously leaking freezer, I was not feeling as pro-countryside as I sometimes do.
First, Linda Buckley-Archerreviewed it as The Guardian’s children’s book of the week. She says, “There’s something timeless about Helen Peters’s accomplished and hugely engaging debut… Drawn with humour and affection, Hannah’s world is utterly convincing… There is a lovely moment when Hannah takes a newborn lamb from its cardboard box at the bottom of the Aga, feeling its “quick, shallow heart-beat under nubbly wool”. Its body is warm and comforting “like a hot water bottle”. “You’re mine,” she says… It is said that your capital as a writer is your childhood. In celebrating friendship and family, a country upbringing and the joy of discovering something you truly love to do, Peters has drawn on hers to create a memorable story with broad appeal”.
Helen Peters singing copies of The Secret Hen House Theatre in the signing tent at the Hay Festival
Julia Donaldson says, “As a child, I loved The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown, and The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters is another engaging book about amateur dramatics”.
Michael Morpurgo says, “Helen Peters is a new writer and The Secret Hen House Theatre feels very autobiographical. Hannah Roberts is the eldest of four children; her father, a single parent is an overworked farmer struggling to keep his farm going against a greedy landlord and vandals who try to destroy his dream. Hannah takes her responsibilities as eldest daughter very seriously, but what she really wants to do is become an actor like her dead mother. The book follows the dramatic twists and turns as she tries to write, direct and act in her own play. Life on the rundown farm is wonderfully described – you can almost smell the pigs and hear the lambs bleating. Full of action, with a happy ending, this is a book I didn’t want to finish.”
The book is, in fact, one of four Nosy Crow titles included in the 2012 Reading Challenge official lists, and we wrote about how pleased we were about our inclusions in the selection here. And here are links to both the older and younger lists.
Well, the truth is that I have had a horrid cold for a ridiculous two weeks. The whole family’s been down with it, but the adults have had a particularly lingering version. This has meant that I haven’t been so up-and-at-‘em with my blog posting as I’d like to be.
We kicked off on the first weekend with a lively Pip and Posy event led by Axel Scheffler, reading the stories, drawing characters suggested by the audience from scratch and answering questions with a little help from – ahem – me and an appearance by Pip and Posy themselves.
Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson with their picture of a mashed-up character suggested by the audience: Zic Zac Zoo is a Zampoid (a vampire/zombie combination with one granny leg and one chicken leg) who eats rotting human brains and likes talking to ladies at the bus stop and playing golf
On Sunday, I spoke on a panel at a Business Breakfast about the Future of Books with James Daunt of Waterstones (whose comments were reported here), Dylan Jones of GQ, and Simon Morrison of Google.
And, finally, Helen Peters, who’d hoped to make a long weekend of it and had hired a tepee for her whole family, ended up taking shelter from the floods and wind with us for a couple of nights before sharing the autobiographical inspirations for her debut novel The Secret Hen House Theatre.
Helen Peters singing copies of The Secret Hen House Theatre in the signing tent
Hand-drawn thank you cards from Helen’s children
The festival was a triumph of organisation (thanks to the indefatigable Peter Florence and children’s programme organiser, Sophie Lording), good spirits and committed reading over bad weather. We had a great time, as authors, illustrators, publishers and, for those of us who squeezed in a few events as punters, as enthusiastic audience members.
I wasn’t able to be there: I had a London Book Fair thing that evening. But Kirsty, Dom and Nicola, who designed the cover (I wrote about the photoshoot here), were at the party, and reported back that a Good Time Was Had By All.
The picture above is of the window display in the shop.
Meanwhile, Waterstones in Cheltenham drew attention to the book with a very sweet little hand-made display, labelled “a fabulous book… our favourite this month”:
Angela Williams, of Bounce, who sell our books, emailed the following message when she sent me the picture:
“Off to Cheltenham Waterstone’s this morning to see children’s bookseller extraordinaire, Barbara, to tell her about all the wonderful new titles coming from our publishers this summer. After a quick catch-up, she said, “Oooh have you seen our Secret Hen House?” and she took me over to an amazing home-made mini-theatre, complete with hens and a gingham curtain, that they are using to display their favourite read of the moment. Don’t you just love passionate, inventive booksellers like Barbara?”
And we do love passionate, inventive booksellers.
The book’s doing very nicely indeed. And we’ve had some very nice reviews (you’ll find them in the Media Mentions section of this page), and we’ve sold rights, so far, to Gallimard in France.
They say they luckiest man alive is he who gets paid for his hobby.
Well, this man, whoever he is, may indeed be getting paid for his hobby – but he wasn’t lucky enough to spend a day on Helen Peters’ family farm. I was. So I consider myself luckier.
This farm not only raises Middle White pigs and South Down sheep – among other beautiful, rare breeds, I hasten to add – it also raised Helen and her truly delightful family. And, in no small part, because Helen grew up there, it’s responsible for Helen’s wonderful debut novel, The Secret Hen House Theatre, with its honest and beautifully realised deeply rural setting.
It’s a farm with SOUL.There’s no other word to describe it.
But I should set the scene. We’re running a competition with a well-known children’s magazine (I can’t say which until the piece appears) to meet the author and spend time on the farm that inspired the book.
From the moment we arrived to find Helen’s mother baking the bread rolls (from scratch!) in an AGA (of course!) that would hold our lunch-time, farm-produced sausages and burgers, to the moment we all bade each other farewell, the day simply couldn’t have been any more perfect.
The competition winner and her family were a delight – and, praise be, naturals in front of the camera (because we had photographers there to record the event for the magazine piece).
The sun shone in the heavens (remember what that was like?…).
The lambs were cute. Good grief, SOOOOCUTE (check out the pic).
Maisie the sheep dog was endlessly enthusiastic. About everything.
Our lunchtime burgers and sausages – and the homemade rolls, cakes, Easter chocolate nests … everything, really – was absolutely delicious.
But what was most special was the effort Helen and her family had made to ensure the lucky competition winner felt special.
I know this sounds crazy-enthusiastic, and I am sorry, but you sort of had to be there. From an Easter Egg Hunt around the farmyard to bottle-feeding lambs, it was a perfect day: simple as that. And if the truth be told, I don’t know who had more fun, me or the lucky competition winner…
So I just want to thank Helen – and her brilliant folks, brother and sister- for making us all so welcome. And I’d like the thank the farm for having so much soul – because it HAS. Read The Secret Hen House Theatre and I think you’ll see what I mean.
“Love them or loathe them, babies are sweet. At least, that’s what Mr and Mrs Deer think. They long for a baby of their own, so when one is left on their doorstep they do not hesitate to bring it in. But this little baby does nothing but ROAR. And when relatives start disappearing, Mr and Mrs Deer have to ask some serious questions about their new baby. With no happy-ever-after ending, this is a deliciously entertaining story that takes a fresh look at the arrival of a new baby and the problems it can bring.”
On Sunday, Nicolette Jones included two Nosy Crow books in her Sunday Times round-up of Easter reading.
The first was Goldilocks and Just the One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson. The book, says the Sunday Times, “gives a novel twist to a familiar fairy tale as a lost bear causes mayhem in a city apartment, before the (human) family comes home. After the “somebody’s been…” routine, the mother turns out to be Goldilocks, now grown up, and the bear is the former Baby Bear. This happy reunion is remarkable for its witty, chatty update reminiscent of Lauren Child, with comical, detail-rich illustrations in vivid retro greens, oranges and pinks.”
“A variation on the always popular let’s-put-on-a-play-in-the-barn story, The Secret Hen House Theatre… adds depth with its theme of dealing with grief and a plot about saving a farm. An engaging tale about family and friendship for 10+.”
Well over 100,000 books are published in the UK each year, and I think around 10% of them are children’s books (I have a figure of 8,000 in my head, but I may be making it up or it may be out-of-date, and Google has been unhelpful in verifying it). Let’s assume it’s right, and then let’s assume (wrongly) that roughly the same number of children’s books is published in each month, and that Easter round-ups draw on the previous two months of publishing. That would mean that these books were competing with over 1,300 other books to be featured in reviews. While this arithmetic isn’t exact, it does give a sense of how tough it is to get a review of a book in a major UK paper.
Last year’s Books and Consumers survey suggested that reviews and recommendations drove only 5% of children’s fiction book purchases. However, browsing remains the biggest purchase prompt and covers remain significant, driving 39% of sales between them. One of the things that reviews sometimes provide is a few key words to put on the cover of the next reprint of the reviewed book that, we hope, draw the eye of the potential reader (or parent or teacher of the reader), and support the browsing and cover-based selection process.
Reviews also help us position future books by the author/illustrator with retailers: we include review extracts in the information sheets about our books that we supply to retailers and in our catalogues. In fact, we’re working on a catalogue for the London Book Fair, and I was emailing through the key words from the reviews of the three titles mentioned above for the designer to incorporate into the final tweaks to the catalogue as I was reading the reviews. A good review won’t salvage a book that a retailer doesn’t think that they will succeed with in the first place, but it might reinforce a selection that they are part-way to making… which means that the book will be available for the browsing and cover visibility that accounts for the 39% of book purchases.
(Twelve Minutes to Midnight author Christopher Edge’s event with Philip Pullman and JD Sharpe at the Oxford Literary Festival about the influence of Charles Dickens on children’s writers was also mentioned in The Sunday Times: “Asked what his first encounter with Dickens was, Edge rather shamefacedly confessed, ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’.”)
The Slush Pile. Every publishing house has one (unless of course it has closed its doors to submissions). And every editor dreams of plucking the Next Big Thing from it. Which is exactly what happened seventeen months and two Nosy Crow offices ago to THESECRETHENHOUSETHEATRE by Helen Peters , published today! (I’d love to claim credit for the plucking but can’t – step forward, Mr Adrian Soar, and take your bow.)
From first read, it was clear that this book is set to become a classic and that Helen Peters is an author with a great future ahead of her. The story, of a girl who pulls her chaotic family back from the brink through imagination, courage and a joyful commitment to secret theatres and muddy farmhouse living, is entirely engaging. It’s funny, sad, dramatic and impossible to put down. And here it is, already gracing the shelves of the Muswell Hill children’s bookshop.
A little snippet:
“The sow was charging straight towards her. Hannah turned and ran, the pig splashing and squealing behind her. Thick wet clay, heavy as concrete, clung to her boots. Dad crashed through the hedge just ahead and ran full tilt towards the enormous sow at her heels. And Hannah tripped over his boot and fell flat on her face into a gigantic puddle. She staggered to her feet, soaked to the skin. Freezing water cascaded down her back and legs. The world had gone dark. Her eyes were stuck together with mud, and she tried to wipe them but her hands and sleeves were coated with mud too. She could feel her hair plastered to her face. Through the muddy water in her ears she heard Martha’s laughter.”
I’ve read THESECRETHENHOUSETHEATRE many times now and it still makes me laugh. And I’ll admit, get a bit choked more than once. And it always makes me glad I don’t keep pigs. Congratulations, Helen, on writing a brilliant novel that everyone loves and happy publication day!
We don’t know how many books were chosen in total, but it’s usually around seventy, so, particularly as a small, new publisher, we were pleased to have bagged four slots.
And it is, of course great both to have the extra sales; to see The Reading Agency supporting new talent as well as more established writers/illustrators; and for us to be working on this library project at a time when we’re keen to do whatever we can to support libraries against the threats they face.
“Young readers today who have grown up with an amazing array of electronic gadgets will certainly enjoy this fast-moving and imaginative story.” – The School Librarian, Winter 2011
“A great read for boys – the story really grips the reader and draws you through the book.” – Parents in Touch
Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge was published last month. The Bookseller described it as “a really pacy historical thriller with a great sense of Victorian atmosphere”, while Lovereading4kids.com said, “A thriller with a fast-paced cinematic style…an electrifying story from an exciting new author”.
The Secret Hen House Theatre by debut novelist Helen Peters will be published in April, but it’s already had a great mention in the Ham and High from Kate Agnew, children’s book consultant at the brilliant Children’s Bookshop, Muswell Hill. She says the book is “absolutely delightful … Astonishingly accomplished for a first novel, it is on one level an engaging story about a group of children determinedly staging a play in a disused old hen house and, on another, a warm-hearted and compassionate account of a family coming to terms with loss. I enjoyed the proof so much that I read it in two sittings”.
Today, and not without a qualm, I left the last of the Ikea shelving assembly for the new office (I have a personal best of 15 minutes for a 4 × 2 Expedit). Instead, I was up with the lark to drive to Herefordshire for a photoshoot.
The book’s out in April of next year, and, frankly, we’re late with the cover: we’ve been using a mocked-up cover for the first couple of highlights presentations we’ve done. But we had to wait for a slot with photographer Marsha Arnold, recommended by Peter Florence of Hay Festivals after I posted a request for recommendations on Twitter. She photographs Monty Don, cheese and sheepshearing among other things, and we thought that she was the woman for us.
Here she is, in what is, I think (though I am no expert on such things), a tack room, which was being used to represent the hen house of the title. She’s checking results on a laptop screen, with our model for Hannah, the book’s heroine (wearing a cardi of Camilla’s), and techno and lighting man, Paul.
This kind of photoshoot is one of those hands-on, “detail” things that I would never have been involved in in any of my previous publishing lives, but, especially for debut fiction like this, creating a really great cover for a book is one of the most important ways you can, as a publisher, contribute to a book’s success. Overall 6% of all (adult and children’s) fiction purchases last year were made on the basis of cover alone, and a further 27% were made on the basis of “browsing” in which is seems likely to me that cover played a part, according to BML’sBooks and Consumers survey 2010.
We had a very clear brief, based on an image we’d found of a grown-up model looking out of a barn-ish sort of doorway, and it looked to me as if we got some great images today. We’ll post the result as soon as we can.
Dom Kingston recently joined us as our “attached freelance” one-stop PR man, and he’s getting to know our authors. This week, he met Helen Peters, pictured above at a cafe in Muswell Hill, author of debut novel for 8 – 12 year olds (particularly 8 – 12 year old girls) The Secret Hen House Theatre, which Nosy Crow is publishing in April 2012.
This is what he said:
“Meeting new authors is always an exciting part of a publicist’s job.
Often, especially if the book in question is their first book, meeting their publicist is an author’s first insight into life after the editorial process. And publicity is often a relative mystery to many new authors. Most aspiring writers know that they will have their book edited, but not so many think, when they’re writing, about what they’ll say about themselves, their book, and the process of writing it to a class of school children, a librarian, a bookseller, a journalist or a conference audience.
For some, the word and the idea of a ‘publicist’ has scary connotations – think Entourage. Or Ab Fab. Or the bit in Phonebooth before Colin Farrell actually gets into the phonebooth…
Luckily, publicists in the children’s publishing industry are always a four-day-drive-and-a-boat-trip away from this stereotype. Authors often seem to be relieved when you don’t arrive Gucci-ed up to the eyeballs, in a cloud of Kouros, and barking into the four mobile ‘phones permanently clamped to your ears.
As publicists, we just want to get to know and understand… The Author. It’s important that an author is totally comfortable with any promotional activity they’ll be doing.
So… how was Helen?
Well, she’s an English and drama teacher, so she’s totally at home when she’s talking to a room full of children and engaging them creatively with a subject.
Music to my ears!
She also kicks off our meeting with some excellent event ideas that will work beautifully for the age-group that she writes for.
The icing on the cake is that Helen’s obviously going to be a dream interviewee. She’s eloquent, focused, funny and charming. And she has a story to tell. Couple these qualities with the autobiographical, made-with-love aspects of her novel (the farm setting, the characters drawn from her own family), and we’re soon bandying around possible feature ideas for both adult and children’s media.
She’s also connected to, or connecting with, with lots of our world’s brilliant – and deliciously vocal – bloggers and tweeters. (Kate says, “speaking of this, you can read about Helen’s experiences as a first time author in this terrific blog post.”)
By this time I’m practically pinching myself.
So… Helen Peters – a lovely person, author of a lovely book and a publicist’s lovely dream . I CANNOTWAIT for curtain-up at The Secret Hen House Theatre…