Something that was, for a while forgotten: or Happy Publication Day, East of the Sun.

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I wrote East of the Sun, West of the Moon a few years ago now. It took a while to find a publisher. It had many rejections. All the rejections were very positive, like the one below. I became disheartened and put it away in a draw, until it nagged its way out and I took it to Janetta at Frances Lincoln and last Thursday it was born onto the shelves of bookshops and out into the wide wild world.

Rejection letter for East of the Sun

 

So, I guess this is why one of the roots of the story became lost in my mind and only now has re-surfaced because of a review on Amazon.co.uk

In her review ‘Sylvie’ states  “I chose this book for a class of bright nine year olds as the first paragraph was such lovely inspiring prose and it is a well known traditional tale. It is a lovely picture book that just seemed perfect for this age group…until I got to the second page and the casual talk of drug pushers and prostitutes! Surely it is possible to conjure up the seedy side of a city without talking of prostitutes! Why on earth would you, for no real reason, put such references in a book for children?”

Well, indeed. I can’t imagine that a writer would put anything in to a book for no reason. Writing isn’t an accidental process, but a thought filled process. Each word and phrase is written with mindfulness to tell a story in a certain way. So, these are my reasons and this is my reply.

It wasn’t written as a children’s book. Just a book. And it was written at a time when I was working at a school at the edge of Birmingham for a few days. The school was brilliant, but many of the children came from very fractured homes, broken by both drug addiction and prostitution. One of those places where pimps hang around the school gates waiting to pick off the uncared for ones. So, I wanted a story that would reflect something of the reality for a part of society seldom seen by many, as we prefer it to be invisible. For some of these children they would not need a teacher to explain to them what a prostitute is, nor about drugs and pushers or pimps. 
The story travels away from this. It escapes from that world.

At that school on the edge of Birmingham over 50% of the children attending lived with someone who was not direct family. Mothers and fathers were in prison, for drug use, prostitution and other crimes. Some lived with grandparents, some with siblings, some were carers for their younger siblings. One child who was there on the day I visited often missed days in school because he was locked in his room when he got home while parents when out on the lash. Sometimes he made it to school, more times he didn’t. The school was brilliant and struggling. The people, both children and parents, were assigned to a part of society that many would rather remained invisible. I would rather it didn’t. Because if it remains invisible it remains unchallenged and these children become condemned to a cycle of repeat behaviour. So, I guess this is partly for them that I wrote this book, though few will get to read it.

The teachers were remarkable. There was a curious list of things on the staff room wall. On it, sheets, pans, cutlery, single beds etc. I asked them what this was for. Turned out that many of the children came from families of asylum seekers. They arrived with nothing into a hostile land that treated them with suspicion and dislike. The teachers collected together clothes and other things to help them. I guess these are also the people this book is for. Time goes by. I forgot the passion I felt on my return from this school that I visited for only 2 days and told the children stories and drew them pictures.

So, these are my reasons for putting  “such references in a book for children”. But these words are there also because it is not a book for children, but a book for people, of all ages.  The part of the story is so small, just the first couple of pages. It roots a magical story that has survived for thousands of years in a modern urban setting, reflecting the lives of many today. And I am thankful to Sylvie for reminding me that this was one of the many roots that ran into the telling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

 

Here are the first 2 pages. Click on the images to enlarge and read.

1st spread East of the Sun

 

2nd spread East of the Sun

 

And now I wonder what the homeless girl did with the cup of gold she was gifted by the polar bear.

cover art for East of the sun

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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22 Responses to Something that was, for a while forgotten: or Happy Publication Day, East of the Sun.

  1. Katherine Knupp says:

    I always roll my eyes at people who get all fussed up about “exposing” children to darkness or “seediness”. Children know darkness, children carry a lot of darkness and any misguided attempts to “shield” them only gives those dark things more power. Every child knows the best way to shrivel up scary dark things is to shine a light on them!

  2. Sylvia Baldwin says:

    I am 53 yrs old and enjoyed your sensitivly written book, you seem to be so in touch with both nature and the realities of the modern world. I am looking forward to showing it to my daughter who teaches English in a secondary school in Cheshire. The areas you drew attention to at the beginning of the story demonsrate clearly how complex life can be for many people in the modern world and the challenges they face.In addition I felt able to relax and clear my head as I read the story , you have a real gift not only for your beautiful illistrations but also for your connection with nature and the written word best wishes from the high snowy hills Buxton . Your book deserves to become a best seller.

    • Jackie says:

      Thanks Sylvia. You know the painting where she is walking over the hills, with a hare and a blue butterfly? That is Stoops Farm near Buxton. It is a B&B and I stayed there one night when working in Bramhall at Simply Books.

      • Sylvia Baldwin says:

        I recognised the location from the article in the magazine prior to purchasing your novel . I have cycled past the b&b many times,often accompanied by butterflies hares and birds. It is only a few miles from my home. Having an illustration in your book that is from my part of our world made it even more enjoyable and special.Maybe the butterfly in you book flew from my garden.I am lucky to have many hares in the fields above my home, I hope they are sheltering in the woods tonight as the snow is still falling .

  3. R Skye says:

    I feel your pain – the all-important “What Market Is This Intended For?” question sometimes seems to over-ride what is, at the deep heart and soul of it, just a story that is being told. I got the same with my own work from time to time. But I wasn’t making a children’s book, or a Young Adult book. Or an adult book. I was dictating what my mind was giving me, and putting it down.

    Your book is a story. And a damn good one. And for me that is enough.

    • Jackie says:

      It is strange for me to try and think what my ‘target market ‘ is. I make books that I hope will be enjoyed by everyone. Then I find that people won’t let their children have Tell Me a Dragon because there aren’t enough words in it and it is to ‘babyish’, likewise The Cat and the Fiddle. Ah well. Hope it finds the right people. From now on all I can do is say what my soul sings and hope others will like it. I do not seek to change the minds of those who would feel it to be unsuitable because of 2 lines in a text. But I do hope that their opinions will not colour the judgement of others who come to my work for the first time.

  4. How brilliant. But of course this wonderful tale has a market…are there not inner cities everywhere, and children who are well aware of the harder edges of reality. Yes, passion for the story is all that matters in the end. I’m happy to hear that this one has found a shepherd to bring it it to the flock that needs it.

  5. Sylvia Baldwin says:

    I am 53 yrs old and enjoyed your sensitivly written book, you seem to be so in touch with both nature and the realities of the modern world. I am looking forward to showing it to my daughter who teaches English in a secondary school in Cheshire. The areas you drew attention to at the beginning of the story demonsrate clearly how complex life can be for many people in the modern world and the challenges they face.In addition I felt able to relax and clear my head as I read the story , you have a real gift not only for your beautiful illustrations but also for your connection with nature and the written word best wishes from the high snowy hills Buxton . Your book deserves to become a best seller.

  6. What really saddened me about the review on Amazon, is that she probably was not as worried about the children as she was about the parents. I suspect she worried about the reaction and censure she would face there. As a teacher in a predominantly Muslim school I too have to consider the parents of my students; sensitivity to them is phenomenally important as they would withdraw their children under the slightest pretext. We have a hard enough time ensuring our children have access to an education at the best of times.

    Like your school in Birmingham, a number of our families live in similarly chaotic situations. Each day I try very hard to provide stability, safety and a place to just be a child for a few hours. That does not mean that I avoid the harsher sides to life, that would be as dishonest and would deny them the experiences they bring with them. Rather I hope I offer them the tools to find a path for themselves; stories that help them to make sense of the storms they encounter; pride in their humanity and several histories; and finally a chance to acquire the life skills they will need when they leave me and head out into secondary school.

    Each day I thank the story tellers, like you and the many other talented voices who offer material to use. I am sorry for that teacher that she did not have the wit to use the story, editing out what she could not stomach if need be. I would bet she has taught fairy tales, but would love to know if she has recognised the adult nature of the dilemmas that these present to us: starvation, abandonment, cruelty and bullying being just a small proportion.

    I am sorry for such a long comment, and will understand if you do not wish to publish it, but her review hit a nerve.
    With my very best wishes,
    Charlotte.

    PS: I am looking forward to receiving my own copy, I have it on my birthday wishlist.

  7. Illuminary says:

    I have ordered this book from the mill, but because of the flooding they didn’t ship it until recent. Now I am even more excited to read it, knowing what was the fire behind it….

  8. Nick Green says:

    It really is the most fleeting of references to prostitutes / drugs, isn’t it? My son probably wouldn’t even notice the words if I read it to him.

    Mild compared to ‘The Horse and his Boy’ by C S Lewis, in which it is strongly implied that the Calormene Prince wishes to kidnap Queen Susan to make into his slave/courtesan. He doesn’t use the words ‘prostitute’ or ‘sex slave’ of course, but the sense is glaringly obviously, right there in one of the best-loved childrens’ series of all time.

  9. Christina says:

    I’m so looking forward to receiving my copies. My girls are 8 and 11, and it’s a struggle sometimes, trying to find the balance between that strong parental urge to protect them and let them hang onto the innocence of childhood a little longer, and allowing them to learn what they need to learn about how the world works, that everything isn’t always rainbows and lollipops, but they can still live and be happy and find beauty and joy. For the 2nd half of 2012 I worked in the library of a school that sounds much like your Birmingham one, Jackie, and I saw the same heart wrenching things. Children who often have such potential, but are ‘behind the eight ball’ before they’ve even started because their home circumstances are so awful, so utterly unsympathetic with learning. Children who, indeed, knew all too well about drugs and quite possibly prostitution too. Children who struggled with alcoholic parents, with being passed around among relatives and never having a proper home, with missing school because carers couldn’t or wouldn’t get them to school. Children who will slip through the cracks, no matter how hard the teachers try, because there were so little resources available. Heartbreaking.

  10. Kathy Kenney says:

    How interesting that the teacher who wasn’t familiar with materials she was sharing with her class would criticize you for including something she hadn’t taken the time to read. Besides missing the responsibility to prepare, she really missed the chance t0 talk to her students about issues that may have been unfamiliar to some of them.

    I haven’t seen the book yet, my copy is on the way, but suspect you will tell this story well and will illustrate it beautifully.

    Don’t let the naysayers get you down, you have too many fans for them to make a dent.

  11. Sue says:

    Jackie, East of the Sun, West of the Moon is stunning, really stunning. Thank you x

  12. Tammie says:

    hello Jackie,
    your book, this book arrived in the mail today, it is lovely. I love it’s size and am thrilled with all the tiny and full page illustrations! I look forward to reading it. Such a perfect Valentine’s gift to myself.

    thank you in advance!

  13. Manda Scott says:

    I have just begun to read this passionate, heartfelt book – and I, too, wondered what became of the homeless girl who was given a mug full of gold by a magical bear. I have only let myself read the first chapter, but I am struck by the poetry of the prose, and by the fluid, aching depth of the despair felt by the asylum-seeking family. And the images, of course, are just heart-breakingly beautiful.

    Thank you…

    m

    • Jackie says:

      Thanks Manda. This is why the story of the Glasgow Girls on Woman’s Hour hit me, because what they did was just so good and also brave. Brilliant girls. Meanwhile, glad you are liking it. I want to do more writing. All I need is more hours in the day.

  14. John Ward says:

    That is a beautiful story, Jackie, and a beautiful book. Just finished reading it now. I think the homeless girl spent the gold the bear gave her and all went well for a bit (though not perhaps as wonderfully as she had imagined when she was poor and thought if only she had money) but then she fell on hard times again and ended up a serving girl in a troll queen’s castle…

    • Jackie says:

      Wouldn’t that have been amazing. And thank you. So glad you like it. Have always strived to do beautiful things. I think it easy to do dark, miserable work. So much harder to celebrate life and beauty, but at the end of the day it has its own rewards. The kind that aren’t found in a cup of gold.

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