Facebook as a Book Publisher?

A few posts back, I mentioned a guy named Mike Matas and his new company called Push Pop Press. A former Apple employee, he and his team are developing some fairly snazzy interactive books for the iPad and iPhone. They’ve been getting a lot of attention, and it seems it has served them well.

I found a link to this New York Times article while browsing Irish Publishing News, which reports that Push Pop Press have been bought by Facebook. So does the networking giant want to get into publishing?

Given the massive quantity and range of information they have to mine regarding the tastes and interest of their millions of members, they have a huge advantage over the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google. Talk about being able to target your advertising.

Facebook have already branched into online gaming, and are exploring the possibility of streaming films too, in partnership with Warner Brothers, so selling books online wouldn’t be too much of a departure at all. But then, in some ways, Push Pop Press’s books are almost more of a game or a film than a book. Once it’s online, why would anyone restrict themselves to just text?

Which begs the question of the publishing industry: What is a book? Where does that definition end? I think we’re still in the process of finding out.

Gearing Up for October

Children’s Book Festival – in terms of events, it’s the busiest time in the year for most children’s book authors (and to a lesser extent, illustrators) in Ireland. Officially, it runs from the beginning to the end of October, although it tends to bleed into September and November too. Libraries, schools and bookshops all over the country will be running all kinds of events to celebrate children’s books. There are also bigger gigs, staged in theatres, run by the libraries or by Children’s Books Ireland. CBI produce Bookfest, collating reviews on the latest books, as well as the posters and other marketing material. They also act as hub for the festival, helping connect up the country and make this a national thing.

For any writer or illustrator who does talks, workshops or shows, this is the time everybody wants you to come and visit. World Book Day in March is the next busiest part of the year, but it’s just not the same as facing into the marathon month that is CBF.

I’ve had a few events since the beginning of September, but in October, it’s going to be a bit mental. I can start getting inquiries for CBF as early as March or April – sometimes earlier.

I normally need a few sessions to get me warmed up after the summer break. So far I’ve done the Monster Book Lunch in Dun Laoghaire for the Mountains to Sea Festival, I’ve been to Bush Post Primary near Dundalk and Skerries Educate Together. Yesterday I gave a talk to student teachers in Froebel College in Blackrock. All four of these were different types of events, so I should have well and truly shaken the rust off by the time I kick off CBF with two days in libraries in County Clare next week.

Over the next month, I’ll also be travelling to Tipperary, Cavan, Kildare, Monaghan, Kerry and Leitrim.

I don’t get much writing or illustrating done in October.

I’m grateful that the invitations are still coming in, because libraries and schools are having a really tough time of it. But it’s a testament to the importance given to children’s books that in many counties, they’re making a real effort to keep their part of the festival running even though they’ve got much less money to do it with.

So now I’m making sure I’ve sharpened my pencils, I’ve got my drawing materials, my easel and my books packed in my sessions case. I’ve a few new t-shirts and  some new notebook-enabled combats in the wardrobe. The roadmaps sit ready in the car – which stands cleaned out and scrubbed up, as it’s going to be my mobile command centre for much of the next month. I keep promising myself I’ll learn some voice exercises to keep my throat in order through the month – which I have yet again failed to do.

I’m taking on a few different things this time round too, so I’ve some more prep work to do yet: some comics workshops for primary school kids in Meath; ‘The Ideas Shop’ theatre show with Sarah Webb and Judi Curtin in Bray and Navan; a workshop on plot and structure, in the beginning of November, at a seminar run in Swords by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I find that, most of the time, I have to think just few days ahead at any one time. I have to deal with October in manageable chunks.

I remember when I first got published, and I had visions of me sitting in quiet contemplation all day, writing and drawing and painting. Happily shutting the world out so I could produce my masterpieces. Since then, I’ve seen more of Ireland, and the UK, then I’d ever seen before. It’s cool, and exhausting, and stimulating, and bewildering, and it flattens you, but lifts you onto your toes again. And it’s all to get kids to read books. My books, obviously, but any books too. To get them to look into other people’s heads and find all the brilliant stuff that lies within. And really, that’s what it’s about.

And maybe out there, just every now and again, some kid will see what I and others do and will say to themselves in that quite, resolved, determined way: ‘I’m going to do that too, some day.’ And that would be pretty cool too.

MS Readathon Launch on Telly

Back in August, I posted about the launch of the MS Readathon. RTE’s Elev8 were there to film it and the piece was broadcast yesterday. You can have a look at it here. The whole clip is twenty minutes long, and the Readathon bit is about fourteen minutes in, so you might want to skip on to it if you can.

What’s Happened to Armouron?

I’ve been asked this a few times over the last while – particularly by people who are dealing with the book distributors, and can see that my next two books ‘The Orphan Factory’ and ‘Dead-End Junction’, were scheduled for release this month.

The short answer is ‘I don’t know’. But I’ll tell you what I do know (and what discretion allows):

Unlike my other books, I don’t own the rights to the ‘Armouron’ franchise, so I’m not kept in the loop as much. The whole project started with a television production company that had taken on the film rights for a new toy range being released by Bandai. They approached Random House to handle the publishing side of things – starting with the production of a series of eight books aimed at confident readers; novellas about 25-30,000 words long.

Way back when I was first starting out as an illustrator, I worked on twelve ‘Power Ranger’ books, so I know how this usually works. A big franchise like this is normally led by the television series and the toy range. They’re established first, and then the books come along as merchandising. But at this point, there was no script for the television series (a live-action one, rather than one that was animated), and the toys were already in production.

Instead, it was left to Random to establish the world and the characters of ‘Armouron’, based on a rough set-up originally provided by the woman who had created the toys. So in this case, the books were going to come first, establishing the whole franchise. Random brought me over to London for a brainstorming session with the production people, and I was commissioned to come up with the setting, the characters, and the framework for the stories.

They contracted me to write four books in the series, including the first two. Even though I wasn’t to get creator’s rights (which is why I use ‘O.B. McGann’ on the covers) I was keen to get involved. I went through plenty of these kinds of franchises when I was a kid: ‘Star Wars’, ‘Action Force’, ‘Transformers’ etc. I’m not ashamed to say that I and the people I worked with chucked in every well-tried element we could think of to create the Armouron world. After all, we weren’t trying to be wildly original – although aspects of the toys, and stories, actually are – we were putting together something kids, particularly boys, of a certain age would love.

The first two of my four books, ‘The Armoured Ghost’ and ‘Lying Eyes’, came out last year, and are available in most good bookstores now. Another writer, Richard Dungworth, was to provide the other four. His first two, ‘Caged Griffin’ and ‘Prisoner on Kasteesh’ are also out now. Both of us have now completed all of our stories, but the final four haven’t been released yet, even though the toys are now also out there on the shelves (check out the big launch in Hamley’s in London). Ironically, this seems to have nothing to do with the paralysis that’s gripped the publishing industry over the last couple of years.

I haven’t been told anything about the television series in nearly a year. Last I’d heard, they were at the script stage, but I did produce a fair bit of the source material – based on the rights owner’s initial ideas – and nobody’s been in touch with me about any of it. That said, I’ve had no word that it’s been canned either. Armouron would be a major film production, being a sci-fi series in a futuristic city, with a lot of special effects, so getting the funding for it, and putting it together, will be no small task.

This is probably nobody’s fault. I’ve learned enough about the television and film industries to know that – despite the confidence of the producers in this case – projects like this get pitched all the time. They can be really difficult to get off the ground, and sometimes they can take years to get through the production pipeline. This is not something that’s likely to wind me up – I know how it is. That’s the nature of the film business and publishing works much the same way, albeit on much, much smaller budgets.

But it does mean that the release of my next two books has been postponed – and presumably, Richard’s too. I don’t know for how long. So even though the books came first, and set up the world that features this clever, multi-functional armour, they are now being treated like merchandise for the toy range (which they are, to be fair). While they are part of a franchise, these are solid, action-packed stories with distinctive characters, and are more than good enough to stand up on their own. And the remaining four books are ready to go.

If I hear any more about the release dates, I’ll let you all know.

Enchanted in Skerries

I was in the lovely setting of Skerries last night, for the opening of the Enchanted Exhibition in Skerries Mills. This is the fifth and last venue to host this collection of work by Irish illustrators, and it’s only on until the 25th of September, so if you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re interested in this kind of thing, go check it out now.

The exhibition features work from myself and four other illustrators:  Niamh Sharkey (that’s her in the picture), Adrienne Geoghan, Annie West and Bruce Ingman (an honorary Irishman, having married his way into the country from abroad).

So far, the exhibition has been hosted in Waterford, Galway, Abbeyleix, Newbridge, Drogheda and now it’s reached its last stop in Skerries. My thanks to Niamh and everyone else involved in bringing the show to the Mills, and the folks in Garter Lane Arts Centre who started things off, and then oversaw the move from each location to the next – it’s no easy task to organize and manage something like this.

The launch was the first event in the Soundwaves Music and Arts Festival in Skerries, and was officially opened by Robert Dunbar – reviewer, editor, advocate and arguably the grandaddy of the children’s books community in Ireland. Also joining the Skerries crowd for the opening was Polly Dunbar (no relation, as far as I know). Polly is a friend of Niamh’s and another excellent picture book author/illustrator. She’s based in the UK, but has been over here for a few months doing some design work for an animation company. Like most illustrators, she has more than one hat (and I’m sure she’d insist on all of hers being very pretty ones).

Remember, the show only runs until the 25th of September, and this is your last chance to see it. Get out there, look at some original artwork, check out Skerries Mills, maybe take in some of the other events during the festival, or even just go for a walk by the sea and make a whole day of it.

Body Matters

I’m looking at body bits for this post. And I’m going to start with a book-related story which grabbed my attention a while back:

According to an article in ‘The Telegraph’ a guy named Marcel Kamp, of the Neurosurgical Department at Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf, has led a team in a project examining the number and severity of brain injuries in ‘Asterix’. Their paper ‘sets out with no apparent irony their aim to “analyse the epidemiology and specific risk factors of traumatic brain injury in the Asterix illustrated comic books”. Apparently, the books contain over 700 head injuries – over half dealt out by Asterix and Obelix themselves – and most characters enjoy a level of recovery that is well above what could reasonably be expected, particularly given the medical treatments available at the time.

I concur. There is definitely a sorry lack of caved-in skulls, sub-conjunctival hamorrhaging and ongoing seizures. Honestly, no wonder nobody takes comic books seriously . . . Neurosurgeons, on the other hand, are clearly very serious indeed.

Earlier in the year, our two-year-old caught a bad dose of the chickenpox. We found ourselves in the funny position of half-hoping the other two would catch it as well. Actually hoping our kids would catch a disease. This was a tough one. Chickenpox can have much worse effects when you’re older, so there’s an advantage to having it when you’re very young and developing an immunity to it as a result. But it’s still hard to see your baby covered in sores, especially when she’s too young to understand why she’s not supposed to scratch them, despite unbearable itching.

Our youngest ended up catching them too – the sores spreading everywhere, including the back of her head. Our boy somehow managed to escape them, of course – the only one who doesn’t wake us up crying when he can’t sleep. Don’t get me started about the lack of sleep. Both girls came out of it with a few small scars, although those are fading as the months pass.

At another point during the summer, a bunch of us were over at my Mum’s house one weekend. It was a hot day, and my sister and I were putting together one of those large plastic storage boxes for storing garden furniture or stuff like that. My toddling daughter and her cousin naturally figured that this marvellous construction was entirely for their benefit, and proceeded to run in and out of it as we put it up. There was obviously some serious static trapped in the box, no doubt brought on by the heat. Every time they ran in and closed the doors behind them, their hair stuck straight out like they’d poked their fingers into electrical sockets.

And finally, here’s a talk where Paul Root Wolpe discusses bio-engineering, and where it’s going. Some of the nuttier examples he shows might seem like they’re straight out of a science fiction film, but it’s all real.