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My life of writing fiction: Skakoon

Skakoon: A magical adventure story for 9-12 year olds I want to let you know a bit about my other life: writing fiction. I have spent a chunk of the last 3-4 years honing a novel I have written for children. It’s now been edited, and I am preparing it for publication. I am self-publishing it so that I can bring it out into the world as I imagine it, and also because the traditional publishing world is struggling at the moment, meaning that it’s almost impossible for any authors to be taken on. My Kickstarter campaign, which is crowd funding and a way to raise the funds to pay for the book to be published, will be going live on Sunday.

The story Mishka and his older brother Vanya are struggling to adapt to a new life in London, far away from their birth place in St Petersburg, Russia. But when Mishka discovers a very special rocking horse, everything changes. They are transported into a magical world where an evil King has kidnapped inhabitants from the land of Choodissà and is holding them captive in the dark underground land of Isputania. Mishka and Vanya embark on a rescue mission, but they must first pass the training challenges set by the International Council of Crones. Can they uncover their inner powers, depose the King and free the Isputanians before it’s too late? Skakoon is a magical children’s novel infused with contemporary themes of emotional intelligence, in which real-life challenges are confronted in the context of fun and adventure. Intended for children of 9-12, it is a book of many layers which speaks to both children and adults alike.

Illustration (above) by my university friend Mish Kelly, who originally prepared it for our joint visit to primary schools and has kindly allowed it to be used as pre-publication promotional material.

Here's the Prologue to give you a flavour of what it's all about: Long, long ago He remembered. He felt again the breath on his wooden frame, heard the chink, chink of the chisel as it tapped, carving and creating. Gently, and with such tenderness, the old man sculpted the wood under the warm glow of the oil lamp, his long, white beard tickling the side of the horse as he worked. “You are becoming a true beauty!” the old man whispered into the horse’s new ears. “How I would love to give you to my granddaughter.” He paused wistfully and then added with anticipation, “Wait until she sees how you’ve developed!”

Each long day of carving and the almost life-sized rocking horse gained just a bit more awareness of the world around him. What joy it had been when his ears had been carved and he could hear. Later that afternoon, the horse felt for the first time the pleasure of having a child look at him, touch him and caress him.

“No, little one,” the old man said, as his granddaughter tried to climb onto the horse, her black curls dancing around her face. “He is not ready to be ridden yet. Be patient.” But it didn’t persuade her, and the horse was aware of tears as they fell from the little girl’s eyes. “When I have put the final coat of paint on him, the saddle, the stirrups, then maybe… we’ll see.” The awareness increased daily. Now, not only could he hear, but he could feel with an acuteness he didn’t realise was possible. It was as if he had gained a skin of sensitivity. The skilful carving of the chisel, even the rough kiss of the sandpaper had a soothing quality to it, and he felt clean and fresh afterwards.

“Now, my lovely, it is time to give you your real character,” the old man said, standing up and looking proudly at his handiwork. He painted the dappled grey with care and mastery, allowing time in between for the coats to dry. Next, the old man fitted real, grey horse hair into the mane and tail, cutting it to exactly the right length. He attached the dark brown leather saddle, stirrups, halter and finally the reins. The horse had never felt so alive. Energy coursed through his wood, filling him with joy. He felt as if some force more powerful and beautiful than he could imagine was working through the old man, inspiring him in his creation.

But there was more. Humming gently, the old man picked up his smallest chisel, knelt down next to the horse’s right hoof, and as was customary with many woodcarvers, began to carve his initials into the wood. At that very moment, the rocking horse felt a bolt of lightning go through his body, unfolding and unfurling, suffusing every grain of wood with sparkling light. Suddenly, he knew what his life was to be.

And then in the next chapter, we learn about Vanya and Mishka, and the Professor who lives in the house above their basement flat and doesn't like children...

All being well, the book will be out in mid-November with Kickstarter backers having early access.


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