So today I, C.S. Woolley, am taking over the Mightier Than the Sword UK blog (hello, blog land!) to share a little bit about why I went from writing gritty crime and gritty fantasy books to coming up with a children’s Viking Saga seemingly from out of nowhere.
One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’m dyslexic. When I was young I loved reading but I often found it to be really hard work. From the words moving around the page, to fonts being difficult to read and having to re-read paragraphs several times to try and understand what the author was saying – I didn’t know that everyone else didn’t have the same problem; I was pretty sure that was what reading was supposed to be like. I didn’t find out that I had dyslexia until I was 17, when my school tested everyone for it.
Though, I’m not sure I even knew that dyslexia existed before my school tested people for it. But suddenly it made sense why I constantly confused words like who and how (and still do), I understood why I had to really concentrate on reading. The thing is, it never stopped me reading. It didn’t mean I was stupid or slow, I still got 11 GCSEs, 5 AS-Levels, 1 Key Skill Award and 3 A-Levels, but I finally understood why some people hated reading and why books were something that they avoided.
My mother loved reading and used to take my sisters and I to the library every weekend when we were small and she couldn’t afford to buy us lots of books. When we were older and had pocket money to spend, my mum used to take us to the local independent bookshop every Saturday so we could find something new to read (I read the Saddle Club books and Animal Ark books in droves). I also had access to the library at my primary school and later, my secondary school. For me I had to read, even though it was hard (and still is), and it’s something that I realised so many children and adults have missed out on because of dyslexia.
When I started writing the Children of Ribe books I wanted to create something to make it
easier for dyslexics to read. Granted it’s not going to instantly turn everyone into readers, but for those children who want to read and love stories but struggle every time they pick up a book, it was these kids I wanted to do something for. So what did I do? You may notice that the font on the cover is Vikingy and decorative but it’s hardly a friendly font, this was chosen for effect rather than utility, but on the inside of the book I went with a font that completely changed my life when I found it.
That may seem like a rather grand and dramatic statement – but I’m not kidding. Times New Roman was the bane of my existence. I found it so difficult to read and Cambria wasn’t much better. However, back in 2007 I was introduced to Calibri. This was a font that suddenly I could read, that didn’t make me want to curl up in a ball and cry. When I looked at it on a screen it didn’t dance in the same way that other fonts did. It made reading things so much easier. So when it came to the Children of Ribe, the text was set in Calibri. I got a few other people I knew who were dyslexic to have a look at it and they all said it was easier to read than other fonts they had seen. It may not be universal, but if it makes it easier for just one child to read for themselves then it’s a step forward. I also set the type slightly further apart than you would ordinarily find in a book, this stopped lines merging together for me, yes the words still move but it was much easier to keep track of where I was in a sentence and I didn’t jump a line or end up reading the same line four times.
But these books weren’t solely written to just reach out to dyslexic children. I love Viking culture, I’m British (I have English, Welsh and Scottish blood), I’m descended from Norman Vikings and Danish Vikings, to me it’s part of my heritage and I even studied Old Norse and Old Icelandic as part of my degree. With these books I wanted to share my love of Viking culture with children and show them how exciting and fun it could be. Not by focusing on battles and historical fact, but by creating a tale of magic and wonder that brought together Danish folklore and other little bits of folklore from across Europe and some bits of my favourite fairy tales.
I didn’t do this just to share my love of mystical mythology, but also to help kids to engage with what they are reading. To feel a surge of pride when they recognise something from the story of Sleeping Beauty in an event that happens in FATE, telling their parents that they know the difference between a forest troll and a mountain troll, learning that because one witch is evil doesn’t mean all witches are, and that it can be hard to stand up for what is right sometimes, but someone has to do it.
I also tried to think of the parents when I was writing these books – if they were going to read them to their kids, then I wanted them to be able to enjoy the stories too (my mum has been my yardstick for this) – but I also wanted to create something that was affordable. Parents have a hard enough time with kids, making sure they eat right, taking them on days out, replacing the brand new pair of trousers they just bought because their child fell over and ripped them to shreds, children are expensive and I know there are parents out there that struggle with what they can and can’t afford. I didn’t want to create something that was going to add to that bill in a hefty way so I have done my best to price these books at an affordable level. When I was a kid, you could buy a paperback for £1.99 and then it was £3.99, then it was £5.99 and now £8.99 – that’s a heck of a jump in price. So FATE, WAR, WIFRITH and DOUBT are priced at between £3 and £5 in paperback and £1.80 to £1.99 in digital formats just to make it that much easier for parents to afford them. You can get the paperback and digital formats in a set with free UK postage for under £7 as well.
I’ve had some requests to write adult versions of these books, but these are something for children to grow up with. When the series is finished there will be 24 books in total in three 8 volume story arcs. As the children in the books grow up and the children that are reading the books grow up, the stories will grow up with them. The last story arc will be much more adult than the early books because they will develop with the young readers.
I would love to hear from those that have read these books – FATE, WAR, WIFRITH and DOUBT – from parents, adults, children, household pets, those who only adult when they absolutely have no other choice, everyone else – those who have found them easier to read, those who are dyslexic and have suggestions for ways I can make them even easier for dyslexics to read, any instances where kids have made connections between events in the book and other fairy tales they know – I’d love to know!
If you haven’t read the books yet and want to find out more, you can download free chapter samples of each of the books online from places like Amazon and Smashwords, so you can get a taster of what the books are like and whether you kids would like them. You can get gift sets galore from the Mightier Than the Sword UK Etsy store – all of which are signed, come with free UK postage and free gift wrapping as well as a saving on buying things separately.
Though there is an invitation below to sign up to the Mightier Than the Sword UK mailing list, I also have a mailing list of my own. If you are interested in signing up, then simply follow this link. For signing up you get the choice of a free book (one of which is FATE).