Saturday, 2 June 2007

It’s only make-believe...

Today I have an article in the Times about the phenomenon that is Rainbow Magic (huge for girls aged between 5-8). The books are "created" by a company which comes up with series to order......Read more here,
or below

It’s only make-believe
Sarah Ebner looks at the bestselling children’s writers who don’t actually exist

YOUNG READERS CAN’T GET enough of Daisy Meadows. Her Rainbow Magic books have sold ten million copies and girls aged between 5 and 8 are enraptured by the tales of Kirsty, Rachel and their fairy friends.

Ms Meadows should be a happy soul. Except that she doesn’t exist.

“It is unusual for children’s books to be written under a pseudonym,” Penny Morris, a director of Orchard, which publishes Rainbow Magic, agrees. “But it needed to happen in this case because there is more than one writer. Ownership remains with Working Partners, not the authors.”

Daisy is actually three people – and most people outside publishing will never have heard of Working Partners, who are responsible for her, and a huge number of other books. As well as Rainbow Magic, their creations include the Animal Ark series (“by” the equally nonexistent Lucy Daniels), the Lady Grace Mysteries and Warriors series. A series for boys aged 7-9 entitled Beast Quest is now in development. The company has deals with almost every big British children’s publisher, and is moving into the adult market (its first novel is out next year).

“I am surprised that they are the only company of their kind in Britain,” Ms Morris says. “But it would be difficult to match them. They now cover all the bases with their ideas.”

The company, set up 12 years ago, aims its books at specific audiences. “We want projects that are going to run for a very long time,” Chris Snowdon, the managing director, says. But he bridles at suggestions that the formula destroys the magic of being a writer. “A lot of people in books try to create a cult of the author, but a lot of demystification can be done.”

All Working Partners’ ideas come from its editorial team – not authors – and are developed in meetings. Once a story has been created, two people build it up, and authors compete to write it. “The storyline can be up to 2,500 words,” Snowdon says. “Rainbow Magicbooks are only 4,500 words long, so that’s a lot of detail. But it can be liberating because the writer is free to focus on the voice.”

Some writers might be aghast at idea, plot and structure being taken away, and Snowdon agrees that it’s a precise way to work. “We tell new writers our rules and that they shouldn’t deviate from the story,” he says. “If they have their own ideas, that’s fine, but they should tell us. Our integrity as a business is the ownership of the idea.”

Narinder Dhami, a children’s writer in her own right, is also one of Working Partners’ most prolific authors. She wrote Ruby the Red Fairy, the first Rainbow Magic adventure. “I prefer coming up with my own ideas,” she says, “but when those aren’t flowing very well, it’s a nice change to have someone send you a synopsis and tell you what to do.”

Many parents and teachers argue that the books are not great literature. Snowdon agrees, but adds: “I don’t know what great literature is, and I’d be interested to ask these people what they think it is. In this country there’s a huge snobbery about books, but we’re creating a reading habit.”

In fact, Working Partners no longer own Rainbow Magic (although they are working on the next two series). Ruby, and her fairy companions grew too big and were sold to HIT Entertainment last month. HIT, whose stable includes Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder, promises to build the fairies into a “global brand”.

Working Partners will focus on other titles. And while they may have “lost” Daisy Meadows, they haven’t lost the writers behind her. Children might not know their real names, but they’ll soon have more of their stories.

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