There’s a new publisher in town. They’re called Sojo Publishing Mouse, and they are a children’s publisher who are throwing the publishing rule book out of the window, and are seeking the best stories around. Here’s theirs…
Helen Goodbarton and Sophie Johnson-Hill are the creative minds behind the publishing company, and I met them both at The Milk Lounge in Beeston, surrounded by children…which was the ideal setting really!
Helen, 39, runs a performing arts school for young children in Beeston called Sprouts, and has been for the past 10 years. It was through this that her and Sophie, 36, both met, as Sophie’s children used to attend the sessions.
Sophie is the creator of Sojo Animation, which she started whilst doing an MA in Puppetry and Digital Animation at Nottingham Trent University. Her research on the course was focussed on encouraging creativity in children.
“I’d just chat to a little one and find out how they think and how they feel about certain things,” says Sophie. “If they said something particularly brilliant I would take that sentence and get them to draw a self-portrait and I would animate their words coming out of their artwork.” She called these individual animations ‘Thunk of the Day’, and they can be found on the Sojo Animation YouTube channel.
So while Sophie was doing this, Helen was working with children through Sprouts. “There’s a theme each term and a story the kids follow. There are poems and songs that we learn that I wrote,” explains Helen. “I’ve written four years’ worth of adventures.”
It was when Sophie was in the process of making some puppets that she had an idea to involve Helen in her preparations for a Christmas workshop with children. “I wanted to make giant puppets out of willow and paper, I wanted to make glowing snowmen,” Sophie tells me. “I asked Helen to join forces with me so the kids can understand the story of this snowman. I asked her to make up a story about a snowman who swallowed a firefly by mistake and then doesn’t know what to do about it. I handled the making of the puppets while Helen took them on this huge adventure,” says Sophie. “Afterwards Helen read me the story and it was a beautifully written book with rhyming couplets.”
“I’d written a few things before and I’d even sent one story off to a publisher,” explains Helen. “Then I wrote this. You know they say everyone has a story in them that needs to be told? This is mine.”
At this point, they both decided to see if they could find a publisher, going with the idea that the story would be Helen’s, and Sophie would be the illustrator. But after exploring the world of children’s publishing, they discovered a few rules that would stop them in their tracks.
“Aside from lots of other rules that publishers have, a lot of them won’t take a book that’s already illustrated by somebody else, because they have in-house illustrators,” Helen tells me. “I feel it would be wrong if it wasn’t with Sophie’s pictures.”
Sophie adds: “There are rules about which of the pages needs to be a double page spread regardless of what’s happening at that point in the story, or how many times a theme should re-occur within the story. It’s like a guide to how a kids book ‘should’ be.
“We needed this creative publishing company that cut out all of these ridiculous rules”
In an industry that is all about something that is so beautifully creative, to cut creativity with rules is just frankly insane,” she says.
This made them realise that there must be other people out there in the same position as them. Sophie says, “We’re not the only fantastically, originally talented authors and illustrators in Nottingham, there’s loads of us, and there must be loads of people who aren’t telling their stories because of the restrictions.”
Helen adds: “That was where we stopped and went, shall we do this ourselves? How do we do it ourselves?”
And that’s exactly what they did. They set up Sojo Publishing Mouse with the intention of throwing the rule book out of the window.
“We needed this creative publishing company that cut out all of these ridiculous rules,” says Sophie. “We’re gonna set out our book just as we want to, just as it’s calling to be set out. The whole ethos was calling for people to get behind it and be a part of our journey.”
They actually had the idea a couple of years ago, but with Sophie doing her MA and Helen having a baby, they’ve only just got round to launching it properly. They set up a Kickstarter campaign as a way to get more people involved in their vision for children’s publishing. Sophie described pressing publish on the campaign as a “moment of impending doom.” When I met them, the campaign for their first book The Glowing Snowman had only recently gone live, but they already had around £800 raised.
They had no reason to panic, as their final total came to £3, 986 which was almost £1000 above their original target. After this incredible result, Helen has this to say:
“We were so pleased and overwhelmed with the success of our Kickstarter campaign; to see so many people take interest and belief in our project, and not just to reach our target but to surpass it so well. It means we’ll have more funds not only to invest in selling this book, but in creating our next one too! We’re very excited to get cracking with this little publishing mouse!”
Make sure to like them on Facebook at: @sojopublishingmouse