Emma Laybourn's Blog

April 13, 2014

In intervals of light relief from writing a children's book, I've been attempting an abridged version of Daniel Deronda - the editing of someone else's words, even George Eliot's, being much easier than the effort of creating one's own. (And more productive than Spider Solitaire.)

This seems like an extraordinarily presumptuous undertaking; but if I have learnt anything from my own writing, it is how to cut. In the short story markets that I write for, word count is crucial, and my tendency has always been to write long and end up short. The close reading of DD that this process entails has increased my already considerable respect for George Eliot: where the book seems long-winded, it is in fact very precise and detailed in its meaning. How to preserve that meaning in fewer words is proving quite a challenge.

If you fancy trying to compose your own abridgement of a public domain work, you could start as I did: download the plain text version of the book from Project Gutenberg, copy it onto Notepad to strip out excess formatting, and then back into Word where it can be edited. Unfortunately in DD's case this failed to strip out the thirty thousand or so unwanted paragraph breaks - one for every line - so a lot of reformatting has been required. The Gutenberg version also has a few errors, so I've had to keep checking it against my own C19 hardback edition with its terribly tiny print.

The abridged version won't be finished for some weeks or possibly months, when I'll put it up as a free ebook on Smashwords. It will still probably be equivalent to 400 to 500 pages (as opposed to the original's 800 to 900), but that will put it in the merely hefty category rather than the elephantine. At that length, I hope that those who have previously groaned at the prospect of tackling Daniel Deronda will give it a go. And perhaps readers who have taken up the book before, and put it down unfinished, may find this version a way back to the original; because despite its current unfashionable status compared to Middlemarch, this is a great book by a great writer, and deserves to be read.
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Published on April 13, 2014 07:01 • 8 views • Tags: daniel-deronda, george-eliot, victorian-novel

February 8, 2014

I've been trawling Smashwords again in the search for decent free fiction in ebook form for children aged about 7 to 12. In no particular order, here is the latest haul of the most readable stories that I've found. I should add that none of these authors have asked me to review their books.

Just click on the title to be taken to each book's Smashwords page, where you can download the free ebook for Kindle, Nook, tablets etc. (Right-click to open it in a new tab.) You can also read the books on-screen.

Rocky Hill, Fireman #1: Fire by James Burd Brewster. This easy, illustrated story of a fireman's first real fire has plenty of detail and just enough excitement for younger readers (aged about 5 to 8.)
Tunnels of Terror by Anne Ludwig. When grouchy twin boys stay on a remote farmstead, they learn a lot about themselves in this adventure for readers over 8.
The Bagman by Rachael Rippon. A cut above most self-published books, this well-crafted supernatural story set in an orphanage is original and suspenseful. Age 10 plus.
Sunshine Zoo #1: Monkey on the Loose by Sir Ryan Dale. Though slightly underwritten, this is a cheerful romp about a girl's adventures in a struggling zoo; for ages 8 and over.
The Moops by J I Bartholomew. Moops are mischievous furry creatures that appear when children are naughty, and cause havoc in their school. Fun for over 7s.
Wychetts and the Key to Magic by William Holley. Slightly rambling but otherwise well-written humorous story about a family's magical holiday: for age 9 up.

Later note: This list is rather short, as I've had to remove some books which are no longer free.
To see my previous lists of good free kids' ebooks, please scroll back through my blog. It'll probably be a few months before I compile the next one - meanwhile I hope there's something here for your children (or you) to enjoy. Happy reading!
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Published on February 08, 2014 02:55 • 117 views • Tags: free-kids-ebooks, kids-book-reviews, smashwords-children-s-books

November 15, 2013

Abridge Jane Austen? Why? Why? I hear a Janeite scream...

Well, if you're a Goodreads member you're probably happy to read Jane Austen in the original. But I'm aware that many people struggle with the book's language, its complex sentences and its density. Mansfield Park is, I suspect, particularly difficult for younger readers unacquainted with 19th century style, as well as those for whom English is not their first language.

Hence the abridgment: I've reduced the book to about two-thirds of its original length, aiming at a result that is still recognisably Jane Austen. It's not as basic as a Readers' Digest-style condensed book, but is more approachable than the original book.

Despite the 6 or 7 re-readings of Mansfield Park which this entailed, I never got tired of it. And I kept noticing things that I had failed to spot before - for instance, how frequently in Fanny's life pain and pleasure are entwined.

In the hopes that this abridgment will provide more pleasure than pain, I've put it up free on Smashwords here, (to read on screen or download as a free ebook). It's also on scribd here.
Happy Reading!
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Published on November 15, 2013 04:19 • 106 views • Tags: abridged-classic-novels, jane-austen, mansfield-park

August 28, 2013

This latest list of some of the more readable free Smashwords ebooks for kids aged 7 to 12 is, I'm afraid, somewhat skewed towards the over-nines. But if you want to load up your e-reader for that age-group, these books are worth a try. (Click on the link to be taken to the Smashwords page, where you can download them free or read them on screen.)

The Greenwich Interplanetary Society by Stuart Boyd: Stella discovers she has a strange uncle and unusual powers. May appeal to Harry Potter fans over 9.
My Very Unfairy Tale Life by Anne Staniszewski. A lively, tongue-in-cheek tale of how Jenny finds herself caught up in an argument between dragons and sprites. For age 9 up.
Tiny Quest by Matt Youngmark. Princess Sassefras sets out to rescue some hapless knights: sophisticated humour for over 10s.
The Grub Rides Again by Lock Pollard. Aussie high-school tale of a country boy who learns to surf. Age 11 plus.
Return of Mr Badpenny by Brian Bakos. Thought-provoking story about a two-faced coin that causes trouble for its owner. Age 10 up.
Emily Macintosh, Ghostbuster by Jen Cole. A lively, well-written ghost story for tens and over.
Penelope Prior's Pants Are On Fire! by David Grant. Cute and comical little story about Penelope, who can't help stretching the truth. Over 6 yrs.
Harriet's Mystery by Brent Meske. This short book about Harriet the bee is a slight but good-natured read for ages 7 and up.
Scar and the Wolf by Plainfield Press (epub version only). Undead Scarlet's 13th unbirthday doesn't go as she hoped...Zombie fun for fans of the macabre over 10.
And if your older kids (or you) are really into zombies, try The Undertakers: Night of Monsters Part 1 (of 3) by Ty Drago - be warned, there are some very gruesome details in this account of zombie wars! Age 12 up.

If you'd prefer to download these books from the Kobo or Nook book or Sony store, or from iTunes, you'll find many of them are also available free from those stores.

Like to see more reviews of free kids' books? Please scroll back to previous posts in this blog. This is my 4th list of Smashwords books, and looks like it won't be the last... Watch this space.
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Published on August 28, 2013 09:16 • 211 views • Tags: children-s-book-reviews, find-good-free-kids-books, free-kids-ebooks

July 19, 2013

On my regular browse through Smashwords I was delighted to see the children's novel Redwall by Brian Jacques has been published as a freebie. I've just given it a 5 star review there, as it's head and shoulders above most free ebooks.

If you don't know the Redwall series, they are action-packed epic tales of warrior mice (and other animals) versus dastardly rats, and have been hugely popular ever since this book - the first in the series - appeared in 1986.

So if you want something to put on your ereader for ages 9 to early teens, don't miss this one! I don't how long it'll be up for free. (Just be warned- your kid may get hooked...)

For the link to the Smashwords page, click here. Redwall (Redwall, #1)
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Published on July 19, 2013 02:01 • 118 views • Tags: brian-jacques, free-fantasy-ebook-for-kids, redwall-series

June 20, 2013

After a brief Tennyson-related break, I've gone back to Smashwords to continue the long search for good, free kids' ebooks. (For earlier lists of books I've picked, please see previous blog posts here and here.)
As before, I've been looking for readable and entertaining books for ages 7 to 12, though I've found very little for the younger end this time. I haven't reviewed very short books; and it goes without saying that I have no connection to any of the authors listed.

So, in no particular order, here are the latest free kids' ebooks that I think are worth a try. Clink on the link to be taken to the Smashwords page, where you can read the book on screen or download in any ebook format.

Heroes A2Z: Alien Ice Cream by David Anthony and Charles D Clasman. Three junior superheroes meet an ice-cream spaceship in this story for ages 7 plus, with attractive b&w illustrations.
Jacob's Genie by M D Stephens. A lively take on the Aladdin's Lamp story, with a strong moral. For ages 9 and over.
The Stone Shepherd's Son by James Comins. A clever, whimsical fairytale about the adventures of a man made of stone. Age 9 plus.
Grim Tales: the Curse of the Doubloons by Linda DeMeulemeester. Kids on a school trip to New Orleans find a phantom pirate ship in this fast-moving mystery for ages 10 and over.
All Hallows Eve: Face the Music by David Eveleigh. Tongue in cheek high school horror, for readers over 11.
The Keys to the Animal Kingdom by August Hyland. Sam learns to understand animal speech, in a well-written story for confident readers and animal lovers of 10 up.
Tippie & the Big Cat by Catherine Kinnery. Set on a small Scotish island, this is a leisurely, good-humoured tale of school-children on the hunt for a big cat. Age 9 and over.
The Immortal Nightingale by Don Bosco. Sherlock Hong is a 15 year old detective in 1891 Singapore, in this formal, carefully written story for over 11's.
Cowardly Frank by Rufus Offor. An engaging, surreal, Roald Dahl-ish story about Frank, who is terrified of everything thanks to his OCD mother. Age 10 and over.

This last title illustrates a common problem of the free ebooks I've read: the lack of editorial help. Cowardly Frank is brimming with interesting ideas; yet, like most books (my own included), could benefit from an expert eye to tidy up grammar and spelling and advise on the pace and shape of the story. It's not easy to do it all on your own; and this is where so many self-published authors lose out.

Although I thought I might be nearing the end, a new tide of Smashwords ebooks has been rolling in to replace the ones I've read. However, they'll have to wait for another day. Until then, happy reading!
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Published on June 20, 2013 01:49 • 502 views

April 29, 2013

I've taken some time out from reviewing Smashwords free children's books, and instead have been happily compiling a selection of Tennyson's verse. Now I've made it into a free ebook. To download it in epub or mobi formats, please follow this link.

Why Tennyson? Well, because I've been a fan ever since I was 13 and was entranced by The Lotos-Eaters at school (thank you, Miss Moffat). When I couldn't find a selection for my Kindle online, I decided to make my own.

So I've filleted my battered copy of the Poetical Works of 1899, since it's in the public domain. I've included the best-known of Tennyson's poems- Ulysses, The Lady of Shalott, etc; taken sizeable extracts from the long works- Maud, In Memoriam, Enoch Arden, The Princess and Idylls of the King; added some explanatory notes (eg: who were the original Lotos-Eaters?) and, with the help of Calibre software, turned the whole lot into an ebook.

Later note: Selected Poems was up on Scribd here, but as of March 2014 Scribd have taken it down because their automated text-matching software has found a similar book elsewhere (sigh). So until I get that sorted out, I'm afraid it is only available in ebook versions- mobi and epub - from an orphan page of my website here.

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Published on April 29, 2013 07:13 • 377 views • Tags: tennyson-anthology, tennyson-selected-verse-online, victorian-poetry-ebook

February 18, 2013

Continuing from my previous post, I've just waded through another tranche of free new children's ebooks from Smashwords, on my hunt for interesting, well-written free kids' reads.

Below are listed some of the better books (in my opinion) that I've found for children aged between about 7 and 12. I haven't included very short books. Click on the title to be taken to the book's Smashwords page, where you can download it or read it on screen.

So, in no particular order:

The Witch's Dog by Stepanie Dagg. One of several good-humoured stories about Cackling Carol the witch, for ages 7 and over. All Stephanie Dagg's Smashwords books are lively and readable: eg, also Escape the Volcano , a realistic adventure set in France, for ages 9 and up.
Grandpa Hates the Bird by Eve Yohalem. It's the family parrot who recounts his feud with Grandpa in this unusual comic story for ages 7 plus.
The Land of Miu by Karen le Field. Pacy adventure about a girl who discovers her pet cats are actually creatures of another race. For over 9s.
Leslie and the Lion by Jennifer Walker. A sensible story for horse-lovers of 8 and over.
4 go to Dumdumland by Patrick Edgeworth. The opening words, "I fart at thee," set the tone for this anarchic, silly and entertaining adventure about a land where everyone pretends to be stupid. For over 9s.
Flat Daddy Magic: Military Brats Club by Sara Barton. Lively story of US army kids, with a strong female lead; ages 8 and over.
The Heliand Train by Brynne McKay. Complex, skilfully-written historical fantasy about a mysterious railway; best for ages 11 and over.
The Kumquat Legacy by Randal Foster. An unusual treasure hunt story for over 10's.
Olivia's Secret Wish by Christopher Best. A somewhat sentimental but well-written tale of a girl's longing for a special pet; for over 8s.
Where Lions Roar at Night by Rosie Boom. Leisurely family story about setting up a new home in rural New Zealand (the lions are in a neighbouring wildlife park.) Age 10 plus.
Jazzberry and Fidget by Chris Mason. Annie tries to save her new fairy and dragon friends. Strictly for fairy lovers over 7.

As with my previous list, I'd emphasise that these are personal choices and there may well be others in the Smashwords catalogue that you would enjoy. I've still got another 400 or so free children's books to trawl through, so the next instalment of reviews may take a little while! In the meantime, happy reading.
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Published on February 18, 2013 02:40 • 452 views • Tags: free-kids-ebook-reviews, middle-grade-free-books, smashwords-children-s-books

January 4, 2013

So you (or your children) have a new e-book reader. It's great; but refuelling it with books is starting to get expensive. There's a limit to how many free children's classics you want to read. Where to look for new, free children's e-books?

A number of websites offer free original books; Smashwords is the biggest of these. I publish on it myself because it's user-friendly, has ebooks in lots of formats and doesn't require you to register to download them.

But... it is MASSIVE. There are over a thousand free original children's books on the site, with more added daily, and the quality is highly variable. I've started to trawl through them and would say that only a few books approach professional standard.

However, I've found some that are literate, readable and interesting for ages about 7 to 12. In no particular order, then...

Tsunami by Robin Stewart. (Click on the title to be taken to the right Smashwords page, where you can read it online or download the free ebook.) This Robinson Crusoe-style story is sensitively told. Age 9 and over.
Pirate the Barking Kookaburra by Adrian Plitzco. A good-natured story about a baby kookaburra befriended by 3 dogs and a cat. Age 8 up.
The Recycled Window by Anne deNize. While a little technical at times, this book has a thought-provoking central idea about a window reclaimed from a derelict spaceship. Age 10 up.
Spoticus by Andrew Francis. A clever, funny story about a boy who pits himself against a child-hating Prime Minister. I liked this one so much I've just given it 5 stars on the Smashwords website. English setting, some (slightly) rude words. For over-tens.
Bogamus the Troll by Nathan Jones. Not flawless, but fun, this inventive tale of a helpful troll would be good for ages 7 and over.
The Vampire Castle by Malla Duncan. If you like Harry Potter/vampires/horror, try this well-crafted and fast-moving adventure. Age 9 up.
Digger the Worm: a big dig by Peter Ponzo. A jolly little book about a forgetful worm. 6 plus.
Chute Roll by Sigmund Brouwer. Exciting story about a sky-diver in trouble with gangsters. Written in clear, easy language: 10 and up. By the same author, Long Shot is an easy read for 7 plus.

And here are some authors who have each written several shorter books that are well worth a try. (To see all the works by one author on Smashwords, click on the link, then scroll down towards the bottom of the Smashwords page.)

Daivd Elvar: Supermog and lots of others; slightly surreal stories that are fun for all ages.
Michael Wenberg: Melba's Slide Trombone and others, fairly slight but well-written. 7 and over.
John H. Carroll: Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy, one of several 'stories for demented children' which are packed with emo bunnies, zombies, vampires and off-beat entertainment for over-nines.

I'm still only a third of the way through the Smashwords catalogue, so hope to add more books in future posts. Obviously these are personal choices and you may well enjoy others that I've passed over.
Happy Reading!
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Published on January 04, 2013 06:09 • 220 views • Tags: free-kids-e-books, smashwords-book-reviews, smashwords-children-s-books

December 2, 2012

Some additions to my previous post:
There are half a dozen good-looking Christmassy picture books available to read on screen at wegivebooks.org. You have to log in to access them. There's also an attractive picture book called The Best Christmas Gift by Ivan Parvov, available as a free pdf at freekidsbooks.org (sorry, I can't make a link to the exact book).

I've found an interesting website by Welsh children's author Rob Lewis, with several online stories including a snowy picture book called Cold Mouse, which you can read on-screen. (He also has a story for older children called "Snowmen", but it's not a festive read.)

And a couple more from Smashwords: Aurora's Christmas by June Burns is a moral story for over 7s about children learning not to be selfish at Christmas.
Evergreen - a Christmas Tale by Richard Taylor is a skilful if somewhat sombre tale set in prehistory, for older readers.

For kids' Christmas activities, facts, jokes and puzzles, and a retelling of the nativity story, there's an attractive non-commercial website called Why Christmas? It looks useful for parents and teachers, with lots of interesting stuff.

Happy Reading!
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Published on December 02, 2012 02:05 • 203 views • Tags: christmas-children-s-story, free-snowman-story