Emma Laybourn's Blog

January 25, 2016

I've just completed my third effort at abridging a classic novel (the first two being Mansfield Park and Daniel Deronda): the finished version, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights: Abridged, is now available as a free ebook from Smashwords, Nook Books, Kobo Books and iTunes. Not Amazon, sadly, as I can't make it permanently free there, but Smashwords have a mobi version for Kindles.

Once again, I'm slightly aghast at my own temerity; yet there is a definite demand for such abridgements, as shown by the download figures for my first two, which are in the thousands. I'm hoping that this book will appeal to those who think they really ought to have read Wuthering Heights - and who may have already tried, only to get hopelessly bogged down in Lockwood and Joseph's early speeches, or confused by which Catherine is which (to say nothing of the various Lintons).

The book is still two-thirds of its original length; and while it's been simplified, the aim is for readers not to be made constantly aware that they're reading an abridgement. Now the question is - what next? I'm considering Vanity Fair and North and South.... or Walter Scott, anyone?
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Published on January 25, 2016 08:19 • 42 views • Tags: abridged-classics, free-classic-ebooks, victorian-novels, wuthering-heights

December 11, 2015

If you're looking for decent, free books to stock up your child's ereader or tablet, here's my latest list of suggestions.

I've been hunting through Smashwords to find my personal favourites for readers aged 6-12. Click on the link to be taken to each book's Smashwords page, where you can download it or read it online. (Right-click to open the link in a new tab.)

Speed by D.C. Grant. A very competently written, involving thriller about a 14 year-old who finds himself caught up in a web of deceit after his parents' car crash. For age 11 up.
Fireflies by Bree Wolf. A boy with warring parents makes new friends - then discovers one of them has a sad secret. Sensitively told story for age 11 and over.
Stella Sky - the Shattered Mirror by C.A. Strand. Two teens and a talking ferret find themselves marooned on a lake, in a well-told fantasy for readers of 10 up.
Spinetinglers: the Vampire Circus by Jack Simmonds. Sam's family and friends fall victim to vampires, in a lively horror story for over-9's.
The Lost Pony of Riverdale by Amanda Wills. A carefully written tale set on Dartmoor. One for pony-lovers aged over 9.
Fang by A.M. Laye. 6 year old Jamie unexpectedly grows fangs: a thoughtful book about families and relationships for readers over 6.
The Mole Who Wanted to Fly by Pendragan. A lively story for ages 6 plus, with attractive illustrations. In epub format only.
Stupid River! by Peter A. Reynolds. A dryly humorous tale about an aardvark, with charming illustrations, for ages 7 and over.
Frog Kisses by Maikah Smith. A short, thoughtful story with a twist, for over 7's.

Another good source of carefully written, thoughtful stories is Gita Reddy's website . Gita is offering a different free children's ebook from Amazon nearly every day through December and into January 2016. It's well worth a look.

For previous lists of recommendations, please scroll back through this blog.
Happy reading!
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Published on December 11, 2015 05:10 • 215 views • Tags: free-children-s-ebooks, free-children-s-stories

June 25, 2015

Here's my latest choice of good, readable, free children's ebooks that can be downloaded from the Smashwords store. As with my previous lists, I've been looking for interesting, well-written books for ages about 6 to 12, of at least 1500 words - so no very short stories or picture books are included. Fantasy and animals figure largely; this reflects the nature of many Smashwords books.

Just click on the title to be taken to the Smashwords page for each book. (Right-click to open the link in a new tab.)

Look Here, Hercules by Teri Kanefield. A short, cheerful story about a girl's adopted dog; for readers over 7.
Skycastle, the Demon and Me by Andy Mulberry. A boy orders a demon in this lively story which has one or two typos but is enjoyable nonetheless; for over-8s.
The Cat Who Couldn't Miaow by A.M. Kirkby. Narrated by a cat adjusting to a new family, this short book is written with an assured touch; for age 8 plus.
The Enchanted Music Box by Lindsay Johannsen. Despite a rather slow start, this is a charming, old-fashioned story about a clock-maker's gift for his grand-daughter. Best for readers over 8 who are not averse to fairies.
Attack on the Overworld, Book 1: Finding Herobrine by Mark Mulle, one of several free Minecraft books by this author. Even though I've never played Minecraft I found this readable and easy to follow. For over 9s.
Fighting Tom (Jerry the Kat series) by Carolyn Lis. An unusual and entertaining story of a troop of cats that undergo military training, as sniffers for explosives. For ages 9 up.
Sugar & Clive and the Circus Bear by Alexandra Amor. When the circus abandons a bear, Sugar the dog and Clive the swallow plan to get him to freedom, in a likeable animal tale that avoids tweeness. For over 9s.
My Science Teacher is a Wizard by Duane L. Ostler. A slightly wordy but entertaining tale set in an American school, for ages 10 up.
Losing William by Jenni Francis. Feisty Auckland schoolgirl Keri has problems at school, her parents are separating, and then her brother goes missing... A pacy story for over 10s.
The Great Time Lock Disaster by C. Lee McKenzie. Trainee wizard Pete and his friend find themselves trapped in Victorian England, in a complex story that could appeal to Harry Potter fans of 10 plus.

These are my personal preferences; none of the authors have asked me to review their books, and of course you may well find others at Smashwords that you enjoy.

I've still got a backlog to get through, so there should be another booklist later this year. Meanwhile, Happy Reading :)
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Published on June 25, 2015 05:54 • 457 views • Tags: free-children-s-ebooks, free-kids-booklist, smashwords-book-reviews

May 30, 2015

I've started trawling through Smashwords again, looking for free children's ebooks for my next list. Sadly some books make me switch off before I've even reached the third page. These tend to have certain traits in common. So if you're writing a children's book and don't want to lose your readers in the first chapter, here are a few suggestions:

1)Please don't spend the opening paragraphs telling me what your characters look like. There's plenty of time for that later. In any case, what they say and do is far more important than their height or hair length or descriptions of their clothing.

2) The same goes for descriptions of the room, the weather and the breakfast that your characters are eating.

3)In fact, don't start with your characters eating breakfast at all, unless an elephant is about to crash through the wall and steal the muffins. Start with the first interesting event.

I know you only want to set the scene, and have your characters fill in some back-story - maybe thus:

"As Joe poured himself a bowl of cereal, he pushed back his dark, tousled hair from his piercing blue eyes with a freckled hand and pondered on the unlikely series of events - his mother's trampoline accident and his father's disappearance in the cemetery - which had led to his spending this October half-term holiday with his spindly, middle-aged Auntie Agnes (who was not really his aunt but had been his mother's closest friend ever since they were kidnapped from boarding school together) in her creepy ivy-covered cottage, which happened to be right next door to the zoo..."

Most of the detail can wait until something has actually happened:
"Joe was half way through his bowl of cereal when the kitchen wall exploded in a shower of bricks. Through the gap, an elephant's trunk appeared."

4)When you do get round to filling in the back-story, please don't do it all at once in great distracting four-page wodges.

5)"Talking of wodges, dialogue is so much more readable than slabs of text."
"Sure. Get your characters talking. And your readers are more likely to keep reading too."

Well, I am, at least. And now I'm off to rewrite the beginning of my latest children's story, having just realised that I've broken at least two of these rules myself...

My next list of free children's ebooks should, I hope, be ready next month. Meanwhile, happy reading.
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Published on May 30, 2015 09:23 • 153 views • Tags: writing-children-s-stories, writing-first-chapter

April 6, 2015

Three weeks ago, Google sent me an email that made me go Aargh. The reason? It told me that my website was not mobile-phone-friendly - and that unless I fixed it, I could expect my search rankings to plummet when Google change their algorithms later this month.

So mobile phones now rule. When I started my children's story website Megamouse Books three years ago, this development never occurred to me. I certainly didn't expect people to read children's stories on their phones. So, Google rankings apart, would an overhaul of my website not be just a massive waste of time?

After all, how many people actually use smartphones for reading? On hunting for figures, I found two surveys carried out in 2014. One, by UNESCO, covered seven developing countries, while the other, by Publishing Technology, only looked at the UK.

The UK first. This survey reported that 43% of smartphone owners used their phones for reading ebooks; possession of an iPhone made it more likely that its owner would read on it. The most popular reading apps were Kindle (50%) and the iBooks app (31%). Older people were more likely to use the Kindle app. However, significant numbers of people were put off reading via mobiles because they found the experience unpleasant or difficult. It was suggested that poor ebook formatting and clunky technology could be to blame.

UNESCO surveyed seven countries in Africa and Asia where internet access is limited and levels of illiteracy (especially for women) as high as 70%. It found that male mobile readers were 3 times more numerous than female - not surprisingly, as men were more likely to own mobile phones. However, each woman spent, on average, twice as long reading as each man, and the most avid readers were more likely to be women.

Most mobile readers were aged from 16 to 40 or so; very few were older. They tended to be more educated than the general population. The reason most often given for mobile reading was convenience - i.e., because phones were portable and always there. Cost came some way behind. 27% cited a lack of access to print books as an important secondary reason for using mobiles.

From my point of view, an interesting finding was that although very few children used mobiles to read, a third of adult users - both men and women - read to children from their phones, and said they would do it more if there was more suitable material available.

That answered my question. My website has many users from developing countries, and making it mobile-friendly is not a waste of time. So I've fixed it - for now. In another three years, who knows how people will be choosing to read?
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Published on April 06, 2015 09:32 • 103 views • Tags: ebook-apps, mobile-reading-surveys, reading-on-mobile-phone, smartphone-reading

December 15, 2014

The tide of new free ebooks being published on Smashwords just keeps pouring in. As before, I've been trawling through it for children's books (not picture books) that are decently written and enjoyable to read, for ages about 6 to 12.
These ones are worth a try: click on the title to be taken to the Smashwords page.

Monkey Trouble! by Salome Byleveldt. African animals persuade a human artist to draw them: gentle fun for over 6s.
Archibald the Giant-Slayer by Terence O'Grady. Archibald tries to live up to his giant-slaying father's reputation, in this entertaining short book for children of 8 and up.
Andie's Adventures: the Boots and the Lion by Kaelan Cessna. A clever retelling of "Puss in Boots", with a few twists, for ages 8 and over.
The Magical Repair Shop: the Bouncy Scarf by Gillian Rogerson. A short, easy story for ages 6 plus.
The Armoire Pirate by KH Gordon. Benny and Kate meet an unusual pirate in a lively, zany tale for readers over 7.
Growned by Tracey Meredith. Liam is kidnapped by fairies: a light-hearted book for the over 9s.
Stars by David McRobbie. A lively, light-hearted, well-crafted story about Charlie's efforts to prove himself innocent of art vandalism. Age 9 and up.
Rare pets and other oddities by David Leys. Quirky, entertaining short stories for over 10s.
Across the Largo by Mitchell Atkinson. A fantasy adventure involving a magic flute and giant turtles: best suited to good readers of 11 up.

Of course, these are only my personal choices and you may well find other books on Smashwords that you prefer.
I'm not suggesting these as a substitute for professionally published books: few self-published works have the narrative tightness and perfect formatting that you'd expect of commercial books. But they can be interesting additions to an e-library.

For previous lists of suggestions, please scroll back through my blog. Another list should follow in a few months' time...
Meanwhile, Happy Reading.
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Published on December 15, 2014 01:27 • 495 views • Tags: ebook-reviews, free-kids-online-books, reviews-of-smashwords-books

September 6, 2014

I've been trying to make one of my children's books free on the Amazon Kindle store. It's A Bundle of Dinosaurs: Three Dinosaur Stories , for younger children, and is already free on the Nook store, Kobo, iTunes and Smashwords - but on Amazon it's 99 cents, which is the lowest price they allow authors to sell their books at. I could make it free there for a short time by enrolling it on the KDP Select program; but that would mean I would have to withdraw it from all other ebook stores.

So instead I've been trying another way to make my book free on the Kindle Store. If I tell Amazon that it's free elsewhere, they are then supposed to match the price. There's even a button on the webpage for each Kindle book to notify Amazon of lower prices elsewhere.

The trouble is that this method doesn't seem to work. For the last six months I've been trying to get them to price-match and nothing has happened.

So if you'd like the free book for your Kindle, please get it from Smashwords here. The three separate dinosaur stories are also free to download or read online at my website Megamouse Books ; you can print off pdf colouring-book versions there as well.

And to the handful of people who have forked out 99 cents on the Kindle Store for a book that should be free - sorry! I have given the proceeds to a children's charity.

Later note: I've now given up the attempt. The book's no longer on Amazon, but is still free on Smashwords (as above), as well as
the Nook Book store
, Kobo Books,
iTunes, etc etc...
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Published on September 06, 2014 03:42 • 133 views • Tags: children-s-free-dinosaur-stories, free-kindle-books, self-publishing-on-kindle-store

June 23, 2014

Here's the latest list of the better (in my opinion) free kids' ebooks available from Smashwords. As before, I've reviewed books for children aged from about 6 to 12.

I've been looking for readable, entertaining stories written in good English. To read them online or download (in all ebook formats,) just click on the title to be taken to the Smashwords page. (Right-click to open in a new tab.)
This time, the books seemed to have grouped themselves into pairs.

To start, two easy books for younger readers of 5 or 6 up, both by Gillian Rogerson:
Watch Out for the Bears! Tom is left in charge of the weather huts and finds bears have been stealing the weather.
Lilly's Pets - a Fish Called Blackbeard , a cute story about a special goldfish.

Two books full of horrid ingredients:
The Secret Ingredient by Geoffrey Boileau. Short, lively book for over 7s about a girl who aims to be a chef with a difference (Grilled caterpillar, anyone?)
Goblin Eyeballs by Alex Watts: a girl has to help 3 nasty aunts in their fudge shop. Gruesome fun for over 7s.

Two rather more serious books:
A Time for Mercy by Terence O'Grady. Emily strikes up a friendship with two old men - one a former Nazi, and one a Jew - in this thoughtful, unusual story about forgiveness. Age 9 and over.
Daksha the Medicine Girl by Gita V. Reddy. Daksha lives in a poor village in India, where she uses her herbal knowledge to heal. A carefully-crafted, informative story for ages 9 and over.

Two volumes for junior horror-lovers:
Mystery Underground: States of Emergency by David Anthony. A collection of short spine-chilling stories for over-10s: dark without being too graphic.
Creepers: Five Terrifying Tales by Rusty Fischer contains well-crafted Halloween stories (USA setting) to curdle the blood of over-tens.

Two books that feature dogs:
Treasure from the Past: Big Honey Dog Mysteries by H. Y. Hanna. A bunch of likeable dogs hunt for a very special egg, in this story for age 8 plus.
Keeper by Bonnie Garety. Ten-year old orphan Stephen has to make a new life with an unfriendly aunt. 10 plus.

And finally, two fantasy stories:
Fierce Winds and Fiery Dragons by Nan Sweet. When Carrie and Ivy hatch a dragon's egg, it leads them into exciting adventures: a lively read for over-nines.
Porcelain Princess by Jon Jacks is an assured, complex fantasy for age 11 up, about a world suffering from the Fading and a group of puppets that wander through it.

This booklist is longer than the last, but may become shorter, as I'm trying to remove ebooks from these lists if they stop being free. (To see the previous booklists, just scroll back through my blog.) Since some books only stay free for a short time, better grab them while you can! Happy Reading!
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Published on June 23, 2014 02:38 • 464 views • Tags: free-kids-ebooks, free-kids-fantasy-ebooks, free-middle-grade-readers, smashwords-children-s-book

April 13, 2014

Later update: the abridgement is now finished and available free from Smashwords - click here to be taken to the page for it.

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 • 243 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 magical family, for age 9 up. Later note (June 2014): this book is no longer up on Smashwords but there is another in the same series (which I haven't read): Wychetts and the Farm of Fear .

I'm afraid this list, which was quite long when I first compiled it, is now rather shorter as I've had to remove a few books which are no longer free.
However, 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 • 403 views • Tags: free-kids-ebooks, kids-book-reviews, smashwords-children-s-books