10 September 2013

How the Tashi Got His Tale

 Before the Chapter Books and the Bind Ups and the Box Sets, O my Best Beloved, came the Time of the Very Beginnings.

When an author brings a work to us they often imagine it in a particular shape or form. But part of the publisher's job is to know the market, to understand the material, and to see possibilities that the author or illustrator never even considered. Often, the author's initial vision is very close to the final product. But sometimes, with time and discussion and consultation it grows (or metamorphoses) into something else entirely. 

You might think of the editorial process as a bit like helping the sculptor to find David in the block of marble. 'Chip that nose a bit. A bit more. A bit more. Perfect!' And mostly, that's true.

But it can also be about thinking differently about what's already there: 'You've been going for David, but actually we think you've made a very handsome Daniel.'*

Other times it's about plucking up your courage and saying, 'Look, Michaelangelo, I don't think marble is your medium; have you considered watercolours?'

In the case of Tashi - Anna and Barbara Fienberg's much-loved hero - it was perhaps a bit like encouraging a minnow, to grow to a school of fish, to become a blue whale - while still being Tashi all the time.

Anna Fienberg conceived the original Tashi story as a picture-book text. It had so many appealing qualities: a rich friendship between boy and friend (or alter ego); a teasing relationship between boy and father; a fresh take on the 'tall tale'; a fearless blend of European and Asian folk story traditions; larger-than-life villains; an irrepressible hero living by his wits (brain not brawn always triumphs); action aplenty; exotic landscapes; and scope for cinematic pictures…

And Kim Gamble was the perfect illustrator, given his previous collaborations with Anna, his talent for characterisation and his lovingly intricate scenery.

But the manuscript was too long for a standard picture book, and the writing too good to cut.

Rosalind Price, head of children's publishing at Allen & Unwin at the time, knew there was a need for short, engaging 'chapter books' for young readers and nearly-readers. So instead of chopping back the text, she said 'write another story!' We chose a slim, economical paperback novel format, with two stories and lots of black-and-white illustrations. It was hard to forego Kim's delicious watercolours, but his detailed pencil drawings have their own intimate appeal, and leave room for the reader to imagine the world of the stories. And suddenly there was scope for all the further adventures that Anna wanted to explore!

That first little Tashi book led to 18 years (so far) of publishing Tashi. There have been sixteen chapter books, an activity books, a few bind-ups, and a couple of box sets.

In 2004, Tashi finally appeared in the form that Anna had originally envisioned - in the beautiful full-colour picture book There Once Was a Boy Called Tashi.  This November, Tashi goes picture book again in Once Tashi Met a Dragon, which features a beautiful - but very hard to photograph - sparkly dragon on the cover.

So in some ways, Tashi has come full circle. But he's also branching out into brave new worlds. Next year, Flying Bark Productions and ABC TV will let loose Tashi and Jack and Lotus Blossum in animated form!

But whatever the format, with or without the sparkles and glitter, no matter how fat or how skinny the book, at the core of Tashi are the rich, warm, imaginative characters and stories that Anna and Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble created. 

Our original marketing copy included the line 'Tashi tells the best stories …', and 18 years later that line still appears on almost all of the book jackets, and in much of our marketing material. Because he does; Tashi tells the best stories.

* 'And there's a gap in the market for a good Daniel.'

1 comment:

Jess the Reader said...

Tashi does tell the best stories! My little sister fell in love with the Tashi books and I loved sharing them with her - the gorgeous stories, the beautiful pictures.