So, For the past three years or so I have been making my daughter some books for her birthday presents (actually once it was late and was a Christmas present instead). She received them well enough, but when my good friend and cartographic collaborator Patrick inquired as to whether we would be doing another one this year, I wasn't sure. This would be her 13th birthday, and I was thinking she might be getting too old for stories from her papa.
I decided to just ask her. I was worried, though, that she might feel like she had to say "yes", so I phrased it as, "would you like another book for your birthday, or would you maybe like to get something else this year?" I figured the temptation of "something else", which in one's imagination could be just about anything, would be enough to get her to say "oh, yes, I think I'd like [X where X = expensive teenager-style present]". To my surprise, she said she wanted another book. So, I unexpectedly found myself making another book for her.
The previous three had been about three sisters, Hobbits who were the daughters of the Old Took (one of those daughters being the mother of Bilbo Baggins). But, they were all grown up and past their adventuring days by the end of the third one, so what to do? I decided to go even further back, another generation, and tell a story from the point of view of Gerontius Took, the "Old Took" when he was young. But, to my surprise, the three sisters crept back into the story after all, as it turns into a story-within-a-story, where the Old Took is near the end of his life and the sisters are reading the travel journals of his youth which have just mysteriously reappeared. So, they aren't quite out scandalously adventuring, but they do get to provide some running commentary.
It also occurred to me that this could be set in the year of the "Fell Winter", which would bring some danger and high stakes drama right into the Shire, whether the three sisters were leaving it or no. So, the book takes place on two timelines, one during the Fell Winter, with the three sisters as adults, and one much earlier, with Gerontius Took as a youngster in his "tweens", travelling the Greenway, a long abandoned road running north to south through the lands just east of the Shire.
One thing about making the physical book yourself, is it raises questions about format. I had done two formats before: normal hardback, and Coptic stitch. The latter allows the book to lay completely flat (e.g. to show artwork across both pages), whereas the former is a bit more durable. I started thinking about what the perfect format would be for reading to someone else, when the someone else is now too old to sit on your lap while you read it to them.
Actually this had been already true for several years, and I had noticed that, when there was artwork to be looked at (map, character sketch, etc.), I had to more or less interrupt the flow of the story to show it to her. I wondered about whether I could improve on that. So, I came up with the idea that the text would occur only on the right hand pages, and all of the left hand pages would be visuals. Then, the person being read to could sit to the left of the person reading, and always have something to look at. In a few cases, the visual needed to be a foldout. Patrick came up with some amazing maps for me, as usual.
One portion of the old road now called the Greenway, showing Folkstead in the northern portion, and to the south the hamlet of North Haven. You might want to click on that image and zoom in as much as your browser will let you.
Folkstead is surrounded by vinyards
North Haven, another small village along the Greenway
So, it turns out that one downside of this format is that one needs quite a few visuals. I had the entirely sensible idea of making the drawings over the course of several months, just a little at a time, which I almost completely failed to follow through with. Instead, there was a period in June when I had to more or less slave away at it. If it were not for my Camera Lucida, I would never have been able to do it.
Gerontius Took, as a young Hobbit
Flora Underhill, a hobbit lass from Bree
Willie Underhill, brother of Flora
But, even with that, I needed to get help from a couple sources. One was the considerable backlog of materials I had from Patrick for earlier books. He has always produced way more than I could fit in, and some of it I was quite happy to have an excuse to go back to. He also always gave me his notebooks with sketches and studies, some of which was quite appropriate for this story. All told, about half of the visuals in this book are from Patrick.
My drawings were, on the whole, good enough, even though they weren't good. I am fully aware that I am not an artist, but it's just supposed to be good enough to give the person the general idea. Leaving something to the imagination is not a bad thing anyway, and my drawings certainly do that. However, there was one case when I was not satisfied.
We knew from statements made in previous books that Gerontius had a dog named Hildigard during his youthful adventures, and it seemed natural to include her. However, when I attempted to draw her, it came out looking like a crazed mutant jackal, which was not the look we were going for. "That is not Hildigard" was all I could think while looking at it. I probably could have tried again, but it occurred to me to ask my wife for help. I provide both her and my drawings here, for comparison.
My attempt to draw Hildigard the dog
Cassandra's version of Hildigard. For obvious reasons, we went with Cassandra's. What's interesting to me is that she ended up with much closer to what I was seeing in my imagination, even though she didn't have my imagination to look at. Or maybe she did; my wife is annoyingly close to mind-reading, sometimes.
I think we can say that my wife is a better artist than I am, especially if you take into account that she drew that in one day, while at work (and she's the store owner, so she can't exactly slack off and hope the boss doesn't notice, because she is the boss).
If you want to see how to make the physical book, I suggest you check out Sea Lemon's excellent YouTube channel of tutorials, including many on bookbinding in various ways. Or, you can look at my posts on the previous books (see above).
I wrote the story in a plain text editor, but used LibreOffice to combine the text with scans of the images, and then export each chapter as a PDF. I put these all in the same directory with a text file called "list_of_chapters.txt", and ran a python program I wrote called "put_it_together.py". This combined all of the separate chapter pdf's into one big pdf, plus put a few blank sheets at the beginning and end to make a total number of pages that is divisible by 16. This last part is important for the way in which the sheets of paper are folded together into "signatures", which are sewn together into a book.
If you care about the code I used to do this, you can look here to find it.
Ultimately I need to shuffle the pages in a certain way, and subdivide it again into matching front- and back-side pdf's that were 8 pages long, in order to print out my 16-page pdf's. But, one advantage of first saving to disk the unshuffled single pdf, is that I could look at it myself and make sure that everything was put together correctly. Like, for example, are the images on the left hand pages, and the text on the right side. Another advantage is that since I have that single pdf file anyway, there's no reason I can't put it here for you to look at, if you would like.
Of course, some of the pages in this pdf say things like "Great Smials foldout here", since I printed them out separately and glued one edge or one corner into the book.
As to copyright, I have no idea, but I'm sure it wouldn't be me. I suppose it would be the Tolkien Estate. But, I am not a lawyer.
This year for our trip back to southern Illinois, which we usually take around the time of Juliet's birthday, we took the train, as we did last year. In the sleeper car, I read her the first few chapters. Then, while we were in Illinois, I showed the physical book to Patrick, but Juliet and I did not have the opportunity to spend much time reading it. So, I read her a few more chapters on the train ride back to Austin, and then one chapter per night after we got back. I am pleased to say that she seemed to like it.
I notice that she spent more time inspecting some of the visuals this time. In the past, she would look at them when they were showed to her, but never ask to look back at them later as she did this year. I like to think that this may have been an indication that the format was more conducive to putting the text and images together in her mind. But, it may also have been because she was another year older, of course.
Another thing she said, though, was that "this would make a really good choose your own adventure story". While interesting in itself, it also caused me to more or less commit to the idea that next year's book will a choose your own adventure story. That's right, we are now committed to a Fell Winter/Young Gerontius trilogy. Juliet only gets an opportunity to decide she doesn't want any more books from her father once every three years.