Friday, 22 September 2017

The Magician's Box

The Magician's Box (1991) Post 266

The Magician's Box by Sally Odgers
The Magician's Box is one of those books that has a kind of prismatic effect when I think of it. This is because of the peculiar circumstances of what happened after it was contracted. I wrote the book as The Calf and the Chemistry Set. It was based very loosely on a calf we had that was very fond of molasses, and which could climb. Most calves can't climb, but this one could. The main character, Jessica Dove, is a middle child, with an elder sister named Anna and a little sister named Arabella. Her mother is a writer, who tends to get immersed in her work, and her father is a rather short-tempered person who finds himself obliged to take over the family farm.

Jessica loves animals, and gets involved with a molasses-loving calf. At the agricultural show, she wins a chemistry set at a sideshow which is being minded by Dominic Grant, a boy who also appears in two theatre books called Another Good Friend and All the Sea Between. Anna Dove also appears in those two books, playing a role in the school musical. The chemistry set is fun, and Jessica concocts some sludge that smells just like molasses. The calf, naturally, eats some, and shrinks to mouse-size. Jessica is horrified as her father won't have any non-productive animal. 

The story was accepted, but the editor wanted me to make Mr Dove shorter tempered, and up the hints that Jessica has some future knowledge. Oh, and change the title. I rewrote the story as directed, at which point the editor left. The incoming editor asked me to rewrite to make Mr Dove nicer and to cut the hints that Jessica has some future knowledge. Oh, and could the calf change colour instead of shrinking? And do change the title. I rewrote, but explained tactfully that a calf that happened to be green would be perfectly productive, so the size change was allowed to remain. One of the editors, (I forget which) asked me to change Arabella's speech to make her more intelligible. Her speech was the same as my daughter's at the same age (I'd taken notes) but I made the changes.

At this stage, that editor left and a third one came in. This one wanted me to make Mr Dove more impatient, and to change Jessica's foreknowledge hints... and to change the title. 

I set to work on a third rewrite for a third editor. I must remind you that this was pre-computer, so a rewrite meant a total retyping from the ground up. I did ask the editor if s/he was likely to leave in the near future. I did it politely. This editor stayed, and the book was published in 1991. There is a Bandinangi Books tie-in as the magician's box (that was what I had to change the chemistry set into) belonged initially to someone from that town. 

These weren't the end of the peculiarities in this book. I got in touch with someone from the sideshow guild to ask where the prizes came from so as to work out the provenance of the box. This person wrote back (a physical letter) and passed me on to someone else with a telephone number. I called this person and asked my questions and got my head bitten off. Evidently it was a trade secret. I'm not sure who hung up on whom. 

Altogether, it was a most peculiar experience. So--voila! The Magician's Box. It got good reviews and came out later in a paperback edition. There are still some copies floating about.


Sally is Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. She runs and Prints Charming Books. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. If you enjoyed a post, or want to ask about any of my books or my manuscript assessment service.

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