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For the kids

New Zealand has a real problem with bullying in schools. Over a quarter of students taking part in a recent OECD survey reported being bullied a few times a month, well over the international average. Ninety-four percent of all teachers indicate that bullying goes on at their schools, and 68 percent believe that this bullying starts young – between preschool and Year 4.

Steff Green, best-selling author, goes on to tell us why she wrote this freaky book.

I was one of those kids. From the ages of six to 17 I was a victim of bullying. Looking back, I can see I was an easy target – shy, disabled, terrible at sports, weirdly obsessed with things like horror movies and graveyards and Ancient Egypt. The other kids would ostracise me, call me names, deliberately invent games to humiliate me, lock me in cupboards, tell me that I was stupid, useless, pointless, that I should just go away, that I should never have been born.

This is a common experience among creatives I know. We see the world in a different way, and our sensitivity and desire to express ourselves makes us easy targets.

Nowadays, I’m less shy, but I’m still weird and obsessed with graveyards and terrible at sports. What I am good at is taking those experiences and obsessions and turning them into stories that speak to readers all over the world. This week, my first children’s book – Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones launched on Kickstarter. It’s a gift to kids like me.

Taking the ‘freaks’ approach to a difficult topic

I’m excited about this project because it’s so close to my heart, but nervous, too. Although I’ve published 22 books for adults across two pen names, I’ve never written a children’s book before. My paranormal and fantasy fiction often deal with heavy topics, and incorporate gothic and mythological elements that speak to my passion for the darker side of the human experience.

Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones continues the trend – it’s a story about a little grim reaper who’s bullied because he’s different. The illustrations are done by my friend Bree Roldan – an amazing artist and fellow “dark soul” who’s given my wee story a Gorey-esque style.

It might seem odd to be switching genres so drastically. I swear I have a plan. I want to pursue my love of the macabre and gothic from all angles, and incorporating a visual aspect helps to bring this alive. If this Kickstarter goes well, Bree and I have plans for many more illustrated books, including graphic novels, retellings of fairy tales, and a story about a cat who gets lost at a metal concert.

The unique challenges of writing for children

I publish 6-8 novels for adults a year, but writing a 2000-word children's book proved every bit as challenging. I had to make every word count and create a compelling character. More importantly, I had to be clear in my head about my message. I didn’t want to talk down to kids or force them to ‘make friends’ with their bullies. I didn’t want Little Death to hide or ‘cure’ who he is. I want kids to celebrate the fact that they’re different and unique, and that bullies don't get to define who you are or who you want to be.

We chose our little grim reaper as the main character because death is something that is universal. We liked the idea of this character that embodies something we all have to contend with, but also something that is feared.

We chose our little grim reaper as the main character because death is something that is universal. We liked the idea of this character that embodies something we all have to contend with, but also something that is feared. So much of bullying is about fear – fearing people who are different or fearing that if you don’t tear others down, you’ll be torn down yourself. We liked how Little Death could represent that without being a specific race or disability or cultural background. We wanted our little guy to speak for all the "freaks".

Why crowdfunding?

After seeing similar projects (like The Littlest Lovecraft books) rock Kickstarter, we decided to give crowdfunding a go. If our campaign gets funded we’ll be able to finish the illustrations, do an initial print run, and set up the book for online ordering from anywhere in the world. Backers will be able to get their hands on the first edition, as well as ebooks, colouring pages, t-shirts, and art prints.

Kickstarter works great if you already have a built-in audience. I do, but they’re used to getting steamy books about werewolves and witches. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to Only Freaks. People loved the samples we’ve sent out in my newsletter and on social media, but we’ve got 30 days to see how that love translates to backers.

I want kids like me – like all of us – to see themselves in this book and understand that just because other people don’t accept them doesn’t mean something is wrong with them. If you’ve ever struggled with bullying, or you know a kid who could really do with reading this story, I’d love for you to support or share our Kickstarter. Thank you!

The Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones Kickstarter launched June 1st, and Steff and Bree need $8,000 to make the book happen. You can back the Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones Kickstarter, or visit Steff’s website to learn more about her books.