Christmas Twist: A Musical "Advent" Ebook

by Allison Horton on

Call of MektoubOut of print, out of fashion, but a gem nonetheless, a 1935 Christmas story gets a new life in Helen S. Michaelsen's musical ebook, The Call of Mektoub. It's a melodic "advent" ebook, in which a chapter unfolds for each night of December, accompanied with its own musical soundtrack (developed in collaboration with musicians on SoundCloud).

Vook interviewed the author to learn more about the ebook and what inspired these creative twists on a traditional Christmas story. Helen reiterated some of our favorite things about multimedia-enhanced ebooks:

  • Even old classics can adapt to the "fast-moving lifestyle" of the digital age with ebooks.
  • Media enhancements such as audio can "connect our sensory experiences in a way that nothing else can."
  • These enhancements can be woven into the text seamlessly. In the case of Mektoub, the audio plays throughout the chapter.

Read the rest of the interview below and check out The Call of Mektoub on Vook's store for online reading or download to your e-reading device. As Helen writes, "'Mektoub' means 'Destiny' or 'It is written,' and is also the name of a wise old polar bear who lives in these magical lands, together with Father and Mother Christmas and a host of wonderful characters you will come to love, detest, admire and be entertained by. But this world can only exist in the belief of the children of Earth, and anyone who has magic in their heart. So take a journey into your childhood dreams and experience every emotion from joy to sadness and from fear to love, and in so doing you will answer "'The Call of Mektoub.'" It's not too late to let the music carry you away!

How did you conceive of the story?
The old book in the story, "The Land of Never-Grow-Old", is a real book which is no longer in print. It was written by the well-travelled author Stella Mead, and was published in Britain in 1935. True to my story, this book has been handed down three generations on my maternal side of the family, and was always a favourite to read at Christmas time. When I started reading it to my own children, I realized how old-fashioned the language was, and how out of touch it had sadly become with today's fast-moving lifestyle. Initially I thought about re-writing it, but then decided it was too much of a gem to be interfered with, so that's how I came to write a story about a story.

How long have you wanted to incorporate audio into an ebook?
Right from the start! It was watching the movie of Neil Gaiman's "Stardust" in 2007, and hanging on during the end credits to listen to the soundtrack, "Rule the World" (by Take That), that started me thinking, "This is what I want to do. I want to create something which will take the reader on a magical journey, perhaps back to fond memories of their childhood, or somewhere in their own imagination that's waiting to be explored." By coincidence, there are lyrics and song sheets "composed" by Jack Frost included in the old book, so it seemed even more poignant to include music with the story.

Was it after or before writing the story that you decided to add audio to an ebook?
It's always been my ambition to create a beautifully illustrated hard-backed version of the story for younger children, which would include a music CD for them to listen to before they sleep. I've also considered doing an audio book, as people seem to like listening to my voice on Soundcloud! But for now an ebook with audio is the first step.

What value do you see in adding audio to the ebook?
I feel that the addition of music to anything—be it text or any kind of visual presentation—connects our sensory experiences in a way that nothing else can. And it's particularly effective at invoking the imagery of a world of fantasy.

Where did you get the audio?
I started collaborating with a few musicians on Soundcloud.com during the summer. I don't class myself as a musician—I can play a few notes on two or three instruments, but I mainly like to tinker on a keyboard (real or virtual) just to amuse myself. But I find music is the greatest inspiration for my writing. Getting to know some truly talented, yet unknown, musicians and creating something new and unique with them is something I find incredibly fulfilling.

I had compiled several songs by successful artists to complement my story whilst I was writing it, but I realised that I would never be able to use any of the tracks within my book because of copyright issues. So I approached a couple of the guys on Soundcloud with my idea for a musical ebook, and the reaction from them was so enthusiastic, it was more than I could have hoped for.

The five musicians whose tracks are included on the ebook are simply amazing. The entire soundtrack was put together in just a few weeks! And I'm grateful to all of them for believing in my ideas. Some of the tracks were existing compositions of theirs which we adapted for the story, but the majority were created specifically for the ebook. I wrote the theme tune a couple of years ago to accompany the lyrics I'd written in Chapter 18. It now appears throughout the story in various forms, most notably as a wonderfully cinematic climax for the final chapter of the story. The first time I heard it, I had tears rolling down my cheeks! So much hard work and creativity has gone into this ebook, I really hope people will take it to their hearts.

Who is your target audience?
The story is really for children, but I always say it's a children's story for adults. If you're the sort of person who loves to escape to a magical world far beyond the realms of the ordinary, then this story is for you! In its current form it's too long for very young children, but I wanted to put the full version out there, in all its descriptive glory, because it's the culmination of fours years of writing, dreaming, trying, failing, re-writing, hoping and believing. It's what the story is all about—the power of belief, believing in yourself and finding good in others.

Do you have any upcoming projects?
Aside from my plans for a hard-backed version of the story, I feel it would work equally well as an animated ebook, which is something I'd like to explore. I hope to create a screenplay from it too.

A side note: Helen has donated half the proceeds from the music album sales to a UK charity, Chicks. She's also planning on adopting a polar bear from WWF and posting its progress on Mektoub's Facebook page.

It's passion and innovative ideas like these that make us proud of the technology we deliver. Learn more what Vook can do for you by signing up at Vook.com.

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