|Scheherazade: 19th century painting by Sophie Anderson|
Let me introduce you to Scheherazade, the Persian princess who bought us the 1001 enchanting tales more popularly known as the Arabian Nights.
Some of you will have met her before. She was quite famous in her day, and many of her stories such as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin and the Magic Lamp have become classics.
Her own story is no lesser tale. Legend tells us that when Prince Shahryar was jilted by his first wife, he declared that no other woman would ever treat him that way again. To make sure of this, he bedded virgins and then ordered their execution the very next morning. Once word got around, most girls were understandably terrified of being summoned to the prince’s bedchamber. Scheherazade, however, saw this as a golden opportunity.
Knowing the prince’s love of fairytales, each night Scheherazade told him a captivating story created from her extensive knowledge of legend and myths, always stopping just short of the ending. If the prince wanted to hear the end of the story, he had no choice but to spare her life so that she could continue the tale the next night. This went on for 1001 nights, during which time the prince fell in love with Scheherazade and made her his queen.
It’s clear Scheherazade had invented the ultimate serial, which is still a popular form for children’s fiction today. But serials are also popular among adults. In the Victorian era, novels were tested on the public in serial form first, with episodes appearing in the newspapers and periodicals of the day. For example, Charles Dickens shot to fame after publishing serial episodes of the Pickwick Papers in 1836. Alexandre Dumas originally wrote The Three Musketeers as a serial, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes for serialization in the Strand magazine.
These days, you’re more likely to find serials on TV in the form of soaps. However, the ebook format seems to be encouraging a revival of the serial in literature, with successful authors captivating their readers by publishing novella-length episodes of around 20,000 words at regular intervals. Later, these short books can then be bundled into a boxed set for the full-length novel experience. Freed from the constraints of publishing a paper edition for trade distribution, such ebook serials can appear over a course of months, or even weekly or daily, mimicking the nightly tales of Scheherazade.
|Ali Baba plots his next move in the thieves' den.|
Scheherazade was the ultimate debut novelist of her time - virgin, highly motivated, intelligent, educated, and beautiful with it (just look at that portrait!). She literally put her life on the line every time she opened her mouth to begin a new story. Many newer novelists publishing today will no doubt identify with her. But, having lost my publishing virginity, survived my 1001 nights as an author and divorced the prince, is it possible to create a serial the other way around?
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These days, if our stories fail to arrive in the marketplace regularly, captivate our readers, and leave them eager and waiting to buy the next one, their authors are seldom put to physical death. But our books might well get the executioner's chop for one reason or another, which can have exactly the same effect on an author’s career. I've heard that a gap of 12 months in New York publishing is enough to kill a career these days. So if this is your first night with the prince, and you’d like to enjoy 1000 more of them while he falls head over heels in love with you, then why not make Scheherazade your role model, too?
Note: 1001 nights = 2 years 9 months, possibly the average length of a debut author's career today? Discuss below!
Katherine Roberts won the Branford Boase Award in 2000 for her debut novel Song Quest. She writes history, myth, legend and fantasy for middle grade/teen readers. Find out more at www.katherineroberts.co.uk
The first two titles of the I am the Great Horse Serial are now available for Kindle (other ebook channels coming soon):