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From Cyber Smut to Children’s Sci-Fi - by Rab Ferguson


My name is Rab. Since my story ‘The Call’ was published in Cyber Smut, I’ve written two children’s books in a series called The Late Crew about young carers meeting aliens. The series has had a rollercoaster journey – from the lows of a publisher closing, to the highs of winning a national award. Oh, and those two things? Happened in the same month.


But how did I go from Cyber Smut, to children’s fiction?


Let’s start with 'The Call'. My short story about a befriending hotline, where 90% of the call handlers are AI-generated based on real conversation, and 10% are actual flesh and blood humans (so you never know for sure if your handler is real or not) felt like Sci-fi back in 2020. Now, readers might be more surprised the call line isn’t 100% AI!


As Covid-19 hit and relegated us to our houses, I stayed with the same genre, but moved onto a new audience. Each morning before newly remote work, I handwrote a children’s book where young carers met aliens, and had wild extraterrestrial adventures.


Things kicked off. Onwe Press picked up the book, and an amazing artist illustrated it. By the time the book was out, the world was a little bit less pandemic. Suddenly I was being invited to young carers organisations and on tours of primary schools. Young carers and other kids that picked up the book seemed to love it, and it was working as a way to get more people talking about caring responsibilities in schools


I felt like everything was going GREAT.


So of course, that was when everything went wrong. In short, Onwe Press folded. With an increasingly difficult economy (this was just after Liz Truss…), an unsuccessful funding bid, and investors backing out, Onwe made the difficult decision to close. It wasn’t even like the wind was whipped out of my sails – instead it was like the sails were gone altogether!


I could have called it a day. But the book had an audience who cared about it, mostly young carers, who wanted to know what happened next. And they voted for the book in the Children’s Literature Festival Book Awards 2023. Just weeks after Onwe closed, The Late Crew won Best Indie Young Reader


I couldn’t give up. So, I started self-publishing the first book to keep up with the demand from carers charities, and searched desperately for a publisher for the series as a whole. It was a tough ask for publishers – I wanted them to publish a sequel where the first book had already been released, and re-release the first as well.


It was a Scarborough-based press who came to the rescue. On September 1st 2024, The Late Crew will be rereleased, and its new sequel, The Late Crew and the Copy Cat Creature, will be published – all thanks to Valley Press!


Valley Press are using pre-orders as a way of supporting the re-release and the sequel, so they can market the books wider and continue offering big discounts for carers charities to share the books with kids (including me delivering workshops and assemblies for free!). If you’d like to support us in being able to share the books with young carers across the UK, please look here and consider pre-ordering.


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Rab Ferguson is a York based writer of fiction and poetry. His short stories can be found in Storgy, Litro, Under the Fable, Unsung Stories, Beyond the Walls and VoiceIn Journal. Twitter: @RabTales

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