In the History Books is a start-up based in Catford, creating and publishing inspiring personalised stories which feature young children alongside some of “history’s greatest thinkers, creators, inventors and dreamers.” We caught up with the founders Niamh Mulvey and Michael Wilkinson to talk about their new venture, the significance of teaching history to children and what brought them to Catford:
Firstly, how did you get into publishing?
MW: We’ll I’ve been a TV producer for 15 years working on things like The One Show and Saturday Night Takeaway. More recently, I’ve been working more with graphical software and technology rather than production and I’ve found myself enjoying this more, so I’ve started seeing myself as a tech guy. In the History Books is mainly stories and illustrations, but there is also a lot of tech involved in making sure each story is personalised for the reader.
NM: I’ve come from a traditional publishing background. I’ve worked in both children’s and adult’s publishing, mainly as an editor and worked closely with lots of writers helping them find their voice and build their stories. I’ve always written myself, and whilst working alongside other writers has always been rewarding, as time went on, I’ve wanted to spend more time being creative myself rather than facilitating other people’s creative work.
How did you come up with the idea of In the History Books, and what do you specialise in as publishers?
NM: Me and Mike became friends through our kids, and we started talking about different ideas for the future and things we might work on together. What’s great about our partnership is that we bring such different skills. I have no idea how to code or make all of the tech magic happen, but I do know how to make books and stories. It’s a happy coincidence that our skill sets work together.
In the History Books makes personalised children’s books that feature the children who read our books, alongside history’s greatest thinkers, creators, inventors and dreamers. You can create an avatar of your child’s likeness and we put them in a story alongside a prominent figure from history. They are stories, not potted biographies, but our approach is to immerse ourselves in the world of the figure and to try to capture the essence of the person and their world in a way that will be engaging and interesting to a child.
Our first historical figure is Leonardo da Vinci. We chose him as he hasn’t been hugely represented in similar titles and he is such a creative and inspiring historical figure.
How do you choose your figures, and do you have any other characters in mind?
NM: Next up we’re featuring Marie Curie and following that with Martin Luther King Jr. As we’re experience so much political upheaval, such a person can be really inspiring.
MW: It’s very much Niamh’s domain, but occasionally I will mention people like Alan Turing, as I love computers or Amelia Earhart, who is also on our list. If we could write ten books now, we’d have no problem finding our characters, but as a new company we have to choose carefully. We also went on data, so we asked our early customers who they’d like to see in the series. Amelia Earhart was leading and then Marie Curie jumped to the top. She was already on our radar and there was a clear desire to see her in the books. Perhaps we should be picking characters that no one has really heard of, but with figures like Marie Curie there is still a huge appetite to learn about her work and her story can still inspire people.
Why did you make historical figures the basis for In the History Books?
NM: I think it’s really interesting to see historical figures as real people rather than these towering figures, as they are often represented in traditional history books. These people were human and had normal lives but did extraordinary things. By creating a story around them – which isn’t historically true but is drawing on a quality in the characters that children can relate to – children can be inspired to do extraordinary things and contribute to history in their own way.
MW: It’s amazing to finish a story with a child and explain that these events actually happened. It’s one thing to create a story where crazy things happen and they build a rocket and go to the moon, but it’s another to show children that people actually did go to the moon. As an adult, I actually don’t read much fiction because there is so much fascinating non-fiction to read.
Why did you chose Catford as your new home?
NM: I’ve lived in the area for six years. It’s really exciting to do this project in our own neighbourhood. Working in our studio in the Old Town Hall makes us think differently about how we reach people. I love being able to come into this space everyday and work alongside so many diverse and amazing artists!
MW: When we decided to start In the History Books, since we both have kids, we needed to make it as convenient as possible. I live in Brockley, and with Niamh living in Catford this project could be on our doorstep. We’ve received so much support and there are so many exciting things happening in Catford.
Do you know anything about the regeneration of Catford town centre?
NM: I’ve heard a lot about it and participated with some of the consultation online. It seems like it’s being done differently to other consultation projects that maybe haven’t gone so well.
You can visit InTheHistoryBooks.com to find more about your brand-new, hyper-local, children’s book publisher. Their first title Fly With Me, featuring Leonardo da Vinci, can be ordered now. If you have suggestion for figures you’d like to see in future titles or would just like to have a chat, Niamh and Michael would love to hear from you.
Lewisham Council has presented its ideas for how the town centre could develop over the next 10-15 years through a draft framework plan. The more people involved, the better the needs of the whole community will be reflected.
To share your views and comment on the ideas that the architects have begun to develop click here.
Please share the project with people you know locally.