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Helen S Michaelsen holding a copy of The Land of Never Grow Old by Stella Mead

Author keeping the magic of Christmas alive with advent calendar-style audiobook

Author, Helen S Michaelsen, has released an advent calendar styled audiobook inspired by a little-known book her mother read to her as a child to inspire and keep the magic of Christmas alive.

Helen who lives in Dorset, has spent months during lockdown and beyond bringing her audio book project to life. 

“The Call of Mektoub” is a Christmas story that opens with the antagonist from an old Christmas fairy tale stealing Father Christmas’ sleigh and two young novice reindeer and tells of how a mother and daughter, Emma and Lucy, the keepers of a book entitled, "The Land of Never Grow Old" by Stella Mead, are enlisted by two of the book's characters to save the Magical Lands of the North from being lost forever. 

They meet characters from the old book, including those from diverse folk tales and traditions such as Mother and Father Christmas, Jack Frost, Tweeny Bunting and many more in an adventure that harks back to Enid Blyton and a more innocent age.

The audiobook has 24 chapters, each lasting up to 29 minutes, and although you can listen to the book in any timeframe you wish, Helen thinks the perfect way to do it would be to listen to one chapter a night through December, finishing on Christmas Eve. 

“My wish is for people to hold on to the magic of Christmas,” Helen said. “I thought, it’s a Christmas story and there are 24 chapters. It would be perfect as an advent calendar-style story, listened to as a family, perhaps at bedtime, one chapter a night. Maybe it will one day become a tradition. That would be my dream come true!”

"The Call of Mektoub" is adapted from a story that Helen began writing in 2008 and that enjoyed a brief ebook release, first in 2012 and then in revised form in 2013. The idea for the book, however, has a much longer history and a deep family connection that she hopes to revive. 

It is based on the characters and ideas from "The Land of Never Grow Old", first published in the 1930s, and which has long been out of print. One of the characters is a polar bear, named "Mektoub" which is an Arabic word meaning "Destiny" or "It is Written". Stella Mead was a well-travelled English writer and Helen assumes that this was the source of inspiration for the name.

Mead’s book holds a special place in Helen’s heart. Her aunt won a copy in 1943 for “making the best calendar” at her small Devonshire school and she passed it on to Helen’s mother who was then aged seven. Helen’s mother, Margaret, loved both the book and Christmas, and read it to Helen when she was a child. Helen has since read it to her own children, reading a chapter a night in the run-up to Christmas – a definite inspiration for the audiobook advent calendar.

The family loved the book so much that Helen wanted to write her own story that worked around the original version with some of the original characters and new ones of her own. 

And Helen’s children have played a part in its realisation: “When I started writing, my children were 7 and 5, and by the time I was ready to publish they were 11 and 9, which is the age range I had in mind for my readership. They shared their thoughts and crucially pointed out parts they did not understand, which helped the editing process. However, the story is for big kids - like me - too! Especially those who love Christmas and enjoy a little magical escapism!"

Helen’s e-book disappeared from sale once its publishers went bankrupt in 2016. However, just a year later, a meeting with professional voiceover artist Greg Marston led to the idea that he could record some chapters for posting on his website.

From there, the idea of recording the full book took on a life of its own. The audiobook boasts an impressive cast, some are friends and colleagues of Greg’s and others whom Helen found online herself. Recording took place during the lockdown period as most of the cast had their own professional studios at home.

“My children also make a brief appearance in the audiobook,” said Helen. “Sophie as Little Mektoub and Luke as a distracted doctor in a Glaswegian hospital!"

Many of the musical pieces started off as Helen’s ideas that were then adapted and expanded by musicians whom Helen had met on the music hosting platform Soundcloud. Other pieces were the musicians’ interpretations of her ideas. With most of the editing undertaken by Helen, with Greg providing his skills in seamlessly dropping the character audio into his narration, sound engineer Eddie Delag then worked his magic to produce the final chapters. 

The Call of Mektoub is published by USA-based Lantern Audio. It will be priced at $15.95 in the US, which is around £13 in the UK, and will be available from online digital retail and library platforms. It can be found here

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