Crowdfunding drove Saltspring author’s Wollstonecraft series

Before it was even written, Jordan Stratford’s book about two young historical heroines of literature and science was being eyed for major book and franchise deals.

“I was overwhelmed by the response,” said the Saltspring Island author, who released his first book in the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series this week and is set to promote it on an international tour. The book series was funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign that went viral.

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“Throughout the process, the phone was ringing off the hook with toy companies, movie interests and dozens of literary agents,” said Stratford, 48, who was raised in Victoria and Vancouver. He studied writing at the University of Victoria, has four children and is married to a painter.

In 2012, Stratford set out to write a book about positive female role models for his nine-year-old daughter. He came up with the idea of uniting Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein and heralded as the inventor of science fiction, and Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. Both began their seminal work as young girls.

“Both inhabited a time in history that was extremely hard for women but they literally changed the world,” said Stratford, noting that Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was an 18th-century British feminist who penned the groundbreaking book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

A struggling freelance screenwriter at the time, Stratford decided to test his idea on the online fundraising site Kickstarter, which was just becoming well known.

Stratford planned to raise $4,000 to fund the writing and editing of the book. He reached his goal within a week. He had doubled it after two weeks and within a month had raised $91,751.

“When Kickstarter featured it in their ‘projects we love,’ it really took off,” Stratford said. He expanded his plans for the book by envisioning a series and committing to educational guides for teachers and homeschoolers.

“That middle-school age is so important for girls especially,” said Stratford, whose books are aimed at children ages eight to 12.

After he picked an agent, the book rights went to an auction that included big-name bidders. Stratford decided on Knopf Canada, an imprint of Random House, which offered him a three-book deal and recently ordered a fourth. He is also working on a screenplay and treatments for games and apps associated with the series.

Kickstarter supporters who received advance copies of the book raved about it on GoodReads and Amazon.com. In a review, the Wall Street Journal lauded its “resourceful heroines and fun writing.”

Stratford said he shifted the timeline of the two heroines by about 15 years to make them contemporaries, but their world is otherwise based on historical facts, with a few cameos from the likes of Charles Dickens and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The book has illustrations by Kelly Murphy.

“The observations about daily life are real-world London, right out of Dickens,” said Stratford, as he prepared for an interview with Reading Rainbow, a children’s app spun off from the popular U.S. show, and a launch event at the Saltspring Island library.

He sets off on a promotional tour in the western U.S. and Eastern Canada next month. A B.C. tour is in the works. The next three books in the series will be released every eight months.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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