The adventures of Zeke the elf and his human friend, Kris Kringle (better known as Santa Claus) had been percolating in the mind of Sarah Hanley-Butler ever since she was a child.
It was there the story sat for years, largely in the abstract, until the Breslau resident finally decided put pen to paper and bring them to life; the result is her very own illustrated children’s book, titled In the Beginning: A Christmas Tale.
“I always wanted it to be about the beginning of Christmas,” said Hanley-Butler. “I always wondered how are people thinking that Kris Kringle and the elves and the reindeer all got to the North Pole. They didn’t just magically appear there, so that’s how my story started.”
Hanley-Butler is self-publishing her book through a local printing company, Volumes. She thinks her different take on the classic Christmas characters will appeal to audiences, and impart the important moral at the centre of the story.
“I wanted to get a book where people could … try to accept people for who they are and who they say they are,” she explained.
The book follows the adventures of Zeke, a ‘Yule’ (or Christmas) elf consigned to the ordinary work-a-day life of a regular elf. Because contrary to popular belief, it seems, elves are not typically the cheery toy-builders that we all know them to be – rather, Zeke is unique in his yuletide spirit.
“Zeke is … a little Yule elf who knows he’s a Yule elf in his heart, but everybody keeps telling him that he can’t be Yule elf,” said Hanley-Butler.
But Zeke strikes out to fill just that role. Along the way, he meets variations of the classic characters like Kris Kringle, before he donned the red and white suit, the future Mrs. Claus, and the reindeer troupe.
Hanley-Butler said she originally wrote the story as a screenplay, but was unsure of how to transfer her manuscript to the big screen.
“I didn’t know how to sell a screenplay. I tried contests, [but they] usually ended up picking a horror movie as their genre or something,” she laughed. So instead she decided to adapt her story into a book.With a clear vision how she wanted her book and her characters to look, Hanley-Butler says she went the self-publishing route to give her more control over the project, especially the illustrations. Typically, she noted, publishers will take control over the visuals of the book, but she was adamant that her characters look exactly as she imagined them.
So, Hanley-Butler sought out her own illustrator from Cambridge, Jon Lopes, to bring her characters to life. Working in pencil crayon over the book’s 26 pages, Lopes hand-drew each illustration in the book, working with Hanley-Butler to create the characters and settings.
“It was like building a universe visually when she had built it verbally,” said Lopes, noting this was his first project in a professional capacity and that he was grateful for the opportunity. “I know I put a lot of love into it and I hope that shows.”
“We went through months of just him getting the elves right,” laughed Hanley-Butler. “I wrote out what I wanted on every page and how I thought, and we’d get together and I’d tell him if it was done the way I’d seen it, and if it wasn’t, he would make the changes. I got to be very hands-on that way.”
With her book hitting the shelves, Hanley-Butler is hopeful she can spread her message.
“I want people to grow up believing they have magic in them, and whatever magic it is you have inside of you – live your magic.”
On November 18, Hanley-Butler will be at the Chapters bookstore at 135 Gateway Park Drive, Kitchener for a book signing where she will have copies for sale. Information on In the Beginning: A Christmas Tale and where to find it can be found on Hanley-Butler’s website, www.shbstories.com.