Bartemus Ammblin in the Old Forest

“In the time before Man came across the land bridge from Asia, before he set sail from Viking lands, and thousands of years before Columbus conceived of his famous voyage into the unknown, there was Magic on the Prairie.”

With these words start the adventures of young rabbit Bartemus Ammblin and his friends. This new story ringing with the old themes of “friendship” and “growing up” features these magical critters as they struggle to mature and overcome the challenges that surround them in a time before humans even existed.

But Bartemus Ammblin in the Old Forest, the first in a planned nine-part series, can’t be found on the shelves of the local library, nor is it written by an established author. Rather, the book, written by none other than orchestra teacher Jeffrey Bishop, can only be purchased online for Nooks and Kindles.

“It’s about a group of friends. In this case, they’re all animals, all critters,” Bishop said. “Some people liken it to Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, but it’s really not that, and it’s really not Harry Potter — it’s kind of its own thing. So, it’s basically a group of friends who are in what would be our equivalent of junior high and their adventures as they grow up.”

Bartemus isn’t just targeted for those of the age range it’s written about.

“The funny thing about Bartemus is that it’s about kids,” Bishop said. “It’s designed for young adult readers; that’s the demographic. The young reader market is between the ages of 11 and 14, but really, right now, most people who are reading it are adults.”

In fact, the novels might not have been written had it not been inspired by the antics of two adults — Bishop and his best friend, former NW teacher Edwin (Ed) Provost.

“My best friend who passed away in 2008, Mr. Provost, Ed, was a really good friend of mine, and ironically enough, we had a reputation for our behavior at meetings and we had nicknames, his being Wolverine and mine was Badger,” Bishop said. “I thought it would be fun to come up with a story that had a wolverine and a badger in it, so the whole idea evolved. I wrote the Prelude, the very first bit that’s in the book, in one sitting in an afternoon. I showed it to him and was like, ‘Where do you think this is going to go?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know, but let’s find out.’”

That was Aug. 3, 2001. More than 10 years later, the first book was published.

“I try to write a little something every day,” Bishop said. “My big writing times are obviously in the summer and over breaks, where I can sit down and let the process go. I had to take about a year off after Ed died because it was too painful for a while.”

For Bishop, the inspiration to finish was purely self-motivated.

“For me, I won’t write a piece of music unless not writing it drives me crazy,” Bishop said. “It’s kind of like Michelangelo when he said, ‘I don’t carve a statue; I just take away the pieces that shouldn’t be there and what’s left is the statue.’ There are some stories that if I don’t get out of my head, I’m going to go nuts; I have to write them down. There are some pieces of music that if I don’t write, it will drive me nuts.”

Bishop splits his time writing music and writing his novels. As a professional composer, he is paid to write pieces of music. As of yet, that hasn’t happened for the books.

“Nobody’s offered me a lot of money yet to write books, so I don’t have that impetus,” Bishop said. “When I write the books, it’s out of pure self-motivation and love of the subject.”

The process of publishing the books, however, costs quite a bit of money. The price of hiring a professional copy editor and re-formatting the books into Nook and Kindle format has been between $500 and $1000.

“I’m actually losing money when I do it and get it out there,” Bishop said. “But again, it’s a passion of mine, and I want people to be able to get a hold of the characters. I think the biggest travesty would be if I die and they’re still in my head.”

Through word-of-mouth, a Facebook page and his own personal website, sales have been slowly picking up.

“Right now word-of-mouth is generating a very slow but steady sales stream for me, and, quite honestly, do I care if I sell a million books? No,” Bishop said. “I care that these characters are out there and people are learning about them and enjoying them.”

Several reviews have already been written praising the book:

“This is a charming story where the critters come to life. Great read for kids and adults alike. Enjoyed very much and I am looking forward to the next volume.” — Brenda McCord

“Absolutely loved this book! Recommended to me by a friend who knows the author (a local writer), but clearly this book and the author deserve national acclaim. The characters are well-developed and endearing, the story was exciting and engaging, and the writing is just beautiful. Target audience is probably pre-teen (or around there), but anyone who wants a fun, exciting and escapist fantasy read will love this book! I think it’s currently only available in an e-book format.” — J. Burcham

With it’s wholesome themes, one would think it wouldn’t appeal to adults. However, because Bishop has seen a great response to the first book, he has written the next three books and is in the process of writing the fifth book.

“There’s no gratuitous sex, there’s no violence for the sake of violence, and there’s no rape-and-pillage, hack-and-slash kind of stuff,” Bishop said. “Granted, it’s a made-up world in that animals never walked and talked and did what I have them doing, but everyone can identify with it. I think all fantasy has to be rooted in reality, or the people that read it won’t believe it.”