Rudolf Král – Author of enchanting new children’s book Ema a pusinkový lupič

Photo: Mladá fronta

Eight-year-old Ema notices that something is very wrong one day after her father forgets to give her a kiss before going to work. In fact, kisses are disappearing all over and previously happy families begin to fight as a result. That is the opening premise of a new children’s book called Ema a pusinkový lupič (Ema and the Kiss Thief), published by Mladá fronta.

Photo: Mladá fronta
The book marks the debut in children’s writing for Rudolf Král, the former editor-in chief of a now defunct film magazine, DVD Movie. We discuss the book but I also asked him about his days at the magazine – a time when DVDs were still dominant as a format.

“There were a few magazines at the time about movies and the magazine was mainly about attracting readers with DVD copies with each issue; so most readers bought the magazine above all because of the film.”

As the editor-in-chief you nevertheless had a lot of room to write about film: did you enjoy the experience?

“It was great. I worked from home, I could get up in the morning and watch a movie and drink some wine and write article… it was great.”

How many readers did you have?

“It varied from issue to issue. In the best period, I believe, we sold around 10,000 copies per issue. But when the decline began the sales dropped to only around 1,000 copies bought and it shut down after that.”

What was the most successful issue?

“The B-action horror Resident Evil. My favourite film which we made available was The Ice Storm, the first film by Ang Lee.”

What led to the eventual demise of DVD Movie and other magazines like it?

“For one thing, even before people began downloading, many magazines began offering cheap DVDs and when the best-selling tabloid Blesk jumped in, we couldn’t compete. Blesk sells a million copies of each issue, we at the best of times, had 10,000. When you factor in the cost of the license and the production of the physical disc, we couldn’t compete.”

Today, you work as a senior editor for a commercial publishing company, you also work in television and your children’s book Ema a pusinkový lupič (Ema and the Kiss Thief) is just being launched by Mladá fronta. It is your first book with a big publisher… when did you get the idea to write for children?

Rudolf Král and his daughter Ema,  photo: archive of Rudolf Král
“My own daughter was my inspiration because I of course used to read stories to her… But it was also by accident. My wife has a friend who runs hippotherapy sessions for children with disabilities. The children get to ride the horse and it helps them. My wife asked me to write a short story about a child who has an adventure on a horse, so that was how my first short book, also about Ema, came together.”

Was it a straight-forward decision to name the book after your own daughter?

“Yeah, it made sense. The ‘kiss robber’ came from a game I used to play with her when she was younger, where I would play I was going to steal a kiss and I became that character. So it could only be Ema.”

You mentioned that you read to her a lot: did you have favourites from your own childhood?

“I found that children’s books I read as a boy are quite boring now. Ema is patient so I would get through the books but they weren’t as exciting as I remembered them. The pace in narratives has changed a lot.”

I get that feeling as well. I tell someone about something great which I read or saw 10 – 20 years ago and then see it again and suddenly it is ‘Hm, really? What happened?’.

“Time goes so quickly and our perception is now used to a far quicker rhythm than before.”

Was your scriptwriting experience useful in writing the book?

“It was. The illustrator, Lukáš Urbánek for example, told me it was easy for him to imagine what he would draw because so much of the book was written ‘in pictures’.”

The book is 168 pages and there are many humorous moments: there is a scene near the beginning when Granny is looking after Ema and it is comical because she looks like a ladybug in her bathing suit. Obviously humour is important…

“Yes. I myself want to enjoy it when I am writing the story, but the idea is that it should be funny also for the parents.”

Did your daughter get all the jokes?

“It’s kind of strange. Above all, she sees the story as drama or romantic drama. I’d say she got about 30 percent of the jokes. But I hope she will come back to it later and get the rest, that that will keep her interested in the book.”

On one level, Ema and the Kiss Thief is almost a detective story, at least in the beginning…

“That’s right, although the book mixes several genres. The strongest is that it is a story about the need or importance of friendship and support, even for the weakest or strangest.”

Even the kiss thief…

“Yes. He is a ‘loser’ a person not loved by anyone. That’s why he needs to steal kisses from others. That is why they begin ‘disappearing’.”

There are many illustrations in the book by Lukáš Urbánek. How would you describe his style?

Photo: Mladá fronta
“He has the gift to remain a child at heart and depict the world through children’s eyes. He took the story and his contract was for 30 illustrations and in the end he did 60. He said he couldn’t stop. It was wonderful working with him and I am very glad that he did the illustrations for my book.”

You have a new addition to your family, your baby boy Vilém. Will your son also feature in future Ema adventures or co-adventures?

“I promised my wife that Vilém will get his own book, so it will probably be ‘Vilém and... this’ or ‘Vilém and the…’ Of course, if this book proves commercially successful than perhaps the publisher will want to team Ema and him together in a follow-up.”