It would seem that my life has gone "full circle". As a young man I was a primary school teacher. I loved every minute of my days in school. Now, older and I hope wiser, I am a children's author - a job that once again gives me the opportunity to work in schools with young children. I still love every minute of my days in school.
There is no greater reward for me than to watch a young face light up with joy and amazement as I read one of my stories. I'm a sucker for kids - and they know it. They wrap me around their little fingers and I wouldn't want it any other way. They are our future - a future which, through them, I have the priviledge of helping to mould.
Classroom sessions invariably end with a host of questions about me and my work, about books and favourite characters etc. At this point I always tell my class that the most important questions to ask any author are, "Why did you write that story?" or "Why did you become an author?". Having met and talked with many fellow story writers, I have found that the answers to those questions always give a greater understanding and appreciation of their work. The story behind the story is often as entertaining and informative as the story itself.
What was that you said? Why did I write that story? Why did I become an author? O.K. I'll tell you all.
Nine years ago, my first grand daughter was born. When Lucy came along I, like all grandads, wanted to be the best grandad in the world. I wanted to find a special gift for Lucy - a gift that she would carry through life - a gift that would say "I love you" every time she saw it. I decided that I would write her a story, just a little bedtime story, a story that I hoped she would always remember, a story that she would tell to her own children, one day.
I had never written a story in my life and for over a year I struggled with all the usual children's story topics - fairies, princesses, witches, wizards, magic, fantasy worlds, you know the list. I soon found that I was not very good with the written word.
I was on the point of giving up on my idea when one day, as I sat in my office at home, Digweed my cat came and jumped on my lap, wanting to be fussed. As I listened to his purring a thought entered my head. Lucy will get to know Digweed as she grows up. She will play with him and fuss him just as I am doing now. I will write her a story about Digweed. Into my computer I typed the words "DIGWEED THE CAT" in big bold letters, and I began to write.
Four months and 100,000 words later I finally typed "the end" - the end of my story. I had become an author.
"Digweed the Cat" was hardly "a little bedtime story". It was useless as a gift for an 18-month old child, but I had found so much enjoyment in writing my story that I couldn't wait to start my next project.
There is a happy ending. On Lucy's 7th birthday, one of the gifts that she received was a book called "Digweed the Cat". For many hours Lucy and I would sit together in a big armchair and she would read "Digweed the Cat" to me. Lucy loves her story. How special do you think that makes me feel?
When Lucy was 3 years old my second grand daughter, Lulah was born. Having written a story for Lucy I had to do the same for my new little girl. Once again, finding the right title for my story was proving difficult until, one day, I took a walk in the woods behind my home with Lucy for company.
On our walk we met a lady who was out with her two dogs. Not just ordinary dogs, these were the biggest dogs that Lucy, or I had ever seen. Though she was tiny, Lucy showed no fear of the huge animals and began stroking one of the dogs whilst I chatted to the lady. The dog who was not receiving Lucy's attention became jealous and started to bark - big dog - very loud bark. This frightened Lucy. The owner began to shout and scold the dog for frightening such a sweet little girl which only seemed to upset Lucy more. I tried to calm the situation by telling Lucy that the barking was just the dog saying "Please can I have some fuss too!" Lucy accepted that this was the case and stroked the jealous animal. All was fine again.
We left the lady and her dogs and continued our walk, but I could tell that something was bothering Lucy - she wasn't chattering away as she usually did. When I asked if she was alright she turned to me and said, "Grampy, why don't animals talk like we do?" Lucy had been thinking that if only the silly dog had said "Please stroke me too" instead of barking, there would not have been any trouble.
I began trying to explain animal noises and we had great fun for the rest of our walk making all sorts of silly sounds, but when I was alone later that night I realised what a wonderful and imaginative question that little 3-year-old had asked me. It turned out to be a question that changed my whole life.
"Why Animals Don't Talk" - I had found a title for my story for Lulah. That same night the story was written and, over the next few days, turned into verse - my first venture into poetry.
I soon realised that titles for future books would no longer be a problem. "WHY" would be my signature word, "WHY" would link my stories together. I could write about "WHY" anything. Before long I had written "Why Stars Come Out At Night", "Why Pigs Have Curly Tails", "Why Tomatoes are Round and Red" and many other similar stories - all in verse - all to exactly the same format.
"The Why Series" was born.
Once illustrated, the stories were published and a whole new world opened up for me. Thank you Lucy and Lulah for changing my life.
There is a story behind all of my stories. I never know where inspiration will come from but I am always ready when the spark occurs. Recently, I was walking to collect Lucy from school, a trip that I take every day. My walk took me through a small wooded area of oaks, beeches and pines. Under my feet was a bed of soft grass and moss sprinkled with pine needles and beechnut husks.
Suddenly, I noticed a bare patch of ground - a spot where nothing grew - no grass no weeds - nothing. I began to wonder why, in just this single small patch, no seed had germinated, no grass had encroached, no moss had spread. I must have passed this spot hundreds of times before, but never noticed it. As I looked and pondered my imagination started to take over. Could this be an alien footprint, a witch's grave, a fairy playground - could anything ever grow in this place? And then, all became clear in my mind. This was a spot that the woodland was saving for a very special tree to grow. This bare, barren patch of ground was reserved for the seed of "The Magical Tree".
"The Magical Tree" is my latest story. Once again I have chosen to write in verse. The book is currently being illustrated by a group of students at Edinburgh's Stevenson College, a college where pupils and tutors have been a massive help to me over the years. I will see those illustrations in a few weeks' time and I will have the wonderful, but very difficult task of choosing a student to co-publish "The Magical Tree".
So if ever you meet an author, do remember to ask ,"Why did you write that story?" and don't be surprised by an amazing reply.
The most successful series of children's books ever has to be Roger Hargreaves "Mr Men" books. Though I have never been able to confirm this urban legend the story behind "The Mr Men" brand goes like this ...
Roger Hargreaves was a brilliant artist who worked for an advertising company. One day at lunch with his wife and small son, his lad turned to him and said, "Daddy, can you draw me a tickle?" I guess that most of us, in that situation, would have tried to draw something like a feather being used to tickle but Roger Hargreaves had a different idea. He took a pen from his pocket and a paper napkin from the table and drew the image that later became "Mr Tickle" with the long arms and tickly fingers. Once he had drawn that image he realised that he could create a series of similar characters and soon Mr Happy and Mr Bump and many others were born.
"Daddy, can you draw me a tickle?" - "Grampy, why don't animals talk like we do?" - the story behind the story is always worth hearing.
If you read this blog and would like to contact me about my books or about my work in schools I would love to hear from you. If you are thinking of writing your first story and would like me to comment or help I am always available. If you are 8 years old or 80 yearrs old it doesn't matter. My contact address is firstname.lastname@example.org or you could visit my (not very good!) website at www.thewhyseries.co.uk.
All of my books are available as both ebooks and printed books via Amazon. If you have any difficulty in finding them please contact me directly.
I'm just waiting for my next story to "happen". I have no idea what it will be about, but I know that it won't be long before something sets me writing again.
© Copyright (Text and Images) Eric Pullin July 2012.