I was an only child, and grew up in London with a single mum. I had many relatives in other countries, and lots of friends at school, but home life was always very quiet and solitary. All this changed when I was 11, because that was when we got a cat, who soon became like a brother to me: the best little brother I could imagine.
He was a tiny kitten when we first got him, just a few weeks old, small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. He used to like hiding in the space behind the radiator, or underneath my bed. He was all black, even his paw-pads and nose, except for a single fleck of white on his chest. I called him Monamy. The name came from one of my schoolfriends; it was his middle name. He said it came from old French, and meant ‘my friend’ – ‘mon ami’. That seemed a perfect name for this kitten.
Monamy was very curious and loved exploring. There was nowhere he wouldn’t go. He could even open closed doors, which is amazing when you think that our doors had round handles! Read the rest of this entry »
And have I got family … three brothers and two sisters. I could tell stories about each and every one of them of course but if I were asked who was the MOST influential amongst my siblings … who basically turned me into who I am now, it would have to be my big sister, Joy.
I am the rugby ball on the left.
Joy taught me how to read, showed me how to draw, how to play dama (the Filipino equivalent of checkers … except in her version, the corner pieces weren’t allowed to move. Hmm).
She also made me drink her share of the evaporated milk that Mom required us to drink every morning.
Growing up together, Joy was rather good at a lot of things and I think much of who I turned out to be is a result of trying not to be compared to my talented sister.
When I was born, Joy, aged just two declared that I should be called ‘Candy’ after her doll, Candy.
So, the Lifetime Deed Counter (LDC). Yes, this was one of mine. It popped up in my head while I was in the middle of the story that became Muddle and Win. But all ideas have their seeds and sources. Maybe this one emerged in some dinner-party conversation that I’ve long ago forgotten. Maybe there really is one somewhere, ticking away just for me.
It’s two counters, actually. One for good deeds, one for bad ones. And once all your deeds are done and its time for the reckoning, the two dials are read and then either you are handed over to the guys with horns and pitchforks or you aren’t. I’m not exactly sure how the reading works. I don’t think it’s as simple as Lifetime Good Deeds = or > Lifetime Bad Deeds. I think there’s a probably a complicated set of adjustments, a bit like on a gas bill. The only people who understand how to do those adjustments are a special committee of good guys and bad guys who retire to a locked room together and mutter over the numbers while you wait nervously outside. All a bit worrying really.
However, there will be cases where no amount of adjustment is going to change the outcome. At the start of Muddle and Win the LDC of Sally Jones reads:
LIFETIME GOOD DEEDS: 3,971,567
LIFETIME BAD DEEDS: NIL
This is not good news for the chaps with spikey tails. So our hero, Muddlespot, is sent up to Earth to meet Sally and see if he can’t get that Bad Deed counter unstuck. And – having met Sally – he begins to realise that this is going to be a lot harder than he had thought. Sally is the way she is, and she’s not interested in changing. Which is tough for poor Muddlespot. But he does have one enormous asset: the rest of the Jones family.
I think it must be really hard to clock up anything but bad deeds in a family setting. (Unless you’re the Mum figure, of course). There’s a routine, a way of everyone getting along together. If you stick to it, you don’t upset anybody. But you’re not exactly being good. On the other hand, the moment you step out of it, you start that Bad Deed Counter turning. And sometimes it just turns anyway. My life growing up with my brother seems to have been pretty much like Nick Ward’s with his. Though I don’t remember any manure. I do remember that we fought all the time, partly for play and partly for real. I can’t think what it was I had done the time I had to lock myself in the lavatory to escape this revenge, but I do remember that he broke the glass on the door trying to get in to get at me. And all the while the counters will have been turning. Like this.
LIFETIME GOOD DEEDS: [some pitifully small number]
LIFETIME BAD DEEDS: 2,475,843-44-45-46-7-8-9 -blurrrrrrrrr
I have some catching up to do. Maybe as a parent I shall earn some credit, or maybe not. But I think when I’m a grandparent maybe I shall turn to being Muddlespot with my grandchildren. I shall spoil them with gifts and tempt them to be that little bit wicked in the name of freedom. I shall start those counters turning. No doubt I am due for a long spell in hot places, and nothing can change that. But at least I shall have my family with me.
She is nearly fifteen years old now and sings like an angel. Humour, kindness and compassion come naturally to her and I am inordinately proud of her general loveliness. When she was 2 and a half years old her ambition was to grow up to be a penguin! I started reading children’s books and writing children’s books for her when she was very tiny. Now she is older she has developed a great eye for when characters are not quite right or ideas need a bit of tweaking. So, future Editor, angelic singer and the best of friends are just a few of the things about Robyn that make everyone who knows her so very happy.
Lesley White is a writer and illustrator living in Brighton. Her first book, The House Rabbit, is coming out early next year. You can follow find out more about Lesley’s work here and follow her blog here.
Mary McIntyre’s a real live wire, always has been. I drew this picture of her with one of her chickens and her cat, Vern, who’s named after the main character in my comic, Vern and Lettuce. Growing up, she was good at sports and making friends, while I hid behind books. But while we lived at home with my parents, I was always The Artist in the family, and Mary didn’t spend all that much time on drawing or painting, even though my mother made sure we always had art supplies available. I’m on the left here, she’s on the right:
I moved to England and took night classes in Illustration while my sister stayed in Seattle and turned into a roller derby legend.
Besides being a great skater, she was known for her flair, her great eye for costume, and her skill at making drama happen on the floor, (including staged fights). She took the stage name Burnett Down and people came from everywhere to watch her in action. I do a lot of stage events now, to promote my books, and a lot of what I’ve learned about it comes from watching my little sister. Read the rest of this entry »
These days, when I speak, it’s possible that many ordinary folk hear me as ‘quite posh’. This is a mistake. If you’re over 60, university educated, middle class and speak with a southern English accent, then to many people in the culture you code ‘a bit posh’. I’m not bothered by this, but let’s be clear that when I talk about my family on both my mother’s and my father’s side that their origins were working and at the most lower-middle class.
My own personal memories of family life are, to be honest, bleak and rather sad. I was born in 1951 into a world still darkened by shadows of the war. My mother spoke of rationing, surviving the blitz in London, making do and mend. My father told of a childhood in clogs and his parents’ chip shop in Oldham closing during the Depression (the large part of their trade was to the local factory workers who lost their jobs and the wages to buy chips). When we stayed in the Army Hostel in Dover before my father’s posting to Hong Kong I walked with him along the sea front where he showed me the husks of houses hit by the dreaded Doodlebugs fired across the Channel by the Nazis. To my 7 year old mind it seemed quite plausible that one might come over and kill us even then, but my father reassured me that the War was well over now and that such a thing would not happen.
But things were rising in Britain in the 50s, of course. There was an optimism. We had ‘never had it so good’. New foods arrived all the time. I remember the bizarre taste of strawberry yogurt (the very word was weird, almost alien, gutteral) and tins of baked beans now contained little sausages and bits of bacon. It was almost space age, it seemed then. Read the rest of this entry »
I remember this lovely sunny afternoon, sitting on the lawn at my parents’ house, when my brother decided to let his ferrets out for a runaround in the fresh air. It was a large garden and he released them some distance from the rest of us, but one of the ferrets, the instant it was free, came racing towards me and, for reasons I have never understood, clamped its teeth on the little fold of skin between my thumb and forefinger. Goodness how we all laughed. Well… those of us that didn’t have a ferret hanging off our hand. My brother never stopped laughing all the several minutes it took him to prise apart the ferret’s jaws and set me free.
My brother was obsessed from an early age with all forms of wildlife. I remember him repairing wing feathers of injured birds with splints, dissecting road kill, burying animal carcasses in ant heaps to get the skeletons clean, skinning moles to make a waistcoat – not to mention the long succession of vivariums containing assorted snakes, toads and newts, never mind the usual panoply of mice, voles, grasshoppers, rats and dogs. There is, I know, something intrinsically attractive about a child with such enthusiasm. They are not always easy to live with, however. Especially if you’re the sort of child who prefers books, music, peace and quiet, to being bitten by ferrets. Life in close quarters with my brother involved, if not actual danger, a considerable level of discomfort. Read the rest of this entry »
I started to write this blog about my brother, but quickly thought better of it. He’s always been my best friend, and I want him to stay that way! Sure, I could tell you about the time we were playing Cowboys and Indians in the garden, and I ended up with my head sticking through the shed window (“It was an accident!”). I could relate the incident with the camping knife and the bandaged head (“It was an accident!”) and I could painfully relive the time when we were walking home across the allotments, and he stuck my head deep into a large pile of fresh manure. That wasn’t an accident! But, it would be mean to bring all these things up when he has no chance to defend himself. So, I won’t mention them!
Instead, I have asked Philly Jakeman to write this blog. She’s Charlie Small’s closest companion, and shares in many of his amazing adventures:
My name is Philly and I live with my grandfather in his crumbling old factory of inventions. It’s spooky, but I’m used to it now. Read the rest of this entry »
When I first saw the latest storyblog topic, I was a bit wary as I didn’t particularly want to write about any family members faults just incase any ended up reading this blog!
So I thought I’d write about my girlfriend, Kims family instead!
I was thinking about good and bad experiences I’d had with them, and the first thing that came to mind was me learning to play ‘chopsticks’ on the piano with Kims little sister.
This experience was particularly cool because of their dog, a Jack Russell called Toby.
He came in while we were playing, lay on his side and stuck one of his ears out to listen to us play. I’d never really thought of having a dog before, but after that I decided that I really wanted one, a Jack Russell preferably.
We were staying at Kims parents for a week or so and every morning I would be woken up (much earlier than i would have liked) by a scratching sound!
It turned that it was Toby, scratching on the door. I like my sleep.
So, (for now) I have decided not to own a dog, as I cant deal with being woken every day by the sound of scratching (not to mention the amount of doors you would need to replace!), So instead have decided to write about one (a dog), who also happens to be a Jack Russell.
Richard Collingridge is an illustrator and concept artist. He has previously worked on the covers for Trash by Andy Mulligan, The Deserter by Peadar O’ Guilin, and WE by John Dickinson. Richard’s first picture book, When It Snows, will be in the shops next month – take a look at the trailer here!
This is my Dad, second from the right, in RAF cadet uniform. It’s 1943, and he’s in Canada, training for aircrew. He’s 20; he hasn’t met my Mum yet, and I’m a good few years in the future.
Like many boys at the start of the war, Dad wanted to be a Spitfire pilot, and joined the RAF as soon as he was old enough. But things had moved on by then, and the RAF wanted bomber crews rather than fighter pilots. Dad did learn to fly, but because he was good at maths (not an attribute he passed on to me) he was selected as a navigator. From the start of 1944 until the end of the war, he flew on operations in a Lancaster bomber, afterwards deployed to bring troops home, and to take part in the “Manna” raids, dropping food parcels for the starving population of the Netherlands.
More than 50,000 aircrew were killed during the Second World War. More than fifty thousand. The death rate was 44.4%. Of all the forces, only the submarine crews faced worse odds. On a disastrous raid to Nuremberg in March 1944, 96 aircraft were shot down, with a loss of 545 lives in a single night. Yet, in spite of the terrible odds they faced and the devastating losses they endured, the aircrew of Bomber Command were never given a campaign medal, because of post-war controversy surrounding the area bombing of cities. This was the favoured policy of Sir Arthur Harris, Chief of Staff of Bomber Command, encouraged by Winston Churchill, who swiftly distanced himself from the decision when things began to look different in peacetime. As Prime Minister, Churchill made no mention of Bomber Command in his victory speech. Read the rest of this entry »