Thursday, 7 March 2013

It’s A Tragedy!


I’m not sure I have ever dealt directly with tragedy in my books. Many have been picture books, and although Baby Duck may have thought it a tragedy when his teddy bear blew into the cold, grey, scary pond and there was no one to help rescue it, I don’t know that it would count as such to anybody else!



Overcoming small obstacles and dealing with new and scary situations is important in picture books, though, and can help children cope with new experiences by making them familiar or funny. My books often deal with difficult situations and emotions through fantasy, but a fantasy that is firmly rooted in the real world. So, in various picture books I have been able to portray a cold-hearted boy made entirely of ice who was created by the continual drip of a stalactite in a frozen cave, and who reacted violently to any kindness.
Illustrated by Peter Bailey

Shadowland told of a girl’s serious illness, which was treated as a strange, haunting journey through her bedroom wall and across an ocean to a rocky island; Ride The Black Horse was about the dark manifesting itself as a magician who spirits children away to his vast castle, and it is only Oliver who is able to overcome his fear of the dark and defeat the magician.

From Shadowland

But when it comes to, well not so much tragedy but certainly disaster, Charlie Small has more than his fair share in the strange and frightening world he finds himself in. Dangerous characters and strange monstrous beasts people this world, and when he manages to contact home using his mobile, his mum repeats the same thing every time.

One disaster occurs when Charlie encounters the Puppet Master. Charlie thinks he hears his mother calling him, and he follows the voice across hills and valleys to a petrified forest, where he finds a cloaked figure hunched over a campfire:
The Puppet Master
            ‘Mum?’ I whispered.
‘Charlie,’ said the figure turning around. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
I stepped back. Oh, I wished I had stayed in bed at the shop! I wished I’d stayed at home. I wished I were a million miles from that clearing in the rotted forest, for, as the sky turned opal white and a new day dawned, I could see a man’s face; his grey skin and large hooked nose, his fat dry lips and empty black eyes. Behind him I saw the legend painted on the side of his caravan:

Incredible, wonderful, and solely for your delight,
A maestro of marionette manipulation!

No! I turned to run, but somehow my feet seemed rooted to the ground.
‘Don’t go, Charlie,’ smiled the Puppet Master. ‘I have something for you.’ He dipped a mug into the pot that was bubbling over the glowing embers of the fire, filling it with a liquid that steamed in the cold morning air.
The smell was intoxicating. It floated in the air, a visible blue mist that wrapped itself around my head, filling my nostrils. I knew I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed the mug from his hand and drank the warm, syrupy liquid.
The sweet taste flooded through my body, making my fingers tingle and the breath judder in my chest. The tingling in my fingers increased to a dull throb, making them feel swollen and numb. I looked at my hands and gasped in fear. Tiny crystals were forming on my fingers, multiplying and joining together to form a new, outer skin.
The tingling sensations travelled up my arms and across my chest, the new skin forming like a crust as the sensation spread across my body. As the warmth of the liquid cooled in my tummy and the tingling subsided, I could feel the new skin start to harden. Now my face began to grow a second, solid skin. I tried to call out, but my jaw was set as solid as stone.
I couldn’t believe it! After all the old woman’s warnings I was becoming another of the Puppet Master’s marionettes. I felt as if I had been coated in concrete, or squeezed into a tight fitting shell, exactly the same shape as my body… and I was no longer able to move!
Charlie becomes a puppet!

That sounds like a disaster to me! Of course, with Charlie being Charlie, it doesn’t end there and with his usual mixture of ingenuity and bravery, humour and fun, he manages to overcome his plight, which is really about his being powerless and trapped in a world he has no knowledge of, far away from home and everything he knows.

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