Barnabas the Beachcomber and the Oil Slick (Picture Book for 8/9 year olds)
I’ve always had a fascination for Scotland and it’s one of my favourite holiday destinations, so I knew that Barnabas had to live on the west coast of Scotland. He is a jolly man who makes his living from the flotsam and jetsam he finds washed up on the golden, sandy beach along which he strolls with his pet dog Dorada. As a child I used to spend many weekends walking the beaches where I lived, being constantly amazed by the wide variety of things that were left on our beach by the high tide.
In this adventure an oil tanker is pumping oil into the bay and has no intention of stopping. Barnabas calls on his animal friends – Guilly the guillemot, Monty the Minke whale and Del the bottle-nosed dolphin, to save the bay from certain ecological disaster. Will they be in time?
In the pipeline
My fabulous illustrator, Jesús, is working on anotherBarnabas book which should be ready by the end of the year. It’s called Barnabas and the drug traffickers. He is also working on another series of books for young children called The Little Church but I don’t want to say too much about this book at this stage because the pictures are only in his head and not on paper as yet. Another series of books that I hope to illustrate myself, in black and white, is all about the crazy things that happen in a pond. It is called The Pond unless of course I can come up with a better title! There are a multitude of weird and wonderful characters in the best tradition of make-believe and farce. A little known fact is that one of my hobbies is designing ponds so the book is based on my own experiences of having spent many happy hours around ponds and other water features.
I have notebooks full of other ideas for books. I just need time to sit down and churn them out.
With the onset of the 2014 World Cup I became inspired to write another Barnabas adventure. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s called Barnabas and the World Cup and Jesús has promised me that when he’s finished with the End of Year Festival at school he will spend his summer holiday drawing the pictures. He says that Barnabas has become a passion for him!
How I started to read
I remember very well how I started to read. On my first day at infant’s school my teacher, Mrs Kebble, gave me a book to read. Of course I didn’t have a clue what these strange markings were on the pages. At this point I must mention that before going to school I hadn’t really troubled myself to investigate the rows of books on the shelves in my house, as to my mind they didn’t look anywhere near as much fun as the make believe world I created every day in the living room. Some days the sofa was a war horse leading me into battle and on others it was a space ship flitting me from planet to planet.
“Come on read it out loud!” barked Mrs Kebble impatiently.
“I can’t” came my feeble reply. “I don’t know how to!”
“Well then, we’ll have to come back to you later in the year” said the unconcerned pedagogue.
In a normal world that would have meant some intensive reading classes, but this was the swinging sixties and we were very much left to our own devices playing in the sand pit or creating Picasso like paintings with erratic brush strokes! Reading lessons were clearly out of kilter with the educational establishment
“How was I going to learn to read then?” I asked myself. I was piqued. So I went to the reading corner, where the books were kept, and took a handful of Rainbow books, one for each colour of the rainbow, and took them home.
When I got home I sought out my Dad.
“Can I read these books with you?” I asked.
“What! All of them!”
“Yes, all of them!” I reassured him
So I spent the next few weeks sitting on the arm of my Dad’s chair reading the Rainbow books out loud. I started with red and progressed through all the colours of the rainbow until I reached violet. It can’t have taken me much more than a few weeks, but I was reading.
Later in the year Mrs Kebble summoned me to her table.
“Read this” she said shoving an open book in front of my nose. Needless to say it was a doddle!
“Ah, now you can read”
“Yes, but it had nothing to do with you!” How I wish I’d blurted out those words but I contented myself with a feeble smile and left the Tory Government to sort out the shortfalls of the Educational system!
What are my favourite books?
As I have already said my induction into this magical world of words started with the Rainbow books but I soon progressed onto Enid Blyton. My elder brother and sister had all her books and I read them one after the other rather like a child dipping into a bag of sweets. I then progressed onto Malcolm Saville and his Lone Pine Club series. I remember writing him a letter and the dear man replied, although he was a bit disturbed by me wanting to copy the Lone Pine Club and write my name in blood. I’ve still got his letter with the Lone Pine Club logo. I know these authors got a bad press but they were really the J.K Rowling and Rick Riordan of their day.
A book that really caught my imagination at junior school was Stig of the Dump. I don’t remember too much about it now but I do recall being captivated by it and I couldn’t wait for the teacher to read out the next chapter. As I progressed through secondary school I gained a love for Shakespeare, in particular A Midsummer’s Night Dream and The Merchant of Venice both of which I saw at the Kings Theatre in Portsmouth – unforgettable experiences. Everyone should see at least one Shakespeare play in their lifetime. People often ask me what I miss about England being an ex-pat, expecting me to say warm beer or the BBC, but in actual fact it would have to be not being able to see the Royal Shakespeare Company, a national treasure if ever there was one.
Around this time I came across, possibly my favourite book of all time: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It left a lasting impression on me and I think I’ve tried subconsciously to emulate Atticus Finch ever since. Would be fathers could do no worse than read this book. I also dipped extensively into Dickens and Thomas Hardy but my favourite writers around that time were Henry Fielding and Wilkie Collins. What a brilliant man was Henry Fielding; witty, philosophical and thought provoking. Most people recommend Tom Jones but I would go for Joseph Andrews any day of the week. And what can I say about Wilkie Collins? Read The Woman in White or The Moonstone. He was the master of suspense and some of his descriptions will leave you spellbound; I particularly remember one about quicksand which is a must.
In my late teens I really got into farce. The two stand out authors for me were P.G Wodehouse and Compton McKenzie. They made writing seem effortless; the perfect books for whiling away the long summer days. I suppose Douglas Adams could be included here as well although his writing was from another Galaxy. I loved everything he wrote but in particular So long and thanks for all the fish and The restaurant at the end of the universe. What a shame he was cut off in his prime. Another phase I went through were crime books. I devoured every book I could get my hands on by Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell and Ngaio Marsh but my favourite crime writer of all is without a doubt Margery Allingham who knew perfectly well how to scare the living daylights out of me.
Strange but true, I didn’t read the Lord of the Rings trilogy until I was well into my thirties. I had read the Hobbit in my teens which at the time would have been my favourite book. Another fantasy book that I was passionate about was The Neverending Story which I remember reading in only one day, stopping for an occasional piece of toast to keep me going.
Unfortunately, when I first went to live in Spain twenty-five years ago I had to dedicate my spare time to learning Spanish so I didn’t do much reading for pleasure. As well it was difficult then to buy books; Amazon didn’t exist. Then my children came along and I spent many happy hours and hours reading to them. I remember going to the beach with my son and spending the whole time reading Harry Potter to him. Likewise flights to England. On one trip the people sitting in front of me thanked me for making the trip more interesting than usual. The upshot of all of this is that I haven’t kept abreast of recent books for adults, as much as I would have liked. However this is not the case for children’s books as the piles and piles of books in my children’s rooms testify to. My favourite of all of them is anything by Philip Pullman. He really is quite brilliant.
If I’m honest there are far too many books which have left an impression on me to mention and I’m now regretting not having mentioned A confederacy of dunces, The girl in a swing, Candide, As I walked out one midsummer’s morning, The secret diary of Adrian Mole to name a few and it’s made me wonder how I managed to find the time to read so many books!
A little bit about me
I am fifty-one years old (not a bad innings) and have been very happily married for twenty-four years. I have two wonderful children (most of the time!) and we live in Spain on the hot, dry east coast.
I have always written, mostly poetry and lyrics, but I started to write seriously when I finished studying for my Master’s Degree in Teaching English. One of my assignments was to analyse the language used in a number of children’s books. Nothing ground breaking there but it made me acutely aware of what works. At the same time I was reading for hours to my son and I often thought that the books we were reading weren’t really up to it. “I can do better!” I thought to myself. So I sat down and came up with quite a lot of ideas for short stories and longer books. Before embarking on a full length book I decided it would be best to fire off some short stories thinking that it would be easy. How wrong I was! Short stories require more focus on detail, every sentence has to count. You can’t have any old wood in there! This in fact stood me in good stead for when I started to write my first full length book. I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist and good writing requires constant revision so I’m always going over what I’ve written making sure it sounds just right.
I don’t find much time for writing – my work (I’m an English teacher) and family life take up most of my time. If I’m lucky it’s about fifty minutes a day but I try to focus and make these precious minutes as productive as possible. In theory holidays should throw up more time but in actual fact it is the reverse. I tend to get involved with my children and make myself available whenever they need me. I’m not one to lock myself away knowing that I’m missing out on an opportunity to share time with my kids. You, of course, will never get that time back!
Have I got a favourite place to write? Many! It all depends on the time of the year. In the summer we live in the countryside and the perfect place for writing is under the gazebo, surrounded by all the shades of green that nature can offer. Unless, of course, my father-in-law comes along and starts chatting about this that and the other. I’m trying to persuade my wife to let me build a wooden hut (with air-conditioning) in a secluded part of the garden so that I can get a bit of peace and quiet, but first I’ll have to sell a few books. That’s the deal! During the rest of the year I write in the living room in our flat in the town, usually in the afternoon before my children come home from school when the light comes streaming in through the window from the west. There is one more place that really inspires me to write and that is the Costa Blanca Bar. I go there twice a week while waiting for my children’s swimming classes to finish. The proprietor, Tony, leaves me to get on with my writing just providing me with a stimulating cup of white coffee now and then and the occasional pleasantry. I’ve promised him that if I make it big one day we’ll have the book signing in his bar and put it on the map.