I was listening to the radio. The topic was around public speaking and how people fear it almost as much as they fear death. The psychologist who was on, said that some people advise imagining your audience naked. Immediately, I thought – there’s a picture book in that!
I had written picture books before in Irish, but in recent years, I’d concentrated on books for older children. I’d done three novels with Little Island, including The Wordsmith and its sequel Mother Tongue, but picture books are a different thing entirely. I loved reading them, and had been collecting vintage ones for years, and so I was excited at the prospect of writing one.
I loved the idea of using humour and imagination to banish fears. Many of our fears are irrational and a child’s imagination can come up with endless scenarios with which to frighten themselves. Often, it’s an enjoyable type of fear, like the fear we get when we choose to watch a scary movie, but often, it is a genuine fear that can upset children deeply.
My own daughter was afraid of the tooth fairy, a niece was afraid of Santa and a child’s friend was terrified of the hoover. I knew that this was an area that was very relevant to the picture book audience. I started to plot the story.
I decided that this would be a granddaughter/ grandmother story and that the child would confide her fears and the grandmother would offer advice.
The grandmother is loosely based on my own grandmother, who lived with us when I was a child. She was a wonderful storyteller with a larger than life personality. She wasn’t a quiet, knitting-in-the-corner granny like the one I met in books. (When I was a child all grannies were portrayed as old, grey and very passive, while all grandfathers wore a cap and lived in the garden!).
The text is a repeated scenario. The child confides a fear and Granny helps her to imagine the scary thing as something funny. The bad old dog is imagined on roller skates with a sponge cake on his head, the monster is wearing an orange tutu and dancing in a field of daisies and the vampires become babies with bonnets on their heads and soothers in their mouths.
Once the text was in order, Little Island went looking for an illustrator and decided on the super-talented Elina Braslina from Latvia. We had already worked with Elina when she illustrated my book for slightly older children Bumpfizzle The Best On Planet Earth.
Although we didn’t ever discuss it, Elina’s image of a granny was nothing like the grannies in the books of my childhood. The illustrations were bold and bright bursting with colour and Granny’s personality leapt from the pages.
She might be doing normal things like making tea and going to the post office but inside her head there is a fantastic world of pure wildness!
A big part of writing a picture book is finding a twist for the end, or at least something that leaves the reader feeling satisfied. It took me a while to find that! I knew that I wanted the book to finish with the child’s greatest fear – that her granny would leave her forever. Granny needed to be sensitive in her advice but not to lose her sense of humour entirely. She tells the little girl that she will live forever in her heart, and then tells her that she can imagine her in a yellow polka dot bikini if that helps at all!
These have been troubling days for all of us and children are no exception. I wrote Imagine when pandemics were something in films, and masks were worn by surgeons. I do hope it can bring a smile to children and their grown-ups, and remind them that a trouble shared alongside a good laugh, can bring us all great comfort.
(c) Patricia Forde
A little girl confides in her grandmother about her fears: pirates, monsters, the big dog down the lane …
Each time, her grandmother suggests a funny situation to imagine, to help her overcome her fears and anxieties. The big dog isn’t so scary anymore when you imagine him on rollerskates! And pirates aren’t so frightening once they put away their swords and start playing with their dolls!
Light-hearted text by a multi-award-winning Irish author, with quirky illustrations by Elina Braslina. This is a heart-warming story about a child and her grandmother, and the power of imagination and humour to conquer fear.
Order your copy online here.