The Panama Hat Series
I’m writing and illustrating a children’s book! Why?
A few years back I was working a steady, fairly well-paid job at a high street bank and I had been doing the same job for the previous nine years or so. I am married with two children, so life was and still is hectic. One particularly stressful morning on my way to work, while driving my children, Thomas and Sophia, to school and to the childminder, Thomas started to tell me that he had had a really weird dream the night before. He was six years old at the time:
‘What did you dream darling?’ I asked while trying to navigate the dreadful Oxford traffic and cursing under my breath that I had not set off sooner (as usual).
He said that he had dreamt he was playing in his grandparents back garden with his cousin, when something funny happened to the wall at the bottom of the garden. When they looked over the top of the wall, they saw more and more walls running parallel to theirs, all the way into the distance. They started to jump from wall to wall and as they did so, the world around them started to change. The people they saw started to look as though they were wearing old fashioned clothes and the cars become horse-drawn carriages.
‘What happened next?!’ I asked, totally hooked on the story of this dream.
Being the eternally sensible and responsible child that he is, even in his dreams, Thomas replied:
‘Well I got scared so we turned and went back to Grandma’s house’
‘NOOOOOOOO!!!’ (I screamed in my head)
Dang, I had really wanted to know what would happen next. It looked as though his six year old mind had tried to take him back in time! How cool is that? During that drive I started to imagine where Thomas and his cousin could have gone in this dream, and how great it would be as a story. To be able to take two children back in time to any place, all from the back garden of their grandparents.
When I got to work that day, I wrote out the beginning of a chapter of the book I was going to spend the following few years working on. And this was the very beginning of ‘The Panama Hat Series’.
Did I always know I was going to write? Nope. Other than art, reading is my passion. But I guess that when you have read so much since childhood, and found such solace in it, it seems a natural progression for me to write.
The passion I have for my book was doubled when I realised that I also knew what this world would look like, in my mind’s eye, and that I wanted to be the one who painted all the illustrations for the book. My dream would be for this book to be incredibly beautiful. A work of art in itself, which parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends will love to give as a gift to the children in their lives.
Because of the nature of the book, the fact that the children could go back in history to any place or time, it really is a vehicle for what I plan to become a series of books. The first book, which is already written for the most part, is called ‘ Tezzie and the Villainous Victorians’ (Tezzie is the nickname my son Thomas has had since birth). I hope to send the characters Tezzie and Nico back to Ancient Greece, to the Roman Empire and to various other places and times within history, to have adventure and experience what children of those times in history would have experienced. The opportunities for time travel are only bound by the limits of history, so it’s fairly open-ended!
The reason this series of stories will be called ‘The Panama Hat Series’ becomes apparent in this first story. Tezzie is given an old battered Panama hat for his birthday from his Uncle, which turns out to be magical and a catalyst for the wall-changing and becoming a portal for their time-travelling adventures. This is a bit which I have stolen from real life as my son is obsessed with his hat collection and has everything from his original Panama hat, to flat caps and trilbies.
I am so excited to write this world and to think that I might be able to encourage children to read.
For myself, I had a fairly turbulent and chaotic childhood, and I have said time and again, and will continue to say, that reading was, and still is, my solace, it was my place to escape. I lived a thousand lives within the pages of stories, I learnt empathy, I experienced adventures and other cultures, I found out what morality and integrity looked like even though my real world was upside down and inside out.
I don’t think it matters too much whether a child is reading the Dandy or a recent translation of the Iliad. But I do believe they need to read. And then read some more. Encouraging a love of reading for reading’s sake is the key. A love of story. I suspect that then the rest of their education will take care of itself.
What I plan to do...