29 Jan The books that haunt us
For years, I’ve been haunted by a book from my childhood. (Not literally, although that might make an interesting story). The strange thing is, whenever I’ve mentioned it to people, no-one has ever been able to recall this book. I was beginning to think it was all in my rather dotty imagination. Yet I was sure I could remember my mum taking me down to the library, choosing this book, having the book stamped, the ticket taken out (yes, I feel old now), reading the book at home and then going back to get the next one in the series.
I remembered the basic premise of the book, a friendly monster who lived with a little boy. They had adventures, like going to the zoo or going to the school. I had this deep-seated emotional memory of the monster being sad in the school book. I couldn’t remember any words or any phrases from the book but I remembered the illustration vividly. And it was this which had convinced me that the book was real: I can make up words and stories myself, but I cannot draw to save my life. So it was highly unlikely I’d drawn the pictures of the monster myself. It was real…wasn’t it? Or was I as nutty as a bag of chocolate peanuts? Anyway, I gave up looking for the book and used the time to write my own instead.
I’ve just finished approving the final proofs of my first monster book (‘Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo’), out this August. As I looked at the fabulous illustrations by Sara Ogilvie, I started thinking again about that monster book I’d loved all those years ago and I renewed my search for someone – anyone! – who could tell me I wasn’t mad (arguably, an ambitious project).
For the umpteenth time in my life, I typed in the words ‘pink monster children’s book’.
But for the first time, it took me to some random forum where amazingly someone else had recently written: ‘Where can I find the old children’s book about a friendly pink monster?’ My heart leapt. I had visions of myself jumping up and down, waving the laptop at my husband and my mother, laughing like a maniac, saying I had proof of my sanity (hmmm). And with the reply to this forum comment, the reason for my years of fruitless searching became clear: “He wasn’t pink, he was purple. Monster series by Ellen Blance.”
Another mystery was soon solved: the illustrations were by Quentin Blake, one of my favourite illustrators. That must have been why they had stayed in my mind!
A couple of clicks on the mouse later, and these two books above were winging their way to me.
It got me thinking about books that haunt us and why they do. In this case, I’d been so touched by the emotional state of the monster; I’d really connected with the fabulous illustrations (I could argue he’s a very pinky sort of purple monster) and of course, I had remember the high-concept idea of a monster who is friends with a little boy. All good things for a children’s author to be reminded about.
The theme is timeless and as my little boy saw the book, he instantly said, ‘Ooh, I’d like to read that.’ Who knows? In thirty years’ time, perhaps he’ll be sending out electronic vibes to the googlesphere, asking, ‘Where can I find the book about a friendly pink monster? Something to do with my mum laughing manically and waving a laptop….’