Almost another year gone by since my last confession! As mentioned in my last blog I had intended to bring out a third collection of fables (imaginatively titled Still More Simple and Slightly Silly Stories), and there are ten new ones in various stages of completion. For some reason, however – perhaps the current troubled and challenging times – they’re all tending to veer too much to the dark side; more deeply Grimm rather than fun and silly. So for now they’re on the back burner. In the meantime, there’s this year’s offering: The Bear in the Fifth Floor Flat.
Some ten years ago my 97-old father-in-law asked the matron of the care home where he was enjoying his last days to find my wife something to hug when he was no longer around. On her next day off the matron went into Bristol and returned with an unusual looking teddy bear. He was welcomed into our home and – because of the profusion of ‘kisses’ all over his body – I immediately christened him Measly. (Well, it made sense to me!) He’s been an important member of the family every since.
A few years later while working on a trio of graded readers for children in Spain I wrote a story about Measly, who thanks to his magic properties saves a family from disaster. Unfortunately, the link between Measly’s name and measles didn’t work in Spanish so I changed the plot, and the story was published as Smellybear. Measly himself, however, proved too strong a character and more recently his original tale demanded quite a different situation. After trialling the story earlier this year and finding an enthusiastic response both from adults and children I was encouraged to publish it as another stocking filler, together with some delightful illustrations from Alice Hawthorn (www.dogsdogscatsdogs.com). Once again – as with the second collection of silly stories – all profits go to Mencap.
Although longer than my fables, The Bear in the Fifth Floor Flat is not long, and while the text was being typeset I realised that the book could benefit from something extra – if only to plump up the page count! By chance, I was at that time prepping Flann O’Brien’s classic At Swim-Two-Birds for an audiobook. It’s odd how stories can spring from the slightest of beginnings – a remark, a phrase, a first sentence or, more often than not, a last sentence. On this occasion the title ‘At Cat Two Fleas’ popped into my mind, and from it the second tale in the book developed very quickly; purely by chance there was even a link (albeit tenuous) with the main story. Much as ‘At Cat Two Fleas’ was an interesting title it was unlikely to make sense to anyone else so I retitled it ‘Once Bitten Twice…’ And there it is.
As for Still More Simple and Slightly Silly Stories, I do hope to lighten their gloom and doom and present them in time for Christmas next year (2020). Fingers crossed!