A Village Called Pumpkin
Peter has published a children's book called a 'Village Called Pumpkin' which was written by him in collaboration with his voices. Peter describes the creative process below...
The book took three and a half years to create. The process started when I was walking in the middle of the night and I heard this female voice which had no identity and it just kept saying ‘a village called pumpkin’. I wrote this sentence down on a piece of paper but the piece of paper disappeared. Now I have my mother’s jewelry box at the side of the bed, and it wasn’t until I was cleaning one day that I picked the jewelry box up and I found the piece of paper under it. I don’t know how it got there. After I found the piece of paper the voice kept coming back at different times in the night and it would say ‘it’s a children’s book’ and then it gave me names of characters -but I was thinking ‘I can’t write a children’s book’. Then it gave me a theme. The first chapter just flowed. Then I got stuck. I tried to write the next chapter without the voice and I couldn’t do it. I was really stuck until the voice gave me the contents of another chapter.
At times the voice would play games. I was on a coach with a friend going to do some training in the North East and I just said to my friend, you know I haven’t heard the voice for a long time and the voice immediately appeared and said ‘look left’ and so I looked left and there was a sign saying ‘pump lane’ and that became a theme for one of the chapters in the book. Another time it was Christmas and I was off to Tenerife. I was on the plane and the voice gave me a theme for a chapter – this red hot day with a lot of frogs so I had to write it down on a sick bag on the plane – all the key points!
It was an interesting process because the characters that the voice gave me would then start talking to me and they would ask me questions – what role am I playing? Do you need me in this bit? There was one story about the orange lambs (The Mystery of Pump Lane and the Missing Lambs) and I got really confused and put too many characters in and the mother sheep got injured and I couldn’t let her die so I had to bring the vet in and this vet said ‘I want a line’ and I said ‘well you can’t have a line’ so he said ‘well I’m not saving the sheep then’ so I said ‘will you save the sheep please’ and he said ‘no’ so I said ‘just save the bloody sheep will you!’. My partner was in the room at the time and she said ‘who are you talking to?’ and I said ‘this vet’ and she said ‘ah ok’ and smiled. So I had to write another line for the vet or he wouldn’t have saved the sheep! A bit frustrating! But no, it was great fun writing it and I really liked the characters.
Definitely I would say that the writing happened in collaboration with my voices but they were the leading part more than anything because I couldn’t have done it without them. I wouldn’t have known where to start. I wouldn’t have known where to start a chapter actually. Once they gave me the ideas, I knew where to go. It was interesting about three years ago I was with someone from Time magazine and he looked at the draft and said ‘that’s your life’ – you know the themes – don’t loose your childhood, stand up to bullies, atone for crimes that kind of thing. Its just told in a different way.
A lot of people in services have had very bad lives and been traumatised and people who are supposed to care for them will dismiss their experiences as not real and just part of the illness. Its so frustrating! 'The Mystery of Pump Lane and the Missing Sheep' actually deals with this theme. In the story there is a character called Eddie Pong who has bred orange lambs that have gone missing. Eddie trys to get people to help him find his lambs but no-one believes they exist. A child starts sneering at Eddie, and you can see that he is becoming more animated and angry – why does no-one believe him? They keep telling him he has just been out in the sun too long - orange lambs! There is no such thing! Eddie gets to the point where he is trembling with anxiety because no-one is really listening. It takes one little girl in the story to say – I believe you – and all the anger and frustration goes. Sometimes it just needs one lone voice. I was never believed in relation to a lot of my experiences and I think this is captured in this story.
The book also gives a message to children about life and it helps children to think – you know the fact that some of the chapter’s don’t end and its up to the child to make their own ending. I think there is a deeper meaning behind a lot of the stories it encourages children to question or be critical of the difference between real and imagined.
Take the story of the slopeiphant, at the time I was working on that one I asked friends what comes to mind when I say slopeiphant? – so people were imagining that the slopeiphant was a big elephant and the story would be about the logistics of getting the elephant into the village but it wasn’t. Then I mentioned it to a woman who was a bit of a spiritualist and I said to her if I said slopeiphant what do you imagine, because the voices have given me that name for something I didn’t make it up myself and she said a slopeiphant is something that has or enables a spiritual connection. She got it! So the slopeiphant is different for everyone. For the little girl in the story the slopeiphant enables her to bring her dad back after he has died so she can say goodbye to him.
The theme of the dividing line between real and fantasy comes out in the 'Boy in the Wood' when Katrina Sprout has been playing with a boy who her dad believes is just a carving on a tree - the question of whether the boy is real or imagined is left open.
The drawings was done by my nephew Nicky – he is an amazing artist. I had visual images of the characters but I am not an artist and I tried numerous times to draw them but my efforts dissolved into stick insects! Nicky came to see me and I described the characters and he started to draw them in front of me and I couldn’t believe the images he was producing they were absolutely perfect. There was no variation and I thought that was really really amazing. Strange but amazing.
The actual writing process for the book was variable. Sometimes I was given the idea and I was able to put it straight down onto the laptop but I am a very slow typer so that takes me ages. Sometimes I would be on a train so I would write it down long hand. My grand daughter Charlotte would sometimes come round and I would have the ideas in my head and I would dictate to her – like Barbara Cartland! I wrote them in different ways – in essence the first person to read the book was my grand daughter as she did so much of the typing.
I always had to wait for inspiration from the voices. It could be a month or three or four months. I would sometimes try and write without being guided by my voices but there was just nothing there. Interestingly enough since I finished the book and its been published that particular voice has gone, and I have not heard it since. I do think it was my mum, it didn’t sound like my mum but I think it was her. Once I set out on doing the book my aim was to get it published. I would like to get it on television – on cbeebies its better than the animated rubbish that’s on there!
The stories are about imagination – children have stopped being encouraged to have imagination. Sometimes elements that I described I asked Nicky not to draw like the colourosks in the 'Boy in the Wood' so that the child can imagine it and every child will have their own colourosk. If you look at the story with the boy in the wood and Mollie and the bumblebee in 'The Greedy Chicken' there is a big psychological aspect about using your mind and working things out. I want children to be creative in deciding what each story means to them.