The Tale of The Foolish Hedgehog

[Originally published on Goodreads 2016-02-10, two days before a giveaway for five signed copies of the illustrated children’s book The Foolish Hedgehog.] This is the story of how I came to write The Foolish Hedgehog given that my primary emphasis has been on writing text books and adult crime/thriller/speculative fiction rather than children’s books.

I have always loved reading and writing and as a child my favourite genre was adventure stories. In fact, that’s still true today. However, I also loved mathematics and hated pulling books apart in English Literature, so when it came to choosing my path through higher education, I opted for the maths route and kept writing as a hobby.

Life often doesn’t pan out the way you imagine and at some point I found that I had switched tracks from being a mathematician to being a computer programmer with an interest in typesetting, specifically TeX. As a result of my work in that area, I was interviewed by the TeX User Group (TUG) for their interview corner. Dave Walden, the interviewer, put the idea of self-publishing into my head. Although I was confident about my typesetting abilities, I wasn’t so confident about my writing skills.

A friend of mine, who’s also a writer, suggested I try a writing course. She had already been on the diploma creative writing course at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and thoroughly recommended it. At first I thought it would be too inconvenient. I had given up full-time work to care for my son and we live out in a village with infrequent bus services, but I discovered there was an online writing course taught by Caroline Gilfillan at UEA, which overcame these obstacles. It was only a three-month course for beginners, but I thoroughly recommend it for enthusiastic writers with a busy lifestyle. (This particular course has stopped, but the Writers’ Centre, Norwich now has some writing courses.)

The course included a section on Vladimir Propp who studied folklore. The Wikipedia article on Propp gives a lot more detail, but he essentially broke fairy tales up into sections and listed a sequence of functions (tropes) that fairy tales employ in their narrative. One of our assignments was to write a story that followed this scheme. After toying with the usual princes, princesses, young apprentice/farmer-turned-heroes, I saw some roadkill and “The Foolish Hedgehog” came into being.

The principle functions this story follows are: interdiction (warning not to go somewhere), violation of interdiction (disobeying the warning), trickery (the villain attempts to deceive the protagonist), guidance (protagonist is led to a vital location), liquidation (issue resolved) and return (protagonist returns home).

After I had set up my imprint to publish my text books, I decided that I may as well publish the story (mostly for the fun of it and to try out the different style of typesetting required for illustrated children’s books). The story was greatly enhanced with the inclusion of the illustrations provided by my friend and Norfolk artist Magdalene Pritchett. (If you go to any of the South Norfolk art exhibitions, such as in Poringland, Kirstead or Hempnell, you will likely see her paintings. She’s also exhibited paintings at Eye in Suffolk.)

The story is about a little hedgehog who lives with his grandmother. He promises that he won’t go near the wasteland (the road) where the dragons (vehicles) live, but one day he’s tempted onto the road by a hungry crow. It can be used to introduce children to the concept of road safety and stranger-danger. Here’s an extract from the start of the story:

There once was a little hedgehog who lived with his grandmother.

Every evening when the little hedgehog went out to play, his grandmother would always say:

“Don’t ever go onto the hard wasteland. There are dragons there. Great giant creatures, with eyes shining brighter than the moon. Their roar is deafening, and their breath is poisonous. They have no claws, but their round feet will trample you.”

Every evening the hedgehog promised his grandmother he wouldn’t go near the wasteland.

But one day, as he played with some fallen leaves, he heard the roaring of the dragons. He wanted to see if they really were as big as his grandmother said.

“I’ll just have a peek, that’s all,” he thought. “I won’t step on the wasteland.”

Walking

[Originally posted on Facebook 2015-05-12] When I was a child, my family used to go out for walks at the weekend, usually after Sunday lunch. Seaford Head, Hope Gap, the Cuckmere, Friston Forest and on the other side towards Newhaven, the Tide Mills. I resisted such activity as it interrupted my reading, writing or guiding my plastic figures and animals on their adventures. (It may seem odd for sheep, pigs and cows to go on adventures — especially normal farm animals rather than the anthropomorphic cartoon variety — but these were fleeing from some evil villain or oppressor and had to brave the mountainous terrain up the radiator, down the wardrobe and across the chest of drawers.) However, despite my opposition to these outings, I benefited not only from the physical exercise but also the clearing out of mental cobwebs and the stimulus of my surroundings. My thoughts went to the wreckers who had lured unfortunate sailors onto the rocks, the smugglers who lurked in the Cuckmere estuary and, as a child, the abandoned Tide Mills sent shivers down my spine. The Seaford to Brighton trains may well pass through there during the day, but surely there were midnight ghost trains that stopped at the disused station! I miss the eerie call of the foghorn, I miss the sea and I miss inspecting the world of the rock pools. Although my knees don’t miss the downland ascents!

I always have excuses for not getting up and going outside, but it’s bad for me to sit in front of my desk all day long, so I’m trying make the effort to go out for walks. It drops the mundane clutter from my mind and helps to re-order and re-focus ideas. Norfolk has its own share of wonders, both natural and man-made. Ruins and oddities that whisper of a long forgotten age with forgotten people who were once born, lived and died, in essence no different from ourselves. We are brief dwellers in this place, but we cause ripples in the stream of time and leave our footprints on its banks.