By Alice West and Olivia Cooper
The delightful Judy Scrimshaw debuted her new children’s book titled The Little Red Egg: The First of the Morwenna Pendragon Adventures at the North Cornwall Book Festival this weekend. She filled the yurt with energy and laughter during her dramatic storytelling of it on Saturday afternoon. The children seemed enthralled with her tale of the first Cornish dragon and her exciting adventures, and were soon wailing when the wind blew and flapping their arms maniacally like dragon’s wings. We’d never seen children so excited to see what was on the next page!
After the session, we grabbed a spot under the glorious Cornish sun and she was kind enough to answer a few of our burning questions about her love of writing and art, captivating us with her stories just as she’d done with the children.
Olivia: You illustrate your own books as well as write them, do you prefer the writing process or the illustrative process?
Judy: When I’m writing, I prefer the writing and when I’m illustrating, I prefer the illustrating. It’s really 50/50, I love doing both. Sometimes they go together, but usually I do a certain amount of writing followed up with the paintings or I’ve done the paintings and then the writing has come.
Alice: So do you have a vision of the paintings first or do they come as one?
J: They tend to come together. Sometimes I might be stuck on how to visualise something into an illustration, then it will come to me either in a dream or while I’m at the location. I was stuck on some pictures to do with my next Morgawr story: it starts off in Cornwall where she meets a leatherback turtle, there’s a rescue and a story to it but Morgawr goes to Grenada. So I went out there and went on a boat to see a silhouette of Grenada from and it was really lovely. It’s given me great ideas for the story and I got my silhouette, even if it was a bit jaggedy from the water!
A: So what made you start writing children’s books?
J: Well, I can’t remember when I didn’t make up stories and illustrate them! When I was tiny, before I could write myself, my mother would write them down for me and I’d do the illustrations but she persuaded me I should do something sensible so I went down the teaching route. I don’t regret my life at all, for years I’ve been helping my husband on the farm, teaching and starting play groups and youth clubs. I knew I couldn’t write or paint then because I’d get the children to school then forget to pick them up or I’d forget my husband’s lunch, and then our dear mothers decided to come down and I ended up helping to look after them for a few years…so it didn’t actually happen until I was 60, which was great because that’s sort of retirement! I didn’t want a publisher telling me I had to cut everything down, but I actually liked the publishing. It’s been a learning curve, and I have my own agent now and everything!
Judy then proceeds to discuss her new book with us, The Little Red Egg: The First of the Morwenna Pendragon Adventures.
J: The new book introduces Cornwall’s first little dragon, which I’m doing a reading of today, but she’s only introduced right at the end as the story is more about the mother dragon who gets swept out to sea, and when she swept back again to Cornwall, she lands on a chicken house and lays her fourth egg which the chickens look after. Morwenna has got a lot of little adventures she’s going to do, there’s a lot of myths and Cornish-based folktales and little bits of Cornish language, although I’m only just starting my Cornish lessons.
O: Were those the type of books you liked to read when you were a child? What influenced you?
J: Ah yes, my father was wonderful for that. Unfortunately he died when I was 9, but he was the most wonderful storyteller. The stories he’d read would be Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling, The Water Babies, lots of Greek myths and lots and lots of legends. And he would start stories and then ask me ‘and then what happened?’ and I would continue it. It’s a wonderful legacy he’s given me; a love of books and stories and a love of making up stories.
With the new book, it’s very funny, and the illustrations are completely different from the others. When I was looking after the dear old mums, they would be constantly saying ‘why aren’t you writing?’ or ‘why aren’t you painting?’ so when they were sending me a bit potty, I would go for a couple of days on an art course or a creative writing course. They inspired me to do the landscapes and encouraged me to keep doing my art.
We talk for ages about all the hilarious and wonderful ideas she can’t wait to tell the world when the time is right, and the same story she told her children about the many pigs she’s owned over the years which remain part of her inspiration. One of these ideas includes a tongue-in-cheek adult book she has in progress called The Helford Hogs. A very busy woman at the moment!
A: One last question, do you have any advice for people who want to write but haven’t got round to it yet?
J: I’ve been to quite a lot of creative writing sessions and most people are marvellous but don’t be put off if someone doesn’t do it for you. A lot of people say ‘Oh I can’t write, I can’t tell a story’ but in fact, we can all tell a story! Just write it down and you can always review it. I say to children to just write it down, do the pictures, and you might come back to it later and say ‘I could use that, or bring that in with another story, or I could draw that with it.’ It’s the same with drawing, anyone can draw. You just have to copy something and really look at it. I’m still learning of course and the illustrations will be quite different throughout the books but I’m enjoying that, I’m enjoying experimenting. So yeah, just have a go! I was saving for a long time to self-publish and I’m not done yet, I’ve got whole bags of short stories that I’ve got to go through, put together, and get published. It’s been very hard work, yes, but it’s now a joy. Instead of trying to get into festivals, I’m now being asked to appear and being invited to schools to do talks and workshops, which is lovely and such fun!
It was lovely talking to Judy before she went to do her readings with the children. You can get hold of her new book and all her other work here. All this and more at the North Cornwall Book Festival 2016, 21st-23rd October at St Endellion.