At an exhibition here in Eastbourne, there were half a dozen paintings by local artist Annie Hayward. 'There's a story in those paintings,' I said to Richard the Rona Gallery owner, but one especially grabbed me by the hand and ran away with me. The next day, out walking with the dog, it wouldn't let go. I kept trying to engage with the scenery, ponder the adult novel, put one foot in front of the other etc, but the story was persistent and rather rude.
I saw Annie and I told her what was happening, and she said 'You're telling me the story of my childhood'. At first I thought we had a picture book on our hands, but then I started writing it down and after 1,000 words I knew it was something else. But what? I wanted Annie's paintings as illustrations, they had to be there, and an intrinsic part of the book, not extras. Suddenly, I remembered this.
I'd never read it, but I'd noticed it at the bookshop. So I raced in and bought it and sat down and read the story in a gulp. It starts like this:
Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely.
And then, one day, he was lost.
It's a wonderful old-fashioned tale with lyrical language, a surprising protagonist with a vivid point of view, gorgeous colour plates and line drawings, and exquisite production values. Annie has it now. We're using it as a template for the shape and look of our book. I've written three-thousand words - about a third of what I think I need - and Annie already has three illustrations. Most importantly, the protagonist has been sketched. Today I think. Yes, today.
Annie and I talk regularly about what our story is actually about. She feeds me stuff, I feed her stuff. It is Annie's childhood first and foremost, but it is also mine, and my children's childhood, and her children's childhood. It is surprising where it's taking us. I love writing it. I love the collaboration.
It fills me up.