Gran's Great illustration: Rose Forshall
A BBC London competition to inspire greater levels of literacy turned into a publishing first for its winner. “Pirate Gran” is to be published in time for this Christmas.
by Kurt Barling
Last year BBC London ran a competition to highlight the 1 in 4 Britons who have difficulties with reading and writing. The challenge to our television audience was to engage in a bit of good old fashioned story telling.
The entries were all remarkably good but one stood out for the judge, author of the young James Bond series, Charlie Higson. Picked as witty, a case of economic but engagingly good story telling, “Gran’s Great” by Geraldine Durrant was announced as a deserving winner.
The narrative was built around a retired pirate and grandmother who reminisced over the exploits and plank walking of the past. Now living a more sedate lifestyle surrounded by her trinkets from the high seas she regaled her descendants.
Self-evidently television is not radio and having commissioned a story that could be written for a young audience we had to think about what moving pictures could be used to bring it to life on screen.
My producer, Rebecca Skippage, realised pretty quickly that reconstructing a whole filmed sequence aboard a pirate ship would probably be beyond the budget of the BBC so we opted for a value for money approach.
We asked Andrea Plummer at the Inkshed Illustration Agency to find an illustrator who could capture the imagination of the audience by creating a pictorial representation of Durrant’s retired pirate.
RaW: Help with reading and writing
The final shortlist of artists was chosen for a style that seemed to tie in with the high seas temperament of Gran. Again one stood out as being a good complement to the rather dishevelled character which the former rum swilling Pirate Gran had become.
Rose Forshall had not long graduated from art school and when we brought her together with the author of our short story the two began a creative journey which has ended up fittingly at the publishing house of the Maritime Museum at Greenwich.
The original short story has been developed, now Pirate Gran is a more rounded character. Rose Forshall’s flowing and eclectic style adds so much detail that I can imagine children spending hours making up their own stories of Gran based on one illustration.
It is quite an inspiration to see how these two artists, author and illustrator, have developed the character of Gran. It suggests with a little imagination there really is a story teller in all of us.
We took the book for a test run at a pre-school Nursery in West London. The children were engaged by the story but entranced by the illustrations. Each explanation into Gran’s attire and her fish skeleton lampshade led to peels of laughter.
But of course there is more to the BBC’s RaW initiative than one book. It’s about improving literacy skills and in particular encouraging parents to read with their young children to encourage them to delve into books. Above all its about making storytelling a sharing exercise and fun.
Talking to some of the young pre-school children in the nursery shows there is plenty of scope for improvement in some homes. A surprisingly high number of parents at the nursery we visited do not speak English as a first language. Many were not in the habit of reading to their children. One young boy confirmed what appears to be common in many families; he told me his father had never read him a story.
BBC London’s RaW competition and showcases aims to show the art of story-telling is alive and well. Durrant’s first children’s book with the charming illustrations by Rose Forshall may have come from an inspired idea at television’s coalface, but at its heart it is a cracking good tale of a granny with attitude.
Gran’s adventures have surely only just begun.
Here's Geraldine Durrant's original entry:
Gran’s Great by Geraldine Durrant
‘She bakes and knits, and says things like "take your coat off indoors or you won’t feel the benefit": you’d never guess she’d been a pirate when she was younger.
Back then she had red hair and striped stockings and drank sherry: pirates mostly drink rum, but Gran says sherry is more ladylike.
Pirating isn’t the life for everyone, but Gran says if you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock, and being called Scary Mary or Mad Moll, then it’s a career more girls should think about.
Long hours of course, but you get to travel - and if you like eating fish and bird-watching it’s ideal, really.
Gran doesn’t do pirating any more: too much red tape.
“Try sending a cabin boy up the rigging in a force nine these days, and they’ll have Health and Safety on you before you can say doubloon,” she says.
But she still wears her old pirate hat round the house, and carves the roast with her cutlass: she says it reminds her of “the good times”.
And she keeps a crocodile under her bed.
He’s pretty harmless really, although if he’s in a bad mood she has to run from the bedroom door and leap on to her mattress so he doesn’t nip her ankles.
But Gran’s pretty spry for her age and I think the exercise does her good.
I know she misses her old shipmates - Flint-Hearted Jack, Fingers O’Malley and Cut Throat Malone: and, as she says herself, the crocodile’s company.
So sometimes she and the crocodile have some hot milk, then they take out their teeth, snuggle down back-to-back under the eiderdown, and snore quietly as they dream about the bad old days aboard The Black Barnacle.’
last updated: 25/07/2008 at 10:19