What do a famous comedienne, a professor from Belarus and a former English teacher have in common? writes Tim Worsnop.
The answer is a beautifully illustrated children’s book of darkly funny cautionary rhymes - in the style of Roald Dahl and Hilaire Belloc - which is going down a storm in local schools and booksellers nationally.
The rhymes are the work of Anna Best who taught English at Calderdale College for more than 20 years until she was made redundant in 2013.
Anna, who is married with a grown-up daughter and three grandchildren and lives with her husband in Warley, has always been interested in rhyme. She remembers penning a funny ditty for her mum when she was ill in hosiptal, “I wanted to make her smile,” she says.
Anna has already had a book published in 2011 called Borrowers of the Night which investigated the New Year’s Eve 1832 murder of Elizabeth Rayner in Clifton Wood.
And redundancy gave her the challenge of getting her growing number of rhymes published too. But attracting interest is not easy in a niche market like children’s rhymes, she says. What she needed was a stroke of luck.
Anna had followed TV star Miranda Hart on Twitter for some time and decided to post one of her rhymes on the comedienne’s feed. It was about a girl called Miranda who ate insects. A response came almost immediately, not from the star of Call the Midwife but from another follower, Natallia Pavaliayeva, a Professor of Literature at Minsk University who also is a professional illustrator.
“We chatted and she asked me if she could illustrate the piece,” said Anna. “Natallia is incredibly talented and what came back was just so obviously right. So I agreed to send her more.”
Her drawings have a Gothic style which blends perfectly with Anna’s words. Natallia also created an image of the Aunt Grizelda character which Anna has been able to model when she is invited to read her work in schools.
With the components in place, the search for a publisher intensified.
“We followed all the traditional routes but while people were generally encouraging we couldn’t get anyone to commit.”
Then Natallia suggested a different approach.
They sent out a post card with a rhyme on one side and an illustration on the other and almost immediately were contacted by independent publisher Hogs Back who specialise in books for children who offered them a deal.
That was around two and a half years ago and the book is now on general sale.
“The collaboration was key. I was worried because some publishers like to illustrate books themselves, but fortunately that was not the case with Hogs Back.”
The book had its soft launch earlier this year and gets its hard launch with more marketing in readiness for Halloween.
And Anna and Natallia are so pleased at how things have turned out they are now working on a follow up.
Their successful and unlikely partnership has so far been long distance and the pair have never met. But that may soon change.
“Natallia is very busy with her university work and her illustrating. But she is a real anglophile and is hoping to come to England next year for a Beatrix Potter conference. Hopefully there will be a chance to meet. I’d love her to come and stay with us so I can show her all the wonderful things we have around here,” said Anna.
lBuy the book from http://www.boolino.co.uk/books/editorial/hogs-back-books/ or Gallery 339, Skircoat Green and The Book Case, Hebden Bridge. It’s also available on Amazon. Aunt Grizelda has her own Facebook page - @auntgrizeldastreasuryofcautionarytales