Local children have been welcoming an un-feathered friend into their homes and hearts. A very popular artist Janice Foley has written and published her very first book, a children’s book describing the perils and the adventures of a real life garden visitor. Now Baldric, the unfeathered friend, has struck a real chord with children and grandparents alike and the first print run has absolutely flown out.
Janice runs Yarm Originals website, an online gallery that champions local and national artists and brings affordable art to people. Jan’s own paintings of Roseberry Topping have proved to be a real hit, often featuring the enigmatic Roseberry.
I met up with Jan in her Eaglescliffe home to hear all about the unfortunate bird Baldric and how the book has been such a sensation. Oh and I was so lucky because after the interview Jan read the first chapter to me. It was wonderful.
So let’s celebrate International Women’s Day by talking about the first book of a much loved local artist, Janice Foley.
Jan: Baldric is a real bird that appeared in my garden on April 1st last year.
Q: April Fools’ Day?
J: April Fools’ Day, yes, and everyone thought that I was pulling their legs until I took a photograph to show what he actually looked like. He had no feathers on his head. He was like a little miniature vulture.
Q: Very distinctive then?
J: Yes and quite jittery and jumpy and didn’t mix with the other birds.
So I looked up online why you would get a bald headed black bird and it could be a virus or a ring worm or it could be stress. Maybe he needed to find a mate.
So in my head when people started commenting that he would be cold and he needed a hat and he needed a mate and things like that, I decided to just think about why he was bald and maybe stressed. And I decided he was scared and he was going to be anxious and worry about everything.
Then one day he met the lady in the shed, the artist. That’s me. That is where I paint. The lady in the shed told him that he needed to go off and find himself and have some adventures and to be happy again.
Q: And you captured his adventures in a book.
J: Yes. Thirteen chapters. He sets off and leaves me and heads off to Roseberry Topping. Because that is where most of my paintings are set. And the Roseberry Hare does feature in the story but only for a brief moment because the book isn’t about him, that is a different book.
Q: The hare is a character that you introduced into your paintings and it became very popular.
J: Three years ago now and it is still incredibly popular. The Roseberry Hare has travelled all around the world. Hong Kong, Tasmania, Australia, Europe and America.
Q: Is this the first time you have actually written?
J: I have never written anything before in my life.
Q: That must have been quite a challenge for you.
J: Yes but I found it fairly easy really. It just flowed. Once I had the idea of the storyline, where he needed to go off and have adventures, it just happened. It was quite easy.
Q: I would have struggled even more writing for children.
J: I got the ideas from stories I remembered from my own children, my daughter in particular. I probably shouldn’t say this but she used to be scared of going to the toilet and bathroom on a night time in the dark. She was fine until she had to cross the landing and we could hear her charging across the landing. She was safe in the bathroom and then she had to charge back.
That was one idea of a scared child and a storyline for the blackbird. So that is in the book.
J: I think so because a part of the story in the first chapter is that the bird has no friends in the garden. Because he is different the other birds avoid him, and the snails make fun of him and the hedgehogs don’t like him and they scare him when they scrape under the gate late at night. So he has got no friends.
The lady says you have got to leave this garden, with the high fences and go off and make some friends.
It all works out quite happily for the bird, he does manage to find some friends. The book goes through the seasons as well. At some point it gets really cold and wintry and he has to find a hat for his head because he is so cold.
Q: So, back the suggestions at the start.
J: Yes, the ladies that suggested I knit a hat for him, yes. So, yes he does end up with a hat.
Q: Has the book made it into schools?
J: I have a couple of teacher friends and I have given them copies and they have taken them in and read them to four and five year olds over the course of a few days because it is quite a long book with eleven chapters so they couldn’t take it all in, in one reading session.
It has gone to ten year olds in a school. And they very kindly wrote to me. I got seventeen reviews back, which were absolutely brilliant. I got some lovely comments from them, very positive. I have been invited to go to another school and read it. I have done a book signing with it. And I have been invited by the WI to give a talk on how I started off to become an artist first and then to write my first book. I am doing that in April.
Q: It was April 2016 when this all started.
J: Yes, so it is about a year since we all met Baldric and I can go and talk about how I started painting initially and then I went from that to someone that wrote a book.
Q: I don’t suppose you would have imagined this time last year that you would have completed a book.
J: No, not at all. Although people have always asked about the Roseberry Hare, did he have a story? And he does and that will be coming out at some point. But not yet, for a while.
Q: Was this a limited print run?
J: The first run is a limited edition and we will soon be sold out of those.
Q: It is a really quality publication.
J: That was important to me. Nice thick paper. I have seen copies that children have looked at and had for a few weeks and they still look as good as new. The pictures had to be good quality for the illustrations. So it was important to me that it was a hard back, hard wearing, nice thick pages and large print. A lot of people that have bought it are quite elderly and have bought it as gifts for their grandchildren so they could read it to them. So it is quite important that the text size is big as well.
I have actually taken it into a nursing home and read it to some of the elderly people in there and they have loved it. They found it funny and entertaining.
Q: All those things that you list from the hard back to quality illustrations and nice big text that is how I remember books from my childhood. It used to be that way, didn’t it?
J: It did, yes. The difference between my book and what children are reading now is it is a lot longer and has a lot more words in. Although some children have actually said it is too long because they are used to very short, brief, a few lines to a story. But teachers have said that is one of the best books they have seen lately because it is different. But it is different in that it has gone back to how I would see books when I was young.
Q: Speaking to some teachers they tell me that some of the children try and move the pages of books with their fingers as if they are a smart phone screen.
J: I have seen that yes, I can understand that. I have done that on my computer screen and wondered why it isn’t working.
Q: It must be nice to produce a proper book.
J: It is nice to see that some children actually still read proper books, yes definitely.
Q: You have achieved a lot with this book. Is the next step to do another print run?
J: I think there will be some more copies but what they will look like I don’t know. Obviously I want to keep the price down and get it out there into some book shops. At the moment I am selling them myself. To get them in bookshops is another ambition. Also, to maybe take them into hospitals and children’s homes and get them out there to people that actually can’t afford the books would be nice as well.
J: I have yes and it has mainly been online. Or people have come to me because they have heard about it. Not so many local people but this is the way the paintings go as well. My paintings go to people all around the country far more than they do locally.
Q: Have the people around the country got a link to this area?
J: Sometimes yes, they have moved away or they have visited here for holidays and have a special memory of Roseberry Topping and this area. They are bought as gifts as well for people that have lived here to give to family members etc.
Q: There is something about Roseberry Topping, isn’t there?
J: There is something magical about Roseberry Topping. We have all got a good memory of it and it is a place that you notice when you are coming back home. It is visible from so many miles around that we all see it is a landmark that means something to us in lots of different ways.
My uncle and aunt used to live at Great Ayton and as a child we used to go on two buses on a Sunday morning from Eaglescliffe to get to Great Ayton and it seemed to take hours and hours to get there. And then there was Roseberry Topping and just the magic of Great Ayton really. My uncle was an artist, just an amateur, he painted for pleasure. He did a few Roseberry Toppings and he always put a little snail in his paintings as a symbol. A lot of people see my Roseberry Hare as my symbol but there is actually another symbol that is hidden in the paintings as well. Some people know about it but I’m not going to say what that is, not just yet. At some point it will come out. But you can find it if you go looking for it.
Q: So, we should all look closely.
J: Yes, you should buy a painting and then you can see what it is (laughs).
You can order the last few copies of the book and view both Jan and other artists work online