The Illustrator that came to Tea: a Visiting Talk from Living Legend

Not to indulge too dramatically in hyperbole, but I think I might have actually witnessed a real life living legend in real life this week. Seriously and for real.

Yep, as part of the Bath Children’s Literature Festival (of which I have been a devoted attendee for the  past 3 years) I attended a talk by none other than the charming and, quite frankly, utterly enchanting Judith Kerr.

Apologies for the camera, but the lady herself shot of our glamorous, Bath Guildhall.

An absolute staple of British children’s bookshelves everywhere, Kerr is one of those awe inspiring talents whose timeless works effortlessly span generation after generation, capturing imagination and breathing life into young minds with simple tales of simple pleasures. And really, who can’t relate to those?


From her magnificently quirky tales of enigmatic tigers and their casual visiting habits, to the familiar madness of cats, old ladies and, most recently, baby seals in the bathtub (yep), Kerr’s work has inspired and excited so many from the pages of her timeless titles, that I simply couldn’t be expected to resist the opportunity to see this godlike mother of charm in the flesh.

And what was she like? Well, she was everything I hoped she would be. She was an embodiment of her books; a perfect personification of charm, wit and warmth.

She was the perfect house guest, she was the maddest aunty, she was the reckless old lady and she was the sweetest grandmother. She was peculiar and adored and she was creativity in it’s purest form.

Led by the insightful questions from, Julia Eccleshare, Kerr wove elegantly from story to story, recounting memories and experiences that eluded to a, seemingly remarkably strange, lifetime; extractions of which formed the basis of every one of her tales.

Yet, as she spoke, with her enchantingly perfect comic timing and an unchallenged humbleness, it occurred to me with warmth that she was a true genius of creativity. Because really, her life had not been so grand or elaborate as first thought. Certainly not as much as you may expect from someone born in such turbulent times. Do not get me wrong, there had been interesting events most certainly, but I challenge any full life not to suffer a few of those during it’s progression.

No, I honestly believe that the true magic of Kerr’s work lay in it’s simplicity. It was her own wonderful eccentricity, that enabled her to extract those marvelous tales of curious wonder from family memories with the green bean obsessed cat. It was her interpretation and examination of the minutia of everyday life, and vitally the people in it, that transcended so well into, seemingly magical stories and eccentric, yet inherently familiar characters. Every one of us can conjure memories akin to those of family outings to the zoo, observations of adored yet barmy pets or childhood fondness of strange artefacts in our parent’s studies (admittedly a stuffed seal is a bit of a weird one), yet it is only a true genius of creativity that can take these everyday occurrences and use them to build tales of so much whimsy that they can, without fail, capture the imaginations of every reader lucky enough to consume them.

kerr4 kerr2

From this week’s brief insight into the world of Judith Kerr, I feel I came a step closer to understanding and sharing in the magic of her books. Throughout the course of the evening, a simple and charming truth became apparent. The magic of Kerr’s world was not due to a incomprehensible and unreachable grasp of the imaginative process, but rather a reflection of her own personality. Her books are a public extension of herself, in all her quirk, enigma and warmth. From the moment she began speaking, I was entranced by her. The presence held by her slight and delicate physical frame was instantly eclipsed by the immediate reveal of her sharp wit and, subsequently, her strong and enigmatic character. I could not help but draw parallels between this wonderfully sharp storyteller in front of me and the enigmatic whimsy I associate with her name.

She was seemingly  as timeless as her stories; a testament to the strength of result when the illustrator becomes a personal presence within their work. Perhaps some, no less talented, practitioners do write and illustrate successful worlds on queue, do create independently of themselves, simply to fulfil the goal of entertaining an audience, but I struggle to deny the magic of writing for yourself, with the joy of appeasing your own indulgences. It is through this process that one captures a genuine joy in order to share with others. I think it is these books that communicate a timeless magic. An honesty that cannot be manufactured.

Disappointingly, as there was no book signing a this one, I did not get to meet Judith. But her presence was so entrancing, I felt as though I had. A personality like hers is a joy to come across and I only hope one day my own work, and indeed myself, can speak with such as unique yet universal voice as hers.

And even if this is all just starry eyed hyperbole, one thing is for sure. I would absolutely love to have Judith Kerr over for tea. And I wouldn’t complain a bit it she emptied my cupboards.

What a hero.

she is

Doing Birthdays Correc-e-tolly Part II

Fear Not!

It was a cruel trick to play I know, to leave you on such a adrenaline pumping cliffhanger yesterday. How very dare I weave the beginnings of such an intricate retelling of the Alice Tea Party, only to snatch away from you the sweet satisfaction of conclusion. To tempt you with tales of the present, only to deny you of the details of the gastronomic literary spread. For shame!

Yes, I am a cruel storyteller and, more to the point, a lazy blogger. And yesterday I had things to do.

But, for those of you who were a little intrigued by The Doormouse’s Hints and Tips for Life  that I had made for my little sister’s birthday, I bring you a few snippets of the rest of her birthday tea.

Having discovered the Doormouse’s Hints and Tips for Life in the sugar pot!

As I said, I had decided to theme it like an Alice in Wonderland tea party (if I’m quite honest, the real reason for this is that I, myself, have always, ALWAYS wanted to have an Alice birthday party due to an uncontrollable adoration for the books and original Tenniel illustrations. Only it’s never materialised, so I thought doing it for my kid sister, getting to organise it and put it together, was probably the next best thing!)

The presents were arranged behind.
Strawberry and Apricots suspended in Jelly!

Like with any handmade party, there were several limiting factors. The first being that I was, more or less doing it on my own due to work commitments of the ‘rents so how much could be achieved had to be realistic, and the second being that I wanted to keep it a complete surprise, no mean feat when Rhianna was milling about in the house doing lazy, birthday things. Luckily, a friend of mine had a birthday around the same time, so I’d managed to convince lil’ Sis’ that the extraordinary amount of baking that was taking place was in her honour.

Earlier that week I’d bought a coffee set for the occasion, so the night before my Mum and I had set about making black and red berries in jelly to set in the little espresso cups. We’d also made the layers of the cake, however it had not been constructed or decorated. And nothing else had been baked or made, so I began at 8am, baking, wrapping, decorating more or less without stopping, to have it all set up for when my Mum returned from work at 5.00.

And we did eat them. We ate them a whole lot.
More Alice naughtiness! The jelly set wonderfully, so while the cups said “drink me”, as my Dad found out, you couldn’t!
The oatmeal cookie recipe I used originally called for coconut and chocolate ganache in between the layers. However, Rhianna isn’t a chocolate kinda gal but LOVES jam. So Jam cookie sandwiches it was. And, of course, a bit of Alice icing.
Edible Buttons! Made with a whole lotta food colouring!


Although you can’t see brilliantly well, once I’d constructed the layers of the cake, I carved it into a wonk. So it not only leans like Piza, but the top is on a gradient. It looked pretty cool before I covered it in so much stuff you couldn’t really tell!

The figures were my Mum’s genius contribution!
I made strawberry roses using wooden skewers, black tissue and strawberries in keeping with the colour theme. It also helped the cake stay upright and wonky!

The cake layers were red, white and black like everything else, so when you cut in it was more Alice Madness! The Bottom was chocolate chip, the middle was red with summer berries in it and the top was black with black forest berries. I made buttercream icing and sandwiched that, strawberry and blackberry jam between the cake, then covered the whole thing in a layer of butter icing before I sealed it with rolled icing. A whole lot of work, but a hell of a fun cake!
As it was late afternoon, the sun was feeling problematic for photographers. Especially photographers as rubbish as me.

All things considered, I don’t think I did too bad a job. It was certainly worth all the work to see Rhianna’s face when she followed the string into the kitchen. And she later announced, I hope in earnest, that it was the best birthday she’d had thus far. Which is gratitude enough for me, and really lovely to hear when you’ve been working so hard on, what turned out to be, the hottest day of 2012.
I mean it when I say she deserves it though. She’s not been well for the past 5 years and hasn’t been able to go out and do normal teenagery, growing up things so if I can bring a little fun and silliness to her, that’s a job well done as far as I’m concerned.

We’ve been munching on button biscuits, multicoloured cake and Eat Me Jam Sandwich cookies ever since. But, Like it says on one of the pages of The Doormouse’s Hints and Tips for Life: “When in doubt, Use Jam.”

So really, we’ve just got into the spirit of it all!

And yeah, okay so it won’t be the best attempt at an Alice party ever. I’m sure it’s been done a thousand times to a much greater effect than that of little old me. But it was all one hundred percent handmade with such love, and received with just as much that I don’t think it could be considered too shabby an attempt. And it certainly got the reaction from my little sister that I’d hoped for.

I’d love to know what Carroll would make of it.

Actually, scrap that, he would probably be so off his face on various narcotics he wouldn’t have noticed anything was odd.

I bet his head was an interesting place.




Doing Birthdays Correc-e-tolly Part I

I like birthdays. Not really my own, I’ve grown a little tired of that one over the past 22 years. It’s always on the same day, SOOOoo unoriginal. But I like the birthdays of those nearest and dearest because it’s one of those occasions where it’s acceptable for me to force my work, baked good and other forms of general handmade nonsense on people and they HAVE to pretend to be grateful. This year has been no exception to this rule, and I dread to think of the amount of hours I’ve clocked up in the past eight months crafting nonsensical felt characters, photoshopping bizarre and often totally inappropriate cards and drawing and printing over ambitious comic books.

Yes the number of people on this earth who have been subjected to some kind of Bagley-Original has risen quite dramatically over the past few months, and with the onset of my kid sisters birthday recently, I decided that there was no call to stop now!
It’s always a little frightening when the people you remember being small enough to fit in the kitchen sink like it was yesterday, suddenly turn around and announce they’ve decided to be fifteen now. I actually find it disturbing to the point that it’s a little bit rude, but she decided to do it anyway. And luckily for me, Rhianna (yes, yes, like the singer except she actually manages to spell it right) is in possession of a similarly questionable take on the idea of “being grown up” to my own. In that you shouldn’t really do it because it’s boring.

So in the spirit of our shared view on the legitimacy of adulthood, and the fact that this is the first time I’ve been home for her, rather inconsiderately placed summer birthday, for quite some years, I decided to make a bit of a fuss and theme it like an Alice in Wonderland Tea Party.

Considering it was only really me taking care of the birthday business, as my parents had to work on the day, it turned into a comparatively elaborate affair, and as such the retelling will be done in two parts. For now we’ll just have a little chat about the present I made her: The Doormouse’s Hints and Tips for Life; A tiny, leather-bound charm on a necklace containing numerous questionable facts and general helpful nonsense for life.

Key and Lock Necklace found in a Charity Shop.

I gave it to her by tying helpful, directional luggage tags (“Follow Me”, “This Way”, “Just a Little Further” etc) to a long length of string that ran all around the house, in and out of doorways, along banisters and finally into the kitchen where the tea party was arranged, and finally into the sugar bowl where it was hidden.

This was then placed in the sugar pot for her to find.

Made from handmade paper, faux leather, a gold marker, left over cogs from Tick and a lot of glue.

Happy Birthday Nan! May this little gift serve you well throughout the adventure you’re about to embark on. Next stop Sixteen, when the tips for life start taking a bit of a different bent.

But for now, just enjoy the fun of nonsense and all the creativity that comes with it. And don’t forget to clean behind your ears.

Love from your Big Sister.