Friday, 10 September 2010


When I called my blog Granny's Tale I had in mind my father, Paul Coltman's poem, Granny's Tale. Here's an extract from the first issue of Words-the New Literary Forum by Phillip Vine about Granny's Tale:
'In 1980 four of the United Kingdom's foremost poets met together under the auspices of the Arvon Poetry Foundation to decide upon that year's prizewinning poems in one of the most prestigious of the national poetry competitions. This foursome, who in 1984 might have formed the final shortlist for the vacant Poet Laureateship, were struggling for agreement upon a poem called GRANNY'S TALE. Seamus Heaney did not like it much  and talked of its whimsicality; Ted Hughes was explaining that when he started reading it he thought it was mere whimsy but that it had got a hold on him and he now thought it "strong"; Charles Causley, however, was the poem's strongest advocate, talking of its brilliance and of the "real invention of its language" and describing it as a "tour de force. In the final analysis, all four judges, including Philip Larkin, agreed that it was one of the most original poems in the competition and awarded it a fourth prize of £250'.

In 1985 Granny's Tale was published by Andre Deutsch and Farrar Strauss and Giroux with my illustrations as a sort of cross-over book for both adults and children. This proved a bit innovative at that time and, despite being highly Commended in the Kate Greenaway Award, it didn't take off.

The granny I painted was inspired by two old sisters living in a remote part of Southern Ireland - the Miss Collins. I'd visited them once with my father-in-law, a man of the cloth. He warned me not to accept any food  or drink unless it was pure spirits on account of the filthy state of their cottage. The old ladies, in sack cloth aprons, were delighted with our visit and were not at all put out when I refused a raw egg to suck. They enjoyed being sketched. 

As I'll shortly be changing the name and URL of this blog, I'd like to make this post an epitaph to both Granny's Tales.

Sunday, 5 September 2010


I find August a relaxing month even when I work right through it - something to do with everyone around me going away and leaving behind a quiet absence - or recollections of all those long gone August seaside holidays which cast a pleasant atmosphere over my working day. I recall it rained a lot on those holidays confining three energetic boys and a very large dog to a small cottage for hours on end. It was John Verney's books that always saved the day - each holiday he leant us a new one for reading aloud - Friday's Tunnel, February's Road, Seven Sunflower SeedsSamson's Hoard were the ones I remember.

They were humorous and had rip roaring adventures and everyone became absorbed  and listened quietly until the sun came out again.

Later, I read Going to the Wars, a story of Verney's time with the North Somerset Yeomanry and then the Royal Armoured Corps after war broke out in 1939.  It was a wonderful book crying out for a sequel about his escape from an Italian POW camp, but nobody could persuade him to revisit that time of his life and he settled down to humorous painting. I still have his Dodo-pad and one of his Culpepper Cushions and my last memory of him was in his studio, painting chests of drawers with naughty knobs.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


What sends children peacefully to sleep? Last week I travelled to a wedding in Sweden with my two Canadian grandhildren. An important role for me, Granny, was to help wide awake, jet lagged, overtired grandchildren fall asleep - on flights, in churches on mattresses on the floor and in strange hotel rooms. I discovered an unlikely book that did the trick - Nicky and the Big Bad Wolves by Valeri Gorbachev.

It was so scary it ought to have done the opposite. On Amazon it had 'nightmares' emblazoned across it as if to excuse the scariness and say to over-protective parents the book was OK to read as nightmare therapy. But my two and a half year old grandson didn't need nightmare therapy. He just wanted to see some very scary wolves. He would stare intensely for around ten minutes at each page of yellow eyes, pink tongues and white fangs.

I was left to guess what was going through his mind - the process of absorbing fear seemed to require the utmost concentration and this was what stilled him. The cosy pages with Mother rabbit didn't have the same impact and when there were no more wolves left to look at he just wanted me to flick quickly through the remaining pages, reach the happy ending before promptly falling asleep.
    Like Fairy Tales, Nicky and the Big Bad Wolves seems to make children confront extreme feelings deep within them. Doing so is evidently a tiring business.

Sunday, 8 August 2010


The house over the road is let to visiting scholars and an Israeli family moved in last winter. It was several months before I met the mother in the street with her young daughters. Assuming she was a scholar I asked her about her research at the university. She told me her husband was working at the university but she was a children's author/illustrator - Raphaella Serfaty.

But that wasn't all - her sister Shulamit Serfaty was also an author/illustrator -

 her mother Nurit Serfaty too - nominated in the IBBY Honour List of 2004 -

and, with her father a designer, I discovered the Serfaty family run their own publishing house -The Jolly Giraffe.

When I heard all this, I was in the process of creating my own publishing house, Plaister Press.
Suddenly, the small street in Cambridge where I live and work opened out and embraced a wider world.

Friday, 30 July 2010


Last year I did a school residency with artist John Wiltshire in a small fenland school, Wisbech St Mary. I'd gone with the school on an outing to the Stained Glass Museum in Ely and we'd found some interesting characters that were later to inspire a story set in the Fen Floods of 1947.  

John Wiltshire used the story in a huge stained glass window he did with the Wisbech St Mary pupils. Painted in acrylic on perspex it hangs in the school hall with the story beside it.

Here are some examples of the original paintings Year 4 pupils did for the story - Old Slodger the Ox  

the Sure Enough Duck 

and the Fen Tiger Fox.