20th April 2012

One foot in another world

With Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan due for publication in just under a week’s time, I started thinking about why I’d written it.  Why this book?  Why this story?  I can break it down into three reasons: 1) My own inclination to disappear into my own world appealed to me as a theme; 2) I wanted to write a book where the magic came into the real world, and which explored the idea of imagination; 3) I wanted to, in some way, celebrate the life of my wonderful springer spaniel, who died last year on 18th April – hence this being posted today, just a year after his death.

As a child, people around me always said I had ‘one foot in another world’… I did!  I was a dreamer.  I lived in my head, which made me forgetful, clumsy, and not great at school.  I also had a low boredom threshold (I still have), yet, I could entertain myself at home for hours on end.  I created fantasy worlds – everything around me was sucked in and bacame part of this.  The willow tree in our garden was my magical place where no-one could see me.  The waves of musky lavender in the garden, the sleepy sounds of bees buzzing, the cerise nail polish my mum wore on her toes as she hung out the washing… all were registered and stored in the boxes and jars in my head.  I can still pull them out at random, remembering exact conversations and what people wore at the time, where they sat and their facial expressions.  I’d channel all of this into games I played in my head, things I wrote, pictures I drew.  People knew I was in ‘Abi’s world’.  Of course, this all probably seemed a bit odd then, but very useful as a writer now, to have all of these memories at my disposal.

My Week!

I still see the world in a very sensory way.  The days of the week all have colours and are in an oval shape.  I only discovered two years ago, when trying to work out what date a particular day of the week fell on while I was teaching, and doing an oval shape in the air with my index finger, that the rest of the world didn’t see ‘the week’ like I did… whoops!!!  It caused mucho hilarity among my students who had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  And, in case you’re wondering, the shades of colour are as I see them, and the positioning of the days are as they appear in my head!  Baffling eh? This takes me to the second reason for writing Buttercup Magic – the world is an infinately interesting and fascinating place if you combine it with stuff in your head.  Pull the two together and you have a much wider vision.  Imagination… that’s all it is, and I wanted to explore this in the book.  Megan and Freya both explore their imaginations, so there is a sense of two worlds merging.  I like this crossover.  Is Buttercup, the beautiful golden dog, real?  Can Dorothy, the mysterious black cat, really communicate with the girls?  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  After all, this is a story.


And the third reason for Buttercup Magic coming into being was that the initial idea coincided with Baggins, our springer spaniel, being ill.  This idea came from a dream – a big old house, a cat who could talk, and mice who could tell the time.  But there was no dog.  I felt that absence so decided to add in a dog, like Baggins – a big, soppy fella who makes the girls in the book feel safe, who, in effect, becomes their best friend.  If Baggins were a person he’d have been the nicest, kindest person you could have met.  He really was very special and still leaves a massive Baggins shaped hole.  I didn’t start writing the story until after he died, but he kind of drove it, in many ways.  He was my Buttercup!

Do you ever wonder about the reasons, the motivation behind you writing a particular story?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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18 Responses to 20th April 2012

  1. Dave says:

    I don’t normally comment. But this one has me in tears. I miss that silly old dog. And love the way you have written this book and the writing used in the blog.

  2. Martin Day says:

    Abi, thanks for the insight into the workings of your creative mind. I like your experience of finding the way you seek the days of the weeks as not being universal. I think it is important to recognise our uniquenesses because then it help us see what our unique contribution to the world can be. I was a daydreamer too, But I was constantly told to stop daydreaming as a child, and that only helped to smother and shame my own uniqueness. Now I am conflicted: at one level I see daydreaming as a glorious meandering into something creative, and maybe even wonderful. But at another level those voices never really go away do they? I have been taught to devalue all kinds of art and only assign value to the rational and scientific. How sad is that! On that subject I was recently shown this brilliant piece on the flaws in our views on, and methods of, education: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html.

    My inspiration for writing has been to communicate some of the enormous life lessons I have learned over the past few years. My own dog story is the reverse of yours. I wrote ‘The Dog’ about my own experience projected into a dog’s world. Our rescue dog, ‘Scrumpy’ came to us after it was finished but he was so much like the dog in the story that it has become about him.

    • That’s really interesting re. being told not to daydream. I’m sure these things do have a knock on effect. I wasn’t exactly encouraged, but was left to my own devices regarding how I entertained myself. I think my parents probably thought I was the model child as I would sit for hours drawing, writing or playing out in the garden, so me being in my own world wasn’t discouraged. Probably why I still go there now! Thanks Martin!

  3. I wish I’d known Baggins, he sounds wonderful…. and this post made me dread the day our old lab is no longer with us. I love that you used his memory to create this lovely character, what a tribute, and I always enjoy reading the way other writers come up with ideas — fascinating! Often my motivation comes from a similar place — trying to work through things that are either present in or in the back of my mind. I often write about things that scare me, as a way to confront those things but I also often will write about things I wish were so, perhaps living through my writing just a little. Great and thought-provoking post, Abi!

  4. Thanks Julia. Baggins really was the best! I love that you use your writing to confront things that scare you. I don’t think I’ve ever done that, except with poetry, which is more cathartic and tackles stuff I would bury otherwise – which is why a lot of my poems remain unread! I think we do live through our writing a bit too don’t we? My current novel WIP does this. We’re so lucky that we have access to these worlds aren’t we? I can’t imagine a world that didn’t contain writing and those wonderful other worlds we can create.

  5. Emma Pass says:

    Baggins sounds like such a gorgeous dog. It’s heartbreaking when they leave us, but how wonderful that he’s been such an inspiration for your writing.

    My mum and I have had some interesting conversations about synaestheseia. She sees numbers and letters as colours too, and so did her dad. They even did an experiment once, to compare what they saw. Sadly, I don’t seem to have inherited it, though!

    I love your thoughts on imagination. I was (and still am!) a dreamer too, always off in my own little world… much to the annoyance of my teachers! My favourite quote about that ‘other world’ comes from LM Montgomery’s EMILY OF NEW MOON, where the main character is also a daydreamer, and wants more than anything else to be a writer (can you see why I love that book so much?! :D)

    “…It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside–but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond–only a glimpse–and heard a note of unearthly music.

    This moment came rarely–went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it–never summon it–never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. To-night the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow wave over a ripe field… with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a “description” of something. And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.”

    That is *exactly* what my ‘imaginary world’ feels like – and without it, life would be very dull indeed.

    (And sorry for the ridiculously long comment!)

  6. Oh that is just gorgeous! You do realise I’m going to have to buy this book now don’t you? Thanks so much for letting me see that Em. Also, I had no idea there was a name for this ‘thing’ – and your Mum and Grandad too! – fabulous! I am completely intrigued! I’ll have to look it up now! Thanks ever so x

  7. Kate Madigan says:

    What a lovely memorial for Baggins! He must have been a brilliant dog. I’m meant to be economising, but I might just have to buy Buttercup Magic now. Best of luck for next week, Abi!

  8. Lovely post Abi, I remember conversations word for word, what people wore and did etc, helpful as a writer, but somewhat annoying to my family at times! That old photographic memory, though it only helps with writing and imagination, and has never helped me recall maths!
    I spent much of my childhood lost in my own world too…where would we be without our wild imaginations eh? 🙂

  9. Gosh! You are so like me Lisa! Yes, I get that completely. No good with figures either! Like a different world to me. Yes, our wonderful imaginations eh? If only they realised this in education and nurtured it – it’s very special and underestimated by so many people. Thanks Lisa!

  10. Wendyfreckles says:

    Baggins. A great name for a great dog! Beautiful, Abi. I wish you Baggins of success for pub date! Wendy’s World – that was mine – I don’t even hear people talk to me at times and often jump in fright when I realise somebody is talking to me!! And WO with the days of the week – how I laughed along with your class. I suppose we expect that we all see life the same way! I see the months of the year in the same circular way – although mine aren’t in colour or in ovals like yours (you obviously have a more creative and colourful mind) – but my January corresponds to your Monday – isn’t that peculiar?! And I go in an anti-clockwise direction. But why Jan starts at 7pm in my mind – and yours??!! Fascinating. And this is the first time I’ve come across it in life. I shall have to ask others now if they “see” things in this sort of way. x

  11. Hi Wendy! Yes, other people do – there’s a special name for it (see Emma Pass’s comment) I see the months in a line from Jan to December – interesting that yours are in an oval and that Jan starts at 7pm – that is amusing! Our minds are strange things aren’t they?

    • Wendyfreckles says:

      Actually having seen that word (bet Emma had to look that one up HA!!) reminded me that I have heard of it, but I thought it was different to what I experience. I might have a tiny smidgen of it. My son has filing cabinets in his mind for filing in meticulous order – only wish he kept his room as tidy *wry smile*. Actually I cannot get over the fact that you are able to recall old memories so vividly – that’s quite amazing. You lucky thing!

  12. Oh you son’s filing cabinets sound ace – my mind is a hodge-podge – a bit like your son’s bedroom I suspect 😀 Yes, no idea where that sort of recall comes from, but it is quite handy!

  13. Nadine says:

    I’m an avid dog lover, so this post had me a bit weepy.

    But you’ve immortalised him, Abi, and in the most perfect way. To me, that’s marvelous, and a fitting tribute to his memory.

    The imagination and dream world that you had as a child sounds remarkably close to mine. It’s so nice to know when you can relate to someone who has had a similar experience. Now I don’t feel so “different”. 😉

  14. Ah, Nadine, thank you so much. I miss him terribly, but writing about him did help. How wonderful that our childhood worlds were similar. I know what you mean – it makes me feel a little less isolated to know that!

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