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Monday, 8th October 2018

Drogheda women's enchanting children’s book

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Ruth Campbell and Vivienne Byrne proof reading their new book for children Mr. Wisscoccally – Adventure in Thorny Wood.

When two great imaginations co-operate on the same project it can either be a total disaster or else they complement each other so well that the project is immeasurably strengthened.

A project created by two very talented Drogheda women, a children’s book and CD called Mr. Wisscoccally – Adventure in Thorny Wood, is very much in the latter category. Between them author Ruth Campbell and artist Vivienne Byrne have produced a children's book that is truly enchanting.

This book is so exciting and works on so many levels that it is difficult to praise it enough. The narrative comes from the fertile imagination of Ruth Campbell who has been telling stories for many years, first to her own four children and in later years to her six grandchildren.

This story revolves around the adventures of a seven year old boy called JC Summers who is staying for the summer holidays with his granny who lives near Thorny Wood.

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The Mr. Wisscoccally of the title is JC’s imaginary friend and together they get up to all sorts of adventures in Thorny Wood which is populated by many fascinating creatures, not all of them friendly.

Thanks to their attempts to keep the peace in the woods though, bullies are exposed as cowards and the helpless join forces to defeat the mighty.  

Ruth’s colleague in this superb production is Drogheda artist Vivienne Byrne whose stunning illustrations breathe life into the vivid characters and scenes that Ruth has created.

It is astounding to hear that this is the first time that Vivienne has done this type of illustration work. I very much doubt that it will be the last.

As well as the book, Ruth has also recorded CDs of herself reading the stories and, listening to them, it is easy to understand how she enthralled the younger members of her family. You could sit and listen to her voice for hours.

Mr. Wisscoccally is very much an all Drogheda affair. The author and illustrator are both from Drogheda, it was printed by Beulah Print in Fair Street, and the audio for the CD was recorded by Eric Sharpe and Fran McDermot at Abbey Lane Studios.

Altogether this is an absolute delight produced by two very talented Drogheda women from different generations. It will make a gift that will be treasured by children of all ages – from 3 to 103.

The book is being launched at Barlow House this Saturday afternoon, 13th October at 3.00 pm when you can admire the illustrations, hear the story, buy the book, and meet the author and illustrator..... and have a cup of tea!!

Here’s a brief extract from Chapter four of the book when Mr. Wisscoccally meets a character called Silly Bird:

All the animals and birds, even the bees and insects, loved Silly Bird. They loved him but they laughed at him. They called him Silly Bird because he often did silly things.

Sometimes he fell asleep while flying and dropped out of the air like a stone. Sometimes he would look behind him and crash into a tree or another bird’s backside.

He often started to sing when the moon came up at night because he thought it was the sun coming up in the morning, so he woke up all the other birds and animals, and the parents had a terrible job getting their families back to sleep.

Once he spent a whole day pulling on an old piece of elastic that was buried in the ground. He thought it was a very long worm…

Here’s how Ruth explains the origins of Mr. Wisscoccally – Adventure in Thorny Wood:

The day I met Mr. Wisscoccally plays, in my head, like an old home video, that I can call up at will.

It was in about 2007 or 2008 and I was minding two of my grandsons – John was 3ish at the time and A.J. not yet a year old.

The little guy had fallen asleep on the sofa, when John brought me a piece of paper and a pencil. The paper was a little crumpled and there was some childish drawing on it – I can’t remember what.

“Will you draw a monster for me,” John asked as he climbed up on the chair beside mine, confident I wouldn’t refuse. Grannies don’t. Ever. Do they?

I’m not the best sketcher in the world, but I was sure I could draw a monster, good enough to please a 3 year old!

As soon as I started to draw a fairly standard monster, a dinosaurish thing with scales and drool, John put his little hand on mine and said, “No, Ruth, that’s not him. That’s not my monster.”

I was not surprised by this. John was one of those children who had a headful of imaginary friends, of all sorts, with great names and personalities.

“OK,” said I. “What does he look like?”

With his elbow onto the table and his little blonde head into his hand.

He started with :

“He has two big huge feet………..”

(I don’t know about you and I don’t draw a lot - but I never, ever, start with the feet!)

“He has ears like a dog, not pointy ones, long floppy, curly ones.”

And so, it began, over the next 15 minutes or so, I got my instructions and came up with a drawing that satisfied him.

“That’s him,” he said nodding his head. “He has a friend, a bird called Elephant.”

“Where do they live?” I asked.

“In a hill, and…...”

I looked at the beautiful, serious little face and marvelled at the mind of a child. What a wonderful thing.


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