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How I came to write

The Boy with Four Hats


Elsewhere on this site I’ve mentioned that every birthday and Christmas I write a story or a poem for the two children next door. Each has her own book which I retrieve at a convenient time to write up the new story and then read it before handing the book back. When writing, I do my best to keep up with their enthusiasms and preoccupations, as well as thinking about my own study and teaching of child language acquisition.

The older girl is now nine and, having seen a number of films and musicals based upon the narratives of Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, is keen to know more of their work. Last year I wrote a shortened version of Romeo and Juliet and her recent visit to see the musical Oliver started me thinking about the influence of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor on the writings of Dickens. It is one aspect of the ‘Victorian Issues’ module which I taught at Huddersfield University and my reflections on this gave me much of the material for the story.

In addition, the older girl is a keen writer herself. In fact, I gave her a fountain pen as a present – in part to ward off her over-enthusiastic use of my own! I thought she might appreciate a simple account of the writing process in the story – hence the four hats.

I also tried to remain true to the spirit of Dickens and his determination to alert the British public to the plight of many of its citizens and the moral conflicts which confronted them. Although his themes are always serious, his writing is not always sombre and, with some of the names, phrasing and situations in this short story, I have sought to capture something of his comic genius, looking to elicit pathos from the reader rather than mockery.

As it happens, I live not far from the North Yorkshire village of Grassington which, each year, has a Dickensian Festival in December. After the story has been given as a birthday present, it will be launched as a published work at the 2016 Festival.

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