I recently asked my son Evan why he liked stories that rhyme. His answer was, “Because they’re funny, Daddy.” When I asked him why he thought they were funny, he paused for a moment, scratched his head then answered... “Because you can take words like dart and rhyme them with mart.” I must admit, his answer did make me chuckle – firstly, because I (along with most other seven year olds) would have picked a much different word torhyme with dart, but secondly – I completely agree with his logic! Sometimes random words can suddenly be made interesting and funny, simply by making them rhyme. (Trust me - with a name like Puckett, I established this fact from a very early age!)
Sadly, I didn’t read all that much as a child, but there are a number books that stand firm among my childhood memories. There was one book in particular that clearly developed my fondness for humour and rhyme - and that book was, Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. It was daft, fast paced, brilliantly illustrated but best of all – it was hilarious! I remember getting it as a Christmas present in the mid-eighties and it was undoubtedly the first book that ever made me laugh out loud. My whole concept of believing that “Books were for school” suddenly changed, and at the age of nine or ten, I had found something different that really captivated my imagination and made me want to turn the pages time and time again. Revolting Rhymes was my introduction to the genius of Roald Dahl and I’m still a huge fan of his to this day.
I’ve worked in a school environment for a number of years now and I’ve always found storytelling a great way of getting a point or a message across, especially to younger children. But my actual desire to start writing stories only grew strong after Evan was born. Naturally, we became fond of rhyming texts in our house and I suppose it was seeing our child’s warm reaction to stories like ‘Room on the Broom’ and ‘Some Dogs Do’ that soon made me realise as a parent how engaging rhyme can actually be. Humour aside, texts like these invite the listener as well as the reader to take part, and watching our son become actively involved in a story by predicting words, even though he wasn’t old enough to read, was an absolute delight. It was around this time that I felt compelled to try and write rhyming texts for him, tailored to what I thought would make him laugh.
The ideas for the stories often came from conversations we’d had, or things we’d seen that day. In fact, the whole concept of Murray the Horse happened that way. I had written one or two other stories before writing Murray and had been pondering over ideas for my next. Then one morning whilst driving Evan to school, the radio station I was listening to had a feature asking listeners to suggest ‘sports or activities that are undertaken backwards.’ At that particular time, I was driving past a field with a horse standing in it. I remember bizarrely thinking to myself - I wonder if horses can run backwards? We joked over it for a moment or two, but the thought left me with a burning desire to write about it. That same morning, I started to scribble down some ideas for a story about a racehorse that suffered a shoeing mishap, causing him to run in reverse. Soon after that - Murray the Horse was born.
I had this ridiculous image in my mind of several horses and jockeys lined up to race, with one horse casually standing among them leading with his bottom; his jockey (later named Tom) holding on to the horse’s tail instead of the reins.
...Inspired, Murray nodded and took his position, knowing that this was his lifelong ambition. But rather than facing the course with his head, he turned round and led with his bottom instead! The horses looked stunned and the stewards turned pale ... when Tom turned around and held on to his tail...
The fact that Murray the Horse will soon become a book is a pretty incredible feeling and it’s something I never believed could happen. I am thankful to so many people for helping me throughout this process - not least of all, Evan. If it wasn’t for him, I doubt that my weary, grown-up eyes would have ever been opened to the world of children’s stories after all these years. Worse still - I probably would have never experienced the immense joy that I now get from writing them.