There is a popular preconception that parents should be kept as far away from the action as possible in children’s books. What inspired me to write the Knightley & Son series was exactly the opposite. I think children have elaborate fantasies about what their parents might really do at work or in the attic or the garage. And often they don’t really know their parents until much later in life. That’s why I tried to come up with a concept that would take a father and son on their own fantasy adventure – and perhaps they’d become closer during the course of the plot than they ever were as a ‘normal’ father and son. One of my lasting memories from childhood was my dad taking me on a camping trip to Loch Ness to look for the monster. I managed to survive his campfire cooking and we didn’t see any sign of the monster, but it was one of our best times ever. Here are five parents in children’s fiction that really inspired me:
William, Danny’s dad in Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
I still love the tender relationship between the down-on-their-luck father and son in this book, and it was one of the biggest inspirations behind my novel. Reluctantly, William grants Danny access to the mysterious world of poaching pheasants, and much adventure ensues.
Joe Gargery in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
OK, he isn’t technically Pip’s father, but Joe is one of the most loving and selfless father-figures in literature. He is horribly treated by Pip who decides to forsake his roots at the blacksmith’s forge and pursue a life of material indulgence, squandering his inheritance in London; but ultimately Joe’s homespun wisdom sees him through, just about.
The Grandmother in The Witches by Roald Dahl
Dahl is known for eccentric parents and grandparents so I had to include one more. The cigar-smoking Norwegian grandmother of the unnamed “boy” in The Witches is a brilliant, unlikely mentor who teaches the hero about the perils of witchcraft, after his parents were killed in a car crash. Her detailed descriptions of the tics and tells of a witch are a perfect set-up for the rest of the plot.
Colonel John Parry in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Will Parry, the protagonist in the second book, The Subtle Knife, can only imagine what happened to his intrepid explorer father John who vanished in Alaska twelve years earlier. The book builds the legend and enigma surrounding John Parry until – without wanting to give anything away – Pullman reveals the truth to Will in a shocking and emotional way.
Grandpa Chatterji by Jamila Gavin
Well, this is a bit of a cheat. My mother wrote this book about my grandfather (her dad) whose real name was Terence. The fictional character and the real one are almost identical. He was a lovely, big-hearted and deeply eccentric man who hailed from India and spent his later days in Gloucestershire, where amongst other things he taught me how to ride a bike.
Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin is out now, published by Bloomsbury Children's Books. Photo credit Cody Burridge.