Our kids' book of the month for March is, in the words of Jaqueline Wilson, "A brilliantly told, ultra-modern story about a significant six months in eleven year old Olivia's life - it should be sold with a large box of tissues!"
Debut author Rebecca Westcott possesses the rare talent of being able to capture a young voice with an intense and evocative authenticity. Dandelion Clocks (suitable for children aged 9+) is real, funny, utterly touching and absolutely heart-warming. Despite the sadness at the heart of the story, every reader will laugh and keep on turning the pages, charmed by Liv and her mum. This will be a book well loved by fans of Jacqueline Wilson, Cathy Cassidy or Annabel Pitcher.
Liv takes us on a journey through her life from "Thirteen Weeks Before" to "Six Months After". We discover Liv's passion for photography, her brother's obsession with sticking to the rules, the stupidity of Moronic Louise at school, and how the family copes as Mum's terminal illness takes hold… Guided by Mum's own childhood diaries, Liv finds a new way to live.
Author Rebecca Westcott was born in Chester. She went to Exeter University to train as a teacher and has had a variety of teaching jobs that have taken her to some very interesting places, including a Category C male prison. She started writing a diary when she was eight years old, although she had no idea that one day her entries would be used to help her write a book. Rebecca currently teaches in a primary school and lives in Dorset with her husband and three children.
She has also written this exclusive blog post just for us...
I wish I could say that I come from a family of diary writers. I love the idea of generations of women, recording their hopes and dreams and handing down their words of wisdom to their daughters and granddaughters. But sadly, I can’t. My mum never kept a diary and this is a shame because, quite frankly, I would love to get my hands on her teenage musings. It might explain a few things.
My granny, on the other hand, DID keep diaries. She started once she’d left school and started working as a shorthand typist at ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries). This wasn’t her dream career choice but the tales of an older friend who was travelling to college by train every day, meeting up with naval cadets and having fun, convinced her that shorthand typing sounded like a good idea. She tells me now that she never met a single naval cadet but that her friend went on to marry one. However, the shorthand was useful for writing down song lyrics from the radio and it also came in handy with her diary writing.
So she started work and then met a boy. The first time she saw him he was sitting on the back of a bench and she remembers the thought popping into her head that one day, she would marry him. They were part of a huge gang who spent time together, walking and cycling and Granny started writing a diary because as she put it, “I was having such lovely times that I wanted to write about them”. She didn’t write every day – just when something particularly interesting happened.
Some diary entries were written in shorthand, including the first time the boy from the bench kissed her. Granny was ensuring that any interested parties (her mum and her younger sister) couldn’t tell what she was up to!
One diary entry was particularly important. It recorded the youth hostelling trip she took with that same boy (who you may have guessed by now is my Granpa) to the Lake District. They hitchhiked their way there, travelling first in the cab of a coal lorry and then on the back of a flour truck. She knew that he had an engagement ring for her and was impatient to receive it, but they were covered in soot and flour and Granpa didn’t think it was the right time. She had to wait for several days until finally, in the Duddon Valley and surrounded by daffodils, he presented her with the ring.
I would have loved to be able to read this first-hand. But I can’t and neither can Granny, because she burnt all her diaries many years ago. Her children were grown and she hated the thought that one day, they might discover her diaries and laugh at the things she used to write about. So she threw them in the kitchen stove. At the time, she says she had no regrets. It is only as time has passed that she wishes she hadn’t destroyed them.
But actually, hearing about her memories from her own mouth is much, much better than reading about them in a diary. I can ask her questions and through talking, she maybe remembers things that she’d never even written down in her diary. Diaries offer a fascinating insight into someone’s life – but there is no substitute for conversation with a person who makes seventy years ago sound like yesterday. Remembering the lost diaries reminds me to keep talking and sharing because then, those memories are really alive.
I started keeping my own diary when I was 8 years old. I discovered a box of them in the spring of 2012 and it made me wonder what my children would have made of my self-important, embarrassing entries if they had found them when I was no longer here. It was talking about this that gave me the first ideas for Dandelion Clocks and I used my diaries to help write the book.
I don’t think I could ever bring myself to destroy them, as Granny did, but I suppose that one day, I’ll have to make a decision. Because, like Granny, I do NOT want my children thinking that I was the person portrayed in my diaries (even though I really was…!).
All our free copies have now gone but Dandelion Clocks is still available online and from all good book shops.