Lonesome Bog and Little Dog - the children’s book highlighting the importance of peatland
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 March 2020
Inspired by her Ashdown Forest home, children’s author Iona Tulloch has created a tale that is helping to highlight the importance of peatland, finds Simone Hellyer
Ashdown Forest in East Sussex is probably one of the most famous literary settings in the world, thanks to AA Milne immortalising it as the home of Winnie-the-Pooh. And 94 years later the forest is still inspiring children's authors such as local resident Iona Tulloch.
It was a rather squelchy walk in inappropriate footwear through Ashdown Forest with her four children and a dog that served as the inspiration for her first book, Lonesome Bog and Little Dog, as she explains: "I had a baby on my back, a young one holding my hand, and two children and a dog running off and getting lost in the bracken. I was wearing flip flops because I didn't expect us to go on such a long ramble, and before I knew it my foot had disappeared into the ground. When I finally got it out there was no shoe on it. The children thought it was the funniest thing ever to watch me rummage around in the mud to retrieve it."
This memorable walk soon became part of family folklore and transformed into a tale of a bog taking and collecting other things. "The character of a bog that could come to life took shape from there," says Iona.
A health feature writer and editor by trade, Ioana decided to turn the tale into a book while on maternity leave with her youngest child. "After my other children I have always headed straight back to work, but I decided to take a year of maternity leave with my fourth. I think I really missed work, so I ended up writing the story. It actually wrote itself very quickly, but it took a lot longer to perfect. I ended up sending the outline of the story to friends with young kids, teacher friends and my auntie in Canada who is a published author. Although my own kids were probably my harshest critics," she says.
The story is written from the perspective of the bog and is colourfully brought to life with collage-style illustrations by Harry Woodgate. But it took setting up her own publishing company, Little Forest Publishing, to get the book on shelves as every publisher she approached deemed it impossible to illustrate. Iona says: "The word 'charming' was used by a lot of publishers - they all said that it was charming, but impossible to illustrate. I think they thought it would be too surreal or cartoony, but as soon as I saw Harry's work I knew that he would be right for it. He had the imagination and the technique that was perfect for the book. I got hold of some old journal articles about peatland and conservation and he incorporated that into the collage illustrations. He used newspaper articles and musical manuscripts too."
She adds: "After I found Harry I told myself that I could actually do it. So I opened my own publishing company and began talking to wholesalers that supply big bookshop chains in order to understand the process. I then looked into finding a good printer and found one in Uckfield. It is cheaper to just send it off to China, but we have good printers and in terms of sustainability I think it's best to do things locally where you can. I had to sell 2,000 books to break even, but I knew I could do it. Within a year I was having more books printed and it's in profit now. The book is also now widely available around the UK in Waterstones, Blackwell's, independent bookshops and gift shops."
Nature-lover Iona goes running in Ashdown Forest with her dog every day, whatever the weather, and finds the landscape a constant source of inspiration. But it wasn't until she wrote Lonesome Bog and Little Dog that she became aware how important bogs and peatland are to the environment. She says: "There are loads of plants and animals that live in bogs that just aren't found anywhere else. Peatland covers less than three per cent of the world's surface, but it is the largest land-based organic carbon stock. It stores twice as much carbon as the world's forests, but bogs are being drained for housing and all sorts of other reasons. Because they aren't full of big exciting animals they are really not shouted about."
She adds: "I sent the book to some conservation groups to see what they thought, and they all got really excited about it because no one has really written about bogs and peatland in this way before."
Now back at work, Iona is still making time to be creative and is working on her next book, Barefoot Boy. "Again it is a celebration of nature that is inspired by where I live. There is so much local talent in the Forest Row area and it's great to be part of that. I don't know if it's the town itself or the fact that it's on the ley lines, but it is a magical place."
Good to Know:
Lonesome Bog and Little Dog is published by Little Forest Publishing RRP £6.99.