Margaret Bateson-Hill has been telling and writing stories about dragons for some time now. The beautiful dual-language picture book she describes below was originally published under the Zero to Ten imprint of De Agostini Editions Ltd in 1996, resulting from the close collaboration of English and Chinese authors, the illustrator and a paper-cut artist, the editor and designer and the Lambeth Chinese Community Group. Although the book has never been out of print, the new edition now presents the Chinese version of the text using simple Chinese characters in recognition of the growing popularity of teaching Mandarin in schools. For more information about Margaret and her work, see http://www.margaretbateson-hill.co.uk/
Discovering Dragons By Margaret Bateson-Hill
‘Why do you like dragons so much, Miss?’ I get asked that question all the time. Four of my ten books feature dragons! The truth is I got into writing about dragons quite by accident. My experience of dragons up till writing my first book was shaped by books I’d read as a child – especially Smaug in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and Eustace’s dragon experiences (no spoilers!) in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But as I write this I’m suddenly remembering other dragons that surfaced in my early childhood stories – St George slaying the dragon and Sam Pig and the Dragon (from The Adventures of Sam Pig by Alison Utterly).
As I’ve discovered, dragons live deep in our psyche and every now and then will emerge from their lairs. They turn up in all sorts of extraordinary places. (Check the bottom of your pound coins – if you are unlucky you’ll get a leek instead.)
Here’s one I discovered on a beach in Kerry.
So let me tell you how I discovered my first dragon. It was Chinese New Year and it was snowing. I was due to visit a group of children and wanted to tell them a story to celebrate the time of year. I knew that there was a wonderful art of Chinese paper cutting as I had been given one as a gift. I also knew how to cut out a snowflake from paper. I quickly came up with the outline of a story. An old lady, Lao Lao who lives up in the mountains, is skilled at cutting paper into shapes for the village children. News of her skill spreads throughout the country side, until eventually even the greedy emperor hears of her skill and kidnaps her so she can work for him – in the way of fairy tales he believes her skill is so great she can turn paper into jewels.
My old lady needed rescuing – what else could I choose as my superhero but the ice dragon who ruled over the mountains. The dragon rescues Lao Lao carrying her up above the clouds. His ice cold breath freezes the Emperor and his guards into statues of ice, and turns all of Lao Lao’s precious paper cuts into snowflakes – at this point, when I’m telling the story, I reveal a snowflake cut from paper! (I make it out of very shiny sparkly paper!)
Did you know that Chinese dragons are water-based dragons; they are usually shown with a snake like body, four short legs and no wings?
My ice dragon in Lao Lao of Dragon Mountain (Alanna Books) proved to be very popular as I visited schools, with children very keen to discover their own dragons. They have included sock, jewel, rainbow, football, space, flower, and pizza dragons to name but a few. One child told me their dragon was a motorbike dragon.
My second dragon adventure came about when I was asked a question during a storytelling workshop I was participating in. Our tutor, the excellent Kelvin Hall, asked us to imagine who our ‘secret selves’ were. As I listened to the ideas all around me I was racking my brain as to what I should say.
Suddenly I knew. “I race dragons,” I told everyone. “Every night I slip out of my house, go to the dragon caves under Lambeth Town Hall and find my dragon and we go racing.”
It seemed the perfect idea for a story and so I began what would turn into the Dragon Racer trilogy (Catnip Publishing).
Brave, fast, loyal and chatty, he was the perfect companion for my heroine Joanna ‘JoJo’ Morris. I didn’t have much choice but to write him just the way he told me to.
I also enjoyed creating the dragon Hermes, the young Golden Spiked Back dragon who is wise and brave beyond his size and age. (The Silver Flame)
I do like writing the evil dragons though – Prometheus – brooding, cold calculating and violent (First Flight) or the brutish cruelty of Armageddon (The Silver Flame).
I’m writing a new book now and so far there isn’t a dragon in sight (there is a talking cat and a clockwork raven.) So will I write about dragons again?
This guest post was provided by Margaret Bateson-Hill. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.