KBR is delighted to welcome Corinne Fenton with this interview on her beautiful new book Little Dog and the Christmas Wish. We hope it puts you in a festive mood!
In Little Dog and the Christmas Wish, you take us back to a time when bread was delivered by horse and cart and yellow metal rubbish bins line city streets, yet there are some cars about. Exactly what era is your beautiful tale set in and how did you decide on this space in time?
Several years ago, Maryann Ballantyne, Publisher Black Dog Books, an imprint of Walker Books, asked me to write a nostalgic Christmas tale, so I decided to set my story in a long-ago time but not so long ago that I couldn’t remember it.
The story is set in the 1950s—I remember waiting breathlessly in the queues at Myer Windows, I remember the arcades and I remember the Christmas decorations hanging from the light posts and on the buildings.
Referring to my other books, children often ask me if I met Queenie, if I’ve been on a bullock wagon like Bill from The Dog on the Tuckerbox, or if I remember riding on the Luna Park Carousel, like Flame from Flame Stands Waiting, which was set in the years of the Depression, and I tell them I wasn’t around for any of it. But for this story, I do actually remember the horses clip-clopping as they pulled the bakers’ carts. I have a good memory of my wonderful early childhood, which is why I write under the pen-name of Corinne Fenton, as a thank you to my parents.
I’ve dedicated Little Dog and the Christmas Wish ‘To those who remember Christmases like this.’ I also hope that today’s children can taste a little of what Christmases were like back in the 1950s.
The drama of a lost dog trying to find its way home touches the heart of anyone who has ever loved a pet. How did you decide your lead character would be a dog? And did you have a say in the type of dog that would be portrayed?
I had to go back to my original notes to answer this question. I read an article in the newspaper about how there is always an influx of lost pets (particularly dogs) about before and after Christmas and so many end up at places like the RSPCA and Lost Dogs’ Home.
In the beginning, I thought of a Greyfriar’s Bobby type of dog a ruffling, tumbling terrier and then I remembered West Highland Terriers – and a little white Westie fitted so well with Christmas. I saw him, felt his fear, saw the green and cream trams and the bustling people clutching Christmas gifts – but all in my head ... I can’t draw for nuts!
The text and illustrations complement each other so well. Did you get to talk to Robin Cowcher, the illustrator, about your ideas? How did the production process work?
I always present a full proposal to a publisher which details the idea, setting/time and synopsis and lots of research details. I met with Maryann Ballantyne and Robin Cowcher and we all discussed the book in detail and then for a period I ‘let the story go’.
Later, when the roughs began to emerge, I tried to only comment when something needed to be commented on. Even though this is a fictional story, it’s about a real place in a real time so the details have to be correct. Little things like - in 1957 the Myer Windows displayed the Nutcracker Suite and The Regent Theatre was screening ‘An Affair to Remember’ (one of my favourite old movies) on Christmas Eve.
Each of your picture books takes us back in time to experience first hand a special creature or a treasured space. Where are you planning to take us next?
The early days of the railways, set mainly in South Australia – another dog story I’m afraid! And after that there’s another ‘very different’ animal story on the way.
Learn more about Corinne and her books at corinnefenton.com.