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Blog The Hare-Shaped Hole: A Comfortable & Gentle Introduction to Loss for Children

The Hare-Shaped Hole: A Comfortable & Gentle Introduction to Loss for Children

By John Dougherty | Author, Guest Blog

The Hare-Shaped Hole: A Comfortable & Gentle Introduction to Loss for Children

Award winning author, ​John Dougherty shares with us 'The Hare-Shaped Hole' and how it came to be!

The Hare-Shaped Hole, and How It Came To Be

You can find ideas for stories anywhere, if you keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Sometimes they surprise you as they leap out from the shadow of something quite ordinary; sometimes they grow, slowly, from a seed long-buried in your imagination.

And sometimes they spark into being when two unrelated thoughts collide. That’s how it was with The Hare-Shaped Hole.

The Collision, and How It Happened

A few years ago, Laura Hughes and I won an award called Oscar’s Book Prize for our picture-book There’s a Pig Up My Nose. The prize was set up in memory of a little boy named Oscar Ashton, who died very suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of three. I’ve always had tremendous admiration for the way his parents channelled their grief into the creation of something so positive and hopeful.

As a past winner of Oscar’s prize, I’ve been invited to the award ceremony every year since. In 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was held online, and one of the format changes was that the judges concluded the event with a reading of the winning book: The Littlest Yak by Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley. As I sat on my sofa at home and listened to the rhythms and rhymes of the story, part of my mind went to Oscar, and the hole his death must have left in his parents’ lives…

…and two thoughts collided. Within moments, the idea of a rhyming picture book about loss and grief, represented by a hole in the air, was growing in my mind.

How the Story Grew

But who would the story be about? It occurred to me that if one of the characters were to disappear, and be replaced by a hole in the air, that character would have to be immediately recognisable just from his or her outline. A rabbit, perhaps, with its long and distinctive ears? Or… a hare. That would provide many more opportunities for appropriate rhymes - not least “air,” as in “hole in the air”. And the hare’s friend? Hmmm…

Two names popped into my head: Bimly and Bertle. Well - with a name like Bertle, what could he be but a turtle? A bit more thought, and I had my opening couplet:

“Bimly and Bertle were always a pair

Though one was a turtle and one was a hare…”

Hold on, though. If “turtle and hare” is the correct order in the second line, then surely  it should be “Bertle and Bimly” in the first. I wasn’t sure I liked that. Actually, I wasn’t sure I liked “Bimly” at all - it felt a bit too silly for such a serious story. Let’s see… well, hares run really quickly - you could say they hurtle…

That’s how Bertle and Hertle came to be, and got their names. I put my mind to rhyming, and the story began to grow: first, building a picture of their friendship; then quickly moving to the point where Hertle disappears, to be replaced by a cold, empty hole in the air.

It took three and a half days to put the first draft together: imagining how Bertle would feel, and what he would do; deciding who would arrive to help him, and what help she would offer; coming up with couplets that not only rhymed and flowed, but that fitted the mood of the story. And when it was finished, I was pleased with it. I felt fairly sure that I’d written something that someone would want to publish.

Only when I read it to my family, and saw their reactions, did I begin to wonder if I might have written a story to be really proud of. Since then, the responses of all sorts of people to The Hare-Shaped Hole - not to mention the absolutely stunning illustrations by Thomas Docherty - have made me feel that, just perhaps, that single moment of inspiration, sparked by a collision of two thoughts, may have led to the creation of a very special book indeed.

Have a go!

The Hare-Shaped Hole isn’t the only one of my books sparked by the collision of two separate thoughts. My very first book, for instance, came from finding a book about the Greek gods in a classroom, and suddenly wondering what would happen if you put a Greek god in a school.

Why don’t you see if you can come up with two very different ideas, and spark a story by putting them together? Once you’ve got those concepts in mind, ask yourself questions about how they might work together, allow yourself to daydream, and see what you come up with!

Alternatively, if you’d like to have a go at a rhyming story, I suggest you look for an idea to write about. Once you’ve found it, concentrate hard on it for a few minutes, thinking about what might happen, and then tuck it away in the back of your mind and start to read some rhyming stories - some Julia Donaldson, perhaps; Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes; The Littlest Yak and its sequel; or maybe The Hare-Shaped Hole. You might just find that a rhyme to start off your own story will pop into your head.

Happy writing!

Published: Fri 24th Mar 2023

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