I’m often asked who my favourite storybook character is. I keep changing my mind, because there are so many wonderful characters to choose from. But there’s one character I’d love to be – Billie Jean Fleetwood-Mack.
Billie Jean is the unflappable mountaineering mother in “The Giggler Treatment” by Roddy Doyle.
I love her because she is eccentric, heroic and silly. When there isn’t a mountain handy for her to climb, she pitches a tent in the hall and runs up and down stairs instead. When her husband is literally about to put his foot in it, she sets off with the children and the dog, dashing across continents in an instant, and arriving just in time to save him from a terrible fate.
So in 2012, when I was invited to dress up as a book character for a photo by Kim Ayres, who was then artist-in-residence at Wigtown Book Festival, I knew who my character would be.
It wasn’t easy to find mountaineering gear in the middle of Cambridgeshire. But friends turned out to be mountain climbers and they kindly lent me lots of stuff, including a pickaxe that had tackled Mount Everest. (Thank you, Dave and Cheryl Bird).
Here’s a snapshot of me trying some of it on beforehand…
Kim’s photo-shoot was a bit nerve-wracking because I was teetering on the edge of the spiral stairs, balancing on the toes of oversized boots and trying not to stand on the rope. Here’s the finished photograph, which cleverly hides the fact that my jogging bottoms were threatening to fall down:
Photography by Kim Ayres (kimayres.co.uk) as part of a series of images for Wigtown Book Festival 2012
I love the curve of the staircase and the lighting, and I think the image captures the character’s determination. Billie Jean may just be climbing stairs today, but when it comes to it she’ll get where she needs to go – even though her safety rope has come undone!
After the photo session, I met a lovely group of children at Wigtown Book Festival, and they created this brilliant picture of Little Fox and all of the sky in “Daddy’s Little Star”: