Friday, 23 September 2011

The Kindness of Authors - John Dougherty

This is a story about a little boy, and his favourite author, and the difference a few moments of kindness can make.

Sam has just turned nine, and he asked for a birthday cake shaped like a platypus, for two reasons: he’d seen platypuses on his recent Australian holiday, and he’d read in Mr Gum & the Goblins that Andy Stanton’s favourite word is ‘platypus’. It’s a bit of a running joke; in every book the favourite word changes. Sam knows that, but still…

Anyway, this is where I come in. Sam is a friend of mine - he and his family live across the road from me - and so is Andy Stanton. I was lucky enough to find myself on a discussion panel with Andy a few years ago, on which occasion I prostrated myself before his comedy genius and he was kind enough to offer effusive words of praise about my Zeus books, and, well, I like to feel we bonded.

So I texted Andy with a brief explanation, asking if he’d mind sending me a text that said Happy birthday, Sam and something about platypuses. It would, I thought, be quite special to show it to Sam round about candle-blowing-out-and-cake-cutting time.

Andy, bless him, texted back immediately with the generous message: Give me a ring from the party and put him on the line and i’ll say hi.

Sam, of course, was awestruck. He was a touch monosyllabic at first; and Andy had to loosen him up a bit:

Andy: Hello? 
Sam (shyly): Hi.
Andy: Is that Sam? 
Sam (lost for words): Yeah.
Andy: Do you know who this is?
Sam (still lost for words): Yeah.
Andy: Yes, that’s right; it’s Jacqueline Wilson.
Sam (little smile appearing like sunshine through the clouds): No you’re not! You’re Andy Stanton!

And they chatted for a minute or two - with Andy doing most of the chatting - before Sam returned to the party, and to the envy of his friends (including one who muttered, “I bet it’s not the real Andy Stanton, it’s just someone pretending to be him!”).

So - what’s the big deal? Successful author does nice thing for kid. So what?

Well, the ‘so what’ is that Sam can be painfully shy - and up until a year or so back, he was  selectively mute. He often finds conversations with adults difficult, and he’s never - I’ll repeat that: he’s never - managed a phone call of that length before except with his mum or dad. Phone calls and conversations with adults are, by and large, things of stress rather than joy for him.

Yet this was special. Sam’s been upset about not getting tickets for Andy’s event in Cheltenham this year; but that night, when they were talking about the party, and the games, and the cake, and of course the phone call, Sam’s mum said to him,

“It’s a shame we can’t see him at Cheltenham this year, isn’t it?”

and Sam replied, “It doesn’t matter now. That was even better!”

Sometimes, we have no idea what powerful figures we can become in the lives of the children we write for.

All the names in this post have been changed except for mine, Andy Stanton’s, Mr Gum’s, Zeus’s, and the platypus’s.

John’s website is at
His most recent books are:
-> a retelling of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway for the Oxford Reading Tree 
-> Bansi O’Hara and the Edges of Hallowe’en   
-> Zeus Sorts It Out (“Very, very funny!” - Andy Stanton. And he’s not just saying that).


catdownunder said...

I like Andy Stanton (and you) even more for that. Kid will remember that forever!

Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely story!

bookwitch said...

That's so wonderful to read!

Cliona said...

This is so nice!

Susan Price said...


jongleuse said...

He's lovely isn't he? He not only signed a book for my 6 year old but answered his questions (Son: My favourite character is Friday O' Leary who is yours? A.S. :Mine would have to be Polly) Six year old is also huge Zeus fan !

John Dougherty said...

He's great, jongleuse - a lovely, lovely bloke, and just as funny in real life as he is on paper. And your six year old clearly has excellent taste! Thank you.

Stroppy Author said...

What is the platypus's name? You may not have changed it, but nor did you state it. I want to know!

Penny Dolan said...

This was such a lovely story - tried to say so yesterday but google ate my comment - and such an amazing party momment for Sam!

John Dougherty said...

Stroppy, it's called 'the platypus'. Platypuses are like that.

Sue said...

Who knows - maybe young Sam will grow up to be a writer himself on the strength of that. Lovely story!