Children love stories – reading stories, having stories told to them or just looking through picture books. But one thing that is very noticeable is how traditional lots of children’s stories are, celebrating princes and queens and all that sort of stuff. They also play a significant part in reproducing traditional gender roles. In general, the marketplace is pretty uniform when you look at the amount and type of children’s books that there are out there.
I was thinking about the above at the same time as being involved, with many others in the Cork area and beyond, in a campaign in the late 90s about access to the Old Head of Kinsale. For as long as anyone can remember there’s been a walk out along the headland to the Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse. It’s a very well known walk and remarked upon in many tourist guides to the area. It’s a beautiful amenity – part of our heritage and a walk that has been enjoyed by countless ramblers over the years.
In the 90s some developers acquired the headland and announced plans to put a luxury golf course on the area that they owned. They blocked off access to the walk and declared that the public’s right to walk on the headland and their plans for a golf links were mutually incompatible. To be blunt about it, these developers wanted the headland all for themselves and their golfing clients.
A campaign, called the Free The Old Head Of Kinsale Campaign, set about defending the public’s right of way and the public’s right to access. It organised some large public trespass demonstrations. But the developers had the Gardaí and the courts on their side. For a while it seemed like we might be able to regain access to the walk but in the end a High Court ruling upheld the property developers’ stand and declared that the golf links’ property rights were sacrosanct. This decision broke the resolve of the campaign and access to the Old Head of Kinsale was lost. For the present that is.
I’m not sure how exactly the idea of the worms story came to me. But it could’ve been the fact that one of my daughters had a real grá for making these elaborate homes for worms out in the garden. She would gather lots of worms and put them in lunch boxes with earth and leaves and all sorts of things. Probably rough enough for the worms but I did notice that the worms never really hung about for long! When she returned to check on them, the worms were always missing. I also read about the problems on some golf courses with the chemicals that are used to keep weeds down. Apparently some severe chemicals are used and these are associated with a variety of health and environmental hazards.
And then I had this picture in my mind too of seeing a water feature on a golf course in the United States once – the water was a strange ultra blue colour! Apparently not uncommon there but very unnatural and bizarre! All these things set me thinking about this community of worms having to suddenly contend with a golf course and all that that involved – and what might happen.
The illustrator who created the images you see here is Spark Deeley. It wasn’t until I saw Spark’s book, Into the Serpent’s Jaws, on sale at Solidarity Books in Cork that I thought to approach her about working on the story idea. Into the Serpent’s Jaws is a beautiful book with really engaging illustrations in it. So Spark agreed to take a look and she went off with the bones of the story. When we met up again, she had these wonderful illustrations done. I knew from that point on that this was going in the right track.
So the story in The Worms That Saved The World is in the category of classic fable, I suppose. The wildlife on a headland somewhere on the south coast of Ireland have their lives turned upside down when the farmland they live on is cleared of its livestock and turned into a golf course. At first the worms attempt to get by and live and let live. But the chemicals affect them and they decide to act. They peacefully protest at a big do on the day of a golf event provoking the anger of the developers, who decide to eradicate the worms. The worms flee to the caves on the headland where they regroup. Other wildlife – like the seagulls and blackbirds – have also been affected by the golf course development. They decide to help the worms and so the stage is set for a grand finale – where the worms upstage the golf club developers. I won’t tell you exactly what happens so as not to spoil the fun but it’s a happy ending – for the worms, I mean.
So right now Spark has completed about eight or so illustrations for the book. These have transformed how the story looks and feels – making it much stronger, I feel. In the meantime we have also worked on finalising the storyline which is mainly complete. There’s still a good bit of work to do but we have approached publishers with samples. Truthfully, we need a sympathetic publisher because the ideas at the centre of this story are different and in their own small way they are subversive too. These are ideas like the importance of community, of solidarity and of standing up for yourself and your community. These are vital values that we all need to have and cherish in these times. Sharing these values and talking about them with children is something this book will hopefully help do.
I hope you agree that is a far cry from princes and princesses!
Article published in LookLeft Vol.2 No.10