"Becoming Violet": Writing about grief and belonging in my picture book

Published on: 15 November 2021 Author: Ian Eagleton

Ian Eagleton's nan was always there for him, even throughout the difficult school years when he struggled to fit in. When she died, he didn't know how to channel his grief. And then the memories poured into his picture book, Violet's Tempest...

From the front cover of Violet's Tempest by Ian Eagleton, illustrated by Clara Anganuzzi 

When my nan died, the main feeling I experienced was anger. I was angry at everything! I was also sad and confused and lost. I had all these big, swirling emotions inside and no idea of how to cope with them snd channel them.

And then one night, as I was falling asleep, a vision of a little girl came to me in my mind. She was sat in my old Year 4 classroom staring out of the window, as rain lashed down on a grey and bleak playground. Violet. Her name was Violet. And something had happened to her. I didn't know what, and I still don't. As we buried my man and emptied her house, I was still full of so much unspoken sadness and rage, so I began to write...

'Violet sits in class frowning, watching the wind howl outside and the muddy rain pitter and patter on the grey playground...'

But why? Why was she so sad and empty? I began to think about my nan. Whatever had happened to Violet, I knew that her nan had to be there for her, just like my nan was. So, slowly, gradually, over many months, I began to tell Violet's story. Her voice, once so happy and full of giggles, had turned into a whisper. She was angry and she was sad. But she would have her nan. She would have her nan through it all like I had my nan.

The 'special love' from your grandparents

When I was around 10 or 11, my nan often came and stayed with us. She picked us up from school, made ham, egg and chips, ironed, cleaned, and we would cackle and holler with laughter as she taught me to dance in the kitchen to Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go". 

In the evenings, we would sit at the kitchen table and she would help me learn my lines in whatever play I was performing in. I had joined a local amateur dramatic group for kids when I started secondary school – a place of safety and acceptance, a space away from being spat at and laughed at, snubbed and vilified. You could be anything you wanted in my secondary school in the '90s – mean, aggressive, prejudiced... Just not gay. Never gay.

So I decided that Violet's nan would hold her and wrap her in love and would help her learn lines for a school play, too! I wrote about Violet and I wrote about her nan, their journey to rediscovering Violet's lost confidence. Through the love of her nan, Violet would rise above it all, she would find hope and self-acceptance, and she would know love. That very special love that grandparents seem to have for their grandchildren. That love that my nan had for me and my brothers, for all of us.

'No one's life simply vanishes'

As I wrote the final words to what would become Violet's Tempest, I realised that no one's life simply vanishes. It is there in the memories, the shared laughter, the shared pain, in our words and in our love for each other; and I suppose it's there tucked in our hearts, sustaining and ever-lasting.

And my nan's life? It's there whenever we eat ham, egg and chips, and there whenever Wham plays on the radio. It's there when we remember things she would say (I don't know how anyone can remember all these words...You can only do your best, Ian... Oh, you cheeky sod!).

Her life, love and acceptance, was there, vividly emblazoned in my mind while I wrote Violet's Tempest, and it's there when I look at Clara Ananuzzi's rich, beautiful illustrations and the warmth she has captured when Violet sits on her nan's lap. And perhaps a piece of my nan will be there every time in the future when a child, maybe with their own nan, opens our book and begins to read...

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