Sunday 21 October 2018

'Gringer the Whinger'

Debut children's author, Jane Landy from Skerries talks to John Manning about how a character she invented 22 years ago has made it into a new book

Jane Landy at the gift shop in Skerries Mills where Gringer the Whinger is on sale
Jane Landy at the gift shop in Skerries Mills where Gringer the Whinger is on sale

Gringer the Whinger is a difficult dragon that is the subject of a beautiful new illustrated children's book by a Skerries author who came up with the idea some 22 years ago while trying to placate a whinging three-year-old in the back of her car.

Jane Landy from Skerries and illustrator, Sheena Dempsey from Cork have combined forces to produce a gorgeous new children's picture book called 'Gringer the Whinger'.

Jane is using her own publishing company, Golden Key, which has previously concentrated on school books, to publish the new children's story.

It turns out that Gringer the Whinger has been quietly germinating in Jane's head for 22 years and began, appropriately enough at a library in London.

Jane explained: 'I was living in London back in the 90s and I had two kids at that point - two girls, one was three and one was a baby. I arranged to go off with the three-year-old for a bit of time out.

'We went to Bethnal Green Library where they were doing a Chinese New Year workshop to make dragons. So we went along to have a bit of mother and daughter time together and we made this magnificent dragon. On the way home in the car, Aisling got fractious and started whinging and whining.

'It was a miserable February evening and she was whinging and whinging and just on the spur of the moment, I picked up the dragon we made and I made the dragon whinge back at her in the most miserable, whingy voice and it just stopped her in her tracks immediately. 'She said to the dragon: Who are you? And off the top of my head, I said Gringer the Whinger. Gringer kept whinging all the way home and she didn't cry anymore and I had great fun doing the dragon voice and thought, wow, that worked a treat.'

Gringer became something of an imaginary parenting tool in the family and his voice survived many years after the paper dinosaur was no more.

Jane said: 'So Gringer lived on even after the papier mache dragon disintegrated at some point. When there was a crisis, he would appear and it was a great tool for me because it stopped me getting cross with the kids and escalating an already difficult situation. So he's been part of the family for 22 years.

'We moved back to Skerries in 1996 from London and Gringer came too and then in 1998, I had twin boys so Gringer was badly needed again then and was deployed time after time with them. Meal times could be difficult and nobody wanted to eat their greens but Gringer loved everything green so he would demand their vegetables and they would suddenly eat up. It was a brilliant parenting tool and it ran for years.'

As the children grew up, Gringer made fewer appearances and one day, Jane decided to write down a few verses about the imaginary dragon, just so he would not fade from the family's memory.

Meanwhile, Jane started a publishing business, specialising in school text books.

She explained: 'I had started a school book business from my garden shed and it took years and years to get that off the ground and as these things do, suddenly it all started happening a few years ago.'

Fast forward two years ago, when Jane started talking to local illustrator and former Children's Laureate na Nóg, Niamh Sharkey.

Jane said: 'So around about this time, two years ago, I was talking to Niamh Sharkey who was Laureate na Nóg at the time she was head of Illustrators Ireland and she put an exhibition together called Pictiúr about Irish illustrators and that was really what the trigger was.

'She was taking Pictiúr all around the place and I brought my semi-blind mother in a wheelchair to see it at IMMA. My mum, who has very poor vision, was absolutely electrified by these illustrations and it had a visible effect on her.

'I thought it was incredible that there were these people around and that Ireland was producing illustrators of such high quality and wouldn't it be wonderful, now that I have a publishing business, to be able to work with a children's illustrator.'

The idea for a children's book was born but Jane had no idea what she would write about and Gringer was all but forgotten about until a bit of a debate over the next book the publishing company would tackle, broke out between Jane and her husband.

She explained: 'I was actually having an argument with my husband, because I had met with someone who suggested I might want to publish a history of wind energy in Ireland and my husband nearly had a fit, that we would squander away our precious resources on something he said that me and one other person in Ireland would ever read.

'So, he said why don't I do the children's book and find those Gringer verses and do something with those.

'So I stormed off in a terrible huff but I knew he was right and I started to wonder if the verses were still on my computer. It was about five computers later but they were still there and I went through them and thought I could do something with them.'

Jane added: 'So for the next few days, it was in my head and I finished the verses off and put a bit of a structure on it. I then went to the Illustrators Ireland website and one illustrator jumped out at me, who was Sheena Dempsey.

'It was about six weeks before I worked up the courage to contact her and she was already making quite a name for herself. She's from Cork but she's based in London. I thought she was not going to want to work with a mammy in her back garden shed with no track record except for school books. But I asked her to consider it anyway and she said she had no time at the moment but she might be able to fit in the project later and she would send me a few sketches to see what I think of her impression of Gringer.

'She did a few sketches and I showed them around to my family and friends and everyone thought yes, this was it, we are on to something here. So about another six months elapsed before she was free to talk about a contract and in February, we signed a contract and then she had a four month window and she did all the illustrations then, which were more or less finished in June.'

Jane was anxious that the book be a wholly Irish production so despite advice to go and get it printed in Poland, she chose a printer in Longford and soon Gringer the Whinger became a reality.

The book was officially launched at Skerries Mills last month and is stocked in the shop at the Mills as well as at most independent book stores in Fingal and on the usual online outlets like Amazon and Bookdepository. If your local book store does not stock the book, then maybe gently suggest this locally produced book should be on their shelves.

Jane recently brought the book to life for the children of Balbriggan Educate Together while visiting the school for Arts Week and found the kids really responded to the story and the illustrations.

The book is aimed at children up to five or six-years-old but Jane said don't be surprised if older children in the house take a shine to it as well.

The book is now stocked in over 85 independent book stores around the country and Jane has found book store owners to be enthusiastic about stocking this Irish produced book on their shelves.

The Skerries author is now hoping to extend Gringer the Whinger's reach beyond these shores, with a launch in the planning in the UK, back at Bethnal Green Library where Gringer was effectively born and then Jane hopes to bring the book to one of Europe's biggest children's book fairs in Bologna in Italy.

Gringer the Whinger is a beautiful book and would make a wonderful Christmas gift for your child to distract them away from screens and technology for a while and enjoy a book they can touch and feel and who knows, Gringer the Whinger might turn out to be a great parenting tool for your family too!

Fingal Independent