Seeds of children’s book sown 40 years ago finally produce ‘Mixed Veg’

editorial image

Antrim actress Sybil Allen and textile designer Anne Montgomery, from Co Londonderry, have joined forces to publish a new children’s book four decades after it was conceived.

Like the best produce, however, Mixed Veg, which recounts the adventures of young boy, Tom, as he makes his way around a secret walled garden in Eglinton and encounters a crop of magical characters, has taken its time to come into the world.

The book has been 40 years in the making, with the initial manuscript and drawings being drafted in the late 1970s.

Anne is an artist and illustrator from Eglinton in Co Londonderry, who, during a varied career, ran a knitwear design business, worked as a textile advisor in Papua New Guinea, and was a senior lecturer in Textile Design at the Belfast Art School.

Sybil, meanwhile, is an actress and writer from Antrim, who lives in London, co-wrote The Guardian Sword (1970), a story of legend and adventure set in the Glens of Antrim, with fellow actress Roma Tomelty, followed by Lissamor’s Child, a gothic ghost story, in 1973.

The publication of the ‘new’ book, which features such unforgettable characters as Murphy the Potato, Boris Beetroot, Sir Arthur Artichoke, peas-in-a-pod twins Celia and Amelia and Belle the Broad Bean, marks the end of a long and winding creative journey.

It’s a long story. In 1978 Anne and Sybil started collaborating on an illustrated children’s book.

In 1981, Anne (en route for Papua New Guinea) gave her sketches to Sybil at Heathrow Airport and Sybil duly wrote the story on which Mixed Veg is based.

Sybil, in the early 1980s tried to get the work published, but to no avail.

Fast forward almost 40 years and things took on a new impetus when Mo Durkan, a friend of Anne’s, got a glimpse of the unpublished gem.

She said: “For over 35 years life took over - and the work ‘vegetated’ - pardon the pun.

“I became aware of it last year when I saw Anne’s illustrations and read Sybil’s story. I immediately contacted Pearse Moore (at the Nerve Centre in Londonderry) for a second opinion and, having seen the sketches, he put us in touch with David Lewis at the Nerve Centre who is also a partner in Whittrick Press, Limavady.”

The rest is history. The book has now finished its first print run and though it has only just hit the shelves it has already been nominated for a number of awards.

The hardback edition that has been produced in perfect time for Christmas.

“The book has just been printed by WG Baird. The quality of product is such that - before a single copy has been sold - Mixed Veg has been shortlisted in two categories of the Ireland-wide Irish Printer Awards, taking place in Dublin on November 30,” said Ms Durkan.

Mixed Veg, though a work of art, carries an important message, one that parents have been trying to get through to children for generations and one which is as relevant today as it ever was.

Ms Durkan explained: “The book features Tom who doesn’t like vegetables and is particularly averse to vegetable soup. He ends up in a walled garden where he meets Murphy the Potato, who accompanies him around the vegetable patch and introduces him to a variety of vegetables, each a character in its own right. The walled garden is at Anne’s childhood home in Eglinton where she still lives.”

“So if you have any little ones who tend to baulk at broccoli, carp about cabbage, or are picky about their peas and potatoes, Mixed Veg would make a perfect stocking filler and in buying a copy you would be supporting a long undiscovered local talent.

“In my opinion, the book is best read aloud to children by parents and grandparents. The 40-year provenance of creation to publication is succinctly covered in a special section at the back of the book which includes photos of the two ladies then and now.

“As well as being a beautiful, high quality book, I believe the story behind its creation is of particular interest.”

She said that, for the authors, the book can be described as “a labour of love”.

‘Mixed Veg’ can be ordered from Whittrick Press directly at www.whittrickpress.com

It can be bought locally at Little Acorns book shop, Society Street, Londonderry, and at No Alibis bookstore, Botanic Avenue, Belfast.