A book at bedtime: Ursula and Bandares

  • Judy Pascoe (Image: Jenny Stewart)
  • Judy Pascoe (Image: Jenny Stewart)
  • Judy Pascoe (Image: Jenny Stewart)

We delve into the literary world of children's author Judy Pascoe and chat to her about her forthcoming new novel, Ursula and Bandares

One of the most simple acts of love we remember into adulthood is the comfort of being read a book at bedtime, of the calm induced by that generous routine promise of ‘just five minutes’, that bliss of solitary time with the person we love most, of sharing and kindness wrapped in the warmth of our blankety nest and the gentle surrender to sleep, listening to the slow rise and fall of our parent’s voice.

Later comes the new delight of reading along, the stirring of our young and restless imagination in each corner of paper turned, the fascinating otherworld-ness of each illustration, the delicious sense of being transported at will and in safety to a different world where nothing is familiar.

Judy Pascoe’s new novel for children – Ursula and Bandares – has been deliberately conceived in the tradition of such storytelling to capture the bonding and intimate experience of a book read aloud to one’s child, of jointly being captured in suspense to the pace and thrill of the plot, carried along and invested in a young character whose escape from peril becomes of utmost importance. 

Once a Disney script doctor, Judy is well placed to understand the rules of plot and structure in the creation of an authentic children’s storyline.

‘I took inspiration from my long walks around Guiting Woods. The story slowly evolved - I took it home, tested it on my husband and daughter many times as I worked through each draft.  There is something nostalgic and secure in the act of storytelling to a child, of the creation of intimate space. I deliberately set out this book to be read aloud as a chapter book. It is the archetypal structure, an age-old story of the wise innocent, a tale that illustrates the innate intelligence, wisdom and strength of small children, capable of astounding achievement in the most perilous of circumstances. 

‘Ursula is a seven-year-old orphan servant girl working in a parliamentarian house during the time of the Civil War. Her mistress is secretly a Royalist sympathiser and undercover activist.  The little girl, guarded by her faithful hound Banderas, is compelled to take part in the secret progress of Royalists - on foot and at dead of night – on the long dark trek through Guiting Woods to Burford and on towards safety.

‘I am fascinated by the notion of dogs as natural protectors of children, something that seems to have a particularly resonance in this Cotswold community where I was once told by a very redoubtable woman: “I’ve left the child with the dog”!  I wanted to have just such a dog in my story – the Nanny in Peter Pan, of course – trustworthy, loyal, capable and fearless. As such Banderas the wolfhound is the talisman that protects Ursula, the innocent abroad, from harm.

‘Small children are extraordinarily intuitive, unquestioning and loyal, with a strong moral sense. These qualities can be easily manipulated, working upon their naivety and their lack of awareness of risk.  The mistress has all the power in this relationship – as such it is an abuse of the natural law of trust that exists between adult and child. Such stories serve a purpose in warning our children of the dangers of the world outside, told from the comfort of our own safe environment. They exercise our anxiety and our desire for a good outcome, our fear for a child’s emotional purity and the need to ensure their physical safety.’

Judy was born and brought up in Australia and had started life as a circus performer before travelling to the UK, where she became part of the alternative comedy circuit of renowned stars including Ruby Wax and Jack Dee.  It was here she met Robert Llewellyn, once best known for his starring role as Kryten in the BBC sitcom Red Dwarf, now a respected eco-campaigner, self-confessed fan of the Tesla car, determined promoter of alternative energy sources.

Having settled down to the particularly English way of village life found within our North Cotswold community, Judy returned to her childhood home in Australia as the setting for her first novel, The Tree. Written whilst her own children were very small, it was subsequently made into a major motion picture starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, generating millions at the box office after its worldwide release in 2010. 

The Tree demonstrates Pascoe’s unerring ability to conceive the world from a child’s perspective, in describing a young family in the grip of shock and grief. Following the untimely and sudden death of her father, eight-year old Simone believes that she can hear his voice in the tree at the bottom of the garden.

The Tree, its impact and the outcome, is a beautifully sensitive story, told with humour and great insight, an allegory of the disintegration caused by catastrophic loss, of the fracturing of a child’s sense of security and of the resources that must be discovered to enable recovery.  It confronts the uncomfortable realities of parental frailty, of the overwhelming need for comfort together with the enormous capability for selfless and compassion present within a small child. It tells of the chaos that is created by death, of the strength and wisdom of a child thrown into a world that she cannot control or understand but is compelled to protect and restore to sanity those loved ones who are suffering around her.

As such an established and successful writer, perhaps it is a surprise to discover that Pascoe has not gone straight to a major publisher for the release of her first children’s novel, intended as the first in a series of adventures with Ursula and Banderas. Instead, she has decided to trust her concept to Unbound, a crowd-funding publishing house run by her friend John Mitchinson, who lives in the Cotswolds.

‘My husband has published several books with John’s help, using crowd-funding to raise money for pre-published writing. It is a very simple concept where supporters are able to pledge small sums, ranging from £10 for an e-book to £30 for a hardback first edition. I intend the first book to be out in time for Christmas and I hope, if my daughter Holly is a good critical voice, that it will be a success. She absolutely loves it – and no it’s not based on her, though she thinks it is!’

To read more about the progress of Judy’s novel towards publication, and to ensure you are amongst those lucky enough to possess a first edition, simply log onto www.unbound.com/books/ursula-bandares

About Unbound

Unbound is a team of writers, designers, publishers and producers working together in a converted warehouse in central London. Founded by John Mitchinson, they divide their time into finding, commissioning and making books whilst building Unbound and its community. With over 30 years of expertise in publishing and connecting people around creative projects, John started Unbound with a simple mission: to make publishing work for everybody.

‘Unbound believes that everyone should be given the chance to seize their own success, and that great ideas shouldn’t fall between the cracks because they don’t fit the mould. And that’s what we’ve built – a better way of doing things. A community, platform and a publishing model that shift the balance of power to people and communities that champion underserved ideas and voices.’

Photography by Jenny Stewart. Visit www.jennystewart.co.uk