Thursday, June 30, 2016

Au Revoir from Linda and Cate

Linda and Cate (right) as pictured by Evalina
Today Cate and I complete our time as Illustrator and Writer-in-residence. Here are some of the things which will be coming after we've gone (please ask at the Friends Foundation):

  • A second book of postcards collecting samples of writing and drawing from across the hospital
  • A final Whatsits Book - Eunice the Unicorn Goes to Little France
  • Don't forget to look at the pages on the right-hand menu if you're interested in the Hospital's history (as interpreted by us!)
  • And you might spot artwork from us around the corridors - a new sign to help folk find the pharmacy more easily, and a trail of number-rhymes leading to Ward 7 (please follow instructions!) as well as the How to Move a Hospital posters.

Farm- a -sea (making the pharmacy a bit easier for children to find?)

Au Revoir from Linda and Cate

We came, we saw,
to write and draw,
crossing The Meadows
through blossom and snow
to puff up stairs and stairs and then more
till the views gave their own reward.

We came, we saw,
to write and draw,
creating mammoths, stripy cats,
cards for Valentines, Mums and Dads,
and sub-sea worlds where mermaids swam
alongside patients being scanned.

We came, we saw,
to write and draw,
met hosts of favourite fluffy toys,
a First Minister, Princess, volunteers,
aunts and angels on every ward,
as laughter skipped through corridors.

We came, we saw,
to write and draw,
made a library bleat and roar
saw hidden tears, heard the building groan,
and witnessed how a century’s care
beats in the heart of the old red stones.

We came, we saw,
to write and draw,
we’ll miss it all: the canteen’s toast,
fun play-rooms, Rillbank’s lavender smell,
as now it’s time for us to say
thank you for having us, and farewell!

by Linda Cracknell

Linda Cracknell was writer-in-residence and Cate James illustrator-in-residence at RHSC, funded by the Sick Kids Friends Foundation between July 2012 and June 2016

We have both LOVED working in this caring and joyful community. Thanks you for having us! Finally, here's a poem to express some of what it has meant.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hospital History: pictures and stories from the archives

A stushie with Matron llustrated by Cate James

Ladies Committee 1879

Cate and I have spent time during our residency burrowing in Lothian Health Services' archives and now we present some interpretations of the Sick Kids' history on the pages in the menu on the top right. We are posting them on a weekly basis between now and the end of June. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The 'Whatsits' family grows: three new books in the hospital shop

If you visit the 'Sick Kids' Hospital shop, you'll see how our family of live-in characters is growing. There are now six books in the series including three new titles: 'Sandra the Spacer and her Magic Hat', 'Sam the Sensitive SATS Monitor', and 'King Leopold IV's Growl'. Each character has an important job to do which leads them into adventures.

Key character: The 'spacer' for use by young children with an inhaler (spot the magic hat)
Although the final versions are written by me and illustrated by Cate, each one has involved hospital patients and staff (see below) who have helped develop characters and storylines. The books are intended to be fun at the same time as helping to humanise the hospital's environment and equipment and make it familiar to patients, and are designed to be read to 4 to 7-year-olds. However, we're finding that older patients who appreciate less challenging books whilst in hospital, are taking to reading them too.

So, a bit more about each of the new titles:

Sandra the Spacer and her Magic Hat

One in 11 children in the UK has asthma, so perhaps it was no surprise when specialist asthma staff asked us to get involved in introducing the 'spacer', used with an inhaler by young children. We spent several afternoons in the waiting room of the asthma clinic, talking to children of all ages about their experiences and getting some of their character and story ideas down on paper. Many of these ideas made it into the final book.

Sandra the Spacer joins the toy basket but soon finds that, like the Blue Kazoo and Tara the Trumpet, the little girl never chooses her. Can Sandra's magic hat help? 
Key character: Peakflow meter (introduced in the story as 'Mr Peakflow', an over-enthusiastic PE teacher blowing his whistle and shouting 'breathe-ho!')

Sam the Sensitive SATS Monitor

Sam - essential even if irritating
The SATS monitor detects, via a sensor attached to a finger or toe, the levels of oxygen in the blood. One of the play specialists suggested it as a character as it is beside many beds, but is notorious for being noisy and at times over-sensitive, even raising false alarms. (Maybe we all know humans who are attention-seeking like this?) This behaviour can be particularly irritating at night, hence Sam's story in which none of the Whatsits get much sleep, even though in the end it seems that Sam was doing an essential job.

King Leopold IV's Growl

Why has Leopold got yellow teeth, and why is he saying 'ow' instead of growling properly?

Leopold by Iona
Anyone visiting the Sick Kids can glimpse Leopold at the main entrance if they look up. His job is to guard the entrance and look fierce and handsome. But in our story he seems to be in pain and is not doing his job very well. The Whatsits choose Keeky (the dental mirror) to investigate. Could his problem be something to do with all the empty Lion Brew cans under his perch?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Mary Tree - inspirations for a short story on BBC Radio 4 set at Little France

with Kind permission of Peter Stubbs edinphoto

'The Mary Tree' was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 31st January and is available on i-player here until 30th February 2016.
In each year since I've been writer-in-residence at the 'Sick Kids', I've written a Christmas or winter-themed short story for adult readers. The first two were set at the current Victorian building at Sciennes, but for my final year, I decided to focus on the place to which the hospital will move in 2017 and where building is already well under way - Little France at Edinburgh's southern edge. 

Short stories are mysterious and can be inspired by something as slight as an overheard snatch of conversation, a memory, the sight of a single shoe left somewhere. But for me they often arise from specific places.

I started taking the bus out to Little France and walking around the building site for the new hospital, circling its high white enclosure fence and watching the cranes soaring and the buildings growing. I also walked through the public parts of its established neighbour, the Royal Infirmary. 

I was curious about the name Little France and its history. Some say it's called after the residence of servants to Mary Queen of Scots, some believe it to be named after the French cloth workers who settled in this area in the 17th century. But in either case it is well documented that Mary Queen of Scots had stayed at nearby Craigmillar Castle, a fabulously evocative hilltop site which Illustrator-in-residence Cate James and I had visited with some patients as part of another of our hospital projects in summer 2015. 

It's also well documented that Queen Mary was responsible for planting various trees around Scotland, including one at Little France which stood close to what's now the hospital's main entrance and was said to be planted in 1566 when she was staying at the castle. People still remember it being there in the 1950s, protected by railings as an ancient monument, but reduced from its former grandeur to a blackened stump by that time.

From the Bartholomew 'Plan of Edinburgh and Leith', Edinburgh Geographical Institute 1912. National Library of Scotland.
There's always research involved before finding the essence of a story. It's as if the story has always been there and the writer has to dig for it in a process of gradual discovery. For this one I consulted tree experts, both about historic trees and about tree cultivation. I studied historic maps of the outskirts of Edinburgh which recollected the tree, including this one from 1912. I found a 1905 postcard of the tree online (above). Brainstorming always helps, so I took my 'ingredients' to some youngsters on one of the hospital wards who helped me tremendously with ideas as seen in the storyboard. Their story isn't quite the one that I told in the end, but has some similarities.

My story 'ingredients' - a teenage boy, a strange lady with a pramful of dogs, the building site for the new Sick Kids hospital, young trees, and the distant memory of a very old tree - prompted this storyboard of ideas from some young patients

However, there is always an element that arrives mysteriously; that offers itself up at the right moment. In this case it was a display of images, glimpsed as part of a temporary exhibition at the Royal Infirmary: lungs, looking so very like tree roots. 

This final element, together with a quirky old woman who had been forming in my mind and a teenage boy from Craigmillar began to link into a narrative that belonged to the area of landscaping and tree-planting happening now between Old Dalkeith Road and the perimeter fence of the Sick Kids building site. Of course the teenage boy turned out to be there because he was visiting his mother in the infirmary, with a lung complaint. And of course her name was also Mary.

Airways and blood vessels in lungs visualised in 3D (exhibition at ERI - Edinburgh Imaging + NHS Lothian)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Merril's Treasure - the underwater world of the gamma scanner

Thanks to the wonderful voice of Anna Hepburn and professional recording skills of Craig Milton, children will be able to listen to 'Merril's Treasure', a poem inspired by the underwater world created by Cate James for the gamma room, as they get scanned in the yellow submarine!

listen here

Anna Hepburn recording Merril's Treasure

Cate James creating the underwater world in the gamma scanning room at RHSC starring Merril the Mermaid.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fifty years as a guiding star at the Sick Kids

The very first time I went in to the 'Sick Kids', not long before starting my residency in 2012, it was Cathy I met. From the reception desk she orientated me and calmed slightly jittery nerves as I waited for my interview.

In 2015, not only did she reach her 80th birthday, but 50 years in service at the hospital. Starting out on the telephone switchboard, she's been in that little room dealing with enquiries, post, and confused visitors ever since.

Within my first month as a writer in the hospital, National Poetry Day was inviting everyone to celebrate 'stars'. As well as getting patients to write a poem for their personal 'star', I wrote a poem for my own: Cathy. I updated it slightly this year, Cate illustrated it, and I presented a framed copy to her last week. One of the great privileges of being a writer in residence is the opportunity to respond to important people and events such as this. 

Her delight at being celebrated was very evident, as she immediately pointed to Cate's drawing of the woman on the switchboard, and said: 'That was me!' 

And here's the poem:


Like our own North Star
you help us find the way,
brightening the day
of every visitor
with smiles and wise advice
from your fixed point
at Reception.

In your early days at work,
they sent you down a teapot in a dumb-waiter,
and a bucket of coal arrived
to feed the Reception hearth.
Switchboard girls twinkled in your orbit.                                     
The car park outside your window
once bloomed as a rose garden;
and you teased the children of doctors,
now doctors themselves.       

After fifty years
you know each stone of the hospital,
caring for its memories
as jewels in a starry casket.
And you watch over us as this big red ship
prepares to set sail
across the seas of South Edinburgh
for Little France.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A lofty neighbour for the new hospital

 During the late summer, as building work has been getting going on the site of the new hospital at Little France, Cate and I went to visit its elderly neighbour, Craigmillar Castle, with two families we met at the Hospital. Peering down at the building site from its hilltop, this mediaeval castle knows a thing or two about surviving for several centuries.

We had a fascinating time exploring the Castle and talking about the similarities between the buildings -- both adorned with unicorns. But the differences were greater. The Castle's defensive location and its tiny, hidden away doorway, are designed to keep its enemies out. When it opened in 1895 at Sciennes, the Sick Kids Hospital boasted an 'ever open door'. And the new design has a wide, accessible doorway.

Staci and Grace reckon that these two buildings can be friends, despite their differences. The roofless Castle will keep a watchful eye on its young neighbour and send it occasional envoys of birds with messages.

The girls also noted the dark dungeon of the castle where prisoners were given the waste water to drink and where they would have been tantalised by the scent of bread baking in the kitchen next door. We agreed there would be no dungeons at the new hospital!