Anxious Charlie to the Rescue by Terry Milne
My journey into book illustration began almost as soon as I could walk, when my grandmother put a pencil in my hand and encouraged me to draw. I have been drawing and daydreaming ever since.
I remember poring over pictures wherever I found them; newspaper cartoons, vinyl record covers, book illustrations.
I enjoyed a copy of ‘The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book’, for its rhymes but also its graphic black and white illustrations which I ‘embellished’ with coloured felt tip pens. My first foray into book illustration! I still have that copy, love-worn and weathered.
Part of the landscape of my childhood imagination was the ‘Hundred Acre Wood’ of ‘Winnie- the- Pooh’, the lush riverbanks of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and the lakeside world of Beatrix Potter’s stories. The charm of these stories and their endearing anthropomorphised animals influenced the spirit of the characters and the world of ‘Anxious Charlie to the Rescue’’.
The story of Charlie began when I met a little Dachshund while out walking in my neighbourhood. He had an enchanting, soulful character and anxious demeanour. His name sounded like the hero of a story – ‘Charlie Star’!
His owner allowed me to make drawings of the long-suffering Charlie Star and I started shaping a story around him.
At the same time I had become aware that my teenage daughter was performing repetitive daily rituals which were starting to interfere with her life. She found leaving the house increasingly time consuming and stressful. She worried that something bad might happen to a member of the family if she didn’t carry out certain rituals. By performing them she felt she could somehow prevent catastrophe. Her rituals took the form of tapping the floor or table, a tap for each member of the family, or flicking light switches on and off.
The compulsive behaviour brought only temporary relief and actually fed her anxiety.
An official ‘OCD’ (obsessive compulsive disorder) diagnosis brought more lasting relief. I’m wary of ‘labels’ and putting people or behaviours in boxes, but in this instance it really helped my daughter to know she wasn’t the only one responding to stress in this way. It ‘normalised’ her behaviour and, with the help of a therapist and a short course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), it gave her a chance to start managing her intrusive thoughts.
I was aware of the huge pressures children face at school and on social media, and that mental health issues are on the increase, even amongst very young children.
I knew of picture books which deal with fears and anxiety, but I hadn’t seen one which touched on OCD behaviour in particular.
I decided to combine my daughter’s ‘anxiety deflecting rituals’ with the anxious little Dachshund, Charlie Star. The result was ‘Anxious Charlie to the Rescue’, although this title came later, being a collaborative process, like the development, design and editing of this book.
The story has a serious core but is lighted-hearted in spirit; Charlie and his friends get into a fluster over Hans’s plight, but Charlie finds a gentle solution involving the healing power of laughter.
While I hope that Charlie’s character will ‘speak’ to readers and open up discussions about anxiety, it is primarily a story to be read for pleasure.
The story’s setting is unspecific, and because the focus is on Charlie’s ‘inner life’, the background is simple and the details pared down to a few meaningful props.
The Old Oak Tree, which is an anchor for Charlie’s daily journey, was a Celtic symbol of truth and bravery. It stood for strength, courage, endurance and our ability to overcome adversity as well as our capacity for kindness. It seems a fitting symbol of stability for an anxious Charlie to pass by.
The fire hydrant that Charlie circles every day is a symbol of crisis management – water to put out the fire!
Charlie’s daily trips to market come from my nostalgia for the fruit and vegetable market I visited as a child with my mother – a place of vibrant colour and conviviality where people got to know one another. I always came away with a gift of delicious fruit.
I gave Charlie a basket to carry because there is something special about a basket’s hand woven quality, and an empty basket is so full of potential – just like Charlie!
The other characters in the story are drawn from some of my own pets and family.
‘Big Bruce’, whose gloomy declaration, ‘Change is a terrible thing’ on the title page, is a direct quote from my old Dad who always speaks in CAPITAL LETTERS!
‘Hans’ is based on an unruly English Bull Terrier pet I had. Like ‘Hans’ in the story, he was always in trouble – getting lost, or eating the limbs of my daughters’ Barbie Dolls and ending up in surgery!
‘Cat’ is a bit superior. His character and appearance are a lot like my own cat, ‘Hupa’, who always knew he was head of our house. From the window sill beside my desk, he kept a watchful eye on the creation of this book, purring his approval!
‘Duck’ is drawn from the community of ducks I pass every day along the river. I love the way they ’Quack!’ whatever the situation. My delight in their quirky quacking led me to single out Duck to speak in ‘Quacks’ instead of words like the rest of his friends.
Charlie doesn’t suddenly stop his daily rituals when he feels less anxious, and my daughter wasn’t ‘cured’ overnight of her compulsions. She still grapples with them at times. But like Charlie skipping in high spirits past the Old Oak Tree, my daughter is independent and performing happily as a professional musician despite the stress that performing entails!
The scene on the last page shows Charlie and friends moving through a threshold of dunes onto the beach, towards a new horizon. It is a happy scene to leave the reader comforted, reassured and dreaming of new possibilities.
Early sketch for the last scene:
or the Beginning!
Charlie is really excited that his journey has taken him to the US – and so am I!
Alongside her art studies, Terry performed with Cape Town’s ‘Jazzart’ Contemporary Dance company in the 1980’s.
Since moving to Oxford in 2001 with her husband and two daughters, she has been working as a free-lance artist on a variety of projects, including logo designs, group exhibitions, greetings cards, poster designs for an Opera company and a collaborative project with dancers, musicians and art sponsored by the English Arts Council.
Terry has illustrated a number of children’s books including stories by award winning writers, Penelope Lively, Martin Waddell and Jenny Nimmo.
‘Anxious Charlie to the Rescue’ is the second picture book she has both written and illustrated.