Seeds of children’s book sown four decades ago finally bear ‘Mixed Veg’

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Actress Sybil Allen, and textile designer, Anne Montgomery, have joined forces to publish a stunning new children’s book, ‘Mixed Veg’.

Like the best produce, however, this beautiful new tome, 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, 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 lives in London and in the early 1980s she tried to get the work published, but to no avail.

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forward almost forty years and things took on a new impetus when, Mo Durkan, a friend of Anne’s, got a glimpse of the unpublished gem.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

And no wonder given the excellent 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. As you will have gathered, Anne and Sybil are now ladies ‘of a certain age’. For them, the book is a labour of love,” said Ms. Durkan.

‘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, Derry.

And at No Alibis bookstore, Botanic Avenue, Belfast.