Food For Thought: The Inspiration Behind The Last Chip by Duncan Beedie

The Last Chip_COVER (2)

We have been lucky enough to be included in the week-long Blog Tour celebrating and illuminating Duncan Beedie’s latest book, The Last Chip. In keeping with Duncan’s other books (The Bear Who Stared and The Lumberjack’s Beard), The Last Chip has an important underlying message — this time about poverty, hunger and living rough. It’s the story of a homeless, friendless pigeon in desperate need of a good meal — not the easiest tale to tell to small children. The Last Chip, though, handles these difficult topics with humour and care, never neglecting realities those hungry and in crisis face. Below, Duncan, in his own words, explains how this very special book came to be:

“The initial idea for my latest book, The Last Chip, came about in the form of an illustration I did to help bolster my portfolio. I had been observing pigeons in Bristol city centre (I should add that I was doing this fleetingly, not standing around for hours diligently studying their habits) and I noticed a sort of hierarchy in terms of which pigeons fared best when scrapping over the barely edible detritus that makes up their diet. Needless to say, the bigger, bolshier pigeons reigned victorious, which probably explains the etymology of the term ‘pecking order’, but I may be wrong.

I decided to capture this moment in a digital print that showed a large, gruff-looking pigeon towering over his small, puny counterpart – both of them eyeing up a discarded chip. And then, similarly to how my first book The Bear Who Stared came to be, the print lay in my studio for a couple of years before providing inspiration for a story. The puny pigeon took on the name of ‘Percy’ and his adventure began.

I wanted to set the story in my hometown of Bristol as the architecture of the native pigeons’ various haunts, such as Temple Meads station, lent itself rather nicely to my illustration style. The surrounding geography meant that Percy could venture from city, to parkland, to coastline on his quest for food. Plus, I felt Bristol was somewhat lacking in its representation in children’s literature.

However, it wasn’t until an impromptu conversation with my then four-year-old daughter that the story took on a new twist. We were walking down our local high street when she tugged on my sleeve and inquired “Daddy! Why is that man’s bedroom outside?” No stranger to my daughter’s often bizarre musings, I shrugged this off as a misconstrued observation, until I realised she was talking about someone who was sleeping rough in a shop doorway. I attempted to explain the situation as unpatronisingly as I could, but at every turn, I was further interrogated with “WHY?”

Eventually, I buckled and blurted out what I quickly considered to be the achingly dim-witted and lazy response “because he’s unlucky!” It soon dawned on me that if a four-year-old can notice and sincerely inquire about homelessness, then an adult (who happens to write children’s books) shouldn’t shy away from the matter. A homeless character was introduced and Percy’s endless struggle to find food became an allegory that felt like a natural development in the story.

It was at this point that my editor (Alison Ritchie) and designer’s (Genevieve Webster) guidance was imperative in striking the right tone. We didn’t want the story to feel too bleak for children, nor did we want to undermine the more sobering message at its centre. There were quite a few story and illustration revisions to be made, and in the end, I like to think we pulled it off. But that will be for the readers to ultimately decide.”

10% of proceeds from the sale of The Last Chip will be donated to The Trussell Trust, an organisation that runs a network of food banks in the UK. Final prints of the book’s artwork are being sold here with all profits going to the homeless charity, Caring In Bristol.

 

About Stephanie Cummings

Stephanie Cummings is a former BBC Journalist sharing her lifetime love of children's literature and illustration with her two young daughters -- and now with you, too, through Two in a Tepee. Stephanie has an academic background at the undergraduate level in literature and has master's degrees in both anthropology (material and visual culture) and design. She started her professional life in an art gallery and ended up producing radio programmes for BBC Radio 4, before deciding to become a stay at home mum. She lives with her handsome husband (who is sometimes invited into the tepee) in leafy north London.

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