Full of hedgehog related activities, recipes, advice and storytelling, Prickelus Gets Caught is a delightful book for children and adults, written and illustrated by Nottingham author Rebecca Buxton. We caught up with Rebecca to find out about her inspirations and what the process of writing is like as a deaf, dyslexic and autistic person…
Tell us a bit about yourself…
Born in Nottingham, my life has always been full of challenges thrown at me because of my deafness, autism and dyslexia. Most of my disabilities were diagnosed late in my school life. Early in my childhood, I had no language, so I compensated visually. It meant I became more creative. I was behind my peers in English, and I ended up reading the same simple, boring books again and again, that were not age-appropriate. It made me feel stupid and was embarrassing.
I therefore avoided them, but my amazing mum always encouraged me to read more interesting books. She used to sit next to me for hours. She’d read one page at a time, then sign it to me and explain anything I didn’t understand. I have never known a person so patient, and she never gave up on me. She inspired me in lots of different ways. As I got older, I became a bookworm. My cupboards are full of books! Also, my father was open-minded, encouraging me to try different skills like glass blowing and wood turning. He taught me about what was happening in the world.
After school, I went to college and studied to become an artist. When I finished my courses, I worked for myself. Hitting a very low point with my health, I desperately wanted to become an illustrator and writer. Writing and doing illustrations changed my mood and made me feel positive. English became like a puzzle to me and made me want to do more.
You are a nature lover and have previously written a book about bees. What is the story behind Prickelus Gets Caught?
As I grew up dealing with my autism, I found human emotions more complicated than animals. It made me think about wildlife around the world. I was fascinated to learn that trees take in carbon dioxide, while our lungs take in oxygen, and other things we take for granted or tend not to think about. The world of insects is complex and amazing. The lives of ants, for example, are incredible - little cities underground with their hierarchy, and even farms. As I learned about nature, I became more and more concerned about how much our race is affecting our planet.
When at school I discovered the importance of bees and how much we rely on them to pollinate plants and vegetables worldwide. Like ants, their lives are so complicated. To become a beekeeper takes years. I think I have learned everything there is to know about them and have all the facts straight in my head, and then I discover there is another layer.
About fifteen years ago, I visited a hedgehog hospital called Prickly Ball Farm. Sadly, this is now shut. There were some photos of one of the patients, showing the hedgehog with its head stuck in beer can packaging that had been carelessly thrown away. I visited the poor thing after it was rescued. It had a nasty cut and had suffered, nearly starving to death. I was surprised how such a small piece of plastic could harm wildlife. This visit had a profound effect on me and was one of the many reasons I chose to write Prickelus Gets Caught.
I am very aware of how humans are ruining the earth by polluting the environment, using too many pesticides, dumping rubbish and affecting the climate. We are destroying far too much natural habitat. Children are our future and I saw my books as a way of teaching them about this. It is important to look after our planet, otherwise life will get very challenging.
I loved drawing the illustrations too (designed for children to colour in), and I think they show my crazy sense of humour. Imagining the characters' expressions was a challenge due to my autism. My family has helped a lot by acting out the scenes and showing me how they envisaged the faces. I had a lot of fun creating some animations to promote the book, something I had never done before. They are available to watch on my website below. I want to inspire children to try their best and show them if they have a disability, they can overcome problems and achieve their dreams.
The book features such a great mix of storytelling, learning, and advice around both hedgehogs and personal wellbeing, how do you think the two themes connect?
Animals and humans have similar challenges, especially when in certain situations. They do feel stressed and anxious like us. A dog, for example, feeling frightened by fireworks, may show this by cowering and hiding under the bed. A frightened child would similarly hide under the bedclothes. All animals and humans use body language to communicate with each other. When writing The Perils of Blossom and Basil, it just seemed natural to add something about positive thinking. Our mental well-being, especially since Covid, is extremely important. When thinking of the sections for the hedgehog book, it made sense to include stress and how to cope. In the news, stress in children is a hot topic and more prevalent than ever.
This is not where it ends though. I am keen for all my books to feature children and adults with different disabilities and ethnic backgrounds in the stories. Lily is in the first and second books. She is deaf and has a cochlear implant (she’s my mini-me!). I hope to continue introducing her friends as I expand my set of books.
There’s also a brilliant range of activities in the book - I am very tempted by the recipe for cheesy, rosemary hoglet scones! - but you’ve also included games and crafts to get involved in. How did you come up with so many ideas?
To me, making and creating things comes easily. I can often see how to put something together when other people are struggling. As already mentioned, I have been lucky enough to live in a family where creative skills have always been encouraged, and because I am deaf, I also compensate visually. The need to educate children about their environment and to help them think through the effect they have on the Earth has always been at the top of my list. Karen (my PA) is a very organic person, and she further promoted my love of wellbeing, nature and walking with my hearing dog. She also taught me how to cook. Therefore, she has enabled me to think of even more ideas!
As a deaf, autistic and dyslexic woman what was involved in the process of making the book happen?
One of my biggest problems was having the confidence to have a go at writing. Putting pen to paper felt like bearing my soul. All my life I have been repeatedly told again and again that I am rubbish at English. It is hard to break that instilled belief. The late diagnosis of dyslexia helped in some ways because I could finally understand why I had such a difficult time at school. When paired with my deafness, the view that I was stupid has been overwhelming. Having these disabilities affected every aspect of my education, not just in English lessons, and that is often overlooked. However, in my mind, I had all these stories and ideas. I didn’t want to be an artist, I wanted to be an author and illustrator. It was my mum who said there are always answers to problems if you think outside the box, so just put something down and we would take it from there.
My first language is British Sign Language. This does not follow the same format as oral English. Therefore, only my mum could understand my first attempt, but we sat together for hours reading it over and over again, and editing the story until I was happy with it. We then asked other people (Karen and Christine, a family friend) who were better at English than Mum, to help. We continued to do this until I felt confident about self-publishing my first book, The Perils of Blossom and Basil, a book about bees. We found a beekeeper who helped check the facts for me. I loved doing this book, and from there I went on to write Prickelus Gets Caught. It took ages to write it and to find someone who could check my facts to ensure everything was correct regarding hedgehog welfare. Finding experts for my books has been essential, but I was lucky enough to meet these wonderful people. It was like it was meant to be. Deborah runs Hedgepigs Rescue Centre, Beeston, Nottingham. The book features Deborah. There are some photos of her patients on the back pages and children can follow Hedgepigs online.
I continued to improve my English with the aid of apps like Grammarly and just puzzling it out myself. Sending the manuscript to Arkbound Publishers was nerve-wracking. I half expected my work to be sent back, but, to my surprise, the response was the manuscript was well-written and they were happy to go ahead with it.
Historically, society has often given the impression that dyslexia and writing don’t mix, but you have proved this idea wrong. What advice would you give to anyone with dyslexia that wants to get into writing?
I think it is accepting who you are, and not listening to negative labels. Perhaps historically dyslexia and writing are thought not to mix, but there is a difference between writing something with no soul but beautifully spelt, and writing something from the heart that has some mistakes. I have found the more I write, the better I am. It is easier to learn for myself than sitting in a classroom. English is like a huge puzzle to solve, but when I need help, I ask for it. However, the person coming to my aid mustn’t take over, and put their words, not mine. I am always grateful for any assistance I receive, but I don’t expect someone to drop everything and come running to my aide. Where possible I like to help them in return. As pointed out to me, celebrities often use ghostwriters to publish their autobiographies. Dyslexia is an ongoing problem, but I work hard at it and never give up. My advice to anyone who has problems like me would be to keep trying different ways and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.
What have you got coming up in the future - are you planning on writing more books like this?
My first book, The Perils of Blossom and Basil, was originally self-published when I was twenty, and after publishing Prickelus Gets Caught, I realised it could be much better. Therefore, I have been editing the manuscript, and it is nearly ready to go to the publishers. It is similar to Prickelus Gets Caught, with a story, facts, puzzles, recipes, activities and a section on positive thinking.
On Saturday 10 December, I am having a stall at the Newark Book Festival. I have been visiting local schools to work with the pupils, reading a chapter to them and hopefully inspiring them to follow their dreams. It has been rewarding seeing the children enjoy my book and helping them participate in book-related activities. I hope to continue doing this and if any schools are interested they can contact me via the links below.
Regarding what I am planning to write in the future, I have a list of a further 24 books. Each one will follow a similar format to my other two books with a story, facts, puzzles, recipes, games and activities, all relating to a different animal and childhood problem. I am so excited about this. The third book I have already started to compose. The title is Ruffles Warm Hearted Winter, a book about birds. Ruffles is a sweet little Robin who tries to help his feathered friends when they are bullied by a naughty magpie. Bullying will therefore be the childhood topic.
In addition, I have just finished illustrating my first colouring book depicting the characters from all of my stories. I have called it The World of Honey Tree Farm. This is the fictional place where all my stories take place.
Where is Prickelus Gets Caught available to buy?
The book is available online from Arkbound Publications, Waterstones, Blackwells, WHSmith, and Amazon, or by contacting me directly at prickelusgetscaught.com or by my email address, [email protected].
Unfortunately, publishing a book is just the start of the battle to get a book physically onto bookshelves, with well-known authors and publishers taking the top places. It is even hard to hold a book launch for the same reason. When people have been looking through the bookshelves for my story, they haven’t been able to find it and haven’t understood why.
This has been especially frustrating for people in my deaf community, who rely on visual clues and struggle to communicate. Trying to get the book known further afield has been virtually impossible. This is why I am so grateful to LeftLion for this interview. Thank you very much.
Prickelus Gets Caught is available to buy online from Arkbound Publications, Waterstones, Blackwell's, WHSmith, Amazon, or directly at prickelusgetscaught.com
We have a favour to ask
LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?