I’ve got a fantastic guest post for you today from author Alan McClure. It’s about real-life examples of children who have become famous as characters in stories. In his latest book, Jack’s Well, the main character Jack is in a similar situation as he is a household name thanks to starring in his dad’s books. The book is aimed at children aged roughly 10-15 and has themes of mental health, fame, and identity. Jack’s Well is published tomorrow and you’ll find more info about the book and a buying link further down this page.
In 1926, an English author called A. A. Milne published a collection of children’s stories featuring a teddy bear called Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh lived in the Hundred Acre Wood with his friends Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit and more, and they had charming adventures which caught the public’s imagination. The stories were popular enough for Milne to write a follow-up, The House at Pooh Corner, and for the stories to eventually become a wildly successful series of cartoons for the Disney corporation.
I had these stories read to me when I was a wee boy, and I read them to my own boys in turn, and they are heart-warming, funny and timeless. But there’s a bit of a dark side to the story of Winnie the Pooh.
You see, Pooh was based on a toy bear owned by a real boy – A. A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin. And because the bear, and the other toys, were his, Christopher Robin naturally had to be a character in the stories. I can understand this easily – when I was trying to get my boys off to sleep, I’d often make up stories with them in them. It’s the most natural thing in the world to do, and it’s just how the Pooh stories came into being.
Nothing unsettling about that. But no-one could have predicted just how popular the stories were to become, nor how famous Christopher Robin’s name would be. To me, and my boys, and the millions of other children around the world who know the stories, he’s just a character along with the animals. But to the real Christopher Robin, the stories were a curse. He, unlike his fictional namesake, had to go to the bother of growing up – a tough enough job for anyone, but made massively harder when everyone already knows your name and has ideas about who you are. Christopher Robin Milne was relentlessly bullied at school, struggled to be taken seriously as an adult, battled depression and poor mental health for much of his adult life and couldn’t even talk publicly about the stories until he was quite an old man.
I’ve always found this both tragic and fascinating. As a teacher I know how many children today think that fame would be brilliant – they look at their favourite you-tubers or pop stars and imagine the glamorous lifestyles they must lead, fantasise about being that important or that influential. But fame can be a devastating thing in a young person’s life, especially when you’re famous for something that doesn’t really have anything to do with the real you. Christopher Robin is not alone – Alice Liddell, the real girl behind the character from Alice in Wonderland, also had to battle with people’s ideas about her as she grew into adulthood and sought a normal life.
In my book, Jack’s Well, the hero is a boy who’s facing similar pressures. He’s a complex, developing adolescent who also happens to be a household name thanks to his dad’s bestselling stories. This situation was bad enough for Christopher Robin and Alice Liddell – but Jack has to face it in the age of social media and blockbuster movies, and to say it isn’t doing him any favours is an understatement. We first meet him following a breakdown brought on by the massive anxieties of fame – bullying, alienation from family and friends, and some ill-advised attempts at self medication. The real Jack Wilde leads us through his story in his recovery journal, dipping in and out of the bestselling fantasy adventures which feature a six-year-old version of himself as a brave child-warrior, thwarting evil sorceresses and boldly overcoming every danger. He’s also faced with an unauthorised biography by a hack journalist, who paints an unrecognisable picture of his blissful celebrity lifestyle; and with his confusing relationship with the young actor who plays ‘Jack’ in the wildly successful movie series.
It’s a rough ride, to say the least. I’m glad to say that both Christopher Robin and Alice Liddell eventually made their peace with their strange brand of fame. If you want to know how Jack Wilde gets on, I hope you’ll take a look at Jack’s Well – you’ll meet a remarkable young man, and maybe think twice about the joys of fame and fortune!
From the back of the book
Jack Wilde’s world is crumbling around him. But which world is it? The fantastic, magical Kingdom of his father’s stories, in which he is a six-year-old hero battling evil enchantresses? The glittering life of good fortune and fame described in his unauthorised biography? The worlds invented in a dozen fake social media profiles? Or the world of an unhappy adolescent in an unforgiving boarding school, mocked and excluded by the school’s elite and abandoned by a father he barely knows anymore?
As Jack unravels his identity’s tangled threads, can he find the way from the child he was to the person he wishes to become?
About the author
Alan McClure is a writer and musician based in Galloway, south-west Scotland. His creative output is eclectic and prolific, encompassing oral storytelling, poetry, songs, novels, short stories and audio sketches. He is a founding member of Lost Wasp Records, singer and chief songwriter with Alan & the Big Hand, occasional member of The Wee Folk Storytellers and a solo performer of growing repute. He is also a primary school teacher, a job which provides constant inspiration and ample opportunity for explaining and discovering through stories and songs.
Buying Link – Jack’s Well