A father and son act is winning fans with tales of a small animal with a big heart. Andrew Mourant reports
Conceived originally as a business studies project, the storytelling double act of Richard and Mark Long - father and son -is creating an appetite for books among primary children in Somerset. Richard's homespun tales of Titchy the Pig evoke a pastoral idyll with which his audience - many of whom live on the fringe of the MendipsJ- can identify.
Having an author in their midst has, says one primary teacher, allowed pupils to imagine themselves as writers. Richard, a printer, who lives in Paulton, near Bath, has so far written five books about Titchy's antics; and Mark, a 17-year-old business studies student at Somervale School, Midsomer Norton, has helped to illustrate them. But Mark's main purpose is to promote the books (sales have reached 500). When they're printed in colour, he anticipates selling more.
The books evolved from the tradition of a parent telling his child a bedtime story. Richard realised he might have a special talent for it and now the Longs have become a star act at local schools. "Children understand that books don't just happen and that developing characters and pictures is very important," says Jane Richardson, literacy co-ordinator at Wellow village school.
"The stories are very simple, recalling past times in the Mendips. Children find the characters fun: there's always some excitement and a problem to solve. The fact that Richard comes in and reads himself allows children to perceive themselves as writers.
"When he's reading, I hold up A4 copies of the illustrations and then he'll get the children involved in a discussion about art. They all chip in with their own views - a kind of spontaneous critical response. As he is the author, they become much more engaged."
Mark's ambition is to become a publisher, and this enterprise is part of his A-level course work. Book sales are also benefiting the Reginitis Pigmentosa Society, a charity for sufferers of tunnel vision, a condition which runs in the Long family.
"Dad was inspired by Dick King-Smith. Children seem to love the stories. We approach the schools, but often get invited back," Mark says.