by Jenny Pearson
The idea for the Boy Who Made Monsters came to me after I read an article about a man named Steve Feltham. Steve has been looking for the Loch Ness Monster for thirty years. The famous grainy black and white photo, Surgeon’s photo, that was taken back in 1934 has long since been proven to be a hoax. The monster was in fact a Woolworth’s toy submarine, with a head fashioned out of wood, and yet Steve, and thousands of others, have been flooding to the banks of Loch Ness to catch a glimpse of Nessie.
I wondered why so many of us are ready to believe in monsters – why we want to believe. Perhaps monsters reveal something about the human psyche. Do they expose our greatest fears? Or highlight a longing for adventure? Maybe there’s a desire to battle and conquer our own monsters –to prove ourselves to be worthy heroes of our own story. The more I thought about this, the more I knew then that I wanted to write a story that explored monsters, both real and imagined.
And this is what brought me to the heroes of my story, Benji and Stanley McLaughlin, the two brothers in The Boy Who Made Monsters. They find themselves, not at Loch Ness, but Loch Lochy with their Uncle Hamish, after they lose their parents at sea. In Benji and Stanley I wanted to explore how two children who are very close, and who are going through the same thing, can react so very differently. Benji is upbeat and positive – he believes his parents will be found and won’t except they might not be. He holds on to hope. Stanley is more sombre, quiet, and guarded with his grief.
While staying with Uncle Hamish, the boys discover that he may lose the holiday lets which have belonged to the McLaughlin family for generations. When Benji believes he sees a monster in the loch, he thinks that if he can get evidence of its existence, the holiday makers will come flooding in and they’ll earn enough money to keep the family home.
He sets out with his new friend Murdy McGurdy, to get photographic proof. When this fails, much like Colonel Wilson and Chris Spurling, the two men behind Surgeon’s photo, Benji hatches a ‘visionary’ plan to build a monster of their own.
I hope there is much humour in this story through Benji and Murdy’s monster junk-modelling, their failed attempts to entice the monster to show itself with cake and the employment of Mr Dog (an actual dog) as a substitute monster.
I am aware that the theme of grief does not suggest a story that promises laughs. When I write for children, I hope to write about life honestly - the light and the dark. I want to show that humour and joy exist alongside sadness. To say that even in the bleakest of times, the possibility of happiness is always there.
Life, more than any imaginary monster, can deliver us the hardest challenges. I have seen, too often, children experience loss and how their classmates bear witness to it. I hope this story can be used to strike up class discussions about the brothers’ differing reactions and to help teach empathy. Grief can be huge and overwhelming especially if, like Benji, we keep it inside ourselves. I think useful conversations can be had around the way Benji bottles up his emotions and the metaphor of the monster that runs throughout the story.
And I would ask pupils the question, do monsters really exist?