Published book 55 years in the making

By Paul Brooks

A book which has taken more than 50 years to reach publication has left a lasting legacy on three generations of a Whanganui family.

Thurber is a biography in rhyme - already setting it apart as there aren't many of those on the library shelves.

But Thurber - Dog About Town, written by Lorna Digby, would never have seen the light of day had it not been for Lorna's granddaughter, Alice Quigley.

Lorna wrote the story in verse about 55 years ago.

Thurber was the Digby family's bull terrier that became one of Wellington's canine identities in the 1950s. Named after James Thurber, American writer and cartoonist who drew odd-looking dogs, this particular dog was known for his unusual appearance - white with pink ears, with one blue eye and one brown. His brief biography and photograph appears in the back of the book.

Lorna's verses lay undisturbed until recently when she joined a writers' group at Jane Winstone Village in St John's Hill.

"We had to bring something we'd written," says Lorna, "And the only thing I had were those verses about Thurber. So I took them along and, immediately, the members of my writing group, particularly Mary Bryan (former Wanganui Chronicle journalist and current Midweek theatre reviewer), said you have to do something about this. Of course, I did nothing."

Until, one day she read the verses to 10-year-old Alice. Alice asked if she could illustrate the story.

She not only illustrated the tale, she also typed it out and arranged its publication.
"It was her project," says Lorna.

Alice loves to draw.

"When I heard the story I thought it was pretty cool and something I'd like to get on board with and do," she says.

First she drew and coloured the pictures, making sure they would reproduce well in a book, then she typed it out.

"At that stage we went to H&A Print and they did the rest for us," says Alice.

Alice kept it fairly quiet, not even telling her teacher or friends at Brunswick School.

Alice's teacher, Sarah Lourie, has been very supportive since the book's publication and Brunswick School students have asked to buy copies.

"H&A printed 50 copies and there are none left," says Alice.

"My writing group was very generous," says Lorna. "They bought copies, some to send overseas."

"We're thinking of doing another book," says Alice, referring to a new story that her Nan has written about a mouse and a giraffe.

Alice's mother, Kate, says these projects are important.

"She's doing something she loves, something she's passionate about, and it's creating a relationship with her and Nan. They've got this special thing going and it's too precious not to do something with."

Thurber - Dog About Town is available from Paige's Book Gallery in Whanganui, Left Bank Art Supplies and Kilbirnie Children's Bookshop in Wellington. It is also at the Gonville Library.

- Wanganui Midweek

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