Loved to Bits is a very personal story for me. It’s about a very special bear. Yes, that ‘bear’ up there is the real Stripy Ted – and, like the bear in Loved to Bits, Stripy once was a super, somersaulting ted, all golden stripes from foot to head.
We all have a favourite old, shabby toy. Something – someone – who is tattered, battered, and not quite the same colour they originally were. Who has been played with, dragged along the floor, cried over, hugged tight, lost and found.
Mine was called ‘Panda’ (imaginative, I know!), who was given to me by my Grandpa. He’s satisfyingly solid to hold, and has a bell inside him. When I was about two, I left him in a fishmonger’s by mistake. A kindly fishmonger put him up in the window (hung up on a fish hook!), with a sign round his neck reading ‘I AM LOST!’ One of my first memories is looking over the road and seeing him in the shop window, as if spotlit, with a glorious, stomach-punching feeling of joy.Many years later, I wrote my very first book about losing a toy panda – but changed the setting to a greengrocer’s, rather than a fishmonger’s (as there aren’t many fishmongers around these days).
Each of my children has had their own favourite toy, but Stripy Ted has a particular resonance in the family, as he was always having adventures. (Nowadays he’s confined to the house. He was giddy with joy at being allowed out for the book launch!)
He’s not the biggest bear in the world, so he’s easy to miss, despite being massively loved. The result is many journeys back home courtesy of kindly friends and relatives, often in an envelope.
There was the time we merrily set off down the motorway to go on holiday, to the tune of ‘Drivin’ Away from Home’, only to realise that (KLAXON) Stripy Ted Was Not In The Car. We had to drive back to Oxford (turning OFF the music), to eventually find him sitting in Cowley Library, gleefully waiting for us.
There was the time he fell off my bike, as we were taking our children to nursery, in the middle of a massive rainstorm. We had to go back to eventually find him lying in the rain, in the gutter – which meant I was late for work, the children were late for nursery, and Stripy had to spend all afternoon sitting on top of the tumble dryer.
And then of course there was the time that we left him (along with a packed lunch) in the children’s buggy in the park, and went off to chat to a friendly man and his dog. We came back to find that the police had confiscated the buggy – Stripy, sandwiches and all – and taken it to the local police station. We had a very nervous hour thinking Stripy might be thought suspicious and possibly blown up – before describing him (and the sandwiches) to the police, and getting him safely back.
I originally wrote the story about Stripy’s actual escapades, which, as in the story, resulted in all his arms and legs falling off. Then David Fickling introduced me to Monty Python’s Black Knight, who stomps around with no arms and legs, saying “I’ve had worse!” and ” ‘Tis but a flesh wound!”
And so, inspired by the Black Knight, Stripy Ted’s adventures – and his attitude! – grew grander, more courageous and daring in the book.
The real Stripy Ted, as you can see, ended up a battered ball and head, just like the bear in the book (though he didn’t actually lose an eye or an ear). His stripes were loved off, to make him the colour of dirt, so he was even more tricky to find (particularly just before bedtime).
I kept his lost limbs and sewed them on, but they got loved off again. I eventually asked my son if I should mend him once more, and he said no – because now, he liked him even better. So this scene actually happened.
The hugely talented Katie Cleminson has done such a wonderful job of conveying all the adventure and emotion in Stripy’s tale. I’m absolutely delighted with the finished book.So is Stripy Ted. And look – the older and shabbier he gets, the more he seems to smile! That’s what being loved does for you.