Lottie and the Ickabog“On my Dad’s birthday we always go to a coffee shop and buy hot drinks for the next ten people that come in.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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What do the author of the best-selling book series in history and 9-year-old Lottie Billington from Westport have in common? Well, the Ickabog, obviously. When JK Rowling (for it is she) wanted to recruit some illustrators for her new children’s book, she sent a call out on social media looking for kids to draw the characters in her story. Many applied, but few were chosen. And Lottie was one of the few. She told Ryan Tubridy how it all came about: 

“I entered a competition for a JK Rowling book – for the illustrations of it – over lockdown. And there were 18,000 entries, there were 38 winners and I was one of them.” 

Not bad for a 9-year-old from Westport, eh? (Although it should be stressed that Lottie was in fact only 8 when she drew the picture) But how, Ryan wondered, did Lottie decide what to draw for JK Rowling’s new book? 

I like drawing animals and I like doing different details and colours in my pictures, so I chose the peacock.” 

It took Lottie a few hours to draw the peacock, complete with “all the feather, the beak and eyes”. She got a signed copy of The Ickabog and a certificate from JK Rowling, which she’s delighted about, as a Harry Potter fan. She also got a voucher for €500 worth of books for her school. What an amazing girl. She’s a hero, as Ryan declared, “not all heroes wear capes”. (Although she could be wearing a cape, it’s hard to tell from the audio) 

Lottie has been a big fan of reading, she told Ryan, ever since her Dad started reading to her. When was that? 

“My Dad used to read to the bump in my Mam’s belly when I was younger.” 

Younger? As Ryan clarified, Lottie is talking about younger as in, not even born yet. And didn’t that bump turn out well? Lottie’s mum, Sarah joined the conversation to tell Ryan how proud she is of her first-born and also to say how Lottie’s little sister Rosie has been so supportive and proud.  

Lottie’s dad Mal passed away when she was 4 and Sarah, Lottie and Rosie have been each other’s supports ever since. Sarah is sure that Mal’s hand is involved in Lottie’s win, because Sarah is sure she didn’t get her artistic skills from her mother. Sarah is admirably honest about their lives over the past 4 years: 

I don’t want to give the impression that we’re drawing pictures and dancing all the time. We’re not. There are days when I’m desperately lonely and it hurts like hell and I’m a cranky mammy that they don’t deserve. But for the most part, we’ve a lovely life. Like, a terrible thing happened to us, but we have a lovely life, full of people who love and support us.” 

On the first birthday after Mal died, Sarah asked the girls what they wanted to do to remember their Dad on his birthday. Mal, being English, would ask people if they wanted a hot drink, as opposed to a tea or a coffee and Lottie and Rosie decided that they would commemorate their Dad by buying hot drinks for people on his birthday each year. 

“On my Dad’s birthday we always go to a coffee shop and buy hot drinks for the next ten people that come in.” 

It’s something, Sarah said, that they’ve done on every one of Mal’s birthdays since. And, Lottie told Ryan the reasons behind the idea to buy hot drinks in their Dad’s honour: 

“We knew our Dad was very kind and he loved buying people hot drinks and things and so we just decided to do that and his favourite coffee shop was Mocha, so we went there every year and I hope we can do it this year because of lockdown.” 

Lottie and Rosie use their pocket money to leave enough for ten hot drinks behind the counter for the ten people who come in after them. (No, you’re crying). The wonderful story of Lottie and Rosie and the hot drinks is perfectly captured, as Ryan told them, by a quote from Willy Wonka: “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Yep. 

You can hear the full conversation between Ryan, Lottie and Sarah by going here. 

The Ickabog by JK Rowling (and Lottie Billington) is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Niall Ó Sioradáin 

© The Listener 2020

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