Guest post by Daniel Gray-Barnett, author of ‘Grandma Z’.
About Grandma Z
Albert wants to feel special on his birthday. Nothing ordinary will do. He blows out his candles, makes a wish … and then there is a knock at the door. His Grandma Z has arrived, and she knows how to turn an ordinary day into something magical.
Grandma Z caught my attention because it celebrates the relationships between young people and their grandparents. Grandparents too often go unacknowledged and underappreciated, but the time we spend with them stays in our memories for a lifetime.
Grandma Z has raised children. She’s lived her own life, developed her personality, and she has so much to share with Albert.
I am delighted to share a guest post from creator Daniel Gray-Barnett which discusses his own three beloved grandmothers. Thanks to Daniel for your time, and to Catherine Ward PR for organising.
My Grandmothers as inspiration for my debut picture book
By Daniel Gray-Barnett
When I wrote Grandma Z, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have three women in mind when I created the title character. Yes, three! I’m lucky enough to have had three grandmothers, though sadly one has now passed away.
My father’s father divorced and remarried before I was born, so on my dad’s side, I’ve always had my Nanna, my Grandma and, on my mum’s side (she’s of Chinese background), my Poh-Poh.
Whilst none of my grandmothers wear a radiant blue coat, sport bright orange hair, nor ride a motorbike, what they did do in terms of writing this story was inspire it with their stories, their spirit and the love I have felt from them. Grandma Z herself is a gregarious force-of-nature – her zest for life is hard to contain. In a way, she represents the inner-grandmother I see inside each of my own grandmothers. They are kind, strong women who have each faced challenging lives and never lost the twinkle in their eyes. I always felt loved and safe with them.
I remember as a young child growing up in Sydney, Australia, my Nanna stayed with us a few days most weeks to help care for us and take some pressure off my mum. I’m one of triplets, with 2 other younger siblings – there were 5 kids under the age of 6 so I’m sure it was a challenge, no matter how well behaved we were!
Nanna had a room at the end of the hall, right next to the bedroom I shared with my triplet brother. I have fond memories of creeping into her room and watching Eastenders and The Bill with her, whilst she knitted. If I couldn’t sleep, or I was upset, or needed somewhere to be quiet, I could cuddle up with my Nanna in there. She was a quiet, sweet woman who taught me how to knit and make pikelets. She raised my father as a single mother and her strength is an inspiration. She used to wear lovely felt hats and coats and I think she’d approve of Grandma Z’s sartorial choices.
My Poh-Poh is even quieter than my Nanna was – she speaks English but uses it less and less the older she gets. I was very fortunate that she lived with my grandfather in a house across the road from ours. I can still picture many afternoons after school spent sitting at the bench of her kitchen, watching her as she cooked. She fled China together with my grandfather when the Japanese invaded in WWII, raising her young family in Malaysia then Singapore before settling in Australia. As a result, the Chinese food I grew up with had a very South-East Asian flavour. Char Kway Teow noodles, curry puffs and steamed BBQ pork buns were some of my favourite things she would make. She may have been – and still is – a woman of few words, but she showed me how love can be communicated equally as strongly in non-verbal ways.
Grandma is probably the grandmother who is most similar to Grandma Z in mannerisms. I call her every couple of weeks and she never fails to make me smile with her cackling laugh. She’s a little frail nowadays, but when she was younger she was an avid ballroom dancer. She has a large china cabinet proudly displaying her porcelain figurine collection. These are not dolls, they are elegant women in their finery – ruffled flowing dresses, parasols or flowers in their hands. Every time we would visit, I would scan the shelves of glass and choose a new favourite.
Sometimes during school holidays, we would stay with my grandparents for a few days. I have memories of dressing up and playing witches, turning the living room into a cubby house and collecting macadamia nuts from the tree in the garden. Grandma was the one who would let us sprinkle a spoon of sugar on our cereal and always let us have ice-cream for dessert. There would always be at least several different toppings we could choose from and one of them would always be a new flavour. She was the grandmother who indulged and spoilt us. With her, we had room to just be kids and know there was little we couldn’t get away with. The warmth and joy I get just from speaking to her is nearly tangible. We’re not related by blood, but the bond we share is just as strong as any familial bond. Our relationship has shown me that family can be a choice, that it’s not just about who you are related to, but who you choose to connect with and love.
There’s something to be said for the special, unique relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. Each grandparent brings their own history and talents to the table. Sometimes, that relationship is stronger with one grandchild more than the others. Often freed of the boundaries of parental discipline, the relationship can become a true friendship – a child seeking a confidante or acceptance, a grandparent who has a chance to explore their inner-child. There is an exchange of wisdom and perspective, from both parties. In the case of complicated or damaged relationships between grandparents and a parent, a grandchild can be a bridge, an opportunity to reconnect.
Grandma Z is as much about celebrating this intergenerational connection as it is about celebrating the imagination and connecting with someone who allows you to just be yourself. Often, these things go hand in hand. The relationship between Albert and Grandma Z is a representation of that love and freedom I felt with each of my grandmothers.
Sometimes, ‘on an ordinary day, in an ordinary town’, a child just wants to feel unordinary. And sometimes, spending time with a grandparent is the quickest way to do just that.
Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett is out now, published by Scribe, £6.99 paperback.