Mokie and Bik

Monday, August 07, 2006

The writing of Mokie and Bik

The writing of Mokie and Bik

If your father told you stories about growing up on a boat, speaking a language that only he and his twin sister (and sometimes their nanny) could understand, pulling his sister out by the hair when she fell overboard, being towed in his rowboat by the basking shark he’d hooked…. Well, you’d just have to write them, wouldn’t you?

From the age of three to six, my dad Anthony (Tony) and his twin sister Anne lived with their parents, their nanny or ‘mother’s help’ Ruby, a sheepdog named Laddie and a turtle, on a boat in the Canadian harbour of Vancouver. This was in the 1930’s, when the world was in the Depression and the United States was in Prohibition – which led to their father becoming first mate on the rumrunning ship the Malahat, a beautiful five masted schooner, and later the skipper of a rumrunning motorboat.

Their father returned from one of these trips with a puppy for the twins. Rabiot (meaning ‘scraps’, was a French cart dog owned by the captain of a French rumrunner who was not going to be able to keep a puppy in the Mexican jail he was being sent to… Laddie trained Rabiot to guard the twins and he grew into a brave and loyal dog. When he eventually died of injuries sustained in one too many dogfights, he was replaced by the spaniel Waggles.

During the years on the boat, my father and Anne spoke, probably made up of English words they couldn’t pronounce properly, combined with words from the various languages they heard on the wharf, especially from the Norwegian family whose boat was moored nearby. When the twins were six their parents suddenly realised that they didn’t speak English well enough to go to school, so the boat was leased out and the family moved into a house to civilise the children.

As a child I was fascinated by the twins’ adventures; as a mother I was somewhat horrified by the tale of Anne falling overboard and my father, equally unsupervised, rowing out to get the ‘golden seaweed’– he’s not sure whether or not he knew it was his sister’s hair when he went to rescue her. As a writer, I knew that their stories needed to be told.

And so, on and off over the years, I’ve been making notes. On a visit back to British Columbia five years ago, I spent a full afternoon with my aunt taking down her version of the stories as thoroughly as I could. A year or so later, with a comment from my publisher at Allen & Unwin, I suddenly saw the format for the book: not a picture book, not a novel, but something in between, more like linked short stories. I started writing, using their real stories, toning them down sometimes for believability, tidying them up and rounding them out. Fourteen drafts later, the Australian edition of ‘Mokie and Bik’ was ready for the typesetter. Beth Norling then got into the spirit with her lively, whimsical illustrations… a few more edits and changes…. in September the book will be born.

(And yes, my father and aunt, the original Mokie and Bik, have given it their seal of approval!)


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