Babs Vinden-Cantrell, a Stockfordian (look it up) who made Beeston her home many years ago, has had a life worthy of a book in itself: winning awards for her writing at a young age, becoming a professional dancer on stage with Les Dawson before a career in the Army took her around the world. Yet her first series of books are not dashing adventures on lime-lit stages or distant battlefields; but above human heads, flapping around with a bunch of chirpy fledglings. Meet the Seagull Chicks: Seb, Petal, Chase, Romiley and Edge, the winged heroes of Seagulls Don’t Eat Sorbet and Seagulls Got To Dance.
“I got the idea for Seagulls Don’t Eat Sorbet from real real-life incident” Babs explained “I was at Blackpool and while seagulls were diving down stealing ice creams, they left sorbet alone. My brother Barry remarked on this and an idea jumped into my head”. This serendipity has served well, setting off a rich creative process.
The books, beautifully illustrated by Eszter Katona, follow the adventures of the chicks, with Blackpool playing a major role. While Beestonians are possibly more used to the delights of Skeggy, the books conjure up the magic of being young and running wild, through the arcades and attractions, of a Summer in a seaside resort. Babs has tremendous affection for Blackpool, and it shows throughout: as well as a grippingly funny story there’s a deep affection. Blackpoolloves her back too, with her books available for sale at the local tourist offices.
“I loved going there” Babs tells us “ I still love going there” . She single-handedly brought up three children herself, now all adults, and thus can bring that exhilarating (and occasionally terrifying) freewheeling chaos to the stories. The chicks are great characters: originally Babs planned a single book with few illustrations, focussing on a single chick, Seb. But after several attempts, and some advice and encouragement from friends (including, wonderfully incongruously, Tom ‘Lofty from EastEnders’ Watt) she pulled in an illustrator and decided to tell the story in six standalone books.
How does living in Beeston influence her work? “I live near Attenborough Nature Reserve and am there often: it’s impossible not to be inspired by the life and beauty there”. So if you’re walking those pond-side paths soon, and you see Babs staring at a magpie at the same time a lightbulb pings over her head, we’re all in luck: Babs imagination is a treat to us all.
Grab a copy of Seagulls Don’t Eat Sorbet and /or Seagulls Got To Dance from The Plane Tree / via online retailers.
Seagulls Got to Dance
Book Review by Leif Turpin (Aged 6)
I read the books with my dad at bedtime and liked the one at Blackpool, because I like seasides and all the things are there. I liked candyfloss, arcades and I like ice cream but not chocolate icecream. I would like to be a seagull because I like how they fly and have fun like the chicks. The chicks are funny and made me laugh. They’re a bit silly, and I like that cos I’m also a bit silly. I’m also a bit crazy, and they’re a bit crazy.
I want to read it again!