The various lockdowns over the past 16 months have certainly taken their toll on most – but none more so than children, whose mental health has been compromised like never before.
Spending time in and out of school over the past couple of academic years has proven to be very tough for a large section of both primary and secondary-aged children.
According to a recent survey by YoungMinds, a national organisation supporting children’s wellbeing, 75% of respondents agreed that they found the last lockdown earlier this year harder to cope with than previous ones.
It also found that 67% of respondents believed that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.
And just two weeks ago, Ian Soars, CEO of Fegans – a national children’s charity based here in Tunbridge Wells – spoke on the Pantiles Bandstand about why mental health difficulties (pandemic or no pandemic) are so challenging for young people while their brains are still developing.
Another local concerned at how Covid has been taking its toll on our youth is businessman Eric Reimann (whose nom de plume is Enrique Reilly).
“During the first lockdown I watched and read a lot of reports with great sadness of people suffering from mental health issues,” explains Eric, who, when not writing, is a business consultant in the logistics industry.
“So I decided to write a children’s illustrated book out of the blue, with a view to donating all of the profits to Heads Together mental health charity and also the WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature].”
Yet despite not being a seasoned author, Eric still managed to write a book which is titled ‘The Horrible Captain Horatio Murky’!
“Writing it put me totally outside of my comfort zone,” says Eric. “Having an idea and turning it into a book is literally as hard as it sounds. The experience is both challenging and rewarding for me as a writer.
“My storyline goal was to touch on the environment, seen and experienced through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy from Paris”
“With The Horrible Captain Horatio Murky, my storyline goal was to touch on the environment, seen and experienced through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy from Paris. He saves wild animals from the titular antagonist.
“Children like fun books, so in the story the intelligent beings are the animals and the young protagonist, French schoolboy Max Dubois, while all the adults are hapless!
“I hope the story will bring great joy to children and their parents. I also hope it is fun and thought-provoking, and above all relevant.”
Yet although the words flowed freely for Eric, he struggled to find an illustrator to create the images for the book, so he decided to do some research into how he could commission someone:
“I found an illustrator from Birmingham online. He was very accommodating and flexible when I commissioned him to do the illustrations.”
When it came to the book’s typography, Eric says he emailed several universities asking for help, and then Reading University came up.
“One of the lecturers, Professor James Mosley, informed me about the opportunity they offer to their students to work with professionals as part of their innovative Real Jobs campaign.
“It was a win-win for me because a lot of those suffering from mental health issues are around the age of these university students.
“To give them a chance to have something to focus on during a difficult year – one in which everyone had to deal with the psychological strain that comes from being locked within the same four walls – was excellent.”
Eric found a student named Joanne Tunbridge who did all the typography for the book, including giving him a choice of font, etc.
“Joanne also had to configure the structure of the book so it could be uploaded in the correct format and bleed on to both Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s websites,” says Eric.
Aside from providing a student with a welcome distraction from social-distancing measures, Eric was quick to identify the wider benefits afforded to both student and customer by the scheme.
He said: “It provides a great experience for the students’ CVs. When I was assigned Joanne she went over and above what was expected, which was much appreciated. Whenever there were any issues, she dealt with them and I couldn’t fault her.
“I also love the fact that the work she completed for me will contribute towards her final degree.”
Eric was so impressed by the quality of Joanne’s work that he opted to enlist the services of a second undergraduate, Eva Doger de Speville, to help promote sales of his book.
“I was excited to give an opportunity to another brilliant young student. Eva is a French speaker, which is great because my book, which is set in Paris, has been translated into French for children across the English Channel to enjoy as well,” continues Eric.
“Eva set up social media accounts for the book in the name of Captain Murky and published posts to attract French readers. That is something I would never have been able to do on my own.”
Eric hopes to bring his cast of colourful characters back for a sequel, and is adamant he will also return to Reading for creative inspiration.
“The University of Reading have been brilliant. They were so helpful and that is what I needed. A lot of people tend to say that students come out of university highly qualified but under experienced.
“Allowing these two students to get some real experience has been so rewarding. I am proud of my achievement and hope will sell a lot of copies and financially support my two chosen charities – and children, too.”
Eric has even jumped on the TikTok social media bandwagon as a promotional tool for the book:
“I am in the process of finishing a video of a ten-year-old boy – who by coincidence is called Max – who also looks like the Max character in the book. In the TikTok video he changes into various characters from the book. It’s a lot of fun!”
To order a copy of The Horrible Captain Horatio Murky, visit: enriquereilly.com
YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF THE HORRIBLE CAPTAIN HORATIO MURKY
The author would like to offer two free copies of the book to two lucky Times readers, and also welcomes their feedback on whether they enjoyed reading the book and what characters or animals in the book they liked the most.
To enter the competition, please answer the following two questions:
1) What is the name of the ten-year-old boy in the book?
2) What is the full title of the book?
Email your answers to: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Wednesday August 4 to be in with a chance of winning…
Graphics: TikTok © David Farfan/Pixabay; Enter to win: © Convisum/dreamstime.com