Hopetoun Tea Rooms, Block Arcade, Melbourne
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited the Hopetoun Tea Rooms over the years but yesterday was a special visit.
On 7 November, 2008, I was waiting for my friend Jan, who was running late, so while I waited I gazed at all that was happening through the window into the Block Arcade.
At that time I’d been asked by Black Dog Books to write a nostalgic Christmas story. I’d presented a number of story-lines and we’d agreed on the idea of a little white dog lost in Melbourne at Christmas in the 1950’s.
I know it sounds strange, but when I write I often see the story visually – although I can’t draw for nuts – and as I looked into the arcade I saw a little white West Highland Terrier coming off Collins Street and sheltering from the rain. I also saw a big Father Christmas giving the little dog a fright. I found a small book in my handbag and started to write.
The imagined West Highland Terrier at that time was Flip, became Eugene for a while, then Pip and finally he became just Little Dog.
The writing of the book took ages. Even though it was a fictional story, it’s set in real places at a real time so there was heaps of research. Then when the illustrator, Robin Cowcher began illustrating, there was research of a different kind and this was Robin’s very first picture book.
At one stage I shed many tears as the original concept of the book changed, so there were rewrites and rewrites and losing of words – some important and some not so. But the pain and the waiting was worth it. It always is.
The rest is now history but on 25th October, 2014 Little Dog and the Christmas Wish was launched in the Block Arcade. A special guest was Harry the Westie who I had found (and borrowed) from the Collins Croydon Bookshop especially for the launch.
Then, on January 8, 2015, exactly 4 years ago yesterday, I received a wonderful surprise phone call from Stage One Australia telling me that Little Dog and the Christmas Wish had been chosen as the theme for the 2015 Myer Christmas Windows. I happened to be minding Harry that day and he was asleep under my desk when the phone woke him. ‘Harry,’ I said, ‘Did that really happen or was I dreaming?’
Prior to the window reveal, publisher Maryann Ballantyne, Robin Cowcher and myself met at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms for a pre-window-reveal lunch.
When Stage One Australia heard the background to the story, they included a small mini-me as part of the windows (in the Hopetoun Tea Room window).
I donated my mini-me to the Block Arcade and it now sits behind a small glass window under the dome in the arcade. A plaque is currently being made to explain the background and why it’s there.
If you look closely you will see my miniature book and pen on the table.
The book was shortlisted in the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Crichton Award and Little Dog’s adventures continued in Little Dog and the Summer Holiday.
So yesterday was special, for all kinds of reasons and Jan and I celebrated well at Table 20, where it all began.