Tag Archives: The Ginger Ninja

Who’d have red hair? Why I wrote the Ginger Ninja

What made me write the Ginger Ninja? well, the 1960’s was not the best time to be growing up with red hair. Britain was a pretty homogenous society. It was full of white people who pretty much looked the same, so anyone with red hair stood out. Immigrants of all shades and colours were pouring into the country at the time, but they kept to small areas of large towns and cities.

Some people do so love to hate – and there was no reason not to hate back then. We didn’t have political correctness or the media enlightening us to the dark goings on in society. (They were certainly going on at my country prep school – there were one or two great teachers, but we had to put up with psychopaths and pedophiles who were allowed to get on with their business in those days. (They were quietly moved on when caught in flagrante.)

Two or three times a term, when there was nothing else to do, the name calling would begin. I hated it and I hated the way the mob would smell blood and surge around me, pushing me to lose my temper – because that’s what red-heads do, right? A saint would lose their temper under such provocation. That was the generally understood law of red hair in those days. Red heads have red hot tempers. I’m now convinced it’s a race hatred of the Vikings. Oh! Did I mention I’m a Viking too? My Mother is Norwegian – I got it from both sides. I was different.

Eventually, I managed to control what had become a very violent temper and the bullying ceased – I wasn’t fun anymore. Maybe I’ll tell that story another day.

My son was born a terrifying shade of blue after a traumatic birth – I thought we’d lost him, but then he finally screamed – the midwife took in a deep breath and said, “Oh Dear! He’s ginger – you’re going to have trouble with this one!”

I wasn’t pleased. I thought that had all gone away. I’m lucky – my hair has gone very dark brown, so I’m not really thought of as Ginger anymore, so that remark brought it all to the surface again.

Also, in the intervening years there had been other people to hate. The Irish, the Pakistanis and the Carribeans got it the worst. My blood runs cold when I think of the stuff that would be put out on on primetime TV – remember Jim Davidson? Repeated casual jokes have a drip-drip effect. I’m sure I was just as bad as anyone – there was one Irish joke I was very fond of telling…

But that drip-drip-drip is poison. it desensitises us.

All babies are lovely until they get to the age of two and then they start to fight for their rights – It’s called The Terrible Twos. Most children are stood up to and put in there place by their parents, so they grow up fitting in. Red haired children are excused their behaviour – after all that’s what red heads do, right? They are given permission to have a temper which can only get worse. Each time they lose it, the trigger threshold for a temper tantrum is reduced until the parents and everyone else give in, after all, it’s in the blood – bad blood.

So, redheads are permitted to have a terrible temper and become prey to those who enjoy making others lose their temper. And school is where they find each other. It becomes a vicious circle, one that is very hard to break.

Now we have race relation laws to protect everyone but Gingers. I know blondes have a hard time of it too, but they don’t get the same, visceral hatred. I’m amazed at how often gingers are portrayed on the media as figures of fun – replace the ginger character with a black face and the name Ginga with the “N” word and what’s the difference? The race relations business doesn’t recognise red-haired people as being worthy of the same protection as other racial minorities. Ginger’s are fair-game. Can you believe 5,000 people signed up to “Kick a Ginger Day” on FaceBook before it was taken down. Again, can you imagine it ever getting that far if you replaced The “G” word with the “N” word? Oh my God! I just realised it’s an anagram!!!!!

That comment from the Midwife set me thinking long and hard about red hair and how it had affected my life. Perhaps the hardest lesson was to realise how desensitised I became to others feelings. Why should I care about anyone else?

Writing the Ginger Ninja was the beginning of a sort of therapy for me – a catharsis, the beginning of sorting out a very confused young man. I’ll tell you more about how all the ideas came together another day.

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The Ginger Ninja

It seems as though my first self-published title is in fact going to be The Ginger Ninja, which has been out of print for a few years now. I’ve been working on bringing it back to life for the last few weeks.

I’d felt that it had had it’s day and put it behind me, but many children (and adults) still ask me about it. Last year I visited Headfield Junior School in Dewsbury and was quite surprised and overcome by the warmth of feeling that the children and the school had for Ginger. They weren’t even aware that it was out of print. In fact hey trawled ebay to get more copies, so I decided to republish it myself and see what happens.

The Ginger Ninja is very important to me. My fabulous editor, Fiona Kenshole, taught me how to write in one astonishing editing session on the Ginger Ninja, as she had previously taught me to illustrate in one amazing session on Michael Morpurgo’s Mudpuddle Farm series.

Writing the book was a cathartic experience. I plumbed the darkest depths of my childhood and came up with a scarily dark idea. Fiona made me realise that the message I wanted to expound was best put across in a lighter way, that let the reader draw their own conclusions. I remember her crossing out paragraphs that meant so much to me at the time. “Preaching!” she would say. “You’re on your soapbox again!” she wailed. That day she taught me that no one likes a preacher unless they are confirming their own ingrained prejudices. We learn through subtle suggestion and osmosis.

I suppose it’s the crux of “show, don’t tell“, that piece of advice that is given to all writers, that is so difficult to explain. If you don’t get it, it’s because you’ve got your blinkers on and you’re never going to get it until you take them off.

I also learned how to perform stories with The Ginger Ninja. The moment when Ginger understands that moral strength comes from within is a magical experience for me every time I tell the story. If everything goes well, the room becomes dead silent and I feel a wave of expectation pouring off the audience – something urges me to pause and pause, soaking up the moment. When Ginger finally understands, the release of tension from the audience is quite extraordinary – eyes sparkle and I know I have everyone with me, even the moody kid at the back who says he hates stories! The rest of the story is a romp to the finish and all the children join in with me, standing up to the bully, Tiddles. You can actually see them growing, puffing out their chests and following me, in their imaginations, as we chase the bullies out of the playground.

There have been a few times when this moment has been ruined. Sometimes it’s Dinner Ladies wanting to set up tables, other times phones ring or kids come barging in with messages for Tracy to come to her music lesson. Once, half the audience got up and left to catch the bus for their swimming lesson! When this happens I am left emotionally drained, having gone through the dark part of the story and not being allowed to reach it’s glorious conclusion properly.

So, I have proofs on their way to me. Ginger is read by much younger children than I originally had in mind, so I’ve made the type and the size of the book a fraction larger. I hope that they’ll be great. I’ll keep you informed.

I know many people have fond memories of Ginger and they always want to tell me about them, so please feel free to add yours by clicking “to make a comment” line below.

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 You can buy signed copies here.
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