Tale of a mule with self-esteem issues wins €1,000 Caterpillar Story Prize

Read ‘Beatrice – A Work of Art’ by Louise Greig, who won first Caterpillar Poetry Prize

Louise Greig: won the inaugural Caterpillar Poetry Prize, which led directly to the publication of her first children’s picture book, The Night Box

Louise Greig: won the inaugural Caterpillar Poetry Prize, which led directly to the publication of her first children’s picture book, The Night Box

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The Caterpillar Story Prize, run by The Caterpillar, an art & literature magazine for children, has been awarded to Louise Greig for Beatrice – A Work of Art, a story about a mule with self-esteem issues.

“I am enormously humbled to have won this beautiful prize. I hope all children find solace in stories and discover The Caterpillar as a place of wonder,” said Greig of her win.

Greig, who lives in Aberdeen with her husband, kick-started her career as an author in 2015, when she won the inaugural Caterpillar Poetry Prize, which led directly to the publication of her first children’s picture book, The Night Box.

The Night Box has been translated into 10 languages. It was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal, and shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Teach Primary Book Awards and the Klaus Flugge Prize. To date she has published six picture books, with more scheduled over the next few years.

“Louise’s writing really cuts to the heart of things – it’s soulful, lyrical and witty in equal measure. We had no doubt when we read Beatrice – A Work of Art that this was our winning story,” said The Caterpillar’s editor Rebecca O’Connor. “It’s a tale that will touch children and adults in equal measure, I think, and really make us think about our sense of ourselves in the world and how important friendship is to us.”

Greig’s winning story appears in the winter issue of The Caterpillar, available to purchase in select bookshops or via The Caterpillar website.

The judges also commended stories by Helen Parr, Sheila Wilson and Karl O’Neill. Details of The €1,000 Caterpillar Poetry Prize, which is now open, are also available at thecaterpillarmagazine.com.

Beatrice – A Work of Art
By Louise Greig

Last Monday at daybreak, behind the walls of a small well-kept wooden building easily mistaken for a stable, Beatrice, half-horse half-donkey, began to chisel a large block of wood by the light of a single daffodil. Deep cello music groaned out of the gramophone. It moaned like a church organ. It sounded like the wind weeping. It sounded like an old tree creaking.

As the morning cracked open like an egg and the sun began to drip down like a yellow yolk, Beatrice poured a ladle of coffee into her tin of treacle, took twelve sips then carried on carving, chip, chip, chip. Out of the air began to emerge a horse, donkeyish in shape. Beatrice was pleased.

’What is this, Beatrice?’ This was the chorus of her three friends who happen to be a goat, a pig and a rooster. Intrigued, they had come to see what Beatrice was doing. Chip, chip, chip was a sound they were not familiar with.

’It is a self-portrait in oak,’ said Beatrice, lamenting the great old tree felled in last winter’s storm. ‘Her final wish was not to be made into a clock or a wardrobe or a garden gate. She told me her last wish was to be a horse donkey exactly like me.’

‘This is nothing like you,’ mumbled the goat, helping himself to a square of curtain. ‘This is a stump’.

‘Nothing,’ echoed the rooster. ‘This is a lump.’

‘No resemblance,’ the pig grunted. ‘This is a hump.’

Beatrice’s ears drooped like end of summer lupins. Sad treacle breath filled the air, but determined to honour the oak tree,, she began the task again on Tuesday. This time she measured her head with a bucket, checked the length of her ears against the leaves of a red tulip, and trailed a ladle of treacle around her hooves. Oh, and the tail; she used a tape measure for that.

Wonderful, she thought. These proportions will be exact.

She allowed herself a bray. It sounded like the wind weeping. It sounded like an old tree creaking.

‘This thing is the colour of potatoes.’ These were the Tuesday words of the goat mumbling his opinion between mouthfuls of settee while staring at the work in progress.

‘I am the colour of potatoes,’ said Beatrice.

‘Aubergines,’ said the pig, ‘when you stand in the shadows.’

‘Plum juice at dusk’, the rooster piped up.

‘You are a mountain covered in violets,’ said the goat.

Beatrice turned a little pink.

This brings us to today and to Beatrice’s latest attempt to give an old oak tree the look of herself, half-horse half-donkey.

‘It is all a bit wooden,’ says the goat grazing on a tea towel.

‘Are the ears too long?’ asks Beatrice.

‘The ears are the length of the leaves of a red tulip. They are perfect.’

‘Is the head too small?’

‘The head is the size of a bucket and therefore excellent.’

‘Then what is missing?’

’Come with me, Beatrice,’ beckons the rooster.

They go out to the little green orchard that is as green as pea soup in a bowl.

‘Now, trot around the pear tree and tell me what you hear?’

Beatrice obliges. ‘I hear the thud, thud, thud of a mule trotting around a pear tree.’

‘No, Beatrice that is the thud, thud, thud of the pears dropping at your hooves in adoration. And listen to the birds in the branches, Beatrice. They have come to sing to the music in your hoofbeats.’

‘Now, swish your tail, Beatrice,’ says the pig.

Beatrice swishes her tail back and forth, back and forth.

‘What does it remind you of?’

‘A broom?’

‘Beatrice, it is the peaceful pendulum that lulls us to sleep.’

Back inside, the goat urges Beatrice to stare at her reflection in the treacle tin.

‘What do you see, Beatrice?’

‘I see a brown mule with a head the size of a bucket and ears the length of the leaves of a red tulip.’

‘That’s looking, but what do you see?’

‘I see a mountain covered in violets and a heart with a cello in it.’

The friends fall as quiet as a morning owl.

Tomorrow they will arrive to see the finished sculpture of Beatrice. The creak of cello music will groan from the gramophone. It will sound like Beatrice’s bray. Tears of joy will fall from the friends’ eyes into the bucket. The goat’s mouth will drop open and the stuffing of a chair will fall out.

Beatrice has at last seen what a goat, a rooster and a pig see.

The birds believe tambourines live in Beatrice’s hooves.

The cello copies her bray.

Pears drop from branches to be near her.

The swish of her tail is a lullaby.

She is a mountain covered in violets.

She is an oak tree of a horse-donkey .

She is an orchestra.

She is a work of art.

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