New Children’s Book addresses Mental Health worries
Belfast author Dan Leith has penned a new story, The Stargazing Otter, to offer comfort and support to children suffering from mental health worries, as rates of young people reporting anxiety and depression soar during the pandemic.
Stunningly illustrated and beautifully written, it tells the tale of an otter who finds himself so caught up with the beauty and details of the world that he is left behind on the riverbank and must find the courage within himself to move on. The project was one of 88 funded back in April through the Arts Council’s £500,000 Artists Emergency Programme, a support fund set up using National Lottery funds to help artists continue their work and connect with communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although this is Dan’s first children’s book, he has been working as a freelance performing artist and theatre-maker since graduating from Queen’s in 2008. He has produced shows including Hubert and the Yes Sock with Tinderbox, A Boy & His Box and Woofle with Replay Theatre Company and worked with a host of theatre companies including Spanner In The Works, C21, Young At Art and A Place to Wonder.
Talking about The Stargazing Otter, Dan says the idea for the book first came about some time ago, but it was during the first weeks of lockdown, with theatres closed and work cancelled, that he was able to develop the project.
He said: “This is my first children’s story that I have created in a non-theatrical medium and I am really pleased with how it’s turned out. I’ve worked with the fantastic illustrator, Vicki Firth, and it’s been really exciting to see my ideas take shape on page.
“As a full time artist, like many others, all of the work I had planned for this year - shows, workshops, performances - have been cancelled. Receiving funding from the National Lottery through the Artists Emergency Programme has been a great support over the last few months and allowed me to keep working and really focus on my writing.”
The project is now nearing completion and Dan is making final preparations to launch The Stargazing Otter as an ebook. He has also recorded an audio version of the book, complete with sound recordings gathered from the wildlife and waterways which flow through East Belfast.
Dan continues: “The story is something that I’ve had in my mind for some time. It touches on themes of anxiety and mental health, which I am sure a lot of people have been struggling with this year. I am used to telling my stories through theatrical means, but this just seemed like the right time to tell this story, even if it was in a different format than I am used to. I wouldn’t rule out the story being turned in a piece of theatre for young audiences in the future. I would love to bring it to live audiences someday.”
Like Dan, hundreds of other artists, charities and organisations across the UK that have been affected by the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus outbreak are being given access to a comprehensive package of support of up to £600 million of repurposed money from The National Lottery. This will support some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and span the arts, community, charity, heritage, education, environment and sports sectors.
Damian Smyth, Head of Literature, Arts Council of Northern Ireland,
“The National Lottery has always supported projects that help people and communities across the UK thrive. And now, thanks to National Lottery players the funds available are switching focus to support communities, arts, heritage, sport, education and the environment to mitigate the unprecedented pressure they are coming under as we all rally to overcome COVID-19.
“Artists have been among the hardest hit groups, with projects delayed, venues closed and events cancelled for the foreseeable future. All of this is having a major impact on our cultural and creative lives. Over the next few months, I’m really looking forward to seeing Dan’s story being published along with all the other projects that this vital funding has helped to support.”
The National Lottery is playing a critical role in supporting people, projects and communities during these challenging times. Thanks to National Lottery players, £30 million is raised every week for good causes many of whom will be supporting the most vulnerable in communities across the UK during the Coronavirus crisis. By playing The National Lottery, you are making an amazing contribution to the nationwide-response to combatting the impact of COVID-19 on local communities across the UK.
To find out more about the range of funding support announced by National Lottery distributors across the UK to date, visit the National Lottery Good Causes website www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/coronavirus-pandemic-response