Despite spending nearly seven weeks in intensive care and having to learn to walk again after contracting Covid-19, Michael Rosen has written a new book in the weeks since he left hospital, describing his return to creativity as akin to being wrapped in “a very friendly blanket”.
The former children’s laureate, who spent 47 days in intensive care before going home in June, said he took just “a couple of days” to pen Rigatoni the Pasta Cat, the latest in his comic fiction series illustrated by Tony Ross.
“I was thinking about it while I was in hospital, and afterwards in rehab, and then I thought, ‘Why go on thinking about it? Just write it,’” said Rosen.
The 74-year-old author of classics including the poem Chocolate Cake and the picture book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, spent time in an induced coma at the Whittington hospital in London, before having to learn to walk again. On Tuesday, he said he has now lost the sight in his left eye and hearing in his left ear, and is now also starting to lose his hair.
“The thing about Covid is it leaves a sort of trail of mishaps around your body, mostly at the edges, or in the middle with the lungs. In my case, it’s all sorts of things, aches and pains and bits and pieces,” said Rosen. He described his house as having “turned into a pharmacy” due to the amount of medication he is continuing to take.
“I wrote a poem yesterday about the idea that all these pill boxes are like kiddies’ blocks, you pile them up – ‘is it that one, or that one? Is that pill two times a day or three times a day?’ It was a jokey sort of thing about the idea of these boxes piling up, which reminded me of my dear old dad as well, who in his last years got all sorts of things wrong with him and was always wondering about which pills he was supposed to be taking. So that’s got quite an echo for me.”
The author said it had been “especially” good to return to writing “imaginative silly stuff” like Rigatoni. “In all those books, my aim is to make myself laugh, and then to make Tony laugh,” he said.
“When I’m writing, I feel very contented in myself. So even when it’s difficult and a bit of a struggle, it feels like a good place to be,” he added.
One of Rosen’s previous poems, The space on the page, explores the feeling that a blank page can be a friend. “You can write on it and it won’t answer you back, and it won’t laugh at you, it’s not ashamed,” said Rosen. “So I like writing to it and sharing things with it. And what happens afterwards may vary – it might just go into my files on my computer, or I might just show my wife, or a publisher. But the actual step of sitting in front of a computer or with a blank piece of paper and a pencil in my hand, that’s friendly.”
At Andersen Press, the book’s publisher, Charlie Sheppard said she had been astonished when the manuscript arrived via email.
“We’d already made the decision we would move it on later, given how ill he had been and how ill he was after he got home from hospital as well. Obviously we weren’t going to ask him about it,” she said.
“After the past few months we didn’t expect Michael’s text for some time – so to receive something so funny from him after everything he’s gone through is amazing. We can’t wait to publish … He’s absolutely a legend, a treasure of the children’s world.”
Rigatoni the Pasta Cat will be published by Andersen in spring 2022, joining popular titles in the series including Fluff the Farting Fish, Bilal’s Brilliant Bee and Hampstead the Hamster. Sales of the series have grown by 700% since the lockdown, according to Andersen.
Rosen said: “People are always on the lookout for books where the child has learned to read – when they still like being read to, but when they want books that they can say, ‘Oh, I can read that and it has chapters,’ even if they’re really short. It’s that little gap between picture books and Horrid Henrys and Jacqueline Wilsons.”