Meet Quill the Hedgehog! In a series of books by Yorkshire author John Waddington-Feather, Quill and his animal friends have many adventures fighting the wicked plans of alleycat Mungo Brown and his Wastelander rats.
John first created Quill during the 1960s to express concern about the environment: Mungo and co destroy and pollute the lands they take from the woodland creatures. In Quill’s Adventures in Grozzieland, Mungo takes over the fungus folk and plans to blot out the sun! This volume was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 1989.
The Quill stories are partly inspired by the fate of Yorkshire’s West Riding countryside during the rapid urbanisation of the 19th century, the downside of the wool industry boom. In a recent email, John observed that a chapter in Quill’s Adventures in the Great Beyond was inspired by an oil painting of Keighley in Cliffe Castle Museum (itself once a mill-owner’s mansion). The painting shows the first industrial chimneys appearing in a rural scene; within a few decades Keighley was a “dirty, smoke-ridden mill and engineering town of over 40,000 people. Slums appeared overnight and the rivers and streams around the town polluted”. This image from the cover of Great Beyond shows Quill and Horatio the cat confronted by the changed landscape of their home.
Quill is just part of the story. John Waddington-Feather is a prolific author, a schoolteacher (now retired) and an Anglican priest. Born in Keighley in 1933, he attended Keighley Boys’ Grammar School and graduated in English at Leeds University in 1954. John has been based in Shrewsbury for many years, where he has been a visitor and assistant chaplain at the prison. He retains strong connections with Yorkshire: former Chair of the J.B. Priestley Society and now one of its Vice-Presidents, John has a scholarly interest in Yorkshire dialect (e.g. John Hartley) and literature.
John’s Yorkshire heritage can be seen throughout his writings. Witness the Blake Hartley series, which features detectives Blake Hartley and Ibrahim Khan investigating crimes around Keighworth (i.e. Keighley) and the Dales while dealing with their difficult boss. Bodies found in the graveyard or on the allotment lead the pair into deadly webs of international crime, money-laundering and terrorism …
John also writes for the stage, including two light-hearted plays in verse, Garlic Lane and Easy Street. These are based on his childhood memories, as many of his short stories and essays (some collected in the above book). Yorkshire features again in two historical romances set around the Second World War: Illingworth House and Chance-Child.
Many of John’s writings also reflect his Christian faith and his experiences as a priest: he has written many hymns, songs and poems and edits the Poetry Church series on Christian poetry. His play The Lollipop Man was based on his experiences of working with homeless people.
Special Collections staff are working with John to develop an archive of his work and interests, including typescripts, correspondence and of course the books. Much of the archive is born-digital, reflecting John’s early adoption of new technology such as selling his books online via his website. Now he’s finding new audiences via the Kindle e-reader! The Blake Hartley mysteries are proving particularly popular; the Quill titles are now being added.