Now Christine Truman’s Dilly book is in French!
Suffolk’s Christine Truman won the French Tennis Championships in 1959. Now her fictional creation, Dilly, is competing there...
It’s a lady in The Queen’s Club shop we have to thank. Three Christmases ago, former tennis star-turned-writer Christine Truman and illustrator neighbour Liz Summers brought out Dilly Plays Tennis in Paris ? the latest adventure in the life of this dogged and fictional girl.
Christine later took it to The Queen’s Club in West Kensington, and found people liked it. “They said ‘everybody’ from France was in London. (Last year, the consulate put the number of French residents in the capital at 270,000 ? sizeable.) The lady that ran the shop said it would be lovely to have that book in French, and that’s what gave us the idea.”
In Aldeburgh, where they live, Christine and Liz found the help they needed to translate the original English text. Frederica Lovell-Pank, who had been at the Lycée Francais Charles de Gaulle in London, did the honours and now Dilly Joue au Tennis à Paris is born.
To my mind, French is much more poetic and romantic than English. Liz Summers agrees. “It’s been so fun. You find out a heatwave is canicule ? ‘The final took place during a heatwave on the Suzanne Lenglen court.’ La finale s’est déroulée lors d’une canicule sur le court de Suzanne Lenglen ? and blisters: ampoules!”
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The collaboration between writer and illustrator began about four years ago, though the roots of Christine’s stories are in the 1970s. She and husband Gerry had four children and she became adept at using her imagination to keep them happy. Her mother in law lived about 40 minutes away “and in those days we didn’t have all those nice little things they’ve got now to amuse children in the car ? screens and so on ? and they hated the journey. So I said ‘I’ll tell you a story.’ That kept them quiet.”
Christine decided she’d write them down in the evenings; also deciding that verse would be a good format to capture interest.
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One day she showed them to her father, who reckoned she ought to try to get them published. “I was always going to get them done, but it was such a busy time. As we moved from house to house they came with me.” It was during a clearout that Christine came across them again and thought she’d ask Liz about getting pictures organised to complement the words. They knew each other through tennis.
“She came back with them in a week. Wow! Such a good interpretation of what I had written. She said ‘You ought to do something with them.’” It wasn’t long before they were working at it together. They live in the same road. “Couldn’t be more convenient,” smiles Christine. “Fate, after 35 years. It was meant to be!”
Dilly and Other Poems was brought out in 2011. It was followed by Annabelle Sue and Marjorie Lou, who play in the sea and have to be rescued, and Billy and his Magic Football Boots.
There’s Dilly Goes Boating. The little girl also got into tennis: A County Match for Dilly, Doubles for Dilly and, of course, Dilly Plays Tennis in Paris. Christine, Wimbledon finalist in 1961, draws on her knowledge.
“There are elements of truth there, with opponents coming on with all the expensive gear and Dilly having just one racket.” And players taking “comfort” breaks that might owe more to gamesmanship than necessity.
Dilly had been a doll in those made-up stories of 35 years ago or more, “because all the dolls in those days were Barbie dolls, all beautful, and I thought a girl called Dilly who was silly as could be would be a good contrast.
“Her shoes were different colours and her dresses black as coals. When she ate her jelly, she spilled it on her dress.”
Sounds as if the stories often champion the underdog. “Possibly. Could be right there. Somebody always hoping to be better.”
She’s had many quirky ideas over the years, such as a grandfather clock that gets bored going tick tock and decides to speed up one night. “They just come to me. I find it fun.” Stories like that are now amusing the next generation. Are there many grandchildren? “Six under eight. Ghastly!” Christine laughs. “Oh, it’s busy. Lovely. We’re very lucky.” Has she always been imaginative? “I always like to have a game, or if I have a party I’ll have a theme. The children get a bit fed up with it. My son, he sailed round the world. One reason, he said, was to miss my games at Christmas! I’ve always had an element of...” Creative resourcefulness? “Sounds better!”
n Dilly Joue au Tennis à Paris should cost about £4 and be available at The Aldeburgh Bookshop; Reed Books, Aldeburgh; and Little Rascals, Snape Maltings.