Bedtime Stories for Grown Ups, Ben Holden

Author Ben Holden, writes about his new anthology – Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups – which he has just published in support of Readathon

In Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups, I explore night, dreams, sleep and storytelling through (short) great works of literature (prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction). The project was inspired by the joy of reading bedtime stories to my own young children, a primal routine that has also allowed me to commune with my own inner-child.

The selections are generally, as you would expect, from ‘grown-up’ literature. Most kids won’t ‘get’, let alone enjoy much of the book – but that’s not true of all its contents. For while it’s an adult volume, its treasures are timeless; many of them transcend such generational boundaries.

‘The Owl and The Pussycat’, for instance: I have always loved the poem but was struck, during the book’s curation, when it was recited at a funeral and then – shortly afterwards – at a wedding. First, the deceased’s children movingly recited it – remembering how, once upon a time, their late mum had loved reading it to them at bedtime. Then, at the subsequent wedding, my own children performed it, for my sister and new brother-in-law.

The poem swept everyone away – in floods of tears – both times. Indeed sweeping readers away is the ambition for this collection. Besides, who wouldn’t want to dance, hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon?!

One classic that I read to my kids while compiling the book was Peter Pan. I realised quickly that they were a little young for it, when my daughter grew agitated by the idea of being whisked away during the night to Neverland. I put the book back on the shelf, for another time. Before turning the light out, I checked first – on her instruction – that the bedroom window was firmly closed.

Yet Peter’s shadow lingered. I soon worked a short extract into the manuscript, one that also captures the aims I have for these Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups:

When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.

Famously, J.M. Barrie, who was childless, decided that Peter Pan’s proceeds, once he was gone, should benefit Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Barrie explained his thinking in a speech during a supper at the Guildhall, in 1929. He claimed that Peter Pan himself had suggested the idea, having been a patient on the wards there. The hospital has benefitted hugely from the gift – yet never revealed exactly by what sum, as Barrie modestly made such confidentiality a pre-requisite of the legacy.

Readathon’s beautiful orange trolley of new children’s books is of course in Great Ormond Street today, as it is in every children’s hospital throughout the UK. Now, I am no J.M Barrie… Yet I wanted from the outset to partner with Readathon. The charity’s ingenious loop of getting kids reading in schools, in order to fund brand new books and storyteller visits for hospitalised children… well, words (for once) are not enough to express my admiration. I can, however, vouch for the transformative nature of their work, having visited the wards with their amazing team.

And, as a parent who has had occasion to stay over in hospital while his own children have been patients, I also wanted to honour the mums and dads presently in that predicament. Soon the anthology will be in all those hospitals’ libraries. I hope that some of those tired, brave parents might find comfort and escape, if only for a moment, inside its moonlit pages.

Ben Holden,

Author, Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups

Ben Holden
Ben Holden

Photo credit © Andrew Crowley