AN artist from North Wales who was repeatedly bullied at school has released a new children’s book inspired by the harrowing experience.
Dewey and the Dragonfly by Dewi Tudur will hit bookshop shelves from the end of June after being taken up by a top London publishing company.
It will eventually be released in three languages – English, Welsh and Italian.
The book marks an exciting new direction for Dewi who is currently living in Italy but hails from Mold, in Flintshire, where his 99-year-old father, renowned watercolour artist John Morris still lives.
Despite Dewi, who lived in Llanrwst in Gwynedd for many years, having also achieved success as a professional artist for more than three decades, the trauma of being targeted by playground bullies in the 1960s stayed with him well into his adult life.
He says as a boy he would inwardly cry out for a guardian angel and that is where the idea for his book Dewey and the Dragonfly came from. He has both written the text and illustrated it with 19 of his highly original artworks.
“I guess Dewey is my alter ego,” he said. “The fearful little boy I once was, but one who encounters a friend and saviour. The dragonfly becomes a guardian angel like the one I wished I had when I was growing up tormented.
“The bullying I endured was in the form of physical attacks and emotional intimidation, with no clear reason. It’s an experience that never really goes away, it steals your confidence and self-esteem. But in those days bullying wasn’t often talked about or even properly recognised for the evil which it is.
“It was thought of as just one of those things; no one realised the long-term impact on young victims. Even I thought of it as something I just had to grin and bear and so I didn’t mention it to my parents or my teachers.”
Dewi considers himself fortunate to have found escapism in the form of art, having inherited his artist father’s innate creativity.
On leaving school he went on to train at Aberystwyth Art School and Carmarthen College of Art. Later he combined an art teaching career, with painting at his home studio in Llanrwst. His uniquely styled work was in demand and he successfully held a number of exhibitions.
But he still periodically struggled with depression and mental well-being issues.
He said: “Eventually it became so bad that after I retired from teaching my wife insisted we take a break and go on a long holiday. She took me to a travel agency in Broughton and we literally stuck a finger on a map of Italy and booked a villa in the place where the finger landed.”
Holidaying at the villa they became friendly with its owner who was so impressed by Dewi’s artistic skills that he offered to create for him a post of ‘artist in residence’ at the villa.
Dewi said: “It was an amazing opportunity and completely unexpected but we just knew we had to accept. It gave us a chance for a completely new start.”
Now 63 he lives quietly with his wife, Linda, and one of the seven children they have between them, at a remote Tuscan farmhouse in Donnini, near Florence. Dewi concentrates his time on art while Linda is head of music at an international school in Florence.
Dewi came up with the idea for his book about two to three years ago.
It focuses on the blossoming friendship between the book’s hero, Dewey, and an ethereal dragonfly. But rather than dwell on the horrors of his falling prey to childhood tormentors, Dewi paints the dragonfly as the boy’s liberator, of the type he yearned for in his youth.
He said: “I had this idea swirling round in my head about a boy growing up in scenic rural Italy in the sixties and the mini adventures he had. Then I developed the idea of giving him an other-worldly friend and champion, which became the dragonfly. I couldn’t sleep for a week as the ideas grew in my head. I rang my father in Mold to tell him about it and, encouragingly, he said: ‘I think you’ve got something there.’ Then it took me about two years to put together.”
He created a series of paintings to illustrate the book, including one which is three metres long. Once he completed the accompanying text he sent it the UK headquarters of prestigious international publisher Austin Macauley, which has offices in Canary Wharf, London and on Wall Street in New York.
He said: “I didn’t hear a thing for months and I thought that it would probably come to nothing, but then out of the blue one day I had a message from the reception desk at the villa to say a large package had arrived for me. I discovered it was a contract for the manuscript. I was so astonished I was moved to tears. What really touched me was the accompanying letter which said they felt that the manuscript ‘evokes the childlike wonder in us all.’ I was so pleased as that was exactly what I had been trying to encapsulate.”
Dewi said: “I have been an artist, selling my work and exhibiting for many years but this is an entirely new direction for me, one which is as creatively exciting and stimulating as anything I have done before.”
He welcomes the chance to explore new subject matter and is hopeful of producing follow-ups to the book. Plans are already in hand to produce a Welsh language version – Guto a’r Gwas – and an Italian version will also be released next year – Lapo e la Libellula.
He said: “I love the Italian word for dragonfly – libellula – it sounds so beautiful. I purposely gave the boy in the Italian version an old fashioned traditional Italian name, Lapo. I wanted it to hark back to the sixties and seventies, days when I enjoyed long holidays in Europe with my father and our family. He would take us on great adventures to different countries, and this was at a time when holidaying abroad was unusual. I loved those times, they were so eye-opening offering a tantalising view of the wider world. Italy was one of the places we travelled and it has had a place in my heart ever since.”
He still returns to north Wales on occasions to visit family and friends and for exhibitions. He is currently preparing works for a gallery at Llandeilo and for Ffin y Parc gallery in Llanrwst. Over the years he has accrued a growing number of fans and collectors of his timeless landscapes of Wales and Italy.
For his book he created a series of entrancing original pieces, including one in which he gives a starring role to his favourite persimmon tree, of which he has a variety growing in his garden. Most of these originals have now been sold separately as individual artworks in their own right.
Dewey and the Dragonfly is scheduled to be published on June 30. Dewi hopes adults will find it just as enjoyable and intriguing as children.
He said: “My hope is that parents can read it together with their children and be inspired by the images as much as the words.”
* Dewey and the Dragonfly (published by Austin Macauley) will be in major bookshops from June 30, priced £13.99 in hardback or £10.99 in softback.