I met Anna Lam in a coffee shop in Bristol just before Christmas. I found some of her stuff online, and I was pretty sure it related to The Butter Mouse. She very kindly let me record our conversation, an extract of which I have included below.
Edna Lam was my grandmother. And no-one remembers how important she was but me.
That might not sound like a big deal, but you have heard of Roald Dahl? Tove Jansson? Dr Seuss? Well, Edna should be alongside them. This is not just my opinion. She was up with at one point. I promise.
I have tried with a hundred other people before, and it’s never worked. But let me try and jog your memory of her.
Edna wrote about Pin, a guinea pig who lived in the mountains of Scandinavia. Pin wore a red and white striped scarf, and a matching bobble hat. He skied everywhere, and on his travels met dragons, went to strange lands, and one famous occasion, teamed up with a capybara, the largest guinea pig in the world. That was my favourite story.
Her books were loved around the world. They were published in forty different languages, sold copies in seven figures, and lead to merchandising from notebooks to cuddly toys. Every child wanted Pin bedsheets and lunch boxes.
But nobody remembers this. I woke up one morning, and my signed copies of her books had vanished from my shelves. I searched my house for the volumes, and my scrapbook of press cuttings of reviews and interviews, looked in my local library. But there was nothing.
I asked Mum, and you can imagine how well that went down. Edna had been dead for ten years at that point. I remember the funeral, but everyone told me it was a small affair, rather than making every newspaper in the Western World. I shook hands with her publisher. Now he doesn’t return my calls.
How can I be crazy? Why hallucinate such specific memories that frankly don’t affect my current life? I have such a strong image of a black and white photo in our house of Edna sitting at her desk, a typewriter in front of her, a model of Pin on the shelf. I remember the different editions of her books from across the world, with Kanji and umlauts up the spine. But there’s only a few scribbles in old notebooks about vague ideas of a children’s book.
What concerns me is that maybe it is my fault. After the seventh Pin books, Edna always worried that she was running low on ideas. She called me one day, and asked me if Pin should have a sidekick, a friend. A mouse with golden fur, who lead them to whole new worlds.
I thought it was a wonderful idea, and told her she should get cracking on it straight away. We talked a little bit more, and I even remember the click as she put down the phone. That was twenty years ago.
And now Edna is dead, and her books don’t exist.
It was about 2am in the morning on a very bad night, and I was searching through the internet, trying to find anything relating to Pin, or skiing guinea pigs, when I discovered The Butter Mouse. About the theory of creature that can hop between dimensions, who has acted as an inspiration to artists for centuries.
Now I cannot work out if Edna moved, or I have moved. Perhaps it is not as simple as that. But learning about The Butter Mouse has comforted me. I like to think that somewhere out there, Edna is still as successful as I knew she was. And maybe some else, Pin actually does ski down those mountains in Scandinavia, looking for the next adventure, a small mouse scampering by his side.