When We Were Kings and Queens of the Road: Kate Thompson

I was born in Halifax, Yorkshire in 1956. Our house was across the road from the city graveyard, surrounded by high stone walls. On the other side of the graveyard was our primary school, Caddy Field.
​I was strongly gender non-conforming from a very early age. I refused to grow my hair or wear girls’ clothes. In those days it wasn’t possible for girls to wear trousers to school, so the compromise my parents managed to find was a kilt, which they convinced me was something boys wear. So for my first years in school, a red and white checked kilt was my ‘uniform’.

I must have been accompanied on my earliest walks to and from school by a parent or a brother, but well before I was eight, when we moved from the area, I was making the trips on my own. I don’t remember having any fear of ghosts or spirits, even among the derelict tombs and headstones in the more neglected corners, but there were other things to be afraid of there.

A photo of a young Kate

​My only friends at that age were two brothers who lived just up the road from us, and they had a tendency to be mischievous. On one of our meandering journeys home they convinced me to get into a freshly-opened grave, and I couldn’t get out again. They disappeared, leaving me alone in the bottom of the grave, and I thought they had just gone home, but they reappeared with a gravedigger, who rescued me and gave me a lift to the gate in his wheelbarrow. It must have been frightening, but more emotionally charged for me is the memory of losing my favourite toy, a floppy-limbed donkey called Donk, somewhere along the way. We searched meticulously, but he was never found.

Kate Thompson is the author of twenty novels. She is best known for her YA books, for which she has won many awards, including the Whitbread (Costa) Children’s Book Award, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, and the CBI Children’s Book of the Year Award.
Kate has been going to Australia since 2006, where she developed a strong interest in Aboriginal art and culture, giving rise to her 2019 novel, Provenance. Since 2015 she has been a regular visitor to a Warlpiri community called Yuendumu and has developed friendships there with traditional owners. Possession a 4-wheel drive vehicle enabled her to make trips out on country with these friends, to learn about their homelands and significant sites, and to enlist their help in researching Provenance and her work-in-progress Up in Smoke.

On behalf of the Museum of Childhood Ireland and Robert Burns, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our wonderful participants for their time and their stories. We are thrilled to be presenting this project and we hope you will enjoy following along with us in the coming weeks.

Have a story on this topic and want to get involved? Contact us on our social media sites, or email us at cbrowne@museumofchildhood.ie – we would love to hear from you!

By Chloe Browne

Chloe Browne is an Irish writer, curator and Art Historian, with a keen interest in objects and social history.