Having explored Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs, Stories Botany and Alphabets this April with the community of St Leonards-on-Sea, ExploreTheArch Theatre Company and its festival partners who oversee #ATownExploresABook are excited to announce their book choice for 2022.

Hastings Independent Press can exclusively reveal that the book which will be the inspiration for the largest multi-site festival in St Leonards next year is… Rumer Godden’s The Diddakoi.

Lily Bowers reading The Diddakoi

The novel won the 1972 Whitbread Award in the Children’s Book category in its year of publication. Kingsley Amis called it, ”the sort of book children had to fight for to get it from adults”. The BBC subsequently serialised the book as Kizzy in 1976, produced by Dorothea Brooking for children’s TV.

But then this landmark book, whose central character is of minority heritage – a member of the Romany community – slipped somewhat from public view. To an extent, so did its writer, Godden, who penned more than 60 works of fiction and non-fiction for both children and adults, although she was appointed OBE in 1993 and has remained a loved and respected author in literary circles. Nine of her works have been made into films.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Diddakoi, so festival-goers will have plentiful access to information about a  recently deceased author with strong local connections: she was born in Eastbourne and also lived at Lamb House, Rye. Festival director, Gail Borrow, enthuses, “Rumer Godden is a 20th century female British author really worth getting to know, and there is so much in this particular book to explore for adults and younger readers, particularly as it’s set in a rural village in nearby Rye.”

Artist Jake Bowers, who joins the core team to co-curate the festival, says, “In terms of the meaning of ‘diddakoi’ [often spelt didicoy], firstly I’d actually pronounce it diddykai. I don’t know where it comes from, but I think it is a bastardisation of the Romani phrase ‘dik akai’ which literally means ‘look here’ or ‘look at that’. The term we would actually use for a half-blood Romani is ‘posh rat’ which means half blood, so diddakoi itself is a Gorgia (non-Gypsy) loan of a Romani phrase, much like we used the word Eskimo (which I believe means fish-eater in Inuit) to refer to the Inuit. The history and meaning of the title is a great place to start exploring the book.”

In the novel, Godden presents her diddakoi central character, Kizzy, as a child of half-Romany and half-Irish heritage who has lost her guardian, a beloved grandmother, and her caravan home in the early chapters. And, as that’s a spoiler, time to stop! Ahead of the release of the 50th anniversary edition of the novel by Pan Macmillan, the book is available to download at iBooks and Kindle and from second-hand distributors. Enjoy reading and getting involved in the many creative response projects that will take place in the run up to the spring holiday in 2022, when a wealth of community projects will be shared through outdoor art, shop window displays, online events and other channels.

The festival team will begin fundraising for children’s art projects and distribution of books shortly. Please email [email protected] to donate ahead of those campaigns.

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