ENJOYING THE ATTENTION Lottie Billington and her sister Rosie pictured with Lottie’s classmates from third class in Brackloon NS. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
NINE-year-old Westport schoolgirl Lottie Billington was on a family holiday on Clare Island back in August when her family got some unexpected news. Such was the extent of the news that both her aunt Reine and her mother, Sarah were reduced to tears.
“I was worried,” said Lottie, who is in third class in Brackloon National School. She told The Mayo News she recalled seeing the black mascara rolling down her aunty’s face.
However, she need not have been worried for those were tears of joy as Lottie was one of only four Irish winners whose art work was chosen to feature in the children’s book, The Ickabog, by renowned Harry Potter author, JK Rowling.
To put this achievement into context, this was an international competition for children aged seven to 12 from Ireland, the UK, India, Australia and New Zealand, who were asked to submit illustrations with the chance of being printed in Rowling’s new book.
Over 18,000 entrants entered the competition and Lottie’s illustration of a peacock was one of the lucky few illustrations to feature in The Ickabog, which was released on sale last Tuesday.
“I knew I was shortlisted and I was really excited, and then when I knew I had won, I couldn’t believe it really,” said Lottie, who says she has been told she has been drawing and painting since she could hold a pen.
It was her uncle Noel who drew Lottie’s attention to the competition after JK Rowling serialised The Ickabog online, for free, to help entertain children confined at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. She then asked them to submit illustrations to go with the story.
After reading the line, ‘Behind the palace where peacocks walked and statues of former Kings and Queens kept watch’ Lottie decided to draw a peacock for the competition.
“I love details and drawing different colours. First I sketched it and then I went hard with pencil and then coloured it in with colouring pencil and marker. I thought that was the best picture to draw and with all the different colours it took me a few hours to finish,” she explained.
While Lottie knew she was one of the winners since August, she had to keep the news ‘top secret’ until it was officially announced by the publishers last week.
“I kept it a secret from my friends, which was hard, because I really wanted to tell them,” Lottie admitted.
However, since last Tuesday, she has become a mini-celebrity among her classmates in third class. She gained national attention after talking to Ryan Tubridy on his radio show on Wednesday morning and since then she has featured on RTÉ’s Six One news, News Today, the RTÉ Guide, Mid West Radio and other national newspapers.
Mum Sarah says Lottie is taking all the publicity in her stride and she could not be prouder of her daughter.
“I was bowled over and very proud of her. I couldn’t believe that out of all those countries and entrants that she had won, eventhough I thought it was the best. It is a fabulous achievement and I was delighted that something that brings her so much joy was being acknowledged. She loves art and always has done and it has been a great outlet for her,” she said.
Sarah was quick to acknowledge that Lottie’s talent for art doesn’t come from her and that the plaudits must go to her dad, Malcolm (Mal), who died from a sudden illness in 2016 when Lottie was only four and her younger sister Rosie was three.
“Every spare minute they have at home the two are drawing and I can say they definitely didn’t get their artistic skills from their mother, it came from their daddy. He would be super proud.
“We were so proud of her. Art has been something that has really helped her and Rosie after their dad’s death. It is something she does all the time but it especially helps her feel better whenever she feels sad or worried.
“We have had huge support and kindness since the interview [with Ryan Tubridy] and loads of messages saying how wonderful she is … and I kind of agree. They are amazing the two of them, I am a very lucky mammy.”
Principal of Brackloon National School, Brendan Tunney said everyone in the school were excited and delighted for Lottie, none more so than her friends in third class.
“We were delighted when we got the news and we are very proud of Lottie. She has won Credit Union art competitions before and she loves art. She has a great gift and talent and it is great to see it coming out. Her sister Rosie has been a great supporter of her too and is enjoying her sisters spot in the limelight. It is great to see the bond between the two girls,” he said.
As Mr Tunney mentioned, Lottie is not the only artist in the family as Rosie has also won competitions of her own but thankfully there is no sibling rivalries between the two girls.
“Rosie was really supportive as well and she gave me a special box to keep the signed book in,” Lottie acknowledged.
The book Lottie mentioned is a special edition of The Ickabog personally signed by JK Rowling herself, and despite it being 64 chapters long, Lottie has finished it off already and given it her seal of approval.
Reading is also one of Lottie’s favourite past-times and in that regard she takes after her grandfather, the late Seán Staunton, the former editor of The Mayo News. JK Rowling is her favourite author and she is currently on the last book in the Harry Potter series and also has 120 books on her kindle.
“She started reading before she was born when her daddy started reading to the bump when I was five months pregnant,” Sarah quipped. “She had the love of words coming out. Her daddy was one of those annoying people who was good at everything and Lottie seems to be an all rounder.”
During the lockdown, Lottie did try to give her mammy some tips in drawing to pass the time but they both agreed that it did not go according to plan.
“You drew a man who had one shoulder up and one shoulder down,” Lottie critically pointed out. “He looked like he had a dislocated shoulder,” Sarah acknowledged, “so I didn’t get great marks in that lesson!”