30 April 2024

William Brambleberry might be an aviator mouse, but he's not pure fiction

| Dione David
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Illustration of mouse in a war plane

A mouse born of sleep deprivation and uncanny coincidences would eventually become the protagonist in a charming collection of children’s books that are not strictly fiction. Image: BrandNet.

At some God-forsaken hour, in the haze of the sleepless new mum, Genevieve Hopkins gave birth for the second time. She was nursing her firstborn, William, when a new baby – this time an idea – floated up from the fog and implanted himself firmly in her mind.

“This little mouse popped into my head. He was a funny little thing,” she says. “He seemed very determined, perhaps because my husband was in the Air Force for 20 years and because I’ve had a long-standing fascination with military history, to fly a Spitfire.”

In that moment William Brambleberry, Mouse Aviator was born, destined despite the naysayers to become the bravest, most adventurous aviator mouse in all the world. He was named William after Genevieve’s son and Brambleberry because, well, that’s his name, obviously.

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The daring escapades of William Brambleberry, an aviator mouse, would eventually come to life in the beautiful illustrations and captivating storytelling of The Adventures of William Brambleberry: Aviator Mouse.

But William’s adventures are not just flights of fancy. His escapades draw inspiration from real-life heroes and the events of 453 Squadron, an Australian Spitfire squadron that served valiantly during World War II, including the D-Day Normandy landings.

“This little mouse kept flying around in my head, and as the story unfolded throughout the many sleepless nights with my son, I started to research,” Genevieve says.

“For some reason it was obvious to me that he was from Cornwall. I later found out that I have a long line of ancestors from Cornwall, so maybe I was pulling something up from my DNA.”

Author Genevieve Hopkins reads her book the Adventures of William Brambleberry to her children

Genevieve shares The Adventures of William Brambleberry: Aviator Mouse with her baby boy Oscar and the protagonist’s namesake, her first son, William. Photo: BrandNet.

As she looked for airbases in Cornwall with Spitfire squadrons, Genevieve came across Perranporth and knew it was William’s hometown. Further research in the hopes of finding an Australian Spitfire pilot who could befriend William and show him the ropes unearthed a startling coincidence.

“Much to my delight, I found an entire Australian Spitfire squadron based in Perranporth. The way it came together was really quite uncanny.”

Flight and military records from the War Memorial online revealed the identities of the pilots and engineering officer posted to Perranporth at that time, and Genevieve selected three of these pilots and the engineering officer to feature in the book.

Once the book was illustrated by fine artist Alexander Heazelwood, Genevieve took the plunge and funded the book’s publication.

Better described as historical fiction than a straight-up fairytale, the Australian War Memorial picked it up. Sales were consistent, enough to fund a remastered run of hardcovers with a higher production value and even a soft toy William.

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Sales continued to be steady, until the day Genevieve received a large order she couldn’t fill.

“Publishing is expensive, and I didn’t have the kind of cash flow needed to reproduce the book and toy to the same quality,” Genevieve says.

Fortunately, Military Shop stepped in and produced the book and toy in a beautiful box set which Australia Post has picked for commemoration of Anzac Day. This means William and his adventures with the 453 Squadron will be found online at Military Shop as well as in 500 or so Australia Post outlets.

William’s is the first of the Tales from Brambleberry Farm, a charming collection of children’s books that now includes The Extraordinary Tale of Nancy: Spy Mouse (based on intriguing military figure New Zealander Nancy Wake), with a third book on its way.

“In the third book, William and Nancy will meet,” Genevieve says.

For more information, visit Military Shop.


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