The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling

Timothy Basil Ering

Kingston-based author-illustrator Timothy Basil Ering’s latest book, “The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling,” (Candlewick Press, JAN 2017) was brewing for some time. The characters slowly came to life in his sketchbooks. There was a family of responsible ducks, who were always ready to fly south, a more nonchalant duckling who just wanted to play his fiddle and a hunter’s dog who liked to dance more than he liked to hunt. He kept these characters in his mind, waiting on an epiphany. “You always have to be waiting and open,” says Basil Ering. “You have all these ideas stirring and constantly waiting to land.”

Basil Ering was knee deep in the ocean, casting a line out into the water, when a fog rolled in—and a new idea came to him. “The fog made me think of old sea captions, widows and old whaling days and I thought ‘that is an interesting character—the fog itself.’ All of a sudden I had new characters, a sea captain and his worried wife. Everything started flowing and I reeled in my rod, jumped in my truck and started writing right there.”

And that’s how “The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling,” which will be published by Candlewick Press this month, came together. Basil Ering has illustrated a number of books, including Newbery Medal winner “The Tale of Despereaux” by Kate DiCamillo and “Wild Boy” by Mary Losure. He has written and illustrated three: “The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone,” “Necks Out for Adventure!” and “The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger.”

In his latest book, the story begins with Basil Ering’s cast of characters on a voyage home aboard a lobster boat when a storm separates the crew. The tiny duckling, Alfred Fiddleduckling, is lost at sea and alone. He finds a fiddle floating in the sea and its music brings him comfort, companionship and the confidence he needs to find his way home. “Some kids are in shells and when they break through to another plateau they realize what they are capable of,” says Basil Ering. “That is an underlying theme in all my books because I know how huge it can be to do something you never thought possible. I think everyone has little fears and what I try to express is that if you decide to face those fears there will be an adventure.”

Adventure seems to be Basil Ering’s way of moving through life. Born and raised in Brewster, he grew up across from the ocean. “I was a total beach bum—bare feet and shorts.” But he always loved drawing and Dr. Seuss. “I was a silly kid. I loved joking about silly things, so like billions of other people I loved Dr. Seuss, with his out-of-this-world characters and his rhyming.”

After high school, he joined the Navy, which took him all over the world. But his dream of creating art for a living was always in the back of his mind. “Drawing has always made me very happy,” he says. “After the Navy, when it was time to decide whether I was going to stay or do something else, I kept thinking about how I loved drawing and I thought I wanted to learn more about art.”

He enrolled full time at the Art Center College of Design in California, where he learned art history, drawing and painting, and he experimented with all kinds of mediums. He also learned to paint fast and make mistakes, and to expect and welcome change. “I remember being so tired of trying to be neat,” says Basil Ering. “A lot of the time in the studio you’d wash your hands and get everything ready and neat—and there is something great about that, it taught me to notice the tiniest of details and how details can change a work of art–but I just suddenly wanted to break through this static, uptight way of working. I remember squeezing paint out of a tube and putting my hands and brush in it, and being messy. That’s when I decided I wanted my work to be more gestural.”

The illustrations in “The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling,” are full of energy and life. The climatic storm is depicted in a fury of brush strokes with greens and grays dripping and swirling together. Then a fog rolls in “as thick as pea soup” like a pause, and Alfred, the tiny main character, is entirely alone. Through the mist, he spies the fiddle bobbing in the waves, just within his reach, and suddenly he knows the way home. Perhaps, yet another gift from the fog. –Kelly Chase

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