Brave Sidmouth boy challenges baldness and lockdown by illustrating a book

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Emma Solley

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Emma Solley - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth boy uses lockdown to finish over 140 drawings to illustrate a book – a contemporary ghost story based on his own life.

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

If you lost your hair, would you want to bury your head?

James, aged 12 and living in Sidmouth, could have done just that during lockdown, when he lost all of his hair to alopecia. But instead, he used his time to finish illustrating a book with over 140 quirky drawings that he started when he was nine years old.

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

The story really began a year earlier, when James used his beautiful singing voice to win an audition to become a Chorister at Exeter Cathedral. But the dusky smells, haunting sounds and chill air of the ancient Cathedral, which are now part of his everyday life, gave rise to a sense of curiosity and adventure in both James and his mum.

Using real life as a backdrop, they decided to add a blend of imagination and history to create this exciting, contemporary ghost story. Over the following years, James and his mum, Julie, both wrote and illustrated the book, ‘Tiggs and The Midnight Choir’, a middle grade children’s fiction book. This comedy suspense features James, our unlikely hero, who is poor, with nothing except a good heart, bags of enthusiasm and a singing voice that earns him a place as a Cathedral Chorister. James loves his new boarding school life but, while exploring a secret passage leading to the Cathedral, he stumbles upon a ghostly Midnight Choir, unearths a sinister plot to threaten their concerts and befriends the Guardian of the Cathedral, a magnificent but mischievous Griffin called Tiggs. Together, they must resolve a mystery that could damage not only the Midnight Choir but the Cathedral itself.

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant


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James says: “It’s not just the ghosts and secret passages that I like about the book. It’s also about friendship and getting over fears. When I lost my hair, it was scary going back to school and singing at the Cathedral again, knowing that I’d be the only bald Chorister! It’s also cold with no hair!

“But my school and choir friends were fantastic and really cheered me on. It’s like that in the book – James in the book feels different but he has great friends who help him through, like they did for me in real life.”

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

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James’s mum adds: “While James was recovering from some serious illnesses, I wanted him to have a project – something to take his mind off his worries, as a therapy, as a statement of his life story, as an achievement – and as time out from computer games!

“His resilience is inspirational as he strived to complete the illustrations during difficult times - quarantine, lockdown and while coming to terms with losing all of his hair

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

“By illustrating the book, he didn’t just battle against adversity, our boy laughed in the face of it. We’re so proud of him!”

This heart-warming children’s story also uses humour and fantasy to sensitively embrace real life issues, such as life-ending and poverty in a privileged world, while the backdrop of Exeter Cathedral provides a platform on which to promote respect for other cultures, world religions and differing beliefs of an afterlife. James and Julie hope that the story will inspire other children to overcome hardship, while funds raised from the sale of the book will contribute to other children being given the most wonderful opportunities that were given to James.

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

Although this is a good all-year-round book, it has a Christmassy ending - a perfect festive gift.

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney

The Midnight Choir illustrated by James Mason-Carney Picture: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

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