Obituary: Alexandra Scott

“If I wanted to come up the hill, I should well have been prepared to go back down.” Thus philosophised Bruce Badsby, the dungaree-sporting field mouse that was Alexandra Scott’s most cherished creation. The long-arm of Bruce is astounding; the first six books have been translated in over 30 languages and sold an estimated 46 million worldwide. At the height of his popularity, Bruce’s image was been sold on enough notebooks, lunch boxes and pencil cases for every child in Britain to have owned at least six of each. Such popularity had always been avoided by Bruce’s creator, “A barbed and twisted humour that entwines itself around you; she has the power to make make you cackle and choke at the same time”, as described by her good friend Alastair McEwan. Such a thorny personality was never going to play the game of modern publishing, and Ms. Scott, in spite of being one of the most successful writers of her generation, spent her final years in a ludicrous court battle with her publishers, who insisted on hiring a new writer to finish the work.

Scott’s was an inauspicious start to life. Born a month premature, and remaining in the hospital for the first 12 months of her life.  At 7 years old she contracted botulism and spent 18 months in and out of hospital to ensure that the toxin did not prove fatal.  She survived but forever marked with a pronounced ptosis in her left eye. She made light of the abnormality, often suggesting that the sleepy eyelid benefited her; often bored by press interviews and public Q&A, she claimed the half-shut eye masked her true boredom with a look of involuntary boredom.

Raised in Govan, she grew up during the depression. Her mother and father were independent cab drivers, sharing their car, and rotating their days and evenings in order to make ends meet – Scott would later note that seldom did she see her parents together. Due to her illness, she struggled with maintaining ordinary energy levels for children her age, and her hair grew in inconsistent clumps. Parenting was often deputized to her older sister who was just five years her senior. Her sister was her guardian, unflinchingly committed to ensuring ‘Alex’ would always feel safe and loved. Ms. Scott would laud her sister’s ingenuity at not only being her protector and guardian, but also her mentor and educator. Scott once told of the time, at eight years old, she was called a ‘Slag’ by someone at school – Scott asserts that the accuser likely didn’t know what the word meant; and was merely imitating. Upon asking her big sister of the meaning of the slur, she was marched out into the street where her gaze was directed to the smooth flagstones that paved their street, and was told that these were all ‘slags’ were.

Scott would giddily write in her memoirs about how often she had mistaken ordinary aspects of life incorrectly because her sister had explained the details to her; without fully understanding herself. This misinformation would, however, provide Scott with her unique eye for turning the mundane into the mystical. Scott’s first successful novella was inspired by a time when she, in primary school, gave a presentation, explaining to her class that the sky was blue because it was an ocean that had lost its land and, in its vain search, found itself hanging over our heads for all eternity.

The creation of Bruce was inspired by her discovery of a mouse living in her wretched flat in St. Korrine, she had moved away from the city.  Herman Kildaire, her lover at the time, was an illustrator for the St. Korrine Herald and began to draw three-panel stories of Scott’s imaginings of the tiny scavenger’s day-to-day life between picking up broken biscuits by her feet. He kept the illustrations in secret at first, but she caught wind of them and proceeded to correct all of his versions.  Kildaire, she accused, was missing all of the actual charm of Bruce and was too busy trying to make fun of her, the ‘wobbly-eyed spinster’.  As a relationship, they were doomed, she referred to herself as a ‘spinster’ in spite of Kildaire being a devoted lover of hers for almost 10 years; but as a creative partnership they created six wonderful stories of Bruce that catapulted the reclusive and outspoken Alex into a commercial world she despised.

In the early days, she enjoyed getting on stage and chatting with the public.  She could talk as good a story as she wrote, and offers of being part of the lecture circuit were thrown her way.  But her energy was beginning to wane, she was found unconscious in the car park of Warwick University. Although she had learned to manage the frailty of her body from her childhood, she now had something new, an aggressive tumor in both breasts. The double mastectomy was successful, but this ‘further decapitation of my woman-hood’, as she called it in a interview, threw her into a belligerent cycle that did not subside until her death last week.

She took all public appearances as an opportunity to grate everyone who had the misfortune of sharing the panel with her. Her publisher took the brunt of her battle, she began writing the long-awaited final book of Bruce and proceeded to kill Bruce off inside a toxic rat-trap. The book was shelved and so began the long battle over who owned the creative license of Bruce. By this time, she had few allies but for her lawyer and a few long-term friends, whose only defense of her character was that this was who she was. She sat, her back arched and chewing nicotine gum, through every sitting scowling and scoffing at anyone who argued in the case of ‘good taste’.

She railed against the British and their misconceptions on what is and isn’t good for children’s minds. She threw a venomous tirade at the myth of Beatrix Potter – “She’d have been a scientist had she been given any chance to do what she wanted.” The battle was ultimately not in vain, she won the right to finish Bruce however she wanted – her publishers were permitted to break the contract and not publish the work. The work remains unpublished.

Within months of the conclusion of the court case, her health deteriorated.  It seemed that with nothing to push against, she retreated. She was someone who aspired to be left alone, but it seemed her reason to live was only to fight with life – such a spirit should be cherished and, now, sorely missed.

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