Brave Devon boy challenges baldness and lockdown by illustrating a book

James Mason-Carney, age 12, lost all of his hair due to alopecia. Photo: Emma Solley

James Mason-Carney, age 12, lost all of his hair due to alopecia. Photo: Emma Solley - Credit: Archant

Alopecia sufferer James, aged 12, completes over 140 drawings to finish a contemporary ghost story based on his own life

James Mason-Carney produced over 140 quirky drawings for the book. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney

James Mason-Carney produced over 140 quirky drawings for the book. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

If you lost your hair suddenly at any age, let alone in childhood, would you want to bury your head and shy away from the world?

James Mason-Carney, age 12, from Sidmouth, could have done this during lockdown, when he lost all of his hair due to alopecia. But instead, he used his time to finish illustrating a book – over 140 quirky drawings that he started when he was nine years old.

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, Julie Claire-Carney. Using real life as a backdrop, they decided to add a blend of imagination and history to create an exciting, contemporary ghost story.

Over the following years James and 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.

Tiggs and The Midnight Choir’ is a middle grade children's fiction book. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney

Tiggs and The Midnight Choir’ is a middle grade children's fiction book. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

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.

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James used his beautiful singing voice to win an audition to become a chorister at Exeter Cathedral.

James used his beautiful singing voice to win an audition to become a chorister at Exeter Cathedral. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

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.’

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James’s mum Julie 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! By illustrating the book, he didn’t just battle against adversity, our boy – he 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 after-life.

James Mason-Carney produced over 140 quirky drawings for the book. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney

James Mason-Carney produced over 140 quirky drawings for the book. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

James and Julie hope that the story will inspire other children to overcome hardship, while funds raised from the sale of the book will support his school and the Cathedral, enabling them to offer to other children the exciting life that they have given to James.

The book is available to buy here with part of the funds from the sale going to Exeter Cathedral School.

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James Mason-Carney produced over 140 quirky drawings for the book. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney

James Mason-Carney produced over 140 quirky drawings for the book. Photo: Julie Claire-Carney - Credit: Archant

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