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Childhood memories inspired octopus story

Water world: Elizabeth Zuill Cart

Elizabeth Zuill Cart never expected that, 20 years later, she’d see her story in print.

She’d drawn on childhood memories to create Octavius the Octopus; the molluscs could frequently be found in the waters off her home in Devonshire.

Once written, the children’s tale was put aside and completely forgotten.

“Last year I decided I would get it self-published,” the 81-year-old said.

“I had been getting, for some years, the Bermuda Colours calendar that Stacey Amos and her mother Diana did every year.

Stacey seemed the perfect person to do the drawings, so we went ahead. I didn’t rewrite the story. I just double-checked the facts and made a few small changes. I was delighted with the way it came out and the illustrations are just charming.”

Octavius shares a tank with fish. He takes over the maintenance of it after their caretaker Zachariah breaks his leg and ends up in hospital.

“I’d always been intrigued by [octopuses]. We lived on the North Shore, on the corner of Store Hill, and we had a dock with a diving board and steps and we’d always explore,” said Mrs Cart, who moved to the US with her late husband Ted.

“We’d put on a mask and explore and it was always fun to look and see if we could find an octopus. They would disguise themselves against the rocks.

“One day it was quite rough. I was standing on the steps at the dock, up to my knees in water, when all of a sudden I felt something. An octopus had wrapped itself around my leg. I ran up the dock and shook it off, the octopus ran behind me as if chasing me. It wasn’t until I got to the part of the dock that was dry that I turned, by which time he had made his way back overboard. I got thinking about that and thought it would be fun to write a story and just decided to do it.”

The incident, which happened when she was a teenager, formed part of the “very happy childhood” she had here.

“We grew up swimming off the dock; we had a Labrador retriever who would stand and watch the fish swim,” the Pennsylvania resident said. “I used to work on ZBM as an announcer when I was a teenager for several summers and I recorded for the blind and read directly to them.”

She met her future husband here. His family used to rent a house on the island every winter.

Knee problems prevented Mrs Cart from making regular trips back home in recent years. She was able to visit in August, a month before the book’s release.

“I had a wonderful cruise to Bermuda on the Norwegian Breakaway.

“My mother died eight years ago and that was the last time I’d been there since this summer. It was great to be back and catch up with friends and family.”

Octavius is a one-off for the author.

“I don’t plan to write anymore,” she said. “I sent my brother Cummings [Zuill] a box of them and he has distributed them to the bookstores in Hamilton; he gave some to the BUEI and gave a couple to the children’s library and the aquarium and I think the book stores at the airport.”

• Read more about the book’s illustrator, Stacey Amos Holden, here: www.staceyspaintings.com