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Oration for Honorary Graduate Mr Chris d'Lacey, Doctor of Letters

[given by University Orator Professor Stewart Peterson at a July 2002 degree congregation]

Anyone entering the Maurice Shock Medical Sciences Building at the University will pass a door labelled ‘Confocal Microscopy’. Most do not realise that behind that door lies not only a mass of sophisticated equipment, but also a famous author who has written 16 books and a whole host of short stories. Chris D’Lacey spends his days producing wonderful images of biological material, and his evenings and weekends producing even more wonderful stories for children and adults.

Chris was born in Malta, but came first to Leicester as a small child. Later he moved to Bolton where he attended the local school. Ill informed by the English teacher who opined that Chris had “not a creative thought in his head” his Headmaster insisted that Chris take science A levels, ignoring his protestation that English and Music were his true loves. Chris moved on to read Biology at York and did very well, laying the foundation for a long career in scientific research. 

He came back to Leicester to work at the University in 1978, first as a Histologist, preparing material for microscopy, then in charge of the electron microscopes. As technology developed he moved into the new field of confocal microscopy, which allowed him to create images of great scientific value, but often also of considerable beauty.

Throughout his twenties and thirties a creative flame burned strong in Chris, finding its expression in song writing. This gave Chris much pleasure, but eventually he tired of songs and decided to turn his hand to prose. 

Initially he concentrated on short stories for adults, and made a modest success of publication in the small press and magazines, describing his work as a mixture of the comic and psychological.

Throughout his writing career he has been supported and inspired by his wife who is the first to read his work, and his most constructive of critics. One Christmas he brought her a cuddly toy – a polar bear, and decided that a story would be a suitable accompaniment. There followed a 250,000 word saga about polar bears, which he still hopes will be published one day.

There, things might have stayed but for a competition offering a prize of £2,000, only this time for a work for children. Chris decided to have a go, and drawing on his polar bear saga and his passion for the environment wrote “Hole at the Pole”. He did not win the £2,000, but was spotted by a publisher who snatched up the story, which became a considerable success.

Chris steadily developed his skill of writing for children, which he admits is very difficult, and produced in 1996 his best work so far. “Fly Cherokee Fly” is a story modelled on his own experience of finding an injured pigeon in Victoria Park and nursing it back to health. Transferred to the world of childhood, and dealing with difficult themes of bullying the work was submitted and eventually short listed in 1999 for the Carnegie Medal – the most prestigious award for children’s fiction.

Chris’s reputation as a children’s writer was now firmly established, and commission for new works flooded in. He has just completed commissions for 5 more books, and still produces short stories every year. 

In nine years as an author he has written 16 books on a variety of themes. Often the stories involve animals, but one of his other interests did not begin to figure till he visited a local school. There a young lad, not noted for his fascination with literature, pointed out forcefully that if only Chris wrote about football, he might just read it.

Chris works tirelessly to promote reading and creative writing in local schools. He visits regularly and holds workshops and story tellings to stimulate the interest of local children. When telling his stories to enthralled groups of admirers he always makes sure to leave them on a cliff-hanger, so they will be stimulated to go and read the rest of the story themselves.

Like most creative people Chris does not like to analyse his work, and feels he does not really know how he does it. The trick he says is to listen to the “little voice inside your head” which tells you how a story should develop and how to convey it to your audience. That “little voice” is of course what the rest of us all envy – true talent - which Chris uses so well to bring pleasure to so many people of all ages.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, on the recommendation of Senate and Council I present Chris D’Lacey that you may confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Professor Stewart Petersen
July 2002 

Chris d'Lacey's response to Oration [+ picture]

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