Thursday, 1 September 2016

All About: Walking

This month's mode of transport isn't technically a mode of transport but it does get people to where they need to be. Walking is a very prominent feature in Beverley Naidoo's Journey to Jo’burg, a story that delivers a subtle and powerful message about apartheid South Africa. 

The story is about two children, Naledi and Tiro, who are frightened that their sick baby sister, Dineo, might die.  They need their Mma’s help to get Dineo to a hospital but Mma works and lives far away in Johannesburg.  To get there Naledi and Tiro begin a 300 kilometre journey. Of course, the children don't walk the entire distance but, the journey is long and one where they begin to realise the impact and injustice of apartheid law.

 Notes by Beverley Naidoo for Journey to Jo'burg which outlines the exact journey Tiro and Naledi take to find their mother. In the first edition of Journey to Joburg (Longman, 1985) there is a map of the journey.  According to Google maps it would take over 60 hours on foot!  BN/01/01/01/27 Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books. 

In a country with a history of Pass Laws – which required black South Africans to carry passes to regulate and control movement – this action of walking to Johannesburg is very significant. Out of an innocent desire to find their Mma the children embark on a journey that is politically dangerous. The book encourages child readers to discover for themselves the wrongs and injustice of apartheid. Naidoo doesn't explain the issues of South Africa but portrays them in a way that encourages us to ask questions. Why does Mma live far away from her children? Why can't they just take Dineo to hospital?  Why do the children avoid the police in Johannesburg, aren't police there to help?  Why can't Mma help them straight away?  These questions alone make the differences between Tiro, Naledi and Naidoo's young British readers striking. These two young innocent children, who just want their Mma, become political beings. It then seems unsurprising that Journey to Jo'burg was banned in South Africa until 1991: 

Thousands of children were reading the book around the world but the apartheid government refused to let South African children read it until 1991, the year after Nelson Mandela was released from jail. Today, it’s not just a story from the past.  It’s a universal story where two children, faced with great injustice, do something very brave as they try to save their little sister (quote from Beverley Naidoo,

This is the notice sent to Beverley's sister-in-law from the Doeane en Aksyns Customs and Excise to inform of the seizure of prohibited material.  Journey to Jo'burg was considered an  'undesirable' import and was seized when Naidoo sent copies of the book to South Africa. BN/01/01/08/03  Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books. 

You may remember that we received Beverley Naidoo's collection early last year and almost as soon as it was unpacked and listed we took some of the Journey to Jo’burg files to a school in County Durham – you can read about the resulting event here

Beverley Naidoo and local school children for a Journey to Jo'burg event. 

This summer we took a much smaller selection of Journey to Jo'burg material to our Team Creative summer school attendees; this time we only used a selection of Naidoo's research and her drafts. It was a great reminder of how moving the story can be with one of Team Creative explaining to us that the session left him feeling sad and angry that people aren't treated equally. 

Research material from Journey to Jo’burg includes newspaper clippings, notes on plot and language, British children's perceptions of South Africa and correspondence.  This material demonstrates just how meticulous Naidoo is in getting her stories and their message just right. 

Newspaper articles from Beverley's collection with a copy of Journey to Jo'burg which includes two real newspaper articles at the beginning of the story. BN/01/01/08/03  Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books. 

The file of research is like a snippet from time; it shows us what Naidoo, and indeed what the rest of Britain, were reading in the papers and what people were writing and thinking about South Africa at the time. Printed at the beginning of the book are two newspaper articles which draw Naidoo's fiction into reality. These newspaper reports are very similar to the story of Tiro and Naledi - they are the seed of truth from which her fiction grows. Her fictional characters almost share the same space as these real newspaper stories. It presents a very interesting interweaving of real vs. unreal which has its roots in all of this research material. Journey to Jo'burg is a good story but most of all it is informative. Regarding her own experiences Naidoo has written:

"...I became very angry at all the injustice around me - and how I was part of it. I had been brought up with blinkers. Later, when I began to write, I wanted to write stories that would challenge narrow ways of seeing." (

Children's perceptions of South Africa. Photography © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

The associations from school children, a small selection of which you can see in the above photograph, are a very interesting way to look at perceptions of South Africa. Many paint a picture of South Africa as a sunny place with awesome animals but, many also refer to racism and/or to a division of people.  What Naidoo did with Journey to Jo'burg was to make the reality of apartheid South Africa accessible to a younger audience, and it is sadly a story with persevering relevance.  

The first draft of Journey to Jo'burg which is untitled and heavily annotated (BN/01/01/02). Photography by Damien Wooten © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

There are eight full drafts of Journey to Jo'burg in our collection.  Most of these drafts include extensive annotation, changes and significant developments which give us insight into how Naidoo works as an author.  We may say it a lot on this blog, but everybody has a different approach to writing and Beverley Naidoo's collection is so rich with development work - there are post it notes, letters from her many proof readers and lots and lots of draft material. 

The draft material also gives us an interesting insight into Beverley's intentions and some of the choices she made whilst drafting.  In the image below the post it note reads:

'Essential that in the extract the strength of the black characters is revealed otherwise one just exposes pain' (BN/01/01/02/04/01)

You can also see one of the first titles for Journey to Jo'burg.

A subsequent draft of Journey to Jo'burg (then titled HELP! A South African Story)  however, this is a full draft of the story, the earlier draft is in bullet-point form.  This draft is also annotated.  Photography by Damien Wooten © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

Naidoo's fictional books are built on a foundations of experience and research.  In addition to the research files that complement each of her typescript novels we also have material for her non-fiction work.  Her first published work 'Censoring Reality' analysed the image of South Africa being presented to school children in the 1980s. Naidoo found misleading portrayals of South Africa, racist perceptions and a very limited, one sided view of a country under apartheid law. The files we hold for 'Censoring Reality' demonstrate Niadoo's active stance against biased literature for children, working towards an informed portrayal of world issues and equality. These principles form the basis of Beverley's fictional writing. 

Naidoo's later study, 'Through Whose Eyes', aimed to address racist issues and perceptions in books for young people through dramatic workshops. Naidoo's interest in education is a thread that can be easily followed through her collection.  We have files of material relating to educational workshops and educational resources.  Through letters, resources and school feedback we can see how Journey to Jo'burg (and many of Naidoo's other books) was used from its publication in 1985 to today.  It shows priorities in teaching and how issues of racism, diversity and multiculturalism have been addressed over almost four decades. 

There are also boxes and boxes of fan mail. 

Letters from American children to Beverley about Journey to Jo'burg (BN/12/02/01/03) © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books 

Fan mail is something that we would sometimes consider sampling (keeping only a representative selection of material), particularly when there is so much of it but Naidoo's fanmail, as well as being lovely to look at, is particularly interesting in terms of looking at social opinion and reaction to her work over the span of her career. Letters are sent from schools, individuals, children and adults from all over the world.  According to Naidoo the 'Most exciting for me is when I feel my writing has really touched a nerve' (

In some cases its clear where Naidoo's fiction has changed and challenged opinion. 

From the first notes to the last batch of fan letters it has been a long journey for Naledi and Tiro.  It has been a political journey, a one of social history and opinion, and hopefully a step towards a more equal world.  

Our many editions of Journey to Jo'burg including translated versions© Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

Journey to Jo’burg is only one novel in a list of many.  Naidoo's collection covers a large proportion of her career and includes her PhD thesis, novels, short stories, picture books, professional and personal correspondence.  There is a vast amount of information with a great potential for research and learning projects - if you have any questions about the collection  
email: or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.

Seven Stories was able to support the acquisition of the Beverley Naidoo collection through support from a Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Collecting Cultures’ grant. This has been awarded to Seven Stories in recognition of the museum’s national role in telling a comprehensive story of modern British children’s literature. For more information on our HLF Collecting Cultures project see:

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Clive King Collection

As part of our HLF Collecting Cultures project we recruited a team of  volunteers to help us list, repackage and number our new acquisitions.  One of these new and very exciting acquisitions which we haven't yet mentioned on the blog is our Clive King Collection.  King's collection came to us in 2015 and our hard working volunteer Jonathan Oscher has been creating detailed box lists of what we have. Here is  Jonathan's insight and overview of the collection so far: 

Clive King, author of the immortal Stig of the Dump, has left a collection of manuscripts, letters and cuttings to Seven Stories.  To classify and list the contents of all these boxes has been a long, though very absorbing, task with each box providing a new historical insights.  In fact the sheer volume of correspondence means that the archive provides a value over and above that of simply being a record of Clive King’s long literary career – impressive thought that is. 

First Edition of Clive King's Stig of the Dump with illustration by Edward Ardizzone. Photography © Seven Stories - The National Centre for Children's Books
It allows the reader or researcher a fascinating glimpse into the ebbs and flows of the literary world in the sixties, seventies and eighties.   Hence there are letters from legendary figures in or around the industry such as Lawrence Pollinger, Biddy Baxter and Kaye Webb.  There are the royalty and advance figures.  Even the procession of old letterheads and typefaces give a good history lesson.

 Selection of letters from Editors in the Clive King Collection. Photography © Seven Stories - The National Centre for Children's Books

One thing that becomes abundantly clear from a long reading of the contents of the archive is just how incredibly demanding publishers are (and seemingly have always been) with regard to the contents – particularly the factual contents – of children’s books.  In 1960 the American publishers Harper & Bros actually rejected Stig of the Dump because of the final chapter set on Midsummer’s night in which Barney and his sister Lou are transported back to Stig’s own time. Harper & Bros, clearly uncomfortable with the direct reference to time travel stated, in a letter, that here the story ‘grew weak, confused and unclear’.  That same chapter, however, is now an integral part of the book’s charm and appeal.

On the same topic, Kaye Webb – the legendary publishing brain behind the Puffin children’s label – writes to Clive King in 1965:

I really don’t think, Clive, that you, as a creative author, quite appreciate the amount of fussing over detail which has to be done with a child’s book.  ...  For instance an absolutely crackingly good book called THE CHILDREN was rejected out of hand in Australia because the author put a lyre bird in the wrong part of Australia and all the people who recommend children’s books ... took it off their lists because of this.

In December 1974, by the same token, Clive King received a letter from Patrick Hardy of Kestrel Books with no fewer than twenty suggestions for change in the book he had submitted for publication, Me and My Millions.   Point two of the twenty suggestions reads a little bizarrely : ‘I am a little unhappy about the transvestite element in the angels.’

Selection of Clive King's notebooks. Photography © Seven Stories - The National Centre for Children's Books
What makes the Clive King collection such a fascinating insight into the travails of being a children’s author is its warts-and-all quality, the feeling that the author has not carefully selected for the archive only the correspondence that is pleasing and flattering to himself.   This cannot help but add historical interest to the collection.  We become acquainted with the disappointments of authorship as well as the triumphs.

- Jonathan Oscher,
Seven Stories volunteer

Look out for further snippets of the Clive King Collection in later blog posts. 

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then 
email: or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.

Seven Stories was able to support the acquisition of the Clive King collection through support from a Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Collecting Cultures’ grant. This has been awarded to Seven Stories in recognition of the museum’s national role in telling a comprehensive story of modern British children’s literature. For more information on our HLF Collecting Cultures project see:

Monday, 1 August 2016

All About: Air Balloons

From Beatrix Potter to Disney the world loves adventurous anthropomorphic 
characters but, the greatest air balloon harvest mouse rescue is surely Judy Brook's Tim Mouse.  

Tim Mouse with model baskets and Tim Mouse himself.  Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books
It's harvest time and the harvest mice face imminent danger; the farmer is cutting corn and there are too many dogs and cats for the mice to make a safe escape from the field.  Its okay though, Tim Mouse and the other country-side animals are quite resourceful. Tim blows up a big red balloon, hops in a basket attached to the bottom and with the help of Robin, he saves the day in the air balloon.  Bravery, recycling and airborne adventure - what more could one ask of a mouse?

It's a simple adventure story but the process of creating a book like Tim Mouse is, of course, not simple at all. 

Judy Brook's original artwork with the book Tim Mouse. Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

Tim Mouse is the first in a series of Tim Mouse's adventures written and illustrated by Judy Brook. At Seven Stories we have a significant Judy Brook collection which includes drafts, dummy books and final artwork. This range of material is great for demonstrating the development of story and characters from draft to printed book.  

In the image below you can see successive spreads from rough pencil sketches to the final artwork with the same spread from the book.  These three images only represent a small proportion of the Tim Mouse material - we have another two dummy books, sketches and alternative artwork as well as a full spread of final artwork. 

Ideas don't come fully formed and perfect and this collection shows that the creation of a children's book is a process.  Its sometimes easy to forget that such hard work goes into children's books and what may start as a few scribbled lines on a piece of paper can become a beloved story. Here at Seven Stories we find that idea encouraging and we like to encourage everyone to keep on drawing and writing - who knows who you might create! 

Unbound dummy book (JB/01/05/01/02), final art (JB/01/05/05) and Tim Mouse book. Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

This creative process isn't necessarily linear and it's most definitely not the same for everyone.  Brook's is just one of many illustrators' collections that we hold and shows just one approach to creating a children's book. 

Below you can see some of the images that didn't make it into the final artwork of Tim Mouse.  Another important lesson we can take from this collection is that you don't have to keep everything you create, its okay to make mistakes and to change your mind.  These drawings also show a development from her first rough sketches with notes (in the GIF above), to more detailed graphite drawings that focus on character. 

Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books
As well as archival material we have models of characters. This means that we have an archive box full of tiny mice - something I'm sure not many archives can claim. 

Its like a little mouse nest © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Book.
The mice are quite fragile with very long fine tails, they're hand painted and made from gypsum and wood. The models are a little bit of a mystery to us, it is unclear why they were created or whether they date from the creation of the books.

There are also three air balloon baskets with minute details from sandbags, ropes, to real metal anchors. One even includes Tim Mouse watching over the side. 

Tim Mouse in his balloon. Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Book.
Like the whole Judy Brook collection these models are intricately and carefully worked.  What I adore most about this collection is the delicacy of Brook's drawings, so the next picture has nothing to do with air balloons, its just a tiny tiny cow cut-out paper clipped to a final spread. 

A tiny cow from a final illustration, its not attached to the main work so has been paper-clipped in place. © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

The mice aren't the only models in the Judy Brook collection, we also have a wooden boat

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then 
email: or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

All About: (War) Horses

Spoiler Alert: this blog post discusses the end of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse.

Horses have been a mode of transport since at least 2000 BC but the horse that’s the focus of this blog post is much more recent than that: Joey from Michael Morpurgo’s WWI novel War Horse.  The book has become internationally well-known thanks, in part, to a stage production by the National Theatre (featuring spectacular horse-sized puppets) and to the Stephen Spielberg adaptation that came out in 2011. 

Seven Stories' own interpretation of Joey in our Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories exhibition. Photograph © Seven Stories The National Centre for Children's Books. 
The Seven Stories exhibition, Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories, opened on 2nd July and, of course, it features Morpurgo’s most famous book.  If you visit you’ll find Joey not only as he was first written down (in Morpurgo’s tiny handwriting) but also as he’s been imagined in film, for the stage, and in painting.

Early manuscript draft of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse.  Photograph © Seven Stories The National Centre for Children's Books. 
The novel is narrated by Joey and opens with him being sold at auction:

I was not yet six months old, a gangling, leggy colt who had never been further away than a few feet from his mother.  We parted that day in the terrible hubbub of the auction ring and I was never to see her again. (Page 3)

From here Joey meets Albert, the farmer’s son and they become best friends, until Joey is bought by the British Army and sent to the battlefields of the First World War.  Distraught, Albert joins up and promises to bring him home but it’s not until the end of the war that they’re finally reunited and return home to Devon together.

The Seven Stories archive contains a variety of material about War Horse: there’s the very first manuscript for the book, handwritten on lined paper; the shooting script for the Spielberg film, with its codename Dartmoor written at the top; and letters about the stage production’s transfer to Broadway and the changes the American team had made to the story. 

Various War Horse items from our Morpurgo collection on display at Seven Stories until 2nd July 2017. Photograph © Seven Stories The National Centre for Children's Books. 
But that’s not what this blog post is about.  I want to tell you about a version of War Horse that has an alternate ending – one that doesn’t end quite so happily ever after.

In the late eighties and early nineties Morpurgo collaborated with a producer, Simon Channing Williams, who made his name working with Mike Leigh on films such as Vera Drake and Secrets & Lies.  Channing Williams produced the adaptation of Why the Whales Came, starring Helen Mirren and Paul Scofield and, following this, worked with Morpurgo to get funding for an adaptation of War Horse

Papers in the archive show that the funders were initially sceptical of its appeal to children and wanted instead to go for the adult market.  In a report on one of the submitted scripts, Mary Davies, who was a reader for the European Script Fund (ESF), commented:

The writer has seems to have taken heed of comments on the earlier script that it appeared to be aimed at a young rather than an adult audience.  The happy ending and slight sentimentality of the earlier version, together with a greater emphasis on Joey the horse as a character, gave the script this slant.

From this feedback it seems that the ESF wanted a harsher or more realistic script without a happy ending and they encouraged the focus on Joey.
The next version of the script is still recognisable from the book, with an addition of a love story between Emilie and a German soldier (she is somewhat older in this version).  It continues along much the same lines until, that is, the final few pages. 

Just as in the novel, Joey is being sold at auction and, as in the book, the soldiers club together to buy Joey – but they don’t have enough money.  Not to worry, Emilie’s grandpere is also there, with a sack full of silverware to buy back Joey so he can live out his days resting on the farm.  Except the auctioneer won’t accept the silver, only cash.

Enter Monsieur Lamballe of Cambrai, who makes his bid, wins Joey and pays in cash.  In the next scene, the third to last in the film, Emilie’s grandpere gives Albert an enamel horse pin to remember Joey by.  Then, as the soldiers leave, a van passes Grandpere.  On the side of it reads ‘Jean Lamballe.  Horse Butcher.  Cambrai’.  Joey has been sold for horse meat. 

Extracts from annotated typescript of War Horse by Simon Channing Williams MMo/06/06/03. Photograph © Seven Stories The National Centre for Children's Books. 
This is a more historically accurate ending (the British Army retained some horses after the end of the war but most that were still fit were sold locally to farmers and slaughterhouses) but it’s a big departure from the rural idyll ending of the novel.

The change raises the question about what’s at stake in Albert and Joey’s glorious return to Devon.  In the novel they’re celebrated and it’s a chance to reflect on the people and horses that died in the war:

And so I came home from the war that Christmas-time with my Albert riding me up into the village, and there to greet us was the Silver Band from Hatherleigh and the rapturous peeling of the church bells.  We were received like conquering heroes, but we both knew that the real heroes had not come home, that they were lying out in France alongside Captain Nicholls, Topthorn, Friedrich, David and little Emilie. (page 141)

The ending cements the comradeship between Albert and Joey: they were received equally, ‘like conquering heroes’, and they shared the knowledge that they weren’t the real heroes. 

But when it’s only Albert that returns the ending is bleaker and he doesn’t feel at home anymore: the script says ‘He seems bewildered by the welcome, detached’.  

Extracts from annotated typescript of War Horse by Simon Channing Williams (MMo/06/06/03). Photograph © Seven Stories The National Centre for Children's Books. 
And a summary of the script submitted to the ESF is even less hopeful: ‘Maisie seems like a stranger to [Albert] and it’s a while before he is able to embrace his mother with any real feeling.’

The homecoming of Joey with Albert at the end of the novel returns things to how they were for everyone else, even if the implication is that Joey and Albert know there’s a difference compared to their lives before the war.  The 1990s script makes the difference much greater. 

Although this film wasn’t eventually financed its inclusion in the Morpurgo archive provides researchers and readers with another version of War Horse that not only helps in learning about the process of adapting a book but also changes the way we think about the novel and raises questions that may not be obvious in the published version.

               - Dr Jessica Medhurst
                 KTP Research Associate

If you want to know more about horses in our collection take a look at All About: Horses.  You can also learn more about the Michael Morpurgo collection here.

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then 
email: or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

All About: Kettles

Following on from some of our other more unusual transport methods - castle and time slip - this month we will be exploring the very important and well known method of getting around, the kettle.

Draft cover of Borrowers afloat by Diana Stanley, DS/02/03/01/07 © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books]

The Borrowers Afloat (J.M. Dent, 1959), the third title in Mary Norton's Borrowers series, sees the intrepid Clock family setting out to find 'Little Fordham'. This possibly mythical model village would be just the right size for them. Once their quest begins and home is behind them the Clocks set up camp in a nearby kettle; they fix up the rust holes with cork to make it secure from frogs and beetles, conveniently this also makes the kettle watertight... 

'We're afloat,' cried Pod, 'and spinning.' And Arietty, beside the kettle's spin, was aware of a dipping and a swaying. 'We've come adrift. We're in the current,' he went on, 'and going downstream fast...' (Extract from The Borrowers Afloat)

The kettle, and the family trapped inside are washed away down stream - the whole family are pretty startled. Sadly, their adventure down the stream doesn't end well when the kettle subsides:

But even as she spoke the next throw caught the cork in the rust-hole... Their island subsided again and, unclasping each other, they moved apart, listening wide-eyed to the rhythmic gurgle of water filling the kettle. (
Extract from The Borrowers Afloat)

It turns out that kettle's aren't necessarily the best way of getting around, even for those that can fit inside!

Copies of The Borrowers Afloat from our Puffin book Collection show the popularity of the book with covers from between 1970 and 1997. © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books]

In The Borrowers familiar objects - like kettles - take on an air of possibility and can become the catalyst for adventure. Norton's stories interweave ordinary objects with extraordinary uses. To help bring these stories to life, Borrowers' illustrator, Diana Stanley, perfectly captured the tiniest detail of Norton's miniature world. 

Here at Seven Stories we have some original illustrations, notes and correspondence in our Diana Stanley collection.  Our holdings show Stanley's working process from notes and sketches to tracings. The collection also gives an insight into how Stanley worked with Norton's manuscripts to develop her illustrations. 

It’s in Stanley's initial notes that we can see how she plans out her illustrations for each chapter, developing these to decide on the size and content of each. Chapter notes for The Borrowers Afloat by Diana Stanley, DS/02/03/01/01-03 © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books]

Included in Stanley's notes is a set of typescript chapter summaries annotated with further descriptions of the Borrower's world. For example, at the end of Chapter sixteen, Stanley has added:

‘and to cover them another groundsheet above a piece of red blanket. snug in deep protected from rain + dew + invisible from bank.
Waterlogged shoe. Laces useful. Between sticks near rusted wire.

(Twig of hawthorn to cat[ch] with – egg + banana.)' 

Diana Stanley Collection, DS/02/03/01/04/09 © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

Stanley's thorough attentiveness to Norton's text is also evident in her sketches; as well as showing development and re-workings of different images the draft sketches include handwritten extracts and notes from the text.  For example on one page she writes 'ladder made of matchsticks, neatly glued and spliced to 2 lengths of split cane such as florists use to support potted plants' (From Diana Stanley Collection, DS/02/03/01/08-09). 

Rough drafts, DS/02/03/01/08 and 19 © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

Rough drafts, DS/02/03/01/42, 44 and 45 © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

So, what did Mary Norton think of Stanley’s work?

‘Their English-ness, their unaffectedness, their curious “story-book” quality.  They are somehow mysterious but intrinsically so, not one feels by deliberate design.’ (Mary Norton to Diana Stanley, DS/02/06/02)

Selection of correspondence from Mary Norton to Diana Stanley in the Diana Stanley Collection, DS/02/06/01-09 © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

Also included in our Diana Stanley collection is a file of correspondence from Mary Norton.  In one of these letters Norton refers to the 'ghastly' model village Be[k]onscot in Beaconsfield as '"ersatz" and urban in conception.  All for show - and this, poor dears, They will find out after the first flush of seeming luxury' (Mary Norton to Diana Stanley, DS/02/06/03 f.3). Its difficult to be certain with only one side of the correspondence whether these 'poor dears' are the Borrowers, and whether this vision of Bekonscot aligns with 'Little Fordham', the model village the Borrowers have set out to find in The Borrowers Afloat. 

Though the correspondence is one sided it does give us an interesting insight into Norton’s working process ‘to plough in regardless and get the whole story roughly down, trusting to one’s angel’ (Mary Norton to Diana Stanley, DS/02/06/01 f.2).

The letters demonstrate a mutual understanding of the artistic process and reveals a mutual hesitance in embarking on new projects:

‘I could not understand more about that curious feeling of panic an artist always gets before starting work.  The whole reason the book is late is due, in my case, to an intense feeling of “stage fright”’ (Mary Norton to Diana Stanley, DS/02/06/01 f.1). 

Whether stage fright is akin to the fear of being washed away in a kettle I can't say, but a kettle is not to be recommended as a safe mode of transport.

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then 
email: or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.