Category Archives: Jacqueline Wilson

Retiring Philippa

My pangs of envy and regret started even before Philippa Dickinson’s retirement festivities got under way on Monday. When you’re online you can see what everyone else is doing and quite a few people announced they were heading that way, making me wish I was too. But there are drawbacks to moving to Scotland, and the spontaneity of sudden trips south is one of them.

So I wasn’t there, and now I can follow – online again – those who were, and there are more pangs. But I’m glad there was a party, and that it was good, and that – almost – everyone else was there. Because Philippa deserves to be celebrated.

Philippa Dickinson

Back in 2009 when I was introduced to her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, it felt a bit like meeting the Queen, although perhaps more relaxed. And six months later when her publicists invited me to actually come and spend a day in Ealing, I was impressed with her again, and not only for remembering me a little.

Random House Children’s Books felt like the most active publishing house at the time. And she might have been the MD, but Philippa was still hands-on (editing Terry Pratchett, the lucky thing), working like a normal person. During our brief meeting in her office, she made a point of showing me her personal recommendation and arranging for me to have a copy of Jack Gantos’s Joey Pigza.

Philippa and I are almost the same age, and occasionally I have stopped and asked myself what I have achieved with my life, and why I couldn’t be a bit more like her. (Answers on a postcard, please.)

Sometimes when I think of Philippa and wonder what made her better or more interesting than other publishing bosses, I realise that apart from a few directors of smaller publishing houses, I didn’t meet or get even a little acquainted with anyone else.

So maybe that’s why. You need to be out there, possibly rubbing shoulders with the little fish.

The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature

The second edition, that is, rather nicely written and edited by Daniel Hahn. Although, as he acknowledges, he had a little help from his friends. And a foreword from Michael Morpurgo.

It seems Daniel is not a stranger to this business of reading a book and getting it signed and loving it to bits. He was once eight years old and met Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake and had his copy of The BFG signed by both of them. And here he is, a few years later, having actually edited The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature.

Thirty years earlier the Resident IT Consultant had cottoned on to the fact that I quite liked children’s books, despite being married and old and all that. He went out and bought me (us, really) a copy of the first edition of the Companion, by Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard. It is this text Daniel has edited, partly by removing a few old entries and partly by shortening some, in order to find room for all the exciting things that have happened to children’s literature in the intervening period.

It’s not just Harry Potter (the longest new entry). Try to imagine a world without Jacqueline Wilson, or Philip Pullman! Or all those other lovely writers and illustrators. Both the ones who made it into this edition, and the ones Daniel was forced to leave out. (I’ll have to speak to him about a few of them.)

I couldn’t help getting my (our) old copy out and making some very random comparisons. Roald Dahl has not only doubled in length, but he has died. Dick Barton is still in, as is Dido Twite. (I did mention it’s not only the authors, but their characters and various other types of entries that are in this book, did I?) And Daddy Long-Legs makes it.

The – to me – completely unheard of Hesba Stretton is still in. Carolyn Keene hasn’t changed, and I reckon Robert Heinlein and KM Peyton are both mostly intact. Likewise Joan Aiken, although she has been updated, obviously. There might be less of Peter Pan; I’m not sure, not having counted the words.

For a while I thought the entry on racism was bound to be a modern phenomenon, but it existed and was recognised in the 1980s as well.

There are about 70 more pages in the second edition, plus some very useful appendices on awards.

Carpenter, Prichard, Hahn, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature

If you like children’s books, there is no question about it; you need a copy of the second edition. As for me, I suspect I won’t be able to part with the first, even though I can see that the new edition will be much more useful in my ‘work’ as well as for my own private enjoyment. The two volumes will look good together. And I might not last until a third edition comes along.

Earle at the Castle

You learn something new about Jacqueline Wilson all the time. Chatting to Phil Earle is no exception. I suppose we all have a JW experience to tell.

Phil also had plenty to say about his own writing, and generally what a lucky man he is, and how much he enjoys what he’s doing. I mean, he loves school events!

Phil Earle

I’ve grown a little lazy, or am simply short on time, so these days I do very few ‘real’ interviews with authors, however nice and interesting they are. Sometimes I know them too well to interview them properly. But Phil was like Baby bear’s porridge. Just right.

It was a great conversation, and here are the highlights, because I just couldn’t keep this very promising author from you. Remember to read one of his books too. Preferably before he has suddenly published another four books.

Opal Plumstead

Opal Plumstead is a true sister of many of Jacqueline Wilson’s other heroines. She’s artistic and likes to read, she’s intelligent – if a little immature – and she’s outspoken. And she has a problem, like all her ‘sisters.’

Opal’s Oxford educated father ends up in jail, and her time at school comes to an end, despite the fact that she is only 14. This is 1913, and 14-year-olds could be called upon to be the family’s breadwinner. Opal doesn’t have a very good relationship with her mother, or her flirty older sister Cassie, but still she goes out to do factory work.

Jacqueline Wilson, Opal Plumstead

If you leave out the bleak last 18 pages, this is a typical Jacqueline Wilson novel for slightly older readers. It is a tale filled with personal triumphs and failures, and it also gives the reader a history lesson in what life was like one hundred years ago, with the suffragette movement and the start of WWI. It’s not boring or old-fashioned, though. Opal talks like her modern counterparts, which makes the story easier to access. It’s almost as though we time-travelled to the pre-war period.

She has to battle not only with what the neighbours will say (and they do) or how her mother and sister perceive her, but she loses her one and only friend, and she finds it hard to get on with her new workmates at the factory. But Opal has her artistic talents and she is full of ideas. Not always realistic, but still.

Cassie falls in love with a married, wealthy man, and Opal is very concerned. Then she herself meets an older boy, who is rich, and thereby out of her league.

And there’s the war.

Celebrating Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book

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Right, I’m vertical again. Have had four hours of sleep, so this will be absolutely fine. It seems I wasn’t even the most far flung guest at last night’s Opal Plumstead bash at the Ritz. Dundee beats me very slightly. The really good thing about long train trips is the reading a witch can get done. By Darlington I had been scared witless by Rachel Ward, and I continued with Danny Weston, who continued to scare me with more water based ghostly shenanigans.

Must have sat next to either an author or an editor, because I could tell that a novel was being edited on my right, all the way to King’s Cross. Which has altered beyond all recognition since I was last there. (To begin with, I had to adjust my expectations from thinking I was at Euston.) I saw the Harry Potter trolley and the long queue of people wanting to catch the train to Hogwarts.

Royal Institution

After a very brief look at clothes for librarians, I detoured to Green Park for a sit on a bench, before walking to the Royal Institution for a look around the Faraday Museum. I’ve never managed to be in the right part of London at the right time. I disgraced myself with the Elements Song down in the basement, before a nice pot of tea. Actually, it was only Twinings, so whereas my rest was nice, the tea was Twinings…

Ritz chandelier

And at last it was time for the Ritz! I spoke to probably four doormen and similar, before getting my flower arrangements right and finding the Music Room. (Where else would you be told to turn left by the flower arrangement?)

Jacqueline Wilson was celebrating her 100th (book, not birthday!) in the company of 100 guests (no, I didn’t count), so what was I doing there, you ask. I have no idea. Clutching a glass of water, and eating rather a lot of rather tasty canapés. (Made a bit of a mess with the egg one.) Trying to rub shoulders with interesting people. The lovely Naomi made sure I spoke to Jacky early on, and I realised I ought to have brought a present, when my co-guest handed over a cute dog portrait.

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That wasn’t the only gift. There was a striking handmade Opal Plumstead stocking, of the Christmas variety. And like at all children’s parties, there was a party bag (purple) for the guests at the end of the evening, containing a signed book and some Opal Plumstead sweets.

Opal Plumstead bag

There were speeches. Annie Eaton had a paper to read from, to get it right. And she read out a letter fron Nick Sharratt, who couldn’t be there. He loves working with Jacky, but no, they are still not married, and no, he can’t ask her to put every child he meets into one of her books.

Jacqueline Wilson

Jacky also had a paper, because – as she said – there had been champagne. Lovely speech, which was followed by two young men singing a song (from Hetty Feather the play, I believe) which listed every single JW book title, or so it seemed. The cast from Hetty Feather were all there, and I even met ‘Jem,’ aka actor Matt Costain. He wore a name badge which claimed he was in actual fact Jacqueline Wilson, but I didn’t believe that for a moment.

I’d worried in case book no. 100 would be deemed a nice even number to stop at. But book 101 is already in the bag, and book 102 is in the process of being written. Fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. (Although my shelves have pointed out they don’t see how they will cope.)

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It was one of those events where an increasingly forgetful witch sees familiar faces and has to think hard who they belong to. So, there was one JW book character; driver Bob. Jacky’s daughter was there, as was Simon Mayo. Lots of publishing people, Jacky’s first agent, Julia Eccleshare, Anne Marley, Caro Fickling, Philippa Dickinson…

'Hetty Feather'

And many thanks to ‘Dear Trish’ who pointed out I’m not a Tom, Dick or Harry. One can’t always be sure.

A night at the Ritz

The title above might make me appear to be one of the Marx Bros, whereas I’m really just trying to tell you that there is no full blog post available right now. Please return at a more convenient time. Convenient to me, I mean.

All being well, I am making my way back – horizontally – from an evening at the Ritz with Jacqueline Wilson. We have been celebrating publication of Jacqueline’s 100th book, Opal Plumstead. And no, I’m – probably not – drunk.

Jacqueline Wilson, Opal Plumstead

See you later!

Telling stories about story tellers

Scarlet, in Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis, is a story teller. It’s what she’s good at, and it also serves to keep her autistic younger brother Red calm and happy. Similarly in Jo Cotterill’s Looking at the Stars, Mini makes life bearable for herself and others by telling stories. She makes them up as she goes along, even, not quite knowing where the story will go or how she will end it.

I read these two books close together, and was struck by the similarities. But as I stopped to think about it properly, I realised that many books have a main character who tells stories, writes, draws, daydreams, or all of these.

Jo’s Mini felt very much like a Jacqueline Wilson girl, except in a war torn country. Jacqueline’s heroines frequently, if not absolutely always, tell stories. They are her, really. We know how Jacky herself spent her childhood dreaming about things, making up characters and plots, drawing, and so on. She simply puts versions of herself in her books.

From that thought, I realised that authors are of necessity story tellers. It’s what they do. And if you follow the sensible advice about writing what you know, then the reality of story telling will be close to very many writers.

I don’t know if there really is a disproportionate number of fictional heroines (mostly girls, I believe) who do what their creators do. But I suspect so. More authors/dreamers than accountants or cleaners.