Tag Archives: Budge Wilson

Meeting Budge

I was sad to discover that Budge Wilson died last year. It felt as though this Canadian children’s author could, would, outlast us all. It’s been nearly fifteen years since we met, but I still have her address in my address book – both her summer address and the regular one – in case I might want to look her up if I ever get to Canada, and more specifically, Nova Scotia. These days of course, I live in the old Scotia.

“Meeting Budge Wilson was rather like meeting a long lost Canadian aunt, if only I had one. I met Budge at her London hotel during her whirlwind British publicity tour for her book Before Green Gables. Things at the hotel weren’t working out very well, so Jodie from Puffin had some complaining to do, before we were given somewhere to talk. Once the practicalities were sorted and a number of confused hotel employees had got their act together with pots of tea and endless bottles of water, we were fine.

Budge looked lovely in a pink top and matching pink lipstick, which is the kind of colour co-ordinating I like. When I said that she looked just as she does in her photographs, she wondered if I’d also been able to see how short she is. To start with Budge is concerned because she’s not feeling a hundred percent well, but she perks up during the interview.

The meeting-my-aunt feeling continues when Budge starts off by interviewing me, which is very sweet, and I just wish I had more important information to share. I confess that I’m worried because I know very little about Budge, but she says “it’s lovely for me”. Being so well known in Canada, and particularly so in her native Nova Scotia, she has got tired of being asked the same thing over and over again.

Still feeling guilty about the insularity of the British book scene, where we tend to know far too little of even English language books from the rest of the world, I tell her that I Googled her the previous day, and was surprised to find my own review of Before Green Gables on the first page. If Budge hadn’t made a point of telling me her age, I wouldn’t have known she’ll be 81 in May. It makes the travelling to publicise a book much more impressive, and I’m amazed at her stamina.

I ask whether she has been to Britain before, and Budge tells me of the trip the family made in the late sixties when the children were young, touring the length of the country in a dormobile during five weeks. She describes it as “a fate worse than death”, which I suspect was more because it was tiring, than that this country was particularly horrible. It was a “hard, hard trip and I remember very little”, she says with a rueful smile.

This time, having left snow behind in Canada, Budge and her husband Alan really noticed the green fields of England as their plane came in to land. “All so tidy. I’m not used to tidy countryside. Like Prince Edward Island, with the hedgerows, like a child’s drawing.” Budge had time to study the London suburbs as the traffic crawled on their way in to central London, especially the architecture and people’s homes; “the stick-together houses” made from different materials than she’s used to.

As I admit to understanding the Canadian style wooden houses, on account of them being similar to Swedish ones, Budge reminisces about a trip she once made to Finland. It “was so like Nova Scotia you wouldn’t believe it”. She feels rather guilty over placing Anne Shirley in the middle of the woods in Nova Scotia, and says if she could write the book all over again she wouldn’t. But we discuss this, as there is obviously a need for Anne to have lived somewhere very different to Prince Edward Island, which strikes Anne as paradise.

It was L M Montgomery who gave Anne’s past a day trip to the seaside, and this forced Budge to give her somewhere inland to live. She spent days driving round trying to find where to place Bolingbroke and Marysville and “up the river”. She had to settle on a fictional area after finding red soil somewhere, which meant that it wouldn’t do for Anne, who had never seen that colour soil before coming to PEI. Budge reckons Bolingbroke might have been Truro, as it fits the description given by Montgomery.

“Prince Edward Island has so many Japanese in the summer, it’s surprising the island doesn’t sink”, says Budge, adding that she feels she has “short changed my province”. I suggest that she couldn’t very well write her Green Gables prequel with an eye to the tourist industry.

I’d read somewhere that Budge had been reluctant to take on the task of writing about Anne’s early years when she was approached and offered the job. “I didn’t want to write it”, she says. “I said I’ll think about it. I thought about it for two months”. One reason was that Budge had another book on the go, a collection of poems for the Swiss Air disaster near Halifax ten years ago. Being two thirds of the way through this, she knew she couldn’t both finish it and write the Green Gables prequel. And “I was concerned L M Montgomery might not want me to do this”.

Budge was also fully aware of the strong feelings she would incur by writing the book. There are many Canadians “whose hearts beat so strongly for Anne, they’d not want me to do this”. After she had decided to do it, Budge found that when it was announced to people, there were a few who didn’t have time to “fix their faces” on hearing about it. On the whole, though, reviews have been favourable, with only “one that did tear me to shreds”.

As she approached the task, Budge found it was “a puzzle to solve, with a heroine not of my making”. Here was a girl who had suffered verbal abuse, there was physical abuse that she was seeing, drunkenness, postnatal depression, and so on. Budge had never written anything historical before, so that was another challenge. She likes to do her “research by asking human beings”.

I ask if Budge knows when Anne was born, and whereas she had thought it might be in 1876, careful counting backwards from when Anne’s son Jem joins World War I, puts her year of birth as 1866. This meant Budge had to be careful and “never mention the date”, and she had to stay vague to avoid inconsistencies. Budge considered bare light bulbs for the orphanage, but was told not to “touch electricity”, which is wise advice in more ways than one. Other problem areas are clothes and how people work, where both safety pins and assembly lines needed avoiding. For those readers who remembers Anne’s puffed sleeves, it seems that L M Montgomery got that wrong, but Budge guesses she just wanted to use them, and so she did.

As Budge talks about the process of getting started, she waves her arms about, indicating Penguin to the right and the Montgomery family and law firm on her left. She first had to provide sample chapters, as well as a long outline of what she would write.

To her astonishment, Budge loved writing Before Green Gables. “I tend to write the first draft extremely quickly”, and she wrote a chapter a day, in 71, non-consecutive, days, finishing on her 80th birthday.

Usually Budge likes to take a long time over “the lovely editing process”, sitting in her bed, with all her papers spread out, and writing by hand. This time she had a deadline to meet, so had to rush things rather more. Penguin originally wanted 300 pages and Budge’s reaction to this was that she couldn’t possibly write that much. The finished book is 465 pages, and that’s after some of the pruning Budge had to do. She tried very hard and managed to cut about 2000 words, initially. The Americans wanted her to cut another 32,000 words, but all she felt able to prune was another 4000. The scenes between Anne and Mr Thomas were some of the ones they suggested removing, but Budge stuck to her guns and kept those passages.

While writing, her “saddest moment was when Anne gave the teddy to Noah”, and she muses over the fact that as the author she could have changed this, but felt she shouldn’t. Anne couldn’t have kept the teddy when she got to the orphanage anyway. I ask how much research Budge did as regards what orphanages were like. She looked into things very carefully, and found to her astonishment that whereas Canada had laws about the humane treatment of animals, the humane treatment of children came later, in the 1900s.

We discuss the dead men in Anne’s life; Mr Thomas and Mr Hammond, as well as Matthew. I admit to a fondness for the Eggman, and Budge says how “very crucial” he is, and how she had to delay things in the plot to prevent it being possible for Anne to be adopted. In all, there were so many possible good outcomes for Anne, and it was heartbreaking that Budge needed to “keep” Anne for Matthew and Marilla.

Something that had puzzled me when reading Budge’s book, was what age it’s intended for. Somewhere I’ve seen 8+, but whereas it’s about a young girl, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s suited for that age group. And I wouldn’t say Budge’s style is difficult, but it’s not dumbed down, either. Budge herself feels it’s very much a book for all ages, but it seems that most readers are adults.

Once Budge had finished Before Green Gables, she had a lesson in saying nothing in interviews, as the publisher wanted nothing given away too early. Budge says her blood pressure shot up, until she learnt to talk without saying very much. Unlike with me, where Budge suddenly starts worrying that she’s talking too much. She gets out a copy of my review of her book and asks me about the Ipecac. She felt it had to be included in the book, but she was so uncertain about whether it was safe, and Budge was intrigued to find I had used it. That brings us on to homeopathy in general, and then I feel it is I who talk too much.

We get chatting about book covers, and Budge shows me the Canadian cover. Under the dust wrapper the Canadian edition is really very attractive, with an old style faded look. I ask how the book is selling, and in Canada it’s “selling extremely well”, and had sold out before the launch. The launch, incidentally, was held on a day with a blizzard, which caused most of her family to be late for the event, although they arrived safely in the end.

Budge gets out her bag to show me. Her daughter made it specially for this trip, and although it’s not Budge’s usual colours, she really likes it. So do I. It’s a beautiful green fabric, with BGG appliquéd in orange on one side and the name Budge on the other. The handles are plaited in orange wool, and they are of course Anne’s hair. It’s the perfect Anne bag. Budge had expected the British to be so sophisticated that they wouldn’t appreciate a hand sewn bag, but everyone has liked it.

I say that people here have less time to make things, and Budge has noticed how much “everyone is rushing”. Apparently a sure sign of a Nova Scotian is that they stand still on escalators. I wonder what that makes me?

I ask Budge to sign my copy of her book, and I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone consider so carefully what to write. When I read it, it’s an invitation to come to Nova Scotia, and that’s definitely a first. Budge has described her home province so vividly, that I don’t think she needs to be concerned that she’s not “selling it”. Their “springs are very grim” and Budge says she never makes school visits outside town in April, because it’s “ a hideous month”. She tells me to come in September to see their “magnificent fall”. I get the impression that autumn colours are better in Nova Scotia than anywhere else. And her description of the varying seascapes near her home, almost has me on the first plane to Halifax.

The next day, Good Friday, Budge and her husband Alan are going to Oxford to visit old friends. She’s brought a book to give them. Not Before Green Gables, but something else. Budge starts to tell me something to do with this, and then forgets what she was going to say. “Don’t you feel that the things you lose are always the ones you think are the most interesting?”

It’s an unkind thought, but I’m almost grateful for the migraine that cancelled Budge’s next interview, which gave us twice as long to talk. Had it not been for my train home, I may well have been there for much longer still. We find our way out, and Budge grabs the large, almost full, bottle of water, and says she’ll take it to her room. I admire someone who is sensible and thrifty.”

(This interview was first published in March 2008.)


OK then; speaking out

Fainthearted male readers can go away now and come back tomorrow. You won’t want to know. After yesterday’s sex and Monday’s thoughts on criticising people – or not – we’ll mix the two and forget that we’re mostly about books.

I’m going to have a go at Hadley Freeman in the Guardian. I love Hadley, and she writes beautifully, with forceful and funny thoughts on all kinds of things. The fact that she’s wrong about what constitutes good clothes is something I’m willing to forgive her. The fact that she’s anti homeopathy is also fine. It’s less fine that she uses her clever, and therefore influential, writing to belittle and ridicule homeopathy.

Had I not been convinced otherwise, I may well have taken her word for it.

I was once totally unknowing about the subject too, but in such desperate straits that I grasped the straw. Had I not, then Daughter would have embarked on a very sudden diet at the age of five months. Now, it could have been the placebo effect that made me better that time. But if so, why didn’t I placebo my way to painfree ‘babyfeeding equipment’ after the course of antibiotics from my GP? I believe in them, and they had helped before. Or surely the second lot of antibiotics should have done the trick, and not had me wait until I poured sachets of caster sugar down my throat? Very expensive caster sugar, I may add.

Being quite anti anything new or strange, and fully expecting to find myself in the hands of a mad, and for some reason white-coated, scientist type homeopathic doctor, I was relieved to be sitting in Doctor Finlay’s surgery, spilling out everything about me and my life. £35 later I went home with my caster sugar, wrapped very deftly in small white pieces of paper by Doctor Finlay, and took some the first week, phoned him back, and then took the next the following week.

If that’s placebo, then I’m happy with it. Daughter should be, too, as she could continue to dine every day.

The fact that my Doctor Finlay was also a ‘real’ doctor is reassuring. I sent the Resident IT Consultant there, and he was so unwell that the good DF muttered that he ‘may sink so low as to prescribe some penicillin’.

DF took care of quickly disposing of Daughter’s food supply when the time came. I’d rather have placebo hocus pocus, than months of dribbling and discomfort. And it was straight into the world of Anne of Green Gables when DF provided something for croup. We crouped a lot for a few years, and it felt strangely literary to be getting familiar with Ipecac after all these years. Poor Offspring were easily duped and placeboed their way through not only croup, but car sickness (and if sugar sachets means less vomit in the car, that is surely a Good Thing?), the repercussions of tooth extraction (only with the second remedy tried), insomnia due to very bad tummy bug (teething powders, of all things), and even the acne responded. (SO sorry for mentioning that in public my dears.)

Mother-of-witch spent all her visits succumbing to colds accompanied by high temperatures, so I threw Belladonna at her with good results, although it never worked on me. And that Saturday afternoon when she coughed and could barely breathe? I read up and found two likely remedies, both of which I had in the house. Tried the familiar one first, being the unadventurous type, and it didn’t work. The second one did. The placebo effect works in mysterious ways.

One Spring I was boasting to another parent of the reduction in colds we had all experienced after taking Doctor Finlay’s ‘winter prevention’ caster sugar, when I started worrying about it having been less true that winter. My next immediate thought was dismay when it dawned on me that I had forgotten my September phone call to Lochgilphead (DF retired) and we had never taken any that year. Oops.

I now have half a shelf full of books on homeopathy, and I consult them whenever it feels like homeopathy is the right thing to go for. The rest of the time I’m satisfied with antibiotics and cocodamol. Oh, and I’ve paid for every single sugar grain of placebo effect myself. No such happiness as sugar on the NHS around these parts.

Hadley boasts of taking an overdose of homeopathic pills, to prove they are useless because they caused her no harm. It is possible to overdose, Hadley. You just didn’t do it right.

Still love you, Hadley. (And some of the clothes in Weekend are less horrendous, these days, btw.)


There’s been a pleasing regularity with things recently.

Author travels from North America to Britain. Gets to go on Woman’s Hour. Meets with the witch. Presumably goes home to Canada and Chicago again, mission accomplished.

So, after Budge Wilson last week, it’s Sara Paretsky this week. As I might have mentioned once or twice. (Don’t want to bore anyone. Much.)

Sara Paretsky, Manchester

Heard Sara speak at the big bookshop last night. If it hadn’t been for Sara, I may well have exited again, so uncomfortable was the venue. This morning it is the turn of the much smaller bookshop.

Will report back later, as usual. If there is a delay, it’s purely down to complete brain exhaustion.

Talking to Budge Wilson

My talk with Budge Wilson about her book Before Green Gables is up under interviews. She’s a lovely lady, so do read it.

At Brown’s Hotel

The young witch used to frequent Brown’s, much to the surprise of her elders and betters. It was the lure, which good old-fashioned English places and customs have for foreigners. It’s related to liking Midsomer Murders, which I last tried rubbishing in the company of my Swedish neighbours, only to be told how much they love it.

Well, Brown’s is supposed to have been the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel, and the book was written in the hotel lounge. I used to go there for afternoon tea, which in the olden days cost about a fiver, and that felt a lot less then, than whatever the cost is today.

It was worth it purely for the show put on by the very professional waiters. A friend of mine couldn’t stop talking about how they could remove the table cloth, with a flourish, while things were still on the table. Pretty good entertainment that was.

I was reminded of this the other day in London. Not only was I in Mayfair, close to my old haunt in Albemarle Street, but the hotel where I talked to Budge Wilson the next day, made me think of Brown’s, too. Budge’s hotel didn’t come out well in comparison. I need to return to Brown’s to see for myself if the staff can still speak English, and if they know how to serve tea. Surely they must? But I think the chintz may be gone.

Foreigners need chintz, no matter what that famous flatpack furniture store says. We like the feeling of old criminal London, from the Victorian crime novels to the postwar smog that was so good to commit murder in.

Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart is good for atmosphere, and so is his New Cut Gang books. And there’s not just Agatha Christie, but Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers and others. Mother-of-Witch always said murder’s not very nice. She was right, of course, but as fiction in the right setting, it’s also very, well, comforting.

And while you wait

here  is a link to Budge Wilson on Woman’s Hour from Wednesday morning.

23 hours in London

Less than that, actually. But it’s hardly surprising I felt so tired in the end, after one event, one interview and one fight with hotel over internet access. And having to travel on the tube in the rush hour, almost like a real Londoner. Some of you will be surprised, very surprised, to hear that I didn’t buy any shoes. Didn’t even get to a shoe shop.

Is it OK for me to moan here about the lack of people who speak English in hotels? I have nothing against foreigners. After all, I live in a country that’s full of them. (I have read my George Mikes, you know.) I walked up to this fancy looking doorman on Thursday morning to ask for some information. He smiled at me very nicely, but had absolutely no idea what I was saying.

I can barely get over the idea that people now invite me to come and meet and talk to lovely authors. The hotel she stayed at may have had its shortcomings, but Budge Wilson was very charming. We were meant to have 45 minutes talking about Before Green Gables, but it somehow ended up being more than double that time, and even then we had to stop talking only to prevent me from missing my train home.

With Budge I talked about sewing, which is something Canadians do more than the stressed out souls in England. Though on Wednesday I did hear the tale of the literary lady who decided to sew on her missing button while on the tube to where she was going. Trouble was she sewed it onto the coat of the lady sitting next to her.

Also on Wednesday night (couldn’t think straight for Thursday’s blog, which is why things got missed out) I got to have a first peep at David Fickling’s new pet project, the comic. It’s not due until end of May, but it was good to see what he had so far.

Maybe it was the Indian take out thali I had that night that had a bad effect on my writing. It was very good, and so enormous that I didn’t eat most of it. Anyone want to share next time? I don’t stay in the hotel I always stay in because it’s close to the Diwana Bhel Poori, but it certainly helps.

The interview with Budge will follow as soon as the clues for the egg hunt have been thought out and written down.

I need happy books

so I don’t sink into any depths of despair. I was glancing at the book reviews in Vi, my quality Swedish monthly magazine, and finding some possibly very worthy books, but it all sounded very despairish, really. Even the bright sunshine failed to stop me feeling low.

And I’d been feeling very happy, even though I’d just finished my latest re-reading of Anne of Green Gables. Anne is a happy book, by my reckoning, despite her desperate beginnings and the death of Matthew, which had my tears running freely, but in a happy sort of way.

For the Anne and hanky brigade there is now another book to cry over. To celebrate the centenary of the original Anne, Canadian writer Budge Wilson was given the job of writing a prequel to L M Montgomery’s series of books.

I’m not a prequel person, and I’d never hankered after any knowledge about what happened before Anne was picked up by Matthew at the station. I was more than satisfied with knowing that Anne went on to have a good life.

The one thing that had stuck in my mind was the ipecac and the croup, and that was before I produced croupy Offspring and started handing the ipecac out myself. So, I’m quite pleased to have read about the background to Anne’s going round saving children’s lives like that.

Budge Wilson’s Before Green Gables feels very much like a biography covering the early years of someone famous. Someone real, I mean. It’s absolutely amazing what Budge was able to do with the little snippets of facts that Anne mentions when she talks about her past. To build a whole book on this and to make it credible, is a real achievement.

Before Green Gables starts with introducing Anne’s parents, Bertha and Walter. Then it’s swiftly on to Anne’s life with the Thomas family. There’s a lot of bad, but there is good too, and maybe both Anne and the reader need this, for Anne to turn out as lovely as she did. After the Thomases it’s the Hammond family with all the twins, and finally the orphanage.

This is not only a story about our old friend Anne, but it’s a piece of (Canadian) history. To read about daily life in those days, and to find out what it was like for the women in particular, is very interesting, as long as I don’t have to live through it myself.

One of my reasons for quickly re-reading Anne again was to see exactly what is “true” and what’s made up. So much in the prequel struck me as things I already knew, except I can’t have. Budge has done a great job, and she has added a new dimension to Green Gables forever.

And it’s a happy book, even though it ought to come with a very large handkerchief. Preferably pink and with flowers.