Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Ballet Stories with Katharine Holabird and Pam Knights

This weekend Seven Stories have been hosting several events with the Angelina Ballerina author Katharine Holabird. Katharine has been going in to schools, and hosting public events in our visitor centre, with lots of Angelina fans, especially many budding ballerinas.

One of the public events held in the Artists Attic this weekend.
On Monday evening we had a particularly special event, an audience with both Katharine Holabird, and Pam Knights, retired lecturer in English and American Literature at Durham University, and ballet book lover! 

Pam had spent time working with the Seven Stories archive to uncover the story it tells about children's books on ballet, and gave a fascinating and funny talk about the treasures she found. Starting with the Ballet Shoes books by Noel Streatfeild and illustrated by Ruth Gervis, and touching on the Lorna Hill's Sadlers Wells series, right up to the present day phenomenon that is Angelina Ballerina.

An example Pam used in her talk on ballet stories. This is an unpublished illustration created for Ballet Shoes, which Pam used to compare with other, published, portrayals of Posy in the book. Created in around 1936, this is one of the older artworks in the Seven Stories collection.
Katharine then gave a fascinating talk on her inspiration and drive to write the Angelina series. She gave additional insight in to her early love of ballet, and how the books were inspired not just by seeing her children enjoy it, but her childhood creative play, and visiting the ballet in Chicago with her grandmother.

Katharine Holabird speaking at the event.
The event was chaired by Sarah Lawrance, Collection Director, who took questions from the audience. Pam and Katharine answered questions on the roles of boys in ballet, and the importance of showing the hard work and determination it takes to be a dancer, but also that the stories must still be fun!

Katharine, Pam and Sarah in conversation.
Accompanying the event, we took a display of archival material that Pam had explored, including some of Helen Craig's beautiful artwork for their latest book Angelina's Big City Ballet, which has left us all desperate to visit New York (aka the Big Cheese).

Lindsey Gibson, Seven Stories conservator, discussing the archive with guests at the event.
Twists and Tails, the Story of Angelina Ballerina is on display at the Seven Stories visitor centre until April 2015.

If you want to find out more about this collection, or about any other of our archives then 
email: collections@sevenstories.org.uk
phone: 01914952707 
visit: http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Good Ideas with Michael Rosen

Yesterday evening we were incredibly happy to host an event with the wonderful Michael Rosen. Michael has just published a new book on "how to be your child's (and your own) best teacher", filled with fascinating ideas and examples on how to engage with your child, filling their life with creativity and enthusiasm.

His talk was as witty and thought provoking as ever, and an absolute delight to listen to. Answering lots of questions after his talk eloquently and with some brilliant examples of how to keep the spirit of enquiry with you and your child. His thoughts on the British education system were, as always, deep cutting and insightful, and has definitely provoked a lot of conversation and thought in the Seven Stories office this morning.

The event, which very quickly sold out, was hosted in the Seven Stories attic. All those lucky people who managed to get a ticket also walked away with a signed edition of the new book too!

Seven Stories are very happy to hold many of Michael's papers in the archive, which give a little insight in to his creative process. The image below shows just one example of what we have in store, the beginning of a poem for the book 'The Hypnotiser' (1998), written on the back of an envelope. It is a perfect example of Michael's ethos, that the urge to write doesn't come at one single point, when you are set up with pen and notebook, but can and will strike at any time.

If you want to find out more about this collection, or about any other of our archives then 
email: collections@sevenstories.org.uk
phone: 01914952707 
visit: http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A Fantastic Legacy: Diana Wynne Jones Memorial Conference

We have just had an especially exciting weekend here at Seven Stories, celebrating the work of Diana Wynne Jones at 'A Fantastic Legacy: Diana Wynne Jones Memorial Conference'.

In 2010, Diana Wynne Jones very generously donated her entire archive to Seven Stories. Very sadly, Diana passed away shortly after her donation, in 2011. The idea for a conference in her memory was thought as a fitting way to explore the archive and make it widely available, but also importantly to celebrate Diana's memory.

The archive of material is extensive, ranging over her many published and unpublished works,  and even includes her childhood writing! To find out more, click here for our 'Collection Highlight' page, where you can also see digitised images from the collection.

Day 1 of the conference was held at Seven Stories, mostly in the 'Artist's Attic' on level 7 (where the extended roof pokes out on the image below). There were talks from:

  • Laura Cecil, Diana's Literary Agent, to whom we are endebted, as she was mainly responsible for Diana's archive finding it's final home at Seven Stories.
  • Nicholas Tucker, children's literature scholar and childhood friend of the Jones' family, who shed fascinating light on parenting practices of Diana's childhood.
  • Hannah Izod, archivist at Seven Stories for 7 years, who was responsible for cataloguing the collection.
  • Ursula Jones, Diana's sister and now co-author, having recently had the difficult job of finishing Diana's last book 'The Islands of Chaldea'. Ursula described the process of taking up her sister's work beautifully.

Seven Stories, in glorious sunshine on Day 1 of the conference.
Hannah Izod, giving a talk about cataloguing the collection.
We also made sure we had plenty of time to explore the collection, and most conference delegates were very sad to leave at the end of each session. We had many conversations about the archive, and it was wonderful to see people making their own discoveries.

There was also a drinks reception to celebrate the launch of 'Islands of Chaldea', kindly sponsored by Harper Collins, and a meal at the Blackfriars restaurant in central Newcastle.

Day 2 of the conference was hosted by our partners at Newcastle University. In the beautiful Armstrong Building, spread throughout several smaller lecture rooms. 

Newcastle University campus, and the lead up to the Armstrong Building through the Quadrangle.
A suitably mythical looking door led to the conference.
There were 7 panel sessions, and a keynote address by Catherine Butler. The papers given at each session ranged from 'The Colonisation of Fantasyland' by Aishwarya Subramanian to 'Shark-Infest Custard: On chaos as a force for good in the works of Diana Wynne Jones' by Gili Bar-Hillel, with many in between. Details of all the papers can still be found on the conference website here.

These panel sessions explored a huge variety of themes in Jones' books, and it was also interesting to hear from those who had been able to visit the archive before the conference and the discoveries they had made from this. In particular I remember hearing from Gabriela Steinke, who described her experiences opening the papers for the first time from their archival wallets as overwhelming and an "amazing experience". 

Catherina Butler's keynote was very well received, discussing 'Enchanting Places: Readers and Pilgrimage in the Novels of Diana Wynne Jones'. Looking at the sense of place within Jones' novels, Catherine explored the idea of pilgrimage to the various settings, and the level to which these sites have become 'enchanted' through the association. Not only that, but also letting the audience in to discussions she had herself had with Diana about the locations in the novels.

If you want to find out more about this collection, or about any other of our archives then
email: collections@sevenstories.org.uk, phone: 01914952707 or visit: http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Tony Mitton and John Lawrence’s 'Wayland'

Congratulations to Tony Mitton who last month won the CLPE award, for his wonderful epic poem, Wayland. This beautiful poem, a retelling of a little-known northern tale brought to Britain by the Vikings, is accompanied by stunning illustrations by John Lawrence, created through engravings on vinyl. Awarding the prize, the CLPE judges said: ‘Wayland was chosen for the mastery of the form, its epic nature and its beauty as a complete piece of art, poetry and legend. This verse retelling of the legend of a master blacksmith who fashions such ‘wonderful ware’ that he is captured by a king is a tour de force.’

The story of Wayland, his faithful love for his swan wife, his skill as a craftsman, his years of servitude under King Nidud and his glorious flight to freedom are compellingly conveyed in this gem of a book.  Cover, end-papers, page design, type-face have an intrinsic gloss and richness that compel a reader to turn the title page and enter the story.

Original print for Wayland by John Lawrence. © John Lawrence
Told in resoundingly rhythmic four line stanzas, using a mix of archaic and modern forms of expressive language, Wayland is a story of love, hope, greed and vengeance and as such it confronts readers with some grisly situations and some adult themes. In setting out to uncover ‘the perennial truth’ that underpins this ancient tale Tony Mitton does not compromise readers by side-stepping its unsettling elements or subduing its tough impact. Believing that ‘moments in traditional tales cry out to be harnessed to contemporary issues’ he implies in the ardent tone of his writing that parallels can be drawn between the greed of King Nidud and aspects of present-day behaviour:

And greed will breed harshness and cruelty.
And wealth is a maze to confuse.
Once a person is warm and well-suppered,
 how much of such wealth can they use?

Original print for Wayland by John Lawrence. © John Lawrence

Words and images work in tandem to such striking effect that the energy and creativity of Wayland’s forge seem recreated in this present day partnership of wordsmith and illustrator.

Tony Mitton's notebook in which he drafted his ideas for Wayland

Earlier this year Seven Stories was delighted when Tony chose to donate his archive, including his original drafts of Wayland, to the National Collection. We were also thrilled when John Lawrence gave a selection of Wayland prints as well as his preparatory sketches, to add to our already substantial collection of his work. Together this fantastic material offers a wonderful insight into the work and creativity that has gone into making this stunning book of poetry and illustration.

Tony Mitton's notebook in which he drafted his ideas for Wayland

Tony first began drafting ideas for Wayland years before the eventual 2013 publication (an earlier, shorter poem ‘The Heart Song of Wayland Smith’ is included in the book). The notebooks in Tony’s collection here at Seven Stories offer a glimpse behind the scenes of this labour of love, giving a wonderful insight into the work that goes into revising and refining a poem of such scale.

In 2011 David Fickling chose to publish Wayland (it was to be one of the first books published by the newly independent publisher) and John Lawrence was approached to illustrate the book. John’s beautifully detailed and crafted vinyl engravings suited the poem perfectly. The early sketches and layouts in the Seven Stories archive show John’s careful process laying out every page in order to create images that match the scale and tone of Tony’s words and turn the book into a visually stunning work of art and poetry.

Rough illustration for Wayland © John Lawrence

By Catriona Nicholson (Seven Stories Trustee) and Kristopher McKie (Seven Stories Archivist)

If you want to find out more about either of these collections or about any other of our archives then
email: collections@sevenstories.org.uk, phone: 01914952707 or visit: http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection.

You can buy a copy of Wayland from the Seven Stories Bookshop (http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/shop).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Classic children's illustrations find a new home at Seven Stories

Last month saw the arrival at Seven Stories of two sets of classic children's illustrations which have been given a new home in the national collection. 

Thanks to a hugely generous response to a recent appeal we have managed to acquire five of Susan Einzig's wonderful original illustrations for Phillippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden (read more about the appeal here: http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/news/latestnews/save-tom). In addition to this fantastic acquisition we were also delighted to acquire Harold Jones's original (and near complete) artwork for the classic book of nursery rhymes Lavender's BlueThe purchase of this artwork was made possible thanks to grants from ArtFund (http://www.artfund.org/) and the Victoria and Albert Museum/Arts Council England Purchase Grant Fund (http://www.vam.ac.uk/purchasegrantfund).

Late last month, Lindsey (Seven Stories conservator) and I had a trip to London to collect both of our new acquisitions and bring them back to the national collection up in Newcastle.

Our first visit was to the Piers Feetham gallery in Fulham to pick up the Susan Einzig artwork. 

The artwork has recently been on display here and is still freshly mounted.

Next we made the short trip to Putney (where illustrator Harold Jones used to live) to pick up the artwork for Lavender's Blue. There was much more of this artwork (over 160 pieces altogether!) so careful repackaging was required before we could take the artwork away.

This is Lindsey carefully deframing some of the artwork
This is the artwork being transferred to its new acid free, archival packaging

For any fans of Harold Jones we were also introduced to the original 'Bunby' (the character from A Happy Christmas, There and Back Again, and other of Jones's books):


We rounded our day of classic children's illustration off with a quick stop off to see our friends at the fantastic House of Illustration where we saw (but unfortunately couldn't take!) some wonderful Quentin Blake illustrations.

On our way to the House of Illustration

To celebrate the arrival of Lavender's Blue at Seven Stories there'll be a feature length blog post coming up all about the life and work of Harold Jones. There'll also be a special post looking at Susan Einzig and Tom's Midnight Garden. So keep an eye out for these. The artwork for Lavender's Blue will be featuring in a new Seven Stories exhibition on nursery rhymes next summer.

If you want to find out more about either of these collections or about any other of our illustration collections then
email: collections@sevenstories.org.uk, phone: 01914952707 or visit: http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection.