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.