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:

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