News and views
A forgetful cat. A pink rabbit. A teadrinking tiger. All engaged the quirky, wonderful mind of Judith Kerr, who, as a child, fl ed Nazi Germany with her family – and was forced to abandon her beloved stuffed rabbit in the process – landing as a refugee in London in 1936. A painter, teacher, illustrator, textile designer and mother of two, Kerr’s books grew directly from stories she told her kids: The Tiger Who Came to Tea was a favourite bedtime story, coming to publishing fruition in 1968; tales of her family’s escape from Germany evolved into the heartfelt yet straight-talking When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit in 1971; and the Mog books were a collaboration of Kerr’s, her husband’s and their children based on their pet.
Now, Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books, which acquired the Kerr archive last year, has mounted a terrifi c retrospective of her work. ‘It’s a celebration of Kerr’s work, as well as a celebration of her donation,’ says collections director Sarah Lawrance. ‘It’s the most signifi cant body of work by an illustrator that we’ve got.’
The collection – thanks to Kerr’s mother who saved her daughter’s early work through their travels – boasts Kerr’s artwork from the tender age of nine, delightful forays that take in kids frolicking at the seashore and playing in
and out of school, as well as the colourful markets of France. Even an old man with a
beer glass and a pipe didn’t escape Kerr’s youthful scrutiny. Access to such a time-spanning archive offers a unique opportunity: ‘The archive includes all this material from when she was a child, so it takes you through the whole of her development as an illustrator,’ says Lawrance. ‘It shows that the books didn’t just come out of nowhere. For children to see drawings that have been done by a child, who has then become a professional illustrator, is really inspiring.’
It clearly is. The exhibit includes a fi lm, When Judith Found Pink Rabbit, starring a group of 10-and-11-year-old schoolkids – some refugees themselves – who read and discussed Kerr’s books, wrote to Kerr (one letter reads: ‘I like all your books. My favourite book is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I like it because it is about interesting things.’) and got to meet the author – ‘What happened when Hitler came to power?’ ‘In The Tiger Who Came to Tea, are you Rabbit, rabbit
the mam?’ – and swap pet stories.
The exhibit, too, offers a chance for questions. A provocative, evocative house of fun-and-information, it includes a schoolroom, bedroom and kitchen (watch out for the tiger!), creating a world both make-believe and utterly real. In one room, a suitcase invites you to see how much you could pack if forced to fl ee; in another, a wheel allows you to match Mog’s expressions to his likes and dislikes. (Hint: the happy face goes with the egg). There’s also a workplace with topics such as Creating Characters (‘Learning to draw is really about learning to look,’ according to Kerr); Planning a Story; At the Drawing Board; and a fi lm of Kerr discussing her work process.
‘One of the rationales of us collecting material and making it accessible, is so that it can spark imaginative journeys and encourage children to read with more confi dence and interest,’ explains Lawrance. ‘It’s been a great opportunity to use a story – Pink Rabbit – that was really meaningful for the children. A lot of them were touched at quite a deep level.’ They certainly were: Kerr, who describes the show as ‘marvellous…very moving,’ and who had to leave her stuffed bunny behind all those years ago, received a pink rabbit as a thank-you gift from the children.
Q&A: Katie Allen
The crafty journalist cut her teeth at Knitting magazine before moving on as The Bookseller‘s media reporter. Now Katie has given up her evenings and launched a topical women’s website (www.fat-quarter.co.uk). We caught her a few months into the venture. Why did you create Fat Quarter? I wanted to stop whinging to my friends about how rubbish women’s magazines were. Magazines I loved when I was younger – Just 17 and The Face – catered to girls in a very different way: they promoted having hobbies and interests. Bust is probably my favourite magazine now: it’s a glossy women’s magazine but it has a very subtle feminist agenda. Women’s magazines are something I’m really passionate about, as well as championing women’s writing. To me nothing beats a magazine with lots of lovely pictures and really interesting stories. I enjoyed the profi le of the poshyet-hardcore environmentalist. What else should visitors to the site expect? I want the site to be as varied as possible, with articles of interest to women, on women doing interesting things and not necessarily being celebrated for the way they look. I’d just like people to be entertained – maybe read about things they’ve never heard of. I’ve just interviewed a boy-lesque dancer – a boy who does burlesque dancing. How are you generating content? Writing stuff myself, asking friends to contribute. I want people to come to me with ideas, contributors who can write with authority – even if they haven’t been published before. It’s important for articles to be interesting, well-written and properly researched. This all sounds fun, but a lot of work – are there any downsides? Bankrupting myself. VL
The number of feet the world’s fi rst knitted poem is expected to stretch to, created from multi-coloured letters crafted by hundreds of people from New Zealand to UK’s Newcastle. The Poetry Society unveils the knotty verse just in time for National Poetry Day.
‘[People] say, “Shazia, you should be warm, friendly and unthreatening.” This is intellectual language for pink, fluffy bimbo.’
Non-pink, non-fl uffy, non-bimbo comedian, writer and wit-rich maverick Shazia Mirza in her Guardian column, 8 August, 2009.
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:I M A G E S ‘These days any art on working-class themes tends to be about, and not by, the people depicted, and that’s posing increasing problems for those who care about our culture.’
Journalist, writer, education adviser and Geezer Girls author Dreda Say Mitchell – London East End housing estate-born-and-bred – writing in The Independent, 5 August 2009.
Our Annual Treat!
No, we can’t believe it either, but it’s that time of the year again – leaves moulting from trees; back-to-school adverts; shorter and shorter spurts of daylight – even rumblings of those book-ahead Christmas lunches! But it’s not all doom and gloom: this is also the time of year when we magic up our annual Writer’s Diary, this year – as always – packed with terrifi c quotes, book recommendations, useful, creative and inspirational information and scintillat
nual Writer’s Diary, this year – as always – packed
information and scintillat-
ing exercises to get your writing juices fl owing. This year, too, we’ve partnered up with Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books, to include lovely and lyrical illustrations and texts from their collection. Don’t miss out on this unique diary (and, while you’re at it, get one for your friend/mother/sister). Reclaiming that F word. Seriously.
Win a copy of the fab 2010 Mslexia Writer’s Diary! We have fi ve copies to give away to fi ve lucky readers. For more information – and to have your chance of winning one – just visit us at www.mslexia.co.uk before 15 November in order to enter.
Not one but two small screen gems to look forward to: Ecosse Films (Mistresses, Becoming Jane) is adapting Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum for the BBC. And to whet our thriller appetites, ITV has cast Brenda Blethyn as Inspector Vera Stanhope in their adaptation of Ann Cleeves’ Northumberland-set Hidden Depths.
A selection of the books rocking our world this autumn: • Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin (Penguin). A fascinating man – and his excellent biographer, Tomalin, handles Pepys’ life with insight, admirably painting the historical background to his self-portrait. • Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (HarperCollins). Two women in 19th Century England share a passion for beachcombing and fossils. In one novelistic swoop, Chevalier reveals stifl ing pre-feminist oppression, early but ultimately indisputable challenges to creationism and a lovely, realistically vulnerable friendship. • Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre (Little, Brown). While the rest of us knit our brows over alleged conspiracy theories, Brookmyre jumps fi ve steps ahead: idolising no one, gleefully skewering those who would dare impose authority, fi nding a smidgen of hope in the new generation. Unabashedly gory – but dead good fun. • One Foot Wrong by Sofi e Laguna (Allison & Busby). A dark and wonderfully strange novel narrated by Hester, a child imprisoned in her home by a fanatically religious mother. Hester’s voice is utterly unique: with no point of reference beyond her own front door, she creates a fantasy world in order to escape a harsh and brutal reality. • When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro. Its controlled, stiff-upper-lip narrator betrays much more intensity of feeling through Ishiguro’s skillful handling of this very British-Shanghaian detective story. • A Yak for Christmas by Louise Hillary (Kessinger). Lovely travelogue of a Hillary family holiday in Nepal, lucidly told by the mountaineering legend’s wife. • Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón (HarperPerennial). Expertly untangles the legacy of war with stark conviction and compassion. This narrative may be set in a dystopian, nameless country, but echoes of our own society leave a haunting aftertaste. Brilliant and unsettling.
Marking the 40th anniversary of the fi rst national Women’s Liberation Conference at Ruskin College, Oxford
– not to mention the 1970 publishing double- whammy of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics – is a comprehensive
exhibit – the fi rst major show of its kind – now on at The Women’s Library. Making grand use of their archive, Ms Understood: Women’s Liberation in 1970s Britain aims to tackle head-on the stereotypes, misrepresentations and misinformation about the women’s liberation movement, by examining the complexities and social , personal and cultural legacies of one of the key political movements of the 20th Century.
Drawing on original images, posters
and fi lms – among other materials – the exhibition will scrutinise areas such as as women’s lib in print
(magazines, pamphlets and periodicals which galvanised people into action); consciousness raising; alternative lifestyles; and appearance and identity.
But interactivity, according to library director Caroline Ellis, is the essential ingredient: ‘It’s a collaborative effort to document this movement that had so many strands. We’re asking people to contribute so that we can document the narratives of what actually happened.’ The exhibit invites visitors to share their own views and memories – for better and for worse; the archive will grow as it’s on show, creating an expanding resource for the public and for future researchers.
Running from 8 October to 31 March 2010, the exhibit will also feature a collaboration with Black Cultural Archives exploring the history of British black feminism; a study day on 17 October with leading feminist activists discussing the cultural legacy of the movement; and ‘The Liberation Look,’ a unique, interactive fashion event on 5 December. Xmas arrives early this year!
Pioneering publisher Marion Boyars is closing its doors due to the radically changing structure of the book trade. Though it has sold a swathe of its back catalogue titles to Penguin – Boyers boasts authors such as Ken Kesey, Kenzaburo Oe, Elif Shafak and Shel Silverstein – the shuttering of yet another indie marks a dark day in publishing history.
Woolfi ans, lend me your ears
The promise of a bbq summer may have seemed more like the boy crying ‘Woolf,’ but a late bloom has arrived, and this one speaks for itself. The British Library’s Spoken Word: The Bloomsbury Group is a two-disc set of rare delights. Virginia and Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and EM Forster were a few of the diverse, outspoken members challenging their Victorian heritage, creating new identities and forging a lasting imprint on British literary culture. Compiled from previously unreleased BBC archives and Charleston Trust recordings dating back to 1937, the CDs present fi rsthand accounts of the group’s lifestyle – a group described by Leonard Woolf as ‘simply a fortuitous aggregation of friends.’ Highlights include Virginia Woolf discussing how to fi nd originality in words, and Duncan Grant recounting the infamous Dreadnought hoax, a controversial expedition typical of the Group’s ambivalent attitude towards authority, in which several Bloomsbury members tricked their way onto HMS Dreadnought posing as Abyssinian princes.
For all the retellings of frivolous social gatherings, the collection offers a rounded narrative of the Bloomsbury Group which ultimately, and tragically, climaxes with Virginia Woolf’s suicide. The loss of such a character is a wound through the soul of the group; her last days and last conversations are recounted with honesty and pangs of heartbreak. For anyone interested in the legacy of the Bloomsburies, this set is essential listening, expertly compiled to remind us all of the impact this astounding group of individuals had on British culture.
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