The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

June 5, 2017

June 5, 1938

British children's writer Allan Ahlberg, (June 5 1938) has cats in his stories, even the titles:

The Improbable Cat
The Cat Who Got Carried Away (2012)

The Little Cat Baby  (2015)

An interview with this successful author paints a nuanced picture of a writer's life. The text  is organized as a series of vignettes:

... I wake up before 6am, listen to the radio for a bit and then take a cup of coffee down to the shed, which is where I write. At that time of day there is no one around. At about lunchtime my motor runs out. I have a can of soup and at 1pm I go to sleep – I mean actually get undressed and go to bed. I might do a bit more in the afternoon. I’m like a dripping tap. I don’t do very much at one time but I do it seven days a week so it is constant.

.....When I was 10 a little girl shouted out to me, ‘Your mother is not your mother.’ I didn’t call her a liar; I think I must have known it was true. I just went home and told my poor old mother what this girl had said. She broke down, cried and said ‘yes’. At the time I didn’t understand it, but I was illegitimate and there was a great stigma attached to that. Everybody, with the best intentions, wanted to protect me, and I was given up for adoption. It took a long time after that for me to value my parents. But I did come to think what a good woman she was.

......I always thought I’d like to be an author, but then I read Brideshead Revisited in my late teens and I was totally disheartened. I thought, ‘I don’t know the names of any plants or trees, and this book is full of them, so how can I be a writer?’ I didn’t have many books as a child, but now I do. I particularly love this first edition of The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark . I bought it for Vanessa [his second wife]  for her birthday.

....I met Janet at teacher training college, although she didn’t want to be a teacher. I worked as a primary school teacher for 10 years, while Janet illustrated a lot of non-fiction books – craft books on how to make things out of yogurt pots and stuff like that, which she was sick of. She asked me to write a story that she could illustrate, and it was as if she had turned a key in my back. I could finally write.

I bought this cabinet [below] from an architectural salvage shop in Leicester, in the 1970s. The guy who owned it had bought an entire old chemist’s shop and he didn’t want to split up the set. But I wore him down and eventually he sold me this cabinet. I love it. It has gradually become a repository for lots of little things that are precious to me.

.... It may have taken me only a week to write [one of our books], and perhaps four or five months for Janet to illustrate, but it took us a couple of years to see a book through; we came up with the idea for The Jolly Postman [1986] when Jessica was two, and it didn’t come out until she was five. In the old days Janet and I used to go to the printer’s, which was in Bungay, Suffolk, to check the colours. We had to get there by 6am. I don’t know how we did because we lived in Leicestershire and didn’t have a car. As they pulled sheets off the press to proof we’d check them and ask for any changes.

I have always liked miniature things. I love these little mechanisms, which are all handmade by L& St Leger. Vanessa bought me this one
[above] – I think they are utterly charming.

When Janet died
[in 1994] I cracked up and packed in writing for a couple of years. Then I made a little book about her, which I self-published, and it got me out of a hole; Jessica was about 15 then, so I had to look out for her. When I thought about working again a friend of mine said I should try Walker Books, a wonderful little children’s book publishers, and if I did, then to try to get them to put me with the editor Vanessa Clarke, who was very good. And so I did. We worked together a lot, and one day I kissed her goodbye on the cheek, as usual, but it felt different.

.....I have a small talent and I get paid an arm and a leg for it. More than half of the books that I have written are out of print or barely earned their advance – some of the ones I really liked – and a few of them have stayed in print for 30 or 40 years and have paid for everything. It’s all luck, really. If I had stayed in my little terraced house in Leicestershire, I could have lived off  Each Peach Pear Plum [1978] for the rest of my life.

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