The Seven Stories Collection houses over 1700 boxes of archive material relating to every process involved in creating a children’s book – from dummy books, drafts, manuscripts, rough artwork and final artwork to notes, proofs, books and correspondence. Hidden away amongst the material helping to document the processes behind some of our most-loved published children’s books are a few special files of unpublished works, containing books written by authors when they were children.

‘Private Literary Convulsions’ by Diana Wynne Jones

Perhaps unsurprisingly in the roll call of authors who wrote as children is the ever-popular fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones (1934-2011). If you’re a fan of Jones’ work, you may be familiar with her erudite style and quick wit – qualities that we can vouch for her having possessed since childhood. The archive is home to two exercise books of hers entitled, ‘Private Literary Convulsions’ – arguably a title that only a teenage Jones could have come up with.

Diana Wynne Jones’ ‘Private Literary Convulsions’, written between the ages of 14 and 15
DWJ/01/02/01 and DWJ/01/02/02 Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

The exercise books are respectively numbered ‘14’ and ‘15’, thought to reflect her age at the time of writing, and include such gems as ‘On Essays Generally’. ‘On Essays Generally’ does what you would expect, despite Jones confessing that she has only read a few essays in her lifetime, she boldly proclaims “this is how I think it ought to be done, because I so often disagree with things”. She also comments that all authors should commit their addresses to published works, so that any who disagree can voice their opinion directly.

‘Juvenile Difficulties’ by Diana Wynne Jones, written in her ‘Private Literary Convulsions’ exercise book
DWJ/01/02/02/f16 and f17 Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

At the end of the second exercise booked (marked ‘15’), is a section called ‘Juvenile Difficulties (for my own information)’. This is a touching piece of writing which bemoans (in a very matter-of-fact way rather than a melodramatic way), the difficulties of being young – for example, she describes wanting to be a writer, and how this is somehow seen by adults to be a niave answer to the question of ‘what would you like to be when you grow up?’ (Jones shrewdly questions vaguely what age one becomes grown up). She also feels at odds with academia, as she’s more interested in reading Shaw and Huxley than Shakespeare and Eliot. A young Jones goes on to reflect on her overbearing ego and to “bear a slight grudge against those cheerful authors, writing for the brain-bloated intelligentsia, who refer one through mazes of names, known and unknown.

‘Puppi und Michel in Nizza’ by Judith Kerr

Judith Kerr (b. 1923), the esteemed creator of the ‘Mog’ books and ‘The Tiger who came to Tea’ (1968), had a remarkable and difficult childhood. Kerr was born in Germany, her father was a Jewish-German theatre critic and her mother was the daughter of a Prussian politician. Just before the Nazis came to power the family fled Germany for Switzerland, then moved to France and finally settled in Britain in 1936. Throughout their tumultuous travels, Kerr’s mother kept safe her Judith's drawings and books.

While Kerr’s parents were house-hunting in London, herself and her brother were sent to Nice to visit their grandparents. ‘Puppi und Michel in Nizza’ is a multi-language book (German, French and English), written about their visit for her grandmother’s birthday.

The book follows the children from the beginning of their journey from Paris, right through all of their activities. In one instance, a young Kerr has used the book to demonstrate her love of particular items – her rose pyjamas (shown below), which she puts in because “they are so fine”, although she admits to not having owned them at the time of writing 'Puppi und Michel'.

Puppi in her rose coloured pyjamas – “they are so fine!”

JK/01/01/02 f9a © Judith Kerr

The illustrations in ‘Puppi and Michele in Nizza’ are beautiful. The initial pencil sketches are still visible beneath pen and ink and paints, and the modelling of the figures is and positions are remarkable.

“Picnic” from ‘Puppi and Michele in Nizza’ by Judith Kerr

JK/01/01/02 f14 © Judith Kerr

At the end of the book is a dedication to her grandmother: “I am going to make a speech about the best grandmother in the world, I might as well start by saying how I loathe the grandmother you read about in books. She is the most boring person you can imagine… My grandmother doesn’t sit by the fire and knit, but she plays Ping-Pong – and beats me hollow, too…”

Perhaps the strongest thread that can be pulled through Kerr’s childhood works to her later much-loved published works is the family core at the heart of all of her stories.

‘Kidnapped in Africa and Other Stories’, ‘Nicolas the Adventurer’ and ‘Island Adventures’ by Elinor Lyon

Elinor Lyon (1921-2008) is well-known as the author of stories of adventurous strong girls, that feature subtly moralistic narratives imbued with an overall belief in goodness. Lyon's penchant for adventure, much like Jones’ literary panache, can be traced back to her early works. In the Collection, we are lucky to have early examples of her writing, including ‘Kidnapped in Africa and Other Stories’ written in 1932 at the age of 11. Written in a small, unsuspecting notebook, the stories have been crafted with a delicate attention to detail, apparent in descriptions such as, “all around were mountains, snow-capped, and at the far end of the plain a tinkling waterfall bounded over the rocks, ad fell into a quiet pool, where fishes played hide-and-seek among the stories at the bottom”. But her early writing also features that trademark need for action, (on page 3, very early into ‘Kidnapped in Africa’, the children are kidnapped by their father’s enemy and whisked away into a helicopter that they all too willingly hop into). It’s also fascinating to see the early edits – the Campbell family, for example, are later changed to the Sorrerton’s – showing an attention to detail in characterisation.

The second story is more hat-stand, as ‘The Three Elves’ tells the story of Squashem, Squeesem and Squdge, who share ownership of a cider factory.

Manuscript for 'Kidnapped in Africa and Other Stories' and 'Island Adventures'
EL/01/01/01, EL/01/01/04 Photograph © Seven Stories

The later childhood stories of ‘Nicolas the Adventurer’ and ‘Island Adventures’, show an early maturity, as Lyon wrote both a manuscript (‘Island Adventures’ is written in a brilliant hand-made book) as well producing a typescript. In both manuscripts and typescripts for these works are hand-drawn maps to illustrate the story. A certain development can be charted within these two books alone – as the map of ‘Aubriria’ in ‘Nicolas the Adventures’ is fictionalised, yet very much a real-looking map, while the later book, ‘Island Adventures’, features a more abstract map (with real and unreal locations and vague directions), produced either in acknowledgement of, or justification for, the accompanying quote from one of the main characters, Gabrial: “My geography’s rather vague”.

Map inside 'Island Adventures' by Elinor Lyon
EL/01/01/04 f2 Photograph © Seven Stories

‘Island Adventures’ also offers a nod to Lyon’s later works in her focus on Scotland. With a Scottish background, an educational stint in Edinburgh and many of her published novels situated in the Scottish highlands, this demonstrates an early love or connection to place that would last a lifetime.

‘No Pony like Gypsy’ by Gaye Hicyilmaz

Gaye Hicyilmaz (b. 1947) is best known for her young adult novels often delving into family situations in traumatic circumstances, for example 'In Flame' or 'Smiling for Strangers', the latter of which is set in the Bosnian war. Hicyilmaz's style is underpinned by her ability to create realistic, complex characters as well as sparkling dialogue. While her childhood works in the Seven Stories Collection feature less traumatic contexts (although the theme of a traumatic family life is definitely present), they do hint at a talent for characterisation at an early stage.

One example of this is 'No Pony Like Gypsy', thought to be written around 1960. There are two home-made books and a typescript for this novel - the home-made books are made using cardboard and are labelled I and II. As the name suggests, 'No Pony Like Gypsy' is an addition to the ever-popular genre of pony stories, and tells of Flavia, a shy and awkward young girl who stays with a family who own a stable. Flavia begins to instruct a young boy named Hugh, who was thrown by his last horse - a beautiful yet wild pony called Gypsy who has since disappeared (but who will of course turn up again for Flavia). The characterisation of Flavia as a quiet yet complex individual who is more deserving in manner than the other children in the story, is really touching. Flavia doesn't speak much, but rather is spoken to, instead having internal monologues and reactions that suggest something more intense than her outer appearances would have us believe.

The first notebook for 'No Pony Like Gypsy'
GHi/01/04 © Gaye Hicyilmaz

'No Pony Like Gypsy' follows 'The Adventures of Francesca', which was again handwritten first and later typed up (shown below).

Typescript and manuscript for 'The Adventures of Francesca'

GHi/01/03 © Gaye Hicyilmaz

This novel again demonstrates Hicyilmaz's knack for dialogue and characterisation. For example, in one scene Francesca's non-biological Auntie Flow (who has taken her in to an already burgeoning home) declares to the children:

"I'm going with your father to Italy for six months," she stopped to give Roberta some more rice, "and you four children are going to stay with Aunt Anna, I'm phoning her now. Anyway I've phoned the ballet school, and Joyce's fatheris taking over, you'll probably attend the village school."
"Oh not really?" cried Jane.
"I'm afraid so!" said their mother.
"Gosh, how awfully exciting!" said Timmy for he didn't really understand what was going on, he just sat there holding a teddy-bear in one hand, and a glass of water in the other." (GHi/01/03/f44)

As a young writer she shrewdly observes relationships and the effects of upheavel on different family members, particularly in acknowledging Timmy's niave response.What Hicyilmaz's childhood works reveal, much like Kerr, is an affinity with family narratives and domestic life.

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