For the last two weeks we've been lucky enough to have Dave Heelas, a placement student from University of Glasgow, working with us. This blog post tells of his experience cataloguing the Bernard Ashley Archive at Seven Stories.

My name is David Heelas, I am currently studying for a Masters in Information Management and Preservation (Archives & Records Management) at the University of Glasgow. As a part of my course I get to do a two week placement at an archive anywhere in the country and I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to come to Seven Stories for mine!

My first view of Design Works where the Seven Stories Archive is based

While here I was tasked with cataloguing the Bernard Ashley collection, consisting of three archive boxes. Bernard Ashley is a children’s book author most famous for tackling ‘grittier’ subjects such as racism, poverty and crime. Within the collection there are manuscripts from a select few of his novels, specifically The Trouble with Donovan Croft, A Kind of Wild Justice, Cleversticks, Little Solider, Smokescreen, Angel Boy and Aftershock. As well as drafts of his works there is also plenty of correspondence relating to each specific book during the editing process and beyond.

The novel Little Soldier is perhaps the part of the collection that has the most content (BA/01/03). It was considered to be quite ground breaking at the time as a children’s novel that tackles the uncomfortable subject of child soldiers and how that has impacted the main character Kaninda when he tries to integrate into a South London home. According to the correspondence file (BA/01/03/04) the idea for this novel came from seeing images of child soldiers from Zaire and a tragic gang-related killing of a schoolchild not far from where Bernard Ashley worked at the time. With the advance for the novel Ashley travelled to Uganda in order to complete his research, of which there are plenty of documents and photographs in the collection. It is clear that the themes from this novel were something that interested Ashley and others as there are also drafts for a TV series (which was potentially first!), a play script that was published by Heinemann and an exhibition by the Imperial War Museum entitled, ‘Once Upon a Wartime’, which used material from Little Soldier.

A selection of material from the Bernard Ashley Collection featuring Little Soldier (BA/01/03) © Bernard Ashley

From the correspondence files it can also be seen that Bernard Ashley was still working as a head-teacher while he was getting his early novels published. But interestingly when schools write-in to ask to use his work as a part of their curriculum, he refuses them. Ashley states that his novels are written for entertainment value and that he would not like for them to be analysed in a school setting. “… I write my stories as entertainment for their readers and not as classwork” (BA/01/01/03/35 f1).

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed myself in my brief two weeks at Seven Stories, everyone has been incredibly welcoming and supportive. It was nice to have a collection that was of a size that I could get from start to finish during the course of my time here. It was very satisfying to edit the records from ‘Draft’ to ‘Catalogued’ and know it was done!

 - David Heelas, student placement, MSc Information Management and Preservation, University of Glasgow

Seven Stories was able to support the acquisition of the Bernard Ashley Archive 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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