(Ann) Philippa Pearce

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Philippa Pearce

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As a child, I intended to be a writer—a novelist, of course. It's a common dream. The nearest I seemed likely to get, as an adult, was in the job of scriptwriter-producer for the School Broadcasting Department of the BBC. This experience, over thirteen years, must have helped as much as any to make me into a writer of children's books. I wrote for the same public, changing only the medium. (p. 169)

In 1951, while I was working for school broadcasting, I contracted tuberculosis. I went into hospital in Cambridge for most of that summer, a particularly fine one. I didn't feel ill at all, and it seemed almost unbearable to be lying in bed missing all of the summer on the river, only five miles away, in Great Shelford, where I had been born and brought up…. Imprisoned in hospital, I went there in my imagination as I had never done before—as I had never needed to do, of course. I knew, by heart, literally the feel of the river and the canoe on it. It became hallucinatory, like vividly-imagined fiction.

At last I went back to work; but now began to dawn on me the idea that I could do it too—write a children's story. One needed a good, reliable plot, of course: a search for treasure; a family home on its last legs; and so on. As for the setting, I had that already; and that was what really interested me.

I wrote Minnow on the Say mostly with pleasure. I was just about to let the heroes find their treasure (at a point half way through what is now the finished story) when I realized that the whole thing would be on the short side. So, with a dislocating wrench, I changed the plot: the treasure wasn't there, after all, and the characters had to plod on through renewed complications. (pp. 169-70)

I began to think out Tom. At first, in reaction against the first book, this one was to have had a minimum of plot; but, of course, it changed and grew. At least it has more of a theme than a plot. I still think it the best of the books I have written: I think it's the best done, and it's the closest, dearest.

I used to think—and to say in print—that authors of children's books usually wrote out of childhood experience: that I myself certainly did. Now I'm not sure; almost, I'm sure not. That is, I think I write out of present experience; but present experience includes—sometimes painfully—the past. (p. 170)

Philippa Pearce, in her essay in A Sense of Story: Essays on Contemporary Writers for Children by John Rowe Townsend (copyright © 1971 by John Rowe Townsend; reprinted by permission of J. B. Lippincott, Publishers), Lippincott, 1971, pp. 163-71.

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