Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Dreadful David

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. That's Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 

Dreadful David 4

Dreadful David (1984) was my first picture book and my twelfth published book. As with many of my books, it has a peculiar history. I'd written a children's book set in the 1930s, and I offered it to a new up-and-coming publisher. It was rejected, but the editor, though declining this offering, said I "wrote visually" and asked if I'd considered writing picture books. I had not much experience in that area. Our son was two, and of course I read to him, but I had never thought of writing at that level. Years later, I wondered why, and concluded it was because I started writing seriously when I was eleven, and so of course I wrote for eleven-year-olds!
I wrote back and said, naively, "I don't know anyone I could ask to do the pictures." The editor laughed and told me that was not my concern. When our son had his nap, I sat down with my trusty typewriter and wrote a rhyming text which began; 'Dreadful David went to stay with Granny for a while...'
Later, I was to discover I'd made a great many tactical errors when I wrote this text. For one thing (gasp) it rhymed. For another, the child protagonist was too young. For another, he was a (gasp) boy. For another he was naughty. And so on.
    Nevertheless, the kindly editor accepted the text, and with a (very) few changes, whisked it off to be illustrated. 
   I was disconcerted when I saw the pictures. "What," I asked, "are those purple trees?"
   "Jacarandas," came the reply.
   "But those don't grow in Tasmania," I said.
   "Oh, but this book is set in Adelaide," she said.
   I was about to protest this, when I realised the only line that made this clear was one of the (very) few changes. In my original text, young David had a "Tassie shirt" which was a tee-shirt printed with the words I'm a little devil. This had been changed to "yellow" shirt. I was also disconcerted to find the "trough" in which David floated Granny's biscuit box was not, as I had envisioned, a cattle trough, but a laundry trough.
This book taught me a lot about picture books and one valuable lesson was this: a picture book, unless done by an author/illustrator, has TWO parents. Each will bring something to the book and neither parent can control the finished product. The wonderful illustrator who brought David, Granny and Mum to such lively and loving life brought his vision to work with mine. The illustrations interpret my vision. They don't duplicate it.
   That was not the first lesson from David. Despite having so many attributes that should have gone against it, the book did well. It went into many editions and sold for twenty-five years.  People who had never noticed my first eleven books suddenly noticed this one. Yes, hundreds of hours of work could pass unnoticed. Two-and-a-half hours spent writing about a small boy's exploits made more impact than the other eleven books put together.

   David was loved by kids, parents, teachers, librarians, siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles. He was given to adult men who happened to be called David as a joke present. Kids came up to me after I'd done school talks to tell me what their little sibs did and what they had done when they were little.
   And so David sailed on, leading some people to believe I must have a son called -- David. (I haven't.)

   The beginning of the end came when David was read on a television story corner program. I was sent a video of the program and to my annoyance, the reader skipped two pages of text. Of course it was the climax that was skipped. 
   Why? Well, after David has gone through three shirts, played in the compost, annoyed the cats, wet the letters, blocked the toilet and squirted the kitten and the spare bed with the hose, Granny loses patience, "smacked his bottom - but it didn't really hurt-" and puts him to bed for a nap with his teddy. She then tucks him in and kisses him fondly.

    So, time caught up with David and did to him what his youth, rhyme and maleness could not do.  By then he would have been a man in his late twenties anyway...

   He has now been out of print for quite a while, but you know what? People still sometimes approach me and ask wistfully if I know where they can get a copy of my book. Which book? THAT book. Dreadful David. They had it as children and they want a copy for their own children.
   And all I can say is, "Sorry. Try eBay."

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  1. What a glorious tale of a lovely book about an inglorious little rascal! Many thanks for this Sally, and I will read as many of the others as I can!


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