Category Archives: Children’s Books

Woodend Gang Series

Looking for Alice

My Alice

One day, out of the blue, I remembered—the book with the yellow-haired girl on the cover. She was falling down a rabbit hole, past shelves laden with books and jars, past pictures and portraits and maps and other things I could no longer recall. I became obsessed with it: what happened to my childhood copy of Alice in Wonderland? I couldn’t have thrown it out. I wouldn’t have given it away. The house fire in the 1970s seemed a distinct possibility. Poor Alice. Then, just as inexplicably, I wanted a copy just like it. Simply had to have one.

Some aspects of a memory are quite vivid. I could almost smell the thick off-white pages, almost touch the thin film of gloss peeling back like cellophane at the edges of the cover. But in my mind’s eye I couldn’t fix on an exact image of the plummeting Alice. Would I recognise the edition if I saw it again? To eBay, and a search in the books category. Nothing familiar. Then, a week later, there she was! And I knew her in an instant—the black Alice band and the yellow hair streaming out behind her, the blue dress and the lace edging on her white petticoat, the brown lettering on the salmon-pink background—ah yes . . . I remember it well.

A week later Alice was mine. When the parcel arrived I unwrapped it, as I had unwrapped the birthday gift so long ago. Hesitating, I imagined some little girl’s name written inside and realised that, unlikely though it was, the name might be mine. Of course, I knew it couldn’t be. And it wasn’t. Even as I lifted the front cover I realised something was different: the glossy surface wasn’t peeling back like cellophane at the edges. The girl’s name was Annette Purdie. I wonder if she’s still out there somewhere . . . and why she didn’t keep her copy of Alice.

The book sits now with several other Alices I count among my friends. There is Maud Low’s book, presented to her in 1927, which has a 1920s Alice playing tennis on the cover. I found it in a market outside Christchurch. There are two Priory Classics, dateless, one printed in Hungary, the other in Russia. Neither is inscribed and both have those peeling covers. Karen Cox’s book has a daggy cloth cover, yellow linen, and is dated 1958. This book has been with me for as long as I can remember. The Peal Press edition has a dust jacket, and once belonged to Dawn McNeill. Another once belonged to the Dakabin State School. It is stamped CANCELLED and has a library card slipped into a mustard-coloured pocket pasted inside the back cover. Susanne borrowed this copy over and over. A slow reader perhaps? Or an Alice addict like me? Pamela Cleeve’s name, written in the back, has been crossed out. Another eBay find is the chalk-blue Ward Lock & Co. edition that has no publishing date and bears no inscription. I like the stylised Art Deco cloud and sunshine design on the front.

My favourite Alice is a long-time friend. This book is twice the size of the others in every direction and is “fully illustrated in line and colour” by Harry Rountree. Miss Margaret Beetham’s name is written inside the front cover. Twice. The pages are thick and furry, almost like cardboard, and are peppered with rust-coloured spots. They’re also embellished with young Margaret’s artistic endeavours; she coloured in some of the illustrations and copied others in lead pencil, as young readers are wont to do. Are yes, I remember it well.

Welcome home Alice.


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Peter Carnavas Goes to the Sandcliffe Writers Festival

Writers are always looking for new skills and ideas. To this end I’ve been to dozens of workshops, seminars and artist talks, perhaps ten in the last twelve months. Peter Carnavas writes and illustrates picture books, and has numerous titles under his belt. His workshop at last year’s Sandcliffe Writers Festival was one of the most valuable workshops I have ever attended.
I have paid for workshops in which presenters wasted an hour or more allowing participants to ask questions or ramble on about their projects, but in the space of a few hours Peter tackled getting started, getting published, illustration and composition, use of language, character and motivation, narrative structure, the word-picture relationship and the difference between theme and moral. We copied characters he drew on the board—a tried and tested technique—and studied the great variety of books he distributed among us by way of example. Then Peter shared his approach to making storyboards.
I know what you’re thinking—that’s about four workshops, and much of it relates to any kind of writing—and you’d be right; the workshop included practical information that can be applied to writing picture books and to other aspects of the author life, not least being the demonstration of presentation techniques. Peter commenced the afternoon by saying, ‘Draw a cartoon of your own face.’ We all shrank inside. He added, ‘With your eyes closed.’ It was astounding how much freedom that one simple suggestion bestowed. Instantly, we picked up our pencils and drew. Because we couldn’t see. It was all downhill from there. What a great technique; drawing lesson and ice-breaker in one.
Peter shared his experience and resources with warmth and generosity; participants went home with drawings, a handout and a sample storyboard. The Sandcliffe Festival and Peter Carnavas’ picture-book workshop were free. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

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