How It All Began…
Like most obsessions, my own was triggered by a chance encounter that made an instant and irrevocable impression.
Fifteen years ago while I was studying for my degree, the newly formed National Children’s Book Centre opened its doors. To mark the occasion, the Centre had a small yet remarkable display of rarities from the annals of children’s literature including some of E.H Shepard’s original sketches for Winnie the Pooh, a first edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and a draft page, complete with authorial edits, from Arthur Hayman’s Garden Green. It was this that sparked my interest and the librarian at the Centre was nice enough to let me photograph the page.
Bizarrely, the first thing that caught my eye was the fact that Hayman hadn’t used copyediting marks in his edit (I later discovered that he was particularly embarrassed about this, and yet never chose to learn them himself) instead choosing to strike out words in red ink, correcting himself in the lines above the text rather than in the margins. As the eye is often drawn to an imperfection before noting the beauty surrounding it, after skimming Hayman’s corrections I then read the page as a whole. This was the moment my life changed; the moment I first read the name Mr Toppit.
Despite the explosion of hype and interest surrounding The Hayseed Chronicles (Garden Green is the second book in the series of five) during my childhood, I had never read any of them. While I have no recollection of this, apparently my mother had banned them from our house and even returned copies she had received as gifts for me after reading an inflammatory warning in the Daily Mail about the negative effects of The Hayseed Chronicles on children. Once I was old enough to make up my own mind the hysteria had subsided and the moment passed.