I recently spent such a special afternoon with Scholastic and two Ibbotson brothers celebrating the launch of THE ABOMINABLES by the much-loved children’s author, Eva Ibbotson. It consisted of a delicious boathouse lunch followed by punting down the River Cherwell (not quite the Amazon River but similarly idyllic).
As the water sparkled in the sunshine and we trailed fingers (and scarves in some cases) as we floated along, we agreed that there could not have been a more fitting tribute to the author of the prize winning JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA, a remarkable woman who touched so many lives not just with her writing but with the spirit of adventure, sense of fun and warmth she shared with friends and even acquaintances, and of course with her readers. I am constantly coming across editors, assistants, publicists and journalists who encountered Eva, even briefly, and who all adored her – it was impossible not to.
I was fortunate to spend a few years representing Eva as her literary agent. At first she had her reservations about my age (youth), and hair colour (potentially-ditzy blonde), but I made excuses for both and we quickly became close. Eva was a real tonic and whatever the issue her phone conversations would always lift my mood and her emails frequently had me in stitches. Despite her experience and success, Eva was incredibly humble about her achievements and, as Marion Lloyd, who edited her for many years, will attest, she would often hand in a new, flawless manuscript saying ‘I don’t think it’s very good’. Without fail, it would be utterly marvellous. But Eva understood that the publishing industry can be a capricious beast and she captured in a letter a duality familiar to many published authors:
“This morning there was a further lowering of spirits as the paperback of X is to be remaindered and they asked if I wanted copies. But by the same post came the enclosed thing about the film option for Y. It’s like that all the time – up and down – you’re a great author having a ritzy lunch, you’re an obscure provincial failure. So the only thing is to keep on writing and forget about the response”.
Navigating ups and downs gracefully is an art form and one that not all authors master. For new children’s writers advice that they should keep writing and forget about the response, that it is, (excuse the pun), worth a punt, is certainly encouraging. But for Eva the response was, and still is, one of resounding enthusiasm and utter enchantment. The reaction readers and reviewers have had to both ONE DOG AND HIS BOY and THE ABOMINABLES, both published posthumously, is not one to forget, and Eva will undoubtedly live on through the classic children’s books she has given us that will continue to brighten the lives of readers in the years to come, just as Eva herself lit up the lives of those who knew and cherished her.