July 28, 2013 @ 12:07 PM

Buried treasure...


Not long ago I made an extraordinary discovery. From out of the past, seemingly long forgotten and buried under the strata of the years, I came across a cache of what for any writer can only be described as treasure.

Long weekend

We'd been getting ready for a long weekend visit from the family – our daughter and little grand-daughter, Emily Kate. She's just turned four, and as they live interstate we don't see them all that often.

We go down for a fortnight three or four times a year, and we have Christmas holidays together at the beach: making up in the quality of the concentrated time we have together what we miss in quantity were Grammy and Grandpa to be  living just around the corner.

Anyway, they're flying to Canberra to visit us for a few days, and we've been getting the house ready. Making it "child friendly" as they say.

Putting ornaments away that might break were they to be inadvertently dropped by little fingers.

Stowing in high cupboards the medicines, ointments and sharp implements that might prove too tempting for inquisitive little minds.

Finding the books...

Making up her bed. Getting out the dolls, the toys, the pencils, paints and drawing books she so enjoys. Setting them out on her own special table.

Finding the picture books and the stories she loves.

And since she's growing up ("I'm not a baby, Grandpa, I'm a little girl!") going through the shelves to find some new books that she might like.


Complete Christopher Robin Poems: Folio Society Edition, Cover.


I've been buying books for her for years ... oh, for many, many years, before she was even thought of.

Well, I write books for children. They were all part of my essential reference library, and The Folio Society produces some wonderful versions of the classic volumes...

Lewis Carroll ... Stevenson ... C.S. Lewis ... Roald Dahl ... Norman Lindsay ... Tolkein ... Hans Christian Andersen ... The Brothers Grimm ... The Rainbow Fairy Books first produced in the late 19th century by Andrew Lang...

You know them. You'll have your own favourites.

And if I was buying them for myself, I was also buying them for the grandchild we hoped to have one day – in the fond belief that she, too, would find the same delight and nourishment in these stories that I had ... and the generations that went before.


Until now Emily Kate's been a bit young to really settle into these books (and there are always the competing distractions of television), although she likes the pictures in the Fairy Books, and some of the stories, too, in digest form.

But this time, browsing through the bookshelves, I thought she might be ready for a little A.A. Milne, in the unadulterated version. I loved the Christopher Robin tales as a boy, and hoped she might too.


The original toys.


So I took out the cased set that also includes the collected poems and Ernest H Shepard's marvellous illustrations, and opened them up.

And what I discovered fairly took my breath away.

For as I leafed through the verses on Jonathan Jo with his mouth like an O ... or enquired What is the matter with a Mary Jane? confronted with her nice Rice Pudding again ... or recited the timeless beauty of Vespers, the words formed on my lips almost before I read them...

As I entered this world once more, I found myself transported back to my own childhood with a surety and an immediacy that was quite astonishing.

I haven't looked at the Christopher Robin poems since our daughter was young,  and certainly not since I began my own authorship nearly 30 years ago. Yet they were as familiar to me as the most recent pages of my own new book written down that morning.

Stage struck

I can see myself and a girl from Grade One or Two, standing up in front of the class in dressings gowns and paper crowns, reciting The King's Breakfast.

And I'm pretty sure a couple of us did Bad Sir Brian Botany... Bad Sir Brian, bold as a lion, take that and that and that! If not, I certainly remember acting it out over and over in the make-believe theatre of my own imagination.

Even then, having been stage struck at the age of four at a school concert, I was determined to become an actor ... until I realised when I was 10 or 11 that what I really wanted to do was to write the words that the actors spoke.

Now, as a novelist, I have the best of both worlds: playing the roles of all the characters acting out their stories on the stage with the vivid scenery that exists in the middle of my forehead.


Playing Pooh Sticks. By David Brooker.


The old obsessions have not changed.

For me, the most exciting and wondrous moment in the world is when the house lights go down in the theatre, and there is that moment of darkness and stillness before the film or the play begins and you are carried off into another world of light and the imagination.

And it was, then, with the nostalgia that comes with a fragrance borne from the past, that I realised these little poems had not only carried me into that world, but through my response made me want to become part of it as a creative artist myself. I

didn't know it then –  not in those words perhaps – but looking back now the influence was undeniable.


Yes, and something else. Beyond the particular verses and stories for Christopher Robin that express so much of the joy and innocence, the tenderness, delight and imaginative pretend of childhood, I recognised much of myself as a writer.

Not the subjects – although certainly I’ve been writing for children and young readers. But it was in Milne's use of language that I saw myself.

In the rhythms and cadences of his speech ... the choice of words and phrasing ... the contrasting drama of his prose and poetics... In all of it I saw reflected so much of what I had absorbed to shape my own style as a writer.

The themes are different. But all unconsciously the manner of expression was remarkably similar.

I haven't looked at those books for more than three decades. I thought they'd been completely forgotten. But the discovery – or rather, re-discovery – of how profoundly influential they had been in my own life ... in the development and growth of myself as a writer ... was amazing.

More than that, it was very precious.

So, as I closed the book and put it out on the shelf for Emily Kate, I hoped she would like it.

And expressed the silent wish that she would enjoy the pictures of lions and bears on the pavement's lines and squares ...


Christopher Robin Poems, Title Page.


have fun with the real Pooh and Piglet...

go Hoppity hoppity hop with Christopher Robin and me and her own friends  ... as indeed she did on the way to the park with me only this morning...

And I pray she will go on doing so through all the years of her life,  until she has grand-children of her own to hand us on to.





The poems are from When We Were Very Young (1924) and Now We Are Six (1927) by A.A. Milne.


Photo credits:

Cover of The Complete Poems for Christopher Robin: The Folio Society 2004, photo A. Hill.

The original Christopher Robin toys: Photo by en:user:Spictacular,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:DSC08955.JPG

Playing Pooh Sticks on Christopher Robin's bridge in Ashdown Forest, Sussex: David Brooker [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Complete Poems for Christopher Robin, The Folio Society 2004, Title Page, photo A. Hill.

The Milne Memorial, Ashdown Forest, by Ben Gamble [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

A.A. Milne Memorial, Ashdown Forest, Sussex. Photo by Ben Gamble.