Creative Beat Magazine: Joyce Tarlton West

Read October 2011’s Tauranga Creative Beat Magazine to check out an article (pg. 18) I wrote about the wonderful NZ children’s book author Joyce West (1908-1985).

Although there’s very little information to be found about Ms West, the files in the New Zealand room of the Tauranga Library made fascinating reading.  Especially those in her own hand writing explaining her writing process, her thoughts about the children she wrote for and her comments on the publishing community in her day. 

I particularly liked the anecdotes she included about her famous book ‘The Sea Islanders’ which appeared as a television series in England and for which Disney bought the rights. 

She writes ‘The Sea Islanders is about four children who, by an odd combination of circumstances, are left alone to spend the six weeks of their school holidays on a lonely beach near the Cavallis. It has been my most successful book, and it’s funny, I once read that all children have an unconscious desire to be left parentless, if only for a short time, as a sort of complete escape from authority.  Just as everybody at some time in their lives longs to be cast upon a desert island.’

At the time, many young children had a strong reaction to the story.  The illustrator for the Japanese edition of the book told her the following story:

‘There was a call out for two lost children, and a police car picked up a boy and a girl laden with two little packs and trudging along a busy road toward the sea coast.  They asked them what they were doing, and the children said they were running away to live on an island, and showed the policeman their Japanese copy of the Sea Islanders.’  “So you never know what you may be responsible for, do you?” writes Joyce West.

Her comment about children and in fact everyone, having a desire to be ‘left parentless, if only for a short time’ had a profound effect on how I managed the storyline of the children’s novel I’m writing ‘Brave and True.’  Originally I had Brave and True travelling a good deal of the time with adults guiding them, as this seemed only reasonable. 

It wasn’t until I read Joyce West’s quote that I realised that being reasonable was completely boring and wasn’t going to work.  Every decent children’s story I’ve ever read kicked the parents out the door as soon as possible – e.g. Narnia!  It seems so obvious now.

So thanks Ms West. Appreciate the great advice.

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