Early indicators that I would end up making my career as a children’s author are few and far between.
Tiny flashes of excitement in Year 2, when I discovered the magic of decoding the word sister on my own from the blackboard; the sound of poetry read by the Year 7 teacher, (I think, Silver by Walter de la Mare–below); the only teacher who gave us anything else to read other than the traditional school readers, one anthology to be read by all; the joy of creating a play about Robin Hood in Year 5, (with me in the starring role, having made my own blunt arrows from almond tree prunings), but beyond that, nothing until high school.
At high school I was in a dilemma. I wanted to be involved in activities, but the school was large and the numbers of loud and seemingly-confident kids, overwhelming. However, because of our kind, nurturing Year 8 English teacher, I tentatively wrote a class play about her and the funny things that happened in school life. It was performed in class time and
My Year 11 English teacher was, in hindsight a radical Irish man who worked hard to stimulate his English class, and I adored him. I’d been brought up to be a listener rather than voice my opinions, but once, when I spoke up and shyly explained why I thought the poet had chosen particular words to convey a feeling, he praised my comment for its insightfulness. That both stunned and heartened me. And it opened my eyes to the possibility and the power of words.
Fast forward. I began primary teaching aged eighteen and by twenty I was rushing home to type up, on a manual typewriter, a children’s story called Little Blue Pig. It was about a pig that’d been born blue. Unable to fit in with his pinkish family, he finally found acceptance in the sky where a special shade of blue had vanished. Time was running out. A rainbow was due at ‘half-past-Wednesday’. Finally a Rainbow Helper discovers Little Blue Pig, sitting alone beside a tree. The rest of the story makes for a happy ending! An illustrator friend of mine did a couple of sketches and, naively, I sent the text with the accompanying pictures to a publisher. They came back.
My first crushing awareness of publishing rejection.
Another story, penned some time later, was really an account of my memories of childhood summer holidays spent at a seaside, country town couched in a painfully trite story. Typed up by my mother on wafer-thin foolscap paper, it boasts nothing more now that a few visible visits from silverfish.
Only when I was in my thirties, with more teaching years under my belt and two daughters of my own, did I begin to write a little more. And then only poems for my girls or family members or small snippets for magazines. I really had no plan on becoming an author.
But it was when I began to get some work published by an educational publisher, that I began to wonder.
Was I an author, after all?
As it turns out, I am.
The love was there early. The learning took longer.
PS: I still love writing about the sea and beachside environments.
The Little Blue Pig was never published in its original or redrafted form until about five years ago, when it became the basis of a small educational reader.
I wrote several scripts for a children’s theatre company and a television show called, Where’s Humphrey, and occasionally write scripts for The School Magazine.
I still write poetry and love it.
I am an award-winning children’s author and poet with 100 books published in the trade and educational market.
Below is that inspirational Walter de la Mare poem:
by Walter de la Mare
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
2 thoughts on “Small Beginnings, 9: Janeen Brian”
Loved finding out more of your early life, Janeen. 🙂 xx
Oh, I love the poetry of Walter de la Mare! I first learned the one about a silver moon in the form of a song, which a music teacher taught us while she played accompaniment on piano. I’d love to read your tale of the little blue pig, Janeen. Thanks for this series of blog posts, Sophie.