Friday, 24 August 2007

Jill Barklem

This might be the first example I had of coming to a children’s book via merchandise. I was given Brambly Hedge stationary as a gift and wrote my first ever story in the exercise book. I was also intrigued by the words on the back:

“The mice of Brambly Hedge live on the other side of the stream across the field. If you look very hard amongst the tangled roots and stems, you may see a wisp of smoke from a small chimney, or through an open door, a steep flight of stairs deep within the trunk of a tree…”

I love the fact they could be anywhere, near anyone. They could be other side of my stream, your stream, anyone’s field. It was a really clever way to start the imagination firing… And the illustrations are gorgeous, highly detailed, mixing animals with nature.

I had the very good fortune to chat to Jill some years ago, as she was another very kind lady like Shirley Hughes, who responded when I sent them a letter asking for help during a University project. I was amazed and thrilled that Jill phoned for a chat, she was a lovely lady to speak to.

Jill told me that she got interested in art as she had an eye complaint that was thought to worsen if she played sport at school, so sat drawing in the Art room instead. She went to St Martins School of Art and would sketch the countryside on her hour long train journey into London. Interested in both biology and art, ‘Brambly Hedge’ is a mixture of the Lake District and Epping Forest, near her home.

She has a studio in her house with a large desk and various cubby holes filled with odd bits, leaves and berries. She draws a rough version of her sketch first, and then photocopies the roughs and goes over the characters in pencil, adding ink, and then watercolour for a final result. Jill likes to draw out of season, as “if you draw out of season you look back with more nostalgia.”

She had just got married when she started Brambly Hedge in 1980, so her husband supported her financially at first. She took her portfolio and lots of research to three different publishers at the same time, which she admitted was a little naughty, but received an offer within two days.

Her favourite book to date is The Secret Staircase, as she likes to draw exteriors and interiors, and I could hear the smile in her voice when she said that her drawings can take ages, but are helped along with a bit of chocolate! However, she had an eye operation which meant since then she had only done bits and pieces of work. Even though her eyesight is now better, she said it was hard to take the plunge to do the books again. She sounded a very nice person, and seemed very pleased I liked her books.

Our chat was back in 1998, and it seems the last new book Jill wrote about Brambly Hedge was Poppy’s Babies, in 1994, although all eight are so popular that they are continually in reprint. It is a speculation, but perhaps her eyesight now struggles with the tiny detailed precision that her illustrations require, so, since Poppy's Babies felt like a natural stop, perhaps she has decided it is best to leave the mice there.

Since then, the books have been successfully adapted to a TV series by the BBC, and there is plenty of collectable merchandise out there, so the world of Brambly Hedge lives on… So next time you are passing a stream, do look towards the other side, as you never know what you may see…


Alessandra Collar Lipman said...

I am watching The Secret Staircase on TV right now with my toddler. I have love these stories since college, and wish real life could be as cozy. Thank you for posting your experience with Ms. Barklem - what a thrill!

Jayne said...

Hello Alessandra - many thanks for stopping by, and leaving a comment!

It was so nice to speak to her, definitely a thrill! She was very patient with my questions, and answered everything with a smile in her voice, and it was great to hear a little more about the world on paper that had fascinated me so much as a child (and an adult!) It's even nicer when you can share something you have enjoyed as a child with your own children. :)

Lucy DoodleBug said...

I love Jill Barklem's work, and they inspire me each and everyday with my own illustrations. I've often wondered if Jill Barklem has done any more stories, and your blog entry has helped very much. Thank you so very much for your wonderful post!
Best, Lucy

Jayne said...

Hello Lucy,

Jill Barklem's work is just lovely, isn't it - that right blend of fantasy and realism. I'm very glad you enjoyed my post :)

ann said...

I have been searching for years trying to find out whatever's appended to Jill Barklem. Thank you so very much for letting us know what happened to her. Her stories are so beloved, I couldn't imagine why she completely stopped that wonderful work.

Oda O said...

Reading this now I have tears in my eyes.. just because I love her books and darling characters so much!
The fact that you really spoke to her, and write so well about it has a part in my reaction.

Wish you the best, talented lady!

Jayne said...

Oda - what a lovely comment. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Jill and always hope that she or her family, if they ever chance over this blog, will know she's held in high regard!

Unknown said...

Its so nice to learn some extra information. Thank you so much for sharing :)

Sue Vick Finley said...

I am very glad to have found this post. I have wondered for years what happened to JB and why she quite writing and drawing her enchanting books. I am very sad to hear of her eye trouble. I have all the JM books I could get my hands on. Thank you for sharing!!