Saturday, 6 October 2012

John Dougherty has just

reviewed an old book over on "An Awfully Big Blog Review".  It is a book I am glad he has found and read because it is a book written by an old friend of mine. The book is "Josh" by Ivan Southall.
John Dougherty does justice to the book so I will leave him to tell you about it and say something about Ivan  and writing instead.
I met Ivan when I was in my teens. He was about the same age as my father and I knew him mostly as the writer of a series of books about "Simon Black". My brother was an enormous fan of these books. He had all of them. If you have not come across them then think Biggles and you will have some idea.
Ivan was fed up with Black. His publisher liked Black. Readers liked Black. Ivan was bored with Black.
He wanted to write something else and later told the story of how he wrote the first draft of "Hills End" in less than a fortnight. Of course it took much longer to actually finish writing the book but it was there on paper (in those computerless days) in rough draft in two weeks. When he had done it he knew that he was not going back to Black.
He took off in a different direction altogether. What he considered his "real" second book for children "Ash Road" won a Children's Book of the Year Award.  He won it again later for "To the wild sky", "Bread and Honey" and the non-fiction "Fly West" (about his experiences in WWII as a pilot).
He wrote other books as well. Two of them stand out.
The first is "Let the Balloon Go" (1968).  It is quite simply a book about a boy who climbs a tree and yet it is also about the journey of a lifetime. Ivan admitted later that he had been thinking about "something" for some time because he and his then wife (they parted) had an intellectually disabled daughter. He also claimed meeting me was another reason he decided to write it. He sent me a postcard just before it was published. It was addressed "to the tree-climbing Cat". I have never quite forgiven my mother for throwing out that post-card.
It was, he said, a difficult book to write. He did not win the Children's Book of the Year for it. It was actually considered to be good enough but the judges considered it was "someone else's turn".  He accepted that quietly but I think he was disappointed because the book meant more to him than the others he had written at the time.
The second book that stands out is "Josh". It is the only book by an Australian author to have won the Carnegie Medal . Ivan admitted freely that there was an enormous amount of himself in Josh. He had been thinking about it for years. It was not merely a difficult book to write but a painful one. He relived many of his own childhood experiences, the pain of losing his father young and having to leave school as soon as he turned fourteen, the pain of country "holidays" in places where he was supposed to feel at home and never did, the pain of being "different".  He later admitted he almost felt he could not write it, indeed almost did not write it. We should be thankful he did.
Ivan wrote other things after that but he knew he had reach the peak with "Josh".  Even well established writers it seems may have one book inside them that they have to get out. 
Most people never knew Ivan was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944. He was uncomfortable with the AM and, I think a little bemused by the writing awards.  Ivan was above all a gentleman. He believed everyone should be treated with respect and allowed to climb their trees.


Sue Bursztynski said...

I once met him at a mass book signing for a publisher I was involved with. I hadn't realised he was still alive at the time and was very excited to see him in the fesh.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sorry, that was flesh, not fesh!

Anonymous said...

Hills End was presented to me when I completed Grade 7 ... still have it.
Judy B

catdownunder said...

I am glad you met him Sue! It always comes as a shock though - I once went up in a lift with a very, very VIP person. He looked a bit uncomfortable (we were the only two in the lift) so I said,
"I'll pretend I don't know who you are if you like."
He laughed - as I had thought he might based on his reputation - and we had a perfectly ordinary conversation but it was still a shock to see him there.

I still have my Grade 7 book Judy - Cynthia Harnett's "The Load of Unicorn"!