Sunday, 29 March 2015

Anna's Adventures in Wonderland - Anna Wilson

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Twenty years ago I was working as an editor at Macmillan Children's Books when the 130th anniversary of Alice was marked by Macmillan issuing the beautiful new full-colour editions of both Alice books. They were the first ever full-colour editions featuring Tenniel's illustrations.

In publishing parlance, Alice is a "property" of Macmillan, as the publisher holds the rights to the versions of the books illustrated by Tenniel. Of course, many different illustrators have produced beautiful artwork to accompany other editions of the Alice stories, but it is the Tenniel editions that are widely believed by enthusiasts to be THE Alices. Indeed it is the Tenniel images that most of us conjure up when we think of Alice stuck inside the house or taking tea with the Mad Hatter or standing up to the Red Queen.

Tenniel himself never produced colour illustrations: he created the black and white line drawings only. The first colour versions of his drawings were done by Harry Theaker, and then only eight colour plates were done for each book.

By 1995 colour printing had of course moved on leaps and bounds, so Macmillan felt the time had come to make use of this for Alice. They commissioned artist Diz Wallis to colour the remaining Tenniel black and whites. It was fascinating to see how Diz did this. Macmillan provided her with faint blue outlines of the original illustrations and she then painted them, being very careful to match Harry Theaker's style.

Diz Wallis's beautiful colouring followed Harry Theaker's style 

As the editor I then had to go through the setting of the text with a fine toothcomb to ensure that the resulting text was as close the original hot-metal setting as possible. This meant going so far as to check the spaces in between text and punctuation, as modern computerised setting techniques do not produce the same, airy quality that the old hot-metal work had done.

During that time I also wrote an Alice in Wonderland Party Book, compiled a book of quotations entitled "Curiouser and Curiouser!" and put together a selection of the songs and poems included in the Alice books. By the end of that year I could reel off whole sections of either book at the drop of a hat.

It seems that Alice is a figure who will not leave me alone. Over the years she and I have crossed paths so many times: from my sister-in-law's 21st Alice-themed birthday party where I was consultant Alice-ologist, to my daughter's GCSE Art coursework, Alice seems to pop up time and again. But more importantly, were it not for Alice I might not today be a published author myself. My boss at the time saw how much I enjoyed working on the little side projects mentioned above and as a consequence asked me to try my hand at writing a picture book (wholly unrelated to Alice). My first picture book, Over in the Grasslands, was published in 1999, and I have not looked back since.

Macmillan is still my publisher, 16 years on. I very much doubt anyone will remember me in 150 years time as we do Charles Dodgson and John Tenniel, but I am enjoying my time as a writer in the here and now, and for that I think it only right to say thank you to Alice and for all that she has taught me.

This will be my last ABBA post. I am sad to be leaving as I have thoroughly enjoyed writing for the blog, but family issues that have arisen this year are making it difficult to carve out time to write and so, unfortunately, I have had to take a long hard look at my commitments. If I am going to complete the books I am currently writing, I shall need to follow Alice down the rabbit hole and spend some time finding peace in an enchanted garden for a while. Thank you for having me at ABBA!


Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely post! You'll be missed - take care, and hope to see you back one day.
Watch out for the Jabberwock!

Anne Booth said...

That was really interesting. I didn't know that about Macmillan and Tenniel's 'Alice' and I really enjoyed learning about it. Good Luck with all your family and writing commitments!

Joan Lennon said...

How wonderful to have such an eccentric patron saint! Good wishes for the next phase of things.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Fantastic post. How ignorant I feel when reading all this. Thank you! Enjoy your escape.

Emma Barnes said...

As a fellow Alice fanatic, I really enjoyed your post. I hope you find lots of intriguing characters and places on your sabbatical from ABBA!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Ah, so that's why there are all those editions of Alice in the bookshops! Pity those Tenniel illustrations are still under copyright, since the artist is long gone. The colourised versions do look beautiful, though.

I visited Oxford once when I was to meet a friend. Due to work commitments she didn't turn up, so I wandered through the streets to see what I could see. And I found that Alice gift shop, which was apparently the shop Tenniel drew for the Old Sheep shop in Through The Looking Glass. The English are so lucky to have these places simply sitting around and still in use!

A Wilson said...

Thank you all for your comments! I had not thought of Alice as a patron saint, Joan, but I shall from now on!
By the way, I just have to add that my favourite line from the whole oeuvre is the White King in Through the Looking-Glass saying, 'I feel faint--Give me a ham sandwich!'