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So Much To Tell Hardcover – 6 May 2010
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About the Author
Valerie Grove writes a weekly column for The Times. As well as that of Laurie Lee, she has written a biography of the children's writer Dodie Smith, entitled Dear Dodie (Chatto, 1996) which was listed as one of the 12 finalists for the NCR Award. She is married to the journalist Trevor Grove, and lives in London. Her latest book is a biography of the author John Mortimer, A Voyage Around John Mortimer (Penguin, 2007).
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In 1937 Kaye "succumbed to the dubious charms" of an unreliable, boyish-looking paint salesman named Kit Brierley, the spoiled son of well-to-do parents and the pair lost no time in getting married. Kit, however, soon disappeared to India and it took Kaye three years before she could divorce him. Kaye then married Wing Commander Andrew Keith Hunter in 1942, but the marriage did not last and after the war ended, Kaye met cartoonist Ronald Searle, who had been captured and brutally treated by the Japanese and who portrayed the savagery and squalor of camp life in his drawings, hiding them under the beds of fellow prisoners suffering from cholera. In 1946, Kaye became pregnant with twins fathered by Searle, and despite Ronald later admitting that he felt he had been thrust into becoming a family man before being able to come to terms with his return to civilisation, and Kaye's uncertainty about Ronald's commitment to their relationship, they married in 1948. There is, of course, a huge amount more to Kaye Webb's life than I have revealed in this review, including how she became editor of Puffin Books; the authors she met whilst working as editor, including: Roald Dahl, Clive King, Alan Garner, Ursula le Guin, Nina Bawden, Rosemary Sutcliff, Joan Aiken, Noel Streatfeild, Eleanor Farjeon, and many others; her friendship with actors such as: Alec Guinness and James Mason; her creation of the wonderful Puffin Club for 'Puffineers' with competitions, holidays and exhibitions; and very much more.
Valerie Grove writes with affection and respect for her subject and although she does not shy away from the less admirable aspects of Kaye Webb's sometimes overwhelming personality, she pays tribute to her subject depicting her as a charismatic, dedicated and driven woman who cared passionately about her work and who "changed the face of children's publishing forever." An absorbing, entertaining and very enjoyable account, this biography will go back onto my bookshelves to be revisited and re-enjoyed in the future, and I will add that reading this has not only made me interested in reading more from Valerie Grove, but has also made me interested in learning more about Ronald Searle and to that end I am considering ordering Russell Davies' biography:Ronald Searle.
Valerie Grove is one of our most valued biographers and her books about the lives of Dodie Smith (Dear Dodie), Laurie Lee (Laurie Lee: The Well-loved Stranger) and John Mortimer (A Voyage Round John Mortimer) are also excellent!
Kaye Webb created a phenomenon in children's books that sadly may never be replicated in these accountant-cynical times. A commercial company doing something `as much for the love as for the gain' is history; the story of how Penguin Books junior section did just that for over twenty years are the brightest burning chapters of this biography.
Before that insight, Grove deals with Kaye's parentage, early life, education and three marriages. The long list of influential and famous people who formed Kaye's social circle is catalogued with style and pace, The life of a female professional with a family in the 50s is subtly drawn, and striking in how closely it resembles the modern day, despite theoretical 'advances' in society.
The latter chapters, once Kaye joins Puffin, were the most gripping for this reader. It felt like a "behind the scenes" peek at the engineering of my childhood... a moving experience. All those authors' names, the Puffin Exhibitions, Puffin Post, Puffin Book Order Forms and shop. Waves of nostalgia; and some relief that there was no ulterior motive behind any of it. The whole set-up really was for the benefit of us youngsters, a joy to discover.
Valerie Grove is shrewd enough to end the book with little comment on the state of children's publishing today. Readers can draw their own conclusions, and for me it seemed clear enough. Kaye Webb's world made making the effort to read FUN. Her remarkable creativity, industriousness and rare gift for communication are a legacy well celebrated in this compelling work.
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Many readers growing up in the 1960s and 1970s may be familiar with the name Kaye Webb without knowing why.Read more