Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Books for Keeps interviews Malcolm Saville in 1980

Books for Keeps, the magazine about children's books, launched in 1980 and interviewed Malcolm Saville the same year.

Saville had only a couple more years to live, and the impression I have is that he was by then uncomfortably aware that his work had rather gone out of fashion.

Pat Triggs, who interviewed him for Books for Keeps, writes that he has been:
accused of being 'middle-class' and 'old-fashioned' (the stories have been cut and modernised - he thinks badly - for paperback).
Armada paperbacks had a standard format and many books were cut to fit it. I don't think any rewriting of Saville's books had taken place, but a lot of character development and period details were lost in the shorter editions, which inevitably concentrated on plot.

Saville's describes how he began as a children's writer - he already had lots of experience in publishing and journalism:
"I suppose I owe a great debt to Arthur Ransome; he used genuine backgrounds and my daughters liked reading him." He sent Mystery at Witchend to his daughters who loved it. Was it written specially for them? "Oh, no. I was in the business. It was definitely for publication."
Newnes took it. ‘Then I had the luck that every author wants.’ It got on Children’s Hour (‘beautifully dramatised by Barbara Sleigh’) and was a great success.
There's insight into his writing methods:
"I'm first influenced by a place. I read it up and find out all I can about it. I study maps. Sometimes it's a newspaper item that arouses my interest. I went to Southwold because I’d read about the east coast floods and thought It might make a story,' (It did – Sea Witch Comes Home.) The windmill which appears in The Gay Dolphin Adventure is in Winchelsea. For the Marston Baines stories he visited every location. The settings are as real as he can make them and when he takes liberties with reality the readers are told in an introduction. 
"I don’t write any fiction unless it is very carefully plotted. I do a synopsis, chapter by chapter, with dialogue, character notes, what I want the reader to know. This goes to my editor." When the synopsis is clear, the writing starts.
I remember the Revd Jeremy Saville, Malcolm's son, giving a talk to the Malcolm Saville Society and telling us that if the family went on holiday to a new part of the country, the children knew there would be a book about it in a year or two. Sadly, the windmill at Winchelsea was to be blown down by the hurricane of 1987.

Triggs paints a portrait of Saville that suggests he was still full of live at 79:
Lively, energetic, friendly, a compulsive and enthusiastic talker. He holds firmly to 'traditional values'. 'I'm a very strong believer in family life' and, like the Lone Piners, thinks friendship and loyalty are important. 
Although officially retired, there’s still 'lots to do'. Apart from writing, lecturing and keeping in touch with readers, he shares many interests with his wife. They love 'travelling, walking, the theatre and being together'. They dislike 'people who drop litter'. There are 'two children and their families within reach', 'plenty of friends' and a 'fierce social life in Winchelsea'. 
Above all he is a professional. If every publisher promoted books as energetically as Malcolm Saville there would be a lot more children reading. Like every writer he wants to be read and to make sure that children can get hold of his books when they want them. (He’s a supporter of school bookshops.) 'I don’t think a professional writer can ever really stop.'
And a final point... When I asked Jeremy Saville which writers his father liked most, he thought for a moment and said he didn't think his father read much because he was too busy writing.

But here, describing Saville's cottage in Winchelsea, Triggs writes:
The sitting-room bookshelves hold several spy stories. "I'm an addict, especially for John Le Carré."

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