This is the story of the last gnomes in Britain. They are honest to goodness gnomes, none of your fairy-book, tinsel stuff, and they live by hunting and fishing, like the animals and birds . . .
Those opening sentences of The Little Grey Men by ‘B.B.’ – the mysterious nom de plume of the children’s writer and illustrator Denys Watkins Pitchford – can still thrill me, many decades after I first read them. I was a country child, and the magically described streams, meadows and woodlands in which Dodder, Sneezewort and Baldmoney had their adventures were places of enchantment to me, linked in my imagination to the countryside I knew.
It was partly her attachment to another of B.B.’s books – Brendon Chase – that gave Jane Nissen the idea of reissuing classic children’s books that had slipped out of print when she retired from a senior position at Penguin in 1998. She had started out there when her children were young, under the legendary Kaye Webb, creator of the Puffin Club (recalled by Kate Dunn on p.31), determinedly working her way up from freelance reader – ‘sticking myself to the desk with Superglue’ – until she was taken on as a children’s editor. Then, after leaving to spend seven years at Methuen, the tides of publishing carried her back to Penguin again, as editorial director of the Hamish Hamilton children’s list, which Penguin had taken over.
Penguin, she remembers, was an exciting place to work, full of interesting, knowledgeable and amusing people, almost as good as a university. In retirement she missed the buzz and ‘just didn’t feel ready to give up publishing’. So when an agent offered her the rights to Brendon Chase, which she had loved as a child, she decided to reissue it. She set herself up, not quite on the kitchen table, but at a desk squeezed between the kitchen and the rest of the family home. Swan House, by the Thames on Chiswick Mall, is
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