A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Two Books: first loves – Ian Beck

There are so many books which have influenced me, (and I like to think in a good way), that choosing one or two is almost impossible and certainly unfair to all the others left on the shelf. Best then to go with the fundamentals and stick to a chronology of the first two early loves of the truly smitten reader, first loves first kisses if you will.

As with so many things in youth, I found many profound and life changing books by happy accident. No cosy tutor,( tweed jacket with leather patched elbows), handed me a book with a wry grin and a pat on the shoulder, ‘this one I think for you’, followed by a smirk and knowing nod. No, I found everything through the benign action of chance and serendipity.

I used to haunt a particular second hand bookshop in Hove. This would have been around 1960. It was on a main shopping street not far from the local Woolworths. Lane’s Bookshop which part specialised in Circus items. There were I remember framed Circus posters on the walls. The proprietor sported a baggy cardigan and yes, a pipe. There were two trestle tables set up outside. This was where the cheap (2d – 6d usually in old coinage) second hand paperbacks were lined up spine uppermost and where I discovered Ray Bradbury. I think I had read one or two of his short stories before and had certainly seen the Alfred Hitchcok presents adaptation of his creepy story, TheThing in the Jar. His name had stuck. I found a copy of his novel Dandelion Wine at Lane’s and bought it.

I read the book in a gulp. I realise I must have bought it at the start of the Summer holidays, and here was a book about just that. One boy’s experience of summer holiday in small town America. It was a pitch perfect evocation of the exhilaration and springiness of youth, of the delights of small town American life and of the joys and pains of coming of age. I was primed and ready for the book’s mixture of spookiness and lyricism, above all the lyricism. Put simply my 12 year old self lived 12 year old Douglas Spalding’s Summer of wonders with him. The book gave me what Nabokov described as, ‘the authentic shiver of art’, and It still does.
My reading at that time was voracious, (still is) I read anything and everything, all of Conan Doyle, all of H G Wells, the Molesworth books and Just William, over and over. I read odd grown up things too. I had no real discernment, I made no distiction between what was seen as juvenile or what was meant to be grown up I just read it all.

My second kiss, my first French kiss if you like was the discovery of Le Grand Meaulnes, often translated as The Lost Domain, by Henri Alain Fournier. A book which seemed to take over and shape my entire late adolescence and possibly even beyond. It was given to me by a friend who thought I might like it, I think this must have been in 1963 when I was just 16. This is perhaps the ideal age to read this book. I can still vividly recall that I was sitting up in bed with the Penguin edition in front of me reading near the end of the story in a stae of high romantic tension. I remember it was late on New Years Eve. I heard the ship’s hooters whooping and calling mournfully from Aldrington basin to mark midnight and celebrate the new year. I was near the end of the book when a terrible moment in the story struck. As the old year turned I was in floods of tears because of what I had just read. Sitting in my unheated freezing bedroom oblivious to comfort I had seen not only the year change but my life too. Those who know the book will realise what I mean, and for those who haven’t read it yet I would not wish to spoil any of the pleasure and pain which wait. That book demonstrated to me the perpetual joys of fiction, the conjuring of a lost world (France before the first world war) the shared agonies of love and loss. I have never really recovered.

Ian Beck
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury is published by Harper Voyager
Le Grand Meaulnes / The Lost Domain is published in paperback by Penguin. A special centenary edition will be publsihed in October by OUP in the excellent Frank Davidson translation with an introduction by Hermione Lee

Ian beck 1 copyIan Beck
Ian Beck was Born in Hove, Sussex in 1947. He failed his Eleven Plus exam and so he was went to the local ‘salon des refusees’, the secondary modern school. He was there from 1958- 1963. He showed a strong interest in drawing and painting and he was encouraged by both the art teacher and the headmaster to attend the local Brighton College of Art Saturday morning art classes for children. He eventually went to the same art school as a full time student in 1963. He studied illustration and graphic design and was taught by among others, John Vernon Lord, Raymond Briggs and John Lawrence.
He graduated in 1968, and shortly afterwards moved to London with his portfolio of drawings to try his luck as a freelance illustrator. He worked part time at Harrods in the toy dept for a year, to pay the rent, and in the meantime gradually built up a client list, mainly working for mainstream consumer magazines like Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and Homes and Gardens. He also began making drawings for the recording industry. At first these were just trade advertisements for performers like Ry Cooder and Richie Havens. Later in the early seventies he designed and illustrated album covers as well, for example the triple gatefold album ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, for Sir Elton John. He continued to work in this field until the early 1980’s, also producing work for most of the leading design groups, advertising agencies, newspapers, and magazines.
He was approached by the Oxford University Press, who had seen some drawings he had made for the Radio Times. The designer at the OUP felt that the style of the drawings would suit a project which they wanted to publish. This became his first book for children, Round and Round the Garden, an illustrated collection of finger rhymes and games. It was through working on this first book that he began his (continuing) relationship with the editor and publisher David Fickling. After the success of the first book others followed, until 1989, when he was encouraged to write his own first story to illustrate, this became The Teddy Robber, (Doubleday 1989) from this point on the books took over completely from the editorial work. Most of his time is now spent writing and illustrating his own books for children and young adults of which he has published over seventy five.
He has illustrated private press books including editions of stories notably William Boyd’s, Cork, and Jeanette Winterson’s, The Dreaming House. He contributed graphic illustrated endpapers and additional visual material to the tenth anniversary editions of the His Dark Materials trilogy for Philip Pullman, for whom he has also illustrated Puss In Boots and Aladdin.
He has been president of the Double Crown Club, and was Master of the Art Workers Guild in 1999. He is married to Emma, youngest daughter of the distinguished Wood engraver and letter cutter Reynolds Stone and they have three children and one grandchild.
His Book Home Before Dark won the gold award in the best toy awards, and was also awarded the Ownagata prize in Japan. Alone in the Woods, won the gold award in the best toy awards 2000 as did The Happy Bee. Lost In The Snow was made into an animated film for ITV in 1999.
He published his first novel for children, The Secret history of Tom Trueheart, in 2006. This book has been translated into twenty languages to date. The third in the series, Tom Trueheart & The Land of Myths & Legends, has just been translated into Japanese.
Pastworld his novel for teenagers was published by Bloomsbury in October 2009 and is currently under option as a feature film.
In 2011 he published The Hidden Kingdom (Oxford) and The Haunting of Charity Delafield (Bodley Head RHCB). He has just completed early drafts of two further novels, as well as two collections of poetry, both of which he will illustrate. He has also contributed short stories to anthologies for teen readers. His story The Summer House (Previous Parrot Press 2006) was made into a short film in 2007 featuring Talulah Riley and Robert Pattinson.
He tours schools and libraries all over the country and abroad talking about his own work and often lectures on the work of other authors and illustrators.

One comment on “Two Books: first loves – Ian Beck

  1. pirottablog
    May 29, 2013

    Excellent post! Le Grande Meaulnes was a big influence on me, and I’m always saddened that so few people have heard about it, let alone read it. The Lane Bookshop in Hove must have been wonderful. I lived in Brighton for 18 years and it was full of quirky bookshops when I settled there. There was a cluster at the bottom of St James’ Street, I used to haun and a couple of really good ones on Air Street. They’re all gone now, mostly replaced by Costas and trainer shops.

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