The Bunny Books: The Further Adventures of Miss Beatrix Potter
Susan Wittig Albert
Hi, everybody-and thanks for dropping by to visit during my Cottage Tales Blog Tour. Clarice invited me to do a guest post on her beautiful blog (thank you, Clarice)! So grab a cookie, pour a cup of tea, and let me tell you a story about how a famous author-Miss Beatrix Potter-got her start as a writer.
Every now and then, when somebody says to me, "I'd love to write a book but I just don't know where to begin," I think of Beatrix Potter.
Beatrix started her career as an author by writing a picture letter to a little boy named Noel, the son of her former governess. The letter was about a naughty rabbit named Peter who found himself in a lot of trouble when he went into Mr. McGregor's garden. Beatrix wrote the letter in 1893, when she was 25 years old and already an old maid with no prospects of marriage. Over the next few years, she wrote several other picture-story letters to Noel's sisters and brothers, all the while she was sharpening her artistic skills by doing other kinds of drawings. She was especially interested in drawing animals in their natural settings, and she drew with a naturalist's eye.
A few years later, Beatrix got the idea of making a book out of her stories and drawings. She asked Noel if she could borrow the letter (of course he had kept it!). She rewrote the story in an notebook and made 42 pen-and-ink drawings, black-and-white, except for the colored frontispiece. Canon Rawnsley, a friend of the family (and also one of the founders of the National Trust) saw her book and offered to help her find a publisher.
But after six rejection letters, Beatrix decided to publish her book herself. (Brave lady, don't you think?) In December, 1901, She had 250 copies of the book printed in a small size (just the right size for small hands, she said), with stout paper that could withstand rough treatment. She gave some books away to family and friends (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took two for his children) and sold the rest for a shilling tuppence each. Her books went so fast that she ordered a second printing.
And then the unexpected happened. Frederick Warne & Co., who had turned her down once before, offered to publish her "Bunny Book." She accepted the offer, and after some negotiating (Beatrix was an astute businesswoman with a strong sense of the way her books should look), she signed the contract. The first edition was sold out before printing. The second edition went just as fast, and the third-and the rest . . . well, you know.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was a publishing phenomenon, and Norman Warne, her editor, was already begging for a second book. Working together on the books, Beatrix and Norman developed a close relationship, beautifully depicted in the recent film, Miss Potter. Sadly, Norman developed acute leukemia and died suddenly, in 1905, shortly after Beatrix agreed to marry him-much against her parents' wishes.
Norman's death was a terrible tragedy, but Beatrix persevered, buying a Lake District farm and spending as much time as she could there. By 1913, when she married a country lawyer named Willie Heelis and moved to her country village permanently, Beatrix had written and illustrated 21 little books, including Peter. Over the century since their first publication, they have been translated into more than 35 languages, printed in Braille, and over 100 million copies have been sold. Because the American copyright was not properly registered, Peter Rabbit was freely pirated in the United States. If you've see a picture of Peter that doesn't look quite right, chances are it was one of those piracies.
Peter Rabbit taught me to read and I've loved him-and all the rest of Miss Potter's wonderful characters-ever since. When the idea came to write a series based on part of her life, I seized it immediately, and have been joyfully learning more about her and her work ever since. I especially like recreating her work as a writer, sometimes with a twist. In The Tale of Hawthorn House, for instance, I tell Miss Potter's tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. But in my version, Jemima becomes intimately acquainted with the fox and has a horrifying experience with a nestful of very unusual eggs.
The Tale of Hawthorn House is the fourth book in my eight-book series. It's a fantasy ("an adult fairy-tale," as one reviewer put it) that I think would please Miss Potter, who believed very firmly in fairies. I hope you'll enjoy it. And maybe you'll even be lucky enough to win one of the three copies we're giving away to reader of "Storybook Woods"! Go here for all the details of this drawing and the grand prize drawing we're doing at the end of the tour.
About the drawing:
If you would like to enter the drawing for a copy of The Tale of Hawthorn House, go here.
We'll be giving away three copies of this book. You may also be eligible for the grand prize drawing, which will be held at the end of Susan's blog tour. But you'd better hurry. This drawing will close at noon on November 10!