Joanna Troughton was born in London and studied Art and Design at Hornsey College of Art. She has written and illustrated many picture books, one of which, How the Birds Changed Their Feathers, was highly commended for the Kate Greenaway Medal. She is best known for her own series 'Folk Tales of the World', published by Puffin, which includes How Rabbit Stole the Fire, What Made Tiddalik Laugh, Tortoise's Dream and The Tiger Child. Several of her books have been made into short films for the BBC and Channel 4. Joanna has also illustrated books by other authors including: Adèle Geras, Kevin Crossley-Holland, James Reeves and Jamila Gavin. She has taught illustration part time in art schools, and has visited schools and libraries all over Britain to talk about her books. Her most recent work is the illustrations for Ghosts, an iPad app for children written by John Cunliffe. Joanna lives in North West London with her husband Brian Melling, who is also an illustrator. They have two sons. She blogs about her work at Joanna Troughton. Below she discusses Kathleen Hale's Orlando: A Seaside Holiday.
Joanna Troughton on Orlando: A Seaside Holiday by Kathleen Hale
I think I was about six years old when I was given Orlando: A Seaside Holiday, by Kathleen Hale. I still have that copy, which was published in 1952, one of the later books in the Orlando the Marmalade Cat series that Kathleen Hale began writing and illustrating in 1938. I loved Orlando: A Seaside Holiday as a child, and I still love it now 57 years later.
Kathleen Hale was born in Manchester in 1898. Her outstanding artistic talent was recognized when she was still at school, and after attending art courses at Manchester School of Art and then Reading University, she arrived in London and supported herself by doing various jobs while pursuing her dream of being an artist. After a rather racy Bohemian life in London during the 1920s and 1930s, she finally settled down, married a doctor, moved to rural Hertfordshire and had two sons. It was for her young sons that she first created the stories of Orlando, inspired by her son's beloved ginger cat.
Orlando: A Seaside Holiday is a large format picture book with a bold sans serif typeface and cat's paw print endpapers. It is the story of a cat family: Orlando is the kind, brave, resourceful father, Grace his devoted wife, and mother to the children, Blanche, Pansy - the good little girls - and the naughty boy kitten, Tinkle, who Kathleen admitted was based on herself as a child. She says in her autobiography, A Slender Reputation, that in the stories of Orlando she was trying to create the type of happy family life that she herself had never had as a child; her father had died when she was five and she was sent to stay with relatives until she was nine, as her mother was forced to become the family breadwinner.
Why do I love this particular book so? From an early age I knew I wanted to be an illustrator. I drew all the time. My father, who was an actor, used to let me have his old scripts, which were blank on one side, and I drew on these, illustrating the stories that were in my head. So at first it was the pictures in Orlando that I loved. Kathleen Hale was a superb draughtswoman who was forty years old and at the peak of her artistic powers when she produced the first Orlando book. She loved animals and drew them wonderfully. Her animal characters were expressive and full of movement but realistically drawn. I was mad about animals too as a child, and like Kathleen's family, we had cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs. I particularly loved drawing horses and remember being fascinated with the aerial view of the Shire horse Vulcan on the opening page of the book. Kathleen says in her autobiography that she liked to draw people from above so that all you saw was a head with two feet protruding from it.
The colour quality of the illustrations was quite unlike today's full colour printing. The copyright page tells you that the pictures were drawn by the artist directly on to transparent plastic sheets and then lithographed. Kathleen Hale said that she had to produce 128 plates for each book, using a black wax litho chalk, as the colours had to be separated. She had to '... carry the colours in my mind and hope to high heaven that the printed result would pass muster'. When I first started work as an illustrator, I had to do colour separations for some books and hated it as it was unrewarding and tedious. So the beautiful, subtle colours that Kathleen produced in the Orlando illustrations are a real feat. There are so many memorable pictures in Seaside Holiday: Grace lying on a sofa which is really a dachshund called Daisy; the Lord Mayor using a claw foot bath as an umbrella; the kittens holding on to the horses' hairy ankles during the storm scene, so as not to be blown away. They are imprinted on my mind and have stayed with me from the age of six. It is not enough to be able to draw well if you want to illustrate books, you have to be able to make up pictures in your head, and Kathleen Hale created wonderful unforgettable images.
The Seaside! That magical place meant so much to me as a child and still does. It was freedom, wide open space, swimming in the sea, exploring rock pools. The opening illustration of Seaside Holiday is of the cats lolling on the stairs on a baking hot summer's day in London, with the front door wide open, to let in a breeze. They were longing for a seaside holiday. The double page spread beach scene in the middle of the book is like all the beaches you have ever known as a child, and then with your own children: sand, buckets and spades, ice cream, seaweed, crabs, shells and starfish.
The story starts off as gentle domestic tale of the cat family going on holiday to Owlbarrow-on-Sea (which is really Aldeburgh in Suffolk): '... it glowed like a fairy city in the heart of a coal fire, beside the flame coloured sea.' I love the page of the cats looking down on the sea and the town as they ride into Owlbarrow in Vulcan's cart. It reminds me of arriving on the first day of my own wonderful childhood summer holidays, when I looked down on St Ives Bay in Cornwall. Then the book suddenly changes tack and becomes an adventure story with Orlando manning the life boat in a storm and rescuing African Queen Catalpa and her crew from a sinking sailing ship. This part of the story now seems quite strange and surreal, but I totally accepted it as a small child and loved the idea of Catalpa falling in love with grumpy Mr Curmudgeon and staying behind to marry him when her newly built ship (shaped like a ginger cat) sailed back to Africa. The text is witty and lively, with jokes that children will understand and find funny – my brothers and I always talked of scrambled eggs as 'scrambled legs', as that is what Tinkle called them. Kathleen didn't talk down to children in the text. Her books were never childish.
Kathleen Hale was made an OBE in 1976. She died when she was 101 in 2000. In 2001 I saw an exhibition of her work at the Redfern Gallery. Some of her original illustrations were for sale but I couldn't afford them. I did buy a print however, a lino cut of a jersey cow sitting down on the grass. It hangs on my studio wall and is one of my most treasured possessions. Kathleen says at the end of her autobiography: 'But I am one of those who impatiently shake the metaphysical apple tree, eager for change and adventure, often bringing down immature fruit and trampling on some with hasty feet.' This exuberance and determination to live life to the full can be seen in all her work. It's what I recognized in Orlando: A Seaside Holiday as a child, and was a source of inspiration to me later, when I became an author and illustrator of picture books myself.
[All the pieces that have appeared in this series, with the links to them, are listed in the index here.]