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Seven Stories holds secrets to Tracy Beaker books
Unfinished Tracy Beaker illustration for Starring Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. Copyright Nick Sharratt.
An unfinished illustration by Nick Sharratt for Starring Tracy Beaker

Hidden away in the back streets of Felling in Gateshead is an archive of national importance.

The Seven Stories collection is a treasure trove of original manuscripts and illustrations for some of Britain's best-loved children's books.

Highlights include artwork drawn by Nick Sharratt for the Tracy Beaker books and handwritten notes and drafts belonging to the author Philip Pullman.

There is also work by local authors like David Almond and Robert Westall.

Altogether more than 70 writers and illustrators are represented in the collection, which focuses on British contemporary works from the 1930s to the present day.

Tracy Beaker

The Felling archive is crammed with books and boxes of papers and pictures stored at the perfect temperature and humidity.

Archivist Hannah Green is responsible for cataloguing new acquisitions and knows the collection inside out.

Hannah Green looks at some original drawings
Hannah says her favourite book as a child was The Hobbit

She said the founders of Seven Stories wanted to stop British work being bought up by overseas collectors, preserve it and make it accessible to the public.

What makes it into the collection - or onto their wish list - depends on a number of factors.

"It may be to do with how critically acclaimed a writer is," Hannah explained.

"Also the publishing phenomenons like Tracy Beaker, like Harry Potter, are important because they show how children's publishing works and what's popular in a particular period."

Award-winning authors and illustrators are another target.

Doodles

Nick Sharratt drawing
A headless Tracy Beaker illustration and note by Nick Sharratt

Once unwrapped, the carefully packaged manuscripts and drawings reveal some of the painstaking work that goes into crafting a children's book.

Pencil sketches on scraps of paper show how Nick Sharratt develops his line drawings for Jacqueline Wilson's Tracy Beaker books.

In some of the rough pictures Tracy doesn't have hair - and on one she doesn't have a head!

Pages marked with coffee stains, doodles, crossings out and scribbled questions ("I don't know what is significant") all suggest a difficult creative process.

One of Philip Pullman's handwritten pages is even dotted with coin rubbings.

Sketches and handwriting by Philip Pullman
A page from Philip Pullman's manuscript for The Tiger in the Well

Hannah was particularly excited to catalogue his collection.

"He does these sorts of notes to himself saying things like 'I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know where this is going. I'm stuck,'" she said.

"And to see that from someone whose books I think are so brilliant and so well written and to realise that even the greatest writers go through that was very exciting.

"When you see the kind of material we have you begin to realise the amount of time and effort that's spent in crafting a children's book... it is real art form."

Look and touch

Hannah added that the raison d'être behind Seven Stories was to help other people experience that same "moment of excitement" about books.

The collections team work closely with staff at the Seven Stories public building in Newcastle to develop events and exhibitions where people can see - and sometimes touch - the archive material.

Seven Stories
The long-term hope is to move the archives closer to the Newcastle centre

"It's important that material is being used and not just coming in and sitting in boxes," she said.

At one recent session a young Tracy Beaker fan came face-to-face with some of the drawings of his favourite character.

"He was just so thrilled to be holding the original pictures," Hannah said.

"It was one of the moments where you think 'This is why we do what we do.'"

Seven Stories, the Centre for Children Books, is the only museum in the UK dedicated to the art of children's literature.

Find out more on the Seven Stories website.

Images:

Top and third: Unfinished illustrations for Starring Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson (Doubleday, 2006) © Nick Sharratt, 2006

Fourth: The Tiger in the Well manuscript (Viking, 1991) © Philip Pullman, c 1991




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