Winnie the Pooh celebrated his 90th birthday this year and to commemorate AA Milne’s cherished character a new book entitled The Best Bear in all the World has been penned by four famous writers. One of them, children’s author Paul Bright, is from Tunbridge Wells, and here he tells Eileen Leahy how he got involved with the new book that brings one of literature’s beloved and iconic figures back to life again …
In 2012 Paul Bright, author of contemporary childhood tomes including The Bears In The Bed, Crunch Munch Dinosaur Lunch and Quiet!, was asked if he’d like to contribute to a new collection of Winnie The Pooh stories in order to celebrate 90 years since AA Milne created his beloved bear.
Paul, who also writes poems and regularly contributes to children’s television channels CBeebies and CITV didn’t have to ponder his response too long when the Milne estate approached him. He says it was a swift ‘yes’ to being involved in the project as he was such a fan.
“As a child I loved Pooh stories like When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. I think the Pooh characters were part of everybody’s childhood then,” he says.
“Much later I read the biography of A. A. Milne by Ann Thwaite, and realised the extent of his writing, his fame and success as a playwright in the period after the 1st World War. I think the most remarkable aspect of the Pooh stories is the multi-layered humour, which means that the youngest child can enjoy the stories, while an adult finds other levels of amusement in the vocabulary and characterisation.”
Paul is one of four famous writers to have contributed a one-off story to the new book The Best Bear In The World which sees Pooh and his pals Tigger, Eyeore and Owl returning to One Hundred Acre Wood.
The other writers include Brian Sibley who brought ‘Penguin’ one of A.A.Milne’s forgotten characters back to life for his story, author of the Delialh Darling series of books Jeanne Willis and Kate Saunders, the 2015 Costa Children’s Book of the Year winner. The book’s charming illustrations were done by Mark Burgess in the style of original illustrator’s E.H. Shepard’s drawings.
“Our brief,” explains Paul “was to write (as best we could) in the style of A. A. Milne’s original stories. It was rather daunting, but such a tremendous opportunity. I mainly write picture books for younger children, so this was a new area for me.
“The great thing about it was that the characters and their personalities were already there, and most of the readers would be totally familiar with them so my job was to weave a story around those characters.”
Yet despite this, Paul admits that the project still posed a few challenges for him.
“The biggest was how well I could imitate the style and humour of A. A. Milne. The Pooh stories seem so simple when you read them, but they are very cleverly written. I read and re-read the stories and then jumped in, hoping some of the style had rubbed off on me.”
It clearly worked as his story is a wonderfully faithful reproduction of A.A. Milne’s trademark witty writing which ensured Pooh and his pals became such an enduring success.
Paul says that this came about due to one key element: “It’s all down to the characters and Milne’s comic writing,” he states. “We can all think of acquaintances we might describe as an Eeyore or an Owl or a Pooh. For some of us Pooh’s hums are also firmly lodged in the memory. How many families will greet the first snowfall of this winter with ‘The more it snow’ followed by a chorus of ‘Tiddely-pom!’?
What does he hope readers of the new Winnie The Pooh book will take away with them after reading it?
“Well I’m sure some will say that it is a mistake to mess with classic stories by writing sequels – and I do have a lot of sympathy for that view. But I hope they will enjoy the stories, and maybe search out the original Pooh books on their bookshelves or in the library and re-read them, to themselves, or their children and grandchildren.”
Paul admits that after feeling just a tad daunted at the prospect of recreating the magic penned by A.A.Milne he did actually enjoy the process of getting into character and writing a story for the 90th birthday book.
“It has been tremendous fun, especially when you feel you are getting a flavour of Milne’s style and humour, and the animals start to come alive on the page. Now the book is in print, and so beautifully produced, it’s rather gobsmacking to think that you have become a part of it, if only a Piglet-sized footnote, in the story of Winnie-the-Pooh.”
The Best Bear in all the World is published by Egmont, priced at £7.99 and available from all good bookshops and online.