Today I give you a book excerpt that contains some very entertaining advice for writers. What follows are the first two paragraphs of the second chapter of The Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit.
I am afraid the last chapter was rather dull. It is always dull in books when people talk and talk, and don’t do anything, but I was obliged to put it in, or else you wouldn’t have understood all the rest. The best part of books is when things are happening. That is the best part of real things too. This is why I shall not tell you in this story about all the days when nothing happened. You will not catch me saying, "thus the sad days passed slowly by" — or "the years rolled on their weary course" — or "time went on" — because that is silly; of course time goes on — whether you say so or not. So I shall just tell you the nice, interesting parts — and in between you will understand that we had our meals and got up and went to bed, and dull things like that. It would be sickening to write all that down, though of course it happens. I said so to Albert-next-door’s uncle, who writes books, and he said, "Quite right, that’s what we call selection, a necessity of true art." And he is very clever indeed. So you see.
I have often thought that if the people who write children’s books knew a little more it would be better. I shall not tell you anything about us except what I should like to know about if I was reading the story and you were writing it. Albert’s uncle says I ought to have put this in the preface, but I never read prefaces, and it is not much good writing things just for people to skip. I wonder other authors have never thought of this.
Thanks to the Victorian Women Writers Project at Indiana University, you can read the full text of this and other E. Nesbit stories online.
And of course your local library might just have a copy of the actual book, too! For example, there are 4 copies at the city of Minneapolis public libraries and 1 copy of the audiobook on compact disc… Susan Brown
Nesbit’s authorial commentary was wonderful, Trollope for the grammar school set. One of my favorites, from “Five Children and It.” She begins the book by explaining that she could have easily written a story about all the ordinary fun things the children did during a stay in the country, “…just the kind of things you do yourself, you know, — and you would believe every word of it; and when I told about the children’s being tiresome, as you are sometimes, your aunts would perhaps write in the margin of the story with a pencil, ‘How true!’ or ‘How like life!’ and you would see it and be annoyed. So I will only tell you the really astonishing things that happened, and you may leave the book about quite safely, for no aunts and uncles are likely to write ‘How true!’ on the edge of the story.”
Nesbit’s comments to her readers are just one of the things that make her books so wonderful. Interestingly, though I had forgotten Oswald’s prejudice against prefaces until I reread The Story of the Treasure Seekers a few years ago, I’ve always preferred afterwords to prefaces or introductions. Perhaps it was Oswald/Nesbit’s influence which leg me to write afterwords not introductions in all the Books of Wonder Classics I did at Morrow/HarperCollins and the Nesbit reissues I did at Chronicle — one of which is pictured above — with its gorgeous Paul O. Zelinsky cover!