Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Peter Eldin

(* I'd like to welcome Peter Eldin to Bear Alley. Peter is the author of over 250 factual, educational and fun books published around the world and has contributed to TV shows, appeared on TV himself and contributed to dozens of different magazines. Peter has been kind enough to put together a few memories of his time writing for British educational magazines back in the 1970s, a little piece he calls...)

Memories of Look and Learn

One day in 1971 I picked up a copy of World of Wonder from my local newsagent. It was an event that changed my life completely. The magazine was so interesting that, with no writing experience whatsoever, I contacted the editor suggesting a series of articles on famous magicians. The idea was accepted and I produced a 15-week series.

Prior to the series being published (starting 16 October 1971), I came across some information about Willow Pattern. I wrote about this and sent it, speculatively, to Bob Bartholemew, the editor of World of Wonder. It was accepted and I contributed to the magazine thereafter.

In 1972 I wrote my first book for children, Amaze and Amuse Your Friends (published by Piccolo in 1973).

During the writing process I saw Philip Emms on our local railway station. As we had been neighbours when we were kids I knew he was an artist (although we had not met for some twenty years) and I invited him to illustrate my book. He accepted the invitation adn we did a couple of books together thereafter.

It may have been through Phil that I first heard of Look and Learn because he was a regular illustrator. The first piece I wrote for Look and Learn was, as far as I can tell, about Madame Tussaud (18 August 1972) and this led to regular articles until the demise of the magazine.

By 1973 my contributions to IPC, regular book commissions and a contract with Grolier Publishing convinced me that I should freelance full time, which I did from 1st April 1973, giving up a secure career in accountancy and office management.

Andy Vincent was the editor when I first started contributing to Look and Learn and I got on well with him. I do remember, however, one occasion that he suggested that I do a series on the history of steam power. When I delivered the material he had forgotten all about it and I had to "sell" the idea back to him. This I did not find surprising because of the speed at which the editors had to work. A similar thing happened on World of Wonder when Bob Bartholemew commissioned me to write a piece. When I delivered it I discovered that he had also commissioned another writer to do the same piece! It is, however, to Bob Bartholemew that I owe a big debt of gratitude for he was a great encouragement and a regular purchaser of my material right from the start of my career as a freelance writer.

I think my work for Look and Learn increased when Jack Parker became editor. We got on very well and we frequently lunched together at a small bistro near King's Reach Tower. I always made a point of delivering material in person to the editors of World of Wonder, Look and Learn and Speed & Power which often resulted in more work being commissioned because I 'happened to be in the right place at the right time'. Because of this involvement with the editors Ken Roscoe, editor of Speed & Power, often telephoned me with requests to write up stories he had come across in magazines or news items.

In spite of regular visits to the editorial offices of these three magazines I did not have much contact with staff other than the editors, although I did meet them while I was in the office. Many of the staff, other writers, illustrators and the production staff were met at the Christmas get-togethers of Look and Learn on the 17th (I think) floor of King's Reach Tower.

During my period supplying material to Look and Learn I also organised some prize trips to The Magic Circle and The Magic Circle Christmas Show.

A particularly interesting, and sometimes challenging, series for me was the long-running Fact Finder in which I answered questions raised by readers. There were at least a couple of times when I suspected that the reader knew more than I did about a subject and the questioner was just testing me out!

Two coincidences were associated with my involvement with Look and Learn. The first being that I was introduced to the magazine by artist Philip Emms who was my next door neighbour when we were kids and had no idea that our paths would be linked at a later date. The second came in when I employed the services of a literary agent and later discovered that the agency also acted for John Davies and Andy Vincent, both editors of Look and Learn, and Robin May, a regular contributor to the magazine!

(* My thanks to Peter for his memories. The illustrations are various features written by Peter and are © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.)

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