P. L. Travers … Hard Medicine & Strong Magic


P. L. Travers … Hard Medicine & Strong Magic

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 P. L. Travers (1899-1996) was an Australian-born British novelist, actress, and journalist who migrated to England and lived most of her adult life there. She is known best for the Mary Poppins series of children’s books featuring the magical English nanny Mary Poppins.

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Her birth name was Helen Lyndon Goff. She left for England in 1924 and once there she dedicated herself to writing under the pen name P. L. Travers. In 1931 she moved to Pound Cottage in Sussex and it was here, in the winter of 1933, that she began to write Mary Poppins.

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Pound Cottage, Sussex

 Published in London in 1934, Mary Poppins was Travers’ first literary success. Many sequels followed, the last in 1988. Travers’ literary output other than Mary Poppins and its sequels included other novels, poetry collections and works of non-fiction.

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Much has been made of her working relationship with Walt Disney, who brought her most famous creation to the big screen in 1964. This relationship was the subject of a 2013 feature film called Saving Mr Banks. In public she praised the adaptation but it was an open secret that her overall opinion of the film actually ranged from dislike to hate.

Julie Andrews, Walt Disney and P.L. Travers at the 1964 premiere of Mary Poppins.

Julie Andrews, Walt Disney and P.L. Travers at the 1964 premiere of Mary Poppins.

P. L. Travers was interviewed for the Paris Review’s Art of Fiction series in 1982. Part of this interview is included below.

P.L. Travers’ home at 50 Smith Street in Chelsea, London

P.L. Travers’ home at 50 Smith Street in Chelsea, London

HP. L. Travers’s terraced house in Chelsea has a pink door, the color of the cover of Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane. In the hall is an antique rocking horse. Her study is at the top of the house: a white-walled room, crowded with books and papers, its austerity relieved by a modern rocking chair. 

Do you have to set yourself a daily schedule of writing?

In a way I’m never not doing it. When I’m going to buy, let us say, a tube of toothpaste, I have it in me. The story or lecture or article is moving. And I make a point of writing, if only a little, every day, as a kind of discipline so that it is not a whim but a piece of work.

Do you compose in longhand or at the typewriter?

I do a little bit of both. It’s very strange. My handwriting, when I’m writing on paper before I put it onto the typewriter, is quite different—it’s somebody else’s handwriting. I’m always surprised to see it. Perhaps I’m not writing at all; perhaps there is somebody else doing it. I so often wonder. Do these ideas come into the mind or are they just instinctive ?

P.L. Travers’ office set on display at the Walt Disney Studios

P.L. Travers’ office set on display at the Walt Disney Studios

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Further information & references:

There are two excellent documentaries about the life & work of P.L.Travers. Both are currently available to watch on Youtube. Links below.

And here is the official trailer for Saving Mr Banks. It is certainly a very watchable film although the reviews have been somewhat varied.

Full Paris Review interview from 1982.

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7 responses to “P. L. Travers … Hard Medicine & Strong Magic

  1. This is very interesting, I did enjoy reading this very much. (By the way, the manuscript is done so you can’t tell me off for leaving comments on your blog 🙂 )

  2. V Interestink Colonel – I enjoyed this.

  3. Biscuits you say … what are your absolute favourites and do you dunk ? Mine are chocolate digestives or custard creams.I generally dunk. … especially ginger snaps. This writing lark is certainly pretty hard. When I die I think I may well done try my hand at ghost writing.

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