Michael Bond … the bear necessities
Michael Bond, (born 13 January 1926) is an English author, best known for his Paddington Bear series of books. Bond began writing in 1945 whilst stationed with the army in Cairo and sold his first short story to the magazine London Opinion. He was paid seven guineas, and thought he “wouldn’t mind being a writer”. In 1958, after producing a number of plays and short stories and while working as a BBC television cameraman (where he worked on Blue Peter for a time), his first book, A Bear Called Paddington, was published. This was the start of Bond’s series of books recounting tales of a bear from “Darkest Peru”, whose Aunt Lucy sends him to the United Kingdom, carrying a jar of marmalade; the Brown family found the bear at Paddington Station, and adopted him, naming the bear after the railway station. By 1967, Bond was able to give up his BBC job to work full-time as a writer.
Paddington’s adventures have sold over 35 million books, have been published in nearly twenty countries, in over forty languages, and have inspired pop bands, race horses, plays, hot air balloons, a movie and television series.
Michael Bond was interviewed in 2016 by the Guardian for their My Writing Day series.
I have been writing every day of my life, seven days a week, for almost 50 years. Even Christmas Day. But I still enjoy it. I have lived in the same house for the last 30 years and I have written in the same room ever since. When I first came to London, I went on a canal boat ride in Little Venice and I remember going past the street where I live now, thinking: “This must be a nice place to live.” I never dreamed that I would one day live here.
My writing room is a cosy, book-lined room, with a dark wooden desk and a window overlooking the garden. There is a little Paddington bear watching over my desk. I am happy here, although on some days, there is rather a lot of traffic on the road and the river and it can be quite noisy.
But I like looking out of the window while I write, watching all the activity. I am a city person and I get my inspiration from watching people. If I go for a short walk, I come back brimming with ideas. I think my mind has adapted to my work as a writer – I am constantly listening for little snatches of conversation. I’ve got ideas that made their way into books while on holiday, while shopping, while observing my grandson. Paddington has a lot of my father in him; he was a very polite man and never left the house without a hat, so he could raise it when he met a lady. When he took me to the seaside as a child, he even kept his hat on while he was in the water.
I am always at my desk by 9am. I use a laptop, which is usually buried under papers, and I have a typewriter, too. I like typewriters; you can type with real flourish. One of the problems about working from home is it is so easy to do, so you end up working a lot. This is not a grumble, though, it is a fact of life.
Paper is my problem. I have finished and unfinished stories all over the place. When I really want something – a particular page or a reference book – I can’t find it, so it doesn’t work incredibly well. I am running out of flat surfaces. It is ridiculous, really. And I am running out of space on my bookshelves – I have a lot of fat reference books everywhere and no space for anything new. I was brought up in a home where books were considered part of the furniture and I love reference books. But I tend to collect them – wine books, food books, books for my Monsieur Pamplemousse series – and only read them once. I have 95% of all I should ever want to know in my writing room.
I went through a long, lovely period 30 years ago where I would go to a flat in Paris to do my writing. It was lovely because no one wrote to me. There were no disturbances and you could get a lovely meal in the evening. I’d get up early, switch on the machine and spend all the morning writing. While I wouldn’t want to write anywhere else than my home now, it’s not ideal because so many other things intrude.
How long does it take me to write a book – how long is a piece of string? I am a quick writer, but in practical terms, I never continue to the next page until I am happy with the one I am writing. Goodness knows how many times I go over it. I don’t mind that though, it is a case of getting it right.
I love working with illustrators. My current illustrator for the Paddington books lives in America and I like him terribly – any time I am not happy with something, I give him a call and he changes it immediately. You can have a funny relationship with illustrators because publishers don’t like you talking without them – it feels as if you’re going behind their back.
I don’t think I’ve got faster at writing over the years. I think I am more skilled, though. Writing Paddington still comes very easily to me. I didn’t set out to write another, I was just exercising my mind and writing some ideas, until my agent said “You’ve got a book on your hands.” I am very pleased with it.
Paddington’s arrival took Bond by surprise. It was 1958, the year that his daughter, Karen, who is now managing director of Paddington and Company, was born but Bond didn’t set out to write a children’s book. Or even a book at all. “The first book started life as a doodle really because I had a blank sheet of paper and a typewriter and you know that nobody else is going to put any words on unless you do. I was looking around the room and we had this small bear, which had been a kind of stocking filler for my first wife, and I wondered, idly, what it would be like if it was a real bear that landed on Paddington station and I typed the first words down. The idea caught my fancy.”