Obituary: Wendy Boase

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The Independent Culture
WENDY BOASE, founding editor of Walker Books, epitomised all that is best in an editor: she cared passionately about her authors and her books, she cared about the words and the pictures, she cared about every detail of a book's production. Such editors are rare.

She was born in Melbourne and had what she described as a "typically outdoorsy Australian upbringing". Much of her time was spent helping her mother run a country store which sold "everything from bras to bathing caps." An avid reader from the start, she discovered the world of Australian children's classics and never lost her fondness for such seminal titles as May Gibbs's Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1918) and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (1918). Good storytelling was important to her; she valued and appreciated the quality it could bring into a child's life.

Her schooling was somewhat indifferent but she went on to Sydney University to study Anglo-Saxon and Middle English. A two-year period of teaching in a private school followed her graduation, but then, like so many young Australians of her generation, she set off in 1968 for the almost obligatory "year in Europe" - a year which turned into a lifetime. In London she taught for a while, then took off to travel round Europe and North America.

Returning to London, Boase enjoyed a brief and unlikely spell as a croupier in a gambling club before taking her first publishing job at Reader's Digest, where she was a reluctant secretary until she was promoted to the research department. From there she went to Marshall Cavendish, the book packager. There she met the charismatic Sebastian Walker and the art director Amelia Edwards.

When Walker began his publishing adventure Walker Books, in 1978, he invited Boase to join him "to look after the words". Walker, Boase, and Edwards together set up the fledgling company in the spare bedroom of Walker's Islington home and from this modest start grew a children's book publishing company which is now one of the most innovative, successful and admired in the world. After Walker's premature death in 1991 the company took on a more structured framework and Boase joined the new board, becoming Editorial Director.

Boase's life was Walker Books. She had vast energy, a huge capacity for work and a fiercely protective attitude towards her authors and artists. She also had a finely tuned feeling for good writing, picking out from the never-ending piles of unsolicited manuscripts such talented writers as Hugh Scott, whose novel Why Weeps the Brogan? won the Whitbread Award in 1989, and Lesley Howarth, who won the Guardian Fiction Award in 1995 with Map Head.

She was especially proud of the Maisy books by Lucy Cousins, and when the first dummies of these little books arrived in the Walker office Boase ran round to everyone enthusiastically hailing a potential bestseller. She was right; 10 titles have followed the original Maisy Goes to Bed (1990), with several more to be published this autumn, including Maisy's Mix-and-Match Mousewear. The books have became world-wide favourites, published in 16 languages. One of Boase's last great coups was the development of a forthcoming television series featuring Maisy.

Boase was an influential figure in the groundbreaking deal Walker struck with Sainsbury; the subsequent marketing in Sainsbury stores of high- quality, low-cost children's books, produced by Walker, was one of the most significant developments in children's publishing since the Second World War.

But it was fiction which was Boase's particular love and over 10 years she built the Walker fiction list to its present pre-eminent position at a time when many publishers were cutting back on their children's fiction. This took courage and vision, and it was a venture supported by the chairman of Walker Books, David Lloyd, from the start.

Like all good editors, Boase abhorred sloppiness and could be impatient if her high standards were not met. But her colleagues loved and respected her, and many young editors benefited from her training. A rather severe and unchanging hair-style could give her a formidable air, but this was misleading - she was never a grande dame. She retained her down-to-earth Australian directness of manner, did not suffer fools, and had a robustly earthy sense of humour. Boase claimed to have no hobbies but she enjoyed walking and country life, was interested in antiques, never stopped reading and once knitted a Kaffe Fassett sweater. Cancer struck her with terrible swiftness and was endured with awesome grace.

"Nothing but the rarest kind of best in anything is good enough for children," wrote Walter de la Mare. Wendy Boase lived that ideal, and the many authors and artists she nurtured with such skill will keep it alive for her.

Wendy Boase, book editor: born Melbourne, Victoria 14 October 1944; married 1979 John Vigurs; died London 15 March 1999.