Topic: Joyce Tarlton West (1908-1985)
The New Zealand Room at the Tauranga Library houses the 'Joyce West Collection'. These books were donated to the library after Joyce West's death in Tauranga in 1985. The library adds to this collection regularly. Titles added include New Zealand Post Book Award winners and worthy New Zealand and Bay of Plenty authors that are out of print. This collection is non-lending but can be viewed within the library. The following essay (author and date unknown) is taken from laminated sheets kept with the collection:
Looking strange? See an archived version here
Joyce West died in the Tauranga Hospital on February 21, 1985, in her 76th year, after a gallant fight against cancer.
Over four decades her reputation as a writer of teenage adventure books became world wide. Not even Margaret Mahy, following in her footsteps, has had television rights secured by Walt Disney Productions for one hour of television. Joyce West achieved this with her 1970 publication of 'The Sea Islanders', which was also a five-part serial on the BBC. It was a Foyle's Book Club book. There was an American edition by Roy Publishers, and Scholastic Magazines (a world-wide organisation) brought out a special paperback edition for schools in America. The book was translated into German and Danish. The then publishing firm of Blackwood & Paul (New Zealand) did a reprint, the first time a New Zealand publisher had shown interest in her writings.
In 1979 J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., publishers of all her books through Charles E. Tuttle of Tokyo, and the Japanese publishing firm of Akana Sholes, brought out a Japanese translation of 'The Sea Islands', beautifully illustrated. Joyce West's first book published by Dent in 1953, after 13 publishers, chiefly in her own country had turned her manuscript down, was 'Drover's Road'. It was written out of a series of articles for the now defunct Australian Journal. It had a good press in England, and elsewhere. It went into reprint the same year of publication, and yet again in 1958. In 1963 there was a Pennant publication in what would be a Penguin series today, with the one exception Pennant books were case bound, they were not paperbacks. In between, Joyce West had written and published another two books, 'Year of the Shining Cuckoo' in 1961, and 'Cape Lost' in 1963. 'The Golden Country' followed in 1965 - all published by Dent. Her last book, before illness took over, was 'The River Road', published in 1980.
When interviewed a number of years ago, Joyce West quoted a letter she had received from at least one sympathetic publisher of New Zealand literature at that time. "You must not feel that writing children's books is a sign of arrested development. In publishing circles, writing for children is regarded as one of the most difficult and demanding, and also one of the most valuable branches of writing. Today (by the way) would-be authors don't cut their teeth by writing for children first, then graduating by writing for adults, they remain children's writers".
Joyce West lived in a small cottage surrounded by trees in 18th Avenue, Tauranga. She was born Joyce Tarlton West in Auckland City, her parents travelling much of the North Island, teaching in remote Maori schools. Dredging her memories of childhood days, she said that her father had a background of Kipling's India. In his young days he travelled between Scotland and India, then did accountancy work in South East Asia, where he met and married Joyce's mother in Hong Kong. They lived for a time in Singapore. She mentioned her father as a terrific story-teller, and an avid reader. Her mother, who had a love of books, would read to her daughters a chapter at a time - books were precious in the backblocks, where the only contact with the outside world was a rural mail delivery. Both parents being teachers, they engendered in their family a love of books, and more important, the use of words.
As a child, Joyce West remembered thoroughly enjoying John Bunyan's 'Pilgrims Progress', possibly because it was read to her, or perhaps because all children love fantasy. She remembered, too, that in the house in their childhood years there were fortnightly Harmsworth publications, which much later she bound volumed. 'Countries of the World', 'People of all Nations', The Harmsworth Encyclopaedia, and its Household Volume. There were also magazines, such as Pearson's, Strand, Wide World, to mention a few. "My mother always said that if we as a family hadn't spent so much on books and magazines, we would have been better off'', said the author.
Joyce West said she always wanted to be a writer but saw herself writing dramatic novels. The closest she came to that was her association with her close friend Mary Scott, then New Zealand's most prolific writer, when they combined their talents in a series of detective novels (1960-66). Their first such novel was 'Fatal Lady'. Mary Scott predeceased her friend by some five years, she died in 1980. The children's writer said she had written an autobiographical manuscript about her childhood, but never found a publisher, at least not in her own country.
One perhaps could think of the late Joyce West as someone who cared a niche for herself over almost four decades of writing for teenagers, whose work was known world-wide, much more so than any New Zealander's ever recognised. One could say, during her lifetime, she was the best known teenage author from this country. Her adventure stories will live on, even in an age when teenagers look to books which tell of star wars, space ship travel, and the nuclear age in which a young generation may face an uncertain future. No doubt, had she lived a little longer, she would have continued to write about the New Zealand she loved, perhaps in a setting of a technological age of computerisation - even on the farmlands, where Joyce West was most at home.
The more carefree days of past history are no more, yet adventure books such as she wrote will never fade, they were so well written - they live in the minds of the young who read them. Was this gifted writer treated somewhat shabbily by her own countrymen, and women, - one believes she was?
This page was archived at perma cc January 2017 https://perma.cc/5gqk-atcf