Austrian-born British author Eva Ibbotson died at her home in Newcastle at the age of 85 in 2010, not long after completing her final novel, One Dog and His Boy, which Scholastic Press published in the U.S. in 2012. Happily, her fans will have another chance to read the work of the accomplished author, whose fiction for adults and children spans romance, fantasy, and realism. After her death, her son Toby uncovered a manuscript she’d penned relatively early in her career, and he and Marion Lloyd, his mother’s longtime editor in the U.K., readied it for publication. The result of the collaborative effort is The Abominables, a novel about a gentle family of yetis driven from their Himalayan paradise by tourism. Marion Lloyd Books, an imprint of Scholastic UK, published the book last year, and Abrams’s Amulet imprint is releasing it in this country October 8.
Toby Ibbotson wasn’t surprised to find the manuscript for The Abominables, which he remembered reading years ago and wondering why she had shelved it. “Why didn’t she submit it? Impossible to answer that, but one can speculate,” he said. “My favorite theory is that she felt that her anger and frustration at the way the natural world is being devastated to satisfy pure lust came over too strong, and that her contempt for aristocratic snobberies and stupidity was too obvious – that children’s books should be nicer. I admired her almost more than anything for her ability to junk stuff she thought wasn’t right for whatever reason. Nothing was ever all right because she had written it. That takes strength of character.”
Eva Ibbotson apparently left The Abominables in quite good shape. “I’m fairly sure that it was close to being a final draft, with only minor revisions left to do,” said her son. “Marion and I worked together on it, and very enjoyable it was. So nice to be able to have little fights about punctuation and vocabulary. I always lost, and don’t let her say otherwise. The changes to the book were pretty minor. We found some of the visualization and situations had dated and we tightened up some stuff. There were also a couple of notes in the margin to be deciphered.”
Lloyd, who first began working with the author in 1986, had not known that the manuscript existed. “Eva had never spoken about it to me, and I’m not quite sure why she kept it in a drawer,” she said. “It’s very difficult to know whether it was a thing she wanted to return to and revisit. She started to write non-magical [books] after her husband died in 1998, and wrote Journey to the River Sea, which won the Smarties Book Prize when it was published in 2001 and was among her biggest hits. She just sort of moved on.”
Bringing the Book to American Fans
Susan Van Metre, senior v-p and publisher at Abrams, was very pleased to receive Lloyd’s e-mail about the discovery of The Abominables. Like Lloyd, Van Metre has a long publishing history with Ibbotson. As an editor at Dutton in the late 1990s, she acquired The Secret of Platform 13, a novel about a magical platform in London’s King’s Cross station that portends Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame. After Platform 13 “did very nicely,” the editor acquired some of Ibbotson’s backlist titles, including The Great Ghost Rescue and Which Witch?, and later signed up Journey to the River Sea, which Van Metre calls “Eva’s most successful book in terms of critical acclaim and sales.”
“I think because hers were some of the first novels I acquired as an editor, my relationship with Eva was very meaningful to me,” Van Metre said. “I always kept in touch with her, and I went with my husband, then boyfriend, to visit her in her huge, old Victorian house in Newcastle one day in 2001. I remember she made a very, very stiff gin and tonic! It was wonderful to meet her – she had such a sharp sense of humor. She said, ‘I know you think you had to come see me now, since you think I’ll drop dead any minute.’ Happily she went on to live a bit longer.”
Van Metre views The Abominables as a worthy complement to Ibbotson’s oeuvre and a “lovely addition” to the Amulet list. “As with all Eva’s books, this is about the search for a home, and it also reflects her very deep love of animals and children,” she said. “On a less serious side, it is a hilariously funny, slapstick road-trip adventure. And on a third, more poignant side, it’s about a wise, practical woman who cares for the yetis, and after her death her great-niece appears, who is the embodiment of the woman. For me, it’s a bit like losing Eva and having her come back unexpectedly in the form of this book. In some way, it’s like she isn’t really gone.”
The Amulet edition of The Abominables features illustrations by British-born, Brooklyn-based artist Fiona Robinson. Film rights to the book, which was longlisted for the 2012 Guardian Prize after its publication in the UK, have been sold to Aardman Animations.
Van Metre, who said she corresponded with Toby Ibbotson on Americanization issues, “much as I would have with Eva,” noted that he and Lloyd did a seamless job putting the finishing touches on The Abominables. “The novel really does feel like Eva, and you wouldn’t notice that anyone else had had a hand in it,” she said. “It is so meaningful to me to be able to work on this one last book of hers. It brought back wonderful memories.”
Lloyd acknowledged that she and Toby “did our very best to work in a way Eva would have done herself, since we both knew and understood her style exceptionally well. Yet in the end, this was Eva’s own.”
Toby Ibbotson, who worked with his mother on some of her earlier books (“We plotted and schemed and had a laugh together, more intensely as time went on”), was very happy to have a chance to help The Abominables appear posthumously. “It was very gratifying indeed,” he said. “I think my mother would be pleased. In fact, to be honest, I’m sure she would.”
The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson. Abrams/Amulet, $16.95 Oct. ISBN 978-1-4197-0789-6