Annie M.G. Schmidt was a prolific writer. Poetry, stories, musicals, children’s books, comedy, she wrote it all. In her biography Anna by Annejet van der Zijl, her son Flip van Duijn explains that his mother could not say ‘no’ to the requests by standup comedians, companies, theatre and tv producers. As long as he can remember, around nine o’clock in the morning his mother would disappear in a Spartan furnished study in their house in Berkel, near Rotterdam.
It seems, as Annie’s biographer van der Zijl suggests, that the ‘he’ in the poem The Fairy Tale Writer is actually a ‘she’, as Annie M.G. Schmidt did write so much that she could have emptied a pond full of ink. Perhaps with a fountain pen at first, later with a typewriter.
The fairy tales of Annie M.G. Schmidt are timeless, comparable to the stories of the German Brothers Grimm and Danish Hans Christian Andersen. Official recognition for her work came with the Hans Christian Andersen award in 1988. She received the prize from the hands of her fellow children’s writer Astrid Lindgren, the creator of Pippi Longstocking. According to biographer van der Zijl Annie Schmidt identified with Andersen as both of them always had the need to be recognised as serious authors. Apparently the story about the ugly duckling becoming a swan was both Andersen en Schmidt’s favorite fairy tale.
The poem The fairy tale writer can be found in A Pond full of Ink. This book is a new anthology of poems by Annie M.G. Schmidt, illustrated by Sieb Posthuma, published by Querido and one of her few works translated into English. In 2012 the Dutch version was awarded the Golden Brush, a leading literary prize for the best illustrated children’s book.
A fairy tale author I know
starts work every day when the roosters crow.
He writes very quickly, he writes without hitches
about fairies and elves and hobgoblins and witches.
He writes about princesses, princes, and kings
and keeps going till six when the dinner bell rings.
The next morning he’s back when the sky’s turning blue.
An inkpot’s too little, so what does he do?
At the foot of his garden there’s a pond full of ink.
The blackbirds all gather around it to drink.
And whenever that writer is at a loose end,
he goes down to that pond to refill his pen.
He’s made up ten thousand stories already,
and has plenty more — he’s constant and steady.
And if he keeps writing till the day that he dies,
perhaps he’ll have written that pond of his dry.
Translation by David Colmer for Querido