Roundabout is the latest work in a writing career that spans nine decades, more than 18 books and over 250 poetry anthologies. But Jean is perhaps best known for her creation, Ragdolly Anna, which was made into a children’s TV series in the 1980s.
Roundabout is a charming collection of simple songs and poems for young children, many about the natural world. The pages are beautifully illustrated with paintings in jewel-like colours by Barbara Sedassy, Jean’s longstanding friend and artistic collaborator.
Although Jean has written poems, books and articles for adults, she’s mainly a children’s author. “I’ve always felt an affinity for children and for the wonder that they have about the world and the joy they feel,” Jean explained.
It’s fitting then that the money raised from the sales of Roundabout will go to the Jonny Rhythm Foundation, a charity set up in memory of Barbara’s child, Jonny Sedassy, who died from colon cancer at the age of 33, and who Jean knew from boyhood. A painting Barbara made of Jonny as a boy even illustrates Water, one of the poems in the new book.
Time seems to have made no difference to Jean’s output. She said: “I write most days. It seems natural to me, like breathing. A line just comes into my head and the rest of the lines fly around it, like bees.”
Has time altered her priorities? “I think it’s important to see the good things in the world,” said Jean. “I see good things here at Kingsfield in what the team does. They’re extremely understanding and very kind. They have a huge amount of patience and go out of their way to be helpful. They work very hard and I admire them very much. There’s a lot of laughter here.
“When I first moved here five years ago I dreaded becoming institutionalised, but I’ve been happy here. I wouldn’t have managed in my own flat as I was falling over a lot and breaking bones. Moving to Kingsfield was like moving to a holiday home.”
And of course, receiving round-the-clock care means that Jean is free to concentrate on her writing. In a world where very little poetry is produced now, and people, young and old, are rarely exposed to it, this literary stalwart is, in her own quiet and modest way, continuing to carry the flame for this important art form.