Alison Christie: Interview

Alison Christie is credited with writing a number of stories in Tammy. She recently contacted this blog and clarified that she also wrote a number of stories for Jinty and other IPC titles, as well as for a number of DC Thompson titles. She continues to write for children, using her married name, so do look for Alison Mary Fitt when searching her out! She kindly agreed to do an email interview for this blog, for which many thanks are due.

Alison Mary Fitt
Alison Mary Fitt, credited in Tammy as Alison Christie

Questions for her:

1 I saw a little on the Scottish Book Trust site that you started writing for DC Thomson on leaving school. Can you tell me a bit more about writing for girls’ comics and how long that career lasted? For instance, what titles did you write for, and on what basis (in house, freelance)? You said on the Scottish Book Trust site that you were “at one point turning out an episode a week for six picture story serials” – when would this have been, and how did you even manage it?!

On leaving school I worked in DC Thomson as a junior sub editor on Bunty, and was soon subbing scripts that came in from freelance writers. However, at that time, some of the serials were written in-house, so I got my first chance to write a serial, called “Queen of the Gypsies”. Later, I was moved to their new nursery comics which came out by the name of Bimbo, then Little Star, then Twinkle for girls. I wrote lots of text- and picture-stories for these, in house – though freelancers were used as well. After I got married, I still worked in-house at DCs… but then had 3 children in quick succession – so left and went freelance, submitting scripts for Twinkle, which had replaced the other two titles. I also freelanced for the various DC’s girls magazines, Judy, Debbie, Mandy, Nikki, Tracy etc…writing picture stories for them, though oddly enough, didn’t ever submit any story-line to Bunty, the mag I started on.

Then I thought I’d branch out and give IPC a go, and submitted a story-line to Mavis Miller of Jinty [at that point still editor of June & Schoolfriend] . She accepted it right away, and there began my freelance work for IPC, with June, Jinty, then Tammy, some stories for Misty – and, later, when the magazine Dreamer (for younger girls) started, and included photo stories, I wrote a serial called “Who Stole Samantha?” about a missing doll. Dreamer was short-lived, however, as was Penny, another IPC mag for younger girls. I wrote a serial for that entitled “Waifs of the Waterfall”. I have to say DC Thomson was a great training-ground as far as writing picture stories was concerned.

Sadly, Jinty/Tammy bit the dust around 1985, and suddenly vanished without any notification of this to their writers or artists. I continued writing for the DC Thomson stable of girls’ papers, but they all gradually gave up the ghost.

I have never stopped writing, though – and am now writing children’s books.

Six serials a week? Yes, at one point I was doing this, despite having 3 young children, working mostly at night when they were in bed. One of the freelance writers for one of the DC girl’s papers had died, and I was asked to finish his serials – so, along with 3 other serials for DC girl’s mags, plus a couple for Tammy and Jinty, that made six stories at that particular time.

2 What stories did you write in your comics career? Are there specific ones that stand out to you at this distance in time (for good or for ill)?

Alison reviewed her files and supplied the following list of stories that she wrote, with her own summaries

  • “The Grays Fight Back” (First story submitted to Mavis Miller, who was then editor of June & Schoolfriend, about a troubled family.)

War-time stories written for Mavis Miller / Jinty

  • “My Name is Nobody” (orphaned child in London Blitz who couldn’t remember her name) written for June & Schoolfriend when MM was the editor of that title [identified on the Comics UK Forum as “Nobody Knows My Name”, starting in the 20 November 1971 edition of June. It was illustrated by Carlos Freixas.]
  • “Daddy’s Darling” (spoilt girl evacuee)
  • “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (This ran for 36 weeks)

 Other Jinty stories

Jinty & Lindy serial

  • For Peter’s Sake!” (Girl pushing her Gran’s old pram from Scotland to England for her baby brother Peter)

Tammy & Jinty serial

  • “Lara the Loner” (girl who hated crowds)

 Tammy serials

  • “A Gran for the Gregorys”
  • “The Button Box” (series)
  • “Cassie’s Coach” (Three children living in an old coach in London in Victorian times)
  • See also the list on Catawiki of titles credited to her – from issue 590 to 684 (last issue of Tammy was 691). NB number 590 was the first one to regularly credit creators and it stopped doing that a bit before 684 by the looks of it. Titles in [square brackets] below are credited to Alison Christie on that source.
  • [It’s A Dog’s Life Tammy 1983 623 – 629]
  • [Room for Rosie Tammy 1983 646 – 667]

Tammy complete stories

  •  Olwyn’s Elm A storyteller story, may have been published in another title?
  • Bethlehem’s Come to Us (Christmas 1983 issue)
  • Message of a Flower
  • [Dreams Can Wait]

Serials for other titles

  • “Second Fiddle to Sorcha” (musical story) published in one of the DCT titles [identified on the Comics UK Forum: “Second Fiddle To Sorcha} ran in Mandy 880 (26 November 1983) – 887 (14 January 1984)]
  • [edited to add: “I Must Fall Out With Mary!” published in Mandy in 1986]

I wrote more stories for Jinty than Tammy for, having firstly written for June & Schoolfriend (edited by Mavis Miller), I then wrote for Jinty when she became editress of that. When I finally took a trip down to King’s Reach Tower to meet her in person, I was then introduced to Wilfred Prigmore of Tammy, and began writing for Tammy as well. I was writing for Mavis in 1971. I know this because that’s when the youngest of my 3 children was born, and being hospitalised and hooked up on a drip, I was still writing my current serial for her, and I remember she commented, ‘That’s devotion to duty!’

I may well have written more serials than these, but foolishly did not keep files of them all.

I loved writing them all – but liked the heart-tuggers best, of which there were plenty! I think “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was one of my favourites. I had the 3 children spending Christmas in a concrete pill-box. On mentioning this to my driving instructor at the time, who was a retired army major, he said, “Must have been bloody cold!” I liked “Always Together” too – and “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”.

3 You have mentioned separately that Keith Robson asked you in later years whether you were the writer on “The Goose Girl”, so clearly artists didn’t (always?) know who wrote the stories they worked on. Was this the usual way of doing things? It looks like many of your stories were illustrated by Phil Townsend; how aware of this in advance were you, and did it mean that for instance you had the chance to write to his strengths, or anything like that?

No, artists would not likely know who wrote the stories they worked on, unless the name of the writer was somewhere on the script. I had no say at all in who illustrated my stories, just sent them in, and the Editors farmed them out to an artist. Which is why I had no idea it was Keith Robson illustrating the Goose-girl, not that at the point I’d have known who he was. Only when Tammy started to put the author and illustrator’s names in, did I know who the illustrators were, mostly Phil Townsend and Mario Capaldi, both talented artists. I never met or communicated with either of them.

4 On the blog, we’d love to fill in more names of people associated with Jinty and related titles. Do you remember any other writers or artists that you worked with or knew of? Do you have any memories of working with them, directly or indirectly?

Sorry, but I don’t know of any artists, writers, who wrote for Tammy, Jinty, at that time – being freelance and working from home meant I didn’t meet any. I did meet Mavis Miller , the Jinty editor – but then she left to get married and I did not hear any more about her, though I did try to find out for a while. Also met Wilfred Prigmore.

I know of Pat Mills (who at one time had the temerity to write on a blog that females were no use writing for girl’s magazines such as Jinty -men were better at it! He worked in DCTs then down at IPC himself, and wrote for Tammy and possibly Jinty.)

But I have never actually met him. I did know the in-house artists at DCTs, but mostly freelance artists were used from outside, and I didn’t know them either.

5 Clearly there were similarities in your stories for Jinty: they were often tear-jerkers (Stefa, Bow Street Runner, Somewhere Over The Rainbow) and many of them illustrated by the same artist. Perhaps because they were drawn by different artists, I would identify a slightly different vibe about some other stories: The Goose Girl about independence, and Darling Clementine, a sports story with a ‘misunderstood’ angle. Were you ever asked to write to specified themes, formulas, or ideas given by the editorial department, or were you left to your own devices and inspiration? 

Yes, I was asked to write to a specific theme, but only once. Mavis Miller asked me to write a serial based on Catherine Cookson’s The Dwelling Place. Which resulted in “Always Together”.

Many thanks again to Alison for sending in all this information – and of course for writing so many of these excellent and well-loved stories in the first place! Many thanks also to the folk on the Comics UK Forum for the detective work in finding some original titles and dates of publications noted above.

Edited to add a couple of follow-up questions and points of information:

6 You mention DCTs as a great training ground for writing comics serials. Can you tell us anything of the tips or techniques you either were specifically taught, or learned by osmosis? For instance, the style of these comics is to plunge straight into the story headlong – in The Spell of the Spinning Wheel, the father is lamed in the first couple of pages – and the protagonists are very central to every page and indeed almost every panel of the story, so that very little is told without reference to that main character. And perhaps there are also differences between boys’ comics of the time, with lots of action and less mystery, and girls’ comics?
Re training in DCT, nobody actually ‘trained’ me – but subbing other freelancers’ scripts as they came in was very informative. Can’t think why as a seventeen year old, (I was only sixteen when I started on the Bunty) I was allowed to do this – but after all this subbing I had a fair idea how to write scripts myself. The main point was to keep the story flowing from picture to picture – thus the captions at the top or sometimes bottom were important connectors to the following picture. Also, the last picture was always a cliff-hanger – so the reader would want to buy the comic the next week! The stories always had a main character, who did feature in all or most of the pictures, either prominently or in the background, which was fair enough, as the story was all about them.
Re boy’s comics at the time – yes, they were action-based, fighting, war stories, and adventures as you would expect, not full of emotional stories like the girl’s comics were.

7 Did you keep any copies of the original scripts? Have you ever (did you at the time ever) compare the script you wrote with the resulting printed version, and notice differences, big or small, for better or for worse?

Yes, I have copies of some of the original DCT stories I wrote for their girl’s comics. Re comparing my original script to what it ended up as on a printed page – I guess there might have been some minor changes to the text, as they likely had people subbing freelance stories that came in down in IPC too. I really can’t remember. But I was always happy with the artwork on all my stories.

Alison also clarified that she wrote both “I’ll Make Up For Mary” in Jinty, and in 1986 the similarly-titled “I Must Fall Out With Mary”, published in Mandy. She also wrote “Tina’s Telly Mum” in Tammy, and “No Medals for Marie” in Jinty. Less certainly, she wrote ‘a short story … for Tammy, about a girl leaving school, junior school it was, a kind of whimsical tale about a girl who, on her leaving day, is very glad to escape all the horrible things she’s had to put up with there… but, at the very end, is hanging her school tie on the railing, and thinking, So why am I so sad at leaving then?… I think it was called Goodbye school, or Leaving Day, or something. ‘ And ‘”My Shining Sister”, a Tammy story, also rang a bell. I did write a story about Marnie, the daughter of an astrologer, who found a girl in a field, who is dazed as she’s had some kind of fall. Marnie’s family take her in, and she becomes the sister that only child Marnie has ever wanted. However, the girl, Sorcha, turns out to be one of the Seven sister stars… and has somehow fallen to earth…. Sorcha keeps being drawn to the number six – aka she has six sisters – Marnie tries to stop her seeing or being with groups of six girls, or going on a number six bus… in case she remembers where she has come from. If I remember right, Marnie has already worked out Sorcha is a fallen star. Anyway, story ends I think with Marnie helping her to return to her sisters, realising this is where she really belongs – but happily still sees her ‘sister’ through her dad’s telescope. I don’t know if you have a Tammy issue with “My Shining Sister” in it… but, unless some other writer has written a similar story, ie at the time when credits were being given to writers and artists… I have a feeling this is my story also?’

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49 thoughts on “Alison Christie: Interview

  1. Fantastic interview! it’s great to put the author’s name to so many excellent stories. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Phoenix of Comics UK has supplied the following information on “Second Fiddle to Sorcha”:

    Second Fiddle To Sorcha ran in Mandy 880 (Nov. 26 1983) – 887 (Jan. 14 1984).
    Schoolgirl Maxine Winters is an excellent but conceited violinist, winning first prizes in local and county music festivals. However, she gets her nose pushed out of joint when it is obvious to all, including Maxine, that Sorcha, a mysterious gipsy girl, whose playing is moving, and conveys emotion, is clearly the better musician. The jealous Maxine is only stopped from throwing Sorcha’s violin into the village pond by the gipsy girl’s sister. They both end up at the same academy where Maxine is quite literally second fiddle to Sorcha in the school orchestra. The school’s violin teacher knows that Maxine will never be as good as Sorcha, whose festival solo has the whole school spellbound. After Sorcha wins first place at the County Music Festival, Maxine, who inevitably is second, generously kisses her and tells Sorcha to her face that she has deserved to win because she is the better player, and tells her own father that she hadn’t gone to the Festival to win but to be beaten gracefully, and henceforth will not mind being second fiddle. The eye-opener had come earlier when Maxine tried to throw Sorcha’s violin into her burning caravan but got trapped in the flames. Sorcha was the one to pull her out and save her life.

  3. Great interview. It’s interesting that writers did’t necessarily collaborate with artists, I wonder if this led to scenes drawn that were not how the writer imagined them. Or I’ve heard of instances with artists drawing panels with space for the speech bubbles and instead of using the space the writing was put over part of the drawing.

    1. I bet there must have been cases where the artist drew something in a way the writer didn’t imagine it being – for good or for ill, mind you! However, the instances you mention with misplacement of speech balloons – that wouldn’t be something the writer did in any case, presumably the paste-up of the lettering was done in the editorial office. Hopefully we are getting an interview with Keith Robson, artist of “The Goose Girl” amongst other stories – must make sure to ask him about the lettering task, too! 🙂

      1. Yes, I realise the writers wouldn’t be responsible for lettering, just find it a strange system to have everything so separated! Always find it interesting to find out how these things came together behind the scenes.

        1. Sorry if I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs! 🙂 If you’re going to sell translations to other markets it’s quite important to make sure that the lettering is separate enough from the artwork that it can be easily relettered by just replacing the element that is the lettering – in the old days this would normally have been a physical layer of film of course and probably would have been best done in an editorial office, especially so that all the text looked consistent in size, font, etc. It is an odd way of working in a way, you’re right, but because I came to comics from being a fan of Marvel and DC I’m used to that separation, with letterers and colourists being credited separately from writers and artists.

      2. Sometimes worse things happen with lettering. In “The Sentinels” from Misty, there was constant confusion with Mr Richards’ Christian name. Sometimes it was John and sometimes it was David, and at one point it was both in the same panel! And Sally, the co-star in the story, had both her Christian and surname changing at various points in the story. I don’t know if it was the letterer, the writer, or something going on with the editing.

  4. Ah yes, I’m probably not being clear, I mean that it’s strange that writer, artist, letterer, etc. mightn’t even know each other and have the chance to talk about the story together. But I guess that would be too time consuming especially if someone is writing 6 stories in a week! Nowadays with emails its a lot easier to talk out ideas. The only artist that I know of to do the drawing, colouring and I believe the lettering is Fiona Staples on Saga, which is a great book, but off the subject!

    1. I also think Saga is great. On the more arty and less commercial side of things it is much more normal for an artist to do much more of the work or of course to be the only creator, but if you are trying to do it for a living then commercial pressures drive so much!

    2. PS I’ve just edited the post because AC has clarified that she wrote both “I Must Fall Out With Mary!” in Mandy, and “I’ll Make Up For Mary”, in Jinty. In her initial reply she got the two stories mixed up, not surprisingly at this distance in time! One for your UK Girls Comics index 🙂

  5. On the UK Girls Comics blog, Alison Christie revealed the following information about “Queen of the Gypsies”:

    Thanks for mentioning my story, Queen of the gypsies […] I wrote that story while working as a sub on Bunty, at the age of 17. The editor gave us all working on Bunty the title, and said he’d use the best story-line out of the one we each came up with. Mine was the best, so I got to write it. I was very pleased to have won the chance, and it was the first picture story I ever wrote.

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