‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”
Born July 22, 1881, in London, Margery Williams grew up with a vivid imagination and a love of books. Her father died when she was young, and her family moved to the United States. As a teenager Williams worked on many short stories, and received many rejections, eventually finding a home for her writing with a firm in London publishing Christmas stories. Compelled to make a living as an author, Williams moved back to London at the age of 19 and submitted her first novel, The Late Returning, which was published in 1902. It did not sell well, nor did the subsequent novels The Price of Youth (1904) and The Bar (1906).
In 1904 she was married to Francisco Bianco, a book department manager. In 1913 she published a horror story, The Thing in the Woods, later released under the pseudonym, Harper Williams, but for the most part, gave up writing to focus on her children. The family moved to Paris in 1907, then to Italy during WWI where her husband served in the Italian Army.
This time dedicated to raising her children proved valuable. When she returned to returning to writing the US after WWI, and to writing in the 1920s, she published her most popular book The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real in 1922. Two more children’s books, Poor Cecco (1925) and The Skin Horse (1927) were published shortly after. Her daughter Pamela was a renowned child artist, her fame bringing the family to New York. She illustrated her mother’s books The Skin Horse and The Little Wooden Doll.
Later in life, she wrote young adult novels, and her book Winterbound received the Newbery Medal in 1937.
In 1944 the last book of the two dozen she published, Forward Commandos!, was released. Williams fell ill that year, and died after a few days in the hospital, September 4, 1944, at the age of 63.
Lessons from Williams’ life:
Nothing is wasted. Childhood pain can give you special insight that offers comfort to others. Taking time off to raise children can inspire stories that touch and inspire generations. Writing and publishing books that are forgotten can give you the courage and ability to navigate the publishing industry when you are older and have more deliberate things to say. Give yourself time and space to become Real:
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”