August 9 – P.L. Travers

I cannot summon up inspiration; I myself am summoned.

P.L. Travers

Born Helen Lyndon Goff on August 9th, 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australian, future author P.L. Travers grew up in the Australian bush before being sent to boarding school in Sydney. Her father, Travers Robert Goff, was an unsuccessful bank manager who struggled with alcohol. He died in 1907 when she was just eight years old. Later Helen took on the name Pamela Lyndon Travers, working both as an actress and publishing articles and poetry. 

 When she was 25 Travers emigrated to England and shortened her name to just P.L. Travers when she published the first of her successful Mary Poppins books. Mary Poppins was published in 1934 by Gerald Howe in London. Seven sequels were published, the last in 1988 when Travers was 89. Walt Disney’s daughters fell in love with the Mary Poppins books, and he spent 16 years trying to get the rights to make a movie. As her royalties dwindled, Travers finally agreed, although very unhappy with the outcome, especially the songs and the animation sequences that sugar-coated version Poppins.

Travers was very private about her life. She never married, but lived with Madge Burnand, daughter of Sir Francis Burnand, a playwright and editor of Punch magazine, for a decade during her thirties. It was during this time she began writing Mary Poppins, and Madge was her first reader.

At the age of forty Travers adopted a baby boy, who she named Camillus Travers. He believed Travers was his biological mother until he ran into his twin brother at a pub when he was 17.

In addition to the eight Poppins books, Travers wrote numerous other fiction books, including I Go By Sea, I Go By Land (1941) and Friend Monkey (1972), published a collection of stories in 1952, and published four nonfiction books as well. Her book, What the Bee Knowns: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story, published in 1989 is described by her own “The Sphinx, the Pyramids, the stone temples are, all of them, ultimately, as flimsy as London Bridge; our cities but tents set up in the cosmos. We pass. But what the bee knows, the wisdom that sustains our passing life—however much we deny or ignore it—that for ever remains.” 

Travers died in London April 23, 1996 at the age of 96.

Lesson from Travers:

Live the life you want to live and tell the stories you want to tell. Be an actress, move to England, move-in with a woman who will read your stories, then move out. Adopt a baby. And create a world where writing about a fictional nanny helps you comfort your soul more than therapy. There’s magic in it. And if you want to be upset with Disney about the handling of your story, be upset. But take those royalties so you can live a long life and keep writing.

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