Elda and Selda (yes, she was named after her mother with a slight addition of the letter S) Cotter lived in Conway, New Hampshire in a small cottage near Lake Conway in the White Mountain region. Elda and Selda were the writing duo under the pseudonym of E.S. Cotter.
Elda was living near Boston, Massachusetts when she became a young widow and Selda was only three years old. Her imagination filled in the blanks where her education was lacking and took to penning letters, documents and correspondences for businesses and government offices being able to do the work in her home while raising Selda on her own. Every afternoon when Selda returned home from school the pair would walk over to Mystic Lake to feed the waterfowl and watch for migrating birds resting on their way south in the winter or north in the springtime. Elda carried her journal with her to write down imagined short stories about their feathered friends and Selda would tote her watercolors and paint the creatures with a delft hand and a broad spectrum of color.
As the years went by and their collection of stories and paintings grew they put together a series of small children books about the migrating birds they observed. Elda wrote the stories and Selda illustrated them with her watercolor paintings. They approached the Boston offices of Fredrick Warne and Co. with their portfolio of finished stories. Their meetings started with a junior editor and soon made its way up the chain of command to the publisher himself. The publishing house and the mother-daughter duo agreed on a contract and E.S. Cotter became an author of children literary tomes.
Their main character was Grayson Goose and his wife Lily Pond. One story was about a wily fox trying to steal the couple’s nesting eggs. Another story introduced the families friends: Terrance Tern, a yearly visitor to the Goose family; Albert Albatross, the roamer and traveler who always had an adventurous story to share with the family; and the Swifts, a family of hummingbirds who tarried a while near the Goose family during their nesting period. When one of Grayson’s goslings gets lost, he gets into a little bit of trouble with a farmer wanting a fresh goose dinner, that story was a whole book unto itself. One story was about their yearly trek south and what the family of geese saw from the air and the ponds they’d stop at for a rest and visit with old friends.
Elda and Selda’s books were a huge success and sat on the bookstore shelves along side Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit stories, E. Nesbit and the Railway children series and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. With enough money saved from their success Elda and Selda decided to move to a quieter, more picturesque location and found a quaint cottage on the banks of Conway Lake, took up residency and continued their story writing and painting. The first thing they did after moving in was to hire a local carpenter to build an addition to the cottage. They designed a large room with windows on three sides, a place for an ample desk for Elda’s writing and daydreaming and an area for Selda’s painting table, pots of brushes and her array of watercolor paints. Elda said it was the best money she ever spent. She could look out the window and watch the lake for arriving waterfowl, envision new stories and just enjoy the surrounding scenery. Selda loved the natural light and with each passing season, she’d experience a new palette to try and capture on paper.
They still took long walks around their quiet lake, often visited their neighbors or had them in for a pot of tea and just kept writing, painting and producing the children stories about Grayson Goose and his family that soon became classics.
Photo credit: from the collection of Attic Whispers