My Hero Sebastian Walker
- The Guardian, Saturday 16 January 2010
I started working as Walker Books' publicist in 1988. Less than a month into the job – not great timing – I found I was pregnant. But Sebastian's face lit up. "My dear, I'll start a nursery. You can bring the baby into work with you!"
Sebastian started Walker Books because he wanted to make beautiful and exciting books for children, so it was funny and touching that he knew so little about babies. He imagined the nursery could just be a line of carrycots – until someone reminded him that children tend to grow. But his generosity and imagination were entirely genuine. Just like the lunches we all ate together, the Walker nursery was absolutely free.
Sebastian's vision and energy were unique and infectious. He cared deeply about music, art, authors, artists. He cared about his staff. Late one night, he walked around putting a memo on every desk which declared that from now on, Walker Books would be a cigarette-free zone. Such an impulse was way ahead of its time, but quite simply he didn't want his friends and colleagues to die.
When Sebastian discovered he was terminally ill, he ensured the company couldn't be taken over, by giving it to its authors, artists and staff. He quipped to me that it was just "in case I go under the proverbial bus", and I remember laughing because no person I knew seemed more alive, more present, less likely to die.
I was too shy of him ever to know him well, but he transformed my life, made my early years as a mother relaxed and happy and secure. And I'm surprised to find I think of him more, not less, as the years pass and I miss him – his lively face, those white linen shirts, his complete lack of small talk, the odd mix of comfort and discomfort that was probably just shyness, the grand gestures that were so creative, so awe-inspiring. I would have loved to see what he did with the rest of his life, and maybe even to have dared be his friend.