I am so enjoying listening to a recording of The Bellamy Bird, read by the wonderful actress and activist Virginia McKenna. I can’t wait to share with you the release date. Virginia starred in Swallows and Amazons with another wonderful actress, Sophie Neville, and I am so grateful to both women for their incredible support over the years.
It was great fun to catch up recently with other children’s writers at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event in Sydney. Susan Raab, marketing guru, was in town and shared with us her book publicity secrets. Photo courtesy of middle grade author Mary Ann Hudson.
I saw a marvellous installation recently at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne. Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters. This incredible exhibit manipulates one’s silhouette, adding fairy tale/Brothers Grimm-like embellishments to arms, legs and heads. It reminded me of the tradition of oral story telling, long before the written word, mentioned in Jan Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. The shadow effects made me think of silhouetted figures recounting tales, the speaker’s form flickering in the firelight – taking on phantom shapes in the imagination of the watcher/listener. A must-see/do if you are in Melbourne.
For readers of my free monthly newsletter – since hitting ‘send’ yesterday I found this terrific poem in the book I mention in the newsletter Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry by Jan Hirshfield. The poem evokes for me what Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters does, that sitting around a fire, listening and watching. The poem is by ninth-century poet Kukai and is translated, I believe, by Jan Hirshfield.
Singing Image of Fire
A hand moves, and the fire’s whirling takes different shapes,
Triangles, squares: all things change when we do.
The first word, “Ah,” blossomed into all others.
Each of them is true.Photo credit: Philip Worthington. www.dreamtheend.com
Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons State Library of Queensland, Young women running over a sand dune on an unidentified beach, ca. 1935, Photographer unknown
I have had such fun writing a short story Helena Beecham Investigates which introduces Helena and her friend Reggie Prendergast in a tribute to the detective stories of the 1920s and 30s – my favourite vintage! I’m looking forward to writing more adventures featuring this pair.
I have a real fascination with old photos (as you can see on my Bellamy Bird page of this website). I can spend hours looking at black and white photos from the 1930s and 40s on Flickr Commons. I found the above photo during a recent trip to Seattle and I fell in love with the character in each little face. The boy on the far right in the flying helmet should certainly have his own story – as of course he did. To me, it looks as though these children were outside running around when they were corralled to have their picture taken. I can sense their urgency to get back to their game.
I have gradually come to the realisation that the writing I am most enjoying nowadays is nature writing and this initially came as a surprise. I wondered if Robert Macfarlane’s masterpiece Landmarks was responsible. However, on reflection, I have always loved books which evoke a strong sense of place – including weather and landscape. Alexander McCall Smith’s books about Botswana with Mma Ramotswe’s appreciation and love of the dry lands and the Botswanans’ attunement to and gratitude for the coming rains have long appealed to me as has Margery Allingham’s writing about the estuarine coast of East Anglia where I grew up, so evocative I can almost smell the mud at low tide.
I recently wrote of my admiration for Patrick Leigh Fermor’s writing – Between the Woods and the Water in particular – this book is many things, travel writing, history, political analysis, reflection on literature and linguistics – all of which appeal to me – but it is also nature writing and I urge everyone to get their hands on a copy of any of PLF’s books and devour it.
So, I have always loved writing with a strong sense of place including landscape and weather but during this last month I came across a book which is clearly labelled ‘Nature Essays’; not perhaps something I would usually pick up but I bought Braiding Sweetgrass by Native American author and Professor of Botany Robin Wall Kimmerer for my daughter who is fascinated by the historical uses for plants and also native peoples. However, once I started reading I couldn’t hand over the book until I had finished it. Not that it is a book one can rush through. It is such a thoughtfully written and thought-provoking book that I relished taking my time over each chapter. It is a moving and powerful book which stays with you well after you have finished reading it and I highly recommend it.
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Photo copyright Clare Havens 2016
The new film adaptation of Swallows and Amazons has come out to great acclaim in the UK and I urge everyone to see it and to buy Arthur Ransome’s book. Swallows and Amazons was a great inspiration for my traditional children’s adventure The Bellamy Bird. Modern children will watch the film and read the book and marvel at the freedom children once had to explore without adult intervention. I am hoping the new film inspires a new generation of writing about adventure for middle grade readers. Take a look at this list of Ransome-inspired works on Goodreads for more ideas of what to read next, vote (please!) and add more titles!
Head over to my Author page on Amazon for free ebooks! The Bellamy Bird, Writer’s Block and The Bella Street Mysteries Trilogy are currently FREE! For a limited time only!
Here is an excerpt from my July newsletter. To read more please sign up in the box on the right of this page!
This month I have been working on two short stories: one involving Kate Summers and the other residents of East Trimley, from my Constable Country Mysteries series and the other a vintage murder mystery set in Norfolk in 1930. In the Constable Country Mysteries story, as yet untitled, I am afraid to say that the much hated auctioneer Brian Fisher meets an untimely end. No one has ever really forgiven him for his outrageous treatment of Anne Venables, you might remember he advised her that a sketch she owned was worthless, only to buy it himself for a song and then ‘discover’ it was by artist John Constable and worth a king’s ransom! There are not too many tears being shed over his death, I am afraid, although there are plenty of suspects.
The vintage short story, Helena Beecham Investigates is the tentative title, was so much fun to write. I find I enjoy writing stories set in the 1930s immensely. It feels very natural to me and the words tend to flow smoothly. Helena and her friend Reggie Prendergast arrive at Carrick Lodge, the home of Major and Mrs Murray, old friends of Helena’s family. Major and Mrs Murray are also host to a Mr Archer, an unpleasant character who bullies his wife and sons and who has stepped on a lot of toes to get what he wants. We should not be surprised to hear that Mr Archer is found dead one morning. The problem facing Helena is that there is a whole houseful of suspects!
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Image courtesy Flickr Commons. Ingenues arrive at Central. Sam Hood. State Library NSW
Thoughts from my June newsletter…
I have been reading a diverse selection of books this month including Michael Morpurgo’s ‘Song for Mrs Pettigrew’ which intersperses fact and fiction and which I absolutely loved. I got the book out of the library but will be buying my own copy! Michael Morpurgo’s book explores ideas of loss and belonging, a theme also prevalent in Kate Morton’s novel, ‘The Distant Hours‘. A character in this book mentions the word Seledreorig, Anglo-Saxon for ‘sadness for the lack of a hall’, a sense of lack of belonging, lack of home. As someone who has moved around the world to live in different cities I can identify with this feeling.
‘The Anglo-Saxons had a gift for sadness and longing… Seledreorig… sadness for the lack of a hall… there’s no word like it in the English language, and yet there ought to be, don’t you think?’ To read more, subscribe to my monthly free newsletter in the bar on the right.