Each year, at Christmas time, my father, who was born in 1929, would look forward to receiving a copy of the latest Arthur Ransome novel. 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the publication of ‘Secret Water’, the only book in the Swallows and Amazons series to be set in Essex. While my father’s Jonathan Cape hard-backs were sadly lost to life’s chaos, I was lucky enough to find a first edition given to another little boy for Christmas 1939. This March, I took it with me to Harwich, near to the Walton Backwaters where the story is set, to help celebrate the 20th Essex Book Festival, whose theme for 2019 is Uncharted Waters.
~Author Peter Willis, Neil D’Arcy-Jones and Sophie Neville~
“Here we are, intrepid explorers, making the first ever voyage into uncharted waters. What mysteries will they hold for us? What dark secrets shall be revealed?” Titty Walker in the 1974 feature film ‘Swallows and Amazons’.
I had been invited to speak on a panel led by journalist Neil D’Arcy-Jones with Peter Willis, President of The Nancy Blackett Trust and Julia Jones, author of The Strong Winds series who owns Arthur Ransome’s yacht, Peter Duck. The discussion was introduced by Seona Ford, Chairman of the Essex Book Festival, and supported by Ros Green, the festival director and Brian Key, chairman of TARS EAST – The Arthur Ransome Society’s eastern branch. The event was sold out with members of the audience travelling from as far a field as Durham.
~A buoy akin to those featured in Ransome’s novels outside the 1912 Centre~
A huge variety of activities had been laid on that day. AL Kennedy, winner of the Costa Book of the Year, read from the tale of The Little Snake deep in the bowels of the Harwich Redoubt, a circular fort built in 1808, where a display illustrated the Kindertransport of 1938 when two hundred children were temporarily housed nearby.
~Award-winning author AL Kennedy reading from her new book The Little Snake~
Although I had sailed past in the Nancy Blackett, I hadn’t been to Harwich since I worked on the BBC TV series One by One, a drama about the adventures of a vet starring James Ellis and an elephant with tummy trouble. Instead of a film crew, we found an offshore pirate radio revival was being celebrated with the help of a shanty band in Harwich harbour, the final berth of Radio Caroline’s The Boat That Rocked.
~LightVessel 18 moored on The Quay to host nautical storytelling and poems~
Arthur Ransome enthusiasts met for lunch at a hostelry named after Samuel Pepys, MP for the historic port that was home to Christopher Jones, Captain of The Mayflower. Marine artist Claudia Myatt arrived from a workshop she hosted on nautical flags and knots, using activity books she wrote and illustrated for the Royal Yachting Association.
~Artist and book illustrator Claudia Myatt with one of her RYA books~
The literary events were covered by a number of Essex newspapers with interviews on BBC Radio Essex.
~Claudia Myatt’s sketchbook~
For other exciting talks and events held this month by the Essex Book Festival in Colchester, Chelmsford, Harwich, Baintree, Southend-on-Sea, Brentwood, Epping and other venues around the county, please click here.
~Claudia Myatt’s sketches of Pin Mill on the River Orwell~