A signed and dedicated paperback of ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ was auctioned in aid of BBC Children in Need 2022

A book always makes a good Christmas present. This year, items in the Authors and Illustrators’ auction, raised a total of £24,061 for BBC Children in Need.

This annual online charity fundraiser is organised by Children in Read through Jumblebee. co.uk. Taking part is always great fun and offers authors a bit of publicity whilst presenting readers with the opportunity to buy a signed and dedicated book or illustration.

The bidding ended on Friday 18th November at 11.00pm. Successful bidders will be contacted by e-mail.

Thank you for supporting this great cause!

How the chance of acting in the movie Swallows and Amazons began in Stroud in the Cotswolds

When I first published ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, someone left a review online saying they thought it a good idea for a novel but that it was a bit farfetched.

This amused me. It was a non-fiction book, written because the extraordinary story was true. Of all the roles, in all the novels ever written, I was asked to play Titty in Swallows and Amazons, an EMI film made in 1973 for universal distribution.

The offer came out of the blue. Within a year, I, an ordinary schoolgirl, found my image on the front of daily newspapers and on film posters pasted on the walls of the London Underground. All this happened nearly fifty years ago and yet the publicity never ends.

Swallows and Amazons (1974) now distributed by StudioCanal

Arthur Ransome, a haunted foreign correspondent, who escaped from Russia with Trotsky’s secretary, wrote Swallows and Amazons in 1929 while suffering from stomach pains so bad they prevented him from travelling. He said that the book wrote itself, but it is clear that he was self-medicating, grieving his own childhood, when he’d been longing to make friends and prove himself to his father who died when he was only thirteen.

Tweed-clad and continuously pipe-smoking, Ransome was oblivious to Lakeland weather. I acted out his almost-real fantasy in nothing but a thin cotton dress and a pair of enormous navy blue elasticated knickers. My book on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ is not a novel, not a fantasy. It is a true story. The movie is streaming on Amazon Prime where you can watch the trailer.

Why was I cast in the film? Why me? I had loved all the Arthur Ransome books I’d read in the Swallows and Amazons series, imagined myself exploring Wild Cat Island and the Great Lake in the North. Did I ever ask the Lord if I could live out the stories for myself?

The reality began in Stroud, at the Subscription Rooms. I put up my hand when someone asked if there was a ten year-old girl who could play the piano. They didn’t say, “play well.”

A young director called Claude Whatham, who lived in the Cotswold village of Camp, was looking for children to appear in the 1971 BBC adaptation of ‘Cider With Rosie’, based on Laurie Lee’s haunting memoir. He needed to find a little girl who had been to a village school near Stroud. I had attended Oakridge Parochial Church School when it was heated by pot-bellied stoves and the vicar told us Bible Stories.

I was chosen to play Eileen Brown, who shared a desk with Laurie Lee and accompanied him as he played Oh Danny Boy on his violin at the Christmas concert.

Sophie Neville in the 1971 BBC adaptation of ‘Cider with Rosie’, directed by Claude Whatham

My music arrived three days before filming began. It consisted of endless cords – a complicated accompaniment with no tune. To tackle the piece, I’d needed to practice for seven hours a day with the help of my long-suffering piano teacher from Far Oakridge.

Claude Whatham ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The director must have remembered me as a determined little girl because two years later a letter arrived, addressed to my father, only he was working in South Africa. My mother very nearly didn’t open it.

But she did. We drove up from Gloucestershire to collect Dad from Heathrow and went straight to Shaftesbury Avenue for an interview with Claude.

I was then invited to take part in a sailing audition at Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex – miles from the Cotswolds. The producer, Richard Pilbrow, was looking for children who could sail. I had grown up beside one of the few lakes in Gloucestershire and knew how to row a Thames skiff. I’d added my own sail, made from a green dust sheet, but was no expert.

There were four other girls auditioning to play Titty. They were all smaller and prettier than me, with straight teeth. I didn’t think I was in with a chance.

The filming was to commence on 14th May 1973 and continue through the summer term. Our local authority – Gloucester County Council – needed my headmistress’ permission for me to miss five weeks of school.

Only, I didn’t go to school in Gloucestershire. I went to an Anglican convent in Berkshire. The nuns prayed about the proposition. They gave their permission – if I was chosen.

I didn’t think I was right to play Titty at all. I was three years too old and too tall. Ransome’s illustrations in the books portrayed girls with straight, dark hair. I didn’t know it but the character had been inspired by a real little girl called Titty Altounyan. I share her Scots, Irish and English heritage, but she was one quarter Armenian and had dark colouring.

However, unknown to us, Mrs Ransome had asked that ‘an English Rose’ should play Titty. Claude Whatham cast Sten Grendon, who had played Little Laurie Lee, as my younger brother Roger. Mrs Ransome – NB:the lady who once been Trotsky’s private secretary – was not happy that he had black hair. She nearly cancelled the film, but conceded when she saw him with a short-back-and-sides.

Sten Grendon as Roger and Sophie Neville as Titty rowing Swallow (c)StudioCanal

Sten claims we had the best parts. He grew up in the Whiteway Community and later went to school in Eastcombe. He now lives in France but still has family living in the Cotswolds. Back in 1973 his mother Jane, and my mother, Daphne, travelled up to the Lake District to look after us all.

Daphne Neville with Sten Grendon, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville, Jane Grendon and Simon West

In at the deep end. Whoomph! We literally had to swim for it. The water was icy, but we had plenty of support. I was able to embody my part because Suzanna Hamilton, who played my sister, was so brilliant. She anchored us, as did Simon West, who played John. He was only aged eleven but very bright and a confident sailor.

Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker with Suzanna Hamilton on location in 1973

Making the film was character-building stuff. While it was an inspiration and privilege to work under arc lamps with Virginia McKenna, it was often chilly and involved a lot of hanging around.

Stephen Grendon, Simon West, Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville, trying not to look as tall as she was in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Virginia had four children of her own and brought us together as a team. While making things fun, she got us to focus and concentrate as we recorded the first scenes at Bank Ground Farm.

Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm
Virginia McKenna at Bank Ground Farm in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Arthur Ransome had been inspired as a boy by two of his aunts who left for Peking to serve as missionaries. They must have had great adventures. One even received a Boxer arrow in her bonnet. The story of Swallows and Amazons is about a family of four children on holiday who embark on something of a missionary journey themselves when they are allowed to sail off in a dinghy called Swallow to explore an island on a lake. They are confronted by two local girls, the Amazons, who are behaving badly, as their Uncle Jim has retired to his houseboat so that he can concentrate on writing his memoirs.

There is a strong undercurrent of fatherless-ness. Ransome had lost his own father before he could prove himself. The Swallows, whose father is in the Navy, come alongside the Amazons, who have lost their father and are being ignored by their uncle. They unite, make friends and have a lot of fun, whilst relishing in their independence granted because they are not duffers.

The crisis, in the story, is about the draft of a book being stolen, which I can only think must have been Ransome’s greatest fear. No one believes Titty, the youngest girl, who is sure she heard the burglars, so – in the film – she gets Roger to help her row Swallow to Cormorant Island where she finds it in what looks like a treasure chest.

Producer Richard Pilbrow with Neville C Thompson on Derwentwater in the Lake District in 1973
Producer Richard Pilbrow and Production Associate Neville C Thompson on Derwentwater in the Lake District in 1973

Richard Pilbrow and Claude Whatham had a tough time making the movie. Filming in the Lake District with its unpredictable weather and pressure from tourists was not easy. We faced endless problems and over-ran by two weeks.

But Mum was praying, Granny was praying, the nuns must have been praying for me – we needed the covering: I was the only girl who never fell ill. Swallow’s mast broke. I fell in. Water sloshed into a support boat. The rain poured down. We nearly crashed into the Tern. Our life jackets proved useless. There was a gas leak in our bus. We could have had an explosion. Most of the crew smoked continuously.

Sophie Neville with Daphne Neville in the Lake District
Sophie Neville with Daphne Neville in the Lake District

The behavior of some members of the film crew was pretty toxic. Many drove too fast. A cow fell on to the producer’s car. I fell out of a tree whilst playing. Suzanna cut her finger. Ronald Fraser was almost permanently pickled. Someone got hit in the eye by a baseball. The film set was vandalized and I lost a tooth halfway through filming a scene with Virginia McKenna.

Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville on Peel Island
Virginia McKenna with Sophie Neville keeping her mouth shut ~ photo: Daphne Neville

We pushed on. Ran the race with perseverance. Somehow the challenges gave the finished film an edge, an enduring quality that made it into a classic.

Sophie Neville as Titty

The crew began asking if I would go on to act. The big question: was this a calling on my life? I didn’t just play Titty. I’d been part of the production team, suggesting that Ransome-like title graphics were used, that Seymour’s voice was used for Nancy. I didn’t want to act. I wanted to become a film director.

I’d enjoyed the post production work at Elstree Studios but disliked the fuss around the cinema release. Seeing yourself on camera always feels uncomfortable. The premiere of Swallows and Amazons was daunting.

Premier ticket for the Gala of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

It was first screened at the ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue alongside The Exorcist. But look! I literally had two guardians. My mother invited the nuns from school.

The ABC in Shaftesbury Avenue in 1974. It is now the Odeon Cinema.

Sister Allyne came. She didn’t flatter me but she was there.

Sister Allyne, Daphne Neville, Tamzin Neville and Sophie Neville

Like it or not, I ended up promoting the film on television. After I featured in ‘Animal Magic’, an image of me, rowing up the lake at Bakers Mill in the Cotswolds with a green parrot on my shoulder was used to replace the test card.

I grew too tall to continue playing children on screen and there was not much money for film finance in the 1970s when inflation was roaring. Sister Allyne prepared me for a film test for a musical Disney adaptation of ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ but I wasn’t chosen. The movie flopped. I returned to my lessons.

At the age of fifteen I had a leading part in an adventure film with Vic Armstrong and Sophie Ward, called ‘The Copter Kids’, and I had a few little television parts in serials like ‘The Two Ronnies’ and ‘Crossroads’ while I was a student, but the drive wasn’t there. It was just as well. I didn’t have the bone structure.

Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan with Sophie Neville as Titty busy writing the ship’s log

Suzanna had a strong desire to act professionally and fought for parts. She went on to appear in Tess directed by Polanski, 1984 opposite John Hurt, Out of Africa with Meryl Streep, Whetherby with Vanessa Redgrave, Brimstone and Treacle with Sting, and a number of increasingly dark movies. She survived to appear in Casualty, New Tricks, Eastenders and is still working.

What she hated was the publicity. It’s a difficult part to any job. As she said at the age of twelve, having your photo on the front page of the Evening Standard ‘makes you felt a right twit’. She was furious with me for writing about her under sung talent in the Telegraph even though she looked beautiful in the arms of John Hurt.

I developed a burning desire to direct and went into television production. I made my first documentary for Channel 4 whilst driving from London to Johannesburg. I must have begun directing at the BBC at the age of 27 and produced my first series aged 29, but overdid it and was hammered by ill health. It was a good training. I learnt endurance, how to edit and I grew used to working to deadlines. I understood about moving the audience, cliff-hangers and bringing out books to accompany your work.

I didn’t learn to embrace the marketing aspect until I worked in the safari industry when I was assured it comprised 50% of the job. This attitude helped when I became and wildlife artist and later an author. After writing two books my readers – and my formatter – implored me to write about the making of Swallows and Amazons, especially once they learned that I had kept a diary whilst making it – as did Suzanna.

I first brought this out as a multimedia ebook, which is now in its second edition. It includes links to the cine footage my parents took on location. There are two versions of the paperback entitled ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’, seen here on the flag we captured.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville’

It has been a delight to figurehead a story about sailing, a pillar of childhood that has influenced so many. Parents want me to engender a love for the outdoor life, sailing and exploring the lakes and countryside.

I hope I have helped to attract the right kind of people to the Lake District, that we have been able to inspire young people to read Arthur Ransome’s books, to get out into the countryside and sail, fish, go camping, build friendships, whatever the weather.

In the footsteps of Ransome’s great aunts, I went on a Bible Society mission to China. The people we met thanked us for coming, saying they hadn’t received European visitors for forty years. ‘But we’ve seen Europeans in town.’ ‘Them? They have just come to make money, not visit us.’

Does the old film shine a light, offer solace? People write in to tell me that the film of Swallows and Amazons carried them through a difficult patch. Some watch it once a week. It exists to remind people that they need not despair.

Does the symbolism still hold? It was my self-appointed job in the screenplay to wait, alone, and light the lantern, to be a light in the darkness that could be seen for miles.

Swallows and Amazons was not made to make money. It wasn’t the producer’s motivation. Richard Pilbrow just loved the books and wanted to bring them to life. We children didn’t do it for the money. There wasn’t very much. I earned £7.50 a day and was given a book token for appearing in the Lord Mayor’s Show. Even today, StudioCanal were reluctant to pay my expenses for re-launching the 40th Anniversary DVD when we were interviewed for the Extras package.

It doesn’t matter. I have been so warmly greeted so warmly by fans of the film. I was invited to become President of the Arthur Ransome Society, and have been offered numerous opportunities to speak about my books. I’ve passed on most of my speaking fees to charity – sending disadvantaged children in South Africa on an environmental course that has literally changed their lives.

Sophie Neville speaking at The Arthur Ransome Society

The treasure Titty found wasn’t pieces of eight. It was heavy to carry, but she was rewarded for her tenacity. She was given her heart’s desire, and parrots live a long time. They can easily outlive their owners.

The author Julia Jones points out that, ‘the treasure that was finally unearthed on Cormorant Island was a book. It might or might not have been a good book but the message of the story is quite clear: if you’re convinced that there’s something hidden under the rocks, all you can do is keep digging.’ 

An extra ordinary thing happened. When Richard Pilbrow was awarded an honorary degree from he invited Suzanna and I to lunch in London. As we left the restaurant in Covent Garden a group of buskers outside where singing the final sea shanty from the film, What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? What were the chances of that? We hurried on to find transport and found ourselves outside the cinema where the premier had been held.

Something else happened to me as a result of Swallows and Amazons. Not what you might expect. We all wanted to learn to shoot with a bow and arrow. The next film role I was offered was as an archery champion. I kept up the sport, and ended up meeting my husband at a long bow meeting in the village where I was born. He was the chairman of the archery society. I won the Best Lady’s Gold. These are my colours:

Sophie Neville's bow and arrows

Proverbs 23-23 talks of wisdom, instruction and insight. My name, Sophia, means wisdom. My hope is that others gain wisdom and insight from what I have written.

You can read more in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’, which is coming out as an audiobook. It will available from all the retailers and is currently on Scribd here.

COVID Reflections – an anthology

I am honoured to have become a patron of COVID Reflections, a charitable project inviting writers and artists to contribute to an anthology celebrating the positive aspects of the pandemic. The hope is to make a difference by raising money for worthy causes affected by Lockdown and giving a voice to those that are heard the least.

COVID Reflections was founded by Ash Subramanian, a consultant breast surgeon from Sussex, who has gathered an impressive team of volunteers and trustees, profiled here.

Ash Subramanian on the South Bank

Their aim is to publish a coffee table book and multi-media ebook that can be sold to raise funds for charities that have taken a hammering in the last year. You are invited to submit a poem, diary entry or piece of prose.

Think of sending in 200 words on what Lockdown meant for you. I wrote:

There were no tests available when I contracted COVID-19 early March 2020. I stayed at home, puzzled about being unable to smell. Although the virus wiped days from my life, Lockdown proved a golden time. My step-son brought his tiny twin boys to live with us for nine months. The two-year-olds thrived while we dug up the lawn to plant vegetables, enjoying the birdsong and wonderful weather. I let my hair grow, turned the spare bedroom into an office and devoted my daily exercise to collecting litter – which became horrendous – and coastal plastic – which diminished slightly. I donated clothes to women in need, was interviewed on Zoom and enjoyed church on WhatsApp. We raised funds for those seriously hit by the pandemic and prayed for friends admitted to hospital. Released from the tyranny of my usual diary, I learnt how to say ‘rainbow’ in Portuguese, regained my sense of smell and wrote a novel. We spent Christmas alone and had no holidays, but for me, the ‘Time of Corona’ felt like a year off, enabling me to remain at home with my family, where I was needed and needed to be.

PPE I collected from the coast

You could submit a painting, drawing, photograph or audiovisual contribution be it music or film. Here is Piers Harrison-Reid with his brilliant poetry. He works as a nurse in A&E at Norwich Hospital and has been supporting COVID Reflections by appearing in virtual concerts.

The aims of COVID Reflection’s projects are :

• To give those effected by this pandemic a lasting voice and platform to express themselves.

• To bring communities together, encourage collaborations and to spread positivity.

• To raise significant charitable funds to support organisations on a national and local level .

Dr Kate Grant’s painting or
Jenny Liston, Nurse Practitioner, making a car-side consultation in a pop up tent, Suffolk

Covid Reflections have a Facebook page here

and can be found on Twitter here

I sent in a shot of a home-schooling project that took on a life of its own.

Carrots from our Lockdown garden

The project has the blessing of the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury and will have a Foreword by Captain Sir Tom Moore’s daughter. They are collaborating with The Sussex Constabulary, The Sussex Ambulance & Fire service, a growing representative of MPs, every major religious group, The Royal Society and The Royal College of Surgeons.

National Covid Memorial Wall in London – photo by Roff Smith

Anything submitted will be published either in a printed book or in electronic format.

You can find submission details on COVID Reflection’s website here

‘Hope’ by Kieran Gandhe aged 12, taken at the beginning of the pandemic

COVID Reflections hopes to make a real difference by raising money for worthy causes and providing support to individuals and businesses who have been adversely affected by the pandemic. They will do this by making grants to local, small national and large national charities, to enable them to help those who need it the most, allowing them to continue to do the amazing work that we know is being carried out every day. We hope that, together, we are able to make a difference. If you would like to be involved, please email C19voices@gmail.com or visit their website www.CovidReflections.org

Does Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Swallows and Amazons’ have parallels with missionary journeys?

An article first published in Mixed Moss, the journal of The Arthur Ransome Society:

Sophie Neville who played Titty Walker in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974)

‘I can’t see it.’ The man was standing in the rain outside the cinema. ‘You said Swallows and Amazons has parallels to missionary life but I don’t get it.’ He was a vicar, camping with his family in the Lake District. After spending a week at the Keswick Convention, he’d brought his children to see the original film Swallows and Amazons (1974) at the Alhambra cinema where I was giving a Q&A after a screening of the movie.

‘I once went on a short-term mission to Australia,’ I told him. ‘People would ask me if I was going to convert the natives.’ The archaic idea of berating aboriginal people almost filled me with horror but use of the word ‘natives’ reminded me of Swallows and Amazons. This led me to consider how deeply Arthur Ransome was influenced by missionary journeys of the early 1900s. As the author, Julian Lovelock points out, ‘exploring, trading and being a missionary were, in Victorian times, all shades of the same colonial activity. Dr Livingstone is often described as an ‘explorer-missionary’. This is the 80th Anniversary year of the publication of Secret Water where ‘missionaries’ enter Ransome’s world in their ‘mission ship’ Lapwing.

DSCF7645
‘Would’t Titty like this?’

Linda Hendry, of The Arthur Ransome Society (TARS), observed that as a boy of ten, Arthur envied his Aunt Edith and Aunt Jessie who were going off to China as missionaries. Did this idea of adventures last with him?

Although his father, Cyril Ransome, came from a clerical background and ensured Arthur received a biblical education in Windermere, Margaret Ratcliffe of TARS reports that ‘there is never a hint of spirituality’ in his letters and diaries. ‘Arthur and Genia were not of an active religious persuasion; Christmas and Easter were ordinary days for them.’ The only time he went to church on a regular basis was when he lived in Finsthwaite and his closest fishing friend was the vicar, the Rev. Roland Pedder. ‘Arthur Ransome never mentions that they discuss spiritual matters, rather hooks, bait and water levels.’ I agree with Margaret’s view that any analogy ‘would have been subliminal on his part, rather than conscious’ but it is embedded in the story, all the more interesting for being unintended.

The reality of going on overseas missions does have parallels with Swallows and Amazons. You tend to set off as a group or family, like the Walker children, and usually end up helping people who need a bit of support, even if it is not what you might expect. Those once wounded often make the best doctors.

One of the key themes, perhaps driving force behind Swallows and Amazons is fatherlessness. Is the story an out-working of Arthur Ransome’s grief for his own father, who died when Arthur was thirteen? Was he desperate to prove himself as reliable and resourceful as Captain John, planning the expedition while Commander Walker was in Malta preparing to sail to Hong Kong? As it is, the Swallows gain Daddy’s permission while remaining under the umbrella of their mother’s care, making sensible preparations before setting sail. This is very like missionary groups who usually need permission from the church with back-up and support from their mission organisation.

Peter Wright, chairman of The Arthur Ransome Society, added, ‘The Amazons seek out the Swallows in much the same way as indigenous people came to find out about early explorers.’ Any number of missionaries have had arrows fired at them. The Swallows discover that Nancy and Peggy not only prove to be the same age but share their terminology and outlook on life. They too have no father around and have recently been rejected by their uncle who is busy writing. As a result, they are being rebellious and let off a firework on the roof of his houseboat. The Swallows make friends with the Amazons and end up helping Uncle Jim to see sense.

Everyone’s moral values are tested in Swallows and Amazons. Uncle Jim realises he has been neglecting his relationship with his nieces and sees what ‘a cross-grained curmudgeonly idiot’ he’d been to ever doubt John Walker’s integrity. Although this casts a shadow on idyllic island days, it almost visibly builds John’s character before his leadership skills are stretched by challenges set by Nancy. The other characters use their gifts to the full, Susan becoming the practical facilitator and Roger learning to be helpful. Titty is the one keen on diving for fish like a cormorant. She keeps the journal or ‘ship’s log’ and takes guidance from the Christian novel Robinson Crusoe that, ‘tells you what to do on an island’, being well-aware that missionaries could be eaten by cannibals. Although her active imagination is undervalued at first, she comes up with ideas that prove vital.

When the Swallows meet indigenous people of the area such as the charcoal burners, they are both polite and respectful, taking an interest in traditional beliefs, such as keeping an adder under the bed for luck. Although Roger makes a bit of a gaff, saying Old Billy ‘doesn’t look much like a son’, the others take an interest in ‘savage’ language and culture.

The Swallow’s mother looks out for them constantly. She reprimands John and sets rules when he goes too far, ‘No more sailing at night’, but continually ensures they are provisioned and their needs met. It might not be expected, but there are battles to be won on the mission field. They are usually tricky, demanding timely action and often involving discomfort akin to sleeping in a dinghy moored by Cormorant Island. Interestingly, it is Titty, the littlest girl, who finds the strength and courage to also unearth the buried treasure and bring restitution.

‘What did the burglars do when they found the treasure had gone?’ one little girl at the cinema asked?

Quick as a flash, Marc Grimston of TARS EAST, who was in the audience, said, ‘Captain Flint carves a fish for them to find instead of the trunk.’ Repentant and forgiven himself, Jim Turner opts to convince the thieves of their guilt rather than report the burglars to the police.

The great thing is, that whilst fishing from boats and weathering the storm, firm friendships are forged that take the Swallows and the Amazons on further adventures, even to the ends of the Earth. There is something inspirational about these that stories lead others to extend themselves, hoist their sails and live life to the full.

Sophie Neville in China
~ Sophie Neville supporting an adult literacy programme in rural China ~

You can’t go out as a missionary expecting to convert the natives. You need to come alongside people who are hurting, find the key to their needs and help them use their God-given ability to fulfil their dreams. It can be scary and things won’t always go smoothly but you are usually warned of danger. There will be a need for strong leadership when times become testing but it should be fun. If you can gain people’s trust and hold on to the unity there will be celebration and feasting in the end.

~ Sophie Neville on a Bible Society mission of encouragement to China ~

The vicar, standing in the rain beside his bicycle, began to appreciate the parallels. You may find more. One thing is certain: there is something about the Swallows and Amazons series of books that enables adults to enjoy them as much as children. We can escape pressures of contemporary life and are inspired to fulfill our dreams, becoming all the good Lord wants us to be, doing all the things He has prepared us to do.

You may disagree completely, you may can find parallels in other Arthur Ransome books. Please write in, using the comments box below.

Duncan Hall of the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook wrote: ‘Of course, throughout (the series of Swallows and Amazons books) there are references to fictional and non-fictional adventures of exploration and discovery which historically sat with Empire, missions and trade as well as with piracy, etc. They do contrast with a political outlook that is clearly oppositional to those traditions. We always end up being impressed by savages (in the Lakes or the Walton backwaters) rather than hoping to civilise them. In Missee Lee, we obviously want to protect the location of the Three Islands, rather than send Daddy’s gunboats over there (despite the pretty monstrous business that Miss Lee presided over, we are convinced that the Brits destroying their way of life would be more monstrous still).

What Sophie is doing next…

This January I am working hard to get fit enough to take part in another sponsored horse ride through the game reserves of South Africa, where I once lived, to raise funds for The Waterberg Trust.

The safari company Ant’s Nest have generously offered to host our party of thirteen British riders and we are paying our own travel costs. Every penny raised in sponsorship will go straight to The Waterberg Trust, a UK registered charity.

50% of funds will be sent to Save the Waterberg Rhino and 50% will support projects that uplift local communities that are run by trusted friends. Each member of our team has been challenged to raise at least £1000 in sponsorship. The Drapers Company have kindly offered to match any funding that I raise personally, so if you can sponsor me your donation will be doubled. Even very small amounts are a huge encouragment and will go along way to improve things in Africa.

please click here for Sophie’s 2018 Justgiving page

OUR PLANS ~

DAY 1 – Riders will be met at Johannesburg airport and driven north to Ant’s Nest Game Reserve deep in the Africa bush where we will meet horses that have been selected for the expedition and set off in search of wildlife.

The Waterberg is home to the third largest population of rhino in South Africa, so their protection on the plateau is vital.

~The Waterberg Trust Riders with white rhino in 2017~

DAY 2 – We will spend the day riding up to Ant’s Hill, viewing game on horseback and looking for a breeding herd of white rhino, along with buffalo, wildebeest and antelope. We’ll return to Ant’s Nest for a talk on the work of ‘Save the Waterberg Rhino’.

DAY 3 – We set off early, riding north through the reserve and along sandy roads to the Waterberg Living Museum to meet Clive Walker, one of South Africa’s leading conservationists who is raising awareness of biodiversity and ecological systems. We may get the chance to see rare golden wildebeest as we ride up to Triple B Ranch were we will spend the night in a traditional farmhouse.

~Clive Walker, founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust~

DAY 4 – We ride down through Triple B Ranch, where they have hippo and over the hills to Lindani game reserve, which will give us another amazing opportunity to see wildlife such as vervet monkey, baboon and warthog, zebra, eland and giraffe.

DAY 5 – This is a long day when we ride to Jembisa, a reserve on the Palala River where the pace will get faster. We hope to find more plains game including giraffe, jackal, warthog and red heartebeest.

DAY 6 – We plan to visit Lapalala Wilderness School, which I have been associated with since 1992 when I became a horse safari guide in the area. The Waterberg Trust has been able to send groups of underprivileged children on a residential course at this eco-school to learn about conservation and the plight of South Africa’s wildlife.

One lesson is about what to do if you find a snake in the house.

The students take their enthusiasm into the community whose support is essential if poaching is to be combated. They are given a local mentor who can help with future issues.

We’ll spend the rest of the day riding across Jembisa where we hope to find hippos and perhaps see crocodile in the river before reaching the furthest point of the ride and grab a few photographs before bidding our horses farewell.

~The Waterberg Trust Challenge riders and back-up team 2017~

DAY 7 –  Riders will visit Lethabo Kids Club in the Township of Leseding who run an excellent ‘Back to School’ project to ensure all local children get into an appropriate school, equipped with uniform, shoes and school bags. We will meet Nurse Grace whose salary is financed by The Waterberg  Trust. The very first school nurse in the area, she has been looking after pupils’ health and issues that detract from their studies. We will also drop in on Kamotsogo community craft project that helps women living with HIV/Aids before leaving for the airport.

~Sophie Neville with students sponsored by The Waterberg Trust in 2017~

I need to get fit as there will be approximately 32–40km’s of riding per day, clocking up a total of 32 long hours in the saddle. It will be an exploratory venture, riding through this beautiful area, now proclaimed a UNESCO biosphere. You can read more about the ride here.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:

Sophie Neville completing The Waterberg Trust Challenge Ride in 2017

If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. 

Psalm 139 v 9 & 10 NLT

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My Christmas

Sophie Neville at Araminta Blue's art exhibition 2017

first published in

The Good Christmas Guide 2017

The Good Christmas guide

Describe a typical Christmas Day in your household.

We scuttle off to our village church where people have gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus for over a thousand years. Tears well in my eyes when I think of the joy and laughter, the disappointment and pain that has been brought there through the ages. We return to a bizarre Christmas tree, made from a holly bush covered in baubles, and light the fire to help bind us together as a family.

Which was your best Christmas – and why?

Last year I spent Christmas in Africa, where my next book ‘Makorongo’s War’ is set. We sat watching wild animals in the golden evening light.

What has really made my Christmas this year was having ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ listed as a recommended book alongside John le Carre, Winston Grahma and Matt Haig

Who do you think would make the most entertaining guest to invite to Christmas dinner – and why?

Funnily enough it’s my aunt Hermione who makes Christmas and New Year fun but she lives on Loch Lomond, 500 miles north from where we live on the south coast.

What was your best Christmas present as a child?

My father gave me a read leather writing case when I was twelve. ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ is based on the I diary kept inside it.

What is your favourite carol?

You’ll have to read my book Ride the Wings of Morning about the time we sang Silent Night in Afrikaans. We had a poor translation. Heavenly sausages descended on Bethlehem.

What is your favourite festive ramble for walking off all the mince pies and turkey?

We’ll take my lurcher Flint for a walk by the sea, a social activity as many of my friends have dogs.

If you could spend Christmas Day anywhere in the world, apart from at home, where would it be – and why?

I’d love to bring my whole family up to the Lake District for Christmas so Aunt Hermione could join us. Perhaps we should go with Flint next year.

My favourite Christmas story:

 Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.   Luke 2 v 7-20

The cultural background is that in when Shepherds identified a perfect newborn lamb for sacrifice, they wrapped it in strips of cloth and laid it in a manger to keep it clean. When they saw Jesus in this situation, they would have immediately identified him as a sacrificial lamb.

The second edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)’ available as an ebook

front-cover-1974

A second edition of the ebook ‘The Secrets of Filming ‘SWALLOWS & AMAZONS'(1974) is now available on Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, itunes, Kobo, and Nook for £2.99 . You can download this free of charge if you already own the first edition.

If you would like a copy but don’t have a Kindle, worry not. We have added a link whereby you can download a free Kindle app. Please go to my Book Page and scroll down for the details.

If you already have a copy of the ebook, contact a Customer Advisor and ask for a free update. You just need to give Kindle the ebook’s ASIN number. The ISBN for all online editions except Kindle is: ISBN 9781311761927

Since being contacted by others who were involved in the filming, I have been able to add a few more anecdotes and images, including this beautiful shot of Virginia McKenna in 1973 kindly sent in by the photographer Philip Hatfield.

virginia-mckenna-photo-by-philip-hatfield

I found a copy of my original contract for the film and when Jean McGill rang from Bowness, a few more secrets floated to the surface.

Sophie Neville and David Wood

CBBCTV’s Cinemaniacs  interviewed the screenwriter David Wood and myself on how the original movie of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was made back in the summer of 1973.  The idea was to use 30 second clips, so please excuse my over-the-top reactions, but you can watch the whole recording below.

‘This has to be one of the most delightful interviews in my recent memory.’ Tim Lewis, USA

1 error 2 many

or ‘More notes for a second edition of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’

The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS

Guy Willson, a reader from Papua New Guinea, has written to say: ‘I have read your book and I really liked it.  I could see behind the scenes and often read between your lines as well.’

‘When you were making the movie (in 1973) I was on my way to Norfolk Island as a starting point of my adventures in the South Seas; so I never knew of the release of your film until much later when I had children of my own that had reached the age to go ‘avasting’ and ‘timber shivering’, when we were living in Rye in the 1990’s.’

‘Some years ago I restored a 13ft clinker dinghy and after adding a false keel, added a standing lugsail and trailed her up to Coniston for my children to sail… I had in mind an article from Classic Boat on the Swallow, how the Altounyan children preferred Swallow as a boat because they could stow more things in her and she could still sail well.  I had noticed on a drawing in the article that Ransome had given her an extra 2 or 3 inches of false keel and this helped tremendously in reducing her leeway.  I added a piece of oak to do the same thing but gave her an extra 9” aft and planed it down to a feather edge forward so the she would go about a bit easier. Well, it worked and Eaglet would have done the original Swallow proud.’

Swallow on Coniston

Swallow – the 12′ dinghy used in the film

‘If you would permit me a little correction: you described the rig as being gaff rig, but this is not so.  Both the boats, originals and the ones you sailed were in fact luggers.  The nearest thing to a gaffer among the luggers is the Gunter Rig which has jaws at the front of the yard but is hauled up by a single halyard. You can see this in the Mirror dinghy (in truth it is about halfway between the two). However the lug rig of Swallow is known as a ‘standing lug’ and it can be used to go about freely.  After hauling up the sail on its traveller; the peak of the yard is raised by the downhaul line (usually attached to the bottom of the boom).  This tightens the luff of the sail and lifts the outer end of the boom as well giving the best efficiency to the sail.’

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A gaff rigged cutter

‘Lugsails were the working sails of England for most boats less than 60ft but they were usually rigged with a ‘dipping’ lug as the mail sail and a standing lug aft.  This dipping lug had to be dropped and the yard hauled round behind the mast every time they went about.  It was a powerful sail and they found their best expressions in the three masted Bisquines which used to raid British shipping in Napoleonic days.  You can still see them at the classic boat events at Douarnenez and Brests, where I took the gaff schooner Soteria in 2006.’

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Soteria at Douarnenez

‘If you had had a gaff rig you would most probably have needed a jib to balance it (unlike the American catboats which have their masts right up in the bow, not even a space for the Boy Roger on those! Thanks for writing a lovely book which I will pass on to my daughter.’

Blu-ray X marks the spot
“X marks the spot where they ate six missionaries”

‘You did such a grand job as Titty and I am not really surprised to find that you are a bit of a wordsmith. I am a missionary (uneaten) in Papua New Guinea and we are planning to sail back there in our steel schooner see www.livingwatermission.org  On our return we will be calling in at Erromanga in Vanuaatu where ‘x’ was the spot where two missionaries were eaten.  Recently the descendant of one of them, John Williams, went to Erromanga for a service of reconciliation.’

If you have noticed any errors in ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’ please use the Comments box to let us know so that we can make corrections! We are about to bring out a second edition. Readers who already have a Kindle edition will be able to update it free of charge.

My friend Dr Bill Frankland

Dr Bill Frankland and Sophie Neville

Dr Bill Frankland with Sophie Neville at Drapers’ Hall

Once Alexander Fleming’s clinical assistant, Dr Bill Frankland was still working as an allergist at the age of 103, ‘I have my first patient at 9.00am tomorrow morning.’ I gather he was still working on academic papers up until his recent death at the age of 108.

Dr Frankland and I were both Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Drapers, so found ourselves seated together in all sorts of places from St Paul’s Cathedral to a bus heading for Romford. Always chatty and full of enthusiasm, Bill was an endless source of interesting stories. He gave me detailed insights on WWII, when he served as a medical officer in the Far East, becoming a PoW to the Japanese after Singapore fell and gallantly agreed toHe became the historical adviser on my next book, ‘The Man Who Got Out of Japan’. To my astonishment I found myself noting down the actual dialogue used in PoW camps. He could remember the exact words used by the Japanese. I was not be surprised to see he’d been invited to the premiere of The Railway Man’, the movie of Eric Lomax’s wartime experience starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. He also attended the 70th Anniversary VJ Day memorial at Horse Guards Parade with other British and Commonwealth veterans.

Bill grew up in the Lake District with his identical twin brother, who sadly died some time ago. He was a good friend of Roger Altounyan and knew his sister Titty. Along with their other three siblings, Taqui , Susie and Brigit, they had been models for the Walker family in Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons’. After he began working as an allergist, Bill became a colleague of Roger who developed the Intal spin-inhaler to relieve asthmatic symptoms.

Sophie Suzanna and Sten

Bill was amused by the fact that, as a child of twelve, I played the part of Titty in the 1974 feature film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’, delighted that I was able to introduce him to Nick Barton, the producer of the 2016 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, now on DVD and released in the US by Samuel Goldwyn Meyer.

Sophie Neville in the tent at night

Bill lost his wife to cancer some time ago but his family were ever around him. At the age of 102, he told me that his doctor insisted that he walked a mile a day but it was quite an experience to accompany him along the crowded London streets. On turning 99 he began to use a walking stick which was twirled in all directions.

Read more:

‘From Hell Island to Hay Fever, The Life of Dr Bill Frankland’, by Paul Watkins.

Click here for a to listen to Bill give an account of his life on Desert Island Discs

Here is a clip of Dr Frankland appearing on ‘The One Show’ a few years ago (he’s on after Andrew Lloyd Weber):

The publication of ‘The Making of SWALLOW & AMAZONS’

The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS

The paperback

Sophie Neville at home with the S&A flags

by Sophie Neville who played Titty Walker

‘Forty years after she enchanted film-goers as Titty in Swallows and Amazons, Sophie Neville has found a new audience… telling the behind-the-scenes secrets of the film of Arthur Ransome’s classic novel.’ The Daily Mail  The Making of  Swallows & Amazons ‘…is based on diaries, letters and old photographs which Sophie has turned into a heart-warming account of making the movie, which starred Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser.’

Swallows & Amazons flags for book

The Telegraph ~ Culture:  ‘Set in the Lake District in 1929, the film follows four young adventurers who sail a dinghy around Lake Coniston, cook for themselves over campfires and sleep in makeshift campsites.’

‘…The occasional chaos and terrible weather during filming contributed to the eventual popularity of the extraordinary and very much loved film.’ The Times

‘The film Swallows & Amazons is 40 years old, but thanks to its careful period evocation, its respect for Arthur Ransome’s original book and the performances of its child actors, it’s become a timeless classic. One of those children was Sophie Neville, who played Titty, and who kept a diary during the filming. That diary, with her adult recollections, is this book. It’s a fascinating insight into filming on location in the Lake District…’ Classic Boat

Sophie Suzanna and Sten

‘… The result is compulsive reading as she recalls that cold wet summer, while the camera crew wrapped up warm and she shivered in her skimpy dress as Able Seaman Titty Walker. Sophie brings to life all the many memorable characters who worked on the film and in particular the other children, the Director Claude Whatham who developed a great relationship with his young cast and the stars Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser. Nor are the other young actors forgotten for there are diary contributions from Suzanna Hamilton who played Susan, Stephen Grendon who played the Boy Roger and Kit Seymour who played Nancy Blackett. The text is supported by numerous illustrations showing life on and off the set.’ Roger Wardale, author of Arthur Ransome: Master Storyteller and other books

‘You don’t need to be a Swallows & Amazons fan to enjoy this book – it’s universal!’ Winifred Wilson, Librarian of The Arthur Ransome Society

‘This was a most unusual and interesting book. I picked it up expecting to browse through it, and found myself so drawn in to Sophie Neville’s detailed, amusing and insightful description of film making in the 1970’s that I was unable to put her book down. As Arthur Ransome fans, my family and I have always loved the film, and felt that Sophie Neville was ‘just right’ as Titty. What fun it has been to be introduced to the young twelve year old Sophie with her intelligent awareness of the challenges facing the production crew while she shivered in her cotton dresses. The many photographs and illustrations contribute richly to bringing the 1970s setting to life. Sophie recorded her experiences beautifully, and in so doing, added one more valuable book to the cultural heritage of all Arthur Ransome fans.’ Juliet Calcott, English teacher, South Africa

Lots of photos throughout the book bring the scenes to life – a delightful read.’ Celia Lewis author of An Illustrated Country Year

Mark Forrest Evening Show

Sophie Neville has been chatting to Mark Forrest on The Evening Show.

Screenshot of The Making of Swallows and Amazons book cover on Instagram

The second edition of this paperback is published by The Lutterworth Press, available online here

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