Category Archives: Christian

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.

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.

This year we have been making Christmas wreaths to raise funds for charity, which was great fun. To see more, please click here.

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Launching the second edition of The Secrets of Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)

front-cover-1974

A second edition of the ebook ‘The Secrets of Filming ‘SWALLOWS & AMAZONS'(1974) is now avaialble 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

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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.’

image005

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.’

image002

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.

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Filed under Arthur Ransome, boating, British Film, Christian, Dinghy sailing, Film History, sailing film, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized

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.’ His recent MBE is apparently a good sign that he has many good works still to perform. You may have seen him on television today.

Dr Frankland and I are both Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Drapers, so find 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 is a source of endless interesting stories and has become the historical adviser on my next book, ‘Makorongo’s War’. 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. 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 is still amused by the fact that I played the part of Titty in the 1974 feature film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ as a child of twelve, 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 in July 2017.

Sophie Neville in the tent at night

Bill lives and works central London, employing a PA to help him cope with his workload and plan his overseas travel. He lost his wife to cancer some time ago but has his family ever around him. He told me that his doctor insists that he walks a mile a day but it is quite an experience to accompany him along the crowded London streets as on turning 99 he began to use a walking stick which is twirled in all directions.

Update – I saw Dr Frankland at a dinner in the City of London in March 2017. He was looking very well and at the age of 105 is still employing a secretary to keep up to date with his paperwork although his phone is currently on the blink.

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):

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Announcing the publication of ‘The Making of SWALLOW & AMAZONS’

The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS

The long-awaited paperback published by Classic TV Press

Sophie Neville at home with the S&A flags

Sophie Neville who played Titty Walker

Swallows & Amazons flags for book

‘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.’

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.

Please see her post on the Funnily Enough, the website  or click on his image above and slide the cursor to 02:14:20

**********

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Christian, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Dinghy sailing, Film, Film Cast, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Humor, Humour, Lake District, Landscape Photographs, Letters, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, News, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton

Questions about my writing

Sophie Neville by Sylvain Guenot (trimmed)

Sallie Eden contacted me when she was staying at Bank Ground Farm last month, requesting an interview. I have pasted a few of her questions here:

  • Where do you write? In solitude? At home? I find it much easier to write the first draft of my book if I retreat to an African hut in the middle of no-where, which I managed to do in February and March of this year. However, much of writing is re-writing, which I do at any and every opportunity. Most of my books have to be checked by experts and get re-drafted a great many times while I improve the flow of the narrative. It’s hard work and takes time but I see it as vital. Even when a book is based on a dairy I might re-draft it 100 times, drawing on skills gained as a painter and when editing my own films. I have learnt to be unoffendable, preferring to laugh at my own mistakes rather than have them displayed in print.
  • What authors do you admire? I have been inspired by authors of amusing true life stories: Anne Lamott and Monica Dickens, James Herriot, Gerald Durrell and Helene Hanff, who wrote 84 Charing Cross Road from letters she’d received from a book shop in London. Gerald Durrell told me how he’d edited the story of his years spent on Corfu, making the construction of his book seem easy, when of course it must have been soul wrenching. I love CS Lewis and follow his advice on writing the book I would like to read that is not there.
  • Sophie Neville
    How do you describe yourself when people ask what you do?  I’ve managed to live about five lives professionally, working interchangeably as a writer, producer, artist, actress and horseback safari guide. All require practice to gain fluency and do well. None are much good a making money. Many people assume that we receive substantial residuals from Swallows & Amazons but we only earned £7.50 a day whist working on the film and nothing at all from VHS or DVD sales. The parrot earned £25 and he didn’t speak. I wish I was better at raising funds for charity. The need is so great. In the year 2000 I helped to set up the Waterberg Welfare Society in a corner of rural South Africa to help combat the pandemic HIV/AIDS. You can see some of the mad things we do help finance their work here:    
  • Do you need a trigger to start writing – to give you an idea? Good stories will always call out to be written and to be read. Getting down to illustrate them would be difficult if the drawings were not already waiting. I started putting together Ride the Wings of Morning when I was living in Africa but only added the illustrations once it was formatted, filling natural gaps between the letters which make up the book with sketches and paintings. I ended up using about 120 graphics, accumulated over the twelve previous years. Someday I am hoping that a version will be produced in full colour as a coffee-table book that will motivate others to get out into the wild and start painting. You can read about Ride the Wings of Morning here

For the full interview with Sallie Eden please click here

For Sallie Eden’s review of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ please click here

Photographs by Sylvain Guenot

 

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‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ ebook is out now

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

Thanks to the encouragement and help of my blog followers and Arthur Ransome enthusiasts around the world, I have managed to put my diaries, letters, old photographs and documents together into a 68,000-word memoir.

s&A book launch 2013 005

“Sometimes extraordinary things do happen to ordinary people. Little girls can find themselves becoming film stars. Long ago, and quite unexpectedly, I found myself appearing in the EMI feature film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons, made for a universal international audience. I played Able-seaman Titty, one of the four Swallows. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I became Titty for a while, wearing thin cotton dresses and elasticated navy blue gym knickers, which the camera crew soon referred to as passion killers. The book was written in 1929 and although the film adaptation was made in the early 1970s it had an ageless quality and has been repeated on television year after year, typically on a Bank Holiday between movies starring Rock Hudson or Doris Day.

I got the part of Titty because I could play the piano. Although I had no ambition to be an actress, at the age of ten I was cast in a BBC dramatisation of Cider with Rosie. They needed a little girl to accompany the eleven-year-old Laurie Lee when he played his violin at the village concert. I plodded through Oh, Danny Boy at an agonising pace.

‘Do you think you could play a little faster?’ the Director asked.

‘No,’ I said, flatly. ‘These are crotchets, they don’t go any faster.’

Claude Whatham must have remembered my crotchets, for two years later, in March 1973, my father received a letter. It arrived completely out of the blue, from a company called Theatre Projects.

We are at present casting for a film version of SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS which Mr Whatham is going to direct. We were wondering if you would be interested in your daughter being considered for one of the parts in this film.

Amazing!”

From ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ by Sophie Neville

Preview copies of the print version of 'The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons'Preview copies of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’  at the Cruising Association dinner at the Water’s Edge Bar and Restaurant, Mermaid Marina on the River Hamble.

“This heart-warming memoir is illustrated with colour photographs, most of them taken at the time by Sophie’s family, and contains links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage for readers with browser-enabled tablets. It delivers a double helping of nostalgia for both fans of the era of Arthur Ransome, and the groovy times of the early 70’s.” ~ from the Amazon Kindle description

Map of Derwentwater by Sophie

Also available for other reading devices on Smashwords

Thank you again for all of your time and patience, and to those of you who contributed comments, questions, and aspects of local history on this blog. I would love to know what you think of the book!

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.

Sophie Neville on the pontoon during the filming of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Richard Pilbrow, Denis Lewiston, Claude Whatham, David Cadwallader and Sophie Neville aged 12 playing Titty. Eddie Collins looks on ~ photo: Daphne Neville

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Christian, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Diary, Dinghy sailing, e-publication, Family Life, Film, Film Cast, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Humor, Humour, Kindle, Lake District, Landscape Photographs, Letters, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, News, Photography, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Zanna Hamilton