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.
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.
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 .
I sent in a shot of a home-schooling project that took on a life of its own.
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.
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
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
An article first published in Mixed Moss, the journal of The Arthur Ransome Society:
‘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 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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
or ‘More notes for a second edition of ‘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 – 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.’
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.’
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.’
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
‘From Hell Island to Hay Fever, The Life of Dr Bill Frankland’, by Paul Watkins.
‘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 MailThe 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
‘… 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 Storytellerand 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
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.
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:
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.
“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.
From ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ by Sophie Neville
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
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!