20 Novelists who mention Swallows and Amazons or other Arthur Ransome books in their work

Many esteemed authors have written biographies of Author Ransome and the places that inspired him. Here, I list novelists who acknowledge Ransome as an inspiration or have references to his books within their own work. It is a list that will no doubt grow. Please add copiously to the comments below.

Sir William Golding, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, mentions Swallows and Amazons in Lord of the Flies.

Debbie Welch points out that Monica Edwards has Andrea reading We didn’t mean to go to sea in Punchbowl Midnight. ‘She slams it down when Peter has let Midnight (the calf) out.’ TARS member Elizabeth Williams said that Pigeon Post is being read in Summer of the Great Secret. “Monica Edwards was a great Ransome fan. She wrote a letter to him after the publication of Great Northern? There isn’t a record of a reply.”

Nevil Shute mentions Swallows and Amazons in No Highway. Eddie Castellan of the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook writes: ‘Ronnie Clarke is spotted reading Coot Club as a bedtime story in the closing pages of The Rainbow and the Rose.’

Coniston Water in the rain

Katie Fforde, president of the Romantic Novelists Association, mentions Arthur Ransome in her novel A Vintage Wedding. Martin Allott spotted this, explaining, ‘It’s a gentle romance about the love lives of three female friends who set up a wedding planning business… Lindy mentions some favourite books, one of which is Old Peter’s Russian Tales.’

Liz Taylorson has recently brought out a romance entitled Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm that not only features the book Swallows and Amazons but makes quite a thing of Titty’s name. You can find the extract here.

Kit Pearson wrote the Guests of War trilogy (The Sky is Falling, Looking at the Moon and The Lights Go On Again). Adam Quinan explained that they are about a British sister and brother evacuated to Canada during the early days of the Second World War. ‘The older sister loved Ransome’s books and compares his stories to Ontario lakeside cottage life.’

In Red Letter Holiday by Virginia Pye the mother of the family is reading Swallows and Amazons aloud.

Magnus Smith says that How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger and Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr mention Ransome’s books.

In The Boyhood of Grace Jones by Jane Langton, an American book from 1972, the main character is obsessed by the books, and fantasizes about being as good a sailor as John Walker.

Catherine Lamont from Australia said, “Just read a 2020 book mentioning ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (someone spotted in a bookshelf belonging to one of the main characters): The Enigma Game, by Elizabeth Wein.” Elizabeth Wein wrote in to say, “Not just in The Enigma Game – I namedropped Swallows & Amazons in my novel Code Name Verity, too! It was given to me by my grandmother’s best friend when I was seven and was one of my favorites. My own children, who never actually read it, were huge fans of the film”.

The Slate Quay on Coniston Water ~ photo: Sophie Neville

Libby Purves, now President of The Arthur Ransome Society, mentions Swallows and Amazons in her novel Regatta. I need reminding if she mentions Ransome in her other books.

Victor Watson references Swallows and Amazons in his Paradise Barn quartet. I think one of the kids wants to borrow it from the library.

The Swallows and Amazon series gets mentioned An Island of our Own by Sally Nicholls, Coming Home by Rosamun Pilcher and Impossible! by Michelle Magorian. Does she also mention We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea in Goodnight Mr Tom?

Clare Havens refers to Swallows and Amazons in The Bellamy Bird, a novel which she asked Virginia McKenna to narrate when it came out as an audiobook.

Tessa Hadley wrote a short story featuring Swallows and Amazons, which Tessa Jordan says, ‘contains the most remarkable depiction of the spell cast by Swallows and Amazons.’

Other authors, playwrights and illustrators have expressed their love for the Swallows and Amazon series:

Garth Nix who wrote The Left-Handed Book Sellers of London specifically calls out ‘Swallows and Amazons’ as an inspiration at the end of his book.

Philip Pullman chose We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea as one of his 40 favourite children’s books in a Waterstones promotion and borrows Ransome’s phrase ‘signaling to Mars’ from Winter Holiday in La Belle Sauvage.

Jeanne Birdsall‘s Penderwicks books are highly recommended for young Ransome fans. Alan Kennedy has also written in what has become a Ransome genre.

Katherine Hull and Pamela Whitlock were young fans of Arthur Ransome who helped and encouraged them to publish their novel The Far-Distant Oxus.

Jon Tucker has written a series five Those Kids books set in Tasmania and New Zealand that bring Ransome into the 21st Century.

Inspired by Ransome, Duncan Hall brought out the Brambleholme series of books for children aged 8-80 set in the Yorkshire Dales.

Windermere, Cumbria

Julia Jones, whose Strong Winds series begins around the Shotley Peninsular where the Ransomes once lived, is a great fan of the Swallows and Amazons series. She has been sailing Arthur Ransome’s yacht Peter Duck since she was a little girl and mentions his books in her novels. She writes on behalf of other authors who quote Swallows and Amazons: ‘All of us are honest about our inspiration: we acknowledge Arthur Ransome in our credits / we join The Arthur Ransome Society / introduce a Swallows and Amazons-reading child into our stories and in my case, at least, get our lead characters thinking desperately ‘what would the Swallows do next?” You can read more in her article about authors who have been inspired by Ransome’s writing entitled X Marks the Legacy.

Julia Jones and Frances Wheen at Pin Mill with Sophie Neville

Julia reminds me that Marcus Sedgwick has written a whole novel based on Arthur Ransome’s adventures in Russia where he met Evgenia, the woman who was to become his second wife, entitled Blood Red, Snow White. I have a copy.

The science fiction author Charles Stross also features Ransome in Russia during the Civil War in one of The Laundry Files novels: The Apocalypse Codex.

Please leave any other connections who might have spotted in the comments below.

Recent comments about ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’

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‘The 1974 Swallows and Amazons film is a classic, and this is a really enjoyable look behind the scenes, written by the actress who (for me, at least) gave the stand-out performance as Titty Walker. If the film recaptured the lost world of 1929, then the book recaptures the lost world of 1973, when rules on child actors were strict (chaperones and schoolwork absolute requirements) but regulations on health and safety a bit more lax, even when on water. We even learn the truth behind that strange scene on the jetty in Rio where Roger is left minding Swallow. Highly recommended.’ P. Stevens, Bath, UK

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‘Every now and again in cinematic history a classic is born. It doesn’t have to be a multi-billion pound blockbuster featuring legendary names, sometimes something timeless and endlessly endearing is born and this is most definitely the case with ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

‘This film has become an old friend to me; I must have watched it a thousand times and I never tire of it! It brings back memories of a summer childhood spent in wonder-filled Cumbria, in particular Windermere, Ambleside, Derwent and Coniston Water; places we’d visit as a family before the fates would, sadly intervene.

‘Sophie Neville’s excellent book recaptures again the halcyon days of youth in a summer-land of mountains, fells and shimmering lakes. She writes beautifully and with an easy style that’s a joy to read. The love for her subject is very evident, as is her passion for the work of Arthur Ransome. She takes you behind the scenes of the making of the film and the realities of filming on the water; how the director and crew worked tirelessly to bring out the best in the young actors and the splendours of the landscape. So glad I made this purchase. Pride of place on the old bookshelf.’ Allen Fairhurst

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‘Sophie has lost none of her infectious enthusiasm and this shines through on every page.’  Julian Lovelock in Mixed Moss, the journal of The Arthur Ransome Society.  ‘As well as using her own diary Sophie has mined the recollections and scrapbooks of a number of cast and crew.’

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‘The book itself is indeed a delight. I have long been a fan of Swallows and Amazons. I am delighted with the film which was made and Sophie’s account of the making of it adds a very charming and interesting dimension. I loved the account and I fully recommend any fan of Swallows and Amazons to get a copy for themselves.’

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You can read about how the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was made and find the complete collection of behind-the-scenes photos in this ebook available from Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes and on Kindle for £2.99

Adaptations of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ discussed in the Independent by Jonathan Brown

Author Arthur Ransome loathed BBC’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’, his diaries reveal

Swallow in 'Swallows and Amazons' 2016

When the BBC announced plans to recreate the classic outdoor children’s sailing adventure Swallows and Amazons it was hailed as a blockbusting antidote to the health and safety culture of the mollycoddled video-game generation…

However, previously unread diaries of its creator, Arthur Ransome, reveal that the author considered the corporation’s last attempt to bring his much-loved story to life to be a “ghastly mess” marred by “dreadful ham” acting. The diaries reveal how Ransome clashed repeatedly with BBC executives in the early 1960s when the BBC commissioned a six-part dramatisation for television, starring Susan George, then aged 12, as Kitty (changed from the original Titty) Walker.

Ransome, then in declining health, was living in virtual retirement in his remote Cumbrian cottage Hill Top overlooking the spectacular Rusland valley with his wife Evgenia – the former secretary to Leon Trotsky, whom he met while working as a foreign correspondent and spying for Britain in revolutionary Russia. It was a spartan existence, often with no electricity or running water.

In a series of brusque entries at odds with his generally affable demeanour, he describes how he repeatedly fought with BBC executives over attempts to introduce two new characters – Ernie and Sam – to the story. Both he and his wife attempted to rewrite the script after concluding that one episode was “bad beyond belief”.

Rupert Hart-Davis with Arthur Ransome

At his home Hill Top with his publisher Rupert Hart-Davies

“I have agreed to Genia’s proposal that we shall wash our hands of the film leaving it to Mr Walls [of the BBC] to play the farceur as much as he likes. They may be right in thinking that vulgar ham acting is what the T.V. gapers want,” he wrote in July 1962.

Ransome was particularly unimpressed with the performance of popular British actor John Paul as Captain Flint – the character… said to be based on Ransome himself – describing it as “dreadful HAM”.

On attending a screening at the Hammer Theatre in Wardour Street, central London in October 1962, he concluded: “Saw the ghastly mess they have made of poor old Swallows and Amazons … MacCullogh [his friend Derek MacCullogh, former head of children’s broadcasting at the BBC who was also known as the presenter Uncle Mac] did not come possibly to avoid trouble with his employers.” It was eventually broadcast the following year.

Stephen Sykes now owns Hill Top and has restored the Ransomes’ former home. He is also helping transcribe the author’s sparsely detailed diaries from his years at Hill Top, which are kept at Leeds University’s Brotherton Library. Sykes said the writer received £3,500 for agreeing to the BBC broadcast – a considerable amount of money. “He was clearly making a very good living out of the rights to Swallows and Amazons. This was his baby and he had obviously pored over it. It is a very leanly written story and it was pretty clear it was written by a journalist because of its clarity, because there is nothing extraneous,” he said.

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Hill Top in the Lake District today

“He is extremely protective of his own work. He felt he didn’t want a word changing, and that he had honed the story down and it was what it was,” he added.

swallows and amazons map tea towel

Swallows and Amazons was first published in 1930. It recounts the adventures of the children from two families who while away an idyllic summer getting into scrapes sailing their dinghies across Coniston Water and Lake Windermere. As well as the television series, many theatrical and musical adaptations have been staged, and the story was made into a film in 1974 staring Ronald Fraser and Sophie Neville.

When the latest project was announced in 2011, head of BBC Films Christine Langan said it would seek to encapsulate a forgotten era of childhood adventure “from the pre-health and safety generation”.

Producer Nick Barton of Harbour Pictures, who is collaborating on the film with the BBC, the Arthur Ransome Society and the author’s literary estate, said it had not been decided yet whether the children would be shown sailing without their life jackets.

But he said viewers could expect to experience the full majesty of the book’s setting. “The lakes and the mountains are very big and we are keen to recreate that grandeur of the scenery in the film,” he said. A spokeswoman for BBC Films said: “The film is still in development.”

To see a copy of the original article online, please click here

To contact Stephen Sykes at Hill Top, the Ransome’s last home, please click here

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How did Arthur Ransome influence your life?

Arthur Ransome was born in on 18th January 1884. This Saturday will be his 130th anniversary.

Around the world, those who loved his books will be celebrating his birthday. Around the UK, from the South Coast to Giggleswick in North Yorkshire and up in Scotland, various branches of The Arthur Ransome Society are holding events in High Wycombe, Glasgow, Exeter and on the Orwell where Arthur Ransome spent so much time sailing.

Sophie Neville at The Nancy Blackett Day

As you can see in the Comments below, Pamela Copley has just written from Australia to say:

‘There is a celebration of AR’s birthday in a suburb of Melbourne on Saturday – straight after the AGM. There will be a member from the UK group too.

Cheryl Paget tells me that, ‘In New Zealand members have  met in Auckland for a weekend of Ransome inspired activities. We have sailed under the Auckland Harbour Bridge in a 57ft ketch rigged deck scow, toured the historic naval town of Devonport and walked to the top of the dormant volcano of Rangitoto.’

Mikako Tarashima wrote from the Arthur Ransome Club in Japan to say:

‘We would like to have a small exhibition in this year.’ In 2014, publication of new Japanese translation of Ransome saga was complete.’

Nancy

So, this week, I ask the question: How has Arthur Ransome influenced your life?

What impact have his classic books, or the adaptations of Swallows and Amazons for film, television or the theatre, had on your family?

Do add a line or two to the Comments below.

Arthur Ransome's cutter the Nancy Blackett sailing on the Orwell
Arthur Ransome’s cutter the Nancy Blackett on the Orwell in July 2013

I am guilty of denial. When people asked, ‘How has Swallows & Amazons influenced your life?’ I’m afraid I used not to be that forth-coming, because I had moved on from acting in films. If you had asked me in 2010 I would have shrugged and said, ‘Not much.’

But then I stopped and thought again.

How much time I have spent exploring wilderness areas? I’d forgotten that it was the maps in Ransome’s books that attracted me to reading Cartography at university. I went to draw numerous maps all over the world.

I love living outdoors. I love fell walking, mud-flats, and being out on the high seas. I would drop everything to sail to China or the Caribbean tomorrow. I put this down to the fact that my father took us sailing and camping even before I read Ransome’s books. But who influenced Dad?  Born in 1929, he was an avid reader of Arthur Ransome and would eagerly wait for the next book about the Swallows and the Amazons to be published. It would be a longed-for Christmas present.

It then occurred to me that John’s careful planning, Susan’s packing, Titty’s log and Roger’s humour still steer my life. The food, the phrases, the urge to travel, became part of my life long ago. I’ve lived under Swallow’s flag.

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I for one, sail into the year ahead with Titty’s words still singing in my ears,

‘Here we are, intrepid explorers, making the first ever voyage into uncharted waters? What mysteries will it hold for us, what dark secrets shall me revealed?’

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Aboard the Nancy Blackett at Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River

‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ by Sophie Neville is available from The Nancy Blackett Trust shop:

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