Writer’s blog

Authors, illustrators and playwrights who mention Swallows and Amazons or Arthur Ransome’s other books

Many esteemed authors have written biographies of Author Ransome and the places that inspired him. Here, I list writers 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.

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.’

Monica Edwards. TARS member Elizabeth Williams said that Pigeon Post is being read in Monica Edwards’ novel 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.”

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 and says everyone in it is more sensible than Peter!’

William Golding mentions Swallows and Amazons in Lord of the Flies.

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.”

Victor Watson references Swallows and Amazons in his Paradise Barn quartet.

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.”

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.’

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.

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.

Tony Collins, who brought out 1,400 books as a publisher, mentions that he grew up reading Swallows and Amazons in the first page of his new memoir How to Make Mistakes in Publishing.

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

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.

When asked , “What was it that first gave you the reading bug,” author Sarah Moss said, “Arthur Ransome: Swallows and Amazons. I was an outdoor child — though not always by choice — and I knew and loved the landscapes where the series is set. I re-read them with my children and they are classics with strong, likeable, flawed characters, a family dynamic that’s in some ways more interesting to me as an adult (John has some serious issues with the patriarchy) and a satisfying interest in fruit cake and pork pies. (Daily Mail)

Melanie Philips lists Swallows and Amazons as one of the ‘great childhood books’ that ‘stay with us for ever’. ‘Books that make a profound impression on us in childhood can form part of our mental scaffolding throughout our lives.’ The Times

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

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

Windermere, Cumbria

Julia Jones, whose Strong Winds series are set 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

Frances Wheen who wrote the a-claimed biography of Karl Marx joined us at Pin Mill for a marathon reading of We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea hosted by the Nancy Blackett Trust

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

In Red Letter Holiday by Virginia Pye (1940) 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, as does Rosamund Pilcher in Coming Home.

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 .

The Swallows and Amazon series gets mentioned in Impossible! by Michelle Magorian, and An Island of our Own by Sally Nicholls.

Tony Ross – illustrator of Horrid Henry and The Little Princess, said, “I absolutely loved this book as a boy. I read it when I was ill with the mumps. The simple line drawings were just wonderful; they gave the feeling of wide open spaces and freedom. When you’re bound up in bed, when your jaw is aching and your face is the size of a football, it’s nice to be wafted out into the water. Swallows and Amazons gave me a lifelong love of sailing. I’m a bad sailor, but I love messing about on boats.” Daily Telegraph

Sometimes it’s the Swallows and Amazons lifestyle that people speak of:

Santa Montefiore ~ ‘I had an idyllic Swallows and Amazons childhood growing up in a beautiful Jacobean house on a farm in Hampshire.’ Guardian 

The Slate Quay on Coniston Water ~ photo: Sophie Neville

Tom Stoppard, the playwright, said he turned books over as a child hoping they might be ‘Swallows and Amazons’. (The Guardian) In Hermione Lee’s recent biography of Tom Stoppard, she notes that as an eight-year-old boy, ‘The first real book he picked up, soon after getting to England, was Arthur Ransome’s Peter Duck, the third in the Swallows and Amazons series, a 1930s epic of Atlantic Ocean travel, shipwreck, hostile pursuit and secret treasure. He spotted on the jacket that Ransome had written some other books too. ‘My method of searching for these books had a sort of pathos about it: I simply went around picking up any book I saw lying about to see if it was called Swallows and Amazons. But it never was.’ Luckily he found a full set of Arthur Ransome books at school. ‘Stoppard, that enchanting master of the English language, was a Czech refugee, and Ransome was therefore one of his early English-language influencers.’

Coniston Water in the rain

Sir Antony Jay, the author and co-writer of Yes, Minister and Yes,Prime Minister, who was editor of the BBC Tonight programme and Head of Television Talk Features, was a fan. Janet Means of the Arthur Ransome Group said that when she was a child, and he was a very young BBC producer, that he used to lend her Swallows and Amazons books.

Julian Fellowes acted in the BBC adaptation of Coot Club but I’m not sure if he has referred to Swallows and Amazons in any of his novels of screenplays.

I have a feeling that Agatha Christie might also have mentioned an Arthur Ransome book.

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

Well known people who love Swallows and Amazons

The Duke of Edinburgh is reputed to have spoken of a ‘Swallows and Amazons spirit’ or ‘the spirit of Swallows and Amazons‘. The books are certainly loved by many.

I was interviewed by the antiques expert Marc Allum who reckoned my collection of memorabilia from the 1974 film would be worth about £5,000. You can read more about this here. I have a feeling this episode recorded at Windermere Jetty might be repeated someday soon.

Rupert Maas the art expert on BBC Antiques Roadshow, who watched the film as a boy, said that the Arthur Ransome books inspired him to sail across the Atlantic. He valued Swallow, the dinghy we used in the movie at more than £10,000.

Rupert Maas on Windermere, valuing Swallow on BBC Antiques Roadshow in 2021

Jeffrey Archer was inspired by the book: “I love Swallows and Amazons because it has the sense of children working together. It was very moral in that it made clear that individuals don’t matter.” (The Independent) “Swallows And Amazons was unputdownable – though I did not try to emulate their adventures.” (My Weekly)

Kate Adie, the News correspondent, who, on ‘I’ve never seen Star Wars’ (BBC Radio 4 ), gave ‘Swallows and Amazons’ 10/10 a few years ago.

Labi Siffre, the singer-songwriter said on Great Lives that Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books taught him responsibility and a morality that shaped and influenced his life.

Jane Garvey, of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, chose We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea as one of her five favorite books. “I’ve no idea why I loved this book so much, but I know I did. It’s one of the Swallows and Amazons series, and involves an accidental trip to Belgium. I found it absolutely hair-raising – I’m not exactly intrepid myself so it probably petrified me.” (The Week)

David Bellamy, the botanist and television presenter who lectured at my university ‘… said he was inspired in his love of nature as a boy by the books of Sir (sic) Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons. “By the time I was 14 I’d read all his books and saved up so that I could go to the Lake District to camp and learn to sail. It tipped me towards natural history.”’ The Guardian

Norman Willis, former General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress and president of the European Union TUC, became President of The Arthur Ransome Society, which is going from strength to strength.

AA Gill, the British journalist said, “Swallows and Amazons:- Being dyslexic, I started reading late and this was the first book without pictures that I read on my own. My Grandmother gave it to me for Christmas when I was nine. It took me about three months to read but I was gripped.”

Adam Hart-Davis, the cycling TV presenter, actually met Arthur Ransome as a boy. He has often spoken at The Arthur Ransome Society’s events and has written a number of non-fiction books on what the past has done for us.

Benjamin Britten who was born in Lowestoft had a well known love of Swallows and Amazons and was keen to base a children’s opera on one of the books. ‘So desperate was he for Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea that at one point he swapped his composition draft of the newly completed cantata Saint Nicolas for a copy of the book!’ BrittenPears Arts

Dick Strawbridge, and Dr Alice Roberts the anthropologist, presented a documentary devoted to the landscapes that inspired Ransome as an author in both the Lake District and East Anglia, which was repeated on television recently. I think Dick Strawbridge may have stumbled on the drystone remains of the the charcoal burners’ hut that we used in the original film, without knowing it. You can watch their explorations here:

There are more enthusiasts listed in the previous post here.

You can read more about Oscar winners, actors and other well known people associated with the original film of Swallows and Amazons here:

Celebrities who love ‘Swallows and Amazons’

When Jonathan Cape first published Swallows and Amazons on 21st July 1930 for the price of 7/6d, it was eagerly received by numerous authors including JRR Tolkein and AA Milne. I’m often asked which well known people alive today have expressed an interest in Arthur Ransome’s series of books.

Griff Rhys Jones, who presented The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome using clips of the 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons in which I played Titty, joined me at Pin Mill in Suffolk for a marathon reading We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, the book that tells of the Swallows’ hair-raising voyage to Flushing. You can find Griff’s books here.

Griff Rhys Jones at Pin Mill for a reading of ‘We Didn’t Mean to Go To Sea’

John Sergeant, the veteran newscaster, has made a number of documentaries about Arthur Ransome, chatting to Griff on The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome, and The Secret Life of Books.

Geraint Lewis of The Arthur Ransome Trust sailing with John Sergeant

Ben Fogle interviewed Suzanna Hamilton and myself on Countryfile and Big Screen Britain after exploring the locations around Coniston Water. You can watch the episode here.

Ben Fogle interviewing Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville on Countryfile

Libby Purves, author and broadcaster, is now President of The Arthur Ransome Society. She refers to Swallows and Amazons in at least one of her novels.

Libby Purves afloat

A keen sailor, she also took part in the marathon reading of We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea organised by The Nancy Blackett Trust who own and look after Goblin, the yacht portrayed in the story.

Libby Purves reading ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’

Dame Ellen McArthur, yachtswoman and Patron of The Nancy Blackett Trust, claims that Arthur Ransome’s novels inspired her to sail. She gives Swallows and Amazons a good mention in her book Taking on the World. Ellen was portrayed by Suzanna Hamilton in a Stephen Sharkey play at a festival at the Southall Playhouse. Suzanna played Susan Walker in the 1974 film of Swalllows and Amazons.

Sir Richard Branson often says how much he loved the book as a boy, describing it as, “a lovely kids’ adventure book.” I met him years ago when I worked on The Russell Harty Show. To may amazement, he recognised me when I was filming in the street in Kensington, so perhaps he has watched the original film of Swallows and Amazons.

John McCarthy, the journalist and keen sailor, made a radio programme called Paddling with Peter Duck, sailing Swallow, the dinghy featured in the 1974 film. You can sail her yourself via SailRansome.com

Peter Willis on Ransome’s yacht Nancy Blackett with Kevin Dawson and John McCarthy

Theresa May said she loves Swallows and Amazons. ‘When she was young she appears to have enjoyed reading… listing… Swallows and Amazons among her favourites.’ Mirror and Daily Mail She gave a copy to Baroness Davidson, once leader of the Scottish Conservative Party.

HM The Queen was given a copy as a girl. By coincidence she commissioned Claude Whatham, who directed the original film of Swallows and Amazons to paint a series of pictures at Windsor Castle during the war.

Prince of Wales loved Swallows and Amazons as a boy. I’ve read that it was his favourite book.

The Duchess of Cornwall – ‘When asked what her favourite children’s books are, the Duchess revealed them to be Moorland Mousie by Golden Gorse… and Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome,’ which the Duchess described as “just a really good adventure story, full of a lot of imagination.” Hello magazine and Royal Central.

Camilla also recalled her own experiences receiving new books as a child.

“I still remember the intense excitement I felt as a child when choosing books to buy with my pocket money — Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel, Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons — and the joy of knowing that these precious books, clutched tightly in my hands, were my very own,” she wrote.

The Duchess of Cambridge is vaguely related to Arthur Ransome. His brother-in-law Hugo Lipton, was cousin to Kate’s great-grandmother Olive. you can read a little more here.

The Duchess of Cambridge cooking on a campfire in Cumbria

Dame Judi Dench also read the book as a girl: “…Swallows and Amazons, I remember that very well indeed.” Good Housekeeping

David Dimbleby loves gaff-rigged boats and recently helped with PR at the London Boat Show. He visited us on the set of the BBC Drama serial Swallows and Amazons For Ever! filmed on location in Norfolk.

Sophie Neville with David Dimbleby on location in Norfolk back in 1983

Sir Ben Ainslie ~ Steven Morris of the Guardian reports: “He recalled how he started sailing in Cornwall on the creeks around Falmouth as a boy. Ainslie has called it a Swallows and Amazons kind of childhood. He had friends on the other side of the creek so he sailed over to see them.”

Ben lived in Lymington – and came to our club to celebrate after the Olympics.  

Congratulating Ben Ainslie on his Olympic gold medal

Nikki Henderson, the youngest ever Clipper Around The World yachtswoman was inspired by the book Swallows and Amazons naming Swallow and one of the coolest sailing boats ever in Yachting World as reported by the Nancy Blackett Trust.

Alan Smith of BBC Radio 4, appeared as a boy in the scenes shot at Bowness. He was on location at the Haverthwaite Railway Station in May 1973 on the first day of filming Swallows and Amazons(1974) with Virginia McKenna who starred in the film as Mrs Walker. To read more, please click here.

Alan Smith in the doorway of the train with his friend John Eccles

Miranda Hart (Miranda, Call the Midwife, Not Going Out) “Oh, I love these wonderful stories about outdoor life in one of the most beautiful parts of our country – the Lake District. Camping, sailing, exploring, discovering – it’s still the stuff of dreams for me. My favourite character was Peggy. She was shy and a little nervy but always kept up with her sister, who was captain of their boat. It was rather like me and my sister; although I was the elder, I was the shyer one, and often had to rely on my little sis to do the grown-up things. And I have to say Peggy is my favourite character still, because that’s partly who my dog is named after. I love that this book celebrates the importance and joy of friendship. But above all it harks back to a time when children had to use nature and their imagination to have fun through the long summer holidays. No iPads on tap here. I hope it inspires kids and adults who may have forgotten about the bliss and thrill and beauty of nature to rediscover it.” You magazine.

The list continues in the next post here.

The end-title theme music to ‘Swallows and Amazons’ composed by Wilfred Josephs

You can read about The Making of Swallows and Amazons in paperback or on Kindle. The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons is available on all the ebook platforms. There is a review here.

The Making of Swallows and Amazons by Sophie Neville
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ by Sophie Neville

Like Robinson Crusoe – Titty’s dream of being shipwrecked on a desert island is captured in song

Duncan Hall of the Arthur Ransome Group suggested this song by The Divine Comedy describes Titty’s character rather well.

Please click her for a recording on Youtube

(Ignore the incongruous photo of office politics – I could provide them another)

Duncan adds, ‘Neil Hannon of the excellent Divine Comedy – wrote all the songs/music for the Swallows and Amazons musical. Piano and vocal versions were included as bonus tracks on the deluxe version. The Amazon Pirates song is very funny!

I have written about becoming Robinson Crusoe in an earlier post here.

Virginia McKenna played Man Friday. You can find more behind-the-scenes photos here

Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville on Peel Island
Virginia McKenna and Sophie Neville on Peel Island ~ photo: Daphne Neville

I did love finding this cartoon by Lee Healey on Twitter recently.

Although the original novel was written over three hundred years ago, there are a number of versions of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ on Amazon Prime, along with ‘The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’. Wouldn’t Titty like that?

Robinson Crusoe has been re-published a thousand times. Being a child of the 1960s, I grew up with this theme tune:

You can find different versions of the true story. This is the story of the castaway Alexander Selkirk who was abandoned on a remote Pacific island off the coast of Chile, who hunted feral goats, was once attacked by rats and befriended wild cats but was rescued after four and a half years by The Duke. He ended up robbing Spanish ladies and becoming a circumnavigator.

The video below, tells another version of Alexander Selkirk’s story but concludes that the novel Robinson Crusoe was more likely to have been based on Henry Pitman’s adventures in the Caribbean in the late 1680s. It was he who met Man Friday and ate a roast tortoise:

There are a few more castaways clad in goatskins detailed here

Sophie Neville interviewed by Jadzia Smeaton on The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)

Sophie Neville author of The Making of Swallows and Amazons
Sophie Neville

What is most memorable about the making of Swallows and Amazons for you?

I love exploring the places Arthur Ransome features in his stories. We were privileged to live out the pages of the book on location in the Lake District, but sailing in nothing but a short cotton dress and a pair of navy blue gym knickers was decidedly chilly – we earned our passage.

Would you consider Susan to be an influence on Titty within the story?

Susan made camping on the island possible. Suzanna Hamilton, the remarkable British actress who played Susan in the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, became our rock without becoming prim or losing the joy and excitement of adventure. She went on to play leading roles in a number of major movies including ‘Out of Africa’ opposite Meryl Streep and ‘1984’ with John Hurt and Richard Burton. She is still working on cutting edge productions and recently had a guest appearance in ‘Eastenders’.

Time Out – April 1974

Is there anything you think should always be included in different versions of ‘Swallows and Amazons’?

You must feature the green parrot! It’s vital to enter the world of a 9-12 year old child, capturing the trepidation. It would be interesting to adapt Arthur Ransome’s books without featuring adults, or only including them as shadowy facilitators.

How did you feel about playing a part where you were able to be the cunning and playful younger sister?

In real life, I was the elder of three sisters so took on the roles of both John and Susan. Playing Titty felt something of a release. I was freed from the responsibility of taking the helm.

Titty is well-read and bright, creative and imaginative but I wouldn’t call her cunning. She longs to be alone on the island to experience what it was like to be Robinson Crusoe, which is why she volunteers to stay behind to light the candles, but is that a cunning plot? She is an innocent.

What was your favourite line in Swallows and Amazons?

Titty’s lines are challenging and can only be uttered with humour and an acceleration of charm. I rather enjoyed, ‘X marks the spot where we ate six missionaries’, although I don’t think it can be found in the book. ‘Thank you so much for letting us see your lovely serpent’ would probably be disallowed these days.

Did you have a favourite scene?

Finding the lighthouse tree was a short sequence that worked well. We shot it on the banks of Derwentwater towards the end of the filming. But I most enjoyed our day with the charcoal burners. They were wonderful.

What did you enjoy most about filming in the Lake District?

We loved High Force, the waterfall, and exploring the mossy woodlands. Secret Harbour on Peel Island is very special, as is One Tree Island where we found the treasure.

Do you feel that you and your character influenced children?

Even now, nearly 48 years after the film was released, I receive correspondence from people telling me how the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ influenced their lives or helped carry them through a tough patch. It is always wonderful to hear how Titty has inspired others.

Maurice Thomas who used to live in Cockermouth wrote: ‘My mum and my Auntie Gladys took me to see this little children’s flick in 1974/5 as it was a double bill with ‘The Railway Children‘. I remember ‘The Railway Children‘ reasonably fondly, but ‘Swallows & Amazons‘ had me utterly mesmerised.’

If you were to give any advice to actors wanting to perform in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ what would it be?

Visit the locations. Go to Bank Ground Farm and run, fast, down the field to dip your hands in the lake as Arthur Ransome did as a child. Capture that feeling and carry it with you as you sing out the lines.

And be prepared for the impact the story will have. It could follow you all your life.

To read another recent interview with Authors Reach please click here

If you would like to read more about the secrets of filming Swallows and Amazons, you can ‘Look inside’ the ebook free of charge here:

Diary of a Litter Picker: The final legs of the Race for Reading

Finishing the #Race4Reading 2022

Thanks to my kind donors, I have raised £630 in sponsorship for Schoolreaders, which has been matched by my company.

The charity have also been promised matched funding, so hopefully my grand total will be £2,520.

If you are able to add a little, it would be hugely appreciated. You £5 would be magnified into £20. The link to my Justgiving page can be found here.

The last weeks of SchoolReaders’ Race for Reading have been tough for me. Back from holiday and the fresh winds of west Wales, I came into contact with numerous people testing Covid + and went down with fatigue, possibly fending off the virus. I was persuaded to take things slowly and do a little at a time but I have walked a total of 92 miles, collecting sea plastic and litter.

It’s an honour to be an author supporter of Schoolreaders who have organised this fantastic marathon. So many have taken part in it that the total number of miles covered nearly 24,000 miles.

Collecting litter along the Solent Way

Here is my progress since my last post:

Day 27 – May 14th 2022 – 1.8km – I collect Easter bunnies encased in plastic lying discarded along the Solent Way.

Day 28 – May 15th – 2.22km – I extract a cheerful orange case from the mudflats. It once held sunglasses.

Day 30 – May 16th – 1 km – cleaning up after a tramp who had been sniffing air freshner in the bluebell woods.

Day 31 – May 20th – I km – finding MacDonald’s packing on Tanner’s Lane Beach.

Collecting broken glass from a beach where children paddle and dogs play

Day 32 – May 24th – 2.2km – finding builder’s gloves chucked into the ditch running alongside the river

Day 33 – May 26th – 1 km – no litter! as I take the footpath up the hill to the pub

Day 34 – May 27th – 0.8km – but spend ages excavating elderly bottles from newly dug drain that flows into the river

Found on the Foreshore

Day 35 – May 28th – 3km – along the coast with a friend collecting broken glass and plastic, a clothes peg and a slip-on shoe.

Day 36 – June 7th – 2km – along a lane by the river collecting driver’s litter.

Day 37 – June 12th – 1km – along country lanes and into a village.

Sophie Neville collecting litter from Solent Shores

A lovely email from SchoolReaders arrived saying: “You really have been a Race for Reading superstar.”

Day 38 – June 15th – 1.6km – along the Solent Way collecting a bucketful of fast food containers and empty packets of cigarettes.

Day 39 – June 16th – 2.2km walking along the Solent foreshore collecting old PVC rope and muddy plastic bags. I find a pot shard in a dyke that could be rubbish from long ago.

Day 40 – June 18th – 3.km found a huge PVC rope whilst walking along the Solent and lugged it home with a bucket of flostam.

THANK YOU to the sponsors of Race for Reading; Maths Circle and Kindred who sponsored the campaign.

Schoolreaders now have the final total for this year’s Race for Reading! Collectively, we travelled 27,941.17 miles and raised more than £17,000!

Thank you so much to everyone who helped to achieve this! Your support means that Schoolreaders volunteers will be able to listen to many more children read, and make the world of difference to their lives!

As you can see, I use an old feed bucket to collect litter but these bags made out of old sails can take broken glass and cope well in the wind. I was kindly given one by Litter Pickers of the New Forest to keep me going.

Rubbish - A camera no one will want
A camera washed up on the Solent

We all need to keep collecting litter and sea plastic. You can hear news for the oceans here:

Collecting coastal litter on the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on the Solent

The Race for Reading is going well and my litter picking is bearing results.

Schoolreaders is such a great charity. I’m one of their author supporters along with Joanna Trollop and Sophie Kinsella. They have been incredibly supportive, tweeting:

@Sophie_Neville has been an absolute star of #RacefoReading this year! Not only has she collected a massive amount of #litter from our coastlines she’s raised over £550 to support children’s #literacy via #Schoolreaders, which she hopes to get match funded!

An improvement can be seen as I walk the coast collecting plastic pollution, but change is slow. In the last few decades, micro plastics have got everywhere. I list some of the weirdest things I’ve found in the past here.

Orange and green that should not be seen

Day 21 – of my personal challenge

U is for Unbelievable how much litter there is in Britain

Unless each one of us do something useful, we’ll be burrowing through unbearable rubbish. I embark on an uplifting walk of about 12.5kms, up and down the river, collecting useless plastic before it is washed into the unforgiving sea.

It’s not unusual for litter to last for decades. You can see some of the elderly items I’ve found by the coast here.

Day 22 –

V is for Victory

I walk vigilantly along the tideline, through the sand dunes, along the verdant estuary where flotsam gathers, and into town finding very small pieces as I cover 6.5kms.

Day 23 –

W is for Why Worry?

Why use a dog poo bag if you are going to leave it in the countryside? It is worrying. They do not decompose and have been known to kill animals attracted to grain in the dog poo. Foals have died. A vet found 20 dog poo bags in the stomach of a deer.

I wander through tide wrack finding a number of dog poo bags washed up by the sea. How many kill dolphins? I return via the windswept sand dunes crossing an ancient midden or rubbish dump. 4 km + 9km = 13km walked today.

W is for Waterhaul – I use this old feed bucket for collecting litter but it is better to take a bag when it’s windy. You need a strong one that can take broken glass. Waterhaul are making beach clean bags out of old sails and are up-cyling amazing things out of discarded fishing net. You can find their website here.

Day 24

X is for sea Xs – I find a huge number along the coast – the result of torn fishing net being shredded and discarded at sea. It is too costly to mend or dispose of them on land. Theses strands of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) are known as sea-kisses when an X is formed by the knot. Please collect any and report your findings to Marine Management.

PVC fishing net purposely shredded and discarded at sea

I stop for a rest to look back on what’s been achieved, appreciating all the encouragement I’ve been given.

Rebecca Holmes left a message saying: “only 3.5km” only this only that. NO, it’s not only. It’s brilliant, every single step counts.

Liz Downs Wow. This is the first I’ve heard of this. What an achievement 👏💖

Stephen Green Such a worthwhile cause, I commend you Sophie well done, I don’t know where you get the energy from.

Sophie Neville collecting marine plastic on the r4r2022

Day 25

Y is for Yucky

Are young people to blame or drivers? If you take a lane running alongside your local river, you soon notice that most roadside litter is made up of the bright packaging of things that are bad for people: tobacco, sweets, over flavoured snacks, drugs, sugary carbonated drinks and alcohol. Somehow the caffeine fails to give people the energy to take their rubbish to a bin.

I took part in Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean when we counted cans collected and found twice as many alcohol containers as soft drinks. The highways of Britain are lined with tins and bottles that have been in people’s mouths. What are the consequences?

I walk 1.3km along our tidal river within the National Park, collecting a couple of large bottles that would have been hazardous if flung from a vehicle. These are added to my glass recycling bin, which has become embarrassingly full. I have a container of old oil I do not know how to dispose of. There are two 25 litre drums of chemicals, a car bumper and a metal table lurking in the estuary. I’ve reported them to the Council twice but nothing has been done.

I feel discouraged but am delighted to announce that a colleague from Litter Pickers of The New Forest, renown for covering a huge distance, has signed up for the Race for Reading 2022 and will be picking up the baton. Another volunteer promises to help me extract the fly-tipping and take it to the dump.

Day 26

Z is for Zonked. I’m getting tired but zoom along the shore zealously collecting muddy rubbish and tiny pieces of litter covering 4.1km.

Z is for Zero plastic waste. I sign up for The Big Plastic Count. We have to stop producing so much single use plastic. I’m told that a truckload of rubbish enters the sea every second of everyday. I will continue to pick pieces up from the coast but we have to stop it getting into the sea.

I log my fitness to find I have covered over 78 miles on the Race for Reading 2022. I’ve only collected one wheely bin of litter, a tub of glass bottles and another of tin cans but the coast is clear.

Sophie Neville - an author supporter of Schoolreaders

Thanks to my generous sponsors, I’ve raised £445 for School Readers so far. My company will double any money I can raise in sponsorship, so any donations given to School Readers via my Justgiving page will be doubled.

Schoolreaders is a children’s literacy charity which provides volunteers to partner primary schools nationwide to listen to children read. Even before Covid 19, 1 in 4 children left primary school unable to read properly1. Currently, our dedicated volunteers support over 7,000 children every week with one-to-one reading support, boosting their reading ability, fluency, comprehension and enjoyment.

Why Schoolreaders is needed:

  1. Inequalities in literacy levels have widened since the pandemic. 5-7 year old disadvantaged pupils are 7 months behind non-disadvantaged peers2
  2. One in seven adults (7 million people) have poor literacy and are unable to fill in a job application form, read a medicine label or understand written instructions. This can affect their mental health, contribute to unemployment, homelessness and crime – 48% of UK prisoners have reading ages of 11 or under.3
  3. Illiteracy costs the UK economy nearly £40 billion every year.4
  4. More than 10% of primary schools in England have registered with Schoolreaders to help their pupils catch up on vital reading skills.

For a full list of items I’ve found on beach cleans, please click here.

Sophie Neville has been talking about her books in the open air

Girl with otter
It all started when I was asked to speak to the W.I. about ‘Living with Otters’

On Sunday 8th May, we had an Open Day at Bakers Mill in the Cotswolds where everyone was invited to come for picnic by the lake.

Rudi was hand-reared so is very tame

My mother, Daphne Neville, gave a Q&A on otters and I began signing books.

My diary about living with two tame otters

It was held in aid of the local wildlife rescue. Rudi the Otter was in residence.

Funnily Enough by Sophie Neville

Add a message in the comments below if you are able to come!

Funnily Enough
The location of ‘Funnily Enough’

N is for Never give up – you can still join the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on r4r2022

No regrets! It’s not too late to register for the Race for Reading.

I’ve been going slowly but nothing is stopping me. My quest is to collect litter and marine plastic as I walk along the coast of the UK to raise funds for the charity Schoolreaders.

As you can see on my earlier posts, I’ve been using the alphabet as a theme.

N is for Nothing changes unless we take action

Day 14 – Another nice walk along the estuary into the small town of Newport collecting numerous wrappers and a noxious nappy dropped by numbskulls.

I walk another 3km later, cleaning the high tide line along the beach finding, amongst the rope and fishing line, a spoon, a sock and five poo bags. Why dog owners use tennis balls is a mystery. They contain lead and can choke large dogs.

Rubbish - old tennis balls
Old tennis balls and shredded fishing net

O is for Obviously old things get outdated or ousted and litter becomes an ordinary occurrence rather than an outrage.

Day 15 – I only cover 2 kms following the coastal path to a lifeboat station but collect three old socks, a pair of knickers and half a bucket of litter. I later search the tide line for flotsam and mainly find dog poo bags and obsolete fishing line while covering another 3.5kms.

P is for Plastic

Day 16 – I plod past a harbour collecting picnic litter, pondering on the fact I’ve probably covered 2 kms. Later I pace the tide line for 3.7kms returning with a heavy bucketful of party rubbish: plastic packaging, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic cups, plastic straws and 6-pack plastic that litters the coast. I find plenty of plastic cotton bud stalks, panty liners and packets of condoms along the shore – an indication of sewage entering the sea. PVC rope and polystyrene discarded by the fishing industry is common.

Plastic, polystyrene and PVC

Patience is needed. PPE, party poppers, plasters and ear plugs fill me with fury. I prefer picking up paddles, pegs, paintbrushes, pens and pencils since there’s a possibility they were simply lost. There’s a litter-picking prize for finding pairs of pants.

Day 17 –

Q is for quayside

but as that is now clean, I walk up the estuary into a quaint market town. It’s quiet but I find a lot of wrappers, covering 3.9kms as I collect a bucketful of litter. The skate park posed quite a challenge. The drains there wash straight into the estuary.

After lunch, I set out across the sand dunes finding a quantity of drink cans and glass bottles left by camp fires. The 20 bottles are heavy to lug back.

filling my bucket with picnic litter

I’ve learnt a lot since collecting litter. You see what’s happening from the underside of society. Alcohol containers are often discarded from high vehicles , rural drug taking is rife and fishing vessels are shredding nets at sea. The arterial roads of Britain are strewn with rat-infested litter loaded with human DNA. It’s surprising we are not threatened by a more serious pandemic.

Day 18 –

R is for re-cycling on the Race for Reading

I have been putting bottles or clean drink cans in the recycling bins but most coastal plastic needs to go to landfill. I scan the mudflats for ancient litter including heinous broken glass covering about 2.5km.

Day 19 –

S is for Sunshine

Silvery skies lift my spirit as I search the seashore for seven kilometers without seeing much flotsam. We seem to be making progress. If people see no rubbish they are less likely to drop litter.

Day 20 –

T is for tidying

I retrace my tracks traversing three kilometers to town coming across little litter. Two more kilometers with the dog and I’m tired but happy. Another two kilometers in the evening take us to a running total of 55 miles covered litter-picking so far. Logging my progress with the Race for Reading has been motivational.

Sophie Neville on Schoolreaders Race for Reading 2022 – photo by Caspar aged 7

If you would like to sponsor me on the Race for Reading 2022, I have a Justgiving page here and there are alternative ways of donating to the charity here.

Each donation will be matched by my company, and then again by SchoolReaders matched funding, so if you can donate £5 it will be magnified to £20.

Every small amount is an encouragement and will make a difference, enabling slow readers to catch up at school and gain a love for books.

You can hear about the work of the charity here:

Diary of a Litter Picker: the Race for Reading continues

I’m walking along the coast on a sponsored beach-clean, using the alphabet as my theme.

The aim is to raise funds for the charity Schoolreaders who aim to ensure every child in the UK can read fluently by the age of eleven. Shockingly, 25% fall behind. It jeopardizes their future.

Could you take part in the Race for Reading too?

Day 7 – H is Hard work – I head out along hedgerows just above the high tide’s reach to harvest horrific litter that could wash into the sea. I cover 2.1km and only collect 35 pieces but haul three discarded containers of chemicals that were chucked into the river.

One of three chemical containers chucked into the nature reserve

Day 8 – I is for I have to do something. Imagine our coastlines covered in rubbish. It’s impossible to ignore wanton trash. I’ve found three intact fluorescent light bulbs washed up before now.

Ice cream left for the fairies

We go down to the foreshore to see what recent storms have brought in. When I first moved to the Solent eighteen years ago it was multi-coloured with bottle tops. Volunteers have slowly cleared it but the sea coughs up unwanted plastic on every tide. As we collect flotsam, a £20 note floats up to us!

Day 9 – J is for Just pick it up

We need to keep picking up litter before it is blown into the sea and this nature reserve

I cross a causeway over a tidal river where drivers obviously chuck rubbish while waiting for the level-crossing to open on the far side. Having a litter-picker makes the job easier and safer. I collect a bagful and continue into town, putting litter straight into council bins. Despite plenty of these, I find a significant amount of cellophane on the quay about to be blown into the harbour. I cover 3.5km collecting litter over 90 minutes.

The Co-op carrier bag is compostable, the plastic pollution is not

Day 10 – K is for keep fit – and keep going. We arrive in Pembrokeshire for a family holiday. I’m tired after the journey but walk about two miles in 90 minutes, collecting a carrier bag full of coastal litter.

Day 11 – L is for Litter – loitering in the tide wrack of Wales, but I’m joined by friends from The Dog House which is fun. We walk 5 kms along a sandy beach where the smallest dog is rather good at finding litter.

Joined in my quest by The Dog House

Day 12 – M is for mission to rid the cost of plastic pollution. I walk up an estuary for only 2kms but collect a bucketful of PVC rope and plastic wrappers. I repeat the same distance at low tide when the landscape looks quite different.

Would you like to join the challenge? It’s not too late.

The charity SchoolReaders are still looking for runners, swimmers, riders and walkers keen to take part in their Race for Reading.

Run, walk, cycle, swim, ride, wheel, litter-pick

Every pound raised in sponsorship makes a difference and provides more children with vital reading help. They send out T shirts to those who reach £100 in donations along with a R4R 2022 medal to everyone who has raised over £15 and a gold medal to those who have raised over £1,000.

My company will match any sponsorship I personally raise, so any money given via my Justgiving page will be doubled.

Thanks to my very kind supporters I’ve raised £355 so far, which will be doubled to make £710! This will be enough to ensure twenty volunteers are able to listen to children read and give them a love of books, improving their life chances.

Sophie Neville cleaning the mudflats of PVC rope and old fishing line.

And, I’ve stopped litter from threatening wildlife and polluting our seas. For a full list of things I’ve found washed up on the Solent over the years, please click here

Thanks go to Schoolreaders who change the life stories of so many children.

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