Writer’s blog

90th Anniversary of the publication of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ celebrated at Windermere Jetty museum

On Tuesday 1st December, Lakeland Arts are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the publication of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ with an online event accessible for anyone in the world.

After a career as a foreign correspondent, which took him to Russia, Egypt and China, Arthur Ransome wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the hills above Windermere in 1929.

Arthur Ransome portrayed by Dora Collingwood, wife of Dr Ernest Altounyan, on display at the museum

He was inspired partly by his own childhood holidays in the Lake District and partly by the Altounyan children who brought him a pair of red slippers for his birthday to thank him for enabling them to learn to sail on Coniston Water where their grandparents lived.

The first edition came out on 21st July 1930, with no illustrations apart from Spurrier’s maps on the end papers. The illustrated hardback published by Jonathan Cape came out on 1st December 1930, in time for Christmas. It was followed by another eleven (and one unfinished) book in a series that was to be translated and published all over the world.

Sophie Neville with a collection of Arthur Ransome books on display

I paid homage to copies at the Windermere Jetty museum where you can find his desk and typewriter on display with a view looking out over the lake.

Arthur Ransome’s desk and typewriter set under a view of Windermere

Boats, props and film stills from the 2016 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ are on display, along with a poster of the 1974 movie, depicting Titty in a pink blouse.

Sophie Neville spotting the ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) movie poster at Windermere Jetty museum

I was fascinated to find sketches of Titty in Arthur Ransome’s notebook.

Arthur Ransome’s original sketches of Titty

A number of Ransome’s original illustrations were on display and I came across the first draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in a glass case.

Tickets to, ‘In conversation with Sophie Neville’, an event hosted by Lakeland Arts, cost £5 and can be purchased here.


Sophie Neville with Arthur Ransome’s typewriter and the original draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

In the finals of the Eyelands International Book Awards 2020

Sophie Neville’s lastest work in progress is in the finals for this year’s Eyelands Book Awards under the category ‘Unpublished Historical Novel’. The results will be announced on 30th December 2020.

‘The Girl Who Got out of Zanzibar’ originally won a place on Eyelands’ Three Rock Writer’s Residency in Crete in September 2019, where Sophie worked on the first 20,000 words.

The sequel ‘The Man Who Got Out of Zanzibar’ won the Eyelands Book Award for an unpublished historical novel in 2019. An awards ceremony in Athens is planned for April 2021.

 

A First Edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ – signed by the author – goes for £201 in an auction held in aid of BBC Children in Need

Sophie Neville author of 'The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)'

Bidding mounted steadily for a hardback first edition copy of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, signed by the author.

After 64 bids and it sold for £201

– I am quite blown away. Very many thanks to all our supporters.

100% of the money will be donated to BBC Children in Need – under the auspices of ‘Children in Read’ via the Jumblebee auction site where this illustrated book was listed under the categories of both ‘Autobiography’ and ‘Film & Television’.

To read a free sample of the first section of the 2nd edition – available as an ebook  – click here – then click on ‘Look inside’.

To read reviews on the 2nd edition of this book, please click here

To see more on the second edition of the ebook – click here

‘highly amusing and thoroughly enjoyable’ David Butters

Since the bidding ran so high, I will include a signed copy of the 2nd edition, entitled ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, published by The Lutterworth Press. This contains colour plates with more photos and additional stories that flowed down from the Lake District after the first edition came out.

I’m also including a hardback First Edition of my memoir ‘Funnily Enough’, which has a bit on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ and a signed copy of ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, which has noting about the making of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ but is all about living out the adventurous outdoor lifestyle advocated by Arthur Ransome, so there are four books in the bundle.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)'

Although surpassed by Phillip Pullman and JK Rowling, I gained far more than authors such as Bernard Cornwall, Jeffery Archer, Sophie Kinsella and Maggie O’Farrell.

Being a filmography, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ sat alongside the bestsellers, ‘Killing Eve’ by Luke Jennings and ‘Kay’s Anatomy’ by Adam Kay, which you can see by clicking here.

This auction of books has already raised £21,841 for BBC Children in Need, which is fantastic. It closed on Friday 13th November at 11.00pm.

If you need to know more about the auction, please contact Paddy Heron at Children in Read: childreninread@yahoo.com

Diary of a litter picker – on the Great British September Clean

I was told the beach was free of litter. It took me ten minutes to fill my builder’s bucket with flotsam. Do people simply zone out sea plastic and litter?

Some was old, but how long have PPE masks like this been floating around the Solent? I found two, along with the usual plastic bottles.

It is interesting to count and categorise what you find. The Marine Conservation Society list: litter, sewage and fishing gear but the reality can be hundreds of small pieces known collectively as micro-plastics.

Picnic litter is inexcusable.  With a well-designed bin near the gate to the beach there is no excuse for this, although some plastics, such as the straws and bottle-tops, may have floated in on the tide.

Cotton bud stalks and plastic tampon applicators classify as ‘sewage’ since they are flushed down the loo with things too revolting to photograph – and yet this is where our children play.

Fishing line makes up the majority of plastic pollution in the seas. We found an angler’s hook and line as well as commercial netting and floats. The fishhook, lying on the float, caught on my own finger.

We tried digging out one section of PVC rope but failed and had to bury it.

The reward for our work was finding a killer whale, a toy orca.

Since ‘Baby Shark’ has been popular in our family, this made our spirits soar, coming almost as a thank you from the sea.

We returned two days later to find half a bucketful of assorted detritus had either come in on the tide or been missed in earlier searches. Spotting a toy soldier amused me this time. I’ve found a couple of others further along the Solent coastline with in the New Forest National Park.

For a list of really weird things found on previous beach cleans, click here

One thing is certain. I can no longer walk along the shore without collecting as much plastic pollution as I can carry. It always proves fun and gives us a sense of purpose higher than ourselves.

 

Diary of a litter-picker – on the Great British Beach Clean this September

The Great British Beach Clean – on from 11th-27th September – is being organized by Keep Britain Tidy – but what does this entail?

Little collected from Solent shores August 2020 - photo S.Neville

For me, the reality means extracting litter posted into prickly blackthorn bushes by those too lazy to take their party rubbish home. It’s usually made up of beer bottles and nitrous oxide canisters, which will never decompose.

I pull on a pair of gloves, grab bucket and barbecue tongs and just get on with picking up the litter. It is, however good to analyse what is found and report findings on social media.

There is so little wave action on Solent shores that broken glass remains a problem for years, endangering paddling children, beloved dogs and wildlife.

On top of this we now have PPE, endless cans and paper cups that have been in people’s mouths, along with clothing and stolen items.

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I use a heavy duty bucket, rather than a black plastic bag, so I can cope with broken glass. It can end up containing 260 pieces and weighing more than 6kgs when full. Needing an extra bag is rarely a problem – I find so many.

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I go out with friends and family making it fun. Teenagers always have a lot to say about the hazards of #plasticpollution especially when it has travelled a fair distance. Plymouth is 150 miles from the Solent.

The aim is to remove rubbish from sensitive coastal or riverine areas before it can damage the environment.

There are often old lighters, always micro plastics and bottle tops. It is the tiny pieces that take time to collect but small children are good at this.

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I go out daily, finding helium ballons, more PPE and endless plastic bottles.

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I use tongs and avoid touching the rubbish, even with gloves. It’s cleaner on the shore, since almost everything has been soaking in seawater. Most of this (above) was flotsam. Collecting up litter that others should have taken home (below) is more aggravating but it is makes a huge difference and is a job that has to be done before the wildlife suffers.

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Do think of registering with Keep Britain Tidy who offer advice and your local litter-picking group who will have equipment and dates for group activities. Please click here is you can pledge to clean up an area near you this September?

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Hoping to see you on the sea shore sometime. If you’d like to see a full list of the things I found in the past, please click here.

For photos of some of the weirdest things I’ve found, click here

 

The original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ featured in the Radio Times as Film of the Day on Sunday 30th August 2020

‘Swallows & Amazons'(1974) starring Virginia McKenna was broadcast on BBC 2 on Sunday 30th August 2020, recalling the adventures of the Walker and Blackett families on a ‘Lake in the North’ in August 1929 before the school term began. Hailed as ‘The feel-good film of Lockdown’, it transports us back to a time of freedom, celebrating the beauty of the English Lake District. It is available on BBC iPlayer here.

You can watch a short re-mix here:

It was wonderful to see the feature film heralded as Film of the Day but Hilary Weston of The Arthur Ransome Society pointed out that there are a few errors in the write up.

Arthur Ransome wrote the novel ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in 1929, published on 1st December 1930. There are 12 books in the series, however only five are set in the Lake District. ‘Missee Lee’ sees the Swallows and Amazons exploring the South China sea with Captain Flint, while Dick and Dororthea join them all on the Sea Bear to cruise the Otter Hebrides in ‘Great Northern’. The 13th story in the series, an unfinished manuscript entitled ‘Coots in the North’, is set in Cumbria.

Props used in the original film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974)

Arthur Ransome died in 1967, aged 83, so was not around to see this feature film made. He had been grumpy about the 1963 BBC serial made in black and white, which starred Susan George as ‘Kitty’ (rather than Titty). His wife Evgenia was determined to avoid what they called a ‘Disneyfication’ of the books and kept a tight hold on the script, character names, locations and casting of Richard Pilbrow’s 1974 adaptation. As a result, David Wood’s screenplay adheres to the story and was approved by Mrs Ransome who gave the go ahead. On watching the finished film, her only adverse comment was that one of the kettles used was of the wrong period.

Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker with Sten Grendon as Roger

Arthur Ransome’s father died when he was thirteen and the theme of fatherlessness flows though his books granting the young characters independence. In ‘Swallows and Amazons’ it is Nancy and Peggy, the Amazon pirates, who have no father.

Kit Seymour as Nancy & Lesley Bennett as Peggy Blackett sailing Amazon

The story opens when the four elder Walker children are given permission to sail off to camp on an island by their father who is absent, in Malta with the Navy, and sends the famous telegram: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN (with no apostrophe)

Swallows and Amazons
Simon West, Sophie Neville and Suzanna Hamilton receiving the telegram from Father.

Vicky, the fifth sibling and baby of the Walker family, keeps the Swallows’ mother at Holly Howe farm on the mainland. Tension is created after the Amazons let off a firework on their uncle’s houseboat while he is absorbed in his writing and ignoring them. He shook his fist at the crew of the Swallow assuming they were responsible for the damage and was labelled ‘Captain Flint’.

A Theatre Project by Richard Pilbrow

Richard Pilbrow describes in his memoir, ‘A Theatre Project’, how the idea of adapting ‘Swallows and Amazons’ came to him as he watched the sun set over Windermere one night when visiting the Lake District. He put the idea to Nat Cohen of EMI who was looking for a classic book adaptation similar to ‘The Railway Children’, which had been a box office success. Nat Cohen hadn’t heard of Arthur Ransome but his assistant loved his books and raved about the idea. EMI Films provided the initial budget of £250,000 although more was spent. It was directed by Claude Whatham who may well have been influenced by the Children’s Film Foundation but he was regarded as avant guard at the time and, like Richard, motivated by the beauty of the Lakes.

Richard Pilbrow and Claude Whatham at The Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water
Producer Richard Pilbrow with Director Claude Whatham in Secret Harbour on Peel Island, Coniston Water

The original poster for the film used an ampersand in the title graphics but this was lost as it was translated, sold worldwide and remastered. Someone who must love the old film said the error in the write up was that it was only given three stars. The DVD now has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon but it only gets 6.5 out of 10 on IMDb – the International Movie Data base, which is equivalent to three stars. You can add a review on this site here.

 

Mark Walker of the Arthur Ransome Group added: And they got the title of the article completely wrong. “Film of *Day*”, indeed..!! Film of the Year, Decade, Century, Millenium….any of the above could have been more appropriate..!!

If you would like to learn more about the original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ there is now a paperback entitled ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’  It can be ordered direct from the publishers and is available from Waterstones

A second edition of the ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons(1974), the first section of which you can read for free here.

 

Points to add to the third edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) – part one

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville in Swallow about to leave the Houseboat. Amazon’s white sail can be seen the other side ~ photo: Daphe Neville

Viewers of the original film Swallows and Amazons'(1974) have written to point out that when the Amazons sailed up to Captain Flint’s houseboat there was a terrible crash. I found the quote from ‘The Picts and The Martrys’, which made me realise why this horrified anyone who knows the characters well:

“…when you come sailing along and fetch up with a bump against Jim’s new paint.”

“We never do,” said Nancy. “Remember when we came and made you and Uncle Jim walk the plank last summer? We were aboard and rushing the cabin before you knew we were anywhere near.” ‘Picts and Martyrs’ by Arthur Ransome p.14

Simon West and Sophie Neville on Captian Flint's Houseboat
Simon West as Captain John and Sophie Neville as Titty taking Captain Flint’s Houseboat : photo~ Daphne Neville

Jane Sullivan noticed Captain Flint yelled, “Death or Glory!” as the Swallows and Amazons laid siege to his houseboat. ‘Is that a pre-echo of the East Anglian stories?’ she asked.

Jane also noted: In the closing credits, I notice they spell For Ever as two words, which it is as it should be, rather than the modern way which confuses the adjective “forever” with the adverbial phrase “for ever”.’

Peel Island whilst we were filming in 1973 ~ photo: Martin Neville

Most people are familiar with the fact that Peel Island was used as the location for Wild Cat Island in the 1974 film.

Peter Dowden of the Arthur Ransome Group, pointed out that Peel Island is a classic example of a rocher moutonnee or sheepback, shaped by glacial erosion. Larger examples in Sweden are known as flyggbergs. Others comment that it’s easy to imagine the island as Captain Flint’s schooner the Wild Cat,  sails to the Caribees in ‘Peter Duck’ and set on fire by Gibber in ‘Missee Lee’.

Peter also wrote about burgees. He noted, ‘Traditionally, creatures shown on flags face towards the “hoist” – the bit of the flag that is attached to the mast. So head near the mast and tail near the flappy part of the flag (called the ‘fly’). He went on to say, “someone did the research and Arthur Ransome drew the Swallow flag both beak to hoist and beak to fly!”

Our art director, Simon Holland, made what I considered the mistake of having the swallow on Swallow’s burgee flying away from the mast. 

My publisher asked me to draw our crossed flags, a sketch which was later stolen and used all over the place from the call sheet of the 2016 movie to badges for sale on eBay.

Paul Thomas, of the Arthur Ransome Group, explained that Swallow and Amazon are standing lugsail dinghies, rather the balanced lugsails as I had been told. “Swallow’s keel was designed for sailing in shallow estuaries and grounding on shifting shoals with sails tanned to protect them from rot and sunshine.”

“What is particularly impressive, to me,” Roger Barnes, president of the Dinghy Crusing Association, commented, “is how well done the sailing scenes are, and sometimes in pretty strong winds. Most sailing in films is really unconvincing.” Roger added: “The boom jaws off the mast as they first approach Wild Cat Island is the only major flaw with that aspect of the film.” I had never noticed! We were bitterly cold on that day when we first sailed Swallow in front of the camera.

Roger Barnes’ illustrated book, The Dinghy Cruising Companion, published by Bloomsbury, included my behind-the-scenes photo of Swallow, where you can see the jaw back in place.

You can also see the jaws in this film still (c) Studiocanal:

The Swallows on their voyage to Wildcat Island
Sten Grendon, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton and Simon West as the Swallows sailing on Coniston Water in 1973 (c)StudioCanal

Please do write in with any points you notice that I can add to a third edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, an ebook available from a variety online stockists. You can look at the first pages here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary of a litter picker – clearing the Solent shore and riverside paths in the summer of 2020

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Whenever I go for a walk, I take this heavy duty bucket to collect any broken glass or litter I find using barbecue tongs or gloves. I try to remember to photograph what is in the bucket noting things of interest. This McDonald’s cup was picked up 22 miles from their nearest outlet.

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I take bags for larger finds I later collect from the nearest road.

ABE35C8E-7D50-4FF0-A6C9-F8FC2E8934A3Showing the fragile ecosystem where I collect the rubbish is perhaps more important than shots of unidentifiable plastic or broken bottles.

There is always enough to fill the bucket, often twice over but the children enjoy finding flotsam, cleaned by the sea and find bottle tops for me.

Collecting Corona beer tops on Solent Shore - photo S.NevilleThis PPE litter and a bottle or Corona Extra was found on the Solent shore.

It has to be collected, taken home and recycled. Leaving bags of rubbish by overflowing bins is not the answer.

If all our children learn to pick up litter, hopefully they will take their own rubbish home in later life.

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Sadly, it’s too dangerous to take the family along road side verges, where I only litter using tongs. Some of it looks distinctly dodgy:

Every bucket load raises questions: Why would someone dump the head of a mop in the New forest National Park?

What more can the take-away food providers do?

What are the risks of eating, drinking and smoking whilst driving?

We see the resulting rubbish and a growing need for car bins or heavy fines.

To see some of the weird things I’ve collected that raise a lot more questions, click here

For 20 reasons why it’s good to pick up trash, click here

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Collect a bucketful of litter today – and think of joining the Great British September Clean Up

 

 

20 oldest or weirdest things I’ve found while litter picking

Rubbish - coffeemate

Did this sachet float from China to the Solent or was it chucked off a ship? It’s unopened. We also found an unopened and sealed jar of Nescafe Gold that had been floating around the Solent, and often pick up brand new, full cans of beer.

Solent Rubbish

Folorn chanel markers can be heavy to shift. I had to ask what this grey gadget, below, was. It’s a compass guard. Anyone missing one?

Rubbish - Compass guard

Ancient plastic bottles often wash up on a beach. We dated the Paragon bleach as being made in 1959 but are not sure about the Fairy Liquid.

Rubbish old plastic bottles of fairy liquid

I fear this is evidence that open pen-knifes get flung from moving vehicles.

Rubbish penknife

This quivering load of extra-large incontinence pads was chucked in the nature reserve, which un-nerved me. I found something so unspeakable nearby I could not take a photo of it. A whole shipping container of adult nappies washed up on the south cast recently. They are heavy to move.

Rubbish Day 18 incontinence bags

This cash of antique Kilner jars was dug out of mud on the Solent. There is no wave action here, so the broken glass must have been posing a danger to paddling children, dogs, New Forest ponies and wildlife for decades.

Rubbish broken glass 13th May

I found a huge rusty gas canister on the Solent shore that looked so like a UXB that we reported it to the police. They told me WWII bombs still need to be detonated every three months or so. It was near where I have found intact fluorescent light bulbs washed up on two separate occasions. I’ve kept them as exhibits. They must have been flung off ships.

We often find crisp packets or drink cans that are more than thirty years old. This tin left in a nature reserve must once have contained UHT milk.

Rubbish UHT bottle

I come across a lot of old milk bottles. This one had converted into a nice, dry home by a mouse. I left it in situ.

Rubbish mouse nest in bottle

This 25 litre barrel washed up on the shore, that once held bleach, had been gnawed by foxes.

rubbish fox biting

What was eating this ancient plastic bottle? A mouse? How old is the design? 1990 or earlier. Thirty-five years?

Rubbish lemonade bottle

Why do people knot plastic wrappers before throwing them out of their vehicle? I think it’s weird. Most packets, wrappers or cans once clad tobacco, sugary sweets or drinks that are bad for the health. Rubbish from drug use or cannabis farms is common. I find bongs, and endless nitrous oxide canisters, which surely should be banned.

Rubbish knotted

These rather nice reading glasses were inside a stolen handbag chucked in the river. Sadly, I’ve found stolen iPhones, laptops, jewellry boxes and makeup bags.

rubbish glasses

Old traffic cones, signs and car parts are often found on verges or in the estuary. I use the purple bucket to collect broken glass.

rubbish road signs in estuary larger

I often come across half-full glasses or bottles of alcohol, presumably left as soon as the taxi arrives. I take them to the nearest pub but they don’t always want them back.

Rubbish - beer glass

There are bonuses to litter-picking. Sometimes you find money. I was thrilled to come across the mudguard from my husband’s car that had fallen off. It was almost impossible to replace.

Rubbish - Simon's bumper

I find loads of hats, gloves, socks, tee-shirts and shoes. They are seldom claimed.

I wash and give away the caps but underwear goes straight into landfill.

Apart from the Chinese sachet of Cremora, one plastic box from the Clyde and another from Plymouth, the item that I’ve found that must have travelled the furthest is this fishing crate that had floated 400kms from its original harbour in France.

Solent Rubbish from France

This was printed on the other side:

Solent plastic from France (2)

To see examples of litter I collected during Lockdown, please click here

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

Do add descriptions of weird items you’ve found in the comments below. Fellow litter-pickers report bathtubs, credit card machines and an urn of ashes that was returned to the local undertaker. Meanwhile, I’m putting together a post on the most beautiful things I’ve found while litter picking.

Diary of a litter picker – coming out of Coronavirus Lockdown

Author Sophie Neville collecting litter in the New Forest
Sophie Neville collecting litter in the New Forest as quarantine restrictions lift

Accompanied by my purple bucket, rescue hound, two sons and their small children, I can no longer classify myself as a lone litter-picker, but as Covid-19 restrictions lifted on 4th July we set off through the New Forest to resume collecting things that have been lost or discarded. Most of what we found was scattered around the car park despite the prevalence of litter bins.

5th July, and I collected this from a causeway crossing a tidal river where some drivers think it a good idea to toss what they no longer desire into the water.  The evidence suggests they are drink driving, and perhaps not thinking clearly.

I pick up endless car parts and assorted trash whenever I venture out, believing that taking one or two pieces from the river bank has to make a difference. We collected a bucketful collected from a beach on the Solent and another from around a local landmark in the New Forest National Park.

When we people ever realise what they are doing to the planet? The dog now waits expectantly while I excavate plastic from the sea, often showing me something I’ve missed like a lost shoe. I was extracting three pieces of plastic guttering from the Solent when this photo was taken.

To see what I collected during the Coronavirus Lockdown, please click here.

To read about beach cleaning along Solent shore, please click here.

For a list of things I typically find on Solent beach cleans, please click here

Sophie Neville collecting litter dropped along the Solent Way in Hampshire