Writer’s blog

Looking back on 2020 with gratitude.

Sophie Neville in Portugal on 1st January 2020

The year 2020 began for me in Portugal. I was recovering from a broken arm and disappointed to have to cancel my annual charity ride through southern Africa. However, a lovely girl flew over from the Waterberg in South Africa to work for me and we had fun designing gifts, using the illustrations from ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’.

You can see more on Redbubble. The ‘Swallows and Amazons’ mugs are popular:

Swallows and Amazons mugs
Mugs printed with maps used to illustrate Sophie Neville’s books

When news of the Coronavirus broke out, we launched an appeal to help families in rural South Africa, which proved a huge success.

Carefully monitored by a qualified nursing sister, and with the help of volunteers from St John’s Church, food packages are still being distributed to needy families, feeding about 150 people a month. Read the latest news here.

Nursing Sister Grace Ismail reporting back from rural South Africa

Tests were unavailable in March, but I might have had a light version of Covid-19 whist we were working on this fund-raising campaign. I certainly lost my sense of smell and developed a weird blister/rash on one hand and foot after spending ten days in bed with fatigue.

Sophie Neville reading Lockdown Tales while self-isolating in the garden

My talks, planned for the summer, were cancelled but I read a story for Lockdown Tales, produced by Wildbeast for BBC Radio Suffolk and made available on BBC Sounds. I took part in an online reading of ‘The Picts and the Martyrs’ by Arthur Ransome, recording a chapter at home.

As literary conferences went online, I led a workshop on photographing books for instagram, when we were joined by the award-winning author Claire Wade.

While devising exotic recipes for my next book, I began baking cakes successfully, for the first time in my life, adding cardamon and cloves.

We rolled up a circle in the lawn to make a Lockdown vegetable garden so the children could see how different plants developed. Our dancing carrots became a hit on Instagram.

I photographed one of my husband’s artichokes, winning the Create! competition, organised by the literacy charity SchoolReaders and judged anonymously by Harry Cory Wright.

The prize-winning photograph of an artichoke

I was Highly Commended for a collage made out of sea plastic I’d collected when beach cleaning, which was awarded by Emma Bridgewater. The winning entries were exhibited at the Wilson Stephens and Jones Gallery in Notting Hill. I also won a prize for taking part in a socially distanced archery match, but otherwise had a year off on the sports front.

Seascape - artwork by sophie Neville made from sea-plastic

SchoolReaders invited me to become an author supporter of their work instilling a love for books in the next generation, along with other authors including Joanna Trollop and Sophie Kinsella. We are encouraging people to make a gift in their will.

I began loading illustrations and some of my sketches onto instagram. Do follow this here.

Hailed as ‘the feel-good film of lockdown’,’Swallows and Amazons'(1974) was broadcast on BBC 2 in both April and August. It was screened in Australia in January 2021. The Radio Times used this shot of me rowing Swallow with Sten Grendon who played the Boy Roger.

Radio Times ‘Film of the Day’ billing for ‘Swallows & Amazons’

I was invited to talk about the movie memorabilia in a socially isolated edition of BBC Antiques Roadshow at Windermere Jetty, which hopefully will be broadcast in March 2021.

Writer Marc Allum with Sophie Neville at Windermere Jetty in Cumbria

It was wonderful to be able to spend a few days in the Lake District, where Arthur Ransome’s first draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is on display.

Sophie Neville with Arthur Ransome’s first draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ at Windermere Jetty

In the autumn, a signed First Edition hardback copy of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ was auctioned online, raising an astonishing £201 for BBC Children in Need, exceeding bids for signed copies of books by bestselling authors such as Bernard Cornwall, Jeffery Archer and Adam Kay.

Lakeland Arts organised an online event to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the publication of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, selling tickets for an evening ‘In Conversation with Sophie Neville, which you can listen to here.

Kett’s Books invited me to speak on Zoom for their ‘Books at Lunchtime’

The greatest days of this unusual year were spent on the Solent, litter picking with my extended family, who came to live with us through lockdown. Although some dreams were grounded, we had time to go for long walks and were able to explore the South Coast where we live.

We formed a pod of six, so had no visitors, but I treasured the letters that arrived. I’m collecting quotes for the 3rd edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, an ebook which I plan to bring out for the 50th Anniversary in 2024. Do write in with your memories.

Reviews and photos from readers are always appreciated, especially on Goodreads and Amazon.

After Christmas, I heard that a historical novel I am currently working on was awarded a prize in the Association of Christian Writers’ novel competition and was shortlisted for the Eyeland’s Book Awards, who have offered me a writer’s residency in Crete.

As we entered Tier 3, I was recognised as ‘Beach Picker of the Year’ by Litter Pickers of the New Forest, a high accolade that marked the end of a quiet but busy year.

‘Beach Picker of the Year’ – Sophie Neville and her dog Flint on the Solent.

I’ve gained 3 pounds and haven’t been to the hairdressers for eighteen months, but we kept safe in our little bubble and are looking forward to a better future when there is no need to wear face-masks. You can find my post on finding elderly litter here

Diary of a Litter picker – on Solent Shores

This winter we took it upon ourselves as a family to dig these abandoned buoy anchors out of the mud.

We extracted four, all of which were so heavy it was near impossible to carry them away. There has been less litter but the storms bring in all sorts of things.

Plastic pollution has been unremitting but it is good to be making a contribution. It is such a beautiful area, so important to wildlife.

Some of the items are dangerous.

Others have travelled a long way, possibly dropped off ships.

Most pieces are small, some tiny, others revolting. It is satisfying to go out after a storm.

It is then that a lot of PVC rope comes in. It can do a great deal of damage.

I use a bucket as bags flap in the wind and there are often sharp pieces of glass.

Plastic pollution collected from Solent shores Dec 2020 - photo Sophie Neville

They can weigh 4kgs when full. This one contained a lot of old fishing line.

I often find unopened drinks or packets of food.

Almost every day there is a helium ballon and a mask to pick up or extract.

It’s as if the sea is spitting them out.

We sometimes come across amusing pieces, often toys or balls of some kind.

The best thing about collecting plastic pollution is that it gets us out there.

For a full list of things we’ve found washed up on the Solent – click here

Diary of a litter-picker – Winter beach cleaning on the Solent

I am thrilled to announce that I have been awarded a certificate as ‘Beach Picker of the Year’ by Litter Pickers of the New Forest, who presented me with a very good bottle of wine. The sea thanked my sons and three year-old helpers by presenting them with a jar of instant coffee and this ball.

The good thing about winter beach cleans is that, instead of picnic litter, you are in with a chance of finding interesting things washed up on the shore. Along with a Tescos’ ‘bag-for-life’, that we filled with pieces of rope, bottles and part of a lobster pot, I found an unopened can of larger, a decent ball and a pristine jar of Nescafe Gold, fully sealed although dated 19/5/19. It must have been floating about in the Solent for some time.

The storms tend to bring in a lot of old plastic. This fishermen’s litter (below) accumulated in the lee of the causeway, out of the wind, but in a nature reserve where otters can be found.

There was a lot to gather. I need to return for more.

PPE is getting everywhere. I’ve been stuffing the masks I find in a jar. I’ve also been picking up aged polystyrene, tampon applicators and tangled PVC rope.

I sometimes use a counter to record how many items I pick up. This purple bucketload (below) contained 140 items but can take more than 260, as many pieces of sea plastic are small. It usually ends up weighing between 3 and 4 Kgs.

How long will will it take for all this to disintegrate? It’s interesting to date elderly rubbish. Crisp packets can easily last 40 years.

These ones were only aged about 8, which was a bit disappointing.

Odd things turn up. This mallet was made with a groove along the top, which I understand is used by riggers. It looks as if it came from a fairground.

After the gales this November, I found an undamaged fluorescent light bulb washed up on the Solent. This is my third. I gather these contain mercury. Is it British? Has it been flung off a ship?

By contrast, this large lobster pot buoy obviously belongs to someone. It’s been registered as missing on Facebook but with no response.

The important thing is to keep going, collecting a little but regularly:

It’s then that your eye catches small pieces like fishing line – which we nearly missed –

This is one of three fishy lures collected recently.

It’s good to record just how much plastic pollution accumulates over time. I found about 3 Kgs of rope and micro plastics after scouring this remote beach that I had cleared a month before.

This pollution is being retrieved from ecologically sensitive areas within the New Forest National Park and British seas. Sadly, all this now has to go into landfill – apart from the ball and sealed jar of coffee. It was just what we needed at home.

Sophie Neville collecting plastic pollution from Solent shores.

To see some of the things we found beach cleaning in September, please click here

Sophie Neville being interviewed on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’

Lakeland Arts, based at the Windermere Jetty Museum, ask how the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was made on location in the Lake District in 1973 –

You can find out more in the illustrated paperback, suitable for all age of readers, entitled ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’, which makes a good Christmas present when combined with the 40th Anniversary DVD with DVD extras.

At Windermere Jetty museum – to see the amazing boats

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) 

In the summer of 1973, I was transported to the shores of Windermere, ‘The Great Lake in the North’ to appear as ‘Titty Walker’ in the classic movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, starring Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser.

The Swallows approach the jetty in Rio. Which launch is moored outside the boatsheds?

We were fortunate enough to film the scenes set in Rio at Bowness-on-Windermere before the original green boat sheds were demolished in favor of an amusement arcade.

Rio – or Bowness-on-Windermere in 1973 – with SL Elizabeth ~ photo: Martin Neville

George Pattinson brought along his steamboat the Lady Elizabeth, which you can see here beyond the Windermere skiffs pulled up on the shore.

George Pattinson in his steam launch Elisabeth ~ photo: Martin Neville

George’s personal collection made up the basis of the Steamboat Museum now rebuilt and known as Windermere Jetty, where we found the Lady Elizabeth under restoration.

Eighteen foot long, she was built in New York State in about 1900 and brought to England, so was likely on Windermere in 1929 when Arthur Ransome wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’. She sank off Cockshott Point beyond Bowness, but Mr Pattinson salvaged and renovated her in 1955. You can read more here.

The Lady Elizabeth under restoration at Windermere Jetty
The Lady Elizabeth under restoration at Windermere Jetty

Other exhibits included the exquisite steam launch Osprey, in fine fettle with her copper steam kettle kept brightly polished. I knew her from taking part in a Steam Boat Association rally on Windermere in 1991. 

The RNSA dinghies used to play Swallow and Amazon in the 2016 movie can also be seen in the wet dock at Windermere Jetty.

Look up, and you can spy a green beetle on an old burgee. 

Arthur Ransome’s dinghy Conch-y-bonddhu, known as Scarab in his books, is on display with Beatrix Potter’s rough, flat-bottomed rowing boat (the pointed bows of which can be seen here hanging on the wall to the right).

It was good to be able to examine Conchy’s rigging. You can read about her here.

The museum has many other treasures including the hull of the oldest yacht in existence in the Lake District.

Every one of the forty boats exhibited has a story to tell.  You can find out more about visiting Windermere Jetty on their website here.

The Windermere skiffs can still be seen up the road in Bowness where you can begin to look for locations used in the original film.

If you don’t already have a copy you can read about ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ here. This includes maps and chapters on how to find the film locations.

To learn more about the film locations, please click here.

The ebook on ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, which is similar, is available on all ebook platforms, including Kindle here.

A weekend spent steam boating on Windermere in 1991, is featured in ‘Funnily Enough’, a diary of a year when everything changed, can be found here.

Looking towards the jetty featured in ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) at Bowness-on-Windermere

I look forward to returning to Windermere Jetty when the Lady Elizabeth is on back the water! The museum will be opening soon.

You can read about the 1901 steam launch Daffodil that I helped to renovate here.

Sophie Neville visiting Windermere Jetty – photo: Caroline Robinson

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 reached the finals for this year’s Eyelands Book Awards under the category ‘Unpublished Historical Novel’

Please scroll down here for a full list of authors and their biographies

‘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. It went on to win third prize in the Association of Christian Writers’ novel competition 2020, when the judge, Tony Collins, described it as: ‘a treat: full of atmosphere, detail, vivid characters, and a love for the island and its culture. I liked the fact that the narrator is a young black girl, which I find refreshing, and the relish with which the food was described is delightful. The underlying theme of FGM (and its place in a patriarchal society, the practice perpetuated by grandmothers) is a dark thread, well sustained, which both horrifies and compels.’

The sequel ‘The Man Who Got Out of Japan’ 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 well-designed bins near the gate to the beach there is no excuse for this. Although some plastics, such as the straws and bottle-tops, have floated in on the tide, I found a neatly folded crisp packet tucked into the sea wall. Why?

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 within 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