Hello and welcome to my May 2018 newsletter.
Spring and summer come late where I live, but the leaves outside my writing room window are beginning to unfurl at last. Soon I’ll lose sight of the hills, but I’ll have the sway of trees to enjoy for five months or so. Lambs are in the croft, and the birds are in full song.
And what have I been doing since my January newsletter?
I’ve been working on the book of commissioned stories for the National Trust Quarry Bank Mill, and now it’s published. It’s called Journeys of the Imagination, and is available from the gift shop there. It tells the stories of six people who lived at Quarry Bank in the 1800s, as owners, workers or apprentices, and is based on archives kept at the centre. Now in the beautiful grounds there are installations inspired by the stories – a coach, an alligator, canoe… come and see them! Emma Baldwin drew the lovely illustrations.
Also republished this month is Bella’s Den. It has great illustrations by Ellie Snowdon and is a fully revised edition published by Barrington Stoke, who also publish my Blue John and Joe and the Dragonosaurus books. Do you know those books? Barrington Stoke are particularly careful to produce books which are dyslexia friendly, designing their font and the colour of their pages to making the physical process of reading easier.
Bella’s Den was first published in 1997 by Harpercollins, and is about a real girl called Bella who lived in the same farmyard as me. That girl is Bella Hardy, now a very successful folksinger. Here she is at the time the story is set. And here she is now. If you’d like to know how Bella’s Den links up Bella Hardy, Michael Morpurgo and Princess Anne, have a look on the Bella’s Den page! If you’d like to win a copy signed by Bella and myself, have a go at the competition below.
Other publishing news this time round is that my adult novel Requiem is back in print. It was first published by Michael Joseph, Penguin in 1990, then by Cybermouse, which have sadly ceased to exist as publishers, and is happily now published by BillyWorks.
This generous review was posted on Twitter last month by the poet James Carter:
“This is quite simply one of the best adult novels I’ve ever read.”
I recently visited schools in Germany, Liverpool and Derbyshire, took part in the Children’s Literature festival at the University of Hull, and also led a weekend workshop at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, where students will be teaching one of my novels, The Girl Who Saw Lions, at their schools.
Here’s an extract from a review of The Girl Who Saw Lions (originally published as Abela) in Goodreads:
“What a beautiful book. It is one of those perfectly formed, eloquently written and superbly characterized books that you struggle to put down and will stay in your mind for days to come…”
Thank you, Katherine Blessan.
On World Book Day I was at Quarry Bank (it’s been almost my second home this year!) reading in the beautiful newly opened Quarry Bank House, which once belonged to the Greg family, the mill owners. The book I’m reading from here is Far From Home, much of which is set in and inspired by the apprentice house at Quarry Bank.
Thank you to the many children who have written to me in the past three months, including Bisma from Dixon’s Manningham Primary School in Bradford, Landscove C of E Primary Devon Class 4 (with some great poems!) and Nancy Reuben School in Hendon (very loyal readers!) all of whom wrote about Street Child. Just today another splendid envelope arrived today from Rowner Junior School in Gosport. The children were begging me to write a sequel to Street Child and Far From Home! George Fitzgerald says: “your books were perfect, except for the brutal cliffhanger you left us on at the last second.” Dylan Varlow says: “I do not know how you are living with yourself as you have left Jim and his sisters separated.”
Goodness, I’m so sorry! The trouble is, it’s up to my publishers to ask me to write a sequel, and they haven’t done so yet! Maybe you should write to Harpercollins and insist…!
Children from St Peter’s RC Primary, Doncaster sent lots of beautifully written letters about Children of Winter.
Naja Kleesiek and Anna-Lena Braun, Jasmin Fiedler, Michelle Adam and Isabella from Germany all wrote to me about Dear Nobody.
My star letter this time is a poem inspired by Street Child. It’s written by Ben Cann from Class 4 in Landscove School in Devon.
The Death House I stay in the workhouse next to the bay,And all we do is work every day, Sewing machines are used to make cloth,But after that we always have broth,Working with machines fingers are lost,Cloths are made but what is the cost,Whipped with sticks and left in pain,Who will save us again and again, Going to bed is highly the best,But when we wake up we say we need a rest, I want to be free, but I shall not be, Because when I cry, I feel I shall die.
Many congratulations, Ben! That’s a terrific poem. I’m sending you a copy of Bella’s Den signed by Bella Hardy and myself.
Speaking of handwriting, I received a very warm letter from an adult who had been reading Street Child with her sons and wanted to write to me about it and about homelessness today. She has the most beautiful handwriting I’ve seen for years! As most of my letters from children are handwritten (thank goodness!) and I always respond by hand, it was a visual and unusual pleasure for me to read it.
I draft my novels by hand too, and can’t imagine working straight on to a computer.
If you like letter writing by hand too, have a look at Dinah Johnson’s blog.
There is a new article about me and the writing of Blue John in Derbyshire Life (September 2017 issue), and there will be another in a forthcoming edition of Writer’s Forum, this time about my use of place in fiction writing.
My recommended book this time is the irresistibly quirky Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge.
It may be cold and wet outside, but it’s a great day to celebrate the publication of a book that begins in a much sunnier country, Tanzania. The Girl Who Saw Lions is about an orphaned African child who is smuggled to London by her uncle. She has no relatives, no passport, and the only person she knows is her uncle’s girlfriend, who treats her as a house slave. Abela longs to join the children she sees through her window, and one day she runs away and follows them to school. She is an illegal immigrant, and now she is homeless.
If this sounds familiar to you then you will realise that it has been previously published as Abela, which has been translated into many languages. This year the publishers, Andersen Press, chose to relaunch it with the new title and a stunning new cover. The items on the front cover represent all the things Abela has left behind in Africa. The back cover represents the things that feature in the life of the other child in the story, Rosa, who lives in Sheffield with her mother. The book traces the journeys of the two girls to a new and unexpected happiness. Read much more about The Girl Who Saw Lions here.
Andersen Press have compiled an extremely useful guide for using The Girl Who Saw Lions in the classroom, with many interesting questions for discussion and great ideas for follow-up work. You can find it here (PDF format) or in text form at the bottom of my The Girl Who Saw Lions page.
The Girl Who saw Lions is a Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month (January 2018)
This year I have an exciting commission as children’s author to the National Trust house Quarry Bank Mill, in Styal, Cheshire.
I’ll be involved in several public events there during the year, and will post them on this site as they come up. I hope I’ll see you at some of them! Currently I’m involved in writing six stories about some of the people closely associated with Quarry Bank’s history. I’m telling travellers’ tales about the some of the owners as well as workers, and the series is called Journeys of the Imagination. The stories will be illustrated by Emma Baldwin, and they are looking really lovely already.
I feel a particular connection with Quarry Bank, as the apprentice house in my novel Far From Home is based on the one at the Mill. In my story, Jim Jarvis’s sisters Emily and Lizzie work in a mill that is very similar to Quarry Bank, and live in the apprentice house.
That’s it for now!