Children of Winter

She seemed to know, and yet not to know. She seemed to picture that walk as if in her memory, struggling against the wind with bundles of clothing and sacks of food. Over three hundred years ago.

She seemed to know, and yet not to know. She seemed to picture that walk as if in her memory, struggling against the wind with bundles of clothing and sacks of food. Over three hundred years ago.

Children of Winter is set at the time of the Great Plague in 1666, though it begins in the Derbyshire of today. It is loosely based on the story of the village of Eyam, not far from where I live, which lost half of its population to the plague. Eyam cut itself off from the rest of Derbyshire so that no other village would catch the Plague. In my story, three children are taken up to a barn, away from the village, and have to shelter there alone in order to survive. I tried to imagine what it would be like for them to have been so near home and yet not to be able to go there, and not to know what was happening to their family and friends in the village. It is about the Plague, but it could be about refugees from a war or from any kind of disaster. It’s about survival.

Barn, Eyam Plaque at EyamI got the idea for writing this story when I was working with a group of children from a Sheffield school, writing stories with them. We spent the day in a very old barn, Bowsen Barn, near High Bradfield. There are many barns just like it all over Yorkshire and Derbyshire. This barn had a very strong atmosphere of the past, and the children used it as the setting for some wonderful ghost stories. At the end of the day, when we were reading our stories round the flickering light of a gas lamp, I said, “I’ve got a feeling that somebody used to live here, a long time ago. Who do you think it could have been?” One of the children said, “It could have been somebody sheltering from the Great Plague”. I knew, straight away, that I was going to write a story about it, and that I would set it in that very barn. There were actually clues in the barn that I used in the book; bins for food, a scrap of straw that could once have been a mound for sleeping on. Round the back of the barn was a little stream, which became the trickle stream of my novel, and in front was a log – my thinking-log! Also, at the threshold, was a stone with figures carved on it. That gave me the idea for the drawing Dan does on the slate.

If you ever visit Eyam you will see the names of some of the people who died there recorded over their cottage doors. One of them mentions somebody who hid in a barn on the hills above Eyam, just like the children in my story. Just outside Eyam there is an enclosure marking the place where a woman buried her entire family, and I sometimes look at it and think what a terrible time it must have been to live through. Children of Winter is a made-up story, but, like Street Child, it is rooted in the real past, in real lives, and hopefully it helps us to remember them.

Here is a link to a very informative blog on Children of Winter which will be very helpful to teachers and students as well as to general readers.

 

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