It’s dark and damp and it smells of earth. It smells a million years old. Photo: Bella Hardy, aged 8. Bella’s Den is about a real girl called Bella who lives in the same hamlet as I do. She once told me that she has 57 dens. I asked her if she would show me her favourite one, and when she took me there we had to make sure that no-one else saw us, because it was her secret. It was a wonderful den, and I decided to write a story about it. I pretended in the story that I was the same age (as Bella was then), about 9. Photo: Bella Hardy in 2018. The story was first published in an anthology of short stories called Muck and Magic, edited by Michael Morpurgo. Muck and Magic was launched in London, and the main guest was Princess Anne! Michael Morpurgo asked me if I would read my story out at the launch. I took Bella with me, and she presented Princess Anne with a bouquet after I’d read my story. Princess Anne said how lovely it was to live in a place that was so big that the children could run about and play and hide in dens. I think she must have been talking about her own garden. We are lucky though, because our cottages are surrounded by the Peak District, and the local children play out freely. Bella’s Den is about a country childhood, friendship, and the apparent clash between farming and wild animals. Bella’s Den was later published on its own as a Yellow Banana, with lovely illustrations by Peter Melnyzcuk. The real Bella is now a very successful folk singer, Bella Hardy.