I’ve just come back from a visit to Santa Barbara. It was wonderful to revisit old haunts – the Daily Grind coffee shop, Chaucer Books – and to spend time watching the dolphins and pelicans from Arroyo Burro beach, smell the roses near the Mission, and most of all, bask in California sunshine after a long, cold, Yorkshire winter.
It also made me think about the relationship between writing and place.
It was while I was in Santa Barbara I got a message saying that my book Wolfie had won a Fantastic Book Award (voted for by children across Lancashire). This seemed fitting, as it was actually while I was staying in Santa Barbara, five years ago, that I wrote Wolfie. And that made me think how odd it was that a book about wolves and deep winter woods (so atmospherically brought to life in Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations) should have been created in such a completely different environment.
|cover: Emma Chichester Clark|
|illustration: Emma Chichester Clark|
Certainly, one of the most evocative children’s books that I know, in terms of creating a setting, is Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising – part of the famous fantasy series of the same title. This book is set in rural Berkshire near Windsor, and Will’s house, the village, the manor and the surrounding landscape are brilliantly portrayed: so real, so immediate, but also echoing with the years of history that lie behind. When Will sets out into the woods he may meet a Smith from centuries past, or a tramp who has travelled through time, or the mythical Herne the Hunter: somehow the place can contain them all. This capturing of landscape is also a feature of Cooper’s other books – the mountains of Wales in The Grey King, and a Cornish village in Greenwitch.
These books capture perfectly a British place and time (and I say time because I suspect the “present day” Berkshire that Cooper portrays has probably now been lost as totally as her Medieval or Dark Age versions, under the pressures of modern development). Yet they were written when Cooper was far from her original home, living on the East Coast of the US. In interviews, she has described how she was cross country skiing (a thoroughly un-British activity) when the idea of The Dark Is Rising came to her.
I’m certainly grateful for my time in California. Towards the end of my stay I also went to the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, which was stimulating in a different way. And I enjoyed happy hours running on the beach. But mainly those months were a warm, calm, interlude: a bubble in which I managed to write a book.
Maybe one cold, winteryYorkshire morning I will sit down and find myself writing a tale of sunshine, sand and dolphins…---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Emma's new book, Wild Thing, about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways), is out now from Scholastic. It is the first of a series for readers 8+.
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman
"Charming modern version of My Naughty Little Sister" Armadillo Mag
Wolfie is published by Strident. Sometimes a Girl’s Best Friend is…a Wolf.
Winner of 2014 Fantastic Book Award
"A real cracker of a book" Armadillo
"Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps
"This delightful story is an ideal mix of love and loyalty, stirred together with a little magic and fantasy" Carousel
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