Friday, 1 September 2017


Let me take you on my afternoon out . . .
As the car approaches Sutton Bank, mist is still covering the North York Moors so there’s no point in stopping to see the view from the top today. After a few miles, the satnav directs us off between woods and pastures.

Eventually, we arrive at Nunnington Hall, a property in Ryedale now belonging to the National Trust We are on a two-car family outing, but as we set off later, and Ryedale is an area where there’s famously little mobile reception, we’ll have to meet up when we can. Besides, the family will be busy touring the house or exploring corners of the garden by now. 

In we go. Nunnington Hall is a mellow stone house, not large enough to be very grand, but an amiable place for a month or more in the country.  Set on the banks of the river Rye, the Hall is just right for folk of the hunting, shooting and fishing sort, such as the last owners, Colonel and Mrs Margaret Fife.

The rooms are like small stage sets. The Colonel’s smoking room, downstairs, has guns and fishing tackle in the corners, as well as the wooden kennel used for transporting his dog to the Front. Mrs Fife’s room, the large day room, has armchairs, a gramophone, and a table set with china for afternoon tea. On we go, through the bedrooms. Colonel Fife’s wallpaper has birds among foliage, maybe reminding him of faraway forests. Does he dream, each night, of blasting them from the branches? Margaret’s room is light and airy, and holds a beautiful 1930’s evening gown before a long dressing mirror. So much to look at, and on we go, upwards, past the collection of miniature rooms - and suddenly my grown-up son is waiting, keen to remind me to go along a bit further, because there’s something to see.

And there is! In all the fuss and busyness of the week’s visit, I had completely forgotten why we’d chosen Nunnington Hall for our family outing. Illustrator Nick Sharratt’s travelling exhibition, PIRATES, PANTS AND WELLYPHANTS was there, occupying several attic rooms.

I must say that the exhibition was particularly well- designed, as one would expect if a perfectionist was involved. There were panels creating corners where little ones could dress up as pirates, or places where they could discover patterns and colour, and even giggle at the various “pants”, as well as trying out a whole range of activities and interactivities.

However, the aspect that really impressed me – and, so I heard afterwards, my family thirteen-year-old -  were the parts that showed his working life as an illustrator. As well as photos of Nick, from childhood to now, one could see Nick’s early drawings and his school and art school sketchbooks.

What was of interest here, to any young artist, was that Nick originally worked in a variety of styles, but also often revealing his fascination with people and pattern and sociable crowds. One could see early examples of the now-recognised (and imitated) Nick Sharratt style, whether as single illustrations for text books, or to accompany magazines articles.

Then, of course, there were sections celebrating his artwork for authors like Jacqueline Wilson, Jeremy Strong and other writers, as well as huge even more colourful panels spread with the covers of the many picture books he’s created. I noticed, among his popular collaborations, the books like YOU CHOOSE that he’d worked on with the multi-talented writer Pippa Goodhart, whose book reviews you’ll find in the review section of this ABBA blog. 

There were panels that focused on Nick’s working day, showing examples of sketches and roughs and proofs; there was also a representation of his studio with three light boxes that explained, visually, how Nick constructed his complex illustrations - and a clock to show that he usually works from 8.30am to 7pm each day.

I could really have spent lots more time looking round, but knew that others in the family were having their badly-needed tea. However, just as I was ready to go, my son suddenly directed me to a less-obvious section of the exhibition. Nick, in this panel, was showing how he used computers in his work – and there, among all the other images, I suddenly saw a picture I recognised: a spread dear to my heart. From this book:

There, for all to see,  was the final tea-party spread of the picture book I'd written with Nick, MR POD AND MR PICCALLILI, now-out-of-print, There was no time for a wistful face because Nick had also created a short video, showing how he could add textures and also paste patterns into his previously “plain coloured” illustrative style. 

Seeing this, I also recalled, half-way during the book process, my nervousness when news on the book’s progress suddenly stopped. I’d quietly despaired of MR POD AND MR PICCALLILI ever appearing and it wasn’t until I finally saw the coloured proofs that I realised quite why the work had taken Nick so long.

Nick loves to play within his pictures – or so it seems to me -  and offer any reader all sorts of visual moments to discover and be amused by. So there, within those solid Sharratt outlines, Nick had inserted – as needed – an array of wallpaper and textile patterns, foliage and furriness, cake textures, lettering and photographs and, on one spread, his head-shot photo in the tv and my own there in the Sunday newspaper. Must add that a class of children noticed this insertion before I did!  

What a pleasure! The visit to Nunnington Hall had become more interesting an afternoon than I’d imagined. The family were very proud to see what, to them, was a well-known and loved book in the exhibition and, for me, a delightful surprise.  

Thank you, Nick Sharratt, for reminding me that books can live on in the memory, even when they’re no longer in bookshops.

Penny Dolan

ps If you’ve seen the exhibition already, do let me know in the comments. (The photos used are either from Showstoppers (the company that put this amazing exhibition together) publishers or Nick Sharratt.)

pps. The PIRATES, PANTS AND WELLYPHANTS exhibition, which has already toured several locations, will be at Nunnington Hall until 9th or 10th September 2017. In July 2018 it arrives at the Beacon Museum, Whitehaven, but may well be touring to other locations in between.


Pippa Goodhart said...

... and now you've given me a similar 'delightful surprise' whilst going on your outing with you! Both Hall and exhibition look and sound wonderful things to visit. Thank you, Penny!

Lynne Benton said...

How lovely! And well done for being part of such a splendid exhibition, Penny! (The Hall looks good, too.)

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

What a lovely and unexpected surprise for me. Makes one wonder why more National Trust Houses & English Heritage Houses aren't opening their doors to children's book exhibitions. It's such a charming idea to keep children happily reading and following the exhibition when on the whole, old houses don't hold much for them. It turns it into a true family outing. Thank you for sharing this lovely house and Nick's wonderful books, Penny.

Joan Lennon said...

Mr Pod and Mr Piccalli! Yay!

Andrew Preston said...

Interested to be reminded of Sutton Bank and the mist. Long ago, I booked on a course at the glding club that is atop Sutton Bank. I arrived on the Sunday evening, and rose eagerly on the Monday morning for a week's worth of low level flying along the ridge. The clubhouse staff seemed rather subdued. I recalled that a few weeks previously, 2 gliders had collided in mid air, and the pilots, both local, had died.

So, after breakfast, the 5 of us on the course went outside to prepare. It was rather misty, but we reckoned it would burn off as the morning warmed up, and we'd soon be able to fly. It didn't burn off, and the weather didn't warm up. Every morning, I'd wake in my bunk, gaze through the window, hoping, hoping the sky would be clear.

It never was. As it became obvious by each late morning that a day was not going to improve, each of us would disperse. The number of hours I spent trudging around cold, damp places like Thirsk. A coffee here, a coffee there... And I could feel a nose running, eye watering, sleeve wiping cold coming on.

And so, Thursday morning arrived. We all gathered together, and the instructor said... "Well, what do you think, guys, what do you want to do..?".

I said... "I think I'd like to go home. I feel absolutely terrible.".
Everybody else also wanted to go home. This Up North place wasn't at all like Sunny Hampshire.

I wasn't joking about feeling terrible, and after driving a few miles down the road, I felt shattered. I decided to plod slowly down the A1 in my Porsche. Quite a big change from the usual commute up the M3, into the outer lane, and stay there at about 90mph, like all the other rat-racers.

Anyway, I managed the 25 miles to Wetherby, and landed on the doorstep of my sister's home. The next 4 or 5 days being looked after, hot soup, solicitations etc..

Yes, I remember Sutton Bank, in 1987.
And the small matter of..., while I was there, incommunicado, Black Monday of 19th October, the London stock market had crashed.
About £30,000 of mine evaporated in the space of a few hours.
Unlike the mist.