Monday 16 August 2021

Two Years of Land in Mind by Steve Gladwin

 Part One - Childhood


How about a bit of fun for the summer?  I notice that more often than not people get to these blog later, so I thought it would be quite a nice challenge to come upon this. To celebrate the publication of 'Land in Mind' by 'Unbound' in 2022/23, and also many of the wonderful friends and others who have kindly contributed to this blog over the last two years, here's a quiz with a difference. Twelve wonderful remembrances of childhood from twelve writers, storytellers, musicians etc. There are pictures, but they are rarely of the person, although they shoud give some clue. Some of them are easy and others not so. I will add ther answers on facebook on friday. In the meantime please post your guesses below 1-12.

As for those who don't read it before Friday and don't do facebook. They may never know!

Have fun, now!

What a lovely invitation!  The moment I saw it, my heart sang.  Here we go then.  The museum-shed has one window - and looks onto our cottage just below it.  Behind it is our garage, housing our battered Morris 10, and rows of gooseberry bushes.

Immediately inside the wooden door, on the right, is the visitors book standing on a medieval oak lectern, lent to me by my father.

Please sign it.  You'll be in good company.  All my childhood friends - and several of my parents' friends who live round and about, including Rumer Godden and Jacob and Rita Bronowski.

Now then!  Under the window there's a rough table and display of coins.  The showpiece is a collection of Victorian bun pennies and halfpennies.  From time to time I clean these, well knowing they'll be tarnished by the next day, but still delighting in their brief sheen and gleam.  They share this table with several Egyptian antiquities, lent by my father  on condition I write little descriptive labels for each of them, but I give pride of place to the most beautiful Roman perfume bottle dug out of the sand near Alexandria, and presented to me by a retired Classical archaeologist - I wish I could remember her name - who has just come to live in the village.  Blue glass, a silvery bud no bigger than a crab apple, a long, slender neck.  It's very beautiful, and I've dropped it twice during the last 70 years without damaging it.

At this rate we'll be in the museum all morning!




I was born in Cambridge and grew up in South Cambridgeshire. Not far away the chalk hills of Royston Heath (great for sledging in winter) were as close as we got to mountains. Mostly it was flattish arable land with lots of orchards, meadows, scrubby edge-lands, little winding rivers, big fields. I was lucky to grow up in a time when we were still allowed our ‘kith’. As soon as breakfast was over in the holidays we’d be off… building camps, mucking about, exploring, riding our bikes along the lanes, forming gangs, warfare with other gangs etc It’s almost the same landscape as Phillippa Pearce describes in her run of classics ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’, ‘Minnow on the Say’, ‘What the Neighbours Did’ and the rest (why aren’t they read any more?). She lived in Shelford, about seven miles away from Melbourn, which was my home village. That landscape, the village and its eccentrics and characters (there were still Boer War veterans alive when I was a boy), its seasonal rhythms, its certainties, its hidden histories, its rituals both church and secular (from Rogation Sunday to conker season to the annual fun-fair), its voices (dialect, family, school, prayer book), its web of friendships and associations… all of these things I still hold in my heart, they’re at the core of my imagination.    




I’m in Cotmanhay, which is a sort of suburb of Ilkeston, a former mining town in Derbyshire near the Nottinghamshire border. I’m looking at our house, which is on a council estate. The streets are all named after Derbyshire beauty spots – Beauvale Drive, Monsall Avenue, and so on, but it’s not in truth a very beautiful place. Our garden is lovely, though: Mum is an excellent gardener. Round the back she grows chrysants, very carefully. Sometimes she even shows them.






My mother had a black photograph album filled with small photos from a box camera, which she’d kept since she was a teenager. I used to love looking through it, and I think that’s probably where my interest in photography began. When I was about twelve, I saved up and bought my first camera. It was from Boots and it was called a Koroll 11. I don’t remember what my first picture was – maybe it was of our dog, Whisky, who was a rather grumpy West Highland White terrier. I’ve been taking pictures ever since.


Looking out from the front door is the money puzzle tree. In the winter it throws down thrilling spikes branches. Next to it is a redwood with soft Sienna coloured bark that I can press my cheek into. They are at the top of the rockery. Thats forbidden territory - too many plants for me to trample on but I find it fascinating and long to climb up and down on the rocks. On the other side of the front lawn is a forest of yews. Its dark in there and dusty. The berries that I know are poisonous are so beautiful; velvety and a shade that isn’t quite pink and isn’t quite red. They are odd, unfinished looking as if someone forgot to sew them up so you can see the seed inside.


Round the corner from the front door is a round shady lawn dotted with crocuses in spring. The blue ones are my favourite. They seem like a kind of magic and I get very excited about them when they first appear. There’s a long wide lawn beyond the round one, bounded by a walled veg garden. I don’t like it in there because that’s where Daddy cuts the heads off the chickens. He carries the ones that have stopped laying eggs by their feet, screaming as if they know. Sometimes they go on running without their heads.  I like the long border opposite that, with big old clumps of phlox, in pink and white, the blossoms impossibly silky and smooth, with a scent that I think could be my favourite.


 I have a tree house made of old wooden surfboards in the pear tree above the flowerbeds. The back of the border has a tall wall. I can squiggle my way in there and crouch, in the green hidden, hiding, secret. In the far corner of the garden in a huge damson tree that drips with purple fruit in the late summer. It stands in its own lovely little space, like a person in a room. I love the squareness of it and the way the canopy of the tree fits the space. The path from there runs to the back of the house. Its gravel. Hard to ride my red trike on so its better just to run. If I want to go fast on my trike I can take it to the brick covered yard and listen to the pigeons cooing in the space above the garage.


Sometimes I go up there with Grandpa or with Daddy. It smells of rats and pigeon poo but I get to hold the baby pigeons. They look like dodos, with their stuck on feathers starting to sprout and their funny wonky beaks. Daddy says they are called squabs, a special word just for baby pigeons. I like knowing the real names of things.




I am five years old and, after living among the nondescript, suburban streets of South East London, my family has moved to, what was then, a rural village in Kent. Suddenly I find myself a country child: aware, for the first time ever, of real beauty and true wonder. I had suddenly been transported to a world I had only previously seen in picture books. Within this new daily experience of nature and the changing seasons, I was free (for the world was safer then) to run wild, at will: exploring the woods of birch and oak, making a hollow tree my secret home, the meandering fern-bordered paths and the willow-fringed ponds my private realm. And, after my explorations I would wander around the village watching still traditional tradesmen making bread or cutting and hanging meats or, perhaps, I would head for the village blacksmith’s shop (now, alas, a boring bank) to watch the horses being shod and, as like or not, carry home a lucky horseshoe for a souvenir.

And alongside this real landscape exist all those others that I investigated, week by week in my local library, as I took book after book from the shelves: plunging in amongst the thronging streets of Dickens’ London; losing myself in Kipling’s lush Indian jungle; roaming the exciting terrains of Never Land, Treasure Island or the Lost World; finding a secure and comforting home in Tove Jansson’s Moomin Valley; journeying through the outlandish worlds of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and Edward Lear’s ‘lands where the Jumblies live’; or loosing myself amongst the crumbling ruins of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or the Martian landscape of Ray Bradbury’s tales of the Red Planet; and oh, so many, many others, too… 




My childhood was split between London, near Holland Park, and Hampshire, and I suppose both contributed to the material in my mental attic. Hampshire is chalk country, with gentle, rolling hills and valleys, broad rides and elfin paths that score through the bare earth at your feet and beg you to come exploring. My brother and I carved out imaginary empires wherever there was a scrap of common land that someone hadn’t fenced off. We made castles from trees, javelins from dead cow-parsley and weapons from anything we could lay our hands on.

We also visited Gloucestershire, where I now live. My uncle owned a large, ruined garden with little eighteenth-century follies peeping through the forests of brambles. I can still remember the moment I discovered this gothic alcove while adventuring in the woodlands. It was a magical thing, like the moment in Prince Caspian when the children stumble on the ruins of Cair Paravel. These days the garden is restored. You can come to see it. But the wilderness is gone, and the childhood adventure-land has been overlaid with other things.  





1)    I’ve always loved nature and felt happiest when outside in beautiful surroundings.  I grew up surrounded by woods, but always loved the rolling hills and big vistas.  I lived in Ibiza as a teenager and really enjoyed the beautiful mountains and landscape there, and in my early twenties moved down to Dorset (Weymouth) to go to college.  Dorset really got to me – the amazing vistas of hills and woodlands, the sea, the cliffs and beaches.  Although due to my husband leaving us, I had to bring my three sons up on a council estate there, I was very lucky that it was surrounded by hills and woods, so it was a far cry from a built up area.  We walked regularly in the amazing landscape, visiting hillforts, woodlands and the rolling hills. Dorset has to be my favourite place, although I’ve seen many other wonderful places too.




I see a wood of oak and elm, made up of saplings with a few mature trees. This was in turn an extension of an arm of woodland reaching down from a much larger wood covering the hillside a few hundred yards to the right-hand side, and so filling the entire horizon there. This was itself a fragment of the ancient Forest of Waltham in Essex, which had long been split into three main divisions, Epping, Hatfield and Hainault Forests, with smaller remnants among them. My such remnant was between Epping and Hainault, in a valley of woods, copses and spinneys divided by corn fields, owned by farmers who expected that they or their children would inevitably have to sell up to developers building a further extension of London. As a result, they never invested in innovations such as pesticides or hedgerow clearance, and so the local wildlife, especially of birds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians, was very rich. I accordingly grew up with a good knowledge of natural history, and a habituation to an existence lived among trees, and often up in their branches. I have never felt comfortable in open landscapes, or in cities from which I cannot see a bounding frontier of woodland or wild hillside when I climb a high building. 




 I was an only child, near-sighted and timid, brought up by a single mother who had to work, and so left much on my own. Like a lot of lonely children in the last two centuries, I found most of my comfort, entertainment and companionship in books, which I borrowed voraciously from a wide network of libraries as soon as I learned to read at the age of five. They provided my sense of how the world was, and also my dreams, fantasies, ambitions and sense of self. When I began to listen to music from the age of ten onward, the pictures that I saw as a result were taken from books and subservient to them. I was in my twenties before I lost the need to live and speak as if I were a literary character, and like a lot of avid childhood readers I wrote from an early age with the same facility. Like those readers too I often found it painfully difficult to emerge from the worlds into which my reading took me and reconnect with what was supposed to be reality. I had been born in India and formed my first impressions of the world there, and my mother spent the first half of her life there. As a result, I took readily to books that dealt with tropical countries, and travelled there regularly in my mind. Imagined landscapes, however, also coloured my view of the physical world. After reading J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, for example, I could not see prehistoric tumuli and stone circles without thinking of the Barrow Downs, or an old-fashioned lamp post on the edge of a local park without thinking of it as the one on the western fringe of Narni



The earliest thing I can remember is playing on the floor while my mother was ironing. She told me I would have to go to school soon. I told her I wasn’t going, but she explained you had to. I was appalled, and hated the whole idea. I was probably 4 years old, or even 5, because at that time that was the age school education began- we had no nursery or kindergarten. I could already read and when I got to school it was just as bad as I had expected. In fact I never got to grips with it, and only when I got to A Levels was it at all bearable. It’s a characteristic memory really, and shows I was suspicious of authority even then. 

I was lucky in that there was a small public library round the corner and I went there every week for books. All the usual children’s books of course, but Stevenson stands out, especially Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll. It was there I read a whole shelf of myths and legends and fairytales. Also about that time I found a battered paperback of the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes in a junk sale and thus entered the magic world of Baker Street. Later I read Alan Garner- a revelation!-, Tolkien, Holdstock,David Jones, Keats, Yets. And then Arthur Machen. *As a writer is landscape and the ability to write about it something that’s important to you?

The way the land is formed, its woods and rivers and valleys, are a sort of entry into the imagination. Land and Mind are so similar. I have often set books in real landscapes and then travelled through them, or used real landscapes in Otherworlds. There are certainly plenty of portals in the books! Maybe I learned that from Alice in Wonderland, but also a book like Elidor, where the streets are very grim and real, but lead to astonishing things. If fantasy is grounded in the mundane, it adds to the power, somehow. Gondor would not be so high and perilous without the Shire.




I grew up by the sea, in Whitehead, County Antrim. As the seventh of eight, and eventually eleven children, there were too many of us to keep tabs on so we were free to wander and wander I did, from morning till night. Along the shore, over the clifftops, over the fields, into the woods…

I’ve always been content in my own company, and rarely more happy than walking. It’s also the best place to free the mind from the minutiae of the everyday, to open the heart to imagination, to story. Some of my best lines, my best stories come to me as I walk. Pacing the beach one day I found myself singing ‘ Once upon a mountain stood a Xyderzee…’ Where did it come from? I’ve no idea. But where did it go? Straight down on paper when I got home, to become the first line of one of my favourite picture books (When a Zeeder Met a Xyder, illustrated by the wonderful Joel Stewart).  I walk the coast, the hills, every day and it feeds my soul. I couldn’t live without it.

I crave beauty – in music, in art and in landscape. Throw in a bit of wildness and you’ve got me. Donegal’s got me.  




I spent my formative years on the island of North Uist, before moving to the mainland in my teenage years. That landscape had a profound effect on me - those enormous skies, the countless shades of blue and green sea and endless white beaches. And the wind! The prevailing westerly which almost never stops...even on the nicest of days you are aware of the wind coming off the wild Atlantic, scouring the low-lying islands before heading towards the mainland of Scotland. The space, the wild, those colours and most importantly the Gaelic community which surrounded me, are what have shaped me and my music.  




I grew up not far from where the Martians land in War of the Worlds, in a little suburban road in very green Addlestone, Surrey; it had white-board houses and estate agents described it as a “Canadian setting”. I was there for a very formative eight years but able to roam remarkably freely compared to children now. Later childhood and teens were spent in bigger, busier Camberley; but we lived just over the road from Bagshot Heath, actually a big rambling mix of heathland and woods, full of silver birch and gorse and pine; and I look back on that as a space of amazing freedom where we could let our imaginations run riot as kids. I’ve lived in Oxford twice, once as a student, once as a father: no need to describe that marvellous city; I still consider it home. I began Tolkien and the Great War in a flatshare above a Harley Street clinic and about 15 years later discovered that coincidentally Tolkien’s guardian, Francis Morgan, had spent his teens in the house next door. Now I live in rural Hampshire, which is just great when you need to stretch your legs and clear your head. 

Thanks to  - oops, almost gave thm away, then - all these lovely people. Answers are in the post! Enjoy the rest of the summer, everyone.


Steve Gladwin - 'Stories of Feeling and Being'
'Kind and Curious Storytelling and Workshops

Author of 'The Seven', 'Land in Mind', 'Swallow Tales, Shape-Shifters' and 'The Raven's Call'

01938 500728/01485007189/
























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