Headline: Scientists forget magical ingredients in Borrowers research news…


The Borrowers by Mary Norton First published in 1952

I cherished Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers when I was little. The notion of tiny people living under the floorboards, making use of all the bits and pieces humans discarded or lost, grabbed my imagination. So much so, that I used to pray – actually pray – to God for a family of Borrowers to move into my doll’s house. I promised I’d look after them and not let them come to any harm. As part of the bargain I kept the doll’s house in pristine condition, ready for the new tenants to move into, which is more than can be said for my actual bedroom.

Fit for a Borrower My doll’s house was similar to this but with a better colour scheme, natchtin house

My prayers got me nowhere, people, nowhere – God being distracted by more urgent matters. It meant Borrowers never did take me up on my offer and the house was sub-let to various spiders and bits of Lego until I swapped it for a Sindy and her flashy accessories.

Anyhow, over sixty years after J Dent published The Borrowers, it is still in print and still capturing children’s imaginations. Recently, it has also captured the imagination of scientists who, according to today’s Daily Telegraph, have published an article in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics, claiming that The Borrowers would be ‘scientifically impossible’ and would ‘…be born blind, deaf and perilously cold.’ Oh no! You mean to say that tiny, tiny people couldn’t really exist? That they don’t actually live under floorboards? I took to Twitter to share my alarm at this earth-shattering news. ‘What next?’ I asked. ‘ Mr Toad couldn’t have driven a car because he had no hands?’

Malorie Blackman replied first. ‘And there is no known tree whose wood, when turned into a wardrobe, allows for other world visitation.’  To which poet Brian Moses responded with a link to one of his wonderful blogs about using the imagination.

Unfortunately the Telegraph link is only to the Journal’s website and not the actual study, so I can’t put the findings into a context or credit the researchers. I’m sure it was a fun and absorbing and thoroughly proper scientific project to undertake but alongside all the variables and physics and statistics and probability the scientists forgot one main ingredient: magic. That’s what writers like Norton add to their writing; you can’t buy it or bottle it or quantify it – you just have to have the will and wit to believe in it.

Imagine if Norton’s publisher had decided her manuscript wasn’t based on enough ‘science.’

maryPortrait of Mary Norton. I bet she was wearing those earrings when the following exchange (never) took place

Scene: J Dent’s offices, London  1949/50

Publisher: Well, Mary, we’ve got some good news and some bad news.

Mary: Oh.

Publisher: The good news is we all adore your story. The characters, the adventures, the concept… it’s wonderful. The Clock family – Pod, Homily, Arrietty… well – they just took our breath away.

Mary (blushing) Thank you…

Publisher: Where did you get the idea from? Of tiny people?

Mary:  Well, I was quite short-sighted as a child and always squinting to see things properly. While my brothers were pointing out huge buzzards in the sky I’d be on my knees in the grass, trying to focus on the tiniest creatures. I think the idea came from that, wondering how small creatures might survive in a world of huge, nasty enemies such as buzzards and, well, humans.

Publisher: Fascinating, Mary,  fascinating. There’s just one, small – if you pardon the pun – problem.

Mary:   Oh?

Publisher: It couldn’t happen.

Mary: What do you mean?

Publisher: Well, my science editor says it’s all down to metabolic rates. The Clocks couldn’t possibly exist, you see. Their body mass…

Mary: Body mass?

Publisher: Yes, or something like that. To be honest I wasn’t sure what he meant – something about shrinking ratios and the whole notion of a Borrower’s existence being physically and biologically impossible. Anyway, long story short, we’ve decided not to publish.

Mary: Not to publish? But why?

Publisher: It’s just not realistic.

Mary: But you said you loved it…

Publisher: We do, we do, but we don’t want to deceive people. What if children were inspired by it and their imaginations ran wild? We don’t want that kind of thing in England, do we? Not so soon after a world war. What would their parents say? Or their teachers? Or future Ministers of Education?

Mary: But I wrote Bedknobs and Broomsticks and that proved very popular.

Publisher: What can I say? I’m sorry, Mary, but it’s a no. If you can come up with anything a bit more realistic, we’d be more than happy to consider it…

   End of Nightmare Scenario 

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Book List

As promised, here is a list of my titles still in print (although more titles are available as e-books). I hope any schools/libraries and collectors of the finest books for children known to mankind find it useful. See my Books Page for full details of each story:

Football Mad 4-in-1





Published by: Oxford University Press

Cover: Stephen May

Cost: £8.99

ISBN: 978-0-199-273585-0

This is a compendium of four books in one which includes ‘There’s Only One Danny Ogle.’ ‘Football Mad’ has some great reviews on Amazon and seems to appeal particularly to reluctant readers.

Here Come the Girls

9780007464913 (2)


Published by: Collins

Cost: £5.99

ISBN: 978 0 00 746491-3

Part of the ‘Read On’ series aimed at 11-13s but suitable for 7-11s, too, Here Come the Girls is a fully illustrated, non-fiction book about the history of women’s football.

Clubbing Together

untitled 2

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Cost: £8.99

ISBN: 9780192754301

First published in 2003 and then as a bind-up in 2005, I’m delighted that Sammie, Jolene, Alex and Brody are still ‘Clubbing Together’, over a decade later.


The Secret Garden (abridged from the original by Frances Hodgson Burnett)





Published by: Oxford University Press

Illustrated by: James de la Rue

Cost: £22.00 as part of a pack of 6 titles (although some sellers will provide individual copies)

ISBN: 978 0 199117581

Part of the Treetops Classics series (Stage 14 – Y5)


Stinky Street


Published by: Oxford University Press

Illustrated by: Mike Phillips

Cost: £6.95 or c. £22.00 part of pack of 6 titles in the series

ISBN: 978 0 19911355 2

Part of the Treetops More Stories B (Stage 11 Y3)



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In, out, shake it all about…

I’ve been going through a ‘funny phase’ as my old mum would say. One where I’m not sure what direction I want my career to take. At 60, I’m technically old enough to retire but writers never retire; the urge to write is too deep, too embedded. Besides, writing isn’t ageist – top writers can produce cracking books whatever age they are. Mary Wesley, for example, was 71 when her first book was published. Roald Dahl was still writing up to his untimely death in 1990, aged 74  and Diana Athill’s memoir, Alive, Alive Oh!  was published last year. She’s 99!  It works the other way round, too. The indefatigable Susan Price (below) was only 16 when her first children’s book, The Devil’s Piper, was published.

Although the last book I had published was in 2012 – Here Come the Girls (non-fiction), I’ve been writing as much as ever.

here come

Here Come the Girls (Collins)

One thing I’ve been doing is researching the lives of all the soldiers (and one nurse) from the Nottinghamshire village where I live, who died during World War 1 (1914-1918). This has been published in the village magazine and I’ve enjoyed the historical research aspect of it. I’ve discovered what an itinerant life many farm labourers led during the 1880s – 1920s.

Using parish registers and census returns, you can see from the various places their children were baptised how often they travelled to find work. It was a harsh, uncertain life and who knows, I might use that fact in a story one day.

BFF-flyer-helena (002)

Huddersfield Town Baby Football Fan

The other direction I’ve taken is with Baby Football Fan. The bespoke gift book for Huddersfield Town fans is in the club shops and available from the online website. I am now looking into taking the idea to Premier League clubs. However, this project means I am not only  the author but also the publisher and distributor, too – something I’ve never done before. I had an audit with the highly supportive Royal Literary Fund a few weeks ago and they thought the idea was great and gave me advice on how to proceed.  I’m meeting with a consultancy firm next week to seek advice from them, too.

I am also half way through writing a story for 8-11s but I kept getting stuck in the same place. I’ve put this to one side until I figure out why. It may be that I abandon the book and start something else or I go back and finish it and it goes on to win All The Prizes. Who knows?


What I’m not going to do is beat myself up about it. If I never have another book published, that’s fine. The world – yours and mine – will not stop because there aren’t any Helena Pielichaty books on the shelves. However, for those of you who are now wretched at that radical thought, my next blog will give a comprehensive list of which titles are still available, either as e-books or in that paper stuff. Back soon, pals.

bookends 2

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I went to Malaga for my holidays last year. Half way through my daughter sent me a text, asking what I’d been doing during the day. ‘And don’t tell me you visited a graveyard,’ she added.  Busted!  She knew me too well – I’d spent that morning wandering round the English Cemetery on the edge of the city. And a fascinating time I had, too.

iphone import 1553

Traditionally decorated graves in Malaga, Spain. They use cockle shells. And why not?




I love graveyards. I like walking between the rows of long dead (and not so long dead) people, reading their epitaphs and seeing the different shapes and designs of the headstones.

Here’s one in Nottinghamshire from someone killed in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

2005-08-11 18.34.28




William Bacon was a private in the 17th Lancers. He died, alongside his brother-in-law, George Broome. I like the fact that the headstone includes two verses from Tennyson’s epic poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. It must have cost a huge amount of money for the Bacon family to have engraved.


Two of my favourite children’s books are set in graveyards. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett. Gaiman’s story is much darker and more menacing than Pratchett’s but riveting none the less.  I highly recommend both for 9+.




The Graveyard Book




Johnny and the Dead




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I think the first time I heard about suffragettes was when I was nine and went to see Mary Poppins at a cinema in Leeds.  In the story (you all know the story, right? Based on PJ Travers’ book of the same name?) Mrs Banks, the children’s mother, was always gadding off to one Suffrage Union rally or another, trilling: ‘Votes for women!’ as she adjusted her big hat and kissed her two children goodbye. I seem to remember not really taking her very seriously. Mrs Banks’ character (played by Glynis Johns) was portrayed as scatter-brained and frivolous, her ’cause’ a hobby she indulged in, much to the annoyance of her exasperated husband and neglected offspring.








A still from the film ‘Mary Poppins’ with Mrs Banks (centre) heading off to another rally in her lovely hat and WSPU sash of wrong colours

Anyway, there’s a new film out which gives a more realistic version of the part played by women in Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Suffrage and Political Union Party. It’s not a young children’s film like Mary Poppins but it’s rated 12A, so perfect for showing in secondary schools.  It’s called Suffragette and stars Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff and Helena Bonham Carter.






A still from ‘Suffragette’. Maud (Carey Mulligan) is in the centre of the picture with Helena Bonham Carter on the right.

It’s a timely film, coming as it does almost a century after women in England were finally given the vote. Timely because it graphically illustrates the struggle these women endured and the unfair pay conditions they were agitating against during the early twentieth century.  Timely because we still have a long way to go to gain full equality for women, both in the workplace and the home. Look at Malala, shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for blogging about the right for girls to have an education as well as boys. This was in 2012, by the way, not 1912.

Less dramatically but equally as telling is what’s happening in toy shops, clothes shops and book shops in the UK these days. All this ‘pink’ stuff  for girls and ‘blue’ stuff for boys rubbish.  If this has passed you by, hundreds of examples of what I mean can be found on the Let Toys Be Toys website; a website that shouldn’t need to exist but I’m glad does. Check out the covers of the colouring books (below). Tiny illustrations with hearts for girls (because only girls can love?) and swords for boys (because only boys are soldiers?).  Are you kidding me? I thought we’d moved on from all that? This kind of indoctrination is so harmful, for both boys and girls. We need to live together, sharing the world and facing all aspects of it equally. Boys should be able to play with dolls without being called sissy and girls can climb trees and fight without being called ‘tomboy.’ End of.








See, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about! Stop it, publishers. Stop it right now! 

The ‘There’s a book for that’ Bit

Two books on suffragettes I can highly recommend are Polly’s March by Linda Newbery and Sally Heathcote Suffragette by Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot.

Now, if anyone can make history come alive for younger readers, it’s Linda Newbery* and Polly’s March, part of the wonderful Usborne Books Historical House series, does that superbly. In the story, twelve-year-old Polly is curious about the new tenants in the top flat at 6, Chelsea Walk. When it turns out they are campaigning for rights for women, she wants to help them but this brings her into direct conflict with her stern father.




Read an interview with Linda Newbery about Polly’s March here. 



Suitable for Y5 and above


Graphic novelist Mary Talbot has outdone herself in Sally Heathcote Suffragette.

sally heathcote






This graphic novel is brilliant for KS3 and anyone who wants a potted history of the movement in comic strip format. The story follows Sally Heathcote, a maid to Emmeline Pankhurst, who sees the fight for women’s votes from all aspects. There’s a useful chronology of the real events the story is based on at the back of the book, too. Here’s a great review of Sally Heathcote from Page 45, the brilliant indie bookshop in Nottingham I go to a lot.

*For other great writers of historical fiction for children see also Adele Geras, Celia Rees, Catherine Johnson, Penny Dolan, Mary Hoffman, Ann Turnbull and many more – all who can be found on the excellent History Girls blog.

PS: While there are plenty of books about girls doing ‘boys’ things (check out my Girls FC series for a start) but I’d like to see a book about boys who are feminists/do ‘girls’ things and are not mocked or called ‘gay’ for it. Any suggestions?


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Baby Football Fan

I am proud to announce the newest addition to the Helena Pielichaty backlist is now available in the shops. Well, ‘shop’ to be precise – it’s a niche product, this one. This shop is no ordinary shop; you won’t find it on every high street in England. To visit this shop you have to visit the fine town of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. I recommend you arrive by train because then you get to see the magnificent railway station built in 1847 by James Pigott Pritchett and you don’t want to miss that. As you step out into the grand St George’s Square (you don’t want to miss that, either) you can say hello to the statue of Huddersfield born and bred Harold Wilson. Harold (Lord Wilson of Rievaulx to give him his Sunday name) was  Prime Minister from 1964 – 1970 and again from 1974 to 1976. Other famous Huddersfield folk (statues pending) include Sir Patrick Stewart and poet Simon Armitage.

Having patted Lord Wilson, look straight ahead of you. In the distance you will see the soaring white arches of the John Smith’s Stadium, home of the mighty Huddersfield Town. Head straight for those arches. Now, when you arrive on Stadium Way you have a few choices. You could drop in to  Costa or visit the cinema but I’d advise you go straight to the Stadium Megastore. Here you will find merchandise galore in the soothing blue and white colours of Huddersfield Town. Shirts, hoodies, scarves, teddy bears, tea, duvet covers, car mats, stickers, pens – you name it, the store stocks it. I guess it’s like all the other football clubs’ stores, only way better, of course.

Besides, what the Town Megastore has that the other stores don’t have is THIS:

BFF-flyer-helena (002)






Design© Mandy Stanley illustrator


How gorgeous is this?Baby Football Fan™ came out of an idea I had when visiting Huddersfield Town’s Megastore ahead of a match a couple of years ago. While there was a lot of merchandise for babies in general, there was nothing in book form. When my two babies were born I’d enjoyed filling in a scrapbook containing details such as how much they weighed, their first words and all those other milestones parents get gooey about. So I thought, what if I took that idea and gave it a twist, by tailoring the book for Huddersfield Town, the club I support? Not only would the book include baby’s details but also the details of what was happening at the club the year the baby was born. Genius!

I took the idea to Sean Jarvis, the commercial director at the club and he was as enthusiastic as I was about the idea. He gave me permission to use the club’s crest and branding, something I needed to make the book instantly recognisable to the fans. This was a massive bonus – without permission the book could not have gone ahead as it wouldn’t have had the strong identity it needed.  Sean’s support throughout the project has been brilliant and I can’t thank him and Luke Cowan, the retail manager, enough.


Sean Jarvis, Commercial Director at HTAFC (left) and Luke Cowan,Retail Manager, with their world exclusive editions


I then chatted about the idea to my friend, Hilary Robinson. Not only is Hilary a children’s writer (you might have seen her ‘Mixed Up Fairy Tales’ illustrated by Nick Sharratt), she also runs a small publishing firm called Strauss House Productions. She gave me lots of sound advice and even offered to publish the book. On top of that, she put me in touch with Mandy Stanley, an award winning illustrator, who agreed to do all the artwork. Hilary also found a cracking printing firm in Sheffield – Northend Print Solutions – and voila – we were good to go.

A few months down the line and here we are. Huddersfield Town Baby Football Fan is now on sale in Huddersfield Town’s two Megastores. All I need now is for Huddersfield Town fans to have lots of babies and buy the book. It’s £20, so it’s not cheap, but it is a quality product, it won’t date and it’s something parents will keep forever.

books right way up







The book on the shelves alongside all the other baby products. It’s currently right by the entrance to the John Smith’s Stadium store. Get in!

I am hoping other clubs will want their own edition of the Baby Football Fan™ brand. How splendid would it be to have one in every major club’s colours? I mean, it would be rude to keep such tremendous idea to myself, wouldn’t it? Spread the word, people. Spread. The. Word.

Huddersfield Town Baby Football Fan™ ‘My First Year’ is available exclusively through the HTAFC Megastores and online here.

Any major clubs wishing to find out more about having their own editions of Baby Football Fan™ contact me by e-mail on: info@helenapielichaty.com








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I visited Lincoln with my husband and son yesterday. The intention was to use the second half of tickets for entry to Lincoln Castle my husband and I had bought on a previous visit and go to see the Magna Carta (photo image from the Lincolnshire Echo).magna When we reached the historic Newport area of the city there was an unusual amount of traffic queuing to get to the car parks – unusual even for a Bank Holiday.  There were also a lot of – how can I put this without sounding rude? – a lot of strange-looking people milling around. Men in dark clothes with actual jackdaws on their shoulders and bonkers apparatus on their heads.  And goggles. There were a lot of goggles going on. Women were dressed in equally flamboyant costumes, a kind of Victorian with a gothic twist. ‘Steampunk,’ my son said knowingly.


‘Steampunk. It must be a rally or something.’

I knew vaguely what steampunk was, but knowing and seeing are two different things. My husband on the other hand, had never heard of it. If you haven’t either, there’s a definition here. And yes, Joe was spot – on; it was a steampunk rally we’d landed in; Lincoln is famous for hosting them and this year’s Asylum Steampunk was its seventh.

Fearlessly, we plunged forth and I whipped out my iPhone, cursing myself for not bringing my proper camera. But hey, how was I to know when I set off that I was about to have the most exciting, informative and fun Bank Holiday in years?

At first I hesitated taking photographs; sneaking up furtively so the steampunks didn’t notice but after about two minutes I realised steampunks ADORE having their photographs taken. It’s a mark of respect for all the hardwork they’ve put into their costumes. They are parading their creativity and the more photographs people take the more of an accolade it is to all their ingenious designs. And what designs they were!  Every art, design and technology and English teacher in the land should take their GCSE and A level students to a steampunk rally. Pupils would return to school buzzing. BUZZING I tell you.





The closer to the castle we got, the more obvious it was that the first steampunks we’d seen hadn’t even been trying. Shoving a jackdaw on your shoulder was nothing compared to some of the gear on display. This was pure theatre and we loved every minute of it (well, I did. I’m not sure my husband was as impressed as I stopped to admire, snap and chat to yet another group of steampunks en route to the castle).





How to take afternoon tea, steampunk style. The lady (it feels more appropriate to say ‘lady’ instead of  ‘woman’) told me she had bought all the material for her outfit from e-Bay. The sewing machine is a ‘must’ in steampunk households.

Below – if you’re going to have a bustle, have a bustle.


stripy dress




Another lady in another fabulous creation. Note the boxy shoulder bag – there were a lot of these. Explorers?




I loved this couple from the Birmingham area (below). The effort they’d gone to!  The contraption the ‘gentleman’ (again, ‘bloke’ seems wrong) is carrying is a steampunk version of a Nerf gun . It had been made from plastic tubing, bits of copper piping and, to crown it off, a brass vase just like one my grandma used to have.  Genius!

dog coupleattention to detail








And yep, that’s a real chichuaha. Accessories are all.







The overall inventiveness of steampunk attire was beyond impressive. As well as early aviator-type goggles and boxy leather shoulder bags, brass cogs from clocks and  octopuses appear to be recurring themes in their couture. octopus hat









Afterwards I ‘Tweeted’ some photos of the event and one of my followers said the images were like something out of Philip Reeve’s ‘Mortal Engines’ series.

She wasn’t far out. Steampunk is a subclass of sci-fi although it began in graphic novels rather than straightforward fiction like the Mortal Engines series. A forum here on ‘Brass Goggles’ gives a comprehensive list of steampunk titles (beware some might not be suitable for children). A quick search comes up with hundreds of cover images of which ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ by Brain Selznick is probably the best known children’s book although Reeve’s Mortal Engines must be a close second.




The Invention of Hugo Cabret published 2007 (also a film ‘Hugo’)

For more titles try ‘The Hub’, a great USA book website. Its recommendations for YA steampunk authors and books here.


We did finally manage to see the Magna Carta, too. As an object it couldn’t compare to all the razzamatazz going on out in the courtyard. Displayed in a glass case in a dimly-lit room, the 800-year old document written on a bit of parchment seemed poor pickings by comparison. But oh, the story behind the Magna Carta, and the significance it had for British history, cannot be underestimated. As I peered at it on one side, a steampunk in her tight corsets and black feathers peered from the other. We both gazed in wonder.




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Good luck, Lionesses

How brilliant is it that the England Women’s football team (ranked 6th) has reached the semi-final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada! They play Japan just after midnight (BST). I have to admit I wasn’t hopeful that they’d survive the group stage after their opening match against France but they’ve battled through and proved me wrong. I think manager Mark Sampson has made some wise changes to the squad, mixing experience (Karen Carney, Casey Stoney) with exciting new players such as Fran Kirby. If England do beat Japan – a team ranked 4th in the world and not to be underestimated (watch out for the legendary Sawa) – they’ll meet the formidable USA in the Final. USA knocked out Germany, favourites to win the cup, in the early hours of this morning.






It’s such a shame my Girls FC series is out of print. The series can still be bought as an e-book but there are only a few titles in paperback left before they run out. Book 12 (below),  where Megan and her team go to the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster to watch England play USA, would have been perfect reading.

here we









Jordan & Helena

Here We Go

The good news is my non-fiction title, Here Come the Girls, held here by England midfielder Jordan Nobbs, is still available from Collins. Perfect for the surge in interest the women’s game will have among young girls, thanks to the Lionesses’ success. Go girls!




Update: Japan went through to the final after a cruel twist of fate. After looking certain to go to extra time (1-1 on 90 mins) poor Laura Bassett, trying to defend what looked certain to be a shot on target, scored an own goal, sending us out of the cup. Japan now meet USA on Sunday and England play Germany for 3rd or 4th place. That’s third or fourth place in THE WORLD people. Hurray for England – you did us proud.


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National Civil War Centre, Newark-upon-Trent

Newark in Nottinghamshire is a market town on the River Trent, steeped in history. King John died in the castle there in 1216 and William Gladstone, prime minister four times during Queen Victoria’s reign, was its MP in 1832. However, it’s Newark’s role in the Civil War  that made the greatest impact on the town and on May 4th the National Civil War Centre opened in the old Magnus School building. To celebrate, the Sealed Knot combined with the English Civil War Society and put on a tremendous re-enactment of the three sieges in which Newark was involved.













Pikemen carrying out a drill in Newark marketplace. The ash pikes were sixteen foot long with two foot steel tips at the end. They were designed to penetrate the breastbones of oncoming horses.

gun shotcastle wall










Newark Castle (above) – or what bits are left of it. The walls still bear the impact marks of cannon balls and musket shots fired across the Trent. Left – The Prince Rupert pub on Stodman Street being heavily guarded.


I visited the new National Civil War Centre yesterday and loved it. I am a museum nut anyway – show me the battered shoe of an Irish peasant or a cracked Edwardian chamber pot and I’m agog.  The National Civil War Centre is an example of what a modern museum should be like. Its displays are cleverly designed to give maximum impact. In the starkly whitewashed Tudor room, for example, there is one simple exhibit – the uniform of Royalist soldier, John Hussey, killed in the Battle of Gainsborough in 1643. The single glass cabinet placed at the far end of the hall draws you in; here is a story, told in a pair of oversized boots and a bullet hole in the breastplate.

Next door, the Long Gallery comes at you from all sides. There are swords and cannonballs, muskets and masonry. My favourite items were amputation saws and musket ball removers – gruesome but beautifully made.  This is going to sound weird but I even liked the method the curators had used to number their exhibits. Small, Perspex cubes with the number engraved on the face. This was another example of attention to detail, simple but effective.

As well as the exhibits there are several interactive screens and a small cinema showing short films, dramatized by professional actors, albeit in rather dreadful wigs. One interactive game allowed you to take aim at the Parliamentary forces across the river. I had two shots, both rubbish. ‘You are wasting good ammunition’ was my rather dismal feedback.

In an alcove there’s an ace dressing-up area for kids and *ahem* adults. Warning: the replica helmets are heavier than you’d expect.  There’s also a fab app you can download for free here.

Other rooms in the centre move away from the Civil War theme. These concentrate on Celtic and Roman finds (Newark is on the Foss Way – taking.

There are two further floors of gallery space, reserved for art exhibitions.







The Celtic torq found in Newark

So a huge thumbs-up to the National Civil War Centre in Newark. It’s well worth a visit and I hope it is hugely successful and brings people to the town. The Centre is open seven days a week. Entry is £7 for adults/ £3 for children.

One small quibble is that I hope they expand their gift shop in the future, especially if they want to attract sales during school visits. There were no books for children, for example, not even a Horrible Histories.  Maybe I should write one?







exhibition case

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Captain Precious – the final instalment


Last Monday (April 29th) I visited St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Harwich. I worked with a group of 12 pupils in perfect isolation in their cosy library at the back of the school.

 In the morning we drew desert islands and then I told them the true story of the SS Berlin, a steam ship which sank off the coast of Harwich in 1907. The captain, who died in the disaster, was called Captain Precious.

In the afternoon, the group began some creative writing based on Captain Precious’s 20 year-old son, who, it was reported, responded to his father’s death as follows: ‘…overcome by emotion, young Precious put his handkerchief to his eyes and without making any comment, walked quietly away.’ (Sourced from the Harwich and Dovercourt – a time gone by website).

 Each pupil, plus Mrs Healy, the deputy head, wrote a paragraph describing a scene from their desert island. As usual with these things, there wasn’t enough time to work on the pieces, so since returning home, I have assembled St Joseph’s drafts into a story, keeping as much to the pupils’ original drafts as possible while bearing in mind the writing would have been more polished if my time-management skills were better!






You can read the first instalment here and track back.


I now felt strong enough to venture further but decided to stay close to the sea, in case a passing ship should appear on the horizon. I did not look at the remains of the wrecks as I headed north. They were too stark a reminder of how I had landed here. Instead, I followed the winding curve of the bay until I found a long stretch of beach where the waves lapped instead of crashed and the birds circling above my head sang instead of screeched.

For the first time, I felt at peace.

There were several rock pools dotted among the sand. The water in them was clear and I filled my belly with the limpets and cockles that clung to them. I had eaten seafood like this back in Harwich, sold by vendors from market stalls near the docks. Never, though, had I tasted them so fresh and meaty. I would not starve on this island, that was for sure.


After a while I happened upon a wooden jetty but alas, I find my arm is aching from so much writing. I will pass my pen on to my good friend Luke, who will take the story from here…

As I came closer, I saw the jetty was more like a dock. Moored to it was an old boat, painted black with what appeared to be wings at its sides. It reminded me of a bat. I hopped in and started to row. I had been travelling for about an hour when I came to another, smaller island.

The island was enchanted. The volcano lava here was made of custard. The houses were made of gingerbread. Goodness, I thought. What would my mother think if she could see me now? I decided this would be my new home…





 After a supper of lava custard and a gingerbread windowsill, I decided to rest. I found a hammock tied between two giant sugar canes and nodded off. When I awoke the sun was setting and the cool air made me shiver. I decided I needed somewhere more solid than gingerbread walls to protect me during the night so when I spotted a cave set back from the rest of the dwellings, I headed for that. This proved to be a disastrous move, as Phoebe and Siona will now explain…

Inside, the cave was warm and dry but rather dark. I turned, planning to go fetch driftwood to make a fire but there, in the mouth of the cave, was a dragon, his scales glistening in the last of the sunlight. I was an intruder and he clearly didn’t like it.

My eyes darted all round but I was trapped – the dragon was blocking the exit. The only way to run was deeper into the cave. As I sprinted into the darkness, I wondered if my father had ever been this scared. If only I had some kind of light – a candle, even, I thought, as I stumbled and fell again and again. drag

The dragon was still following me. I could hear it as I ran as fast as my feet could carry me.  Finally, near exhaustion, I fell again but instead of hitting the ground face-first, I carried on falling. Splash! Now I was wet but I could at least see.

I was in a pool of blue, glowing liquid that was the consistency of thin gruel[1]. There was a bridge at the opposite end of the pool. I swam towards it and heaved myself up but as I started to cross, it broke and I fell back into the pool. Struggling to stay afloat, I saw a creature that looked like half-shark, half-unicorn, swimming towards me, its massive jaws open. I swam faster and faster, looking for a way out but the consistency of the pool’s liquid made it so difficult. Then, just as I had given up all hope, I saw a range of rocks by the pool’s edge.

Exhausted, I climbed up them and was sitting, dripping wet, on the poolside. I was safe. My good friend Leo will tell you how I lay there thinking about the series of events that had happened. I thought about the past and how my father had died aboard the SS Berlin. I could not die, too, for my mother’s sake, yet these islands were full of the strangest creatures, whichever direction I took. As the sun set and day turned into night, I knew I had to plan my escape from these islands. I could not stay here. I did not belong.



The next morning I walked for miles, trying to find the jetty with the bat-like boat but it was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I turned inland, thinking I could climb one of the hills or volcanoes and watch for ships.

It did not take me long. These islands were full of volcanoes as Leo explains:

‘I now came face-to-face with another huge volcano. I could feel the temperature rise every time I took a step closer to the boiling hot summit but I knew there was no other way round and I needed to get to the top. I was full of determination. Nothing would stop me. Or so I thought.

Madeline continues:

It was when I reached the top I realised the heat wasn’t coming from a volcano; it was quite icy up here. The heat was coming from a dragon. It was twice as big as the one in the cave and I was facing it! I was facing a gigantic, ruby-red fire-breathing dragon!  I turned to flee but the dragon followed me. I ran and ran until I heard something crack. Ice split and the volcanic mountain suddenly collapsed. I tumbled and fell for what seemed like miles until I landed on firm ground. I looked around me, dazed.

You will never believe what I saw. Mountains of glinting gold, piles of amazing jewellery, sparkling crystals and jewels and diamond encrusted tiaras and crowns.


My heart did not leap at the sight of it. I had no use of such riches here. It was not gold I yearned for but home. The only item I took was a sheepskin, to keep me warm. I put it round my shoulders and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by a mist…’

Niall tells you what happened next:

‘As the mist cleared, it made a magical opening, like when the curtains open at a theatre show. My stomach was full of butterflies. I was no longer inside the volcano but back at the broken bridge. Next to me, there was a rotting wooden sign I hadn’t noticed last time. ‘No Man’s Land’ it read.’


Unfortunately  that’s as far as we got in our creative writing story at St Joseph’s. I think, for a first draft, it’s super, with all the classic elements of a quest. I could finish the story on St Joseph’s behalf but I feel the writers at St Joseph’s are best placed to tell John Precious what happened and how he finally returned home to Harwich, don’t you?Watch this space!



[1] Phoebe used ‘milkshake’ I’ve taken the liberty of changing it to gruel to fit better with the period. Hope you don’t mind, Phoebe!

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