I saw the first swallows gathering on the telephone wire, waiting in the airport for their flight home, many of them born in our garage as usual. I used to feel sad to see them go. I’m less so now. More than ever in my life I live happily in harmony and in rhythm with the seasons. I think it’s because I have stayed at home for almost 18 months, seen the seasons come and go, on my walks, through the window. I have had time to stand and stare. I live much more in the present, much more connected to the countryside and nature. I’m living in it, part of it not merely an observer.
The swallows will be back. All is well. All will be well.
The city children, who come with their schools to Nethercott Farm with the charity my wife Clare began nearly 50 years ago, are back, after 18 months. We see them again out in the field with the sheep, chasing leaves, stamping in puddles, hear their laughter again on the wind. Like the swallows they came back. So good to have them.
Next year will see the publication of 10 farm stories, (HarperCollins) every one of them about a child who has spent a week out in countryside, a week a world away, at either Nethercott or Treginnis or Wick, stories often inspired by true happenings on the farms. There’s one already published brilliantly illustrated by Sam Usher. The Birthday Duck. Have a read.
But this autumn has brought new life to schools and families and the world of books. The bookshops are open, libraries are open, schools are open. And during the shut down time, such a difficult time for so many, I have been beavering away at my writing. It kept me busy which kept me from being too sad.
I hope you may have seen my first book that was made during those sad times, because of those sad times. Song of Gladness (Macmillan). A blackbird singing to me gave me the idea to write that. Then I met a fish, a flying fish on the island of Ithaca, in Greece, the first I’d ever seen, and I had to write a story in the voice of a flying fish, because that fish spoke. No I mean it, that fish spoke. If you don’t believe me, read the story – When Fishes Flew (Harper Collins) – which has just come out. There are amazing drawings in the book by George Butler. You have to see them.
I think I was in the groove somehow of writing with the voice of a fellow creature, of seeing the world not through my eyes, but theirs. I could do it. I’d just been a fish-writer, and I’d been a horse-writer a long time ago when I wrote War Horse. I rather liked not using my own voice. So I went and wrote over 30 poems and with my old friend and phenomenal illustrator Michael Foreman, we made a lovely book of poems together, called Carnival of Animals (HarperCollins) – out in November. We thought we would weave some of the poems into a new version of Carnival of the Animals by the composer, Saint-Saens which we recorded with Decca, then performed at the BBC Proms. I was a Tortoise one moment and a Lion next in front of 5000 people. Scary if you’re just me, but if you’re a Lion or a Tortoise, no problem!
And then my friends at my publishers, Harper Collins, thought they would like to celebrate 25 years of one of my favourite books, Butterfly Lion. So they are bringing out a glorious full colour edition in November. And the wonderful thing is that the two people who made the original book, my editor Ann-Janine Murtagh, and Christian Birmingham have got together to make this new anniversary edition, and it Is so beautiful. One of those books you treasure, have to pick up, to stroke, to look at and read again and again.
Oh yes, and don’t forget to have a look at the paperback of The Puffin Keeper, (Puffin Books) with amazing illustrations by Benji Davies, set on the Scilly Isles, in a lighthouse, a book full of puffins and paintings, of a shipwreck, and more puffins!
And you must come along to our concerts if we do one near you, a Christmas one in Canterbury Cathedral on December 4, of On Angel Wings, and very soon three concerts of Carnival of Animals, in Henley, in Ely Cathedral, in Oxford at the Sheldonian. A tapestry of music and poems.
You keep reading and I’ll keep writing.
All the best,