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THE ROOTS OF THE LOW ROAD

May 18, 2022

KATHARINE QUARMBY

This story caught my attention seven years ago, when I was visiting my parents in the Waveney Valley, which runs between the border of the East Anglian counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It is a beloved watery landscape for me, with long views over the gentle water meadows. But as I was to find in 2015, it conceals historic secrets, including local superstitions, the witch-hunts that started in Manningtree – and this story. 

In 1858 the writer, Charles Mackie, published the first of two volumes of his Norfolk Annals: A Chronological Record of Remarkable Events in the Nineteeth Century. Mackie noted down unusual or extraordinary events on a monthly basis, providing an immersive and intimate account of history in Norfolk. 

His entry for April 17, 1813,  read: 

“17.—Mary Turrell, apprehended on suspicion of being the mother of a newly-born child, whose dead body was found in Vipond’s pond at Harleston, committed suicide by poisoning.  The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of felo de se, “and on the same evening about seven o’clock she was buried in the high road with a stake driven through her body in the presence of a vast concourse of people.”

Over 200 years later I read a reference to this sad occasion in a book of local walks in the town I grew up in from the age of seven. Harleston, which nestles in the Waveney Valley between Norfolk and Suffolk, is a cheerful market town. My dad was the local headteacher; my mum a primary school teacher. 

I think it was the Easter or Christmas of 2015 and I was looking for a family walk we could all go on. I came across the story of Mary Turrell above. I researched further, on hidden stories of Norfolk. I realised that Mary Turrell was buried on the parish boundary, between Harleston and Redenhall at a place known as Lush Bush. Before that, she had been subjected to a trial at the local pub, – after death – and found guilty and convicted of infanticide. She was sentenced to an archaic punishment called felo-de se. In the Churchwarden’s Accounts by Charles Candler, published in 1896, I found more details, which he had obtained from an old man who had witnessed the burial when he was a very young boy.

“Creeping between the legs of the men who stood close round the grave, he saw in the gloom of the evening the parish constable fix the stake in position, while another drove it home with a heavy beetle, Mr. Oldershaw sitting his horse in silent charge of the proceedings”.

A daughter survived, known only as A.T. She was sent to a refuge in London some years later. I traced her to the Hackney Refuge for the Destitute and found that her name was Ann. And this is how my work began, for once I had read what had happened to Ann’s mother, I knew that I had to find out how Ann had coped with the childhood trauma she had experienced. What happened after, including Ann (Hannah in The Low Road) meeting another girl at the orphanage and falling in love with her. 

I started researching this book in early 2016 and it must have been that year and the beginning of the next that I brought some extracts to the group and was encouraged by the feedback. Then life intervened as it does, and we as a family went through some hard times, with bereavement and illness. I can remember Judy turning up on her bike, smiling, with tasty food she had cooked, after one of the deaths we went through that year. The swims we had after that meant a lot to me, as did her friendship. 

The book went on pause for over a year, as I went back to work full time and then, over a year after it was planned, I travelled to New South Wales and Tasmania, to trace the lives of the girls who had later been transported. Thanks to both Marion and Nikki for ideas about who to talk to and where to visit. 

 Thank you to all of you for supporting me to tell the story of these ordinary women, caught up in extraordinary circumstances, defying the few life choices they were allowed. Not long before Judy died, she was keen to read the latest version and so she gave some feedback, and we talked about her own writing and how she hoped to return to it. 

In many ways this book was written at a time when I was experiencing the depths of grief and love, and perhaps The Low Road’s themes, about holding in in hard times and holding each other up emerged from those days. They were never without fellowship, even on the worst days, and so it seems apt that Judy’s name will join that of others in the writing group as a supporter of The Low Road. She was there for so many steps along the way, after all. 

If you want to know more about the book, there’s info on this link, and please consider supporting it, which is a form of pre-ordering the book: 

https://unbound.com/books/the-low-road

In Memory of Judy Cumberbatch

March 24, 2022

In her forties, Judy joined a children’s writing course, in a scruffy classroom in the Hornsey Road. There she met some like-minded people, some of whom became forever-friends. With them, she helped found the critique group Islington Writers for Children which is still going strong, 27 years on. For the rest of her life it was her passion to write for kids, and also to give supportive, insightful feedback to other writers.

She published two children’s books. “I can see the sea” is a picture book based on her childhood in Ghana, published by Bloomsbury. And “Sandstorm” published by CUP is a mysterious time-shift story about two girls, set in Egypt. Most recently she worked on a novel set in war-torn Syria, the ending for which she was thinking about just two weeks before she died. Judy’s writing was beautiful and powerful. She had a wonderful talent for conjuring a moment in time and place, transporting you right there with the mention of an exotic smell or a glimpse of someone’s veined hands pouring tea. But it is as a strong, caring presence, always interested in and ready to act on behalf of others that she will be best remembered by her Islington writer-group friends.

Marion Rose

These are beautiful words by Marion about our good friend and fellow-writer Judy. Judy’s book ‘Can you hear the Sea?’ Is a delightful and colourful tale and was a firm favourite of our granddaughter. I was pleased to see it displayed in a Science display in a local primary school.
I remember being able to “see” the colourful inside of a Syrian house simply by listening to Judy’s most recent story set in war-torn Syria.
Like Marion, I also remember Judy for her care for and interest in others.. We shall all miss her.

Odette Elliott

I only knew Judy for a short time before she fell ill but I always admired her writing. It was beautifully written and very powerful. Our group will miss her.

Sunita Nahar

I met Judy around the time my first son was born about thirty years ago. Elizabeth Hawkins was amalgamating her two workshop groups at Montem School and she was in the rival group. In a few short years, a number of us, including Judy, had set up our own group, Islington Writers for Children. Over the years, people came and went but Judy was always a constant, offering helpful feedback and support, and sharing her beautiful writing with us.
In the early days, we would often visit each other for one-to-one critique sessions and later she would regularly host the group meetings. I chatted to her recently on Facebook so it seems all the more unreal that she is no longer with us.
Rest in peace, Judy, you won’t be forgotten.

John O’Leary


I joined the Islington Writers for Children Group in 2007 so I was lucky enough to know Judy for many years and we frequently met in each other’s houses. I admired her talent hugely and her comments on my own work were always spot on. I learnt so much from her, as well as being captivated by her own fictional contributions. I’m devastated that I shall never know how her wonderful Syrian story turned out – and that wasn’t the only story where she left us desperate for more. I shall miss her.

Rachel Summerson (Elizabeth Hawksley)


When critiquing someone else’s writing Judy knew instinctively what to say. She knew that there is a fine line between ‘telling it as it is’ and offering the right words that encourage the writer to keep on writing. When Judy spoke it was heart-felt and honest … but she was always kind. Her words inspired me, and they were much appreciated. She was a lovely lady and she will be sorely missed.

Megg Nicol


I feel so sad that Judy died in March. I am sorry that she will not be finishing the wonderful story of the two boys which she was writing and bringing to the group for feedback when she first became ill. I had hoped that she would eventually be well enough to participate in the group again.

My memories of Judy include how welcoming she was when I first joined the group, her own captivating writing, and her thoughtful feedback for others on their drafts, and general encouragement of our writing.

Clare Tovey



In Praise of Libraries

January 5, 2022

ODETTE ELLIOTT

A Very Happy New Year to everyone reading this! Before we all take our Christmas decorations down, I’d like to bring your attention one more time to a cartoon by editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers that really struck a chord with me. It sings the praise of libraries!

When a child, or an adult enters a library, they can see such a variety of books and so many will open a “new world” to the reader. As it so happens, a great review of my latest book by  Lynda Waterhouse in “An Awfully Big Blog Adventure” “The ramblings of a few Scattered Authors” on 12th December 2021, ends with the words: “This book is an essential for every primary school library and would make a lovely Christmas present. It provides a refreshing counterbalance to the high volume of middle grade fantasy that is currently around.” She was reviewing my  book Abigay’s Farm.

Christmas may be over, but I suggest that books make great presents at any time of the year!

Lynda’s review can be read in full here:
http://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com/2021/12/abigays-farm-by-odette-elliot.html

Book Review: Abigay’s Farm

November 15, 2021

STEPHANIE WARD

It’s been too long since book launches were live and in person, so it was with great pleasure that I was able to attend the launch of Abigay’s Farm — a charming new middle grade novel by Odette Elliott.

Title: Abigay’s Farm | Author: Odette Elliott | Genre: Middle Grade (Fiction) | Publisher: Silverwood Books | Release date: October 27, 2021

Book Description:

For the first time ever, Abigay arrives at her grandparents’ farm, Willowfield, without her twin brother Gabriel. She misses him a lot. To make matters worse, she learns that the farm is in serious financial trouble and Grandpa is losing hope.

In desperation, Abigay comes up with a bold plan. Grandpa is not impressed. Will the mysterious discovery in the barn make a difference? Is Christopher King’s threat real? Will the plan be enough to save Willowfield and their hopes for the future?

This multigenerational story is written by the author of the ground-breaking ‘Sammy’ books about a mixed-race family. It is based on her own family experience of diversity and family-run farms.

My Thoughts: In the idyllic setting of Willowfield Farm, a young girl must find a way to save the financially ailing family farm while her twin brother undergoes yet another surgery. How can Abigay convince her grandfather to listen to her ideas and stop the neighborhood bully from interfering? It will take courage, creativity and the help of new friends to save her beloved Willowfield Farm.

Abigay’s Farm is a modern classic — a delightful family tale with a diverse cast of characters, contemporary problems and an action-packed, pacy read. I especially love the multi-generational aspect of this novel where the grandparent-grandchild relationship takes center stage. In addition, the twin bond between brother and sister is masterfully presented — touching, tumultuous and humorous all at once.

In the midst of high fantasy and magical mystery books galore, young readers will enjoy this realistic story with its contemporary drama and relatable personalities set in charming rural surroundings. A great read — highly recommended!


Buy The Book:
Amazon
Silverwood BooksAuthor Website
Add to Goodreads


About the Author:

Odette Elliott has been writing stories ever since she was ten years old. When her youngest child started school, her grandmother asked “So when are you going to send off all your stories and write some more?” This was the push that she needed.

Her dream came true when her picture book Under Sammy’s Bed was published, followed by Sammy Goes Flying. Two other “Sammy” books followed. Sammy’s Christmas Workshop (1992), is still being borrowed in libraries. My Big Brother JJ was published in 2009.

Odette’s stories are family-based, portraying diverse families that reflect her own family. The “Sammy” books are based on her youngest child who always pretended he could keep up with his older brother and sisters. Abigay’s Farm was inspired by cousins who ran an Open Farm in rural Herefordshire for twenty-five years.

Odette enjoys writing, reading, walking in the Scottish Highlands, gardening and being a grandmother.

For more information about Odette Elliott and her latest book, Abigay’s Farm, visit the author’s website and blog at http://www.odetteelliott.co.uk.

Odette’s book launch at Belsize Community Library

This review first appeared in https://stephaniemward.com/

It’s an honor…

September 9, 2021
STEPHANIE WARD

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

In the midst of lockdown, I made a goal to focus on writing poems for children. Poetry has always been something that I enjoyed, but I usually opt for drafting a new picture book or revising a longer manuscript over writing a poem. 

To kickstart my plan, I signed up for an online poetry workshop and in a short two-day course was immersed a whole new world of words. I was inspired to think about poetry differently. To play with different formats. To stop feeling like I don’t get it and just do it. 

So, when the Southport Writers’ Circle announced their annual poetry competition earlier this year, I entered a funny little poem about an ogre and a witch that fall in love on Halloween. A few months later, I was thrilled to learn that A Halloween Love Story won the Catherine Fenerty Humour Prize. And I was further inspired by the lovely words from judge Ali Harwood…

We are encouraged to gallop through this amusing poem with its lively and consistent rhythm and rhyming couplets. It made me smile throughout. As we in the real world clamber our way somewhat clumsily and inconsistently out of lockdown, it’s refreshing to read a love story about two lost souls who, after many blunders and misfires, somehow find each other in their own fairytale chaos.

CHIEF JUDGE’S REPORT – ALI HARWOOD

The winning poems can be read on the competition results page.

It doesn’t feel strange anymore to take time to jot down a poem, a line or just an idea to play with later. I love having another way to communicate without the constraints of other formats. I’ve only scratched the surface of the vast craft of poetry, but I’m hooked. 

Some of my favorite poetry contests for writers of children’s poems include:

I’d love to expand this list, so please do let me know about other competitions for poems for children.

Cheers to a year (and many more ahead, hopefully) of writing poetry!

Rita’s Rabbit

August 17, 2021

LAURA MUCHA

RITA’S RABBIT by Laura Mucha & Hannah Peck

This is a delightful picture book about a little girl who is so very sure she wants a fluffy pet rabbit and NOT a scaly, scratchy bearded dragon called Spike . . . But when a fussy, grouchy, messy rabbit comes to stay, she discovers they aren’t necessarily as adorable as they seem. Spike saves the day and Rita is very glad to be rid of the rabbit and very in love with her speckled, scrawny, spiky pet.

A very funny text wonderfully complemented by Hannah Peck’s witty artwork.

“A wry tale of being careful what you wish for” – The Bookseller

“An excellent picturebook in so many ways. It gently explores themes such as being careful what you wish for and not judging by appearances, well worth further exploration. The writing is of the highest quality, as you would expect from such a well-respected and talented poet, and it reads aloud beautifully. I love the alliteration which is used to great effect to describe the two pets. Hannah Peck’s illustrations capture Rita’s changing emotions with subtlety and provide a rich context to discuss her feelings. This is a perfect story for Early Years and Infant classrooms.” Just Imagine

“Sure to make you giggle and full of heart and charm, we think little ones will love joining Rita’s story (and discovering that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side!). [An] adorably funny tale of being careful what you wish for.” BookTrust 

“I think many of us will have experienced or witnessed a “Rita moment”, the disappointment of not getting the present you hoped for. Through a series of hilarious events, Rita learns that you can’t judge by appearances and we should appreciate what we have.” Picture Book Perfect

Abigay’s Farm – Assisted Self-Publishing

June 22, 2021

ODETTE ELLIOTT

I have had six books traditionally published. Some friends thought that this would help me to get my children’s novel ‘Abigay’s Farm’ traditionally published.  However, it didn’t work like that.

I certainly tried.  I wrote to over 34 agencies – very time-consuming but no luck.  I received some compliments. One agent said that ‘sadly it was a near miss’. I knew that an agent’s goal is to help build up an author’s career. I might write other books one day, but my main aim was to get ‘Abigay’s Farm’ published.

I had worked on it for around four years.  A good friend and colleague from the Islington Writers for Children – John O’Leary – had helped me to edit it.  We worked on it together for around eighteen months. Then two other kind members of the group, Sunita Nahar and Stephanie Ward cast critical eyes over the text. I felt it was as good as we could get it and I wanted children to be able to read and enjoy the story.

I turned to the supportive organisation SCBWI – The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – and asked via Facebook if anyone had experience of self-publishing.  A reply came back quickly.  Someone said she had had books published by a company that offered  a service called Assisted Publishing.  She said they weren’t cheap but she highly recommended them. She has had her last few books published by them.  Other people replied that they found the whole self-publishing experience via Amazon both satisfactory and at almost no cost, unless you wanted to pay for a cover artist. I knew that I would not be able to cope with all the necessary IT details myself.  They would seem like ‘nightmares’ to me, so I turned to the recommended Assisted Publishing company.

I contacted the company and really liked their whole approach.  I consulted the Society of Authors about the contract. They approved and I was happy to sign.  Next time, as I get further along the process towards publication, I’ll give the name of the company and can hopefully show you the cover but that has not been designed yet.  So far, the text has been proofread.  I await the next stage of the process.  I have been given a list of the many things that will have to be decided. It is impressive. Thankfully it was decided that the story had already been successfully edited. The likely publication date is October this year.

Things have changed since my last published book. This was ‘My Big Brother JJ’, published 2009.  Nowadays an author has to do as much as possible to market their own books.

Abigay’s Farm’ , a novel for ages 9-12 is coming soon.

I made my way downstairs and entered the kitchen carefully. Grandpa was sitting quietly at the table with the tin box in front of him. There was a chair pulled out next to him that was clearly for me. I sat down and waited. The ginger farm cat peered in the window before darting off who-knows-where.

Neither of us spoke. I heard the constant ‘whooshing’ of the dishwasher and stared at the numbers counting down on the display panel.

I wondered whether Grandpa really did have something to say to me when he cleared his throat and glanced at me awkwardly.

‘1966,’ he said softly, pointing to the mysterious box and the objects laid out around it. ‘That’s when we did these.’

I waited.

‘It’s all about history, you know,’ he said eventually.

Another pause.

‘I was about your age when our teacher got us to do them – time capsules she said they were.

“Bury things that mean something to you,” she said. “Then when people open them in a hundred years, they’ll know all about you and the times you lived in.”

On the lids we wrote Do NOT Open until 2066.  You can’t see the writing anymore. I think I must have used the wrong kind of ink.

But you know what? Now is as good a time as any. Maybe, it’s important for you and Gabriel to learn about the old days and the old ways – and anyway, we can always bury it again afterwards.’

He shifted around and looked at me directly. I could see he wasn’t angry anymore but there was a sadness in his eyes.

‘You and I are not so different, Girl,’ he said. ’You do know that, don’t you?’

‘A long time ago, I was young too. What I’m trying to say is…,’ he paused.

‘Abigay, I think I owe you a big apology.’

Booking Around the World – Mobile Library, Bangalore

January 13, 2021

STEPHANIE WARD

Dedicated to Dr S. R. Ranganathan, the father of library science, this retired 1990s blue bus was converted to a mobile library complete with a driver-cum-librarian. Residents regularly await the arrival of the bus that carries over 6000 books in multiple languages available to check out at lower prices than monthly fees at city libraries.

The book mobile even has a small seating area inside for browsers to flip through pages. If you look closely, you’ll see that it offers much needed shade for canine customers too.

Mobile Library
Bangalore (Bengaluru), Karnataka, India

This post was first published in https://stephaniemward.com/blog/

Remembrance

December 15, 2020

LAURA MUCHA

I was commissioned by the Royal British Legion and the National Literacy Trust to make this film to help children honour Remembrance. The poem that came out of it (at the end of the film) is called We Remember.

School Visits and Covid

November 25, 2020

JOHN O’LEARY

I managed to squeeze in a school visit to Bredhurst Primary in Gillingham at the beginning of October but now with current restrictions these events are becoming rare.

I was aware of the need to make the visit Covid-compliant. Due to class bubbles a whole-school assembly was out of the question so instead I produced a mini version of my talk in video form in order to give some insight into my practice. It had the happy consequence of my being greeted by children on the day who seemed to know me already.

The card for the workshops was pre-packaged and then only handed out by the teaching staff. During the workshops, I did my usual thing, but at a distance, teachers did all the close up checking and helping. I made more of the demo part of the session where I turn a pop-up mechanism into a finished 3D spread using the children’s story ideas. And I made sure everyone had all the information they needed to finish the group pop-up books after I had moved on to the next class.

The school felt surprisingly normal but they had clearly put in many important measures to keep everyone safe – no sharing of equipment (I had to keep reminding myself not to borrow scissors or gluesticks), staggered playtimes and hand sanitiser everywhere. I also had to exit the building and make my way around the outside of the school to get from class to class.

It’s not clear when things will go back to normal but it’s been an opportunity to explore new ways of interacting with schools. Things like Zoom, for example, seem to work well and it will be a useful addition going forward, especially for schools further afield. However, it can never replace the wonderful feeling of interacting live with the children that I experienced at Bredhurst and all the other schools I’ve visited in the past.

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