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ninth century belt-buckle. The stories are here, around us, at our feet, in the air; the salt-marsh, like all empty places, becomes a theatre for stories, and superstitions; the black dog Shuck, who is called Hooter in Warwickshire and Skriker in north Lancashire – he’s not peculiar to Norfolk, but everyone here knows about Shuck, and knows to beware of him. It’s suffused, lively with stories.


Particularly when you write historical fiction, you have a unique combination


of soaring poetry and visceral, down-to-earth


realism. Is it difficult to decide how much detail is appropriate for young readers?


It was Edith Nesbit, I think, who said that the only way to be a good writer for children was to remember what you thought and felt and what your interests and dislikes and so on were when you were a child. I think you must not lose touch with that, and that’s something I’ve always been pretty good at – I’ve felt my own childhood, I’ve been in touch with my own childhood very vividly and continuously. On the other hand, society changes, and I have to recognise the world that children are living in now, as opposed to the world that I grew up in. One of the things that genuinely exercises me is whether I’m sufficiently in touch with kids now – not only the way they speak and think, but the society they’re growing up in, to offer a subtle, artful account of the story I want to tell, that is au courant with where children are now. At about-to-be-eighty, is the stamina, the imaginative energy still there?


You’re working on a new piece of historical fiction at the moment – can you tell me a bit about that?


are word and music’. Are word and image brother and sister? Yes, in a sense – but brother and sister don’t always agree, and they can often offer a varying approach to something (although kids, of course, are the first to pick up if there’s an actual discrepancy between the two disciplines.)


What I love best is when there’s a bouncing of the ball between the two artists, as with Jane Ray [with whom Crossley-Holland collaborated on Heartsong] We each made a journey to Venice, and we fed each other bits and pieces, images and paragraphs – and so the whole time we were exalting one another, moderating one another, qualifying. It was lovely, a real collaboration.


As well as Norse tales, you’re preoccupied with British folktales. Selkies and green children, wild men, shapeshifters who live between one form and another, liminal creatures … Why, again, do you think we return to these stories? What keeps them green, for us and for you?


It’s perhaps the dichotomy of being between having a very powerful sense of home – which has exercised me more than ever, during these strange seasons – and what ‘home’ consists of, what ‘belonging’ consists of. Is it people, place, memory? We’re caught up at the minute at a time when there have never been so many people on the go, and lost – notably, of course, refugees, but an extraordinary movement of people. And an extraordinary awareness of the movement of people, voluntary or enforced, at other times – like slaves being driven out of Africa. So the whole area of belonging, boundaries – it’s something that’s in the air, the whole time, for all of us. And I love engaging with that area, because it’s part of our story, as inhabitants in England. I think too that one thing many people have done during this virus, apart from tend their gardens, is to become more interested in relationships, more interested in their place, their community. “Who am I? How do I belong here?”


Would you say that it’s Norfolk and East Anglia that have inspired you most, geographically speaking?


I would. I would. It’s a place constantly in flux and so land and ocean are at one another the whole time…You have only to wander out into any of the fields around here, knowing something of the old field names, to pick up bits of pot, if you’re lucky an old coin; someone a couple of years ago found a wonderful Anglo-Saxon


Imogen Russell Williams is a journalist and editorial consultant specialising in children’s literature and YA.


It’s called Kata and Tor, and it will be set during the weeks leading up to the battle of Stamford Bridge. It will be part love-story – but not too much love! – between a Viking boy who is the illegitimate son of Harald Hardrada, and a Yorkshire girl. It’s sort of half-sister, half-brother to my two Viking novels, Bracelet of Bones and Scramasax, but it’s a standalone novel. I’m longing to get on to the North York moors and see when Hardrada turned his back on the delights of Scarborough and Bridlington and forged his way across to York. Very often it’s the land, the truth in the lie of the land, that gives me a hell of a kick. And I love writing about the relationship between place and people.


And you’ve also revisited Arthurian legend again – this time the territory of Arthur’s childhood and early youth. What drew you back to Arthur?


[In the Arthur trilogy], the legends that I chose were expressly to anticipate or recollect aspects of Arthur de Caldicot’s life; and quite often I just told bits and pieces of them, or told them very briefly. So I asked myself, after all…he was the Pan-European hero – but what are the story steps of Arthur? And I devised a very simple structure by which Arthur moves from being the first amongst equals in a brotherhood, to the rituals and rapid of romantic love, to the always uncertain and unpredictable presence of magic, to spiritual love, and so on. I devised that structure, and I preceded it with a much fuller account of Arthur’s childhood in the borders of Devon and Cornwall, when I really just let go, and let it flow. I think they’re perhaps quite good, those first two chapters, although you never know… And it’s called Arthur, The Always King.


Stories from Across the Rainbow Bridge, by Kevin Crossley- Holland, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love, is published by Walker Books, 978-1406391763, £16.99 hbk


Books for Keeps No.244 September 2020 9


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