This is a strange mix of a book. On one level it tells how Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books were written; on another level it tells the tale of how the author and her family visited the sites that inspired the books. Being a Ransome addict I loved the first level and was thoroughly annoyed by the second level which simply distracted me from the main story. And bulked it out a bit. And I suppose, to be fair, in some ways it was like the way that Ransome bulked out his adventure yarns with loads of little real details such as rowing to the farm house to collect the milk.
But the real appeal of the book was the sheer nostalgia of recalling those fabulous stories which I started reading when I was about seven and still sometimes read. My favourite is... That's silly. My favourite changes from time to time. Pigeon Post, the gold mine story? We Didn't Mean to go to Sea where John skippers the Goblin through a storm to Holland? The Picts and the Martyrs with the wonderful Great Aunt? The map-making expedition in Secret Water?
What I learnt from this book was that Ransome stole most of the details of most of the stories from real life. Although some details of Coniston are conflated with Windermere, there were five children called Taqui (a tomboyish girl who became Captain John), Susan, Mavis (whose nickname was Titty), Roger and Bridget. There was a farm called Swainson's and Mrs Swainson was a real person. The dog in Coot Club was real. Ships had only their names changed (and sometimes not even that, there was a sailing dinghy called Swallow). Some plotlines really happened. Others (such as the plot for Great Northern) were suggested by other people. Ransome's genius was to take his acute observation which gave his books such a convincing air of reality and to tell stories that gripped the reader.
So mostly I enjoyed this book although you have to be a fan to get anything really out of it. I loved the chapter which is simply the initial draft of Peter Duck. I loved the bits about Ransome. But I think it would have been better to reread one of the books.
Interesting. January 2013; 211 pages
This book inspired me to re-read Swallowdale.
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57