Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

March's literary house

Back to children’s literature for March’s house, and not, I think, a particularly well-known one. I read it as an adult partly because of the familiar Fife setting, and found it bewitching. Winterbringers by Gill Arbuthnot: here’s the blurb.

St. Andrews, Fife – not known for its glorious weather, but even so, Josh hadn’t expected the sea to start to freeze and ice to creep up the beaches … His summer holiday isn’t looking too promising, especially as his only companions are a strange local girl, Callie, and her enormous dog, Luath.

Then they uncover the journal of an eighteenth-century girl who writes about the Kingdom of Summer, and suddenly they find themselves thrown headlong into a storm of witches, ice creatures, magic and the Winter King. A permanent winter threatens unless they can help restore the natural balance of the seasons.

Can they stop the Winterbringers once and for all?

Josh meets Luath first when he tries to cross a field he shouldn’t be in: he’s a tounser, scared of animals and ignorant of the countryside, and Callie at first doesn’t seem very welcoming:

‘Josh followed her through into a kitchen with a big wooden table in the middle. Pots were bubbling on the cooker … To his surprise … he found himself in another garden. This one was quite different from the one around the house. It was filled with straight rows of plants – vegetables, Josh supposed, though he had only a hazy idea of what most of them were.
Callie rattled off a list as they went past, but he didn’t take much of it in. they came to a sort of tunnel made of metal hoops and thick polythene. ‘The interesting stuff’s in here,’ Callie said, forgetting to sound bored.
Inside, she pointed out sweetcorn, a lemon tree, a grape vine, peaches – even a fig tree…
The garden was packed with edible plants. Apple trees were trained against the walls. There was a walk-in cage of netting to protect the raspberries and strawberries that grew inside. Against one wall were two beehives, something that Josh had never seen in his life…
The farthest end of the garden was fenced off, and behind the fence a dozen black chickens wandered among another set of apple trees, pecking for insects.’

Later, we see more of the inside of the house.
‘Josh had never been in this part of the house before. It was a big, formal sitting room dominated by an enormous chimney. To one side of the hearth sat an anvil. He stared at ti: he’d never seen one before.
‘George found it buried under the floor when they put the central heating in,’ said Callie by way of explanation. ‘This used to be the village smithy. That’s why it’s got this huge fireplace.’
Practically, the fireplace has a backburner – more usefully for the plot, it has a hidden shelf up the chimney, found for them by a kitten called Chutney Mary. As winter descends in midsummer in Fife, the house, guarded by high-arching spells, is their refuge – smithies are always special places.

Meanwhile, talking of St. Andrews, Murray 10 - Thicker than Water - is in draft form and will be sent to readers this weekend (if I get my act together!). I'm sorting out a signing in St. Andrews in late May - watch this space!

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