When going on a road trip with Mr Stenham in a dragon van it is good to remember that he is about as much use as a stuffed otter when it comes to navigation. As a result the journey from Broadway to Holkham was a long one, but it was worth it as we swung a tired van through the gates and along the sweeping drive, through herds of sleepy deer and wonderful mature trees to park beside a lion.
There are many times when I feel fortunate in my work. Being shown into my room, albeit up a long long flight of stone steps, to see a wonderful bed the size of a small island in a bedroom with a desk and a Rubens on the wall, a bathroom of great size with a bath to swim in and great brass taps from which hot water flowed like a waterfall is one such time. 5 nights in Holkham Hall, with the wonderful company of Marilyn and Simon Brocklehurst from the Norfolk Centre for the Children’s Book.
What lay ahead was 4 days of hand work over Easter. Marilyn was running a children’s bookshop in the hall and I was to do 3 sessions a day reading stories, talking about books, in between story telling sessions from Paul Jackson in a yurt in the Bygones Museum.
When I wasn’t reading I was painting in the wonderful pop-up bookshop. Marilyn has one of the very best specialist children’s bookshops in the UK, filled with new titles and an amazing backlist from publishers in UK and US imports. Her knowledge of the books is astonishing, so I knew I was in for a good time. While I painted we talked about books and what worked and why and threw around ideas and she said what she would like to see coming form me, including an alphabet book, and I would love to do a counting book. I showed her secret things I was working on, painted a hare, gilded a peregrine and a small boy’s nose, talked about bears and painted a dragon for a small child of great intelligence.
At the end of the Easter weekend everyone went home and Robin and I were left alone with the keys to the back door. We drove out towards the south gate, along a long drive and parked by a belt of woodland. It was moving towards dusk. A tawny owl called in the woodland. Beside the fields there were hares, sitting and looking and eating. Hares running out over open fields past wild deer lurking on the edge of tree and field. There were hares boxing, hares stretching, a kestrel hovering in the sky on the wind’s edge.
Such a privilege to just stand in field and watch wild things.