I first met this story about six years ago, perhaps seven. Published in 1927, written by a child, between the ages of nine and twelve. From first reading I have been haunted by the author, Barbara Newhall Follett.
Some time ago I tried to find a publisher for the book. The first I showed it to said to me, “You wrote this, didn’t you? You wrote it and then made up that most amazing back story.” I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered that they thought I could be so clever, or insulted that they thought I wrote like a twelve year old. I have tremendous respect for the minds of children, and love the words in the book, so I came down on the side of flattery.
But complications ensued, and then along came The Lost Words.
Roll forward a few years, and Barbara Newhall Follett would not go away. In conversation with my agent Jessica Woollard she came up, along with her story. So many parallels to The Lost Words. Barbara loved dictionaries. Her literacy, both natural and in words, was so rich. She loved the wild places, thrived in them, and she created a wild child of perfection in a Utopian dream sequence of a novel. Jessica took the book to Simon Prosser and Hermione Thompson at Hamish Hamilton. The resulting work, The House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett, with introduction and illustrations by me, with be published on 3rd Oct of this year.
For the cover, designed by Alison O’Toole, I inked a cloud of butterflies and stood back. Alison and I have worked together on a few things now. She read the introduction I had written and then……
she created something so beautiful. Gold dusted butterflies and a rising swallow. So elegant.
I don’t want to say too much about the book. Suffice to say that the author still haunts me. I’ve spent so much time in the pages she wrote that I think of her as a friend. There are so many things in her writing that show her to be a creature out of time. She was a reader, a walker, a lover of books, wild places. She would not be bound by convention, refused the role society offered her, sailed her own path. Her voice, through her writing, is wild, free and achingly beautiful. And my hope is that through this re-issue of her work she will haunt you too.