8th June 2001 at 01:00
By Ottilie Mackintosh, 8, Collis primary school, Teddington, Richmond upon Thames

I had not thought that England stretched far enough to contain a place as remote as Haddiscoe.

I was alone with mummy, which was unusual. We were driving over fast, flat land. She had been telling me about the family that we were going to visit, but now we had to concentrate. We were following directions like "turn left at the third cattle grid" - that's how remote it was. Friendly cows grazed peacefully on the damp grass and a bird rose up from the marsh.

After what felt like miles, we arrived at a lovely old building, which was the family's holiday cottage. There were lots of grown ups, a girl my age and an older boy. The grown ups exchanged warm greetings, but we children were shy, though later we would be close friends. They showed me the house, the garden and a 100-year-old sailing boat, and I learned that they called the water The Broads, which made sense - the water stretched so far and the sky was so wide.

After lunch we fished for crabs. A tug on the line and a shiny crab thrown clickety-clack into the bucket. The big boy climbed on the ledge at the edge of the boat and I froze, afraid he would fall.

Then we set off sailing towards the sea: Mummy, two other grown ups, my new friend and me. The water grew wider and wider, and the boat sailed from side to side, sometimes lying almost flat, the sail swinging and occasional cries of "Ready about!" We were sweating in our life jackets and sun hats, so we ran our fingers through the water as it washed cool over our hands. In the cabin it was dim and musty, with beams of light shining through the circular windows. We played pirates and I imagined how it would be to sleep there, soothed by the rocking of the boat.

As the sun began to set over the water, we turned and headed home. We made slow progress, sometimes hardly moving at all. The grown ups grew anxious and talked of the tide, and when at last e reached the familiar bank I knew why. The water was low now. Too low. We were stranded. The ones who had stayed behind looked down with worried faces. They pulled the boat a little closer and the strong men climbed ashore. I looked up as we sank lower with the tide. From boat to bank was twice my height.

There was no time to lose. Mummy lifted me up, hands grasped me from above and for a terrifying moment I was suspended over the black, swirling water. Confusion, relief for a moment, then fear again as I saw my Mummy far below, that awful water separating us. I looked in her face. Was she afraid? It was cold now, and growing dark. I shivered in my summer dress, afraid to look as she turned her back to the bank ready to haul herself up. It looked impossible. Her feet pushed the boat away out of reach and she hung by her elbows over the angry tide. Then she was lying on the bank, laughing. A big sob lurched in my chest and hot tears spilled out.

Later Mummy guided the car back over the cattle grids and along the rough tracks. An eerie mist swirled around us, licking the road, and the cows loomed threateningly. But I felt safe and warm and knew I would remember that special day for a long time.

Ottilie says she loves writing, and prefers to make her stories realistic rather than fantasy. "They are usually about things that have happened to me, but I put someone else in my place. I like reading, especially books that stretch me, such as ones by Noel Streatfeild. I also like Anne Fine and Nina Bawden, and I love literacy because of the creative writing we do." Ottilie belongs to a drama group and would like to be a Shakespearean actress, but she wants to keep writing too.

Ottilie's teacher, Anna Charlton, describes her as an exceptionally confident, mature writer who is keen to experiment with genres, but particularly enjoys inventing horsy stories. She saw the Write Away competition as a means of presenting Ottilie with a challenge.

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