The station, the barn, the island, the books

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Berlie Doherty has already had one coach party of American tourists drawn to her home in Edale, Derbyshire by her novel Children of Winter, set in the village of Eyam which lost its entire population to plague in the 17th century.

"There wasn't room to have everyone in the house, so we sat in the village school and talked," she says. Doherty is one of 38 contemporary and classic children's authors celebrated in Storybook England, a six-month campaign by the English section of tourism agency VisitBritain to persuade schools and families to visit more literary landmarks and read the books that inspired them.

The campaign includes promotions through branches of Starbucks, Waterstone's and the Early Learning Centre, plus a chance to win books and holiday vouchers through the Pre-School Learning Alliance. But the key element is a free A1 colour map poster available from this week (a downloadable teachers' pack will follow early in the autumn term) which tracks key authors' English locations. So it introduces Tyneside and Tynemouth through the novels of David Almond and Robert Westall, the Hampshire Downs via Fiver and friends in Richard Adams' Watership Down, Gloucester Cathedral and London's Foundling Museum through Jamila Gavin's Coram Boy and Paddington station via Darkest Peru and the duffel-coated bear (not to be confused with the bear of very little brain in Ashdown Forest). There are city locations (Peter Pan statues in both London and Liverpool) and invitations to discover Henry Williamson's Tarka country in North Devon or the original for Lucy M Boston's Green Knowe manor in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire.

Berlie Doherty's entry suggests a tour of Sheffield and the Peak District: Granny was a Buffer Girl was inspired by a painting in the city's Graves Art Gallery and opens on the Bole Hills; Deep Secret explores the drowned villages of the Ladybower Reservoir. But readers will also want to seek out locations not on the map, such as Bowsen Barn in High Bradfield, where Doherty sheltered with a children's writing group in the 1980s, and came away with the story that became Children of Winter.

"It was wild weather and we stayed there writing stories. One girl said she thought a family might have lived in the barn, and another said it could have been in the time of the plague; it's a very old barn. Once I heard that I knew I had a story. I was in the middle of Granny was a Buffer Girl but I broke off to work on Children of Winter."

Other places are not on the map for good reason: London's Cromwell Road is a landmark for fans of Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes, but no more a tourist destination now than it was when the book was published in 1937.

If this was Storybook Scotland, the entry on Robert Louis Stevenson would be considerably longer. The map reminds us of Treasure Island's connections with Bristol, but don't forget that the map of the island itself was modelled on the northernmost Shetland island of Unst, where Stevenson's father Thomas oversaw the building of the lighthouse Muckle Flugga.

Geraldine Brennan

Order the Storybook England map on 0845 456 2332 or www.enjoyengland.comstorybook. Keep an eye on the site for a downloadable teaching pack. Children of Winter will be reissued by Catnip Publishing in early 2007

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