Friday 1 April 2016

All About: Time-slip

Since we've just changed the clocks and experienced our very own time-slip (be it only one hour forward), I thought we could investigate time travel as a mode of transport this month! I've chosen to look at Berlie Doherty's wonderful Children of Winter (Methuen, 1985), one of several time-slip titles that are represented in the Seven Stories' collection (more of these later). Berlie's collection (donated to Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books in 2006 with an accrual received in 2009) consists of manuscripts, typescripts, draft material and related correspondence for 36 of her published works for children and for both of her adult novels. The collection also includes drafts and related material for several plays and radio broadcasts, and drafts of around 140 poems for adults and children, some apparently unpublished.

The files relating specifically to Children of Winter provide us with a fascinating record of the process of the writing, publishing and enduring impact of this book. Documents included are an early manuscript draft of the story, correspondence, reviews and press cuttings, educational resources, and even photographs taken on set during the filming of the Channel 4 dramatisation of the book. 

Covers of various editions (clockwise from top left) published by: Methuen, 1985 STSLS/01/241; Catnip, 2007 BD/09/04; Mammoth, 1995 BD/07/03; and Fontana Lions, 1986 NTL/03/119. Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

The idea for this story apparently came to Berlie while visiting Bowsen Barn, near High Bradfield, with a group of school children and writing ghost stories.  When Berlie asked the children who might have lived in the barn in the past one of the children suggested 'It could have been somebody sheltering from the Great Plague' and Berlie 'knew, straight away, that [she] was going to write a story about it'.  Berlie further describes Children of Winter as…

'... set at the time of the Great Plague in 1666, though it begins in the Derbyshire of today. It is loosely based on the story of the village of Eyam, not far from where I live, which lost half of its population to the plague. Eyam cut itself off from the rest of Derbyshire so that no other village would catch the Plague. In my story, three children are taken up to a barn, away from the village, and have to shelter there alone in order to survive. I tried to imagine what it would be like for them to have been so near home and yet not to be able to go there, and not to know what was happening to their family and friends in the village. It is about the Plague, but it could be about refugees from a war or from any kind of disaster. It’s about survival.'
(Extracts from Berlie Doherty’s website

Berlie’s early manuscript drafts and notes for Children of Winter are written in two exercise books, under the story’s original title The Old Crook Barn.

Exercise books BD/01/02/01/01 and BD/01/02/01/02.  Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books.

As well as numerous notes and drafts of the story, the exercise books contain a variety of other notes and lists, as well as drafts of several poems, and a partial draft of a story about Tilly Mint.

Exercise book BD/01/02/01/01 open at f31 showing early drafting and chapter planning.  Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books
Exercise book BD/01/02/01/01 open at f33 showing early drafting and chapter planning.  Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

Berlie made few changes to her draft text in these exercise books but just occasionally she added in some beautiful descriptive text (apparently as it occurred to her) as here…

Exercise book BD/01/02/01/02 open at f26.  Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books
We have one file of correspondence which relates to all aspects of the publication of Children of Winter including editorial changes, illustrations, dramatisation, reprints, contracts and royalties.  The file includes correspondence from: Jane Nissen and Miriam Hodgson (Berlie's successive editors at Methuen Children's Books); television / radio companies TVS, BBC and Carlton UK Television; and Murray Pollinger (Berlie's literary agent). The letter Berlie received from Jane Nissen below (BD/01/02/02/01 7th December 1983) is fascinating in that it shows the editor expressing interest in The Old Crook Barn but also raising concerns about the saleability of historical fiction, the time-slip element, use of colloquial /17th century English and similarities of the plot / theme (barn / plague / flashback) with Jill Paton Walsh’s book A parcel of patterns and Robert Westall’s Devil on the road.

Letter to Berlie BD/01/02/02/01 from Jane Nissen (Editor) Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books.

In a letter dated 9th July 1984 Jane Nissen has obviously moved on from her original concerns about the plot theme and talks about commissioning Ian Newsham to illustrate the OLD CRUCK BARN (one of several variant spellings of the original title the more observant of you might notice!) and is anxious to get on with thinking of a new title (BD/01/02/02/04).  There are several more letters in this file which show how much Berlie and her editor discussed the detail in Ian Newsham’s illustrations, unlike many authors who seem to have little or no influence over the illustrations for their novels.

Berlie’s letter BD/01/02/02/05 to Angela Beeching and BD/01/02/02/08 to Jane Nissen © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

In the above letter to Angela Beeching dated July 13th 1984, we can see Berlie approaching Beeching with the idea of dramatising The Old Cruck Barn and even asking for an opinion about the title!  In her letter to Jane Nissen October 9th 1984 the final title Children of Winter has been agreed, and Berlie refers to discussions with the TV company about leaving the time-slip element out of their dramatisation entirely!  Thank goodness they didn't do that in the end!

Obviously when authors set their stories in the past (or travelling through time between the past and the present), it's important that they portray their settings accurately.  There's plenty of evidence within Berlie's archive of her carefully researching facts however, one letter, sent from a children's librarian, challenges her use of the name 'Tessa' as historically inaccurate! Unfortunately we don't have Berlie's response but interestingly, in the early drafts for this story the character did have a different name!  I'm intrigued as to why Berlie renamed this character and if you'd like to find out what her draft name was, you'll just have to visit us! 

The correspondence file also includes a small amount of letters from fans and school children including this lovely letter and a coloured version of the map drawn by another child who was clearly inspired by the map which appears in various editions of the book.

BD/01/02/02/31 Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books
 BD/01/02/02/42 with Methuen edition of Children of winter, 1985 STSLS/01/241 Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

There's also a file of reviews and newspapers cuttings relating to Children of Winter, a few of which have been pasted onto card as well as a file of educational resources for teachers relating to both the book and radio broadcasts of Children of Winter.

Photos above show BD/01/02/03/04 and BD/01/02/03/05 and copies of: Author Focus: General Approaches plus Berlie Doherty and Children of Winter, Staffordshire County Council, 2000; and the teachers' notes to accompany the radio broadcasts of Children of Winter published by the BBC in 2003. BD/01/02/04.  Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

And to top things off nicely, there's even a set of colour photographs taken (perhaps by Berlie herself) on location during the filming of Channel 4's dramatisation of Children of Winter, which first aired in 1994.  The photographs include landscape shots and pictures of the cast and crew.

BD/01/02/05 Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books
And finally, here's a letter from Berlie to the local Council raising concerns about an act of vandalism that occurred to the very real Bowsen Barn which inadvertently reveals details about just how far Children of Winter has endured in terms of foreign editions, reprints, TV and radio programmes as so on.

BD/01/02/02/21 Photograph © Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books

If you are as intrigued about the idea of 'time travel' as I am, you might like to know that other time-slip titles represented in Seven Stories' collection include: Peter Dickinson's Mandog; Philippa Pearce's Tom's midnight garden; Ursula Moray Williams’ Castle Merlin; and Lucy M Boston's The Stones of Green Knowe.  For further information about Berlie Doherty's archive and all these others, please view our online catalogue

     - Paula Wride (Collection Officer).

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then 

email: or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.

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