Adventures in history
Children’s author Ally Sherrick is inspired by Sutton Hoo
Wartime Suffolk. Aircraft leave airbases for raids on Europe. There’s a threat of invasion and a feeling that even neighbours can’t be trusted. Two children, an evacuee from London and a refugee from Germany, via Kindertransport, distract themselves with a fantasy about hidden treasure on the hill. But their games become much more sinister when it seems they are not the only ones searching for a buried crown.
Set around Sutton Hoo, the River Deben and the Suffolk coast, The Buried Crown is a gripping story for children by award-winning author, Ally Sherrick, drawing on the myths and legends of the Anglo-Saxon finds between the wars.
“I’ve been fascinated by Sutton Hoo over the years,” says Ally. “It’s so atmospheric, and it is such an amazing story of how the site was excavated and the finds kept safe before war broke out.” It featured in her medieval history course at university, and Ally viewed the treasures many times at the British Museum before finally being able to visit the site when it was opened by the National Trust. But it was an MR James ghost story that gave Ally the idea for her book.
“Like all writers, I’m a bit of a thief and all the elements melded,” she says. “A few years ago I read A Warning to the Curious, about a lost crown of Anglia. If it’s dug up and taken, England will be invaded. When you overlay that idea with the
‘I grew up visiting castles and ruined abbeys and we played games’
Sutton Hoo discovery, and the world of Anglo-Saxon mythology, it’s a story just begging to be told.”
The Buried Crown, published this summer, has been warmly received by children, teachers and parents as a book that encourages reading for pleasure, and introduces elements of history. “I grew up visiting castles and ruined abbeys and we played games where my dad pretended to be the King of Wessex,” Ally says. “I don’t find it difficult to imagine myself in the shoes of people living in another time. Children, typically, want things to happen very quickly in a book, so you’ve got to hook them in on the first page, the first sentence. I’m writing for children aged 9-13, and they want lots of adventure and excitement, with characters they can relate to.”
Ally worked in marketing and public relations until redundancy gave her the opportunity for a career break. She studied for an MA in writing for children and her first book, Black Powder, was published as a result of a competition. She had to pitch the story in 10 words or fewer and won with ‘boy must join gunpowder plot to save father from hanging’. The prize was that Barry Cunningham, founder of Chicken House publishing company and the man who discovered JK Rowling, would read the story. “I thought I’d get great feedback, but I was over the moon when he offered me a twobook deal!” Ally is now working on other ideas, and hopes to continue with the historical themes. She travels widely to talk to children about her books, and has produced teacher’s notes, activities and discussion topics for her website. Details about research she has carried out are included in the book.
“You have a responsibility when you are writing for children,” she says. “But I hope, above all, I’ve delivered a riproaring story which will inspire young readers to go digging in the past for stories of their own.”N The Buried Crown’ is published by Chicken House
LEFT: The mounds at Sutton Hoo at sunset
ABOVE LEFT: Burried Crown
ABOVE: Ally SherrickBELOW LEFT: The striking Anglo Saxon helmet motif on the front of the exhibition hall at Sutton Hoo, the Anglo-Saxon royal burial site, Woodbridge, Suffolk.