Due North

All his life he has loved the salt­marshes of north Nor­folk, where land meets sea, and his work ex­plores the bor­ders be­tween words and mu­sic, his­tory and leg­end. As a new film looks at how much-trav­elled writer Kevin Cross­ley-Hol­land is an­chored in Nor­folk

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

We talk to writer Kevin Cross­ley-Hol­land

HE LIVES, moored on low hills left be­hind as glaciers re­treated. Just a cou­ple of miles north is a shape-shift­ing is­land and a coast­line where land merges im­per­cep­ti­bly into sea.

Kevin Cross­ley-Hol­land is a writer whose words slip into po­etry, mu­sic, art and film. From the light-flooded con­verted barn near Burn­ham Mar­ket, where he lives with his wife, there are views in al­most every di­rec­tion. And in his study there are win­dows not only on to the land­scape he has been re­turn­ing to since child­hood, but also back through the cen­turies.

The books lin­ing the walls of his study are about me­dieval his­tory and leg­end, King Arthur, north­ern gods and giants, mu­sic, art, po­etry.

He re­cites part of a saga in An­glo Saxon, a mel­liflu­ous flow of sound first learned at Ox­ford where he was taught by poet WH Au­den and en­cour­aged by JRR Tolkien.

Kevin be­gan a ca­reer in pub­lish­ing be­fore be­com­ing a writer him­self. His chil­dren’s book Storm won the Carnegie Medal in 1985 and The See­ing Stone, the first in his se­ries reimag­in­ing the King Arthur le­gends, sold more than a mil­lion copies, was trans­lated into 25 lan­guagues and cre­ated a world as solid, sen­sual and real as the present day for the le­gions of chil­dren (and adults) who read it.

He is a poet too, re­vealed in every line of lyri­cal, per­fectly-pitched writ­ing, and is full of anec­dotes from his decades at the fore­front of chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. In­vited to make up num­bers (he says) when the Queen Mother was vis­it­ing a friend in Burn­ham Mar­ket, he was as­ton­ished that she greeted him by quot­ing from one of his po­ems about nearby Burn­ham Overy Staithe.

Kevin, now 76, has known the vil­lage all his life. His grand­par­ents lived here and founded the sail­ing club, where an an­nual race is still named for them.

This month a film fea­tur­ing him in some of his favourite places will be pre­miered at the Ox­ford Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val.

A North Nor­folk Man, by di­rec­tor David Co­hen, films him in Burn­ham Overy, in the ru­ins of Creake Abbey and be­neath the me­dieval carved an­gels which roost in the roof of South Creake and sparked his novel Water­slain An­gels. The film ex­plores how his writ­ing, of­ten about other places and times, is rooted in Nor­folk.

“More and more I find my­self work­ing with com­posers, artists and now with a film maker,” said Kevin.

He is col­lab­o­rat­ing with artist and fel­low Nor­folk writer Chris Rid­dell on a new book of Arthurian le­gends, to be pub­lished next year, and is writ­ing the lyrics for a Na­tional Chil­dren’s Choir project, telling the true story of the refugee Nu­jeen Mustafa, who es­caped Syria by wheel­chair. The Girl From

Aleppo will be pre­miered later this year and Kevin’s col­lec­tion of Bri­tish Folk Tales, in­clud­ing sev­eral haunt­ing sto­ries of an­cient East Anglia, is also reis­sued this year.

He has four grown-up chil­dren, two sons and two daugh­ters, and a “bur­geon­ing” fam­ily of grand­chil­dren too,

Last au­tumn he suf­fered a stroke. “I opened my mouth to say good morn­ing to my wife and couldn’t make a sound,” he says. He was rushed to hos­pi­tal and is hugely grate­ful for the care he re­ceived at the Queen Eliz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal, King’s Lynn, and for the speech ther­apy which helped the master word­smith re­con­nect with lan­guage.

As we talk he keeps get­ting up to find a book, a piece of mu­sic, a pic­ture, and mar­vels at the links across his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy, be­tween cul­tures, peo­ple, land­scapes and le­gends. “There is this gos­samer of as­so­ci­a­tions and con­nec­tions and some­times the light shines on it, like the sun shin­ing on a dew-cov­ered spi­der­web, and you see all he net­works,” he said.

His lat­est book for chil­dren is set in the tow­er­ing moun­tains and ter­ri­fy­ing folk­lore of Scan­di­navia, where giants and gods were forged in a land­scape of vol­ca­noes, fjords and storms.

“Au­den told me, ‘Look north; peo­ple look south to the Mediter­ranean when you and I are crea­tures of the north­ern lands,’” said Kevin. “Cer­tainly in north Nor­folk we are of a piece with peo­ple in north west Europe.”

He is a spir­i­tual man, a church-goer, but his life­long fas­ci­na­tion with even more an­cient sto­ries now har­monises with mod­ern con­cerns about our con­nec­tion with, and sep­a­ra­tion from, the nat­u­ral world.

“The Norse myths are more apoc­a­lyp­tic than I first thought,” he said. “don’t be­lieve Stephen Hawk­ing is right when he says the world is go­ing to come to an end in a cen­tury or so. Ev­ery­thing in me re­sists it. But that is the story of the myths.”

As one project reimag­ines the huge reach of an en­tire belief sys­tem, which be­gan in pre­his­tory and has be­come fa­mil­iar to­day through film, tele­vi­sion, fan­tasy fic­tion and com­puter games, his fo­cus is also in­tensely lo­cal. “I said I would write a book about Nor­folk but al­though I would live and die for Nor­folk I don’t know enough about the dif­fer­ent re­gions of this vast county,” he said. “I re­ally don’t know the Broads at all. I have made lots of raids into the Brecks and the Fens and vis­ited dozens of schools all over the county, but I am moored here.” Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki, by Kevin Cross­ley-Hol­land, il­lus­trated by Jeffrey Alan Love, is pub­lished by Walker. A North Nor­folk Man, a 30-minute film, is pre­miered at the Ox­ford Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val on March 21, fol­lowed by a dis­cus­sion be­tween Kevin, di­rec­tor David Co­hen and Nor­folk na­ture writer Richard Mabey.

Kevin Cross­ley-Hol­land

Other books writ­ten by Kevin Cross­ley-Hol­land

Above: Burn­ham Mar­ket au­thor Kevin Cross­ley-Hol­land; the writer works in long­hand, with a foun­tain pen

North Creake Abbey

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