Arthur Ransome: Master Storyteller: Writing the Swallows and Amazons Books Hardcover – 5 Oct 2010
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About the Author
Roger Wardale is a founder member and chairman of the Arthur Ransome Society and has written several books on Arthur Ransome and the hugely successful Swallows and Amazons series.
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From the outset the popularity of the books created interest in the locations (five were set in the Lake District and four in East Anglia) and in recent years several organisations have been founded with the objective of studying all aspects of Ransome's life and works. Inevitably, there is now a breed of 'experts' whose knowledge of minutiae can seem overpowering to us lesser mortals. Roger Wardale is a member of the Arthur Ransome Society and undoubtedly an expert, but he is to be congratulated on producing a book which is an absolute joy to read and never presumes prior knowledge beyond an affectionate memory of the original books.
The first two chapters provide a concise review of Ransome's life before 'Swallows and Amazons' - he was 46 when the first book in the series was published. To say that he had an interesting life is something of a understatement, but there are already several biographical studies and the author wisely limits himself to an overview in sufficient detail to set the scene for the rest of the book. The remaining thirteen chapters look in rather more detail at what was happening in Ransome's life while each book was in preparation - there's one chapter for each book and a further chapter covering material which was never completed. Sources include Ransome's letters, diaries and working notes, skilfully combined in a narrative which grips and informs and which never fails to evoke delicious memories of each book in the series.
If, like me, you took part vicariously in the adventures of the Walkers, the Blacketts, the Callums et al, you have to buy this book. It provides you with an unassailable excuse to wallow in pure nostalgia and at the same time helps you to increase your understanding of a remarkable man who - despite his constant self-doubts - possessed the ability to bring delight and lasting pleasure to generations of children, including those rather older children sometimes mistakenly described as adults.
'We Didn't Mean to Go To Sea' is given the warmest welcome and was actually respected by real professional sailors (including my father).
How the fairy tales fit in to his career and how Ransome's wife was the critic that caused him the most anguish is strongly brought out and explains a lot about the struggles he had with false starts and dry periods when he felt in the doldrums. His chronic ill health was a constant drain on his power to write and live any sort of life whilst meeting the deadlines of producing text and illustrations. The books that were never pushed to a conclusion are here explained and many people can only regret "what might have been".
The book about the writing of the Swallows and Amazons series that I've long been waiting for
It also adds some good snippets of new information.
Pictures are excellent and the colour pictures possess a real Ransome related atmosphere. There also included drawings by two of the other Ransome book illustrators, Clifford Webb and Helene Carter. The latter was much admired by Ransome for her work in illustrating many American editions of his books.
In such a detailed work there is inevitably the occasional error. An example is the caption to the Pin Mill Hard picture on Page 109. The stream is actually the Grindle whilst the Twizzle is the water leading to Kirby (Witch's) Quay in the following chapter.
Such errors do not detract from the value of the book, which will form a very useful reference for Ransome's Swallows & Amazons series.