Monday 9 May 2022

The House at Strone by Claire Nielson #MyLifeInBooks #TheHouseatStrone @claireenielson


When three children spend a summer alone in an old house by the sea,

they little dream what mysteries and adventures are going to enthral and challenge them.

The House at Stone by Claire Nielson was published in paperback in October 2021 and is free on ebook from today, 9 May, until 11 May 

I'm delighted to welcome the author here to Random Things today. She's talking about the books that are special to her in My Life In Books 

My Life in Books - Claire Nielson 

Oh, dear, what a dilemma to choose just six books that have meant something to you in your life, when you always been a complete book glutton! But here goes…

I have to start with the book that was one of the first to captivate me entirely. It was called THE ADVENTURES OF WONK by Muriel Levy and it featured a really cute little koala bear with a fat tummy. As a small child, I fantasized that he lived with me and was my own pet to cuddle in bed. Muriel Levy was the ‘Auntie Muriel’ that I listened to on the radio on Children’s Hour each evening, so I felt I knew her.

Maybe I had a thing about animals at that age because Kenneth Graham’s THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS was another great favourite of mine, although the animals in that story are just like people. In those post-war days of food rationing, when it came to the description of the toast with butter running through ‘in golden honey drops’ that Mr Toad was given by the kind jailer’s daughter, it made my mouth water so much, I used up my month’s butter ration all at once, on two pieces of toast!

Hardly any children of that time were not fans of Enid Blyton.  I particularly liked the FAMOUS FIVE books, with their vivid descriptions of all the fascinating adventures the children found themselves caught up in. Most kids suffered badly with chilblains then (Scotland in winter, freezing cold, no central heating, inadequate footwear) and my idea of utter joy was when my feet were so swollen, I couldn’t get my shoes on and therefore couldn’t go to school. Despite the itching and pain in my toes, I wasn’t actually ill, so I could lie for hours reading an Enid Blyton adventure, especially THE SEA OF ADVENTURE. I remember one red-letter day when my mother managed, in spite of sweet rationing, to buy me a little bag of sherbet lemons to suck while I read. Bliss!

Moving on, I have to mention JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte, which I read obsessively from an early age. I could have understood little of it, but I would burn with indignation at the Reed family’s ill-treatment of Jane and feel triumphant when she told the cruel Mrs Reed just what she thought of her. I think perhaps my uncritical admiration of Mr Rochester and later, of Max de Winter, in Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA, had a rather bumpy effect on my choice of first husband! I levelled things up later by reading Jean Rhys’s WIDE SARGASSO SEA

(See how I did that! Sneaked in two other books which I’m sure won’t count as two of the six, will they?)

A perhaps more wholesome choice and an author I have enjoyed equally as child and adult, especially for her hilarious comedy characters, is Richmal Crompton and the JUST WILLIAM books. I still love them and think (hope!) they may have had a seminal influence on my own writing. They also introduce children to a wide vocabulary because Crompton didn’t condescend to her audience ever. Apparently, to begin with, she intended these stories for adults, but they were adored by children.

With regard to unhappy relationships and love affairs in general, I found the French author, Colette, a huge help in gaining some kind of detachment and level-headedness during the fever of love, her book THE PURE AND THE IMPURE being particularly strengthening. Colette survived a domineering first husband and forged a powerful career in a time when it was extremely difficult for a woman to do so.

Oh, dear, I’ve reached the sixth on the list. Well, I shall just have to forget the dozens of others and choose one last author. For influence on my life, it has got to be E.M. Forster and HOWARD’S END in particular. His ‘only connect’ with reference to the balance of ‘monk’ and ‘beast’ in human nature taught me a lot, not only about myself, but about other people too. So, watch out!   

My current read, well reads, (because I always like to have two books on the go to allow for different moods) are O PIONEERS by Willa Cather and THIS IS GOING TO HURT by Adam Kay. It’s great that the latter is on tv now too.

My most recent read that has stayed with me is Gill Paul’s, THE COLLECTOR’S DAUGHTER, because of its great storytelling about a historic event that always fascinated me - the discovery of, and subsequent dramas around, the tomb of Tutankhamun.

As for my go-to read and the one that brings back my childhood days in the house at Strone, I think that has to be THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Claire Nielson - May 2022

With a long career in television and theatre, author Claire Nielson enjoys an incredibly colourful life.

From leaving school at 16 and saving money to run away to Italy with her best friend, appearing in household shows including Taggart, The Two Ronnies and Fawlty Towers, to co-founding a successful drama workshop company, Claire's time has been busy and fulfilling.

Family is important to Claire who enjoys telling her grandchildren stories of the special childhood holidays she enjoyed at her grandfather's home in Strone. 

After years of begging her to write these stories down so they (her grandchildren) can tell these stories to their own children, lockdown provided the perfect opportunity for Claire to pen her first children's book, The House at Strone. 

Now living in Stratford-upon-Avon with her husband, actor Paul Greenwood, when Claire isn't writing stories, she enjoys playing the piano (albeit badly!), cooking, walking and painting.

Instagram @claireenielson


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