Days Out

Day Out: Seven Stories – The National Centre For Children’s Books. (Newcastle Upon Tyne).

Day Out: Seven Stories – The National Centre For Children’s Books. (Newcastle Upon Tyne).

Material from David Almond’s notebooks

About Seven Stories

Imagine a place which celebrates children’s literature, illustration and all forms of creativity.

Seven Stories in Newcastle is home to the biggest archive of material related to children’s literature in the UK. It also has a visitor centre which host exhibitions, author visits and creative activity of all kinds.


My reason for visiting was to see the exhibition about David Almond’s work, Where Your Wings Were. I’ve loved Almond’s work since childhood, and every time I return to one of his stories I gain something new about creativity and humankind. His talks on art and the creative process have also influenced my writing and encouraged me to think deeper about the role writing plays in my life.

The exhibition explored different elements of Almond’s work, including the magic which exists alongside the everyday and the different settings around Newcastle.

Artwork by David McKee

I was delighted to find that an exhibition of David McKee’s artwork was on display at the same time. Elmer is another childhood favourite. My mum, sister and I read the stories together at bedtime. Seeing so many of the original illustrations on display made me think about McKee’s use of colour and space. The exhibition explored this, and also looked at McKee’s recurring themes of tolerance and letting everyone be free to be themselves.


A further gallery was dedicated to Aliens Love Underpants. This was very much a play space and we were impressed by the different elements of the book which had been picked out and recreated for visitors to explore and reenact. 

Thoughts after visiting 

Seven Stories is also a place where everybody is welcome. Sensory trails run alongside ordinary exhibitions. Adult dressing-up clothes hang alongside those for children. Quiet spaces are clearly signposted. Most especially, this is a space where families of all shapes and sizes are welcome. Seven Stories is the one place I have visited where it feels like nobody needs to explain themselves. Everyone can join in and everyone is welcome.

The centre understands how writing, drawing, dressing-up and play are connected. How one form of creativity leads to another. It is special to be in a place which encourages all kinds of art and expression.

I came away feeling as if my batteries had been recharged. Not only was I excited to return to my writing projects, but I also wanted to play with different types of art.

Look forward to a return visit at the first opportunity.


Louise Nettleton



London Round-up

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So ends radio-silence. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I had an appointment in London, and stayed a few days with family. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I’m glad I live elsewhere. Most of the time. It was strange to be in a place so familiar, and to feel so shut-out from it. I grew up in London. Lived there for nearly 26 years without seeing a fraction of the major attractions. It was always there for another day. I lived in the suburbs, which made it just enough of an effort that I talked myself out of getting to know the town.Now I live in a place of open sky. Of migratory birds, and fells and marshland. Most of the time that is where I would rather be, but I am grateful to have a place to stay in London. 

The main event this year was the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. I img_4053watched the programme ahead, and although this contained spoilers, it completely raised my expectations. I hadn’t realised it was such a large exhibition. 

It was beyond everything I had hoped. 

I’m wary of too many spoilers, but here’s an overview. The exhibition is divided by Hogwarts subjects. It contains original material from JKR, manuscripts and objects relating to magic from over the centuries, and other Potter paraphernalia. There is also original material from Jim Kay, the artist responsible for the new illustrated editions. I hadn’t realised his paintings were so huge! In my dream-life, I would hang one of these on my study wall. There are also some clever digital sideshows, such as a potions-making game. 

img_4063The highlight for me was the original material, both from Kay and Rowling. It was lovely to see how Potter progressed. My favourite artifact was one of Rowling earliest attempts to write a scene from Potter. No spoilers – but a word of advice. Rowling’s material attracts the largest crowds. Behave as if this is a queue – join the end, and walk along the display cases. It only takes a couple of people before everyone does the same thing, and those who don’t want to wait can peep over shoulders rather than see the whole case. This takes longer than trying to scrum in, but ensures you see every object clearly. This is Britain, after all – people know the rules of a queue. Join the end, and wait patiently for your go. 

img_4101This trip could be described as ‘the big kid’ trip. Sure, I went to the Tate, but even the exhibition there encouraged adults to rediscover their inner-child. I’m talking about the swings in the Turbine Hall. The message is supposed to be about the power when we work together, and how we could free ourselves from the force of economics if we worked together. Nice idea … but I went higher on the swings when I sat alone. Could be a metaphor for my life. We’ll return to that in a couple of years. In the meantime, if anybody wants to donate for a replica set of swings to be built on my village green, I’ll ensure they get a plaque. 

I also visited old favourites – Hamleys, Disney and Foyles. Self-explanatory, but I’ll share some pictures. I was lucky not to be evicted from Hamleys, ‘Have a go,’ said the cheery sales-assistant, handing me a giant frisbee. Well, nobody asked whether I had co-ordination. I really didn’t mean to lob it at that crowd of tourists …. 


Do you have a favourite place to visit in London? Have you seen the Potter exhibition yet? Let me know in the comments below. 

Chat · Days Out

Day Out: The Forbidden Corridor.



Staycation round-up #4. There is no term to describe The Forbidden Corner, a place of wonders found in Leybern, Yorkshire. Tourist attraction? Yes, but it is also a garden, a folly, a work of art and one man’s dream. Welcome to a place of giants and devils, boars and mice and grave-stones of men who got on the wrong side of fairies. And water. Healthy amounts of water. Please note: this picture contains pictures of the attraction.

There is plenty more to see, but it you want it to be a surprise, look away. 

At the entrance, we weren’t given a map but a tick-list of some of the strange things we might see. There are no sign-posts within the park. This is part of the fun. It is like a giant maze, except some of it is in a castle, some of it underground, some of it in gardens, and some of it more like a traditional hedged-in maze. The first time we found a view-point, I suggested we could map the park, but the trees are planted to obscure the attractions from the view-points. A lot of thought has gone into the design. 

As a party of three adults, we realised this was a friendly attraction for all ages. Certainly the school kids were having great fun, but so were the seniors. It is possible to play in the towers, or to admire the gardens. The thing everyone had in common was a healthy imagination. 


One huge point to consider is access: there are areas which are hard to access if you have mobility issues. Several of my closest blogging friends have mobility or balance issues, and I would suggest phoning for information on how much is accessible, and visiting on a spring day when you can enjoy smaller amounts of the park while others in your party explore the castle.

We enjoyed the cafe – plenty of regional food, and a spacious area to sit. 

It was a lovely introduction to the Yorkshire Dales. The funniest thing was, having gone to see the attraction, we ended up having a long walk. It is set in the most beautiful countryside, and I would love to go back and explore the general area. The Forbidden Corner is like the best sort of book, full of hooks to keep you walking. What can I say? I walked through a giant’s mouth, stuck my tongue out at a water daemon, and searched a mouses’ layer for a giant cat. It was like the best sort of dream, and I’m reluctant to wake up.  

The Forbidden Corner
Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Leyburn DL8 4TJ, UK
Chat · Days Out

September Staycation #2 – Sweet-toothed Trail

You’ve heard of Grasmere Gingerbread and Kendal Mint Cake. Maybe you’ve heard of Cartmel sticky toffee pudding. I live in a region of sweet-toothed treats, which is apposite. I am Queen Sweet-Tooth. It’s a wonder they’re not rotten! Anyway, what you didn’t know is that Kendal Mint Cake is just the tip of the sugary ice-berg, and that actually, it’s not only the Lake District which produces famously fantastic treats. It’s not only Cumbria. It’s the entire border reigon. 

When we lived in London, me and my parents would spend a week’s holiday in a barn outside of Appleby. Our holidays were planned around food and walks – a convenient balance was achieved, and we ate everything from pub food to giant meringues and three-scoop ice-creams.

For our second staycation day, we chose to revisit some old holiday favourites. I was also on a mission to choose some treats for the top of my birthday cake next month. 

First stop was Appleby Bakery. You’ve seen Appleby-in-Westmoreland on the news. It’s that-place-with-the-horse-fair, except it is so much more. I love Appleby, and I especially love the Appleby bakery, with it’s pies and regional cheeses, and tray bakes. Most of all it’s tray bakes. Today I chose a picnic slice, which is basically a Hagrid-sized florentine. 

Ask nicely and I’ll share.

We moved from cake, into chocolate and ice-cream. Kennedy’s chocolate shop in Orton is a gem. Housed in an old school-house, you can see the chocolate being mixed and shaped in moulds behind the shop, and from windows in the cafe. 

The shop itself stocks every flavoured bar under the sun, all made on site. Selection IMG_2608boxes are family celebration staples – my favourite flavours are from the dessert range – butter fudge cream and Mississippi mud pie. You can get an idea of the selection here. Kennedy’s deliver through the post, and I can tell you from experience that the chocolates arrive safely. 

Savoury food as well as is sweet is available in the cafe, and there is a good range of food, including a menu of daily specials. It was nice to see local produce used, such as Lancashire cheese. 

Ice-Cream is also made on premises, and we enjoyed our ice-cream sundaes. I was particularly taken with the idea of serving in long, thin bowls. This enabled me to try different flavours together. As any serious sweet-tooth knows, ice-cream sundaes served in a cup tend to end up looking like poster paint mixed by a four year-old. 

Complimentary chocolate flowers came with the receipt; a cute touch, but if you haven’t come in for chocolate, I defy you to walk out without. One taste and I was sold. Peeking into the factory while lunch was being prepared was lovely. The opening to the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film? It’s not far off. They actually have sinks full of pure chocolate. Good job they keep the public separate. Full of sugar I might have been, but I would happily have stuck my head under and drunk it all up. 

IMG_2677The birthday cake mission was a success: great plans are afoot, and I’ll keep you updated. It’s not until October 13th, but one thing is certain. This year is going to be a very happy birthday.