Words & Music

PUBLISHED: 15:05 01 September 2015

Image from Heartsong, the latest book from Kevin Crossley-Holland.

Image from Heartsong, the latest book from Kevin Crossley-Holland.


Author and poet Kevin Crossley-Holland of the Burnhams shares the story of his latest works with Mark Nicholls.

As a teller of children’s stories, few reach deeper into the imagination than Kevin Crossley-Holland.

His stories bridge a divide between fantasy and real-life; they are tales that touch the hearts of children by bringing together imagination and emotion with music, pictures and the written word.

Within the pages of his latest book, Heartsong, Kevin tells the pitiful story of Laura, who was abandoned as a baby at an orphanage in Venice when the renowned composer Antonio Vivaldi was the music master. She is mute but as she grows up her life is transformed as Vivaldi unlocks her passion for music.

Heartsong is beautifully illustrated by Jane Ray, who did much of the initial research for the collaborative project, digging into the archives of the orphanage and finding real-life accounts of girls who may have been just like Laura.

Kevin explains: “Heartsong is Laura’s account of her growing up in the orphanage. She was selected for the orchestra because she could not sing, but she is always thinking about her mother and who she was.”

There were some 900 girls in the orphanage, along with 300 boys, and Vivaldi wrote a large amount of material for them during his tenure. It is through this link with the music that the story unfolds.

“I like collaborations,” explains Kevin. “They have always been a part of my life, and I have always wanted to work with Jane and her illustrations are beautiful.”

Heartsong also follows the latest collection of poems from the Burnham Market-based writer in a volume entitled The Breaking Hour. A strong Norfolk theme runs through this latest collection, which will be showcased at the King’s Lynn Poetry Festival (September 25-27), where Kevin will be reciting some of the pieces.

He says: “Many of the poems throughout my life have involved East Anglia and there are Norfolk poems in The Breaking Hour. But the central theme of the book is slightly different this time. It examines how, when you get older, the things that you take for granted when you are in your 20s and 30s - especially the passing of time and the dependency of friends being around - is not always as it was. The poems explore family, time, childhood, friendship, passing memory and even loss of memory; it is about layers of stories, language and the landscape.”

The Breaking Hour title is drawn from the poem Translations, an exploration of the breaking of a woman’s waters before giving birth and how humans all emerge from water into life.

Written over the past four years, his latest collection of poems – which follows The Mountains of Norfolk (2011) which won the EDP/Jarrold’s East Anglian Book Awards Prize for Poetry – also explores the persona of Harald Hardrada and his exploits in what was then Constantinople before his involvement in the 1066 invasions of England, yet reflects on the creeks and saltmarshes of Kevin’s beloved Norfolk too.

As well as being recognised for his poetry, Kevin has also been honoured for his works for children: The Seeing Stone won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award and the trilogy it is from has been translated into 25 languages. He has also translated Beowulf from the Anglo-Saxon, and his retellings of traditional tales include The Penguin Book of Norse Myths and British Folk Tales.

Active as the President of the School Library Association, he continues to write and his next book, All the World was in the Sea is out in autumn 2016. Another children’s tale, it follows the events of the night of the great flood of 1953 and is set in the fictitious community of Waterslain, which is based on Burnham Overy Staithe.

The Breaking Hour, published by Enitharmon Press, is £9.99. Heartsong is published by Hachette, also at £9.99, on August 30.

Kevin Crossley-Holland will be appearing at the King’s Lynn Poetry Festival on Friday, September 25, at 7.30pm;


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