My First Visit to Peter Pan Moat Brae
I’m writing on a drizzle-filled morning from a book lined room upstairs at Moat Brae. The room is perfect for a writer. It has a large desk, with a window and the shelves are filled with books, mainly children’s books. I admit, I have been somewhat distracted by all of the titles I am surrounded by and have been browsing the spines and flicking through pages. We writers like to call such distraction ‘procrastination’. Many of them are older books from the 70s, 80s and 90s. They belonged to children’s poet Beverley Mathias. Her collection is stored here at Moat Brae, as is the collection of Arthur Ransom (Swallows and Amazons).
One question that has come up during my visit here is my own place amongst the canon of children’s writers. And many aspects of who I am challenge the idea of what a children’s author looks like. I remember last year walking to the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group of the Society of Authors in London, I was walking behind two women and I said to myself ‘they must be going to the same place as me, because they look like children’s authors.’ Then I wondered about myself…do I look like a children's author? And I wondered where do we get our perceptions of what a children’s author should be like? There is no one answer. You could be a children's author if you wanted to be. We’re in a wonderful time in children’s literature, there are young authors in their 20s, debut authors in their 40s, 50s and 60s, gay and trans authors, black and Asian authors, working class and disabled authors. Authors who are neurodivergent, authors who are mixed heritage, authors who have been refugees; and authors who are just like you, me, and the children we write for.
My first impressions of the building at Moat Brae is that it has been lovingly (and cleverly) restored. I’ve seen photos of the place when it was a wreck, graffiti was all over the place, it was truly derelict. The trustees and everyone who has restored this building to make it into a multiple-use heritage and cultural centre have done a marvellous job. The thoughtfulness is brilliant. The designers have thought about children in the exhibit rooms by having many things at an accessible height, from the Darling’s beds to the crawl-through dog kennel of Nana’s. The upstairs fancy dress and theatre room, (I’m told) is where children love to hang out the most. We would all like a break from our realities once in a while. And the cafe is a bright place for a lovely snack or cup of tea.
The Neverland Discovery Garden too, has many details to inspire awe and wonder in kids (of all ages). We were all children once. The child-sized apparitions that playfully dangle from tree swings (or are deep in contemplation reading) are so eye catching. I was instantly enthralled by their translucent nature. They definitely have piqued my interest and I am going to write a story inspired by those. The Peter Pan soundbites around the trail are a nice touch, and children LOVE searching for things and 10 carefully placed stone crocodiles are sure to keep them occupied for some time. The storytelling performances are engaging and one feels for the actors in fairy costumes in colder spells. Brrrrr.
The staff have been very friendly and welcoming. It is sad the pandemic has affected the footfall into Moat Brae and I urge you to visit (Covid safety regulations are in place – I’ve had my temperature checked this morning as I was brought through the Staff entrance!). I had lunch there twice and it was very nice.
Peter Pan Moat Brae is a much needed getaway from the woes of the world. It is a colourful oasis of imagination and a welcoming space in this difficult time. One can only imagine the potential it has to do much good work in the future to promote reading and creative writing amongst children, and to promote Scottish children’s literature around the country and further afield. Scotland has a thriving storytelling and creative culture – two of the UK’s bestselling authors live in Scotland. And so do many more less rich authors but equally important authors (for example: Dean Atta, Joan Haig, Emily Illett, Vivian French, Lindsay Littleson, Justin Davies, Neil Gaiman has a place in Skye, Morag Hood, Jill Calder, Pamela Butchart, Barbara Henderson, Ross Sayers, and the list goes on).
It has been a wonderful visit after a very hectic writing week. I’ve been working every day on various projects from two reading books, a novel, a short book, a short film script, and the monologues for The Wild Goose Festival at Moat Brae in October. It’s been nice to be somewhere else, meet new people and to visit Moat Brae in person after becoming the fellow in May.
I will leave today inspired and hopeful of a return visit soon. Thanks for having me Moat Brae!