Not the retiring type!

At 76, local poet and children’s author Kevin Crossley-Holland is busier than ever. Amanda Loose tries to keep up

 “I’ve always had a lot of different balls in the air at the same time and this last year perhaps more than ever,” says Kevin. “I am trying to cut down on invitations, but I’m not doing very well at it. I am collaborating with more artists in other disciplines than ever before. I can’t imagine retiring – being curious, involved with a range of things generates its own energy.”

And energy is something which Kevin seems to have in abundance. The beginning of November saw the publication of his Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki for children, with illustrations by Jeffrey Alan Love. Meanwhile, Radio 4 wants to make a 30-minute programme with him about the tides on the Staithe at Burnham Overy over 24-hours; David Cohen wants to make a film about Kevin based on the moored man from his poems, to premiere at the Oxford Literary Festival next March.

Not bad for starters, but hot on the heels of his collaboration with composer Cecilia McDowall on As Each Leaf Dances, written at the invitation of Barnardo’s for the service of thanksgiving to commemorate its 150th anniversary at St Paul’s Cathedral last year, Kevin and Cecilia have just embarked on a new project together.

Their commission for the National Children’s Choir will focus on children in conflict, with the story of cerebral palsy sufferer, Nujeen Mustafa and her journey with her sister from Syria to Germany at its heart.

Closer to home, Kevin was involved with the beLong education project which ran alongside the Richard Long exhibition at Houghton Hall this year, writing poems for key stage 2 and 3 pupils. And his cycle of poems about Sea Henge at Holme will be appearing in an updated version of The Stones Remain: Megalithic Sites of Britain with photography by Andrew Rafferty, and text by Kevin.

“I have Valkyries on either side of me, my wife and PA, suggesting I remember that the answer is no. I think a lot has to do with just plain curiosity. Everything is connected to so many other things. Curiosity is the thing which drives me, coupled with a sense of wonder really.

“In old age you forget things more, you treasure friends, family, especially grandchildren, and have a keen sense that you need to prioritise. Prioritising is beginning to make its mark on me.

“You have to begin to say this is what your body is saying. I always resisted this and pressed on regardless. Now I quite often rest in the afternoons. There is a weariness, I am 76 which seems so absurd. There’s a growing disappointment at how other people see you and how old you feel. But you must be a little more cautious.”

As busy as he is, North Norfolk remains home and a continuous thread throughout his work. “I never regretted for one moment living here. With my grandchildren, there have now been five generations of Crossley-Hollands coming here.”

Child literacy is hugely important to Kevin, who has just come to the end of five years as President of the School Library Association, and is now a patron. “My wife Linda does reading at the school each week here, part of a frankly splendid group who give a couple of hours each week to work on literacy.”

This Carnegie Medal-winning author’s extensive backlist of works for children has surely inspired many a young reader. Indeed, Short and Short Too, his sequences of short stories printed over a double page have been a hit with schools, with the former reprinted 35 times.

“The act of storytelling itself is so crucial. In an age besotted with the visual, we need our imaginations fired, and they are best fired by a story told with an ear to the music of language.”

Young (and older readers) will be delighted to hear that Walker is re-issuing his British Folk Tales next year, and that Kevin is “re-brewing” his children’s book on the 1953 flood. I’m just not sure I can keep up!

Amanda Loose, North Norfolk Living