Two years ago writer Kit Peel returned home to his family farm on the hills above Pateley Bridge after years abroad to set up NiddFest, a literary festival in Nidderdale celebrating books on nature.
He’s just published his written his first novel, Snow Summer, a classic children’s novel of old-fashioned storytelling combined with a climate change theme set entirely in his native Dales complete with references to Pateley Bridge and Harrogate.
The book even mentions the Nidderdale Herald. Snow Summer already been published internationally but life is still local for this well-travelled author.
Kit Peel: Seven key questions
1 The inspiration for my Dale novel
“It’s great my book has been published in North America by Toronto-based Groundwood Books.
“It’s going to be stocked in Harrogate and Ripon bookshops and I’m hoping for a British publisher soon.
“Like most writers I’ve got a few failed attempts in a folder in the attic. You don’t get taught how to write a book so you mess it up a few times.
“I tried writing comedy but found I was best at nature writing and fantasy for older children.
“Snow Summer is a fast-paced story but the theme also gave me the chance to write in detail about the animals and plantlife in the Dale that I love so much.”
“Who wouldn’t be inspired by the natural beauty of Nidderdale?”
2 My favourite things about living in the Dale
“The house I live in belonged to my gran, who was from Hornsea and came to Nidderdale as a child.
“My parents brought us up from London every holiday. I loved taking the first lungful of clear air.
“Since my wife Megan, the author M.I. Peel, and I moved here permanently to raise our family we’ve got to know many people living here.
“There is a terrific sense of community in Nidderdale, which is something I’ve tried to bring out in the book.
“For all the natural beauty of the place, it’s the people living here who make Nidderdale special above all.”
3 On my time as a foreign affairs journalist
“I worked as a journalist and editor for most of my twenties and early thirties, in Africa and then on short trips to places like Nigeria, Rwanda, Afghanistan, India and so on. These were mostly to visit the correspondents who I managed and I didn’t have to put with the extreme dangers that they often faced.
“But there were a few sticky moments. It always struck me, coming back to Europe after these trips, how lucky we are to live in stable democracies.”
4 Meeting my wife Megan
“After 15 years in the wilderness (often literally) of foreign news, I got lucky.
“I went on a writing workshop and met Megan. She wrote beautiful poems about gardens, Italy and the 1920s.
“I tried to woo her with deathless verse, which was panned by the rest of the group!
“Still, Megan and I finally got together, were married in 2009 and after a year in Greece, moved to the Dale to write and start a family.”
5 Why I set up NiddFest
“I’ve always loved going to festivals. There is something magical about literary talks, outdoor events, food and music all rolled into one.
“My wife and I were talking about our love of festivals on a train one Christmas, when we wondered whether we could set one up ourselves.
“We were both keen gardeners, pretty much all the books we enjoyed were linked to nature, and what better place to hold a festival of nature than the beautiful landscape Nidderdale?
“Nature writing has become hugely popular but we noticed there wasn’t a UK festival dedicated to nature and books.
“We are living at a time when the environment is under threat like never before but NiddFest is not a campaigning festival.
“I’d love it if, however, if through what NiddFest does we could inspire a greater love of nature in people.”
6 What’s NiddFest patron, Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate like in person?
“Carol Ann stayed with us during NiddFest and we had a rather comical blind honey tasting session on the Saturday evening - my honey versus a friend’s honey.
“After she picked the wrong one, she did her best to make up for it. My honey was “moodier, more intense, Heathcliff in a jar” etc.
“It was a fun evening and she’s great company, but all the time you are having a chat you find yourself thinking “this person has written this or that incredible thing.”
7 Why I care so much about bees
“I’ve kept bees for around five years now. The best moment is sitting by the hive on a warm day watching them bring in pollen and do their little waggle dance on the landing board.
“It’s been a struggle at times. I’ve lost hives over winter and in summer empty hives have been magically refilled by passing swarms.
“Bees are a barometer of the perilous state of nature in the world. Almost everywhere they are being decimated through use of pesticides, loss of habitat and widerenvironmental factors. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem The Human Bee describes this beautifully.”