20/01/21 (The Secret Staircase)

Hi! It’s been a while. Life’s been interesting, and also boring, but not both at the same time very often.

Next on my chosen list of books for Read More is the Brambly Hedge Treasury by Jill Barklem.

I can’t remember who gave me this book, or how old I was when I received it, but it’s one of many treasured children’s books I’ve kept hold of. Not, in my current mind at least, because I want to pass them on to my offspring (of which I have two cats, whose interest in books is limited to nibbling dust covers), but because I love them as books, as belongings of my own that are pure memory and sentimentality and simplicity.

Although, The Brambly Hedge treasury is really anything but simple…
The Secret Staircase in particular – the illustrations are why I’ve really chosen this book as part of a list that have informed and inspired my work.

When I was gifted it, I must have been at that age where writing and reading were becoming something I did independently, but still drawn in by the illustrations, I could spend hours exploring the worlds inside.

The Brambly Hedge mice live in a series of trees forming Brambly Hedge. The trees are hollow, so there’s plenty of space inside for the mice to build homes over innumerable generations, by carving out rooms and staircases and halls, each generation making and adapting the spaces as they need them. It’s cozy and warm in there, with steamy kitchens and full larders in the winter, halls with roaring fires and bedrooms with little wooden pieces of tiny mousey furniture.

I remember drawing, or trying to draw my own versions of the great trees and stumps that the brambly hedge mice lived in, and I wasn’t ever able to create what I could imagine to my satisfaction. I’m not sure if it was too complicated, or that my childhood drawing skills weren’t as prodigal as I thought they were. In some ways, I think I’ve been trying to keep exploring the secret staircase and create my own hidden worlds in places for a long time.

The Secret Staircase is the best story, because it’s got the best illustrations of the big palace tree, and it’s got the best story, of two young mice exploring cobwebby attics that generations of grown-up mice have long since forgotten about. Is there a universal childhood longing to explore, to build dens, create secret hideouts? I think there must be, and I think it’s so important, when working in and with interior and exterior spaces alike, that we don’t forget how it felt to first discover the world.

You can learn more about the mice of Brambly Hedge here.

Photo of illustration of The Secret Staircase in the Brambly Hedge Treasury