A unique and unusual family guide will be hitting the bookshelves around Malvern later this year. Designed for families to use to explore Great Malvern it is packed full of practical information, humour, activities and stickers which will provide hours of entertainment for the big and little children in your family. Simon Berry spoke with Taissa Csaky and Natasha Podro, the editor and author for this guide to find out more.
S: It seems an excellent idea to have a Family Guide Book about Great Malvern. I understand that this book is being produced as part of the Route to the Hills Project. Can you explain a bit about your role and how you came to be involved?
N: We’ve worked together on various heritage projects - we enjoy making history fun and accessible and since we both love the area around the Malvern Hills we jumped at the chance to work on the book. And luckily for us the Route to the Hills team said yes.
T: I’ve also worked on a couple of Rough Guides, and in children’s educational publishing, so this project brings our experience together in a really enjoyable way. We developed our ideas for how the book should look, feel and sound and what kind of activities it should include together, then Natasha did most of the writing, while I took an editorial role.
S: Is the Guide Book aimed at parents and children of a particular age?
N: The book is aimed at parents (or grandparents) of primary school-age children.
T: We think it will work best when at least one of the children can read the book for themselves, and take on the job of guiding the rest of their group.
S: What is the reason for producing a guide aimed specifically at this group?
N: We had to choose an age range because it’s impossible to write for everyone (a 7-year old and a 14-year old are so different). In our experience, the younger ones are more likely to be taken on the route. Younger children also need the diversion and variation of different games, challenges and jokes to keep them engaged. That said we know from experience that if the book is well-written (and we think it is) it’ll appeal to a wider age-range and the older brothers and sisters will join in too.
S: Do you expect this book to be used just by visitors to the Malvern Hills or will local people also find items of interest?
N: Actually it’s aimed at locals as much as at visitors. It’s very easy to take somewhere for granted when you live there and this will remind residents how amazing their town is.
T: I’d like to think it could be a nice thing for aunts and uncles, or grandparents living in Malvern to do with visiting younger relatives. So potentially it’s a way for locals and visitors to explore the town together.
S: Can you tell us a little about the main themes covered by the guide?
N: Because the guide is designed to be used while out and about the themes had to be led by what people could actually see. We look at the Water Cure of course, the wartime radar researchers, the Priory, the Gatehouse, the donkeys of Rose Bank Gardens, Elgar and lots of other things.
S: What information do you feel is particularly helpful for parents and their children?
T: We think people want to have fun following the route and not worry about finding the way, so we’ve worked hard on making the directions clear. We’re also including some really basic practical information – where to park, the route from the station, where the loos are, where to stop for a drink and a sandwich.
S: Presumably you have had to do quite a lot of checking to ensure that the information in the guide is accurate. Has this presented any problems or surprises?
N: Our fact-checking has been made much easier thanks to all the local experts we were put in touch with. We have found that books sometimes contradict each other – did Elgar fly a kite or did he not? What year was the priory founded etc? Then we have had to dig a bit deeper to find out where the facts came from. Faith Renger from the Museum has been a great source of information and Peter Smith has been our go-to expert on most things when we’ve discovered conflicting information.
S: Have you met any interesting people or discovered any intriguing facts during your research to produce this book?
N: Yes! The whole story of Great Malvern’s ‘secret scientists’ during the war was something we’d never heard about. Mike Burstow was hugely enlightening on the subject – we pretty much wanted to just write down what he said and put it straight in the book. One of the most touching things was how they weren’t allowed to tell the locals what they were doing – even if they were billeted with them – so they were resented for not being away fighting. It must have been so hard for both sides.
T: I particularly like the story of how monks kept each other awake during night-time prayers. One would walk up and down with a lantern and if he spotted someone snoozing he would wake him up by shining the lantern in his face. The sleepy monk then had to take over lantern duty.
S: Has anyone consulted with parents or children to find out what might be helpful to them in a guide to Great Malvern?
T: We sent out a questionnaire to various families to get their feedback on the proposed designs and content. We also road-tested our ideas with our own families throughout the process to make sure what we were doing would be up to scratch.
S: What will the finished guide book look like and will it be available to access online?
T: The full title is ‘Great Malvern: an unusually excellent guide for curious explorers’. It’s going to be very colourful, with lots of photos and some very lively illustrations. It’s 40 pages long and fairly compact – just a bit wider than a regular paperback so you can easily pop it in a rucksack or handbag. It includes colouring activities, puzzles, stickers and some explorers’ props, so it’s going to work best in print.
S: Will the Family Guide book be available for the public to buy? If so, how much is
it likely to cost and when is it likely to be available?
T: We’re hoping the book’s going to be sold all around Great Malvern. The final price will be around £5, and it will be available in late April.
S: Will the book contain local photographs or illustrations and if so, who has
contributed to this?
T: It will have quite a variety of images. Local photographers are supplying photos to help people find their way around. Faith Renger at the museum has supplied some fascinating historic photos and drawings. And we’ve commissioned new illustrations from a talented young artist called Pádhraic Mulholland.
S: If a family decided to explore all the locations mentioned in the guide, how long would it take? Could they do it in a morning or a day or are there enough interesting places for several visits to Malvern?
N: I would say a morning to visit all the places mentioned – although with younger kids you’d need to break that up with a sandwich or cake. We’ve put some puzzles and stickers in the middle of the book, so the grown-ups get a rest too.
T: Hopefully people will find the book quite flexible. You could visit all the spots in order, or just dip in and out. We’ve included an activity trail around Malvern Museum, and recommend the walk up to St Ann’s Well, but you could save those up for another day.
S: Have you been involved in any other projects similar to this in the past?
N: We’ve both done lots of museum trails – at the National Gallery in London, the Ashmolean in Oxford and various churches and historic houses. We had more fun than usual with the Malvern guide as we could include lots of jokes and puzzles.
T: It’s a lot like a guide to a museum or historic building. But with fountains, sculptures and buildings instead of museum objects and furniture!
S: Were you familiar with the heritage of Great Malvern before you became involved with the project?
N: We knew a little about water cure but most of what we learned was entirely new to us.
S: What have you enjoyed most about your involvement in the production of this Family Guide Book?
N: The excuse to visit Great Malvern. Being told intriguing things by interesting people and the chance to really have fun with the text. Of course the guide is historically and factually accurate, but there’s nothing stuffy about it. We think it’s unusually excellent.
Thank you for your time. I wish you every success with the Family Guide Book and I am looking forward to seeing it when it is complete.