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An Enchanted Place: Winnie the Pooh’s return to defend the 100 Acre Wood?

Jonathan Stedall in his new book, An Enchanted Place, wonders: What sort of a person Winnie the Pooh would be like if he became a human being? Would he still write poetry, and still be fond of honey? He wouldn’t be slim! And would Piglet be someone who continued to see danger round every corner, and Eeyore be as gloomy as ever? And what about Tigger? Maybe his Indian roots would surface in the form of an interest in karma?
These are some of the playful questions he has been living with over the past year, while writing a story in which A. A. Milne’s much-loved creations do indeed find themselves alive and well and living in the village of Hartfield on the edge of their old stamping ground, the Ashdown Forest. Yet none of them have the slightest awareness of their similarities to Milne’s original creations – not even Sheila, an Australian single Mum with a somewhat obsessive devotion to her small son, Joey.

Their beloved forest is under threat from a proposed bypass. To oppose the scheme an Action group is formed under the leadership of the formidable Bunny, a much-respected citizen of Hartfield, with a reputation for getting things done. Her main ally is Bertie, a dreamer and an idealist, with a deep interest in what he calls ‘a bigger picture’. And yes, he does write poetry, keep bees, and is friends with everyone.
As the saga unfolds, a distinguished member of Bunny’s Group, known to everyone as the Professor, is suddenly faced with a serious illness. The situation leads to discussions about mortality, with Bertie trying to communicate his strong sense that our existence continues beyond death. The Professor has no such faith.

I don’t want people bringing me grapes and books about the afterlife’, is his initial response to Bertie’s offer of help.
In fact their relationship has always been overshadowed by the Professor’s irritation at Bertie’s belief in all sorts of ‘mumbo jumbo’, and by his friend’s concern at our increasing addiction to technology. Only recently this scholarly and somewhat reclusive figure – who no longer lives in a tree, but in a proper house called The Cedars – has taken a certain pleasure in showing Bertie an article about some scientists in the Netherlands who are in the process of developing bee-like drones. These gadgets would be capable of pollinating plants in preparation for the day when real-life insects will have largely died out owing to the excessive use of pesticides.

But attitudes do gradually change, and all the characters – even the Professor – start to reveal more thoughtful aspects to their natures as they begin to do battle with the unseen giant that threatens to invade their forest, as well as to accept and appreciate each other’s eccentricities. As a result, even Bertie’s timid friend, Peggy, begins to find the courage to talk about her past and the roots of her nervousness. Meanwhile Sheila’s new lodger – an actor affectionately known as Bouncer, whose grandfather was a famous Bengali poet – brings his enthusiasm and humour to the challenge they face.

The title of the story – ‘An Enchanted Place’ – comes from some lines that A. A. Milne wrote at the conclusion of The House at Pooh Corner:

‘Come on!’
‘Where?’ said Pooh.
‘Anywhere’, said Christopher Robin.
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

Jonathan chose to write about this colourful group of people not only for the fun of imagining Owl as a university professor, and Tigger as a gay actor who’s afraid of wasps, but above all, “To celebrate my experience that people – including so-called ordinary people – are a lot wiser than appears on the surface. It may take some sort of crisis to wake them up, and in my story the threat of a bypass being built across what one cynical counsellor called ‘unused space’ does just that.” 

Jonathan Stedall is an award-winning documentary film director who worked at the BBC for over twenty-five years. He has made biographies of Tolstoy, Gandhi and Carl Jung, and worked on films with John Betjeman, Alan Bennett, Mark Tully, Malcolm Muggeridge, Cecil Collins, and Laurens van der Post. His autobiography ‘Where on Earth is Heaven?’ was published in 2009. Karen Armstrong wrote: ‘A real quest, with outward work perfectly integrated with an inner search’; and John Cleese called it ‘the most annoying book I’ve ever read, as the author seems to have had a more interesting life than I’ve had.

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Welcome to a New Year

There is much that is exciting happening at Hawthorn Press in 2019 so we are keen to get started. We have some events coming up and some new developments that we can’t reveal just yet, so watch this space.

From “Gandhi’s India”

Join Jonathan Stedall for an immersive weekend of films at Hawkwood, Stroud, 18 – 20 January with the option to stay and this lovely country house. This is a unique opportunity to see an outstanding selection of BBC documentary films – including biographies of Tolstoy, Gandhi and C G Jung, and filmed essays by Alan Bennett and Ben Okri – in the company of their award-winning director, Jonathan Stedall.

Jonathan Stedall joined the BBC as a producer in 1963, where he then worked for twenty-seven years. His earlier career had included stage managing in repertory theatre, work in the cutting-rooms at Pinewood and as a floor manager and then director in commercial television. He won a British Film Academy Award for his documentary In Need of Special Care about a Camphill school in Scotland for children with special needs. This was typical of the gentle and sensitive style of film-making that has won him so much praise over the years.

Portrait of jonathan Stedall by Saied Dai
Portrait of Jonathan Stedall by Saied Dai

He has been an independent documentary film-maker since 1990. His book, Where on Earth is Heaven? was inspired by a question posed by his young son, and looks at the challenging issues of living and dying, looking and seeing, heaven and earth, and human potential. Written since the death of his wife in 2014, No Shore Too Far is a collection of heartfelt poems and meditations on the themes of death, bereavement and hope.

Parenting Toolkit author Caroline Penney is giving a workshop and talk at Woolley Grange, Bradford-on-Avon on Thursday evening and Friday morning 24-25 Jan. Suitable for parents and carers of children aged 0 to 18.

Caroline Penney is a well-known systemic family therapist. She has been involved in training parents to facilitate parenting groups and courses. This talk and workshop will:

  • Explore what are the needs underlying all behaviour 
  • What are the needs and meaning underlying children’s behaviour. 
  • How do we get our needs met 
  • Using advanced listening skills to understand your child.
  • Tickets are £5 per person including tea or coffee.
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Review: No Shore Too Far by Jonathan Stedall

This review of No Shore Too Far was written by Roger Druitt for Perspectives, appearing in Volume 88 No 1, December 2017-February 2018. It is a wonderfully detailed and thoughtful review, and we’re grateful to have come across it.

No Shore Too Far cover image

What a truly amazing book – anyone who does not read much is encouraged to give it a try – something new in writing!

It seemed proper to read the whole volume of these poems before reviewing but this became ever more inappropriate the further one read. The soul just refused to read on, wanting more time to digest, reflect and re-create for itself. The theme of bereavement is of course one of the most poignant imaginable but these poems are not only about that. They make up a near complete compendium of all the questions that modern people ask about life issues, many of which are quoted from source and expounded through the verses, now[sic] viewed through that dread but ultimate truth of our own mortality. Although the poems are not long, they contain width and depth in their concise phrasing and imagery; treasures to be released to quiet pondering.

Jonathan wrote these as an agreement made with Jackie, his wife, before her death three years ago, prompted by a letter she composed to be read to her children after it. Her own death had by then become inevitable, and predictably close. She demonstrated thereby her vision that there just might be a life after death, within which one could reach and embrace those remaining here. The reader discovers gradually how Jonathan built faithfully upon this. His long study of Anthroposophy has equipped him with all the facets of the spiritual dimension of life and in this small volume he has married these to the many different emotions that arose out of his loss, resulting in this series of spiritual researches, always keeping within the realm of experience and colouring it with artistic feeling rather than emotion. Thus he treads ever cautiously between reality and wishful fantasy. The poetic medium turns the emotions into objective human statements that then function as windows upon the relations between the living and the dead. There is no dogmatism either way but the possibility left open that the dead might in fact actually be alive in a mysterious way. The poems do not try to offer a proof but they do function as substance for experience, trading this path that the world talks too much about without really wanting to follow it.

Here this path is trodden courageously, making this valuable material for anyone wishing to research this still fairly taboo area in a wholesome way. Besides the bereaved, anyone engaged in any form of counselling would certainly find the poems valuable, in content as well as method. The book is an effective approach too for other realms of human life, for the threshold of death runs not far away in everything we do. We can take courage too in the substance of this researcher’s work.

The book itself is a joy to hold, the cover smooth to the touch and beautifully designed. Within, the sheer variety of subject matter and imagery is likely to touch everybody’s experience somewhere. From gardening to philosophy, from marmalade to science, there are beautiful renderings of  shared items of life becoming parables for what is truly human in the love that bridges the two worlds.

Is a co-working between two souls across the river between two worlds here demonstrated? It is certainly worth everyone’s while to find out for themselves.

At the end there is a bibliography valuable to anyone taking life’s questions seriously. The final poem, ‘Farewell’, speaks the phrase “and thought by some as dead.”. This is the gentle way Jonathan floats his ideas; but another line could sound like a suggestion that we make a new beginning with the same partner.  Some might find it hard to imagine here that in the longer run this is unlikely and we may have to face never having exactly the same relationship again. Yet the penultimate poem, ‘Exploration’, prepares us for that: “we’re huge, as huge as each new thought that takes us to those billion stars”. But the poem that opens these last three and alo gives the volume its title, ‘No Shore Too Far’, this poem is a tiny but profound dissertation on Leibniz’ question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It gives a firm ground to all the issues Jonathan has touched, including that of ultimate existence and meaning to life.


Buy the book here…

More about Perspectives here…

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Review: No Shore Too Far by Jonathan Stedall

This review of No Shore Too Far is from Towards Wholeness issue no 149 Autumn 2017. Towards Wholeness is the journal of the Friends Fellowship of Healing, which in turn is an informal group of the Religious Society of Friends. Many thanks to Judy Clinton for writing this review.

No Shore Too Far cover image

Jonathan Stedall, who made documentary films for over fifty years, largely for the BBC, wrote this series of poems for his wife, Jackie, who died in 2014 from cancer.

The author describes these poems, which were written since the death of Jackie, as meditations on death, bereavement and hope. Some of the poems are deeply personal: specifically about Jackie, Jonathan’s relationship to her and the depth of his loss and grief. Others are reflections on where this bereavement has taken Jonathan in his thoughts and feelings about ‘the Bigger Picture’ – a deeper reality within which we live and die and where, he senses, communion with the departed is still possible.

I wept my way through many of these poems – not only because they resonated with my own experiences of grief but because they connected me to ‘the Other’ – that which is mystery and deeply loving and which we can turn to for comfort, inspiration and hope.

These  are profoundly spiritual poems, written in non-religious language (although within some of them there are religious references to different traditions). They contain a gentle questioning, a human fluctuation in spiritual certainty, searching and expression of human experiences of many different kinds. Underpinning it all lies a quiet knowing that there is ‘No shore too far’. I found this to be the most beautiful, moving and thought provoking book of poetry I have read in a long time.

The preface to the book and a selection of the poems can be viewed on Jonathan Stedall’s website: www.jonathanstedall.co.uk

Buy the book here…

Towards Wholeness is the journal of the Friends Fellowship of Healing, and all members receive three issues per year. For more information about the FFH please contact David Mason, 2 Fir Avenue, New Milton, Hants, BH25 6EX, david.mason1948@gmail.com.

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Event: Jonathan Stedall interview at the Bleddfa Centre

Jonathan Stedall, author of Where on Earth is Heaven? and No Shore Too Far will be at the Bleddfa Centre on the 29th October to talk about No Shore Too Far with Nicholas Murray from Rack Press; join them for a poignant and honest evening, leavened with humour and an ultimate sense of redemption. There will also be poetry readings and a chance to ask Jonathan your own questions.

Tickets £5 to include refreshments (£4 concessions) 5:00pm – 7:00pm.

For more information and to book, please visit the Bleddfa Centre website: http://www.bleddfacentre.org/events/no-shore-too-far/