Sue Viccars, Dartmoor Magazine editor and local author, worked for a London map publisher before grabbing the chance to return to Devon where she has spent 20 years commissioning walking, equestrian and countryside books for David & Charles Publishers. Since 2000 Sue has written or contributed to around 20 books (and edited dozens more) and written many magazine features, specialising in her home territory of southwest England, with particular reference to Dartmoor and Exmoor. Sue is coming to CCB in May to share her experiences of researching and writing guidebooks and walking books in the West Country and beyond, with particular emphasis on Devon’s Heartland. Find out more about her event Two moors are better than one! (and why I like the bit in the middle).
Q: What book changed your life?
A: The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
I probably didn’t realise that this book meant so much to me until, several years ago, I recommended it to my (then) book club and they tore it to shreds for being ‘politically incorrect’! I was quite affronted and reminded them that a) the book was written in 1946 (I have the Puffin paperback, dated 1963) and b) that it’s a children’s fantasy novel (with interesting undertones about good and evil).
Firstly it’s about a magical pony – a unicorn, naturally (as a child I was pony mad). Secondly it’s about the West Country, a place I associated with sunshine and summer holidays and family history (my grandmother was born in Exeter and spent her childhood in Exmouth), and where – from a very early age – I knew I had to live. I was born in the New Forest and grew up in leafy Surrey, and spent my very early working life in a London publishing house, but living in that part of the country never felt quite right – and it wasn’t until I went to Exeter University, and then returned to Devon to work in publishing a couple of years later, that I knew I was ‘grounded’.
In this book recently orphaned Maria travels from London with Miss Heliotrope, her governess, and her little dog, Wiggins, to live in ‘the old and mysterious manor house of Moonacre’ in a ‘West Country village’ with her older cousin, Sir Benjamin Merryweather. Elizabeth Goudge’s descriptive powers when it comes to creating images of people and place are phenomenal. A touch fanciful, perhaps – but that just adds to the magic. I convinced myself early on that the delightful village of Silverydew was in Devon, and that one day I too would move away from the Home Counties and live there – and I did. Maybe not exactly in a village in the ‘the kingdom of Moonacre’, entered via a tunnel carved through towering granite rocks below Paradise Hill – but in a cottage on the edge of Dartmoor, where I feel completely at home.