Amy’s seaside special!

IT’S already been a busy and memorable day for little Amy Winterbottom, what with an end-of-term Easter service at school and a piano lesson later. And then, topping it all off, is the excitement of the four boxes that arrived at home during the afternoon – a delivery that helps take her mind off the stubborn cough and cold she’s fighting. Inside, fresh from the printers, are hundreds of copies of the book she dreamed up. A Guide to Stuff You Find on the Beach: Shells, Seaweeds and Pebbles of East Anglia does just what it says on the cover.

Designed to slip into a pocket or beach-bag, its 48 pages contain photographs and bite-size chunks of information to help children identify some of the things they’re likely to come across at the seaside. The book features shells such as those inhabited by cockles, mussels and scallops; mermaids’ purses, urchins and sea potato; seaweed such as bladder wrack; semi-precious stones like carnelian, and much more. So why did Amy want to make a book?

Industriously working away at her desk at home near Bury St Edmunds late on a rainy afternoon, she looks up from her writing and drawing and gives the question careful thought. “Because I like beaches,” she says.

So does her mum. When Sally was a girl, growing up in north Norfolk, beachcombing around Brancaster, Hunstanton, Scolt Head, Titchwell and other coastal areas was a regular and enjoyable family activity. “My mother was a teacher and we went quite a lot; but we wouldn’t just sit on the beach. She wasn’t afraid to put us in the car and take us quite a long way to show us some fossils or something like that.”

Some summer holidays were spent over the border at Walberswick, and Sally also got to know Aldeburgh and Southwold. She adored the coast, and has clearly passed on her enthusiasm to her daughter.

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Visits to the seaside had long resulted in Amy returning home with “treasures” collected in bags and her “yellow bucket with different-coloured dots”. There, it was often a case of getting out Sally’s collection of Jarrolds books about seashore life – tomes that were her favourites as a girl – and looking up details of the things found.

“Amy really likes these books too, and she thought she would write something similar, but specially for children, and specifically about East Anglian beaches,” says Sally, who last year produced British Field Crops: A Pocket Guide to the Identification, History and Uses of Arable Crops in Great Britain. “She sees me doing my self-publishing work here at home, so doesn’t think it’s odd to write books!”

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The youngster hatched her idea late last summer, drawing a potential cover bearing the words that appear on the printed edition.

Not surprisingly, there was already enough seaside “treasure” at home that could be photographed, but mother and daughter staged intensive beachcombing sessions in Suffolk and Norfolk from October to February just to make sure nothing was missed that ought to be in the book.

Sally recalls a Sunday night trip to Walberswick. They were still on the beach when it was getting quite dark and they got home late. “We were very naughty staying out on the night before a schoolday,” she laughs. “Well, it wasn’t that late – it just felt like it, because it was in January.”

“It was the dizzy heights of five o’clock, wasn’t it?” smiles Mark, Amy’s dad.

The schoolgirl took the lead about what went in the book. A little starfish character, who pops up on every other page and gives extra information in a speech bubble, was her idea too, with the cartoony echinoderm drawn by Sally.

Some of those snowy winter days when school was cancelled were put to good use, with mother and daughter discussing the content and how Amy thought items ought to be described. She reckoned, for instance, that amber can be the colour of golden syrup or toffee.

She talked about her ideas and observations – by imagining her dad was on the phone and couldn’t see what Amy had in front of her – and Sally typed down what was said.

Mum says her daughter “wrote/dictated things that I would never have thought of writing, like saying that razor shells are crunchy under your wellies. She made really constructive comments on the book all the way through us putting it together – things like Should we include seaweeds or not? What information should we write about each kind of shell or sea animal? How long should the book be? What exactly should be in it?”

They checked with both Sally’s mother (a retired primary school teacher) and Amy’s own class teacher to make sure the language and content were suitable for children.

“We had some help from the mollusc expert at the University Zoology Museum in Cambridge with identifying a few kinds of shell that we were unsure about,” adds Sally, “and we had some advice from Norwich Castle Museum too.”

On the web, Mark spotted a site that offered tailor-made fonts – for free, for a limited time – so they got cracking and submitted examples of Amy’s handwriting that were then turned into unique computer-type.

The father of a schoolfriend, meanwhile, was a designer and created a colourful front cover.

There have been significant advance orders – one task for the day after speaking to ealife was to package-up books – with more than 130 sold at time of writing. A sizeable order has come from tourism offices in north Norfolk, and Suffolk Wildlife Trust should be stocking it at the Lackford Lakes reserve near Bury St Edmunds.

Amy’s parents are confident the publication will find a niche.

“I was convinced of it when we were walking on the beach at Southwold and this little girl picked up a cuttlefish bone. ‘Mum, what’s this?’ And she replied ‘Oh, I don’t know. Put it down; it’ll be smelly!’ If only she’d had the book!” says Mark.

“We would definitively have bought one if we’d seen it, and hadn’t done it ourselves!” adds Sally. “We hope it will be interesting for children and holidaymakers on the coast.”

There’s a website, too – “which Daddy made” – where people can see a slideshow of some of the pages and place orders. It’s at (deep breath now)

So does Dad also go searching along the shoreline? “Yes, but he never does that,” says Amy, miming the true beachcomber’s head-down stance.

Mark grins. “You and Mummy have your heads in the sand, don’t you? My idea of walking is a very brisk, energetic walk. So I have to stop, get a book out, read it, and wait for them to catch up!”

“And then,” laughs Sally, “we get you to carry anything heavy!”

Amy nominates a thin tellin – a flat and delicate shell – as her favourite find, as some are rather a pretty pink. One notable thing they’ve found at Southwold that’s not in the book is a marine worm called a sea mouse. They’re usually buried head-first in sand and don’t look much like a regular mouse, though the body is covered in a kind of hair.

“They also find sea urchins all the time, but I’ve never found one,” says Mark.

Amber has proved elusive. Mother and daughter have searched and searched in vain. For the book, they contacted the Amber Shop and Museum in Southwold and were grateful to be able to rummage through a box of natural amber and take pictures for the book.

Back to today and “Ducky Dabbles” has arrived, which means it‘s probably time for ealife to take its leave. Ducky Dabbles is a duck who first called on the family when Amy was about 18 months old and made a beeline for the paddling pool. Apart from a year or so when she seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth, she’s been back nearly every day since and is happy to eat out of a hand.

One last question: any more ideas bubbling under?

Amy’s answer is swift and sure: “A cookery book, a poetry book, a story book.” The latter will be a single tale, rather than a collection of shorter stories. “I’m going to make one up.”

“Just as a wild guess,” smiles her dad, “will it have horses in it? And a hamster?” (They’ve got one of those.)

“It’s going to be about when you rescue animals.”

• A Guide to Stuff you Find on the Beach (ISBN 978-0-9550466-8-1) costs �5. It should be available to order from bookshops. It can also be bought directly from for �6.50, which includes postage and packing.

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