Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm is set on a Lake District campsite. I thought I’d share with you some of my own camping adventures – and misadventures!
Campfires are becoming a thing of the past. In the old days of heavy canvas tents I guess the fire risk was less, and the health and safety regulations fewer. One of my happiest memories of childhood camping trips with the Girl Guides was getting together around a campfire to sing songs and tell stories. The stories were always ghost stories (inevitably the one about the babysitter getting sinister phone calls, only to find that the caller was ringing from INSIDE THE HOUSE.) There were inevitably marshmallows on sticks to toast too, and hot chocolate.
We were more inclined to sing together in those days, I think. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t hold a tune, you could still join in with such classics as An Austrian went yodelling, That Highland goat and Oh, you’ll never get to Heaven. There was no social media and no pressure to ‘perform’ – it wasn’t about taking turns to sing your song, we all sang every song together. The singing and the storytelling was immediate and intimate. It was ours. A ring of faces around the fire lit by the flames, and darkness all around. The rest of the world didn’t exist and didn’t matter.
In lockdown, we had a few fires in the garden, to get rid of some wood and I found myself sitting out there by myself on a few occasions as the fire burnt down, completely on my own, and found myself remembering those old campfire sing-songs. I realised that was something I would probably never do again; sit round a fire with other people and sing, just for the fun of it.
So, when I came to write Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm I knew there had to be a campfire in there somewhere to make up for that! Following modern campsite practice they have their fire in a (safe) rented fire pit supplied by the farmer, and there is no way that the two lads in the story would tolerate the idea of singing songs around a fire (unless they had rude words about bums or poo, of course!). But the campfire provides the same sense of community and privacy as those long-ago ones of my childhood. The small circle of faces lit by the firelight and the darkness of the world outside gives the characters an opportunity to talk about life and death in a new way, without interference from outside. It was one of my favourite scenes in the novel to write.
And if anyone knows of an active campfire singing scene, where musical ability doesn’t matter, but having a marshmallow on a stick to toast is a bonus, please let me know! (I’m a bit old for the Guides or the Scouts these days, mind you …)
Here is a verse from one of those old Girl Guide campfire songs. I know now that the tune is Lili Marlene if you want to sing along:
With the scent of woodsmoke drifting in the air, And the glow of firelight we always love to share, Visions of campfire still return, And as the logs flame up and burn, We dream of bygone campfires and long for those to come.