The House of Arden

When I was about nine or ten, Edith Nesbit was one of my favourite authors. Luckily for me, the Mt Hagen library had a good stock of her works, and I read and re-read The Railway Children, The Treasure Seekers, The Phoenix and the Carpet, Five Children and It, The Would-Be-Goods and more. She was one of those authors, like Noel Streatfeild, with whom I knew I was in safe hands.

Alas, when I tried to share the Nesbit magic with my own children, it didn't cross the generation gap. Perhaps her humour was too subtle, perhaps the Victorian-era setting was too far from my daughters' world, or maybe I was too eager and tried when they were too young. All my favourites sit on my bookshelf, but they haven't been read for many years.

Then I found The House of Arden in the local op shop. I hadn't read this one, but for fifty cents, it was worth a punt. (I must say that Edith's prolific output did produce a few duds, and I'd been disappointed by Wet Magic and The Magic City.) But The House of Arden, I'm pleased to say, was right up there with her best.

It's a time slip story, in which two children (unfortunately named Edred and Elfrida) travel through their own family history, encountering highwaymen, the Gunpowder Plot and a mysterious South American civilisation among other adventures, as well as a random fellow traveller from their own time (who is a loose end left dangling -- perhaps resolved in the sequel, Harding's Luck). They are searching for treasure, and eventually find it, though not in the form they were expecting.

I'm delighted to add The House of Arden to my collection, and it's reminded me how much fun Nesbit's books can be. She also had a very complicated personal life, (which possibly explains her fascination with absent fathers??) and I've been promised her biography to read (thanks, Kirsty!) I can't wait...


  1. Hi Kate,

    I just finished reading your new novel New Guinea Moon. It transported me back to PNG, a place I have lived and worked over the last 10 years, and that kumul-shaped fish hook in my own heart gave a firm tug. I lived in Mt Hagen for four months back in 2008 as a volunteer, so it was particularly exciting to see that New Guinea Moon was set there.

    I am also a Melbourne-based writer and, weirdly enough, am working on a middle-grade novel partly set in PNG. It even features a Victorian Crowned Pigeon!

    I had a look at your biography on Wikipedia and see that you also started publishing YA at about my age, 34. I have just had my first baby and am finding it pretty difficult to find time to write, but hopefully it will get easier.

    Anyway, just wanted to say congratulations on the book, I loved the story and the setting and all the memories it evoked. You obviously drew much from your own experiences growing up in PNG.

    I can't wait to go back to that beautiful, wild country (and take my son with me), and also can't wait to read the rest of your books.

    Happy writing

  2. Hi Isabel,

    Thank you so much for commenting, and I'm so pleased that you enjoyed New Guinea Moon! Though I haven't been back to PNG since 1978, the country has definitely made its mark on me, there were plenty of my memories embedded in NGM.

    I feel for you trying to find writing time with a new baby! I was lucky in the first few years after my daughters were born to have help from my mother and mother-in-law to give me time to write, I also had an arrangement with a writer friend with a child the same age as mine, the babies would play together watched one of us, while the other worked. It was a great system. I used to work whenever the baby slept. But looking back it was easier when the girls were tiny in some ways -- I could think about writing while caring for them, then rush to my desk when they slept. As they got older, they demanded more mental presence!

    Best of luck with your middle grade novel, it sounds wonderful, I'd love to read it. I don't think I've ever read a MG novel set even partly in PNG.

    Thanks again and all the best with both the writing and the little one :-)


    1. Hi Kate,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. That sounds like an excellent baby-care-and-writing arrangement. Unfortunately I don't have any writer friends with babies, but fear not, there is always a way. My partner and I are actually working on the book together and are planning to take two months off later in the year to give it our focus. Leo will be looked after my his Nonna and another friend during the days so we can work.

      Always a balance between writing, money, time, child care and the rest of life, but sometimes you have to take a chance on something that matters.

      Thank you, I would love to share a draft with you once it's at a certain standard. As a young adult writer with a PNG connection you would be the ideal early reader. I have just finished reading Cicada Moon (which I loved) and I think the magical realism has a lot in common with our book. Will stay in touch as things progress, slowly but surely.

      All the best with your writing and your girls and know that I am making my way through your books of an evening!


  3. Believe it or not, I’m making my way through Nesbit just now. Did you know that she also wrote horror fiction for adults? I have a copy of some of her short stories and they’re scary!

  4. I didn't know she wrote horror! She was certainly extremely prolific. What do you think of her work, Sue?