In November of 2017, I took a research trip to Ireland and England to follow in the footsteps of C. S. Lewis, aka Jack. My picture book biography, Through the Wardrobe: How C. S. Lewis Created Narnia, was mostly written. I had some rough sketches down. But I really wanted to go and see the places for myself. To see it all in person, in full color. And, speaking of color, I found my color palette for the book in a mossy wood in Northern Ireland--bright, beautiful greens and hazy violets:
But let's start at the beginning. We flew out of Charlotte, NC, had a pit stop in Chicago, then flew across the ocean to Dublin, Ireland. From there, we drove straight to Belfast. I had planned a bit of sight-seeing for that day, and we did get some in, but a few things: 1. We were really tired after that trip! (Should have factored that in.) and 2. I didn't realize until we got there that the sun sets at like 4;30/5 pm in the winter! So, any research or sightseeing we wanted to do, we had to get it done before 5.
The first place we visited in Belfast was Little Lea. This is Lewis' childhood home. You can see it from the outside, but the inside isn't open to the pubic.
Not too far from the home is a boarding school called Campbell College that Jack went to for a very short time.
Some claim that the lamp-post at this school was the inspiration for the one in Narnia:
We also visited C. S. Lewis Square in downtown Belfast:
Downtown Belfast was also a really lovely place to explore in the evening.
Trying some interesting foods....some Yorkshire pudding filled with gravy and potatoes...
and some churros with warm Nutella drizzled on top!
Yummm....Okay! Moving on....
We visited St. Mark's Dundela in Belfast, the church that C. S. Lewis went to as a child.
The inside wasn't open, but we walked around:
After a couple of days in Ireland, we took a ferry to England. We all got a little sea-sick, but it was the only way to take the car we had rented with us.
We stayed at a cute B+B in downtown Oxford:
:Here is The Eagle and Child, a famous pub where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and other Inklings gathered to talk about what they were writing:
We were a little sad to find that because we had kids with us, we couldn't eat there in the evening. We meant to come back the next day for lunch, but never got the chance. I did get to walk inside of it a little, though.
Exploring Oxford during the day:
English breakfast, anyone?
We visited Magdalen College at Oxford. This is where Lewis taught for many years:
Have you ever tried Sticky Toffee Pudding? If you haven't, you should. So good!!
Not too far from Oxford is Malvern College. This is one of the boarding schools that C. S. Lewis attended. In fact, it's the main one that he talks about in his autobiography Surprised by Joy. He doesn't have many nice things to say about his experience there, which is sad, because the school is just so beautiful!!
This school also has a lamp post that may just be the one that inspired C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia! Who knows?
Back in Oxford, we went to Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry to visit Jack's grave:
Interestingly, Jack and his brother Warren are buried one on top of the other. I didn't even know that was a thing. Sort of like bunk-bed style. Jack died 10 years before his brother did, even though he was a few years younger.
Jack is buried at the church that he attended for many years, and thankfully we got a chance to go inside before it closed. The caretaker of the church told us many interesting stories about C. S. Lewis.
Before we came to England, we booked a visit to The Kilns. This is where Lewis spent much of his later life, and it is now a house for students and a bit of a museum where you can get a tour. Jack lived here with his brother Warnie and an older lady named Mrs. Moore. Then, when Jack was married, his wife Joy also lived here.
Around The Kilns, Jack had a few acres of woods and pond that he often walked around:
A bomb shelter for WW2
While we were in England, we visited Warwick Castle. While it had nothing to do with C. S. Lewis, it was fun to see, and I used it as a reference for a castle I illustrated in Through the Wardrobe. This castle was built by William the Conquerer in 1068.
Then it was back to Ireland, and we used one of the last days of the trip to explore the Northern coast of Ireland. This may have been my favorite part.
My chauffeur (and husband).
I used a lot of these photos as reference for the Irish landscapes in my book.
Here's that mossy wood somewhere in Northern Ireland.
Snow and grass? A perfect reference photo for that transition of Narnia from Winter to Spring in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!
Some fish n' chips, back in Belfast:
As we were leaving Belfast, we randomly (!!) came across a mural of C. S. Lewis!
The entire trip was a total of about ten days, though you could say two of those days were mostly travel. We did get to do some other things, like visit London for a day, and the Titanic Museum in Belfast on our last day there. Even though I'm not a huge planner, I did have to plan this trip out day by day for the most part. For example, I booked our tour of The Kilns ahead of time. The ferry trip, however, I was able to book the night before we went to England. The car rental seemed affordable at first, but once they factored in the insurance it went way up! Apparently, Ireland is one of the more dangerous places to drive...? But, aside from most people speeding, it wasn't too bad.
Overall, it was a memorable and useful trip. I definitely want to go back to Ireland one day!!
The process for making a cover can take a while because it has to please many people: the author and illustrator, the editor, the art director, the designer, sales and marketing, and in the end, the booksellers, parents, and reader.