Ann Pilling was born and schooled in industrial Lancashire then at London University.


Her 2nd degree involved writing a thesis on C. S. Lewis which was her first introduction to great children’s books.


She has had a long career as writer of children’s fiction, over 30 titles, and won the Guardian Prize for ‘Henry’s Leg’, which was televised and has been broadcast on Radio 4.  


Stan and On the Lion’s Side  were Carnegie nominations.


Ann has written 4 adult novels, playscripts and the libretto for a children’s musical.


She won the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition for ‘Growing Pains’ in  2007, and her first full collection ‘Home Field’, was published by Arrowhead in 2008.


Ann Pilling lives in North Yorkshire. She is married to Sir Joseph Pilling, until 2005 Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office. They have two sons and six grandchildren.


Since 1987 she has owned a house in Swaledale and this valley is "The country of her heart".






The Dancing Sailors


Ann Pilling


ISBN 978-1-907401-62-6


Indigo Dreams Publishing


Publication 21/11/2011






138 x 216mm


64 pages

















These poems follow the heartbeat of life with scrupulous accuracy.  Cast in language as true and clear as a flowing stream, they are rooted in reality and find value in the overlooked, the unexpected, and ‘the hard edges’ of human experience.


Penelope Shuttle




The poems in The Dancing Sailors are concerned with landscapes – most notably the rugged terrain of the Yorkshire Dales, captured vividly and with painterly precision – but also with the people who populate them. Ann Pilling is considered and compassionate in her portraits of family, friends and characters who pass through but make a lasting impression. Her formal grace and resonant imagery make this collection a pleasure to read.


Tamar Yoseloff



Ann Pilling brings a haunted, sometimes tragic quality, to a marvellously tactile, solid reality, particularly that of a rugged Northern landscape. Pain is portrayed deftly and memorably: "that second when / a big love suddenly snaps like bone".

She can conjure a hillside, a room, an era, in spare, sensuous language, and she knows well the poignancy, the power wielded by 'things':


"We could write our lives in flowers,

  the daisied christing gowns,

  the poppied pinafores our mothers wore,

  the rose-sprigged wraps when they lay dying."


Moniza Alvi



The Dancing Sailors 


I see you walking on the beach at Douarnenez

your slacks bulgy with pebbles, shells in your hand

under a fierce blue sky, the blue

of Van Gogh’s final cornfield spattered with crows.


You have gone too near the heaving sea

and I call out, you cannot swim,

you never grew up, you were Peter Pan,

you ran too fast for us to sew your shadow on.


In a square, sailors are dancing, the houses

are paper pasted on, a crooked church

peers through a gap while a chalk-cheeked man

waves his hat to some women in a window.


Whom the gods love die young, Vincent, Virginia,

the man who painted this, you – intense, beautiful,

savouring the sacrament of this hour

as you dance with the sailors out of the frame.




This Field


I like this field, the way wind

fingers each blade

then ripples them up to the skyline in a single square.


I like the way

the lambs sit on their mothers’ heads

and mob John when he turns up with their feed.


I like his even-handedness, tip sack, spread pellets.

From where I sit he’s in a sea

foamed up by winds from Wetherfell.


I like it when Kath says

"the trees are budding up", shows me

green pinpricks on a twig, with May half gone.


Here becks blether,

ewes get tupped: bap, sup, clowt, nowt,

words solid as Whernside.


When cold bites it’s backendish and this field

will curl at the edges, fold in on itself,

wombing me in for the long sleep.



Through closed car windows all the way home

I smelt hay, its thin, sweet fragrance.

They worked all yesterday


and some already lies in long green bricks

on bristly fields, the rest like swathes of hair

still waits for the machine.


I step across our threshold

Virtute non Verbis spelt in tiles

and think of old Julys


of men who walked out of this house

to the Somme, to Caen;

up this lane a boy brought telegrams.


I climb steadily, going west,

to a shaved meadow where the dog

careers about, tossing the loose hay.


Below, the quilted land thrums with mowing,

while a horse big enough to pull gun carriages

sleeps in the shade.













I have narrowed it to a plain place

less talk, less folk.


Today I watched a man walk down a field

along a rope of wall, its stones

still hugged by melting snow that spread

fish spines on the emerging green.


I have learned about finches and moons,

walked only by stars, marvelling

how their still, cold light felt warm to me.


The frost opens old cuts but here

I have no past and the land

arched between that life and this

is generous, like the speckled breasts

of these spring-hungry thrushes.




On Waking


This newly minted hour, untouched by children

mouse-scrabbling at the door, carrying toys in,

waits for its imprint. I descend the stair

to breakfast in my burnished kitchen where

last night I knelt in Lego grit for stray

cornflakes and soldiers as they drove away.

Only for minutes does this pristine quiet

console. I thought I had done with riot

of guns and bathtime, I long for the sweet

tug of hands at my skirt, I am incomplete.
















Ann Pilling Photo tds web

‘Dancing Sailors’ by Christopher Wood used with permission from Leicestershire  Museums and Art Galleries.