Guest Post by Clare Milford Haven ~ The Magic Sandcastle

To round off May Mental Health Month, I have a guest post from Clare Milford Haven, the author of The Magic Sandcastle, illustrated by David William Press. A journalist for 30 years, Clare Milford Haven has spent the past 15 years campaigning for men’s mental health since her eldest son James took his own life in 2006. The Magic Sandcastle is a tribute to James’ memory and gently reflects key values for young
readers, including the importance of resilience, team work, tenacity in the face of adversity and the joy of outdoor play.

On an idyllic island, five Fairchild children enter a sandcastle competition while staying with their grandmother for the summer holidays. They spend all day constructing a beautiful fort complete with soldiers, a moat and turrets made from shells and debris washed up onto the white sandy beach. They feel sure they will win!

But that night one of the children has a vivid dream about the sandcastle and the following day they are all amazed to discover that the dream has indeed come true. Are they still in with a chance of a prize?

The inspiration behind The Magic Sandcastle

Clare Milford Haven

The inspiration behind The Magic Sandcastle came from wanting to record those idyllic hot, summer days on the beach watching our small children playing, riding waves, and of course, building sandcastles. I felt it was important to somehow immortalise my late son James and his siblings in a book that captured this time in their lives. I also wanted to pay tribute to my mother ‘Granny Annie’ who had us all to stay in her house on Nantucket every summer and who sadly passed away during lockdown. Also, because I work within the mental health sector, I wanted to weave some key messages into the story for small people:

  • Team work and collaboration
  • Family and the importance of grandparents in children’s lives
  • Playing outside/creating with nature
  • Fantasy and Dreams
  • Never giving up even when something knocks you down
  • With effort and hard work, you can always succeed

The book is a reflection of that very happy period of my life, and my children’s life, when my second husband George and I joined our two families together at our wedding on Nantucket in August 1997. I have always loved writing but hadn’t put pen to paper for a while since running my charity for the past 13 years. I dug the story ‘out of the attic’ during lockdown on the suggestion of a close friend of mine. I was telling her how lovely it was to have all my children home again, and with a few months unable to leave home, it seemed like the right time to get the The Magic Sandcastle finally published.

I chose to write a picture book because I wanted to appeal to small children where obviously the illustrations are as important as the words to convey the story. As it is mostly very young children who keep busy with their buckets and spades building sandcastles on every beach in the world, it was logical that the format would be a picture book.

David managed to interpret well my desire to have the illustrations in a wash treatment to reflect the timelessness of the story and the island/beach/coastal location of Nantucket. I didn’t feel that bright, computer generated images would achieve this…I wanted something much more peaceful, flowing and traditional. I sent him photos and descriptions of the children, my mother and her house, the jeep, and Nantucket and he brilliantly translated them all into his wonderful illustrations.

Thank you for sharing the story behind your story with us.

The magic sandcastle is published by Serenity Press, 28 April 2022

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About the Author

Clare Milford Haven has been writing for the past 30 years, with regular articles published in The Times, Evening Standard, Homes & Gardens and GQ as well as an eight-year stint on Tatler’s editorial staff as their Social Editor. Since the death of her eldest son James in 2006, Clare has devoted her time to the charity she set up in his memory, James’ Place. The first James’ Place, in Liverpool, was opened by HRH The Duke of Cambridge in June 2018. For further details, please visit the website:

Clare wrote The Magic Sandcastle some years ago, but filed it away, and only dug it out during lockdown in 2020. Clare’s mother, ‘Granny Annie’, was American and bought a house on Nantucket Island in the ’60’s. The extended family traditionally spend every summer there. Nantucket has only the happiest of memories for Clare and her family and she wanted to record those memories in the form of a children’s book. She also married her second husband George Milford Haven on a beach there in August 1997, so it is a place that is very dear to her heart. The five main character’s in the book are Clare’s children James, Wenty and Louisa and her step-children Tatiana and Harry. When they were small, they spent most of their days on the beach in Nantucket, riding the waves and building sandcastles, so there was unlimited inspiration for the content of the book. Clare lives in the UK on a farm in Hampshire with her husband George and their four children.

I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This post in not an endorsement of the book.

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