‘Listen to your children’

Deerfield author creates a young witch determined to pursue her passion: baking

Poppy Pendle’s motto is “Follow your passion.” Poppy’s creator lives by that motto, as well.

A book for young readers (more or less 8-to-12-year-olds), “The Power of Poppy Pendle” is only a few months old but has already entered its second printing.

Poppy’s author is the English-born Natasha Lowe, who lives in an 1840 house in Deerfield with an entrepreneurial husband, four children, a busy kitchen and a vibrant imagination.

Lowe’s passion for storytelling — and for life — comes across with gusto in her huge smile and her rapid conversational style. She told me that she inherited her love of narrative from her parents.

“My parents were amazing storytellers. My mum grew up in Lancashire and she would tell us a story about a witch called Beady Eyes,” said Lowe. “I’ve always had a love of witches — not evil witches but good, fun-loving witches.”

Poppy Pendle is one such witch. The book opens with her birth in a bakery, a location that foreshadows Poppy’s passion. The child Poppy wants nothing more than to be a baker. Unfortunately, her parents detect that she has magical powers and want her to grow up to be a prestigious white witch like her Great-Granny Mabel.

They enroll Poppy in an academy of magic. She excels at charms and spells but would trade them all for a plate of cookies. She flies with grace but would rather wield a rolling pin than a broomstick.

Her parents ignore her protestations that she doesn’t want to be a witch, breaking Poppy’s heart by taking the oven out of their kitchen so that she won’t be distracted from her magical studies by baking projects.

Eventually, Poppy’s frustration and anger, combined with her talent for magic, lead her to go over to “the dark side.” She casts spells that put her at odds with her family, her teachers and society at large. She must re-find her passion before she can right the wrongs she has done and move forward in life.

Poppy is a charming heroine, with enough spice in her personal recipe to enable boys as well as girls to identify with her. The book’s message of following one’s passion, as Lowe told me, “is one for everyone to hear.”

Lowe added, “And if there’s a message in there for parents, it’s to listen to your children.”

She explained that she has learned the value of listening from her varied children, three boys and a girl, who range in age from 9 to 20. “You have to have faith and you have to trust your kids.”

The lesson also came from her parents, who always had faith in her, she recalled.

She came to this country in her late teens on a student visa, looking for a place to learn creative writing. Fate changed her plans when she met the man she was to marry, and he quickly proposed. “It was one of those crazy, impulsive things,” she recalled.

She worried about the reaction of her parents. After a quick inspection, however, they told her, “He looks great for you. We have always taught you to trust your instincts … so, if it feels right, stay.”

Lowe’s husband had purchased the house on the main street of Historic Deerfield as an investment while he was a senior at Deerfield Academy.

“He showed it to me,” remembered the city-bred Lowe. “I said, ‘It’s absolutely gorgeous. But I’ll never live in the country.’”

The pair fixed the house up as a bed and breakfast and hired someone to run it. When that person was unable to honor the commitment at the last minute, Lowe found herself drafted as the temporary proprietor of the Tea House Bed and Breakfast.

After a year in Deerfield she was hooked. “Going through all the seasons, I realized I didn’t want to be anywhere else,” she told me.

The bed and breakfast lasted for about five years, and then, in Lowe’s words, “the guest rooms started filling up with children and it was hard to offer romantic getaways with toddlers running around underfoot!” The house became a private home.

Lowe had always been interested in writing and had a few short stories published in her youth. A few years ago, when her youngest child, Juliette, started kindergarten, Lowe decided that she didn’t want to look back at her life years later with regret.

“If I was going to (be a writer) and take myself seriously, I had to just sit down and start sending stuff out,” she said. “I was really lucky. I got a wonderful agent quite quickly. She’s been in the children’s writing field for many, many years.”

Despite this luck, it took a few years and a few rewrites before “The Power of Poppy Pendle” made its way to Simon & Schuster, where esteemed children’s book editor Paula Wiseman fell in love with the book.

Wiseman’s main request was one that fit perfectly with Lowe’s vision of the book. She asked whether the author would consider adding some of Poppy’s recipes as an appendix.

Lowe launched herself into recipe testing (she admitted that she made so many batches of lemon bars that today one of her sons refuses to eat them), and the final book now offers 10 tempting recipes, including the cupcake recipe included here as a sidebar.

I asked Lowe about the origins of Poppy’s story. She explained that it all began with a stone goose her husband brought home one day from an auction at Douglas Auctioneers and placed in the garden. “It does look really, really real,” Lowe said.

Her then 4-year-old daughter wanted an explanation for the goose’s surprised expression.

“I said maybe a witch had put a spell on it,” her mother explained.

Of course, the daughter wanted to know about the witch … and, on the spot, Lowe came up with the story of a young witch who was upset because she wanted to be a baker, not a witch.

“Suddenly, I knew I had to write that story,” recalled Lowe. “It was almost given to me fully formed. I actually raced inside and started working at my computer.”

Today, Lowe is enjoying the task of publicizing her book — talking to children, adults and even seniors about Poppy Pendle. She is also working on several new writing projects. “I’m never short of ideas!” she told me with a smile.

“The Passion of Poppy Pendle” is available at the World Eye Bookshop, Main Street, Greenfield, and online at Amazon.com.

Tinky Weisblat is a writer and singer with a doctorate in American studies. She lives in Hawley. Readers who would like to suggest local authors for her to write about are encouraged to contact her at Tinky@merrylion.com.

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