Thursday, September 16, 2010


Susanwalbert By Guest Blogger Susan Wittig Albert

When Lorna said that she’d like to have me as a guest for a Pet Peeve Thursday, I knew exactly what I’d write about: the pet peeve that sparked the central mystery plot in my upcoming book The Tale of Oat Cake Crag, the seventh in the eight-book series,

The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter. The book is set in 1911 in the Lake District of England, where children’s author-illustrator Beatrix Potter owned a farm and went to escape from the noise and bustle of London.

Fabre-hydroplane But in late 1911, something started bugging Beatrix and the other villagers in the Land Between the Lakes. (True story. This really happened. I am not making it up.) The irritant was an airplane. An experimental hydroplane named the Water Bird, the first of its kind in England. The Water Bird made one heckuva racket.

 “A beastly fly-swimming spluttering aeroplane careering up & down over Windermere,” Beatrix wrote in a complaining letter to her friend Millie. “It makes a noise like 10 million bluebottles. . . . It has been buzzing up & down for hours today, and it has already caused a horse to bolt & smashed a tradesman’s cart.”

Now, you and I live in a modern world that’s filled with cell phones ringing and TVs blaring and trucks with illegal mufflers (my own pet peeve), so one airplane more or less probably doesn’t make much of a difference to us. But imagine that you had come to the country to enjoy the songs of birds and the bleating of sheep. Wouldn’t you be peeved if the rural peace and quiet was broken by what sounded to like a steam threshing machine flying buzzing over your head all day long? And what was worse, a second airplane was in the works. In fact, an airplane factory was being built on the rustic shore of idyllic Windermere, the most beautiful lake in England.

Beatrix potter Well, Beatrix Potter was peeved. More than that, she was angry. But she didn’t just complain about it. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She collected signatures, wrote letters to magazines and to The Times, and petitioned the Home Secretary to do something about the nuisance. And--thanks in part to her efforts--something actually did get done. By the end of 1912, the airplane factory was blown away in a storm and the Water Bird was wrecked.

 I loved this story about how one woman’s pet peeve sparked a revolt against the inappropriate intrusion of technology into a “place of rest and peace.” So I wove the tale into a fanciful mystery about the development of Britain’s first hydroplane, the Water Bird. The story also involves a teenaged dragon who sees his chance to make his mark on history and an owl who doesn’t much like that airplane, either. (You didn’t think that airplane factory actually got blown away by the wind, did you?) Oh, and it also features Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, who happened to love airplanes.

And of course, Miss Potter, whose pet peeve started the whole thing.
Oat cake crag Book Drawing!

If you’d like to enter our drawing for a copy of The Tale of Oat Cake Crag, go here.


Susan Wittig Albert writes the bestselling China Bayles mysteries, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter mysteries, and the Robin Paige Victorian/Edwardian mysteries written with her husband, Bill Albert. Click here to heck out her website. Catch Susan's Lifescapes blog, too