Saturday, 29 December 2012

A message of hope for 2013 ~

This is a page from my diary of February 1992 ~ nearly twenty-one years ago. It was the day I can truly say that I started to recover from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I was camping in the mountains of South Africa with my friend, Rebecca Hunter, who was recovering from injuries caused by a terrible road accident.

'Damaraland' a water-colour by Sophie Neville

I hope you can read the original ~

Having been a teacher, Rebecca went on to write numerous wonderful books for children ~
click on: Books by Rebecca Hunter

Damaraland, Namibia

Friday, 21 December 2012

Alastair Fothergill's new DisneyNature movie about chimpanzees

The official trailer for DisneyNature's 'Chimpanzee' ~ a wildlife documentary

Coming out nationwide in the UK on Friday 3rd May

The latest DisneyNature feature-length epic movie Chimpanzee from wildlife writer/director Alastair Fothergill (one of my friends who appears in the book 'Funnily Enough') opened to great reviews in the United States this year, and is due to reach our cinema screens in the United Kingdom in spring 2013.

It is narrated by comedy actor and producer Tim Allen, the voice of 'Buzz Lightyear' in Toy Story, and star of the hit U.S. TV sitcom Home Improvement.

For the Cineworld website, please click here

Friday, 14 December 2012

My mother and her otters

Daphne Neville with her tame otter Bee
Daphne Neville
who has been working in otter conservation from 1981

In 1981 we learnt from a survey conducted by English Nature that there was a disastrous decline in the native population of otters in England and Wales. It was estimated that there were only 80 pairs left whilst Scotland was maintaining about 6,000 otters.  

My mother took it upon herself to raise public awareness of our aquatic eco-systems. Over the years she has been asked to hand rear a number of zoo-breed Asian short-clawed otters who have delighted the public whilst acting as ambassadors for their species. Thousands of adults and children have met the otters and learnt how the public can help encourage the revival of our native species - often about a topic they have not considered before.

Daphne Neville's tame otter Bee
Our first tame otter ~ called Bee, as otters smell of honey

It's clear that England and Wales were about to lose their native otters when Mum began working.  This major British mammal species is now reviving thanks to recognition that we need pure river water and undisturbed river banks. My parents advise farmers on how to accommodate wild otters and encourage the public to pick up litter, control their dogs, and drive slowly along lanes at night to reduce road casualties. They have been able to convey the difficult concept of water quality by taking otters to occasions such as the Water UK conference and The Otter Forum at the Natural History Museum.  The decline of otters in England and Wales related entirely to pollution: the discharge of industrial waste such as chemicals used in the manufacture of carpets entering the River Severn, farming effluent from slurry pits and slippage pits, sheep dip and indiscriminate use of PCBs and DDT insecticides. Otters are a vital indicator species, their health directly reflecting the health of British rivers.

Daphne Neville with her tame otter Bee
Daphne Neville with Bee the Otter

The work is physically demanding – it requires travelling long distances, working long hours in all weathers, getting soaking wet, then camping on site - but Mum always finds the energy to give a child her full attention, even when totally exhausted at the end of a long day.

The rewards? One man told her that he had just completed a zoology degree, having been inspired by a talk she gave at his primary school years ago. That was enough. She has done much to educate inner-city adults and children who know nothing about otters. When she appeared at Countryside Live, on the Olympic site at Hackney Marshes in North London, I heard people look at an otter and ask, ‘Is it a squirrel?’, ‘Is it a rat?’ and ‘Does it eat vegetables?’

My drawings of our tame otters can be seen here.
with further sketches on this page.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Building boats ~ and renovating classic craft

Alastair Fothergill
Alastair Fothergill researching a documentary on the Thames

Men who have enjoyed reading Funnily Enough tell me that they are interested to know more about my father's boats.
Martin Nveille

What appealed to them was Dad's enthusiasm for classic design and his energy for renovating vintage hulls.

Martin Neville in his Humber Yawl on Windermere in Cumbria

In 1991 Dad was engrosed in completing a Humber Yawl, which he had designed and built himself. We ended up taking her to the Lake District where he sailed down Windermere despite the fact that there seemed to be no wind. I prefered rowing her.

Sophie Neville Neville rowing in the Cotswolds

Cassy was a beautiful vessel. You could also use her with an ourboard, but she proved very much a one-man concern. Almost as soon as she had been finished my father was after a new project. He bought the hull of a 1912 river launch that came down on a trailer from Scotland and immediately began doing her up.

Martin Neville with his 1912 River Launch on the River Thames

The Ottor, as Dad christened her, replaced Dad's rather fragile steamboat - a lovely vessel that as far as my mother was concerned ran silently and had a fire on board. At first my she was not keen on the idea of a noisy diesel engine but Ottor was a comfortable launch and Mum was happy once out on the Thames where there is lots to do and see.

Martin Neville with his Humber Yawl in the Cotswolds

For more about Martin Neville and his books and boats
please click on

If you wish to use any photographs please contact

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Latest Amazon reviews ~ November 2012

"An uplifting story of the writer's battle with illness.
Her optimism, faith in God and support of family and friends get her through.
A very positive read!" Mrs JPG Rice

"This is a very funny and entertaining book..." JSF Hopkinson

To write your own review - however brief - please click on the greenish sausage beside the chart on your Amazon product review page.

For those in the UK, please click here 

For readers in the US, Africa or India, please click here

Many thanks!

All sketches on the blog are featured in 'Funnily Enough' and are (c) Sophie Neville. Please contact me if you need to use them on

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A review on Goodreads ~


Carolyn rated it four stars

This book is rather esoteric in nature, so unless you have M.E. and are a Christian, much of it will not be of interest. However, I am both a Christian and have M.E. so I really enjoyed the book and found it helpful. I also enjoyed the rather understated humour...

Do write your own review on or Goodreads

Sophie Neville reading in the garden

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Daffodil the steamboat we kept on the River Thames

Alastair Fothergill researching his first film for the BBC NHU on the River Thames

One of the characters in 'Funnily Enough' is Daffodil, my father's steamboat. She was built in 1901, a 24' river launch with a cabin long enough to sleep in and an unusual deck that extened out over her stern. For as long as I can remember her hull rested under a sycamore tree in our garden, draped in tarpulines, looking out over our lake. She had to wait for my father to find an engine that would suit her and the time to put her right.

Martin Nveille

Suddenly things started to move. Daffodil was decked with gaboon and teak, a boiler was found and clad, a funnel added. She was even fitted with a steam kettle. I helped a sweet old plumber with the pipe-work that connected boiler to engine, lagging pipes that we knew would become hot. The was to make her accelerate was simply to open up the steam valve - turn on the tap. She did have a gear that would throw her into reverse.

Steamboat engine

Once everthing was fitted, painted and shining we towed her down to Bossom's Boatyard at Port Meadow on the Thames. She was launched - and promptly started leaking. I leaped abraad to take out all our carefully stowed gear and provisions tucked into the cabin lockers. The boat yard calmly hoisted a cradle around her so she wouldn't sink. Her old timbers had been out of the water for too long. She was left for her timbers to swell but my father ended up having to have her clad in a fibreglass coat.

Steamboat on the River Thames

We had many happy weekends on Daffodil. It was wonderful to have aboat with a fire on board. It took about 45 minutes to get up steam but this never seemed a chore. On the whole we burnt steam coal which didn't produce much smoke. We did use wood but this menat that sparks could fly out of the chimney. They burrnt small holes in the canvas canopy, which was made to cover the cockpit. One got me in the eye when I was stading on the roof in a lock. It left me very sore for a day or too but I recovered.

Martin Nveille in his Steamboat on the River Thames

Daffodil's engine made a wonderful sound and the smell of the high grade steam oil somehow mixed well with summer days on the Thames. With steam up she could go at quite a pace but was so well designed she never left any wake. One always had to take care no to run low on steam incase extra power was needed at a weir. She was terribly fragile. We had to take great care when going through locks and did not dare take her off the river, but people came to her and she is lovingly remembered.

Martin Nveille's steamboat on the River Thames

If you would like to read more about my father, Martin Neville and his boats, please go to

Monday, 15 October 2012

How to get a Free Kindle app ~

'Ride the Wings of Morning' is the story of my travels in Southern Africa, available as a paperback or on Kindle - where many of the illustrations are in full colour.

click on either

‘But I don’t have a Kindle!’

Don’t worry. You can easily add a free Kindle reading app to your PC, laptop, Android or Apple device and see the illustrations in colour:


If you are in the UK

If you live in Africa, you want to download the Kindle app direct from

And choose which device you want to download the app to.

All the Kindle reading apps are free.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Now with colour illustrations on Amazon Kindle Worldwide ~

''Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available on Amazon Kindle or in paperback

Funnily Enough, the e-Book is now available with colour illustrations
click below for the book's Kindle page, on either
“I am LOVING this book! A great read!!!! Funny as promised, interesting and encouraging. Well written and I love the illustrations. Very enjoyable. ” Jenny Nash

''Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available on Amazon Kindle or in paperback

I love the Kindle app on my iPhone, and know I always have a book to read if I find myself waiting endlessly at the hospital or stuck at the airport for hours. Rebecca was stationary on the highway for 8 hours not long ago.

''Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available on Amazon Kindle or in paperback

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Jake the Dog ~

'Funnily Enough'

'You use funnily enough to indicate that, although something is surprising,     
it is true or really happened.'

Being ill for long time can be incredibly boring. Although he had no idea why I was lying around all day, it was our dog Jake who helped me to cope with the tedium of Chronic Fatigue. He would come upstairs, of his own accord, just to keep me company and was happy to rest with me all day long.

Funnily enough, Jake was born under my bed one Christmas morning. Daisy, our rather dim Airedale, who looked like a ginger biscuit on legs, unexpectedly gave birth to three unusual looking puppies. Jake was the one my parents chose to keep. Like many cross-breeds he proved a wonderful dog, living to a great age.

'Funnily Enough'

Jake was a character; a dog who seemed to have a sense of humour. Although he was not particularly well trained he had quite a notable career as an actor. This started when he cast himself as the hero in 'The Day in the Life of the Otter', which was made at home by the BBC Natural History Unit. In the story he rescues one of the otters from drowning in a fisherman's keep-net. It was a role he shared with Spike Milligan, who provided his voice. On the strength of this he appeared in Mr Bean with Rowan Atkinson and was asked to star in a television commercial.

The fact that Jake was quite a big dog worked well on film. When my father played the part of an estate agent in an educational info-drama called 'The Walls of Jericho' Jake was there as his dog. He enjoyed appearing in a Day Time magazine programme for Granada Television. Mum was interviewed on how to make your own dog food. They called the item 'Jake's patty pies'. I think all he did was eat them. When she tossed small meat balls in his direction, he'd catch them in mid-air and look terribly pleased with himself.

However, when our house was used as a location for 'The House of Elliot' Jake decided to take a back seat. He took up a position at the rear of the catering bus from where he surveyed progress of the shoot. The crew gave him the title 'Director of Operations'.  

'Funnily Enough'

Although he started life as a mistake, Jake proved a remarkable animal and is remembered with huge affection. He added an optimistic dimension to our lives and was a good friend of many. Honesty compels me to admit that I was slightly allergic to him, and perhaps he contributed to the load my system was having to cope with but he staved off loneliness. That was a great blessing.


Monday, 6 August 2012

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

How to make Stranamente

Illustration by Sophie Neville

How to make Stranamente ~
stranamente = 'funnily enough' in Italian 

I find tortilla-like food warming to make, comforting to eat and easy to digest - real Sunday evening food.  

If cooking for two people
you will need:
  • A small, quite thick-bottomed non-stick frying pan - mine is about 8 inches wide
  • Knob of butter and a little light olive oil
  • A small onion or leek
  • Cold potatoes
  • 3 Eggs
  • A few slices of Italian or Spanish salami or chorizo if you like it
  • Cheese of your choice
  • Chives or parsley or a few spinach leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • A little bit of energy, lots of love
What to do:
  • Gently heat a knob of butter with a little cooking oil - this prevents the butter turning black or burning.
  • Dice an onion (or a leek) and a cold potato, fling in the frying pan.
  • Whilst this is cooking, whisk up three eggs lightly with a fork and add salt and pepper. 
  • Once the onion and potato starts to brown tip into a bowl, keeping the hot butter in the pan.
  • Pour the whisked egg into the pan.
  • Add the potato and onion on top of the egg and TURN DOWN THE HEAT.
Now just add imagination ~
  • Dice up several slices of salami or chorizo and add evenly on top.
  • Sprinkle chopped herbs on top and perhaps a few shredded spinach leaves 
  • Add small crumbs of whatever cheese you like.
  • Keep on a low heat for about 20 minutes or until the base is golden brown and the egg mixture is cooked through.
  • Turn if you wish to brown the top - we like it soft.
  • Serve on hot plates with bread or toast and either sautéed mushrooms or a tomato salad.
If this doesn't work you either have the heat too high or need a better frying pan. Practice with different amounts and you'll have a dish you can serve hot or cold for breakfast, lunch or supper. Once cold you can cut it into slices to take on a picnic. It's a good to eat before an exam or facing trials of any kind and makes a perfect dish for unexpected guests.

I grew fond of this when staying at a little hotel in Seville. An odd job man called Gonzales used to make it for our lunch. The hotel has sadly closed but the recipe lives on bringing back memories of the time when I was first married.   

Friday, 20 July 2012

A book review from British Columbia

'Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available on Amazon Kindle

A highly enjoyable, beautifully written & illustrated book! 
by Dave Miller
I first downloaded a sample of Sophie Neville's Funnily Enough book for my ereader a few months back and immediately loved it. I searched all my local bookstores to no avail but finally ordered it from Amazon. I devoured the book in a few days!

It's chock full of beautiful little illustrations throughout (done by Sophie've got to love that kind of personal touch!) told in a day by day journal over a year. Most journals can at times be boring and mundane in thier details but Sophie has chronicled her illness superbly. Not an easy thing to do when one's sick. It's interspersed with a great cast of characters (human as well as animals) that will make you laugh and cry and want to know more about them.

Having a few relatives that have/had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I found the book to be an insightful read. I know back when they were diagnosed in the early 90's there wasn't much known about it at all. And they suffered the "it's all in your head" stigma. I'll encourage them to read this book!

From donkeys to otters and even a trip to the Lake District (which I've never been to but hope to one day) where she all to briefly mentions Swallows & Amazons (the movie in which she played my favourite character Titty). I'd like to think that the character Titty as she grew up would have led a very similar life as the actress/author who portrayed her. World traveler. Artist. Author. I wonder if Sophie maybe was inspired by the character too?

As I got near the end of the book I was a little saddened it was over so quickly (always the sign of a very good book though!). I'm delighted that there's a sequel of sorts (Ride the Wings of Morning) which I'm about to order soon. And if it's half as good as I found Funnily Enough I know I'm in for another fantastic read!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Living with Otters ~

'Funnily Enough' author Sophie Neville with her tame otter Beenie

Sophie Neville with her tame otter

We have kept tame otters at Bakers Mill since 1980. These are not the large, secretive European otters that are native to Britain but sociable Asian short-clawed otters bred in wildlife parks that we've been asked to hand-rear, usually because they have been neglected by their mothers. We keep them, under license, for educational purposes. Their enclosure has a stream running through it and bath-tubs where they swim. They are cautious about of swimming in the deep water of our lake - unless we swim with them, which is a somewhat demanding experience. Being sociable the otters love showing off and are regularly taken both for walks and off to country shows around England and Wales where you can watch them and ask questions about otters.

Daphne Neville with her tame otters

Daphne Neville with her otters

My parents started lecturing on the conservation of otters thirty-five years ago, promoting the need for pure water in our rivers so that our native otters can flourish and re-gain healthy populations in the wild. At one stage they had four tame otters but they have never bred them, for these are exotic species that cannot be released into the wild.

There are thirteen different species of otter. They are often elusive and difficult to spot but I have watched European (or Eurasian) otters fishing along the coast of Skye, spotted spotted-necked otters playing in the Okavango Delta and Cape-clawless otters swimming at Knotsie Bay in South Africa. My mother has travelled the world to see to them in the wild  ~ to California where you find the sea otter, India where she supports the hairy-nosed otter project, to an International Otter Convention in Chile and has even swum in the Orinoco River with the giant otters of Bolivia that can reach twelve foot in length.

'Bee a Particular Otter' by Daphne Neville

Our first otter was called Bee. This was because otters smell slightly of honey. She had so many adventures that my mother wrote a children's book about her. This came out in hardback in 1982. When she found second-hand copies for sale on Amazon recently she had a smaller paperback version printed.
With illustrations by Jackie Gouvier they are designed so you can read one story a night at bed-time for two-weeks or so and make good presents.

If you would like a copy, and live in the UK, please send a stamped-addressed A5 enveople with £1.20's worth of stamps and a cheque for £5 made out to the author, Daphne Neville, Bakers Mill, Frampton Mansell, Glos, GL6 8JH. You can find second-hand copies of the original hardback on Amazon - please see the carosel of books below.

'Funnily Enough' author Sophie Neville with her tame otter Beenie

Sophie Neville with Beenie the Otter and her first painting

Hand-rearing otters is very demanding. Can you imagine having an otter cub in your bed? They are hyper-active and extremely dexterous. Until the age of 4 months they are frightened of water and will not even go near a running tap. Introducing them to it takes time and patience.

Beenie the tame otter belonging to Sophie Neville

I was once given the responsibility of looking after a lovely little female otter we were asked to rear called Beenie. She became very tame but I quite ran out of ways to entertain her. Once she was about three months old I put down a plate with a little water and added colour from may paintbox - watercolours in rose pink and sap green. I laid down a slab of mount board and let her play. The result was a series of truly beautiful paintings, delicately executed. Once framed they looked beautiful. We auctioned the one above to raise money for charity - not for conservation, as it happened, but for The Hyperactive Children's Support Group. It seemed apt. Beenie went on to open the Wildlife Arts Society Exhibition in Bath, appearing in The Daily Telegraph as a result.

'Funnily Enough' author Sophie Neville with her tame otter Beenie

Beenie the Otter with Sophie Neville in the Daily Telegraph

On another occasion we appeared on the front cover of The Daily Telegraph newspaper with the Prince of Wales and Beenie became a true ambassador of her species.

The  Prince of Wales with Sophie Neville

I have related some of the stories about keeping otters in 'Funnily Enough' but there are many more. You can see more of my own sketches of the otters - and their attempts to distract me on the Ride the Wings of Morning Blogspot.

Sophie Neville, the girl with a tame otter 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A book review from South Africa

'Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon

Funnily Enough: funny, real and inspiring

I laughed the first time I read "Funnily Enough" and as I re-read it now, I am laughing at exactly the same places.

As much as the book is humorous, it also brings home the reality of how we push ourselves for fear of falling behind or losing what we have built up. We forget that all this can change in the twinkling of an eye and ultimately is not important.

The book helps to put life back into perspective and to remind us of where our hope, trust and faith should lie. Sophie's diary entries of the goings on within herself, the family and pets and with her friends over a period of a year while she is coming to terms with her illness and working towards recovery are thoroughly entertaining and illuminating. Her sketches add to the already vivid pictures that Sophie conjures up through her writing. Some of the incidents are absolutely bizarre but yet so typical of our journey in life. It was a completely enjoyable read the first time and even more inspiring the second time around. Superb. 

by Jennifer Hutcheon, Gauteng, South Africa
~ 3rd July 2012

Monday, 9 July 2012

Parrots I have known ~

'Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available in paperback from Amazon

Today I have been writing about parrots. Parrots I have known. Parrots I have lived with. Parrots I've observed in the wild. I've even appeared in a movie with a parrot on my shoulder. And on television.  In front of the camera not once but twice!  Am I brave or what?

When I was little my grandmother kept two budgerigars. They were called Pippernella and Chrysanthemum. Pippanella was blue, Chrysanthemum was green and yellow. Everything about them entranced me. If we were good and very gentle we were allowed to take them out before bedtime. Since Granny was an invalid, stuck in the house all day long, the birds had become her very special friends. They were beautifully cared for. If one of them shed a tail feather it was kept in a glass vase on her desk.

My parents must have kept parrots, parakeets or macaws for most of their married lives. We were given two of them. They out-lived their original owners and were brought to our house. I've no idea why. It is amazing that they stayed. My mother couldn't bare the thought of them being cooped up in a cage so let them out as much as possible. They loved this but it caused endless dramas. Josey-Jo, my mother's Blue-fronted Amazon parrot would fly around the house only to lose sight of places to perch. If you weren't careful she'd land on the top of your head. It can give a girl quite a fright. Once she landed on the side of a frying pan, once she ended up in the dish-washer. Dad nearly turned it on with her inside. She did terrible damage too, nibbling away at the top of veneered corner cupboards or antique picture frames, dining room chairs and rather a good chest of drawers.

We thought that an aviary would be the answer. The result was an enormous parrot cage built outside the kitchen door. This is illustrated above. Please don't copy the design. It did not work well. For some reason it now houses guinea pigs.

Josey-Jo was eventually given quite a large cage in the dining room where she happily spent her days. She originally belonged to an old lady and had picked up her voice. When you arrived home she would say, 'Hellow' in a slightly cracked and rather smart inquiring manner, sounding exactly like an 87-year-old woman. Any stranger would ask if Granny was still at home. No burglar alarm could work better.

Henry, our scarlet macaw, had a perch rather than a cage. He was unable to fly but loved being allowed to sit in the willow tree or on a post in the garden where he could see everyone come and go. Sometimes he would climb down and alarm visitors by walking pigeon-toed across the lawn to greet them, bent forward so that his tail did not touch the grass. His long red tail feathers were kept in a jug too.

When I lived in Africa I often came across small Meyer's parrots in the wild. Apparently they are often considered 'parrotlets'. No matter. They gave us such joy. One sighting and one's spirits would soar. Apparently they are classified as 'trans-continental parrots', having the widest distribution of any parrot in Africa. You can find them from South Africa up to Ethiopia, flashing through the trees.

The filming? Ahh, you can read about filming with Captain Flint's parrot and appearing on Animal Magic on my other blog. The most bizarre experience - which I don't think anyone has ever written about - was when I went with Alastair Fothergill to watch the wildlife camera man Simon King filming great tits in Bristol. They were about to fledge from a bird box nailed to someone's shed in rather a grotty part of town. The only way of reaching the long back garden was through a basement flat belonging to an odd old couple who were living in an extreme state of squallor and filth, almost like tramps. They had a budgie. It seemed very happy and was singing away but obviously hadn't been cleaned out for years, so many years that a column of black and white flecked guano had formed on the base of the tiny cage, rising nearly five inches high towards the perch on which the little bird sang. I didn't know what to say. We walked on to relieve Simon. This was crucial. He hadn't been able to leave his camera position all day for fear of missing the moment when the little great tit chicks left the nest. As a result he was dying to go to the loo. I told him that he'd better let Alastair take over for a while or he'd end up like the budgie.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012