Lady in a tram inspires Val’s fifth children’s book

An illustration from Val Howell's latest children book Flora and Flop.

An illustration from Val Howell's latest children book Flora and Flop. - Credit: Archant

A Sidmouth author has released her fifth children’s book inspired by a real life ‘lady in a tram’.

Val Howels was invited to write her latest story Flora and Flop by Crich Tramway Village for members of its education department, based on the life of Florence ‘Flora’ Sharp.

The retired nurse lived in a decommissioned double-decker tram in the Derbyshire countryside in the 1960s.

For 14 years, she called the Chesterfield number seven tram home and lived without electricity or running water.

She also walked daily through the nearby woods to search for kindling and logs and carried them back in an old blanket.

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Val decided for her book to give Flora a companion and based Flop the loveable house-rabbit on a grey bunny called Muffin Gosling, which lived in Livonia Road, in Sidmouth.

Val said: “It’s not so much ‘Lady in a Van’ but ‘Lady in a Tram’ I suppose.

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“She had no central heating, no double-glazing, no indoor toilet or running water. Cast-iron stove, paraffin lamp and candles. No transport. She was a very resilient lady though.

“She cleaned the stove chimney with a weighted rope and a bunch of bushy heather - and tarred the roof by herself every year - a sight to behold apparently, dressed in old rags wrapped around her legs and her oldest clothes. A nearby farmer helped with groceries now and then.

“Flora and Flop is based on fact but is sprinkled with a certain amount of poetic licence! Muffin Gosling was just a lovely big fluff-ball of a rabbit.

“I was going to give Flora two cats but when I met Muffin in the Gosling’s house, he just had to be in Flora’s story.”

While writing the story, a search was carried out to find Florence’s remaining relatives.

Mark Smith, from Matlock Record Office, carried out the researched and discovered Flora’s great niece Iseult, who recalled snippets of childhood memories of her great aunt.

‘Flora and Flop’ is on sale at Paragon Bookshop, and features illustrations by artist Sophie Baugh-Jones.

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