Books

New Dreams

On this final day of August, I guess it's a time to be a bit reflective.

Although I'm hoping that there are still a few weeks of summer weather left, it is a time when the seasons are changing. 

Schools will go back soon here in Jersey, changes are in the air, lots of us are thinking about the months ahead and how we might spend our time.

Some of us might be contemplating a change. Maybe time to start thinking about moving, or changing our jobs.  Although we know that the New Year can often be the catalyst for transformation of some kind, I believe that actually autumn time is when some of the thinking might begin. It feels like change is in the air, and that can affect our psyche and maybe make us a bit restless, and yearn for the 'different'. Maybe it's a time to reassess what we may want in life and to set new goals for ourselves. That could be not just to progress our careers and ADD to our workload but it could mean to think again about HOW we are spending the precious time we are given.

With that in mind, today I just want to share this inspiring thought from one of my favourite authors.

New dreamCS Lewis is best known for the Narnia Chronicles series of stories and books for children... that's how I first got to know him.

But CS Lewis was also a Christian and wrote loads of books about faith... including another of my favourite books, The Screwtape Letters, which is the fictional correspondence between the Devil and an apostle or minor devil. It's a very clever and weirdly sideways look at Christian faith. It's challenging and thought provoking but also quite fun actually. 

By the way, you may not know this, but CS Lewis was good friends with JRR Tolkien, author of  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series of books. The  Screwtape Letters is dedicated to Tolkien, who was also a Christian, a Roman Catholic actually whose faith apparently was a significant factor in Lewis's conversion from atheism to Christianity,

CS Lewis wasn't afraid of change, or to dream  of a better life. You only have to read the Narnia Books to see a glimpse of that... so I'm very happy to take a bit of advice from him when it comes to my own 'dreams'. 

Life for me in the past six months or so has a bit changeful and I'm still waiting really to see what might lie ahead. It's easy to think as you get older that it may not be possible to change one's life, set new goals and go after our dreams... but these wise words from Lewis really encourage me to think out of that box.

As you step into these final few months of 2021, if you have unfulfilled dreams maybe now is an opportunity to really contemplate what the future may look like!

Be inspired!

Keep Dreaming!

 


Lashings of Reading Fun

Today I'm turning back time to my early reading days and I'm celebrating one of my favourite authors when I was a child.
 
The inimitable Enid Blyton!
 
Born on this day - 11 August - in 1897,  she would become a prolific children's author, bringing joy to generations of young readers including myself. Everything from 'The Famous Five' adventure books to the many 'Noddy' stories, and the fairy tales of the likes of  'The Magic Faraway Tree' and many other fantastical stories of fairies, imps and elves to the series which started with 'The Naughtiest Girl in the School', one of my personal favourites.
 
I could go on ... but I'll let you fill in the gaps! If you're a Blyton fan you will have YOUR favourites.
 
Enid blyton portraitAll I can say is that Enid Blyton must have had a head full of stories and an imagination to surpass time and place. According to the Enid Blyton Society and EnidBlyton.net who have done the calculations for us, she wrote voraciously including:
  • 186 novels/novelettes
  • 243 character books
  • 904 short story series books
  • 265 education books
  • 195 recreation books
  • 170 continuation books
  • 284 Enid Blyton contributions

Plus, Enid Blyton is also credited with over 10,900 short stories, poems and plays throughout her career, but some were used many times so the actual number is more like 7500! She also wrote under the pseudonym Mary Pollock (her middle name and first married surname)

What an amazing imagination, and what a talent!

Enid Blyton books on shelfApart from the fairy tales, some of Enid Blyton's stories explored life, it's fun and it's difficulties, including for children.  It was a way for kids to learn maybe a bit about dealing with life as they read how Miss Blyton's characters deal with what is thrown at them.

With that in mind, top of my list is an amazing book which I read probably when I was very young. I was given this book when I was around 7 and it's lived with me my whole life - indeed, that same hardback copy still sits on my bookshelf, proudly displayed among all the many other books I've acquired in the lifetime since.

It's called 'The Family at Red Roofs' and, for me, it's an absolute classic!

From the first lines it captures the imagination and draws pictures for the readers.

The little white-washed house on the green hillside seemed to smile in the warm sunshine of the bright May day. It sat there snugly in its big patch of gay garden, a white cherry tree out in the front garden, and a golden laburnum hanging over the gate. The gate was painted green and white, and there was a name on it - Red Roofs.

Enid Blyton ... Red RoofsIt's the story of a happy family with four children, who move into a new house and then face all sorts of problems. Father has to go abroad for business, Mother falls dangerously ill and then there is news that Father is lost at sea en route to the USA. It's the story of how the children face the future, struggle to survive amid financial and personal disaster and come through with flying colours.

The Family at Red Roofs isn't as well known as many of Enid Blyton's other works, but it was one of the books that opened a world of fantasy to me - a child with a vivid imagination.

There's no doubt that it was Miss Blyton's books that got ME 'scribbling'. I knew nothing about the woman only that I absolutely loved her stories, and wanted to dream up tales, just as she did. So started my lifelong love of daydreaming and writing.

I still maintain that Enid Blyton is to blame every time I find myself sitting on a train wondering just WHY the man sitting opposite me has such an ENORMOUS nose, or find myself listening in to other peoples' peculiar conversations. For me every journey, meeting, experience, is still about soaking up faces, places, names and characters. I did this long before I knew that's what writers do - I did it because I wanted to write ... like Enid Blyton ...  she seemed to me not only able to write, but to write about life, and my life.

But why did The Family at Red Roofs ring such a bell in my head?

Perhaps it was because, aged 7, I was in a family which moved around ... a LOT. By that age, I already had experience of moving home three times, that I could remember. I was also one of four children, although I had three brothers, whereas the the Red Roofs family  consisted of two boys and two girls.

When, aged 8, we moved again - this time to Kenya in Africa - I found myself in boarding school hundreds of miles from home, I initially felt excited. I imagined the place would be just like Whyteleafe School where there would be high jinx, just like in The Naughtiest Girl in the School. 

Of course, seeing my parents' vehicle pull away from the school, disappearing down a long drive and knowing I would not see them for at least three weeks, broke the spell. It unfortunately began a prolonged period of homesickness, but at least I had enjoyed the long drive up to Nyeri Primary School, thanks to Miss Blyton's magic and my innocence.

But it wasn't just Enid Blyton's stories and characters that I loved, but also her writing style. I read from a very young age, and soaked up language like others consumed food. As I explored her books and stories, so I was exploring the English language.

Imagine my horror, years after I first snuck away to curl up on a chair in a corner of a quiet room to feast on Miss Blyton's latest story, when I discovered that she was not beloved by all.

Many 'experts' claimed her use of language and vocabulary was restrictive and limited, even at the time I was reading her as a child. Some didn't like her 'tone' and literary 'devices', criticising her for presenting too 'rosy' a view of the world. Even in the 1950s and 1960s apparently she was banned from some libraries and in the early 21st century it came to light that the BBC had actually had a ban on the dramatization of Blyton works during those two decades.

However, if the 7 or 8-year-old me had known this it would not have made a blind bit of difference - I loved her stories! And, what is more important, so did many millions of other children.

We didn't - and in my case still don't care - that Miss Blyton, whose main work preceded the second half of the 20th century, was or is considered 'old fashioned' or 'not politically correct'.

I don't mind that in Red Roofs the very first paragraph includes the word 'gay' - a 'gay garden'. At the time of writing, the word 'gay' had none of the sexual and even controversial overtones which it has now. It simply meant 'happy' and 'glad', among other lovely adjectives.

Although some of her works have, over the years, been altered to ensure that they are not offensive to the modern reader, it has to be remembered that Enid Blyton not only came from another generation but really another world which has long since passed away. If her language is now considered unacceptable, it is not her fault. If some of her stories are naïve, we must remember that she was writing for children who lived in a world where they were allowed to be children. In Enid Blyton's day there were no 'teenagers', that peculiar place between childhood and adulthood. Children, especially middle and upper class British children, would grow up soon enough but while they were young they were allowed to be children. There was not the modern pressure to fast track into adult behaviour while still in childhood.

Ironically, my favourite Blyton book - The Family at Red Roofs - does tackle exactly this theme, the need for children to grow up quickly in the face of adversity. Although in true Blyton fashion everything 'works out well in the end', perhaps that was why I loved this book so much. It wasn't all 'sunshine and flowers'! Perhaps she wasn't so out of touch with modern reality as some think!

So, I will not let the fact that retrospectively Enid Blyton has been considered rather poor taste in some quarters detract from my childhood enjoyment of her writing and the joy her stories brought me. Neither will I let it interfere with my memories and my gratitude to her for the gift she gave me - a love of books and a love of reading!

So - thanks Miss Blyton! You're one of my heroes!

Enid blyton model house

And  just a final note ... it you want to read more about Miss Blyton and her life and work,  then you might like to know that I have re-worked this blog from an early version which is on anther of my websites .. on HubPages ...

Click on 'Lashings of Enid Blyton Fun' and you'll also learn how Miss Blyton's home in a place called Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire features in a very special model village!

Love it!


The Audacity of Hope

On Wednesday January 21st 2009,  I was in a hotel room in Christchurch, New Zealand, having set my alarm for an early wake up call so I could be witness to a truly historic moment.

I was enjoying the last couple of days of an amazing holiday which had taken me first to Australia and then on to the north, and finally the south island of New Zealand.

But although I had spent more than a month virtually cut off from the world, away from the news, enjoying some solo travel and relaxing, I was determined to be part of something which was happening in the USA.

So it was that, at 4am that morning, I turned on the TV to watch the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America.

Time-zone wise, Christchurch is 16 hours ahead of Washington DC - hence that early alarm because it was at 12noon in Washington DC on Tuesday January 20th that Barack Obama stood at the West Front of the United States Capitol building and took the presidential oath of office - the first ever African American president of the USA.

What an incredible moment in time and history!

I had followed the future president's journey to the White House over the previous year, read some of his books and was inspired. I think I was particularly intrigued because he has some roots in the country of Kenya, where I grew up. His father was from that country although of course, Barack was born in Hawaii in the USA. His book 'Dreams from My Father' is the first part of his amazing life story.

His second book 'The Audacity of Hope' picks up his story and actually the book explained and unpacked many of the subjects that became part of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency.

HOPE became a central feature of the campaign and of the new presidency and that was truly inspirational.

Of course, President Obama would go on to serve another term and among other things later in 2009, he would be honoured wit the Nobel Prize for Peace. The motivation for the prize was President Obama's "...extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." This, the Nobel Committee determined, was at the core of inspiring hope for a better future, not just in and for the USA but also for the world. He encouraged dialogue, co-operation between peoples, democracy and human rights, and this was recognised by the Nobel prize, along with his work to combat climate change.

President Obama still inspires today. His story continues.

His latest biography - 'A Promised Land'  - focuses on the first couple of years of his time as president. I look forward to Volume 2 !

But back to the theme of Hope ... 

It's an intangible thing. We can't touch it but we CAN feel it! We can't see it but we can experience it. When things are going wrong or at least not as we expected, it's easy just to cave and give up believing that life CAN be better. It's easy to lose hope.

But no matter how uncertain life might be, let's not lose that hope that sustains us. Let's keep the dreams we have for our lives, for our families, for our futures, alive. 

And here's a reminder which might help us...

To mark the birthday of President Barack Obama, who was born on this day ... August 4th  ... in 1961, I share an inspiring thought from the man.  

Hope - a belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead!

Now THAT is audacious!

Hope - Barack Obama
What an inspirational thought!

Oh and an interesting footnote about Barack Obama ... if you've done your sums, you'll know that today is a significant birthday for the great man.

He was 47 when he was first elected as president, one of the youngest American presidents in history - the average age of the presidents is 55 and, as we know even from very recent elections, many of the incumbents of the White House are often much older!

Happy 60th birthday Mr President!!

 


Fridayest Friday!

If you hadn't guessed it yet - I love words!

I saw this quote and it made me laugh out loud.

Fridayist Friday

'May Today be the Fridayest Friday that ever Fridayed!'

Don't you love that?

I wish I'd thought of it!

Because in my mind it sort of sums up what Friday should be about ... awesome, fabulous, a bit of a relief because we've come to the end of the week ... the 'Fridayest Friday' in fact!

This quote got me thinking about one of my favourite subjects - WORDS.

I'm fascinated by language and words actually and especially intrigued as to WHY certain things are called what they are called.

For the longest time when I was a kid I was obsessed by the English word 'cup' ... I know, that's a bit weird but it's true!

What kept spinning around in my head was this question ... WHY is that vessel we drink from called a 'CUP' ?

I have no idea why that word got me, but if you just listen to the word and try not to think about the object it's describing, it's a very strange sound.

CUP! 

Say it out loud and you'll get what I'm talking about. I'm sure there are other words which sound just as odd, when disembodied from the visual image of what it is describing. But it was 'CUP' that made me think endlessly.

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins tells me that the word is from the Old English and comes originally from the Latin word 'cuppa'. But that doesn't help me really. WHO decided that the strange sounding word 'cuppa' was a good way of describing that sort of vessel? Whoever it was, I bet they never guessed that that Latin word would also make it's way into the English language.

I feel like a 'cuppa' tea just thinking about it.

There ARE some words, of course, that DO make more sense because they sort of describe how the thing SOUNDS. That's an example of what we call 'onomatopoeia'. I love these kinds of words.

SIZZLE .. it sounds like what is it!

HOOT ... I can hear the owls in the night-time  now!

SNAP, BANG, BEEP, POP ... I could go on, there are masses of these words. I'm sure you can dream up a list of your own.

But the thing I love about language is that it's always developing. New words are often being introduced into our (English) language as culture develops.

For example, when I was a kid we didn't have the words 'social media' or 'internet' or 'cell/ mobile phone', 'emoji'  - those techy terms just for starters. And the coronavirus/ COVID19 pandemic has also resulted in a whole new set of words we had never or hardly heard before early 2020.

If  you follow the Oxford English Dictionary's 'new' word trail you'll find that new phrases and words are constantly being added to the lexicon. In July 2020, for instance, the New Words section of the OED included now familiar phrases such as 'contact tracing', 'contact tracer', 'physical distancing' and even 'Zoom' as we all turned to the internet to stay in touch during lockdowns. They are all now in the dictionary.

When it comes to making up words, however, in my experience the Champion of the World has to be the amazing author Roald Dahl who is best known, of course, for his children's books and stories, many of which are a bit surreal.

He often made up words including those that are onomatopoeic. Words like 'churgle' , which describes gurgling with laughter, and 'bibble', a perfect description of how water makes a soft gurgling sound when it hits ...  a giant peach! And how about 'scrumdiddlyumptious' - delicious!

Roald Dahl also made up words which sort of incorporate sounds and words we already know ... how about 'Giganticus' which  describes something ' Grand and spectacular'. Or 'Jumpsy; which is if you feel anxious and the slightest thing will make you jump. 

Dahl called his language 'Gobblefunk' and he apparently made up nearly 400 words - over 300 for his fabulous story 'The BFG' (The Big Friendly Giant). If you want to investigate some of his word inventions there are loads of website sites including The Wonderful World of Dahl: GOBBLEFUNK: Dahl Dictionary and Matilda Gobblefunk: A Dictionary of Roald Dahl’s Made-Up Words

Sometimes the writer just mixed up English words. One of his heroes is 'Esio Trot' ... Tortoise backwards. And if you've ever heard someone talk a load of old nonsense then you've experienced Dahl's 'Rommytot' - TommyRot!

But there are just bonkers words which Roald Dahl made up ... conjured out of his own imagination. 

My favourites include those that are written on the walls of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire in England ...see my pictures of the place below ..

"It is Truly SWIZZFINGLY FLUSHBUNKINGLY GLORIUMPTIOUS"

WHAT an imagination!

Many moons ago just as I was about to go into my final English exam at high school - my final 'A-level' exam - my teacher, who was standing at the door giving all her students some last minute encouragement, said to me "Cathy you ARE capable of getting an 'A' today ... but only if, just today, YOU DON'T MAKE UP ANY WORDS!"

Yes, I was well known even then, aged 18, for making up words. I often wrote a word which would, in my mind, sound right but which was actually a mixture of already existing words. It was something my English teacher picked up on, and although not discouraging me in my imaginative wordsmithing, was just reminding me that the examiners might not quite understand my brain!

And, by the way, on that June morning, I did resist confloberating a few words, and I did get an A in the English 'A-level'... top marks!

So, back to my thought for this day.

Have a Fridayest Friday!

Don't be a 'Grunion' (a grump) ... have a 'Phizz-Wizzing' (a brilliant) Day everyone! 

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre exterior 2

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre


*The Roald Dahl Music and Story Centre, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire 
(images by Cathy Le Feuvre)

Visit if you can ... it's 'Whoopsy-splunkers' - Fantastic!


Delicious Writing

Today I'm remembering one of my heroines.

She was a fantastic writer, an artist and illustrator, a farmer, natural scientist and conservationist! And just an AMAZING person, a woman before her time!

Her stories have given hours and hours of pleasure to generations of children in the last century, with her incredible creatures - Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Mr Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck and so many more.

I'm talking, of course, about Beatrix Potter!

What a woman! 

Born on this day - July 28 - in 1866 she grew up in a strict middle-class Victorian home, educated by governesses and isolated from other children. Apart from her brother, young Beatrix's main companions were her numerous pets and early on she started painting pictures of them and making up stories. Beatrix and her family took holidays in Scotland and in the north west of England, in the Lake District, and as she grew she learned to love and closely observe landscape, flora and fauna. 

Beatrix studied and made watercolours especially of fungi, and she first became well respected in the field of mycology. the study of fungi. 

By all accounts she was not just an exceptional talent, but also frustrated at home, feeling trapped. She didn't care to do what other girls of her time were expected to do ... get married to the 'right' man and produce lots of offspring. She wanted more. She wanted a career, to do something useful with her life. She bucked the trends of her day.

By the time she was in her thirties, she turned to writing and illustrating stories for children.

Peter_Rabbit_first_edition_1902Her first book, 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit', started out as a story for a little boy she knew, five-year-old Noel Moore who was the son of one of Beatrix's former governesses, Annie Carter Moore. Beatrix drew pictures and made up the story in 1893 and in 1901 she revised it and offered it to some publishers. When it was rejected, she decided to print copies herself but a year later it was picked up by the publishing house Frederick Warne & Co.

With its central character a naughty and mischievous little rabbit who gets into, and is chased around, the garden of  Mr. McGregor, the book was almost immediately a huge success, capturing the imagination not just of children but of their parents. It's a simple story - Peter escapes and returns home to his mother, who puts him to bed with a cup of chamomile tea - but the exquisite pictures have helped to make it one of the best-selling books in history. In the years after its publication it was reprinted multiple times and in the century since it was published it's sold more than 45million copies and has been translated  into 36 languages.

After Peter's success, Beatrix began writing and illustrating children's books full time and she let her imagination run wild, writing many stories based around what have become iconic animal characters ... some of whom I mentioned before. She wrote 30 books, 23 of which were her children's tales.

She was also a canny businesswoman. As early as 1903, Beatrix made and patented a Peter Rabbit doll and this was followed by other merchandise - painting books, board games, wall-paper, figurines, and even baby blankets and china tea-sets. Warne and Co licensed these and they and Beatrix reaped the financial benefits.  She became a very rich woman, and within a few years of that first book she was able to move out of home and the restrictive influence of her parents in London.

In 1905 she had been unofficially engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne, much against her controlling parents wishes. Sadly Norman died unexpectedly a month later and Beatrix was then even more determined to move out of the family home. That same year, with the proceeds from the stories and merchandising, and a legacy from an aunt, she bought Hill Top Farm in the village of Near Sawrey in the Lake District in Cumbria, near Lake Windermere. 

And this is where her story takes an unexpected twist. Living in the Lake District, Beatrix became aware that much of this beautiful land was under threat of being bought up for housing development for the ever expanding population of the northwest of England. 

Over a period of decades, she gradually bought more farms, and so preserved the unique hill country. Her busy writing was eventually replaced by her passion for land and conservation and farming. She became a prize-winning breeder of native Herdwick sheep and she was  a prosperous farmer. When she died  in December 1943 at the age of 77 Beatrix left almost all her property to the National Trust and this legacy means she is credited with preserving much of the land that now makes up the Lake District National Park.

And she didn't live her life without love. Beatrix eventually DID marry - in 1913 aged 47, she married William Heelis, a respected local solicitor from the town of  Hawkshead.

Beatrix Potter was a force of nature. She refused to be constrained by the 'rules' and expectations of her day. She walked her own road and allowed her creativity to thrive. She was determined to follow her own path, even if that scandalised her parents and other 'respectable' folk. She made a fantastic success of her life, and her legacy lives on not just in all those amazing stories, but also in the beautiful Lake District National Park.

As a writer I'm inspired by Beatrix Potter and am a little envious, truth be told, of her imagination and her determination. I need more of that!

She once said that she never really 'grew up' and that was the basis of her story-telling. She also apparently said she was pleased she didn't go to school because that might have robbed her of her originality.

But this is my favourite quote from Beatrix Potter. She obviously LOVED writing ... she was excited by the prospect of putting pen to paper. Bringing her animal friends to life was a joy, but she allowed them to tell their own story.

I love that.

Some writers report that sometimes characters in their stories DO almost manifest themselves through the writing and that's happened to me once in a while.

To do that, I must simply allow my imagination to go wild, just as Beatrix did.

Thanks Miss Potter - may your stories always not just entertain but also inspire!!!

Beatrix Potter

 


The Story of Brave Men

This week has been an exciting one in Jersey.

Among other things, we had a Royal Visit.

HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) did a whistle-stop tour of our lovely island. And although we've had a very damp week, actually on Thursday we were blessed with glorious sunshine, so that was brilliant especially for all the islanders, including hundreds of children, who came out to greet her.

The Princess Royal opened our newest school (the fabulous Les Quennevais School) and a new sports training facility, and visited the Jersey Zoo ... she's the patron of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Waterloo memorial St Saviour's Church JerseyBut for me, her most important duty during the day took her to St Saviour's Church where she unveiled a very special memorial plaque in the church.

In St Saviour's Churchyard in Jersey there are many interesting stories. In 2018 I spent many months wandering around the graveyard with the then Rector of St Saviour, the Rev Peter Dyson, who was investigating the people laid to rest there.

This resulted in a series of 26 episodes broadcast by BBC Radio Jersey and it was fascinating. I learned so much.

As a result of his research, Peter found many dozens of men who are connected to the Napoleonic era... the Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars, including the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Men were found who fought on the British side and even one who fought under the French emperor. It's thought St Saviour's is the resting place of more Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars veterans than anywhere else in the world. It's astonishing that so many veterans of these campaigns eventually found their way to Jersey.

In 2020 a book was published which outlines their stories - 'Napoleonic War Veterans Buried at St. Saviour’s Church, Jersey' edited by one of the world's leading experts in the period, William Mahon.

Napoleonic & Peninsula Wars memorial Oct 2020In Autumn 2020, a memorial was placed in the north Lady Chapel of the Church but the unveiling of the plaque was a year delayed because of the COVID19 pandemic. Finally, this past Thursday, June 24th 2021, that memorial was unveiled by The Princess Royal ... there was a special church service and colourful celebrations including lots of children and members of the Jersey community.

In October 2020, just before Rev Peter Dyson retired as Rector of the parish, I returned to the churchyard at St Saviour's Church to talk to him about the memorial, some of the stories it told and the importance of the research.

This was played in two parts on the BBC Radio Jersey Sunday Morning Breakfast show on October 4 2020.

Here is the complete story. 


*images from St Saviour's Church Jersey Facebook Page

 

 


Trust the Author

If you've been following this daily blog, you'll know that I talk quite a lot about books and writing. That's because writing and books are my passion.

Yesterday I was going on about children's literature ... Whether it's writing, or reading, or even reviewing (yes I do review books from time to time as well) I do spend rather a lot of time with books and immersed in stories.

On this Sunday I'm thinking about my own story. As a person of faith, I believe God is involved in my life, and is in effect, involved in writing my story.

It's so tempting to just grab that pen and do my own thing, crossing out what might have been planned and scribbling in other stuff that may or may not be good for me or where I'm meant to be.

So this is a reminder to me that God has it all in control.

I just need to trust!

Have a great day everyone!

God is still writing the story quote


A Little Pixie Dust

"All children, except one, grow up."

A classic and inspired opening line from one of the best loved children's stories of all time.

Yes, today I'm talking about 'Peter Pan'.

Not just the Boy who Wouldn't Grow Up but the book, and the play and the man who created him - J.M.Barrie.

Full disclosure here  ... I am an avid reader of classic children's stories. I have a good collection of them, some of which I read first as a child and some which I re-read over and over, always finding something new in them every time of reading.

Yes I know many of the books I love were written in a different time, and maybe some might say that they are not as 'relevant' to the young generations that have come along since they were written, but what I love about these tales is that they are often beautifully crafted, invariably include fantastical storytelling and they have the ability to transport me into another world.

As a would-be children's author (I'm still working on it by the way) I recognise now that I was probably born in the wrong time, because these days to be a children's writer I guess one needs to be more 'edgy' than people think the writers of yesteryear were.

Except that it's all relevant. In their time, many children's stories DID speak into issues and situations, including social issues,  and sometimes challenged them, albeit subtly. And many of them are just simply about human nature and those values which, I hope, we will all want to treasure regardless of the times.

Peter Pan coverWhich brings me to the story of Peter Pan, which is really partly about 'youthful innocence and escapism'. Peter is a mischievous, free-spirited, rather cocky and careless boy who doesn't want to grow up. He is determined to be independent but it's only when he meets a girl called Wendy and her brothers that he gradually realises that love is also part of the human equation. I don't know about you but that's a lesson lots of us can learn, whatever era we live in!

These days the story of Peter and Wendy and their adventures in Neverland, the fairy Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, the ghastly Captain Hook, are all well known to us through numerous interpretations, including in various movies and cartoons down the years.

Although J.M. Barrie created Peter early on, he really made his first main public appearance in a play ...  Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up ... which debuted at the Duke of York's Theatre in London on December 27 1904 - interesting because stage productions of Peter Pan are often now associated with the Christmas period and the pantomime season, at least in the UK. Peter Pan first page

In 1911 the story of Peter and Wendy began to reach a wider, worldwide audience when it was reworked as a novel with that classic opening line.

My treasured copy of the story, which I picked up years ago in an old book shop, was first published in 1951 and at the start of the book there is this inscription ...

Do you know that this book is part of the J.M.Barrie "Peter Pan Bequest"? This means that Sir J.M.Barrie's royalty on this book goes to help the doctors and nurses to cure the children who are lying ill in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London

And this is what I love most about Peter Pan. 

SO much has been written about Peter, Wendy, Neverland, the dog nurse Nana, the whole 'cast' of the play and the subsequent stories, books and movies,  J.M. Barrie himself and the children who so-called 'experts' reckon Peter and his characters were based on.

J.M.Barrie is best known for Peter but he wrote so much more, including many plays and stories which address social concerns. And I love the fact that in 1929, Barrie assigned the copyright of the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a leading children's hospital in London.

I understand the copyright status is unclear these days because Peter Pan is now generally in what is called 'the public domain'. Original copyright in the UK ran out on June 19th 1987, the 50th anniversary of Barrie's death but that was later extended to another couple of decades, and there have been some developments since in other parts of the world. But that doesn't take away from the fact that down the years GOSH has benefitted greatly from the 'Peter Pan Bequest'.

I know Great Ormond Street Hospital a little, having visited to report as a journalist and in a personal capacity with loved ones, and they do amazing work. It's a hospital dedicated to the care of children and it IS a very special place where children are at the centre!

So today - as we mark the day in 1937 that J.M. Barrie left this earth - I was trying to think of a way to celebrate him and his most well known characters. And I found this quote and this image ...  which is just inspiring. 

Whatever we 'believe' in, we all need trust and faith, if only in those around us. And a little of 'pixie dust', even if not scattered by Tinkerbell herself, helps us to dream and create a little bit of magic for ourselves and others.

I Love It!

Peter Pan quote


A June Wedding

Mid June is a popular time for weddings. The prospect of  fine weather always helps of course although in Great Britain and the UK one can never count on a good day, even in summer. But I guess there's more chance of sunshine in June than at other times and these days, of course, the photographs of the day will be the lasting memories for many couples so a bit of sun goes a long way to making a happy Wedding Day!

In the past year, a few of my friends have had to postpone or scale down their wedding day plans because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, and I know for some that has been rather traumatic. 

But I also know for many couples who've had to change their plans it has meant they have focussed more on the day and the commitment they are making rather than the 'party'. And that has to be a good thing, doesn't it? 

Why am I thinking about weddings? Well ... it's because it was on this day - June 16th - in 1855 that a couple called William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married in a very scaled down simple ceremony in London. 

Stand by for a blatant plug for the first book I wrote!

William and Catherine BoothWilliam and Catherine Booth were the founders of The Salvation Army, which is now a global Christian church and charity movement working in more than 130 countries, but on their wedding day they were still 'seeking' their future. William was a struggling Christian evangelist and his travels across England had kept him and his fiancée apart for many months.  

There are no photos of the day itself, although the couple did get photographs taken across the years so we know what they looked like when they were young.

Their marriage would be the start not just of a busy family life (eventually they produced eight children) but also of their shared Christian service which would take them around the country, working first in the Methodist Church and finally in their own evangelistic ministry which would lead them back to London a decade later. It was in 1865 that they would create The East London Christian Mission which in 1878 became The Salvation Army.

Since their first meeting in 1852 William Booth and Catherine Mumford had regularly written letters and notes to each other and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage, as they were often separated by work and circumstances. And it was those letters, which are held in the British Library in London, which inspired me to write my first book.

WIlliam and Catherine front cover Sept 2013 Monarch books

'William and Catherine, the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' was published by Monarch (Lion Hudson) books in 2013 and it draws not just on that personal correspondence but also on my imagination.

Included in the book are extracts from the letters, with kind permission of the Booth Family and the British Library. As I read their notes and letters I learned, I think, a little about Catherine and William's characters and so, in addition to extracts from many of the couple's letters and the historical narrative, my story also includes some 'imaginative' excerpts - my 'storytelling', my ideas on how they would have reacted to certain circumstances and events in their lives, some insignificant but others which are important in the history of The Salvation Army.

Which brings me to June 16 1855 and that quiet wedding in London. This excerpt, this little 'story', is in Chapter 7 of my book and is my imagining, based on what I know happened on the day and my understanding of the couple involved, of what transpired on that rather chilly day in mid June.

The sun emerged from behind the early summer clouds as Catherine and William stepped over the threshold of the Stockwell Green Congregational Church.
Catherine clutched her new husband’s hand, feeling small yet secure. William looked down at Catherine’s sweet face and smiled. He could feel her shaking ever so slightly and a rush of protectiveness towards this woman overwhelmed him. He could hardly believe that, after all this time and so many obstacles, they were at last man and wife.
It had been a short and solemn service and blessing. Perfect. Catherine had been pale and had spoken quietly, her voice quivering as she repeated her vows of love and obedience. In contrast, William had found that his voice, which he was accustomed to using to rather larger congregations, had rung loudly around the church. As his “I do!” echoed around the building it had provoked a little giggle from his beloved. Then, in the cavernous chapel, William and Catherine had knelt at the altar and pledged themselves to God and to each other.
Behind Catherine, William noticed that his father-in-law, John Mumford, and his sister Emma, the only witnesses to the solemn ceremony, were now exiting the building and squinting in the watery sunshine. For a moment he regretted the absence of the rest of his family. Of course, it was unlikely that Ann would attend, but he had hoped that his mother and her namesake, his sister Mary, all those miles away in Nottingham, might have been able to make it, even at such short notice. However, he and Catherine had been thrilled when Emma had sent word that they would be able to afford for her, at any rate, to attend. He knew Catherine’s day was also slightly saddened by the fact that her own mother had been disinclined to attend the ceremony, but, as he held Catherine’s little gloved hand in his, he felt a rush of love and appreciation for her commitment to him.
Catherine pulled her shawl closer around her neck and shoulders. She shivered again. Even with layers of petticoats under her skirts she still felt the chill of the day. Maybe she should, after all, have worn her coat. The few days of milder weather in May hadn’t lasted and it was still chilly, even for mid-June.
Catherine turned to the Revd David Thomas, who had so kindly agreed to preside over this most sacred of ceremonies.
“Mr Thomas, thank you!” she announced, grasping his hand and shaking it wholeheartedly. No simpering little handshake for this gentleman. She remembered their previous debates and discussions about the place of women in church and society, and she knew he would expect this forwardness from her, even on this day.
Father Mumford was calling from the street. The Stockwell New Chapel was tucked away from the main thoroughfare and he had a cab waiting. William, Catherine, and Emma took their leave of the minister and made their way to the horse drawn vehicle. It was but a short drive back home to Russell Street in Brixton, where, regardless of her unwillingness to attend the actual service, William was sure that Mrs Mumford would be waiting with some light refreshments. Whatever her views on the marriage, and he still wasn’t quite sure of her, she loved her daughter unconditionally and would, he was sure, come around.
William reached out his hand to Catherine. She grasped it and he helped her into the carriage. Whatever the future held now, they were one. The Lord would determine their way, and, whatever happened, they would face it together.

If you fancy reading more, my book is still available all over the place, including from the usual online sites as well as the Lion Hudson website. 

Thanks!

*image The Salvation Army Heritage Centre


Somewhere Over the Rainbow

It was back in 1939 that the world got to know a certain young actress, singer and dancer who would become one of the most famous women in the world.

Judy Garland was born on this day - June 10 - in 1922 and she had already been on the stage for many years, as a child star on vaudeville, before she starred in The Wizard of Oz,  a musical based on a classic children's book called 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' by the author L. Frank Baum.

Baum actually penned 14 Oz stories plus 41 other novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, and at least 42 scripts - a prolific writer. I've read some of the Oz stories and if you've never done so, its worth it. But as I was investigating him, I discovered that actually some of his works were rather 'prophetic'. He apparently wrote about future inventions like television, augmented reality, laptop computers (in his novel entitled The Master Key), wireless telephones (Tik-Tok of Oz), women in high-risk and action-heavy occupations (Mary Louise in the Country), and much more.

The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz_first_edition_cover'The Wizard of Oz' is, of course, a fairy tale about the adventures of a young farm girl named Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland in the movie. She and her pet dog Toto venture into the magical Land of Oz after they are blown away from their home in rural Kansas by a cyclone.  It was first published in  January 1901, and the book has become one of the most loved and best-known stories in American literature. The Library of Congress has even declared it "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairy tale."  By 1938, when the film was in production, it had already sold a million copies. And it's success has gone from strength to strength, being translated into many different languages.

'The Wizard of Oz' movie - the original - is one of my favourites. As a child I loved it's excitement. Would Dorothy ever 'get home'? And I loved its tension - the Wicked Witch of the East who is killed when Dorothy's house falls on her, and the Wicked Witch of the West who plagues her for much of the story. 

As an adult I watch it and read much more into its narrative twists and turns. Our longing to be safe and 'home' and to appreciate what we have there, without perhaps having to travel far to find happiness and fulfilment and friends. The 'evil' that may be around us and how we need to gain the courage to fight against it.

And, of course, I loved the music in the movie with original score by Herbert Stothart. The film was nominated for  six Academy Awards, including 'Best Picture', but lost out to another brilliant classic 'Gone with the Wind'. But it DID win 'Best Original Score' and 'Best Original Song' for  "Over the Rainbow" - sung at the start of the movie by Judy.

I love the sentiment of this song. We all dream and wish and hope for 'something better' don't we? But as the movie unfolds, we learn that sometimes our dreams and hopes and wishes are all right here, right where we are. We just need to learn to cherish and appreciate what we have.

Today, enjoy this excerpt from the movie and what I think is one of the most perfect songs ever written...sung by one of the most brilliant performers the world has ever seen.