Fiction

Always be ...

Just a quick thought for this Tuesday!

Apart from anything else, this picture features Winnie the Pooh ... one of my favourites. .. a poet and a leader and just full of fun. And his friend Tigger, full of energy and optimism ... What a pair!

May we always be like Pooh and Tigger and have good friends around us.

And may we always be all of these things!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

 

Tuesday Acrostic


A Miracle and Mystery

If I was to list the following books ... could you tell me what the link is? 

Yes, the well read and clever among you will know they were all written by the same man - Herbert George Wells.

Born on this day - September 21st - in 1886, HG Wells was an English writer and novelist. He actually wrote in many 'genres' - short stories, dozens of novels, and even social commentaries, history, satire, biography and autobiography - but is best known for his science fiction novels and works. In fact, I read that he is sometimes called the "father of science fiction", along with another brilliant author, Jules Verne.

Often, especially these days, as a writer one is expected to just write in one genre - crime fiction, 'chick lit' or women's literature, horror, science fiction, children's books, history, biography, academic etc et

But what I love about people like Wells is that he did it all. Like many of the great authors of the later 19th and early 20th century and some of my favourites - JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis - who weren't just writers but also educators, Wells started out as a teacher. And such was his imagination that he didn't stick to one type of writing, but diversified.

In fact, another of his books - The History of Mr Polly - is one of my favourite reads. It's a 'comic novel' about a man who feels very unfulfilled in life. It's also a bit of a social commentary on the times, English society at the turn of the 20th century, and in particular his descriptions of lower-middle-class life really tells us so much about life in those days. 

But of course, it's his science fiction which has grabbed all the attention. Those books listed above have all been made into (several) successful films so lots of us know about the themes. 

'The Time Machine' in particular has grabbed the imagination of readers down the years and it's also been credited with  the popularization of the concept of time travel by using a vehicle or device to travel  forward or backward through time - think 'Back to the Future' - love those films! 

Actually, it was HG Wells who coined the term "time machine"! What a legend!

I'm absolutely intrigued by the idea of travelling in time, although I always say that I wouldn't want to travel to far into the future ... just a few years here and there to see how life might work out for us might be good for starters. In Wells' novels, and other time travelling works, the reality of  life far into the future is not always what's expected, it's not utopian and it's often overwhelmingly so different that the plot or story invariably doesn't work out well.

HGWellsTo celebrate HG Wells, today I am sticking with the idea of time ... which he obviously spent a lot of time not just writing, but also thinking about.

'The Time Machine'', which was published in 1895, is not just about a vision of the future, but also a commentary on the increasing inequality and class divisions of late Victorian England. It's also about dreams and aspirations for the future,  but also human ambition and what people will do to see their visions a reality ... and so much more!

But for those of us who fancy a bit of 'time travel', for those of us who maybe live with the future always just out of reach, it's easy to forget to live in the moment.

As Wells reminds us in this thought, we can get obsessed by time, by always looking ahead and thinking about what might be over the next hill. We might be one of those who always thinks the grass will be greener in the field just down the way. Or one of those people who constantly fixates on what life might be like in the future, when everything is bigger, better and more successful, rather than enjoying THIS day, this moment!

It's a good lesson.

So, to celebrate this day and the life and works of HG Wells, I'm going to try to remember this not just today ... but down the line as well ... (There I go, thinking about the future!)

I love this idea that 'each moment of life is a miracle and mystery'.

May we never take 'today' for granted or risk missing out on the joyful moments of today by always thinking about tomorrow.

 


Be Different!

Yesterday in this daily blog I was talking about the amazing children's author, Roald Dahl - it was his birthday yesterday, which is now celebrated as Roald Dah Day.

Hope you enjoyed it!

But I wanted to continue thinking about this amazing writer ... he was a real 'one off', a man with a huge imagination. Someone who was just true to himself. 

He never learned to type, he did all his writing in an old shed  with sharpened pencils. He invented a medical device to help his son when he suffered a head injury and the family could find nothing to help him. He made up his own language - or at least a language for his BFG (Big Friendly Giant) ... Gobblefunk!

And, of course, he wrote all those wonderful stories and much more ... see yesterday's blog if you want to read all about him!

Roald Dahl was unique!

Now, we can't all be world famous authors, or indeed hugely famous for anything.

But we can be different!

We all have things which make us stand out from the crowd, it's just sometimes we desperately try to fit in to other people's moulds and forget just to be ourselves! Instead of standing out and being proud of our differences, we squash them or hide them away. 

For most of my adult life I've been a little 'different' to others, but I did spend years being tempted to 'fit in'  - sometimes I DID do that, wore what people thought I should wear, looked like they thought I should look ... and that was just for starters...

But no longer! Now I am accepting my uniqueness and  I'm looking always for the things that make ME  different. And if people don't like it, they can lump it. I'm not going completely weird, but I am trying to be true to myself a lot more. And I'm finding it rather liberating!

So today ... I just want to encourage us all to embrace ... well ... ourselves!

We never know what we might uncover and how much fun we might have or where life might take us when we truly just become more 'real', more as we should be.

Have a great day everyone!

Be yourself


A Scrumdiddlyumptious Day!

Now here's something you may not know ...

Today is Roald Dahl Day!

Or to give it it's official name ... Roald Dahl Story Day !

It's a global annual celebration of the most brilliant British novelist, short-story writer, poet, screenwriter ... and wartime fighter pilot - Roald Dahl, and today we're encouraged to enjoy and celebrate our favourite Roald Dahl stories, characters, and moments.

We do all this today because it was on this day, September 13, in the year 1916, that the author was born!

Roald Dahl is best known as a children's author, of course ... think The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  and Matilda - and that's just for starters, I think you could probably name more.

But Roald Dahl wrote not only for children, but also had a successful parallel career as the writer of macabre adult short stories (I was scared witless back in the 1980s by television dramas based on his spooky and and bizarre Tales of the Unexpected.) Briefly in the 1960s he also wrote screenplays including two adaptations of works by Ian Fleming - the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ and 'Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang'

Roald Dah quote - change the worldIf you look online you'll see loads of quotes from Roald Dahl - and this one here is one of my favourites I think.

He could be funny and profound at the same time. He could write about cruelty and kindness in equal measure. And, as we've learnt from some of the films which have been created from some of his stories, his words encourage children, and all of us really, to be the people we should be, to dream big and to believe in ourselves.

He was and still is a true superstar!

In fact, as it says writ large on the building which houses a Museum named after the author, he and his creations are 'Truly Swizzfigglingly Flushbunkingly Gloriumptious!'

When I lived in the UK, I actually lived quite near to a leafy village called Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, which is home to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.

Dahl - Willy Wonka gatesStep through the doors of the museum and the Willy Wonka Gates and prepare to leave reality behind as you enter the weird and wonderful world of Dahl.

The gang’s all there including the aforementioned Big Friendly Giant, Charlie, James, Matilda ... Danny, the Champion of the WorldThe WitchesEsio Trot, Fantastic Mr Fox and so much more!

If you fancy it, you can dress up as your favourite Roald Dahl character, and get crafty making a mask of, as the museum literature says, ‘a crodswoggling creature’.

Dahl - museum exteriorJust like Roald Dahl, who invented hundreds of new and whacky words and phrases – over 200 just for the BFG ‘gobblefunk’ dictionary apparently – you can even let your imagination run riot and create your own crazy words. It’s fantastagorically hands-on and fabulously intriguing, even if you’re not 6 to 12 years old! 

His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide but his talents actually extended much beyond the written word and the Museum and Story Centre is also a window on that world.

In the ‘Boy’ Gallery we can find the famous ‘mouse in a gobstopper jar’ and learn more about Roald Dahl’s schoolboy days and pranks! There’s loads more about his life as a Welsh-born lad with a Norwegian heritage and as a husband, father and grandfather as you read original letters and delve into the Dahl family photo album.

Step through into the ‘Solo’ Gallery and discover more about Dahl’s life as an RAF (Royal Air Force) fighter pilot in the Second World War and his unique literary archive. You might have to fight a 4-year-old for a place by the touch-screen monitors, but if you are forced to wait your turn, you can always sit back and enjoy extracts from some of the films which have been created from Roald Dahl’s books.

Then, if the kids haven't already beaten you to it, it's into the Story Centre and Crafts Room. There you'll find the aforementioned dressing up box, and that word creation area, tables where you can be all messy and crafty, and there's even a space where you can make your own stop-frame animation film.

Roald Dahl originally wrote his stories for his own 5 children and encouraged creativity in all the kids he met, so it's not surprising that his Museum is a place where the words ‘Don’t Touch’ are banned! Here there are items to play with, spin and manipulate, holes to peer into and wonder what lurks beyond, things to prod and poke. Anything that is not for touching is out of harm’s way or under glass. In fact, touching and feeling and getting into a little bit of mischief is positively encouraged!

However, my favourite spot at the Museum is the replica of Roald Dahl’s Writing Hut - it's in the Story Centre and it's fascidoodly - here I go, making up words already! 

It was in the 1950s that Roald settled down with his family in 'Gipsy House' in the little village of Great Missenden in the county of Buckinghamshire (sort of north east from London). He was then married to his first wife, the American actress Patricia Neal, and it was here in the quiet and idyllic countryside that they raised their family.

At the bottom of the garden at Gipsy House, Roald had a little hut to which he retreated to write most of his unforgettable stories. Research tells us he couldn’t type - he always used a pencil to write for several hours a day locked away in his hut, sitting in a big old shabby chair, leaning on a ‘writing board’ which he fashioned to fit perfectly around his body.

Apparently the hut wasn't warm or particularly clean and tidy, but it was here, in his special writing place, that Roald wrote for two hours each morning and two hours every afternoon, using exactly six freshly sharpened, yellow, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils which he popped into a small Toby jug on the desk next to his chair. He'd worked out that he needed six pencils for a two hour writing session and always started each session sharpening the pencils!

Dahl - The writing hutIt’s just one of the rituals which Roald had when it came to writing and, as you sit in the replica chair in the replica Writing Hut, surrounded by the fascimiles of the author's special objects, you feel something of the man and the genius. Well, at least, I did!

This is me some years ago trying to channel a tiny fraction of Dahl Inspiration in that replica of his very own chair!!

Small Kid or Big Kid - whatever age you might be, there will something for you!

The Museum and Story Centre regularly hosts Revolting Rhymes sessions from roving storytellers in the Courtyard around which the museum nestles. In Miss Honey’s Classroom there are ‘fantabulous’ weekend and holiday workshops with storytellers, authors, crafts experts, scientists and chocolatiers (Roald Dahl ADORED chocolate which makes me admire him even more!)

For an extra special treat for adults and slightly older children you can enjoy a special tour of the Dahl Archive, a behind-the-scenes experience where you get to meet an archivist who will show you some of the locked-away archive material, providing an even deeper insight into the mind, life and work of the author. When I went, we discovered that Miss Honey (the perfectly lovely teacher in Matilda) was originally intended to be an alcoholic and Miss Trunchbull (the hideous headmistress in the same story) started out as a much nicer person!

For those wanting to do more research on Dahl, the Archive and Museum Reading Rooms are also open to researchers by appointment and they also welcome researchers who can't actually get to Great Missenden - via the website.

Dahl - Cafe Twit signFinish the visit with a stroll through the Shop where you can buy everything from books and pictures to Dahl themed games and weird stuff like a ball made entirely of elastic/rubber bands.

Finally, grab a drink and ‘delumptious’ cake in Cafe Twit. 

Dahl - cakesIf it's a fine day sit in the Courtyard and just watch how much fun everyone - young and old - is having.

And forget any diet - because the cakes are perfectly delicious.

In fact, you could say they are ... Scrumdiddlyumptious!

*This blog is based on a article I first wrote for my Hub Pages website pages ... and it's still there if you fancy looking it up ... and also please feel free to check out my other hub stories!

Thanks!

 


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!

 


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!


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


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.

 


A Literary Sensation

Have you ever had a day when you think 'I'd just like to get away from it all'.

That concept intrigues me, the idea of just going somewhere where I would be unknown, not surrounded by the stresses of life, perhaps completely on my own, starting a 'new life'.

Some people DO turn their back on their lives, there's evidence of that, just 'disappearing' from the radar, and sometimes that's down to fear, mental health challenges, or just extreme stress and sadness. I have actually met people who have done that and it is not a choice made lightly but often the result of great trauma. But my main concern if I were to do something so drastic would probably not be for myself but for those I leave behind, my family and loved ones, friends. Causing them pain, not knowing where I was or whether I was dead or alive, would be simply horrid and rather cruel.

This idea of being 'separated' from the world is one which lots of writers have been intrigued by down the centuries, and I'm included in that number.

And it all began really on this day - April 25th - in 1719, with the publication of a book which is reckoned to be the first 'English Novel', and it caused a sensation.

In fact, although it was fictional, readers were convinced it was a true account of a man who was shipwrecked on a desert island. 

Any idea what book I'm talking about?

Robinson Crusoe first editionWell, let me put you out of your misery - it was, of course, 'Robinson Crusoe' by Daniel Defoe.

Defoe was an interesting chap - not just a writer and journalist, but also a trader, pamphleteer and ... a spy! He was often in trouble with the authorities and even served time in prison because he wrote politic tracts, offering some new ideas about how the world should be. And some leaders and intellectuals did actually take notice of some of what he had to offer.

I think I first read an illustrated children's version of 'Robinson Crusoe' when I was quite young, but the full version is really interesting too, if a bit of a read! The central character is 'Robinson Kreutznaer' who spends 28years as a castaway on a remote desert island actually near the coasts of Venezuela and Trinidad. In the story he meets all sorts of adversities but one of the things that captured MY imagination was the way that, having landed on the island, he has to build a whole life for himself, including somewhere to live, learning how to fish and hunt and attempting to survive.

By the way, I'm also a bit of a fan of an old Disney film called 'Swiss Family Robinson' who are also castaway on a remote island after a shipwreck, and have to use their ingenuity to keep body and soul together. This is based on a book of the same name, a novel by the Swiss writer Johann David Wyss, first published in 1812. And I'm also a bit obsessed by a more modern movie featuring Tom Hanks - yes I'm talking about  'Castaway' which has all the same elements and is a little bit more realistic about the actual challenges of being stranded alone on a remote island. 

As I said before, when 'Robinson Crusoe' was first published, many readers believed he was a real person and the book was a true account of his life. But actually the story is thought to be based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on a Pacific island called "Más a Tierra" which is now part of Chile. The place was actually renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.

What's important to note though is that the book is not JUST about Robinson's time on the island. The narrative begins with his life before the shipwreck that leaves him stranded, and after his rescue, we learn about how his life unfolds after nearly three decades on that remote island.

This reminds me that sometimes we fixate on certain aspects of a person's life, without taking into account that perhaps that just reflects a very small proportion of what they have lived, what they have offered the world. We may condemn a person for an action long after they have been well rehabilitated, or after they have turned their back on their previous lives and made more positive choices than negative. We may applaud people for just one or two things they've done in their lives that have been brilliant and that has brought them publicity, and that's not a bad thing, but somehow we forget others who may spend their entire lives quietly 'doing good' for the rest of humanity. In our celebrity culture, there's a lot of that going on, isn't there? Our media puts people on a pedestal for things they have done, often for great wads of money or cynically for publicity purposes, and yet that might not be who they really are. 

Or maybe it is? Who knows?

It's certainly something to think about, isn't it?

Meanwhile, if you've never read 'Robinson Crusoe', may I recommend it? Because, if nothing else, it might inspire us if we DO decide to take ourselves off into the 'Nowhere' and have to fend for ourselves.

Happy Reading! 

 

(*image - 'Robinson Crusoe' first edition title page)

 


A person's a person, no matter how small!

Here are some lines you might recognise if you, like me, have been a reader since you were very little.

"The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said 'How we wish we had something to do.'"

Or how about this? 

Do you like green eggs and ham?
I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.”

The cat in the hat bookcoverYes, opening lines from two children's classics - 'The Cat in the Hat' and 'Green Eggs and Ham'

By 'Dr Seuss'.

Admittedly, if you're my age, you're more likely to know the name and the books if you were brought up in the United States of America, but nowadays Dr Seuss is globally popular not just for the books (he wrote and illustrated more than 60 books under that pen name), but also because of the cartoons and films that have brought the author's incredible imagination and creatures and thoughts to life over the decades since he first put pen to paper.Green eggs and ham book cover

'Dr Seuss' was actually a chap called Theodor Seuss 'Ted' Giesel, who was born on this day - Mach 2nd  - in 1904.

He wasn't just an award-winning world renowned children's author and poet, but also an illustrator, animator, filmmaker and political cartoonist. And by the time of his death in September 1991, his many children's books had sold over 600 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages.

Horton hears a who book cover

'Horton Hears a Who' (published in 1955) is one of my favourites - the story in rhyme of Horton the Elephant and how he saves Whoville, a tiny planet based on a small speck of dust, from the evil animals who mocked him. 

The most popular line from that book is "A person's a person, no matter how small" - it's just so profound! Dr Seuss isn't just about fun, there's usually a moral in there somewhere too.

And how about 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas!' ? That one was published in 1957.

All written by Dr Seuss! NOW do you know who I'm talking about?

As was/is the case with many successful authors Ted Giesel's first efforts as a children's writer - a book called 'And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street' - was rejected by many dozens of publishers. But just a few years later, by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, he was beginning to become quite successful. During the war he supported the US war effort and made a name for himself as a filmmaker. One of his war documentaries inspired a film called 'Design for Death' (1947), a study of Japanese culture - and that picked up an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. A couple of years later in 1950, a film called 'Gerald McBoing-Boing', which was based on an original story by Seuss, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Such a brilliantly talented person!

Dr Seuss was also at the forefront of the movement to get children reading. In 1954, a report was published in Life magazine highlighting illiteracy among school children in the USA. It concluded that kids were not learning to read because their books were boring. The director of the education division of publishers Houghton Mifflin, William Ellsworth Spaulding, compiled a list of 348 words that he believed were important for young readers - first-graders - to recognize. Spaulding asked Ted Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words.

The result was 'The Cat in the Hat', which uses 236 of the listed words.

Astonishing!

Seuss' books, his words, have certainly got children reading down the years. Just as JK Rowling got a generation at the end of the 20th century picking up a Harry Potter book, Dr Seuss' creations have inspired millions of young readers. 

Down the years Dr Seuss picked up many an award, and even a special Pulitzer Prize in 1984, for his "contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents".  He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and although he passed away in 1991 he remains one of the highest paid celebrities and authors. 

But I think it's his ability to engage children with words and to encourage them to read, opening up their imaginations to a world of possibilities and to laugh out loud, shed a tear or two and empathise with others, that is his greatest legacy.

So, with that in mind, I'll leave you with a brilliant quote from the amazing man called Dr Seuss.

Cat in the hat reading