Literature

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


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.

 


No Cure for Curiosity

Have you ever heard this quote?

'Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses'

It's one of those sayings that lots of us may know ... but do you know where it came from, who wrote it?

Well that was a woman called Dorothy Parker, an American writer, poet, writer, satirist and critic who is best known for her wit and sharp and droll comments and jokes. She was based in New York and it was her observations on life in the city and the people around her that gave her much of her material.

She wrote extensively for magazines - she sold her first poem to the prestigious Vanity Fair magazine in 1914 at the age of just 21 and a few months later she was hired as an editorial assistant for Vogue.  Within a couple of years she was a Vanity Fair staff writer and began writing theatre reviews. Actually she first filled in for P. G. Wodehouse, who was on holiday. 

She mixed in literary circles including as part of a lunch group called the Algonquin Round Table named for the hotel in which they met which included among others editors and newspaper columnists. Some of those companions began quoting some of humorous things that Dorothy can up with during lunch, and her reputation as a 'wit' grew.

Later in life Dorothy wrote that those gatherings were actually rather superficial, lots of people telling jokes and '...telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off ... There was no truth in anything they said...' Plus ca change, as they say.  Interesting!

Dorothy wrote extensively and if you look online you'll see many of her funny and rather sarcastic comments online, many of which of course are taken out of context. I'm guessing from what I've read of her she was a great people-watcher, someone who mental notes about everything around her.  Imagine being at a party with Dorothy Parker. I for one would try to be on MY best behaviour.

There's a website dedicated to her - the Dorothy Parker Society - if you want to find out more. And one of the things I've learned as I've investigated her a bit more is that she thoroughly disliked her reputation as a 'wise cracker',  and of course there was much more to her than those sharp-witted quotes.

I'm mentioning her today because it was on this day - June 7th - in 1967 that Dorothy Parker died and also because there's one of her comments which I absolutely LOVE. I don't know the context in which she said it or wrote it but for me it is profound.

Curiosity - dorothy parker

Don't you love that?

It's not often I find myself 'bored'. There's always something to do, something to investigate, something to watch and enjoy.  And I hope I never lose my sense of curiosity.

I have to admit I am the curious kind. I also love to 'people watch' and actually I also store up things I see and hear, sometimes even writing them down.

I will never be a Dorothy Parker, but occasionally these vignettes of life make their way into my writing and there's more still to come yet.

One example. When I worked in London I spent many hours on the train commuting into the office and it would have been very easy to get 'bored'. Sometimes I read to pass the time, but other times I just watched and listened.

How, I wondered, did that man sitting opposite me get to have SUCH a big nose? Was he born like that, or was he in some sort of accident? It was massive, red and bulbous. And the best thing was he seemed completely unaware of it. Classic.

There were the silly women chatting about shoes and clothes, the girls applying their makeup as we moved along, unaware that at any moment they might pierce their eyeball with mascara stick. There were the men talking endlessly about sport and even those sharing family and work stories and gossip, sometimes with a degree of 'cattiness', sarcasm and petty spite.

Yes often I'm sure 'showing off'' and maybe just trying to impress the listeners around them.

Dorothy Parker would have loved it!

 

 


A Night in June

I love a bit of poetry.

And today I want to share another poem from one of my favourite poets, William Wordsworth.

He was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to create the Romantic Age in English literature - in 1798 they worked together on a collection of poems entitled Lyrical Ballads which was really the start of it all.

Wordsworth, in my opinion, wrote some beautiful poems which really give us a picture of the English countryside and the culture of his age.

He's well known for some particular poems and within them are some phrases which have become part of English-speaking culture.

I've already posted one of my favourites - 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' ... which gives us eternal images of those lovely spring 'Daffodils'.

What about 'Composed upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802' - which includes the beautiful line "Earth has not anything to show more fair"? One of the things I love about Wordsworth is that he didn't try to come up with fancy titles for his poems but sometimes just told us where he had written them!

I can't talk about Wordsworth without mentioning one of his very early poems - 'Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' - that was included in the 'Lyrical Ballards'  and if you've never read it, it's well worth a look .. why not do so here ?

However, the poet is so much more than this handful of 'famous' poems. Wordsworth was Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death on 23 April 1850 and so even until the end of his life he was writing pieces to celebrate landmark moments in British history. 

But what I love about William Wordsworth is his imagery, and how he manages to write so beautifully about the things he sees and hears around him.

And so, as we're just into the month of June, let me share this rather less well-known Wordsworth poem ... perfect for this time of year! And beautiful!

Enjoy!

A night in June - Wordsworth



 

 

 

 


It's a Wonderful Life

What's your favourite film?

Maybe your have lots of movies you enjoy but if you were to choose just one... just one... what would it be?

Mine is a brilliant film called 'It's a Wonderful Life' and although it's often associated with Christmastime, and that's when it's usually broadcast on TV, I can enjoy it any time of the year, anytime of the day!

Why am I talking about this today? Well the film is one of the famous movies produced and directed by Frank Capra who was born on this day - May 18th - in 1897. 

Although born in Italy, like so many people who emigrated with their families to the USA when they were children, he lived the 'American Dream'. His was a real rags to riches story

During the 1930's, Frank Capra became one of America's most influential film directors. He won three Academy Awards for Best Director - he was nominated six times. And he won three other Oscars in other categories.  

If you know you're movie history you might recognise some of his iconic films - It Happened One Night (1934), You Can't Take It with You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After serving in the Second World War his career went into decline and his later films didn't perform so well.

And that includes It's a Wonderful Life which was released in 1946. However, over the years this film and others made by Frank Capra have come to define not just American movie history but the American dream itself.  And now It's a Wonderful Life is considered one of the greatest films of all time. In 1990, the film was designated as "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and added to the USA's National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

In fact, Frank Capra himself said it was his favourite movie of all he had directed. James Stewart also claimed it as his favourite! I feel vindicated that I love it so much!

If you've never watched the movie, then you might want to give it a go. But if you don't want to know more, you best stop reading now because there are spoilers ahead!

Its a wonderful life May 18It's a Wonderful Life is a fantasy and it features an angel, so you have to suspend reality, but the moral of the film hits my heart every time.

The film is based on the short story and booklet entitled 'The Greatest Gift' which a chap called Philip Van Doren Stern self-published in 1943. There are also echoes of the 1843 Charles Dickens novella 'A Christmas Carol' which of course is also a bit of a fantasy, featuring as it does ghosts. Spirits who teach Ebenezer Scrooge some important life lessons.

And that's also the central theme of Capra's movie. The star of the film, James Stewart. plays George Bailey, a man who has spent his life in service to his family and his community, giving up his own personal dreams in the process. He reaches a crisis point and on Christmas Eve contemplates taking his own life because he comes to the conclusion that life for everyone around him would be much better if he had never been born.

Step in George's Guardian Angel - a character called Clarence Odbody - who attempts to show him that his life has NOT been worthless, and that he has touched the lives of so many others. He does this by showing George what life for his family and his community of Bedford Falls would have been life IF George had not been born. Clever.

If you fancy it, click on the link below to watch the uplifting end of the movie, when George's vision of life without him comes to an end and he is surrounded by the love he never appreciated or even thought he deserved.

And at the end of it all, he receives a gift from Clarence which is inscribed with this note ...

'Remember ... no man is a failure who has friends!'

It's a great lesson.

Truth be told, there have been times in my life when I've wondered why I'm here and whether my life has had any purpose. There have been moments when I think my life has been pretty worthless and I've questioned whether I've made a difference to the world. There have been episodes when I've queried my life choices and whether I could have done more.

But when I watch It's a Wonderful Life, I'm reminded that every action, every friendship, every episode in my life may have impacted others, and I hope it's for the positive rather than for the negative.

So today, although it's not Christmas ... here's the ending of that movie.

Enjoy! And be inspired not just by the film, but by the knowledge that every life has purpose. We can all make a difference even in small ways. 

And if we have love of family and friends... we are rich!

 


Before ...

I love an inspirational quote - but I guess you've noticed that by now. 

I can't believe it's four months nearly since we began this journey through 2021 'One Day at a Time'. And I have to admit sometimes it's hard to find something to say ... every day.

And then I find a quote like this online!

So today, here are some words of wisdom from a great American author - Ernest Hemingway.

Have a great Thursday!

 

Thursday inspiration


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 London memory

I worked in London for many years and so commuting into the City and across the metropolis was a great part of my life for a good deal of time.

At one point and for many years I often passed through one particular London Underground (Tube) Station - Baker Street - almost daily, and I got to know it very well.

It's a fascinating place. It's where lots of different underground lines converge, and it's a labyrinth of platforms and interlinking corridors. 

And it's historic - Baker Street is one of the original stations of the Metropolitan Railway,  the world's first underground railway, which opened on 10 January 1863.  When I was working in London, the Bakerloo Line, which gets it's name because it links Baker Street and Waterloo among other stations, celebrated it's centenary. The line opened in various stages between 1906 and 1915.

Baker Street is also famous because of its links with the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock holmes baker streetHis creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes living at a fictional address - 221B Baker Street - which back at the time when the novels were being written, would have been a high class residential area. Today the Sherlock Holmes Museum is at the address and there's a statute of Sherlock Holmes outside Baker Street station which also draws masses of visitors to the tube stop.

The platforms are decorated with tiles bearing an iconic silhouette of Holmes - pipe and all ! I love the way the powers that be have embraced the mystery of a fictional character, and woven it into a place of historic value.

But I'm thinking about this particularly today because, LONG  before I knew about the Tube station at Baker Street, I was aware of the name, thanks to a fantastic song which bears the same title.

Not that it has anything to do with the story of the underground station, but today is the birthday of Gerry Rafferty, the Scottish singer/songwriter and the creator of  'Baker Street'. Born this day - 16 April - in 1947

I've loved this song since it first made the charts in 1978, and I have to say, often when I passed through the actual station I found it ringing around in my head!

So - in celebration - here it is ... 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Grapes of Wrath

There are some books that define a generation and I'm thinking about one of those today.

If you've not read 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck, then may I recommend it?

The grapes of wrath book coverI think I first read it when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression on me.

It is a glorious piece of writing which is not a surprise. After all, after it was published on this day - April 14th - in 1939, the book won the National Book Award  and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

But it's also a narrative of a period of history in the USA which I was learning about at school at the time and it really helped me to understand the era and, more importantly, the people who lived through it. And so the study of history became more than just facts and figures. It helped me to understand that history is about the people who live through it. People just like you and me. People with feelings and fears, people with emotions and dreams.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is set in the Great Depression - a severe worldwide economic depression which began in the United States of America and which blighted the 1930s. It all began with the Wall Street Crash in autumn 1929 when stock markets collapsed, people's livelihoods and lives were destroyed. It was the depression that defined the pre-World War II years.

As I said before, when one is studying history, it's easy just to study the facts and to forget the impact of world events on the ordinary lives of individuals. Not just the rich, influential  and famous whose stories might hit the headlines or ultimately be included in the history books, but the lives of ordinary people who make up the great majority of our world.

The family at the centre of 'The Grapes of Wrath'  are the Joads, poor tenant farmers in the state of Oklahoma who are driven out of their home by a series of events. First, drought - the economic crisis coincided with some climatic challenges not all natural ... some of the problems were caused by over use of the land. But, in addition,  the Joads also faced economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures which forced tenant farmers out of work. 

The family epitomises the problems of their generation. They are in a desperate situation, trapped in what was known as the 'Dust Bowl', they decide to become part of an exodus to the 'Promised Land' of California, where they believe they will find work and land and a future.

So the Joads join thousands of other "Okies" heading west. 

However, once they reach California, they find the state oversupplied with men, women and children all seeking employment, workers are exploited and wages are low. The poor face a future where the big corporate farmers collude, smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices and the future is not much better than that which the family faced at home in Oklahoma. 

Although the Great Depression, and any depression or economic downturn actually, often affects everyone at the start, there's no doubt that it is the poor who ultimately suffer the most. The rich and powerful often find ways of escaping and sadly that's often at the expense of others.

As I was researching this blog, I discovered that Steinbeck not only was aware of this, but actually wrote the book to highlight the issue, and in fact 'The Grapes of Wrath', with it's brilliant writing and his sympathy for migrants and workers, won a huge following among the working class. 

He's reported to have said "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this (the Great Depression) and its effects."

And Steinbeck also famously said, "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." 

And THAT is indeed what happened to me when I first read the book - it taught me so much not just about that particular period of history, but also a good deal about how greed and power can corrupt, and how it is the poorest and weakest in our society who invariably suffer the most.

Even though 'The Grapes of Wrath' was written almost a century ago, it certainly feels to me that it has a few messages for this current generation, and this current period of human history.

I haven't read it for a while, but I think I need to read it again.