Literature

Guilty Pleasure

Guilty Pleasure Alert! Christie books

I love a bit of Agatha Christie!

Today is a bit of a depressing anniversary date to hang this thought on … because it was today - January 12th 1976 - that Dame Agatha Christie passed away … but it’s an opportunity to celebrate one of my favourite authors.

Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile – these works have always been popular stories for filmmakers down the years, and in fact they’ve recently been re-worked again, with Sir Kenneth Branagh as the magnificent Hercule Poirot.

In recent decades on TV here in the UK, the fabulous actor David Suchet brought Christie’s Belgian detective to life for a load of episodes ('Poirot') across more than 20 years. I loved it! And many people are also now very familiar with Christie's Miss Marple through television and film.

But I’m pleased to say that way before I even knew there were movies and before I watched much TV, I loved the books.

From Christie’s very first successful narrative featuring the extravagantly moustached Poirot working his ‘little grey cells’ in ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’, to classics like  ‘Evil Under the Sun’, and ‘They do it with Mirrors’ and ‘The Moving Finger', featuring the aforementioned Jane Marple, as well as other stories with other ‘detectives’ at the centre … at one point in my life I just immersed myself in her stories. I can’t say I’ve read all 66 of her detective novels but I’ve given it good go!

Recently I’ve been re-reading lots of the books and thoroughly enjoying it. It’s pure escapism, but the older I get the more I realise just how clever Dame Agatha was.

They say you should write what you know, but from what I know about Agatha Christie, she wasn’t personally immersed in the world of crime and policing. But, undoubtedly, she must have been a great observer of human nature, and I’m guessing that she probably squirrelled away lots of information in her head (or maybe notebooks) about strange things that were in the news, or odd people who crossed her path.

I do know she had an inquiring mind. I love the fact that she had a fascination and passion for archaeology, which is the ultimate mystery solver. She often accompanied her second husband Sir Max Mallowan – a prominent archaeologist - on his digs, often to exotic destinations. Max, by the way, was somewhat younger than Agatha – 13 years younger – and she also defied other conventions by being not just a successful woman of words, but also a shrewd businesswoman.

And I know she had an amazing imagination – how else could she come up with some of the plots, twists and turns, and personalities she devised for her stories?

Agatha Christie has been called the "Duchess of Death", the "Mistress of Mystery", and the "Queen of Crime". And she was developing her storytelling techniques during what has become known as the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction … and her work helped to make it so!

As a writer myself, Dame Agatha is a bit of a heroine for me. Not that I want to write mystery novels, but her tenacity and ability to imagine and articulate her ideas gives me real inspiration for my own writing. Being able to just enter another world of MY imagination is something I know needs practice. And that means observing the real world I live in, and yes, ferreting away information about the people and places around me - in my own 'little grey cells'!

But also, sometimes, especially when life is a bit tough, I find it’s just good to stop thinking too hard and maybe suspend my reality, if only for a little while. 

So if you don’t mind, I’ll just turn to my bookcase and grab another Agatha Christie.

See you later!

Agatha Christie - Wikipedia

Agatha Christie bibliography - Wikipedia


More

Following on from yesterday's post about Happiness and Joy, here's something I wrote a little while back which summed up how I was thinking then and what is still in my heart. 

Suffice to say, I'm a bit of a 'work in progress' 

 

MORE

Money, love, recognition, image, security

Clothes, house, car, holidays,

All the ‘Stuff’ which controlled me, which I thought defined me

All the ‘Things’ which I desired yet left me constantly dissatisfied, unfulfilled

Always comparing myself with others, always wanting MORE of what THEY had

MORE of what I thought I deserved

MORE and MORE and MORE...

 

NOW

AT LAST

I finally understand

All the Stuff and Things are insignificant, unimportant

Compared to Jesus

And now the MORE for which I yearn is only

MORE of Him, His Love, His Presence

MORE of Jesus in my life

MORE and MORE and MORE ...

 

Cathy Le Feuvre


Changing the World!

It’s 17 January 1829 and in a place called Ashbourne in Derbyshire in England, a baby girl is coming into the world.

Her name is Catherine – Catherine Mumford – and little did her parents John and Sarah know, but their daughter would grow up to change the world.

I’m not understating that. Really!

And if you doubt me then I need to tell you one more thing. Catherine Mumford young

Catherine grew up to marry a man called William – William Booth – and together they would go on to found a Christian ‘movement’ that would eventually become The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation that today supports and cares for millions of people, many of them disadvantaged and unable to help themselves.

People with addictions, homeless men and women, children, people who don’t have enough food and who are ill, people who yearn for education, those who are seeking work, and those who are exploited including the victims of human trafficking or modern slavery. Today, The Salvation Army is in over 130 countries and responds to need wherever they find it. And although the history dates back more than 150 years they remain relevant. During this COVID-19 pandemic, local Salvation Army churches and other associated groups are working to help people in over 100 countries!

The Salvation Army makes a difference to people’s lives every day … and it is ultimately all down to William and Catherine Booth, who’s Christian faith, vision and inspiration started it all back in 1865.

I think Catherine was an incredible person. She grew up in a Methodist household but quickly developed her own Christian faith and although she was a sickly child, she apparently read the Bible voraciously and immersed herself in spiritual things from an early age. She wasn’t a healthy person all round, it’s thought among other things she suffered from a curvature of the spine. But in her spirit she was bold and brave, and determined in her Christian faith.

When she met William Booth, a fellow radical Methodist, in 1851 – it was almost love at first sight. He was a poor would-be evangelist who would struggle for years to find a place in a church. She supported him through difficult years, and after they married in July 1855, despite her ill health they went on to have eight children, all of whom survived into adulthood and who would all become part of their mission. Catherine was also a Christian evangelist and writer/theologian, and a sought after preacher in her own right, at a time when women preachers were not only rare but frowned upon by ‘polite society’.

Catherine Booth preaching

In fact, it was ‘polite society’ to whom Catherine often preached  - middle class and upper class ladies in particular.

And in 1865, after the family moved to London for one of HER preaching engagements, William finally found his purpose, preaching to the poor and uneducated, those who 'polite society' and established churches of the day often disregarded and even excluded. From this grew a mission to reach out and support those who could not look after themselves and who others considered unworthy.

Between them, William and Catherine Booth founded the (East London) Christian Mission and then in 1878 the name was changed to The Salvation Army, adopted uniforms and a military structure, and the mission really took off. Yes, it was and is still ultimately about preaching the Christian gospel, and 'saving lost souls' but it became more. What was the point of preaching to a person who was hungry - perhaps food might be a good idea?  The Salvation Army wasn't and isn't just about a 'hand out', helping people to survive their day, but also about a 'hand up', assisting people to help themselves, providing accommodation, skills, work and helping to rebuild their confidence. 

I know what you’re thinking – Cathy seems to know a lot about this woman and her husband and the movement they founded!

Well, I should. My first ever book – published in September 2013 – was a biography of the couple.

William and catherine book coverDrawing on letters which they exchanged from the time of their first meeting until Catherine’s death in 1890 from breast cancer, I learned so much about the duo, and how they came to create the worldwide Christian movement which today is their legacy.

Much of what The Salvation Army stands for today is down to Catherine, her interpretation of scripture and her personal and professional influence. The teetotal stance which The Salvation Army still holds to, the equality of the sexes in ministry – both men and women are ‘ordained’ and 'commissioned' to preach and lead - and even the work with victims of human trafficking which dates back to Catherine and other pioneering women from across society and church denominations to advocate for the raising of the age of consent and the protection of girls and women lured into the sex trade. This was just one of the campaigns for the betterment of poor people at a time when poverty blighted British society.

My book is called ‘William and Catherine – the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army, told through their letters’ (Monarch Books 2013)  Weird I know, but true! If you fancy reading all about them then I invite you to do so! The book is still available on many online platforms.

And I hope you will be as inspired as I am, not just by their joint passion for God and people but also by the life of Catherine – a complicated, strong Victorian who was truly a woman before her time!

When she died (or in Salvation army parlance, when she was 'Promoted to Glory'),  The Salvation Army was still  a rather peculiar notion to many who still did not understand it,  but it was gaining credibility.

The Methodist Recorder paid tribute to he as ‘the greatest Methodist woman of this generation’ (9 Oct 1890) and the Manchester Guardian newspaper wrote in its obituary ‘She has probably done more in her own person to establish the right of women to preach the gospel than anyone who has ever lived.’(18 Oct 1890)

All that - and The Salvation Army!

What a legacy!

Historic images from The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

The Salvation Army UK

William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army, told through their letters - on Amazon


The Gift of the Present Moment

So .. this One Day @ a Time blog is my attempt to do a thought for every day of the year. 

So far, I've managed it, but 21 days does not a year make!

As I hope people will enjoy and maybe even be inspired by a daily thought, reading, poem and more, I also want to share some of the readings and people who have inspired me on a day-to-day basis.

As a Christian, I find daily inspiration in reading scripture and prayers, but there are also other publications and people to whom I also turn from time to time. 

Have you ever heard of Marcus Aurelius?  He was a first century Roman Emperor but in his lifetime he also acquired a reputation for being a philosopher, in the Stoic tradition. His renown continued after his death and even some early Christians admired him not just as a philosophic but also as a philanthropic leader. 

Today he is still known, for some 'Meditations' that he authored. Marcus book cover 2

While on a war campaign (between 170 and 180AD), Marcus wrote his Meditations in Greek, firstly as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. Although it's not known how widely these writings were circulated during his own lifetime, they have been handed down the centuries and today they are still very popular. Just check out the internet ... there are loads of sites which include his sayings and epigrams.

Some I find difficult and even challenging, mostly because of the two thousand years or thereabouts between the authoring and my reading of them, and the contexts of the times Marcus and I were/are living through.

But some of his 'Meditations' are surprisingly 'modern' and completely up to date and perfect for the early 21st century. I bet Marcus didn't expect to be so relevant for so long when he scribbled his thoughts all those years ago!

Take this one from Book 8 of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus quote1 (2)

This could really have been written for today, couldn't it?

We know there are lots of people who are obsessed with leaving their mark on the world, and spend every living moment thinking about the future, trying to ensure people will remember them.

Being ambitious is not a bad thing, of course, but if it is all consuming and we are always reaching for the 'next thing' and believe that the grass is always greener in the next field, maybe this prevents us from just enjoying the life we have - right now.

Even back in the first century, Marcus Aurelius seems to have recognised this trait of human nature.

And his advice is as sound today as it was all those years ago.

'Give yourself a gift: the present moment'

Today I'm going to try to do that. Moment by moment. To appreciate what I have, not worry about the things I do not have. Not being concerned about what people might think of me, or say about me. 

Just to breathe in the joy of life. Right now! 

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Waste Not Want Not

Have you ever heard the saying 'Waste Not Want Not' ? 

I'm sure you have. It sort of rolls off the tongue doesn't it?

And in these days when we're encouraged to try to do our best to save the resources of our planet, the emphasis on conservation, recycling, and on 're-using' and 're-purposing' - it's a phrase that is very 'current'. Or at least, it should be!

This won't be the only time I talk to you about 're-using'. It's something I love to do, especially when I'm sewing and crafting, using up old material, ribbons gathered from all sorts of places, cards, pictures, papers. I'm also a person who loves to visit charity/thrift shops to find stuff that other people have discarded, and to give them a new life.

But that's a tale for another time.

Back to that phrase - 'Waste Not Want Not'.

What does it actually mean?

Well, it's really saying ... if you don't waste anything, you will always have enough. If you don't squander your money and resources, you will never be in want. If you use a commodity or resources carefully, you will never be in need.

In other words - there's always enough to go around. We just need to stop wasting stuff! 

I love that!

But although it's a phrase perfectly suited to today, did you know that it's an idiom that has been around since the end of the 18th century?

It's reckoned one of the first references was in a book called 'The Parent's Assistant' which was the first collection of children's stories by a writer called Maria Edgeworth, and it was published in 1796.

Maria was English/Irish and a prolific writer of children's and adult literature.  She had strong views on politics, education and estate management and she wrote on these matters, as well as creating stories. And apparently Maria was a significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe.

Queen Victoria was a fan. She was reading The Parent's Assistant in 1837, just three months before her coronation. In her diary she recalled reading "The Birthday Present" in "Miss Edgeworth's inimitable and delightful Parent's Assistant" while doing her hair.

Today's phrase is actually the title of one of her stories, entitled 'Waste Not, Want Not' (or 'Two Strings To Your Bow'). It's the story of two boys Hal and Benjamin, who are taken in by their Uncle. The motto is actually written over the chimney-piece, in the Uncle's big kitchen, and the narrative is mostly about how the boys learn the lessons of not wasting or squandering what they have, or are given.

Maria Edgeworth, in common with many early novelists, definitely wrote to teach as well as to inform and to entertain. Although it's not exactly the genre of storytelling that is popular these days, in their time these stories were very much in demand.

And the fact that Maria was highly regarded as a writer, at a time when educated females were often disapproved of, says much about the woman who more than 200 years ago first profiled a simple phrase which is even today calling us to action. 

Waste not, want not - Idioms by The Free Dictionary


Giving thanks on Burns Night

‘Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be Thanket!’

Do you know what that is? 

It's The Selkirk Grace, a prayer which can be used before a meal, and it's attributed to the Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns.

Born on this day – January 25 – in the year 1759, 'Rabbie Burns' is also known as ‘The Bard of Ayrshire’ and the ‘Ploughman Poet’. He came from humble farming stock and despite a life of struggles, grew a reputation which today sees him recognised as the national poet of his homeland - Scotland.

He wrote not just about the world around him but also commentated on the politics of the day, and after his death in July 1796 his work is said to have inspired the founders of the Romantic movement, liberalism and socialism.

Every January 25 around the world, especially where there is the glimmer of a Scottish population, is recognised as 'Burns Night' and  ‘Burns Night Suppers’ are held to commemorate and celebrate this man who’s legacy has influenced so many generations.

I've read a few versions of how the Burns Night dinner came about. It's thought it was around 1801 when some of his friends and acquaintance met to remember Robert. After some confusion over when the poet was born, by 1803 they had settled on suppers being held on or around January 25th, his birthdate. The event has been a regular occurrence ever since and it now follows a pretty strict routine.

The supper always begins with the guests being 'piped in' ... that is greeted by the sound of the bagpipes.

The host welcomes the guests and the meal is blessed with The Selkirk Grace.

First course is soup, usually a Scottish soup or broth or similar.

Haggis (2)And then comes - The Haggis.

Once again the bagpipes are full throttle as the cook enters the room bearing a large platter on which sits what is a sort of savoury pudding, containing sheep's heart, lungs and liver, minced up with onion, suet, oatmeal, spices and condiments. It's traditionally wrapped in an animal's stomach and - I've not tasted it yet - apparently it's a bit nutty.

Everyone in the room stands for the 'Piping in (of ) the Haggis' and the piper leads the dish all the way to the table. 

And then, before digging in, there's a recital of Robert Burns' poem 'Address to a Haggis'. This is the centrepiece and highlight of the supper and pays tribute not just to Burns and his poetry, but to Scottish tradition and history.

At the line  'His knife see rustic Labour dicht,' the speaker normally draws and sharpens a knife. At the line 'An' cut you up wi' ready slicht', he plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end.

As the poems ends, a whisky toast is proposed to the haggis, and the guests sit down to eat. The haggis is traditionally served with mashed 'tatties' (potatoes) and mashed 'neeps' (swede).
 
The meal usually includes dessert and  a cheese course  - all usually traditional Scottish recipes - and then coffee is followed by 'the water of life' - Scotch whisky. There are lots of toasts and speeches and the main speaker usually talks about Burns and his life or poetry. It could include a poem or a song ... and then there's a toast to the 'Immortal Memory of Robert Burns'.
 
Tradition then insists there's an 'Address to the Lassies' - originally a thanks to the women who had prepared the meal but now usually a comical thought about a man's view of women. It's not usually offensive, because what comes next is the 'Reply to the Laddies' ... a woman replies with her view on men.
 
Everyone toasts with whisky at any opportunity!
 
Loads of singing and poetry may follow. Burns wrote poems and songs and so there's lots to chose from including poems like  To a MouseTo a Louse, and Tam o' Shanter.
 
I'm reliably informed that it's generally a long night which ends with a guest giving a vote of thanks and then, to end the evening,  everyone is invited to stand, join hands, and sing perhaps Robert Burns's most famous and popular lyric ... Auld Lang Syne.
 
Set to a traditional Scottish folk tune and also sung across the world on 'Scottish Hogmanay' -  the final night of the old year -  ‘Auld Land Syne’ starts by posing a rhetorical question.
 
‘Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon;’ is one version of the opening line. The other is ‘‘Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind;’
 
Is it right that old times be forgotten?
 
It’s an interesting question and is interpreted by some as a reminder to us all not to forget long-standing relationships and friendships, especially those that have been important to us.
 
As we live our lives, move from one experience to another, one relationship to another, develop in our careers and move on from our past, it’s easy to forget the people who, perhaps, have sacrificed so that we may have more. It’s easy to forget the relationships which, perhaps, have been the building blocks for our lives today, and for our futures.
 
So, even if we're not piping in the haggis tonight, or reciting poems and singing songs and toasting Rabbie Burns, let's take a moment to give thanks for all the people who have brought us to this moment in our lives and without whose influence we would be nothing.
 
‘Sae let the Lord be Thanket!’

 


Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” 

That's the iconic opening line of a very famous novel.

Any idea?

Of course, it's 'Pride and Prejudice' penned by the incredible Jane Austen and it's one of my favourite novels.

It was published on January 29th 1813.

Why do I love it? Well, if I had time I'd write you a dissertation, but I haven't so I'll make just a few points.

I'm aware that many people HAVE written dissertations and tomes about this subject and I won't try to come close to all that knowledge but just give you my impressions, as a reader.

If this makes no sense to you at all then you might have to read the book!

'Pride and Prejudice' is a great read for a history lover, and a would be 'time traveller' like myself. The book is described as a 'novel of manners' - Austen is recreating the social world of her time, and she was obviously someone who really took in everything that was going on around her. People and their quirks, the manners and conventions of her time, the values of her community and class. And she is able to convey this in such detail, I just feel I'm there. At the parties, in the drawing rooms, listening in to the conversations with the author.

As a writer and a journalist, I know how important it is keep my ears and eyes open and to observe the world around me. Yes, I am one of those who keeps a notebook, noticing quirky things about the people I meet and see, and one day you all might end up in a novel of my own, in some disguised form. I am a would-be Jane Austen in this respect.

Second, Elizabeth Bennet, Austen's main character. What a woman! I think she's feisty and funny, quite brave and given half a chance, independent.

It's easy for those of us today, in the 21st century, to try to project our own sensibilities and cultural norms on people who lived in the past, but if we do that we maybe miss what novels like 'Pride and Prejudice' may have to say to us and what we might learn about the past through them.

Today, the idea that a woman can't be a real woman unless she has a husband is frankly ridiculous, so it's really interesting to immerse myself in that strange time. However, I am aware that although they might not say it out loud, there  may still be those in OUR culture who, if they were pushed on this point, might secretly not think much of single women and might actually believe that they'd be better off with a man. So maybe our time has more in common with Austen's day?

In the person of Elizabeth we see someone who is trying to defy the conventions of her time, someone who is not entirely happy with what society expects of her when it comes to behaviour. But Elizabeth does have to behave largely in a conventional manner and not upset TOO many people otherwise life would be unbearable for her. Of course, we are aware of some of that inner defiance as the reader, but what I really love is the words that Austen put's in Elizabeth's mouth, which helps her to express some of the frustrations.

Just imagine ... a man who you can't abide and hasn't really shown the slightest interest in you, ups and tells you that, against his better judgement because he knows you're socially beneath him, he is in love with you and wants to marry you.

I know what I'd do. I'll tell him to ... well you know.

But if Elizabeth was overtly rude that would be unacceptable to early 19th century sensibilities, so Austen has her being clever with her words.

"From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish distain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of the disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world on whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

How excellent is that?

And the third reason I love 'Pride and Prejudice'? 

Well it has to be Mr Darcy.

Now I have to admit, this might have something to do with the TV drama first shown back in 1995 which had Colin Firth in the role of Mr Darcy ... at the time loads of my friends, and myself, were secretly in love with the character. 

But I read the book many years before I saw a TV drama or movie based on Jane Austen's 1813 novel and Mr Darcy was already a favourite literary character of mine.

Yes he was a snob, and rather rude, but of course we pretty much see him through Elizabeth's eyes and narration, so the characterisation is maybe a bit one-sided. But as the novel progresses, we see aspects of kindness and loyalty and yes, romance. For a reader like me in a world where the idea of 'courtly love' is no more, I freely admit Mr Darcy has his attractions. If only as a dream.

When Jane Austen published her novel this day in 1813 I wonder if she imagined that, 200 years down the line, we would be picking her work apart and still enjoying her characters and story.

And one final thought.

The book was originally to have been called 'First Impressions'. Much of the tension of the novel is based on those first impressions that Elizabeth had of Mr Darcy and vice versa, and the story is, among other things, about how the main characters have to overcome their snobbery and pride (Mr Darcy) and their inverted snobbery or prejudice (Elizabeth).

It was only when I learnt more about Jane Austen's life and work that I heard about that alternate title to one of my favourite novels. And it's a lesson to me. Not to jump to conclusions about people, based on the first impression.

How people speak, what they look like, what they are wearing, where they live, what job they have. This should all be less important than their values, their sense of humour and other traits which show us their personality and character.

But of course, we DO often make judgements based on the superficial first impression. And sometimes we, like Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, have to admit that we were wrong, and need to unravel the misconceptions and begin to form relationships with those who we may have thought we would never be able to connect with.

For me, that is a lesson in life, not just in literature.

 

 

 

 


Telling Tales

When I was a child living in Kenya, I attended boarding school. My family lived on a remote farm, so for years until a school was built nearby, I was away from home during term time, living at school, sleeping in a dormitory with a dozen other girls.

There wasn't much in the way of entertainment, and quite early on I discovered I had a bit of a talent for story telling. Not reading from a book, but just making up stories as I went along. Most evenings after Lights Out and the matron had completed her rounds, the question would come from another girl in the dorm and I would start imagining and talking. Lying there in the dark making up tales. I'm sure most of the girls fell asleep to my stories, and sometimes I remember being so sleepy myself that my stories would mix with my dreams.

There's something magical about just making stuff up ... and going with the flow. Some of the children in my life (now grown up) also remember Aunty Cathy's stories. In fact, they remember them better than I do.

I have been a lot of things in my life, but if I'm honest I consider myself, first and foremost, a storyteller. Even as a broadcaster, a journalist and reporter, I think my best work has also been the telling of other people's stories.

And I'm intrigued by other storytellers.

It was on this day - February 1st in 1851 - that one supreme storyteller died.

Her name was Mary Shelley, and many of you will be aware that she is best known for her really spooky story -  Frankenstein.

It's a tale we think we all know. If not from reading the book, then maybe by television and film adaptations of the story of the monster, Frankenstein, made from bits of other humans.

Ah ---- NO!

Stop there.

Actually, the monster doesn't have a name. He is just 'the Creature'. It is his creator, a young scientist, who is called Victor Frankenstein. In an unorthodox scientific experiment, he manages to make a living breathing creature. The story is considered to be an early example of science fiction.

Mary Shelley had grown up in a literary and political family and was rather unorthodox herself. Her mother was the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, who died barely a month after giving birth to her daughter. Mary Godwin, as she was known, was just around 17 when she fell in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was already married but they took up together and travelled through Europe. Mary eventually fell pregnant and over the next few years the couple were ostracised by society and fell into debt. After the death of their daughter, who was born premature, Mary suffered her first bout of depression. Eventually she gave birth to a son and was pregnant with another child when she finally married Shelley in late December 1816, not more than a couple of weeks after Percy's wife Harriet had committed suicide.

As I said - unorthodox!

But back to earlier in 1816. In May of that year Mary Godwin and Percy Shelley and their infant son travelled to Geneva in Switzerland, with Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont. There they planned to spend the summer with the poet Lord Byron, who had recently had an affair with Claire, who was  pregnant. It was a wet summer and the group spent their time writing, boating on the lake and talking and storytelling late into the night. 

One evening, as they sat around a log fire at Byron's summer villa, they told German ghost stories and Lord Byron suggested that they all try to write a ghost story.

Mary later wrote that she had no ideas, and was getting a bit anxious because this became a bit of an obsession with the rest of the group, who were constantly asking her if she'd come up with a story.

It was in mid-June that the germ of an idea began to grow. The group had been talking about life, and the principle of human existence. The idea that, somehow, a corpse could be brought back to life, began to take shape in Mary's mind that evening. Her ghost story, of the monster created by Victor Frankenstein, grew overnight in her imagination.

She put pen to paper, assuming it would be a short story. But it became more and with Percy's encouragement,  Mary produced her first novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Mary was just 18 when she wrote the story, and it was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818. Initially some believed Percy to be the author, because he wrote the foreword. But Mary's name appeared for the first time on the second edition which was published in Paris in 1821.

Over the years there has been much debate over the origins of Frankenstein, and the part Percy Shelley may have played in its development, if not its creation. But Mary went on to prove her talent. She penned other novels and biographies, worked as an editor and writer, while living an exceptional unconventional life.

Hers was a life of genius and strong belief. She had inherited her mother's feminist views and she defied many of the social conventions of her day to the point of scandal. And her life was marred by  tragedy - the loss of two more children including that baby boy who was with his parents in Geneva in 1816 and the death by drowning of her husband in 1822. Later in life she was the victim of blackmailers, she survived bouts of severe depression and ill-health and often suffered precarious finances.

Her own story is one worthy or re-telling, and today we still remember her, and particularly her most famous story.

Now that's a legacy. And THAT's a Storyteller par excellence!


A Long Walk

Memory is a strange thing. 

It is rather choosy in what it chooses to remember.

I know that, as a person who was born at the very end of the 1950s, SO many things have happened in my lifetime but most of my memories aren't of the BIG events, but lots of little, personal things. Making a snowman with my brothers when I was probably about 5, hanging upside down on the 'monkey bars' at school at about the same age. My first memories of moving to Africa with my family ... more on that another time.

As a person who has worked most of my life in the news business, I strangely find that I don't remember even many of the big life-changing events. Although I DO know where I was on September 11th 2001, when the planes hit the World Trade Centre in New York.

And I remember the events of February 11th 1990 because I clearly recall watching them on the television.

It was the day the world watched Nelson Mandela walk free from prison on Robben Island, in Table Bay off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa, after 27 years in captivity.

The crowds were incredible and then we saw him, holding hands with his then wife Winnie, walking through the crowds. Walking into Freedom.

It was incredible. It really felt like I was watching history in the making.

For my whole life I was aware of South Africa - I had relatives living there and had visited my brother and seen apartheid in action, even the reaction of some black people against members of their own community during these very turbulent times as they worked their way towards independence. I had witnessed terrible scenes on a television screen, an horrific 'necklace killing' which was shown on TV. If you don't know what this is, please click on the link... I can't bear to repeat it here. I still have the images in my mind.

One of the iconic songs of the era, 'Free Nelson Mandela', was a cry for freedom not just for the man, but also for the black population, the nation of South Africa. With the real threat of a racial civil war and pressure at home and internationally, including economic and sporting boycotts, eventually the government of President F. W. de Klerk saw what needed to be done.

And here Mandela was ... walking free. The man who had been imprisoned for sedition and conspiring to overthrow the state of South Africa was a free man. At last!

It was incredible.

But what came next was even more astounding.

It would have been easy for Mr Mandela to insist on power for the black population, immediately, and to rouse them to action.

But instead, he worked with President de Klerk to negotiate an end to apartheid, that system of institutionalised racial segregation that had been formalised in 1948. Eventually there was a multiracial general election in 1994 which resulted in victory for Mandela and his party, the ANC - the African National Congress. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of his nation.

After assuming power, and especially after suffering 27 years in incarceration, one might have assumed that Mandela might then have wanted his revenge on the white politicians and civilians who had made life so unbearable for the black and 'coloured' population for so long. But no.

Instead he emphasised reconciliation between the country's racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. 

It was barely a year after that 1994 multi-racial election, which my own family members were pleased to be part of, that I visited South Africa again. Life in the country seemed familiar and it didn't feel like much had changed really, but there was hope in the air.

And although it is still a troubled country, with much poverty and even inequality of all kinds, today I remember the man who guided his country through such a momentous era, which could have turned out so differently. Long walk to freedom

In his autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom' (Little Brown & Co 1994) Nelson Mandela shared not just his life's story but also his wisdom.

He wrote ...

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

And he left us with thoughts which can inspire us all ...

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

 

 


If this be loving ... then I love

On this Valentine's Day I share with you something very special.

A few years back I wrote a book based on the lives and letters of the couple who founded The Salvation Army, the global church and charity movement.

William Booth met Catherine Mumford in 1851 and they married four years later, in July 1855. Their relationship was developed through letter writing, and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage.

Those letters are held in the British Library in London, and it was sheer pleasure to spend hours pouring over those epistles, deciphering the handwriting. Through the correspondence I got to know these individuals on quite a personal level and I discovered that, although they were obviously very religious and spiritual, they were also complex characters, flawed individuals, and ... I found to my surprise ... very much in love.

That personal even romantic love kept Catherine and William close, and that and their love for God and humanity and their mutual passion for sharing the Christian gospel,  helped them to stay strong often during very difficult times.

I love that in 1872, 17 years into their marriage, William - who was also quite an accomplished poet - was inspired to write this to his wife, the mother of his eight children, and his partner in life, faith and Christian mission.


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By the way, if you fancy reading my book based on the Booth Letters, I will be honoured.

It's called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Lion Hudson 2013)

You can also find it and some of my other books on Amazon and other sites.

You can also check out my Author Central page on Amazon 

If you go to the top of this page and click on 'Cathy Home Page' you will also find my main website and occasional blog. And there's more info on 'Cathy's books'.

Thanks and Happy Valentine's Day