Literature

Lashings of Reading Fun

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

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

What an amazing imagination, and what a talent!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enid blyton model house

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

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

Love it!


The Audacity of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

What an incredible moment in time and history!

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

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

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

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

President Obama still inspires today. His story continues.

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

But back to the theme of Hope ... 

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

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

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

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

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

Now THAT is audacious!

Hope - Barack Obama
What an inspirational thought!

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

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

Happy 60th birthday Mr President!!

 


Fridayest Friday!

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

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

Fridayist Friday

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

Don't you love that?

I wish I'd thought of it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

CUP! 

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

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

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

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

SIZZLE .. it sounds like what is it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It is Truly SWIZZFINGLY FLUSHBUNKINGLY GLORIUMPTIOUS"

WHAT an imagination!

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

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

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

So, back to my thought for this day.

Have a Fridayest Friday!

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

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre exterior 2

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre


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

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


Delicious Writing

Today I'm remembering one of my heroines.

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

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

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

What a woman! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love that.

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

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

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

Beatrix Potter

 


Water Water Everywhere

Have you ever heard this saying ...? 

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink? 

It's one of those quotes which has made itself into the English language and into the culture of the world. It slips off the tongue!

But do you know where it comes from and who wrote it?

It's actually an adapted form of words from a poem called "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who died on this day - July 25 - in 1834. He was a poet, philosopher, theologian and literary critic who, along with his friend William Wordsworth,  was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and one of what became known as  the 'Lake Poets'- they hailed from and/or lived in the beautiful Lake District in northwest England.

Coleridge  apparently coined many common sayings which have made it into our culture, and not just 'water water everywhere....'

If you've ever used the phrase 'suspension of disbelief' you can thank Samuel Taylor Coleridge! He was a major influence not just on other poets, but also on writers and culture down the ages, and, I discover, even on philosophical movements like American transcendentalism.

But, like many creatives, he furrowed his own distinctive path in life. And he was controversial.

For most of his life Samuel Taylor Coleridge was not a well person and in adulthood suffered an addiction to drugs - laudanum and opium - which it's reckoned came about because early on he was treated with laudanum for his physical ailments, including rheumatic fever and other childhood illnesses. It's also been speculated that the poet had bipolar disorder, which of course was not recognised in his lifetime.

Coleridge's  imagination worked overtime and the result was often surreal and  misunderstood literary and poetic creations.  In fact, his most famous works  - 'Kubbla Khan',  'Christabel' and 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' – all featured supernatural themes and exotic images, which some have put down to his use of the drugs. He was inclined to be unreliable and to leave projects unfinished. He was often plagued by severe debts. But his originality and creative genius means he and his work have gone down in history.

'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'  is Samuel Taylor Coleridge's longest poem and it was written in 1797–98 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. This iconic collection of poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge  is considered to have marked the start of the English Romantic movement in literature, with a shift to what was then is now recognised as 'modern poetry'. 

But what is 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'  all about?

Well, it tells the story of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage. He stops a man who is on his way to a wedding and begins to narrate a story of a sailing voyage he took long ago.

The wedding guest at first reacts as many of us may do when hearing 'old tales' from elderly people, and he becomes impatient with the old sailor. But then he gets sucked into the story and is captivated with the man and his tale of life and woes.

The mariner explains that his travels have taken him to many places, even to the icy waters of the Antarctic, where an albatross eventually pulls the ship out of the pack ice where it has become stuck. Sadly the sailor kills the albatross and then unfolds a series of very unfortunate events.

The spirits chase the ship "from the land of mist and snow". The south wind that had initially blown them north now sends the ship into uncharted waters near the equator, where it becomes becalmed. Going nowhere.

Water water everywhereAnd here's were that famous line comes in ... 

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The mariner is blamed for the torment of the crew and their thirst. They are furious so they force the mariner to wear the dead albatross around his neck, so that he always carries that burden and regrets it.

And it's this part of the story which gives us the idiom 'an albatross around one's neck' which refers to a heavy burden we may be carrying, and which torments us.

Did you know that?

The ancient mariner's adventures continue but although in time the albatross falls from his neck, the torment continues for the old sailor. Eventually, as punishment for shooting the bird and driven by his guilt, the mariner is forced to  wander the earth, telling his story over and over, and teaching a lesson to those he meets. Hence the meeting with the Wedding Guest and the re-telling of his life story.

It's an absolute classic!

However, initially the poem didn't go down that well. It was criticized for being obscure and difficult to read. There are so many layers to poems like this that very clever people have, down the years, devoted much time to unravelling it's meanings, mysteries, interpretations, language and various versions, because Coleridge actually 'tweaked' it over the years for new editions of poetry collections. It was always a work in progress.

But just because it's difficult to understand doesn't mean we shouldn't give it a go. That's part of the problem with lots of us, isn't it? We have such a limited attention span. We don't want to spend too much time on anything. Too little time, too much to do.

And, just like the Wedding Guest, maybe we haven't got time in our lives for our older relatives and friends. As I grow older and feel I want to share MY stories more, I'm aware I haven't listened well to the stories of people in my family who I maybe thought repeated themselves, and their tales.

That's something I need to work on still!

And maybe I'll take time out today ... or in the next few days ... to read 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', in full.

If you want to join me ... please click on the link below ...

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Full Text - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts

And let's all celebrate the legacy of a genius!


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