Writing

Making a Difference?

There's this story which lots of us know... and it goes like this....

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one.”

This is a version of a story called 'The Star Thrower' by Loren Eiseley, the American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer. It's been re-used and re-worked many times since it was first published in 1969 including by motivational speakers and even as a story for children.  

One thing I learned about Loren and which I love is that he was many things and for him, writing itself becomes a form of contemplation, a way of directing mind, spirit and body towards other than himself. And his writing is engaging and thought provoking.

Take this story for instance. It's been picked over and interpreted and analysed for its meaning. It's been used to encourage people to compassion, to action and to make a difference in the world.

The story has depth, of course, but actually it's also quite simple.

And it is summed up in this quote....

Helping one person

So - just a question ... if you've got this far...

Are you making a difference, if not to the world, but at least to those around you?

Are you a Starfish Thrower?

 


Let me Count the Ways

I think I've said it before but I love a bit of poetry.

And today I'm sharing with you probably one of the most well known love poems of all time. One I absolutely adore.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet who lived in the early to mid 19th century (she actually died on this day - June 29th - in 1861) and she was one of the most popular and celebrated poets of her time. At one point she was so popular that she was  considered a rival to Tennyson as a candidate for Poet Laureate when William Wordsworth died in 1850. These days, she is best known for her love poetry, but she is so much more.

Elizabeth Barrett wrote prolifically and was considered rather unconventional because she wasn't afraid to express views on the social and political issues of the day - industrialisation, slavery, religion, and the problems faced by women and what it was like to be a woman at that time. Her writings and poems are considered by some as among the earliest 'feminist' texts. She certainly didn't hold back on her opinion and she felt that through poetry she could affect the world. It's known that as a young girl she declared that she was a ‘great admirer’ of Mary Wollstonecraft, also an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights whose work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) influenced Elizabeth's views on the position of women in society. 

Elizabeth had begun writing early on - some says she wrote her first poems around the age of four  - and by the time she was a young woman she was a successful published poet. But she wasn't a well person, suffering from a spinal condition and later in life, lung problems.

She was in her late 30s when, in 1844 she published her two-volume Poems, which made her one of the most popular writers in England and, more importantly for her future happiness, impressed another poet and playwright, Robert Browning.

They met and began corresponding and this led perhaps to one of the most famous courtships in literature and history. They married in secret, because Elizabeth knew her father would disapprove. In fact Mr Barrett disinherited Elizabeth when he discovered she had married ... he actually did this to all his children when they married. The couple moved to Italy where eventually they had a son ... that was in 1849 when Elizabeth was 43.

A year later she published the poem for which Elizabeth Barrett Browning is probably best known ... 'How do I love thee?' (Sonnet 43 in her Sonnets from the Portuguese). Robert encouraged her in her writing, including publishing some of her love poems.

Thank goodness he did ... otherwise we might not had the pleasure of reading such beautiful words as these ...

How do I love thee - Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Before ...

As I write my daily blog every day, sometimes I struggle to find time and ideas to bring you. 

That's when I give thanks for the internet and all the ideas and images, words and pictures - fun, profound, quirky, spiritual, superficial, challenging - that people have shared through websites and images. Sometimes when I have a bit of time I spend a few moments and 'store' stuff for later use. I've found so much that is interesting and thought provoking in my internet travels!

Today I'm bringing you one of those thoughts that, when I first read it, really made me stop and think.

Sometimes in life, we expect things to be handed to us on a plate. We want our dreams and wishes 'now'... we can't wait for our new lives, new loves, new possessions, success, riches and wealth. I could go on. You know what I'm talking about.

But this thought reminds me that actually sometimes we need to do more than just hope, dream, wish, even pray.

We need to be ready for what might lie ahead, perhaps to prepare ourselves before we can appreciate what we long for.

I love the idea of not just speaking, but being a listener as well. As a writer, I'm encouraged that thinking time might be important, even vital, before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. As a person of faith, it's easy to pray words, but REALLY  believing is a different and more challenging matter. 

This raises questions in my heart and mind. When I pray, is it just words or do I really believe that God will answer my prayer? Do I speak too quickly, selfishly, and not listen to others? Do I give up too easily, did I work hard enough in this or that endeavour? Am I really living life to the fullest?

SO many questions ... and the answers are still to come.

Anyway, hope you find this helpful.

I certainly did!



Before


Trust the Author

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

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

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

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

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

I just need to trust!

Have a great day everyone!

God is still writing the story quote


A Little Pixie Dust

"All children, except one, grow up."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is what I love most about Peter Pan. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love It!

Peter Pan quote


A June Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WIlliam and Catherine front cover Sept 2013 Monarch books

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks!

*image The Salvation Army Heritage Centre


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



 

 

 

 


Grow your Own

I've been writing this daily blog 'One Day at a Time' now since January 1st and if you've been following me you'll know I set out on this journey really just to encourage me to write more.

I am a writer, that's how I define myself I think, but with full time work I have to admit sometimes I have struggled to get writing properly every day, so committing to a blog was one way of ensuring that I get thinking and put pen to paper, or at least fingers to keyboard.

Sometimes I wake up with an idea of what I want to say, other times I'm out of ideas which is when those 'On This Day' websites have been useful. As a result I've found out so much about so many different people who were born/died on a certain day, or events that happened on a particular day in history.

And then there are those 'landmark' days and weeks and months across the world which have been set aside to mark a particular initiative or campaign. You know the sort of thing I'm talking about ... World Health DayInternational Mother Language Day (I featured that on February 21st), Mental Health Awareness Week, which was last week in the UK - May 10th to 16th - and so on and so on.

Actually you don't have to go far on your internet travels to discover that most days and weeks of the year have been given a designation or are associated with a campaign somewhere in the world.  And some dates are more popular, and obscure than others.

Take, for instance, today - May 20th.

Did you know that in some parts of the world today is World Bee Day? A few years back, the United Nations designated May 20th as World Bee Day to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development. An important day, even if like me you don't actually like bees. I was stung rather badly several times when I was a child and I have to admit I do have a bit of a phobia when it comes to things that buzz.

So today I'm turning to a subject I'm more comfortable with - Strawberries!

Strawberries 1Because today is also - National Pick Strawberries Day

Yes, it's a new one to me too and to be honest I think it's only in the USA. National Strawberry Day is actually February 27 ... yes I know it's very confusing ... but in my opinion we don't do enough celebrating of soft fruits! 

Don't worry, I'm not going to wax lyrical about the little fruit. Just to say, I love them!

In the past I've even grown them but since returning to Jersey some years ago I haven't done that. And I've missed it.

I've missed watching the little fruits appear and ripen on the plants in my terracotta 'strawberry planter' - it's a pot with holes on the side where you can plant lots of strawberry plants which hopefully gives you lots of produce.

This year I found my strawberry planter and I have put in a few plants. And I'm delighted to say the fruits of my labour are already appearing.

So a few days ago I made a little video and I put it on my YouTube channel. Which is also a work in progress.

 

OK - so it's not Hollywood - but who cares?

I'm not sure I'll be able to PICK my strawberries today, but in a week or so I might have one or two fruits to enjoy. And there's something about growing your own which is empowering.

The strawberry planter is just on my doorstep so I'm watching the little plants grow. 

And although, with just six plants,  I'll probably only manage to harvest a bowlful of strawberries, I'm going to enjoy every single delicious morsel.

 

 

 

 


Let Go

In the last few weeks I've been stepping out into a new world.

I'm calling it my 'New Adventure'. The door on one job closed a bit unexpectedly and so I've been having to reassess where I'm at, and what the future might look like, especially workwise.

I've had lots of conversations, with myself and others, as I try to figure out what the future might look like, and a few have kindly reminded me that it's not the first time I've stepped out into the unknown and sort of 'reinvented' myself. Many have also been kind enough to remind me of the talents they believe I possess ... sometimes when your head is in a mess it's easy to forget that you DO have experiences and even gifts which you may have not used for a while but which are just lurking in the background ready to be nurtured again. 

It's easy to panic at times like this, to jump into another job because you think you have to be in 'proper employment' to be a worthwhile member of society. You know what I mean - clocking into work, going to the office, being part of a team.

Well maybe the past year of pandemic lockdown and restrictions has taught us that there may be a different way for some of us. And although, of course, I do need to work to keep life floating on and bills paid, over the past month since my 'proper employment' ended I've been slowly beginning to come out of a bit of a fog and now I'm starting to think laterally about what doors might open for me.

If you haven't realised it yet, I work in the 'media' and I'm a writer, and I've already picked up some fun writing projects. I'm having lots of conversations with people to see what might be on the horizon and I'm getting loads of great advice from family and friends, including one pearl of wisdom received this week.

A friend discouraged me from rushing into anything that ultimately won't make me happy, or which might even may make me 'unhappy'. And it made me realise that it's been a little while since I made that logical choice to only embrace projects and experiences which I feel enhance my life and bring me real satisfaction.

So, that's where I am right now. Still questioning, still musing.

And, because I'm a person of Christian faith, I'm still praying about it all.

Which brings me to my thought for today and a picture I saw shared on social media.

This image reminds me that sometimes, when one is stepping out into the unknown, it's easy to keep being dragged back by the coat tails by a 'previous life'. To be so tied up in your head with what you've lost that you forget what you might gain from a new 'adventure'.

So, today, I'm determined to look with optimism into the future, not looking back too much to 'what was' and trusting God for 'what is to come'. 

Completely in God's Hands!

 

Spiritual door