Writing

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!


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!