Monday, 31 August 2009

Monday, Monday

8 a.m. Toast with honey while watching Yes Prime Minister. I had it set to V+ all the episodes and now they are recording quicker than I watch but I feel guilty deleting without watching, so I try and shoe-horn an episode into every non-work day. Decided to stop saving the whole series, so I can go back to chuckling at something mindless every now and again.

10 a.m. Reading ‘O Beloved Kids’ by Rudyard Kipling. It is the letters to his son John, who died on the battlefields of France in 1915, and his daughter Elsie. Really interesting to read about life back then, and there is a delightfully whimsical sense of humour in his words and illustrations, as well as an awful poignancy.

11 a.m. Click open Word. Chapter seven’s cursor winks saucily at me. ‘Now look,’ I tell it. ‘I have come up with the next bit so I can get out of that corner I wrote myself into yesterday. I woke up at 4am puzzling over it, and it will damn well work!’ Chapter seven doesn’t look convinced.

12.30 a.m. Before mum left for Southend today, she told me to cook the chicken. I remember she said this once about ancient salmon fillets. I proceed with caution.

1.30 p.m. Munching chicken and rice and trying to back away from Riverdance on the television. Every time I click a channel I seem to return to Riverdance. No! Take your flying feet of glory elsewhere!

2 p.m. Tap, tap, tap.

4 p.m. Tap, tap, tap.

4.30p.m. Get happy phone call. My friends T and M like chapters 4 – 6! Spend most of next half hour with a big grin from ear to ear. Feel all inspired and encouraged to carry on.

7 p.m. Need chocolate now or head will explode. Eat Twirl bar, feel normality returning. Go back to researching dance clubs in 1939. Play swing music to get me ‘in the mood’. End up rock-stepping around the room.

8.30 p.m. Stand in garden for a while. Water tomato plants. Breathe air.

8.45 p.m. Tap, tap, tap.

10.30.p.m. Stretch, cuddle naughty tortie cat, and decide it is time to unearth bed from all the research books piled on top of it and watch another hour of ‘24’. I had a dream the other night I was the female equivalent of Jack Bauer and I completed my mission to deliver a computer chip that I hid in porridge. You just don’t get that sort of solution on ‘24’. Porridge, it's the way forward.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Alas, poor chapter seven

I have just taken a deep breath and severed all of chapter seven’s major arteries. I might scream tomorrow, but tonight it is looking good. I decided the whole thing was too ‘tell’, no ‘show’, and to make it more ‘show’ I had to completely change it and throw a spanner in the works. This means writing a whole new chunk – hoorah! New words to play with!

Technically, the new stuff is already there but in a dialogue format. So what I am going to do is to rewrite it as a scene instead and put the reader in the action, rather than finding out about it two steps removed, so to speak. This is going to be fun – the scene is in 1941, so bam – straight in the heart of everything that is happening. Get in!

The only problem is that I don’t dislike what I had already written for chapter seven. Some of it actually makes me chuckle (does anyone else chuckle at their own writing?). It has some important points in it. It has some nice twists and turns. So then I guess it depends whether it fits in elsewhere, or I copy and paste it into a new document, save it, and then conveniently forget about it. Or, if deemed important enough, it turns into chapter eight, and everything else shuffles on a gear.

Gosh I hope I am not going to do this with every flipping chapter! Also I read something on another blog, along the lines of top ten major mistakes a novice writer can make – and one was whinging and complaining about how hard writing is on a blog. This made me gulp a bit, and wonder if I should only post here when I am feeling sunny and as light as a feather. But then that’s not exactly true to life, is it? I should imagine everyone feels insecure on their first novel, by the second (and with a book deal) you might feel a little more gung-ho about the whole thing. But think of it from an employer’s point of view – would you employ someone who worries constantly that they are no good and doubts their work? As technically an agent or publisher would be your employer, not just Important Magic Folk From Afar. The problem is I tend to post more when I need reassurance, when I need to see my words in a published medium (if just a blog), when I need a boost. I’ll just have to try and temper this with posting when I am feeling *positive and happy with my writing as well.

*This is when I disappear until October!

Monday, 24 August 2009

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

I have vague memories of a large book which was filled with illustrations of wide-eyed children dressed in smocks running around fields of flowers. It might have been a book by Ruth Manning-Sanders, and it was very seventies (or possibly older) and filled with fairy tales and fables – and one of these was The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.

In this version of the tale, both were female cousins, and it seemed to be set in the 1920s. The Town Mouse was called Stephanie, although she preferred to be called Stevie. She wore trousers (a very daring and bold thing to do) and drove a motor car. She smoked using a long thin cigarette holder and lived in a three-storey town house. We were never shown what the town mouse did for a living, but we presumed she didn’t have to do anything apart from stand and look snooty in front of grand fireplaces.

In contrast, her cousin the country mouse lived in a small cottage in grassy woodland. She baked cakes with her own fair hands, grew flowers, and generally moseyed around everywhere in a shawl. We weren’t shown what she did for a living either, apart from the fact she was apparently poor – in a ‘no need to work and do anything other than bake cakes’ sort of way. The sort of poor that nowadays costs around £50,000 per annum. Let’s face it; the country mouse probably owned the mouse equivalent of Lola’s Cupcakes.

The Town Mouse then spends a few days visiting her cousin in the country and gets incredibly bored, and the country mouse spends a few days in the town and is scared of all the noise. They both decide they each like it better where they live, and are happy when they get back home – although more usual tales of this sort show the town mouse lives in luxury but has to be careful of dogs and mouse-traps, and so the country mouse prefers her humbler, safer dwellings.

It is an Aesop’s Fable – so we are supposed to draw a moral from this tale, which appears to be ‘don’t wish to be anything other than what you are’, or perhaps ‘accept and be happy with what you’ve got’. But what if the town mouse really wants to be a country mouse?

I realised this weekend that I am such a Town Mouse, even though all I want to do is to live in the country and bake cupcakes. Me and J went west on a day-trip to the seaside, and I wore a little sun-dress, white mini-cardigan, strappy wedges and wore my hair hippy-loose and carefree. We emerged from the car at Westward Ho! into a gale and my hair immediately wrapped itself around my face, where it pretty much stayed for the whole beach experience. The wind also played havoc with my sun-dress all the way down to the sea-front, where my wedges wobbled on the uneven stone. J had to guide me down to the sand as if he was escorting his 90 year old granny.

The only concession I made to being a wise sort of Town Mouse was packing a bag with jeans and jumper – just in case. I do a lot of these ‘just in case’ scenarios – it normally means I walk around looking like I am lugging potatoes, but this time it came in handy! We had gone for a barefoot walk by the sea-edge, letting the water dance to our ankles, and after a while I looked down at my hands and realised they had gone blue with cold. Although my hands often go faintly blue if I am chilly, this time it was alarming – my fingernails were bruise blue, bright blue veins shining through white translucent skin – it was like there was no blood left! J made me rush quickly into my jumper, and then we headed up to find some drier sand so I could hop and struggle into my jeans without showing my knickers to the beach.

So the sophisticated looking girl that went down to the beach came back with sand in her toes, wearing a strange combination of flared jeans, dress and jumper, hair any-which angle, and was vaguely blue around the edges. I think I need to learn more about the ways of a Country Mouse before I make any future tracks west.

Friday, 21 August 2009


This is what I think every aspiring author needs to keep going – past the rocky outcrops, straight and true along the flat, balancing belongings overhead while wading through murky green streams, pressing forward through meadow grass and cleavers determined to cling to your clothes. Head down, we are in it for the long haul, and must ignore tempting side routes and diversions, and just keep pressing forward. Sometimes it’s a gallop, sometimes it’s a slog. C’est la vie.

I don’t think I am anywhere near a gallop – I would put my redrafting speed at somewhere between a trudge and a skip (skipudge? Trudgip?). I can see ways to be excited about chapter seven, but these ideas come to me at inappropriate times and by the time I am back in front of my home computer I am either a) knackered, or b) have lost my brain somewhere on the Metropolitan line. This week I spent one lunchtime sitting in Costa coffee with a print out and a red pen, and two evenings of puzzling over Word on the computer. And that is it! I have sorted out two pages of the fifteen that lurk in this chapter. I’m not even sure they are convincingly sorted out, more slapped with foundation and glitter eye shadow, and then left on the side with a margarita while I pay attention to the next bit.

I am also beginning to think of short story competitions… perhaps it would help me to think like an author if I actually got some fiction published in some way. I have been making surreptitious dives into google to see what lies beneath the surface in the guise of story awards, and there are definitely plenty out there to lure a writer. I’m making a list of the ones I think sound interesting, and any that have a deadline within the next two months. I’m not the greatest at short stories though – if ever I go to write a short story they usually turn into hefty devils, so it will require a whole new mind-set and construction technique (although hopefully less Bob the Builder than that sounds!). I also don’t want to cut down on my redrafting time, but perhaps working on a different story idea will help maintain the enthusiasm for the long haul.

And (stubs toe bashfully on ground), I do actually have a short story idea… a bit surreal though. I’m not sure whether you should write your short story first and then cast around for somewhere it seems to fit, or research everywhere and then write a story to fit a theme, or first line, or around a photograph. A lot of these competitions seem to be based around the latter idea, and I find it hard to write to order… most of my ideas come to me; I don’t initially seek them, at least not consciously. If I purposely try and make them happen I end up writing gloomy poetry about Life. Ah - but then I can at least enter that into poetry competitions…

The plot is thickening (said the girl with a lisp).

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Tove Jansson: The Moomins

Strange wistful tales of odd little creatures – Tove Jansson created in some ways a very adult world and yet in the same breath it was endearingly childlike. It centred on a family of Moomins – and in my young mind I tried to place them in the real world – were they walking hippos? Still, it didn’t matter what they were – their adventures were so familiar and yet fantastic that I was completely swept into their story.

There was Moominpapa with his fondness for boats, Moominmama who liked to sleep when it was raining outside, and their son Moomintroll, who once tried to capture an Ant-lion. There was the vain Snork-Maiden with her blonde fringe, Snufkin who smoked pipes, Little My who could always find amusement in anything, and a whole host of other strange characters that would wander in and out, but were mostly independent of each other. There were also darker characters – such as The Groke, who made everything cold, and wanted nothing more than to stare longingly at lamps. The characters often verge on the borders of melancholia, and it is this, and their independence of each other, that really attracted me as a child, as I strongly identified with both feelings.

There are nine books in all (as well as various comic strips), and out of the nine I own five, pictured here. My favourite without a doubt is Moominpapa at Sea, and the poor state of the book pays testament to this. It has been many years since I last read the story, but I remember the obsession that Moominpapa has about understanding the nature of the sea, the way Moominmama tries to grow a garden in unyielding earth, and the way the Groke slowly encroaches on the island, making the trees shift shape in their bid to escape. It is an amazingly engrossing story, filled with treasure and sea-horses and lighthouses and danger – perfect for children who like to ‘think’.

‘It’s strange,’ thought Moominmama. ‘Strange that people can be sad and even angry because life is too easy.’
That was how it had been with Moominpapa. He had been feeling unnecessary, out of things. The only thing to do was to make a fresh start. Somewhere out to sea there was a tiny rocky island and a lighthouse, just waiting for him.
‘I’ll capture the lighthouse,’ thought Moominpapa. ‘I’ll present it to my family and say ‘this is where you’re going to live. When we are safe inside, nothing dangerous can happen to us’.

I also very much enjoyed Moominsummer Madness – the family are flooded out of their home and find a floating theatre in which to live, although they have never seen a theatre before and have no idea why things seem different. Eventually they realise and decide to produce a play to keep everyone’s spirits up, not realising the theatre has a spirit or two of its own. This book showcases the ‘comic/tragic’ nature of the theatre, the split personality and the glamour.

Whomper hunted for marmalade. ‘Perhaps jam will do just as well,' he said and tried to take the lid off a jam-pot.
‘Painted plaster,’ stated the Mymble’s daughter. She took an apple and chewed at it. ‘Wood,’ she said.
Little My laughed.
But Whomper felt worried. All the things around him were false. Their pretty colours were a sham, and everything he touched was made of paper or wood or plaster. Their golden crowns weren’t nice and heavy, and the flowers were paper flowers. The fiddles had no strings and the boxes no bottoms, and the books couldn’t even be opened.
Troubled in his honest heart, Whomper pondered over the meaning of it all, but he couldn’t find any solution. ‘I wish I were just a tiny bit more clever’, he thought. ‘Or a few weeks older’.

Although the Moomins have appeared in many guises over the years – mainly in TV shows – I never felt they captured the original essence of the books, that strange ethereal spookiness that makes the books so completely compelling to both children and adults.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

New look blog

Not a post about the clothes store telling us when to buy cheap tops (now! Buy now!), but a post about this blog. Me, in other words (blushes slightly). I know I am a bit of a shy old soul on here, but recently I have started to think that if I want to be taken seriously as a writer then I need to start treating this outlet for writing in a serious manner. By this I mean having a way for people to contact me, linking to previous published work, and slowly coming out from behind the screen. This latter part may be very slow!

The first part of this was customising my header, and making it more personable to me. So the pages are from my story, and the lovely stylish lady pictured is my Aunt. She grew up to be a very glamorous blonde lady, but my favourite photo of her is this early one, a cockney girl on the brink of promise. My Aunt is a real force of nature. You always know when she is in the room, as she wouldn’t have it any other way. She is incredibly good company even if she does often swear like a trooper and I have been told I look like her (I wish!). The only thing I perhaps have inherited is also being good company, on occasion. At least, I like to think so.

The reason I used my Aunt’s picture was because I designed a mixed media postcard that illustrates my story, and wanted a picture of a lady in the 1950s who could potentially look like ‘Florence’. I am going to use this postcard when I send my chapters off to agents and publishers (as they usually ask for a stamped self-addressed postcard to be included that they can send back when they have your manuscript), and am hopeful that it will catch their eye and entice them to read my words.

The second part was putting up an email contact, should anyone wish to get in touch, and also having a little introduction here on the blog that introduces me, or at least ‘this me’, the person I present to you.

When I started this blog I decided to keep myself anonymous. No one that knew me read this, and no one could find me. I could just pour feelings out and get rid of some of the clutter in my mind while trying to write. I also decided that I would only send this blog to friends and put up my pic and real name when I had a book deal – how innocent I was back in 2007! The result being it is still 2009 and I am still ‘Jayne’. I’m not as brave as some of you, not as open. But that all needs to change doesn’t it, if I want people to take me seriously? I cannot think I will jinx myself by making this real. It is hard though, to strip everything away and just stand here as me, all my hopes and fears on the table for scrutiny. I applaud those of you who do admit who you are on your blogs, and admire you all greatly. Hopefully one day I will join you. Until then, I’ll stay ‘Jayne’. I hope you don’t mind.

PS - there was a bit more here, but I edited it - sorry!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

My cats

I thought it was high time to share the story of my two constant companions, especially as it is their tenth birthday today!

Back in the year 2000 I was a small feverishly working cog in a shiny advertising agency, and over shared work dilemmas and glasses of wine, became good friends with work colleague S. She had a lovely house in Islington (one of those split residencies – we were the top half, another family below), and, since I stayed over a lot anyway, asked me to officially move into her spare room and I leapt at the chance – yeay! Great company, beautiful room and the pleasure of living with two gorgeous little curious cats as well – Abigail and Ginger.

I have a confession to make here to the family that lived downstairs. Yes, our cats were the Koi Carp Killers of Newington Green. The family downstairs had the back garden, and a pond (known to cats as ‘the sushi bar’). Nothing more alarming than the sound of the cat flap repeatedly banging in the dead of night, as that meant one of the cats was trying to bring in a ‘present’. We were never quick enough to save the ‘presents’, and usually would find something unappetising tucked around the house the next day, like a fish head. One Sunday me and S decided nothing else was happening and cracked open a bottle of wine at midday. We were on our second bottle when the man downstairs rang the doorbell. I have visions of S standing valiantly at the doorstep, wafting wine, and trying to exonerate our cats from their killer reputation. No they hate water, she said sincerely, all the while knowing that both cats were not scared of it at all, and could no doubt be found at that very minute diving gracefully into the pond while we were diverting attention at the front.

S moved back to South Africa after a couple of years, and asked me if I wanted to keep her cats. By now I loved them to bits and so said of course - an emotional response not really based on the practicalities - but I was too attached to be practical. I was moving in with good friend C, and so arrived on her doorstep complete with meowing baggage. Luckily C was pre-warned and loved cats, and marvellously put up with the fact they made loud demands to have access to all rooms of the house, including wardrobes of black clothing. I meanwhile cycled to and fro from the pet shop with their heavy cat litter in a rucksack, and they rewarded me by mostly using it correctly. This worked for a while, but after a year we had me, C, C’s soon-to-be hubby, his two cats, and my two cats all under the same two-bed roof, and after yet another all out cat attack over the territory of the living room, I decided I perhaps better ship out and take the cats to my mum’s.

This worked very well – my mum loves the cats, they love her, and they all keep each other company. The cats have a garden, and space to play – but it meant when I left to live with J I had to leave them behind, as we couldn’t afford a place with a garden. It broke my heart to leave them, but why upset the status quo when everyone was happy? I used to cycle home just to sit with them for an hour or so, and play with them so they didn’t forget me.

So being back home has a silver lining, I am back with my cats, and they are as lovely as ever. They are great cuddlers – Ginger has the world’s loudest purr, and likes nothing better than to nudge his head under my chin as he settles in for a hug, and Abigail loves sitting on my shoulders - she gets in raptures of delight at being the highest thing in a room. I love them to bits, and I like to think they love me too.

Happy 10th Birthday!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Saturday morning

7am: Up early and determined to get cracking with chapter seven. Manage to spend two hours instead waffling around the Internet, reading fave blogs, checking emails etc.

9am: Mum tells me not to spend too long on my computer in case of ‘eye-strain’. I know she has a point but this instantly gets my back up. ‘I’m writing a novel!’ I want to dramatically cry, both fists in the air as I drop to my knees. But instead I say something intelligent like ‘derrr – this is what I do!’ Living at home again has officially reduced me back to my teenage years. And have I actually written any novel today anyway? Have I doodley-squat.

10am: Gone downstairs and poked at the strawberry plants in the garden. This is how I do ‘gardens’. One day when I have my own garden I may do more than poke, and prod. And eat, perhaps.

11am: Back in front of my computer. Chapter seven is long, I think. Too long, I worry. I write a bit more, and then look at the rest. It needs something, it needs… I wander off to get a coffee.

11.30am: Decide to read the whole thing through once again. Add a little touch to chapter four, even though I am not supposed to be looking at that bit at all again ever. Go back to chapter seven; add a bit more to it. Decide to highlight the bit I am stuck on by colouring the text in blue. This is usually a precursor to me chopping that part altogether – blue words be warned!

12pm: Wash hair, and sit downstairs in the sun reading ‘Smoke in the Valley: Austerity Britain 1948 – 51, by David Kynaston’. It has nice homely touches within this book, especially when using Mass Observation notes, but spends a lot of time on percentages and economics.

12.30pm: Chapter seven, you little devil you. Now I have changed that bit at the front, how do I get it to marry up with that bit in the middle? Those blue words are still there, mocking me. They were the bridge before, you see. And now I’ve broken the struts of one side, but do I build a new bridge, or do I mend the old? And do I sit here thinking bridges, or do I actually write something?

1pm: Dry hair. Grow red-faced under heat needed to straighten hair. In a rage take nail scissors to bits of hair that seem too hairy.

1.05pm: Whoops.

1.15pm: Okay, hair appointment made for next week. Until then will pretend am Lady Gaga and hair is some sort of fluffy installation art.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Don’t You Forget About Me

Goodbye John Hughes – a film director that really seemed to understand what it was like to be a teenager. Although there have been plenty of tributes to him already, please visit ‘We'll Know When We Get There’s blog and read her post ‘Sincerely, John Hughes’. It really is some kind of wonderful…

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Chapter Seven

I have finally stopped fiddling with chapters four, five and six. Are you bored of me saying this yet? But this time it is all done and dusted, as I have printed it ready to send to nice people T and M who are reading it through for me. At least, they had the first three chapters back in April, I hope they don’t mind this disjointed book effort coming their way!

Agh. Can I just scream here silently please? I cannot write. There, I’ve said it. Chapter seven’s starting paragraph, no matter how much I push it, is refusing to budge and just sits there like a big lummox. I can’t see over it to the next paragraph and so we sit and angrily eyeball each other. We have done it for around three hours now, and I am considering ‘Avada Kedavra’ and blasting its nasty little words out of Word for good.

I am desperate to at least touch base with chapter eight tonight. I can’t sit gabbling around the lower chapters like a cod-fish all my life, surely? But it does look like I will get to my birthday in September and still will not have a finished story I am proud of, that I can show others and say lookit this! Ah well… at least I have a job, and can keep slowly but steadily redrafting around it.

Since writing the paragraph starting ‘agh’ above (three hours ago, in case you wanted to know!) I have managed to get in 1057 words of ‘new’. It’s a bit bleak this chapter though…just been researching where bodies wash up in the Thames. Did you know the Thames has what is known within certain circles as a ‘u-bend’ where most bodies turn up? Did you want to know that? I’ll have to read all this section tomorrow and check it’s not too harrowing! Don’t want people to read my words thinking they have bought into an ‘Angela Carter’ and halfway through it turns into a ‘Lynda La Plante’.

So, since I still have 5000 words of chapter seven to puzzle over and it is already near 10pm, I think we can safely say chapter eight remains somewhere over the rainbow for now. Although purring ginger cat on my lap has anchored me down to this spot, so maybe I’ll push on for longer yet. It’s hard to argue with a writing coach that purrs so nicely.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Elisabeth Beresford

Underground, overground, wombling free – the wombles of Wimbledon Common are we…

Elisabeth Beresford was born in 1926 to a literary family, her father being a novelist and book reviewer, and her godparents being the poet and novelist Walter de la Mare and children’s book writer Eleanor Farjeon. Other family friends included D. H. Lawrence, and Rudyard Kipling.

She worked underground as a WREN wireless telegraphist during the Second World War, and afterwards worked as a journalist, contributing to the Today programme, Women’s Weekly, Punch, Lady, and Women’s Hour, amongst others. Apparently Women’s Hour ‘were a terribly bossy lot’ at the time! (The Times, 2007)

Although married by now to sports commentator Max Robertson, Elisabeth used her maiden name when publishing her first children’s book, Awkward Magic, in 1964. This started a series of books (Travelling Magic, Vanishing Magic, Invisible Magic, basically Lots-Of-Magic) but nothing she wrote captured the public’s imagination quite like the early eco-warriors who lived on a Common…

The family were living in Wandsworth, and one Christmas-time Elisabeth took her two small children for a walk on nearby Wimbledon Common, and her daughter Kate mispronounced the name as ‘Wombledon’. Later that same day Elisabeth drafted a story idea for ‘the wombles of Wimbledon’ and decided to base the names of the characters on different family members. Madame Cholet was based on her own mother, Great Uncle Bulgaria her father-in-law, Tobermory her brother, and Orinoco her son. The book, The Wombles, was published in 1968, and illustrated by Margaret Gordon.

After it was featured on children’s story-telling TV show Jackanory, Elisabeth was approached by Monica Sims, who was the BBC's head of children’s programming, with a view to making an animated TV show. Monica looked at the original books, and said ‘Elisabeth, we don’t think that’s what a Womble looks like’ and so they employed Ivor Wood, a celebrated puppeteer, to come up with the definitive womble. His first attempts were rejected, and Elisabeth had to keep taking him for a drink to keep his spirits up! (The Times, 2007)

Eventually, as we all know, they did come up with an idea of a womble that kept everyone happy, and the books from then on reflected that design. What I love most about the books is that London itself is a very distinctive character, and simply shines through the narrative. From Orinoco’s dream shop Fortnum & Mason (written as Fortune & Bason) to Great Uncle Bulgaria’s fondness for The Times newspaper, from mentions of Queen Victoria to adventures on the Serpentine – the settings are just as delightful as the stories. And the stories were so ahead of their time – the wombles recycled everything, they were vegetarian, and the stories made children wish to emulate them. I used to have great fun tipping wastepaper bins on my bedroom floor and playing ‘wombles’ – my mother was thrilled, you understand.

The two books featured here are both the same age as me, and I of course didn't do them the disservice of squashing the spine for these pictures, but scanned first one side, then the other, and joined them together in Photoshop.

More reading: The Times interview

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Graham Oakley

Graham Oakley was born in 1929 and, after a stint in the British Army, studied at the Warrington School of Arts. His first foray into the creative world was as a designer in theatre and television, but illustration beckoned in the late 1950s. He is best known for the endearing, witty, and beautifully illustrated series of books on The Church Mice.

The first book in 1972 introduced us to Humphrey and Arthur, the mice in question, and the beleaguered church cat, Sampson, who had listened to so many sermons he had made a vow not to chase mice. The stories centred on the village of ‘Wortlethorpe’, which was actually based on Lyme Regis, where the author lives, and although it was intended that he would write about other public buildings, the Church Mice were so popular that every story stayed with them. There are fourteen books in all detailing their exploits.

There is so much for a child, and for an adult, to like about these books. The detailed illustrations are an absolute joy, with lots to see and point out as you read. I think I loved these sort of illustrations most of all when I was a child, as not only did you have the written story on the page to follow, but you could make up your own about things not mentioned in the text – those children walking down the road, that dog in the park. The written story never once speaks down to a child, but has delightful asides, such as:

But worse of all he (Arthur) was lonely, for in the whole of that church there was not one other mouse, and when he felt like having a chat Sampson always seemed to be having one of his little day-long naps.

And, later:

Arthur tied the burglar’s boot-laces together and then Sampson obliged with his party piece. It was supposed to be the Song of the Nightingale but everyone else thought it sounded like a policeman’s whistle. They counted on the burglar thinking so too.

For a child who never saw the inside of a church, such as myself, I found everything about these books fascinating – the settings, the overgrown gravestones, the cat (always a cat!), the parson and sweet-eating choirboys, policemen on bicycles, mice – lots of mice! They may hark back to a gentler age, but there is a delightful meandering whimsy to these books that is somehow timeless.