Saturday, 30 April 2011

Q is for… Quimby, Ramona

That’s a nifty get-around for the letter ‘Q’ isn’t it? As a child, I adored the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. One of the pleasures of the books for me, growing up in England, was reading and puzzling out ‘exotic’ words like ‘kindergarten’, ‘sidewalk’, ‘steam shovels’, and ‘locomotives’. But the main draw was the character of Ramona herself – Beverly Cleary completely nails the way children act and think – and so Ramona becomes universal, much loved by all.

One of the things I liked about Ramona was her imagination, and how events that seemed logical to her completely baffled grown-ups. This appealed to me as I was always getting into similar misunderstandings with the adults in my life, who simply didn’t understand the way I played. Such as I used to pretend the stairs was a waterfall, and a favourite game was sending dolls to rescue one-another from the ‘rapids’. I used to tie them to the banisters (in order so they wouldn’t get swept away) and the only way to tie them securely was around their neck. In my world they were just holding on to the ropes while they did another daring rescue; in my parent’s world it looked like I was staging a doll mass-murder by hanging. So I fully sympathised with and understood Ramona’s behaviour.

It is amazing to think that the first book featuring Ramona (Beezus and Ramona) was published in 1955, and the last one (Ramona’s World) was published in 1999. Over forty years, and still Ramona is going strong. The illustrations play a big part in this - the earlier ones especially, like the one below by Louis Darling, capture expressions and emotions so well. He was also brilliant at showing movement.

The Ramona Series
Published: 1955 - 1999
Author: Beverly Cleary
Illustrator for pictured: Louis Darling (left), Thelma Lambert (top)

Imaginative fact one: I used to practice flying by jumping from my cupboard onto my bed, flapping my arms.

Imaginative fact two: One of my favourite games as a child was playing ‘libraries’, piling my books up on the stairs.

Imaginative fact three: I also used to build ‘tree’-houses on the stairs; each step was a different room. My family weren't impressed.

Imaginative fact four: Another much-loved game was sitting in a cardboard box on the lawn and pretending I was in a boat crossing the sea.

Imaginative fact five: I was mad keen on pretending to be a spy, and would practice quickly changing my clothes or appearance, and cutting holes out of newspapers to watch my mum cooking dinner. The only problem was that casually hanging around the kitchen, pretending to read the newspaper, and wearing a false moustache, was quite conspicuous behaviour for a spy – especially when you are a girl aged seven.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

P is for… Peter Pan

I always felt there was something slightly sinister about the story of Peter, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. I didn’t like the idea of someone slinking in through the open nursery window, or the thought of being whisked away to Neverland. To me, Neverland is just as alarming as Alice’s Wonderland; fantastical places that border just a little too close to crazy.

The clue to Peter’s nature is in his surname. By using the name ‘Pan’, J.M. Barrie draws comparisons with the wild Greek God who roamed fields and woodland playing music. Peter is the fearless (and somewhat boastful) leader of the Lost Boys – children who for many different reasons were lost on earth and so joined Peter to play forever in Neverland.

J.M. Barrie came up with the story after the tragic death of his brother aged thirteen; especially drawing inspiration from the small measure of comfort his mother got from knowing her son would remain a boy forever. I think that is the problem for me with Peter Pan. The idea of death just looms all over Neverland – no matter how it is dressed up with pirates and adventure – there is a haunting sadness at its root that I find impossible to leave behind.

The Little White Bird (Published: 1901)
Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (Published: 1904)
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (Published: 1906)
Peter and Wendy (Published: 1911)
Author: J.M. Barrie
Illustrator for Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens: Arthur Rackham (see left)

Peter fact one: The Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens is well worth finding.

Peter fact two: The author commissioned the statue to be made for May 1st 1912, and instead of a public unveiling, placed an announcement in The Times to say there was a surprise for children to be found that day in Kensington Gardens.

Peter fact three: In 1929 J.M Barrie presented the copyright for Peter Pan to the London children’s hospital Great Ormond Street.

Peter fact four: My nephew’s favourite film for years was the Robin Williams film based on Peter Pan - ‘Hook’. We must have watched it a gadzillion times until he tired of it. I was almost word-perfect, put it that way.

Peter fact five: Captain Hook is often thought of as childish in his fear of the crocodile. Considering the crocodile wants to eat him - I think his fear is justified!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

O is for… Oliver Twist

In Dickens’ tale of debauched London, Oliver’s fortunes plunge to the depths and are raised to the heights of society so many times it’s a wonder he doesn’t suffer the bends. The story of Oliver Twist is a Victorian Disney, a 19th century fairy-tale where our hero manages to keep his kind heart despite all the misfortune laden upon him, and who is, ultimately, rewarded.

The great thing about any Dickens novel is the cast of larger-than-life supporting characters. In Oliver we get the tricksy organiser of street crime, Fagan; his head boy, the Artful Dodger; villain-through-and-through, Bill Sikes; the tart with a heart, Nancy; indeed a whole host of memorable personalities troop through the pages. Dickens also likes to hold a mirror to humanity; he was a great observer of life around him. We get his obvious distaste for England’s Poor Laws of the time - laws that effectively meant, for someone like Oliver, that the workhouse, a criminal gang, prison or an early death are his only options. No wonder so many people took to drink – what else was there? A short life but a merry one, was no doubt the thinking behind the gin glass.

Oliver Twist; or the Parish Boy's Progress
Published: 1837 as a series, 1838 as a novel.
Author: Charles Dickens
Illustrator: George Cruikshank

London history fact one: The Geffrye museum in Shoreditch decorates each room to a different period in history – weird to see the later years and spot your parent’s furniture!
London history fact two: One of my favourite odd museums is the Herb Garret and Old Operating Theatre. It’s a wonder anyone ever lived.
London history fact three: One of the best things to do to get acquainted with London history is to go on a walking tour, such as this one about Jack the Ripper.
London history fact four: You can date pubs from whether they have tiled walls outside… it’s where the phrase ‘pissing money up a wall’ comes from.
London history fact five: Petticoat Lane Market is so called because it sold petticoats. The authorities tried to change its name to Middlesex Street Market, but the public preferred the nickname Petticoat, and that’s how it stayed!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

N is for...Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew is rich, lives in a gorgeous town, drives a convertible, has a super smart boyfriend, is athletic, brainy and pretty, has good friends – and solves impossible crimes. If she had just one flaw then you could sort of imagine she is human, but flaws are not part of Nancy’s world. Her life is rather glossy, but that is half the fun.

The books all had brilliant titles that couldn’t fail to capture the interest of mystery readers - The Hidden Staircase; The Sign of the Twisted Candles; The Clue in the Crumbling Wall; The Secret of the Forgotten Cave. I remember reading The Secret of Mirror Bay, which I think I originally picked up because of the cover art. Sadly I discovered Nancy Drew just as my reading tastes changed and so only read a few of the books. If I had been a few years younger I probably would have loved the series!

Although researching this post has made me want to seek out the earlier books for the fantastic covers - beautifully stylish illustrations.

Nancy Drew series
Published between: 1930... and still going, in many reincarnations.
Author: Credited to Carolyn Keene, a pseudonym that covered a syndicate of writers.

My day in mystery titles one: The Strange Case of Jayne and the On-Time Train
My day in mystery titles two: The Riddle of the Girl in the Green Polka-dot Dress
My day in mystery titles three: The Mystery of The Empty Cake Plate in the Office
My day in mystery titles four: The Hidden Dance Class in Baker Street
My day in mystery titles five: The Secret of the Late A to Z Blog Post

Saturday, 16 April 2011

M is for… Minty from Moondial

It is amazing how many children’s book characters have names that start with ‘M’. So many I could have chosen - Milly Molly Mandy is probably my ultimate ‘M’ but I have written about her before, so I’d decided upon Mildred Hubble, of Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch fame. But then today I found Helen Cresswell’s book ‘Moondial’ while our book-hunting, and remembered Minty…

Ah Moondial. The book was dramatised into a brilliantly spooky television series of the same name, shown in the UK in the late 80s. Atmospheric and haunting – the story revolves around teenager Araminta Cane (Minty), who is sent to stay with an aunt when her mother is seriously ill in hospital. The aunt lives in the long shadow of a stately home, and in its grounds Minty discovers a sundial which has the power to send her into the past. Stronger at night – she realises it is actually a moondial, and if she can work out the right way to use it then maybe she can free two children trapped centuries before, and even help her own mother.

Minty is brave, resourceful, and deals with things on her own, even big things like grief. She also has a good line in witty asides. I’m so happy to have found the book. If you have time, see below for a glimpse of the television series – the whole thing is on youtube, and it really is brilliant – perfect cast, perfect music score, and deliciously dark and unsettling, even 23 years later.

Published: 1987
Author: Helen Cresswell

Spooky fact one: I rather like cemeteries, especially old ones like Highgate. I find them peaceful and interesting.
Spooky fact two: When I studied art and photography, an awful lot of my projects were based in cemeteries, come to think about it.
Spooky fact three: I dressed up in Pre-Raphaelite style dresses to do a gothic horror photo story in the local stately home for my art ‘A’ level.
Spooky fact four: The first horror film I watched was A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was eleven. My older friend wouldn’t let me hide behind a cushion and I had nightmares for weeks – was too scared to sleep!
Spooky fact five: My worst nightmares when I was a little child featured the Smash Makes Mash robots and the green-armed ghost in the credits of Scooby Doo.

Friday, 15 April 2011

L is for… Lucy

Lucy Pevensie from the Narnia books seems to take everything in her stride. A magical winter wonderland at the back of a wardrobe? Fine, I’ll borrow a fur coat. A talking faun? Sure, let’s have tea. She is utterly unfazed by the most magical things, and for that I can well believe her later nickname of ‘valiant’.

Lucy is the youngest of four, and she is the last to be believed, the first to be doubted. I shared her frustration, being the youngest in my own family, and so identified strongly with Lucy, to the point where I once crossed her name out of the book and put my own. Yikes - what a confession for a book-lover! The other reason I wanted to be Lucy was because she was the closest to Aslan, who I pictured in my head as a giant cat.

Lucy was the reason that I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in my wardrobe when I was a child, although I was more likely to find a spider than Mr Tumnus.

The Chronicles of Narnia
Published: Between 1949 and 1954
Author: C.S. Lewis
Original illustrator: Pauline Baynes

Valiant fact one: I have been winched down a manhole to explore London’s lost underground rivers.
Valiant fact two: I used to read my brother’s ‘Valiant’ annuals on the sly – these were boy’s adventure type tales.
Valiant fact three: I’ve been up in a helicopter (which is brave as I’m not fond of heights!)
Valiant fact four: I do one extreme sport - snowboarding.
Valiant fact five: I’m okay with spiders as long as they don’t come anywhere near me.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

K is for... Katy Carr

Katy Carr is the protagonist of What Katy Did, and what Katy did was to become impossibly good after an injury falling from a swing. And when I say 'impossibly good' - I mean practically a saint. Still, you can’t help but like her.

The book was written in 1872 – at a time when a Victorian woman’s place was very much at home, and her aspirations should never rise higher than motherhood and being able to manage a household. The story of Katy is almost a warning to high-spirited girls, and a lesson in how to behave. Despite that, it’s a warm-hearted read, and gives an insight to how society treated invalids, and what life was like in that era, living in a small Midwestern town.

What Katy Did
Published: 1872
Author: Susan Coolidge

Home fact one: I’ve lived in nine different places.
Home fact two: Furthest afield was Hatfield in Hertfordshire.
Home fact three: Furthest into London was Newington Green in Islington.
Home fact four: Tiniest place was definitely the magnolia breezeblock I called home when I was a student.
Home fact five: Every job I have had seems to be approximately the other side of London to where I live. I am known as Commute Girl.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

J is for… James and the Giant Peach

Poor James. A rhino kills his mum and dad and he is sent to live with his repulsive aunts at the top of a lonely hill. Just when life can’t get any worse, a dropped packet of magical crocodile tongues make the tree in the garden spout a gigantic peach, which is where the fun begins.

There is something so delightfully wicked about Roald Dahl’s books. We rejoice when the baddies come to a sticky end – what could be stickier than being squashed to death by a giant peach? Be gone repulsive aunts! Not everyone feels the same though – the book is number 56 on the ‘100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990–2000’ according to the American Library Association. I find it hard to believe people seriously object to this book – enough for it to make a list. I guess Grimm Fairy Tales would probably be off the menu for those folks.

The only objection I have to the book is that I always thought the giant peach looked like a giant bottom. See what I mean?

James and the Giant Peach
Published: 1961
Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Nancy Ekholm Burkert

Fruity fact one: I love blackberry picking in autumn.
Fruity fact two: Banana milkshake rocks my socks.
Fruity fact three: I once scrumped apples. They were wormy and horrible.
Fruity fact four: Segments of orange go lovely with smoked salmon fillets.
Fruity fact five: Strawberries and grapes are nice in salads.

Monday, 11 April 2011

I is for...Ishbel Anderson

Ishbel Anderson is a best friend of Rebecca Mason, the protagonist from boarding school series Trebizon. If you were a fan of Malory Towers and St Clare’s, then it is highly possible you would have graduated to the Trebizon books.

The best book of the series in my opinion is the first (pictured). Rebecca arrives in the second year to find everyone established, and longs to make her mark by writing something for the school magazine. Her love of creative writing combined with the school setting – leafy oak trees, sandy beaches – made this book a winner for me. It also introduced me to the poetic works of Emily Dickinson. Later books focused more on Rebecca’s sport than her writing, but the characters are engaging enough to keep you with them.

I especially liked Ishbel (Tish) for her positive attitude to life and sense of fun. I also enjoyed mentions of an older girl, Pippa, as she is an artist and a very reflective character, one who already feels the nostalgia of her passing school days.

Trebizon series
Published: 1978 – 1994
Author: Anne Digby

Sporty fact one: I studied gymnastics for eight years, enjoying it very much. Favourite equipment was the asymmetric bars. Least favourite was that awful beam!
Sporty fact two: After reading Trebizon books I used to pretend I was part of a tennis club, hitting a ball up a wall for hours on end. I invented different players, drew match timetables, and probably looked a little mad.
Sporty fact three: When I was eleven I ran a gymnastics class after-school for younger girls, teaching them the basics.
Sporty fact four: I was on the netball team in junior school, and usually played Wing Attack.
Sporty fact five: I loved rounders (a form of baseball, maybe?) and used to enjoy running like lightening around the bases, especially whacking the ball as far as I could get it!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

H is for… Harry Potter

Does this character need an introduction? I'll attempt one anyway.

Harry Potter is an amazingly successful series of books that capture the imagination of children and adults alike. The idea was thought up by author JK Rowling when she was delayed for four hours on a train. Considering the resulting phenomenon that swept the world, gave hundreds of people employment on film sets, launched acting careers, and brought people back to reading - I can only conclude that sometimes it is good when British transport breaks down. You'll probably never hear me being that kind to our transport system ever again.

Harry Potter and the... x 7
Published: 1997 - 2007
Author: J K Rowling

Pottering fact one: To celebrate the launch of one of the books the local shopping centre had owl demonstrations. That was rather cool.
Pottering fact two: I love the word ‘pottering’. To potter around the garden is to do nothing functional – it is to tweak and dally to the heart’s content.
Pottering fact three: Today I pottered around a vintage fair, dallied to my heart’s content, and then decided my heart would be happiest if I bought a 1940s tea dress.
Pottering fact four: I also pottered around the Chelsea Physic Garden and saw herbs that could ‘quell the coldeth and quash the cougheth.’ In old English, it seems every ailment basically has the letters ‘eth’ after it.
Pottering fact five: Am so tired. This post almost didn’t make it!

Friday, 8 April 2011

G is for...Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat

Gobbolino is born a witch’s cat, but all he wants from life is to be a humble kitchen tabby. Unlike his clever sister Sootica, he gets muddled with spells and hates tricking people. He sets out on his own to find a family who will love him for himself, not for his magical background.

I cried buckets over Gobbolino. All he wants is to be loved. In a way he reminds me of the dog in the television show The Littlest Hobo – oh that haunting theme tune! Gobbolino tries to do good at every turn but he is either exploited or abandoned, and yet each time he picks himself up determined to follow his dream.

The book is populated with lovely black and white illustrations and is a very sweet read for children... even adults!

Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat
Published: 1942
Author: Ursula Moray Williams

Magical fact one: I can never work out how magicians do tricks (and never want to!)
Magical fact two: My dad’s sleight of hand party trick was to make it look like he had pulled off the top of his thumb – impressed me every time!
Magical fact three: He also used to do Eric Morecombe’s trick of catching an invisible ball in a paper bag.
Magical fact four: My mum can do a magic trick with cards – no matter how you shuffle them, she can lay them out in their correct order.
Magical fact five: I got an Abracadabra magic set for my tenth birthday. Couldn’t do a single thing with it.

A-Z Highlights for 'G'
Ellen Brickley at Pink Tea and Paper talks about Germany
Talei Loto at Musings of an Aspiring Scribe posts about writing in the Garden
Myne Whitman talks about the lovely and useful website Goodreads

Thursday, 7 April 2011

F is for... Famous Five

The Famous Five consisted of Julian, Dick, George, Anne, and Timmy the dog. They ate smashing picnics, went off on their own, and had amazing adventures that resulted in lost treasure being found, baddies being delivered to policemen, and no one ever getting hurt.

The characters are rather two-dimensional, and their personality hangs off the attributes Enid Blyton has given them - Julian is dependable and authoritative, Dick is impulsive and rash, George is stubborn and independent, Anne is quiet and gentle. They are rarely allowed to act another way – we don’t see Julian as insecure, Dick as cautious, George as needy, Anne as demanding. In this way the characters are very satisfying to young child-readers as they can predict outcomes and ways of behaviour. For older and adult readers, who are not the audience anyway, the characters are less satisfying for the same reason, although the books fulfil a nostalgic pleasure.

When I was little I called my first cat ‘Timmy’ so we could be the Famous Two. Sadly there was a distinct lack of castles, smugglers, caves, well-spoken apologetic baddies, islands, and gypsy caravans for us to make a real good go at things. Still, we solved the Mystery of the Missing Sock, so there’s some vindication.

I still have all my Famous Five books and love to occasionally dip back into those days, back to when the sun was always shining, and mysteries were around every corner... or, in the case of the Missing Sock, in every drawer.

The Famous Five
Published: 1942 – 1962
Author: Enid Blyton
Illustrator: Eileen Soper

Famous fact one: I used to interview celebrities
Famous fact two: Favourite actor interviews were with Will Smith, Josh Hartnett and Ryan Reynolds.
Famous fact three: Favourite music interviews were with Bananarama, Level 42, and Marti Pellow
Famous fact four: Favourite author/artist interviews were with Martin and Tanis Jordan, Jason Cockcroft, and Jill Barklem
Famous fact five: I also used to make costumes for West End musicals, including The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera

Three A-Z Highlights for 'F'
Katie Mills at Creepy Query Girl posts about the Family at Creepy Manor
Our lovely instigator, Arlee Bird at Tossing it Out, posts about a Faraway Friend
Misha at My First Book talks about Fear

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

E is for... Eeyore

Eeyore is the ‘grumpy old man’ of donkey-dom, and for that I am rather fond of him. He lives in the southeast corner of Hundred Acre Wood in a place labelled ‘Eeyore’s Gloomy Place – Rather Boggy and Sad’. I suspect if he was a teenager he would paint his walls black, write Poetry Full of Meaning, and listen to Pink Floyd. We’d probably have been friends. In fact, he sounds just like my first boyfriend.

Eeyore is suspicious of merriment and plain old cynical about happiness, but he has a soft heart hidden away under those wary layers. As if to emphasise this, Disney added a pink bow to his tail. He doesn’t expect a lot from anybody, so is therefore pleasantly surprised when his friends show they care. His main worries in life are losing his tail or his home – losing identity and security – so we can understand his concerns and even sympathise. Eeyore is a bit of a glass half empty sort of soul, not the sort of animal easy to strike up a jaunty conversation with, but for all that, he is rather loveable.

The Disney images of Eeyore and chums may be more wide-spread, but the original illustrations, done with such gentle style by E.H Shepard, really seem to capture the heart of the books as well as the melancholy and occasional joy that permeates through Eeyore. As much as I am familiar with the first, it is the latter that sings to my imagination.

Published: 1926
Author: A.A. Milne
Illustrator: E. H Shepard

Grumpy fact one: Waking up two hours before my alarm and then not being able to get back to sleep again.
Grumpy fact two: Stepping in a regurgitated present from the cats.
Grumpy fact three: Delayed trains. In fact, anything to do with commuting usually makes me grumpy.
Grumpy fact four: Drinks that leak in my bag, making everything smell like apple juice.
Grumpy fact five: Not being able to find a pen that works when I want to write down an idea.

Three A-Z Highlights from 'E' and 'D'
Sue at I Refuse To Go Quietly shares a fab clip of the wonderful Gene Kelly dancing on roller-skates, as she posts about Entertainers
Kit at Kit Courteney Writes shares a great story about creating Nurse Daphne Peachbloom
Oak Lawn Images shows some wonderful photos from Edelweiss to Early morning sun

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

D is for...Darrell Rivers

I badly wanted to be Darrell Rivers from Malory Towers when I was a kiddie. She had it made – a stable family background, a gorgeous fairy-tale of a school, popular with her peers, respected by teachers, good at sports, and a talent for writing stories. Her one fault is a terrible temper, but even that only appears when she catches someone bullying or being unjust or spiteful. As role models go, she’s not a bad one to adopt.

The thing I liked most about Malory Towers is that the school life depicted was very different to my London comprehensive education. They played lacrosse, had midnight feasts, rode horses, and lived at school. We played truant, stayed up past midnight, rode buses, and lived for home time. It was a world apart, really, which made Enid Blyton’s books so enchanting!

Malory Towers
Published: 1946 – 1951
Author: Enid Blyton

School fact one: In my school the make-shift temporary huts used for some lessons were a health hazard. You had to turn the lights on with a block of wood when it was raining as water ran down the wall!

School fact two: We thought the library at the top of the school was haunted.

School fact three: Any school trip to France ended up with teachers and pupils in a Benny Hill style chase around the ferry.

School fact four: The art room was my favourite place.

School fact five: I once climbed out the bathroom window to have a sneaky ciggie on the roof and the window accidentally closed behind me, leaving me stranded. Never again!

Three A-Z Highlights for 'D'!
Niki over at Wool 'n' Nuts shares pictures of her lovely Dog tucking into Dinner!
Steven Chapman explains about that writer's cop out, the Deus ex machina
Plain Jane talks about Delicious Donuts!

Monday, 4 April 2011

C is for... Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie Bucket dreams of a chocolate bar that he doesn’t have to share with his elderly relatives. When growing up I thought the same about the green chocolate triangles in a box of Quality Street, so I feel his pain here. Luckily he wins a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, along with four other children, and here is where the fun begins.

Willy Wonka is bonkers. A nice bloke, but bonkers all the same. He has devised a test of chocolate-resisting morality to find out which child will inherit his factory. Ye Gods, that’s just fiendish. I like to think my morals are good but when it comes down to morals or chocolate, let’s face it – would I steal a squirrel?

It’s a tough call. However, I don’t like nutty chocolate and I wouldn’t risk the prize for chewing gum, nor would I care to be sent through the air to appear on TV. But the chocolate river in a room full of chocolate and spun sugar flowers? I fear my name might be Jayne Gloop.

The manic energy of Roald Dahl’s writing, and the pleasure he takes in detailing the fate of greedy and selfish children, leaks through to the reader. I like the way he draws attention to the bad behaviour of the parents as well - even as a child you can see that the fate of being turned into a giant blueberry doesn’t just spring from nowhere. But it's the chocolate factory itself, with its secrets, hundreds of rooms, and bedazzling recipes, which is the real star – in a way Charlie, nice and inoffensive as he is, is incidental.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Published: 1964
Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Joseph Schindelman / Quentin Blake

Chocolate fact one: Cadbury’s Twirl bars rock my socks.
Chocolate fact two: Adding fruit or nuts to chocolate is just wrong on all levels
Chocolate fact three: I still go to the corner shop just to buy chocolate.
Chocolate fact four: I don’t like white chocolate – it has to be milk, or plain at a push.
Chocolate fact five: In chocolate selling shops you will generally find me hovering beside the assistant offering free samples.

Three A-Z Highlights for 'C'
The Words Crafter over at The Rainy Day Wanderer blog shares her love of castles
Paula Martin tells us about the importance of critique partners
Margo Kelly chats about a very important 'c' word - chocolate!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

B is for...Black Beauty

Black Beauty is like a Virginia Andrews book about horses. Just when you think Beauty’s life will be happy he is in danger of the knacker’s yard again. (Incidentally, I thought the knacker’s yard was somewhere full of old knickers when I was little, so my first reading of Black Beauty was rather confused, to say the least.)

Beauty is a kindly chap of a horse who, no matter his situation, makes the best of things, and always treats his fellow humans and animals with respect. Are there lessons to be learnt from this? Of course! The book is positively stuffed with lessons, but the story is so compelling that the drip-feed of morality goes un-noticed – that is, until the last chapter is finished and you are outside waving a placard supporting animal rights.

The plight of working horses and the financial hardship faced by their owners is meticulously described through Beauty’s eyes, and the result on publication was a huge wave of concern for animal welfare. This led to several reforms in the law, ending up both beneficial for horses and humans alike. What a fantastic legacy Anna Sewell left us.

Black Beauty
Published: 1877
Author: Anna Sewell

Beautiful fact one: As a child I cried buckets over the fate of Ginger, and drew a picture to tuck in the end pages of the book showing Black Beauty, Ginger, and Merrylegs all happy together in heaven!

Beautiful fact two: I’ve twice been horse-riding (or rather, horse-sitting).

Beautiful fact three: The first time I was aged five and hoisted up on a giant shire horse.

Beautiful fact four: They didn’t fix the saddle properly so I ended up hanging off its tummy for most of the ride until someone noticed.

Beautiful fact five: The board game ‘Buckaroo’ used to scare me silly. Probably still would!

Three A-Z Highlights for 'B'

Ellie Garratt warns us about the perils of Book-Bonking
Eliza at Just Twaddle ponders Boobs and Bras
Madeleine at Scribble and Edit talks about when to introduce a Back story

Friday, 1 April 2011

A is for...Alice

Alice is a rather curious child with a penchant for white rabbits. The main curiosity for me is how she keeps her blue and white frock spotless as she tumbles down rabbit holes, while my tights get snagged on a gentle walk to the train station. Alice acts as our sensible guide through a world of chaos, although it was definitely a gentler age. If I saw an unclaimed bottle full of liquid marked ‘Drink me’ I’d assume it was full of pee.

The notion of ‘Wonderland’ made me realise how freaky it would be if proper dreams came true. The unpredictable nature of subconscious night-time slumbering is perfectly played out in Alice’s adventures – just when she thinks she has a handle on the situation it all changes - which is actually quite frightening.

As a child I bonded with Alice over the love of her cat, Dinah. What an elegant name for a cat! I also think many adult women can relate to Alice, in the way that her size keeps shrinking and expanding. The same thing happens to me with chocolate, although I’ve yet to discover which side of the bar will make me grow smaller. I keep finding the side that makes me grow bigger. In honour of Alice I’ll keep looking.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Published: 1865
Author: Lewis Carroll
Illustrations: Sir John Tenniel

Curious fact one: I can recite the Jabberwocky.
Curious fact two: I’m rather fond of momeraths.
Curious fact three: I get sleepy during the song ‘All in the Golden Months of June’ in the Disney cartoon of Alice.
Curious fact four: I don’t like the Mock Turtle.
Curious fact five: Me and my good friend R have been parodying ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ poem in birthday cards since we were teenagers.

Three A-Z Highlights!
Roza M at A day into the writer posts about Ambition
Wendy Tyler Ryan posts about A Love Rekindled
Jacqueline at Chez Mukweto posts about Amigurumi, Apples, and Answer