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Megan’s UK diary: Ted Hughes Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank, West Yorkshire. The art of life writing.

Life writing is simply what it suggests – writing that is rooted in the experiences of real life, whether biography or memoir, or something akin to that. One of the best things I discovered through my week-long residential course at Lumb Bank was the clarity and authenticity that life writing afforded me in the story-telling process.

Photo by Phil Champion

Photo by Phil Champion

Lumb Bank was originally built by a mill owner in the C18th. Eventually Ted Hughes bought it, and his wife, Sylvia Plath, is buried in Heptonstall, the hilltop village less than a mile away.

This area of West Yorkshire is full of hills and dales, tight lanes, moors and forests, sheep farms, abandoned mills and steep villages.

The view from my attic bedroom

The view from my attic bedroom

During an Arvon residence course, which takes in about 17 writers per course, you take part in morning writing workshops, cook one meal (in team), attend evening readings, have one-on-one tutorials with the two published authors leading the course, and still have free time in the afternoons to write, gaze at the abandoned mill, chat in the garden, concoct plum-based mulled wine, and, in my case, hop up and down over every bunny spotted on the lawn and then go get lost on the moors.

We were an eclectic bunch, ranging in age from 20 to 84, coming from England, Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria and South Africa, and presenting a mix of personalities and perspectives. As a group, I imagine it could easily not have worked, and yet it did. It really did. The success of it had something to do with all the hours spent around the diningroom-cum-workshop table where we got to know each other through conversations as well as through each other’s writing. We laughed hugely (sometimes we downright crowed), occasionally we gasped, and also occasionally we cried, because, well, this was a life writing course, and life isn’t always neat or pretty.

Here are the lovely and talented writers that now make up the group Subtext:

All the lovely people that now make up the writers' group Subtext.

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Megan’s UK diary: Summertime, and the living is easy at Newton-by-the-Sea

A poor woman from Manchester, on being taken to the seaside, is said to have expressed her delight on seeing for the first time something of which there was enough for everybody.

(Sir John Lubbock)

These are some photos from my visit to Newton-by-the-Sea in Northumberland.

View from up on the dunes:

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You know how folks in the West, when seeing an image of African children playing with a primitive ball on a dirt field or smiling over a slice of watermelon, are prone to say something like, ‘Ah, bless – see how happy they are with so little!’? I must say that travelling around the UK I find myself thinking things like, ‘Ah, look at them little British kiddies making the best of their cold, blustering summers to visit the beach!’

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A simple shot:

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I like the pattern of the water and the sand in this photo …

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In the photo below, it is as though someone thoughtfully placed this lifebuoy up on the hill expressly for the sake of photographers. It’s probably a clichéd pic in the opinion of experts, as it’s reminiscent of an emotional film finale where the fallen knight’s sword is stuck in the ground and the camera gives us a low-angle, sky-backdrop view, so that our hearts might soar to transcendent heights … , but I lapped it up with the freedom of the novice:

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Here we have a sparrow. I asked him to show me his right side …

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… and then I asked him to show me his left side. (He said he looks good from both sides.)

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This puts me in mind of these verses from Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Ah, how romantic …

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… unless that’s his mother. I really can’t tell.

A view of Dunstanburgh Castle:

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More about Dunstanburgh in a future post.

~

For more ‘Megan’s UK diary’  posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night.

For other photography posts, go to Edinburgh shows off and Buttercup view from Stirling Castle.

For a history and photography post, go to Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre).

Megan’s UK diary: Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre)

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Two Englishmen, having climbed the Matterhorn, were regarding the wonderful view that stretched before them.

‘Not half bad!’ commented one of them.

‘No,’ replied the other, ‘but you needn’t rave about it like a love-struck poet!’

I thought on this quote, having come across it only that morning, as I strolled around Haddon Hall. You see, Haddon Hall is WONDERFUL, and my thoughts were thus in the territory of superlatives and exclamation marks.

A mediaeval castle in the Peak District, Haddon Hall is a quintessentially Norman building, square and solid, believed to have been built in the C12th. It is a romantic castle, containing everything from the Middle Ages that delights us in today’s world: battlements, very low doorways, a chapel decorated to the hilt, wildly uneven flagstone floors, and I could go on, but you are getting the picture, aren’t you, clever reader?

Moreover, the family who own the Hall, the Manners (it has been in their family since the C16th), has thankfully not gone the common route of restoring it to within an inch of its life. There still isn’t a perpendicular anything, anywhere. Some of the stone steps are curved into almost non-existence in the middle as a result of centuries of footfalls, and the decaying wooden chests and ill-fitted windows have been left alone.

wish I had the capabilities of the love-struck poet ridiculed by the Englishman above, because the only words that presented themselves to me to describe Haddon Hall were words like lovely, outstanding, amazing, and truly wonderful. Bleugh! The frustration of living in a society where such words are regularly used to describe getting the parking spot you wanted or a tasty sandwich, meaning that when I want to really express that something is special, I can either go with one of them, and sound bland, thereby failing to capture the imagination of a hyperbole-drenched readership, or I can go all Italian and really do risk sounding like an overwrought poet whose been sniffing heavily on deadly nightshade. Not great options either of them.

I will have to satisfy myself with something very simple. I will say that, to the C21st tourist, the castle is perfection.

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The Long Gallery, with a mom in it. My mom, in fact.
Long galleries, apart from their other uses, were intended as places where residents could find exercise, no matter what the weather. Elizabethan ladies, moreover, didn’t expose their skin or clothes to sunshine, so they could either walk the gallery or I suppose do sit ups in their bedrooms?
Is anyone else put in mind of Bingley’s sister asking Elizabeth to take a turn around the room with her?

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A very impressive old tapestry, coupled with some fresh oranges to give the room a lived-in feel.

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The garden was bursting with summer flowers, and as such was delightful in the special way that only English gardens can be. During my visit there were English roses, day lilies, thistles, agapanthus lilies, nasturtiums, yellow daisies, deeply purple clematis, red-and-white fuschia, and too many others to list. It was a garden of every colour.

IMG_2011One of the most striking things when you stepped out into the garden was the abundance of white butterflies (also called cabbage whites). They were everywhere, as were the bumble bees and wasps. I’ve perhaps never seen such a ‘busy’ garden.

IMG_1933The Jane Eyre connection

I also rather enjoyed discovering the Jane Eyre connection with Haddon Hall. The 2011 Jane Eyre film adaptation with Mia Wasikowski and Michael Fassbender (how fussed are we really if Mr Rochester is decidedly good-looking this time round?) had Haddon Hall as Thornfield Hall.

I recognised the little pavilion where Rochester and Blanche Ingram play at keeping a feather in the air, the courtyard where Rochester drags Jane off to the church so they can marry, and the narrow stone bridge that leads to Thornfield Hall. The romance of the castle and its grounds are so well suited to the romance of Jane Eyre – a gold sticker for the film’s location manager, please!

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Tra la la … I’m never wearing my C19th gown at the right moment.

~

For more posts on castles and stately homes, go to:

Megan’s UK diary: Chatsworth House forever

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen and Edinburgh Castle at night

Lindisfarne – A Holy Island.

Megan’s UK diary: Sir Walter Scott (the greatest author never read)

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It’s hard to get a full-length shot of the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, simply because it is so dang BIG. In fact, it’s the largest monument ever built anywhere to a writer, and stands at 61 metres tall (that’s more than 18 storeys!).

I generally think a single great shot speaks louder and more eloquently than multiple shots, but I wasn’t able to produce any one shot I was completely happy with, so I’ve included this next shot as well, as it better shows the heftiness of the monument …

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… while this next shot, I’m hoping, conveys how tall it is …

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You can climb all the way up to the very top balcony of the monument by way of an extremely – I stress, extremely – tight stone spiral stairwell. It’s not too bad to begin with, and you can reach the first and second landings fairly effortlessly, but the final two stairwells tested me, and I had to remind myself that I do not suffer from vertigo, dizziness or claustrophobia, all three of which suggested themselves to me.

IMG_1563The main problem was that the upper stairwells have no windows, and so you’re acutely aware of the numerous tight revolutions of tunnel both above and below you (while being unsure exactly how far above or below you they extend), so there is no quick escape in either direction. That, at least, was my issue, and I’d entered the memorial with nary a concern in my head.

I’m a little miffed with this picture, which shows the entrance to the one stairwell, as I don’t feel it accurately portrays how narrow the upper stairwells are. The final portion can’t have been any wider than a foot and a half. I seriously think larger folk would come unstuck in that part (unstuck insomuch as they would of course become actually stuck).

The Scott Memorial was built by the Scottish people from a desire to show ensuing generations just how highly the man was esteemed by his own generation. The monument is impressive but also rather ungainly. This is what Dickens, a big fan of Scott, wrote of it:

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Ah, Dickens, you always say things so much better than any of the rest of us could ever hope to!

Scott (1771-1832), a poet, novelist and playwright, played an important part in the Scottish Enlightenment, which was a sudden burst of Scottish intellectualism, innovation and creativeness, centred in Edinburgh. Importantly, he invented the historical novel, blending fictional and historical characters based in a time before his own birth. Dickens, Thackeray and others acknowledged him as their predecessor in this.

His importance to the Scots was and is about how he helped to foster a renewed interest and pride in their own, distinctive history, and about how his works brought Scotland greater international recognition and fame.

Last week I visited the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum on Lady Stair’s Close. The museum focusses solely on Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns. While there I was interested to read the preamble to Stuart Kelly’s book Scott-Land, wherein he ponders over the immense popularity and impact of Scott in his own time and how he helped to shape a nation’s identity, and how he is yet completely overlooked and unread today. To this I have to say: so true. I’ve never read a single one of his works, and I love historical fiction. Rob Roy has sat on my bookshelf for years, but when it comes time to pick up a new novel, I always pass over it for something else. Why is that?

Linked to this, I’ve always had a hard time even remembering him in the distinct way I do other authors. What I mean is, I find that Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson are forever confusingly entwined in my mind, and whenever I think on either of them, I have to pause and ask myself: okay, so which one is it again that wrote Treasure Island?

The same goes for Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas – I know that I know who wrote what, and yet I must always take a silent moment to re-establish it in my mind every time I think on any of their works anew. Am I horribly Anglo-centric? Yet I know other French authors, like Jules Verne most obviously, and I don’t muddle him up with anyone else. It’s really rather perplexing.

However, having stood high up on that top balcony of the Scott Memorial, with my back pressed ever so firmly against the inner wall whilst I looked out (but never down!) over all of Edinburgh, I hope this confused entanglement of Scott and Stevenson will, at long last, be laid aside.

~

For more “Megan’s UK diary” posts, go to Edinburgh shows off or Chatsworth House forever.

Another history post: Lindisfarne – A Holy Island.

Other posts interested in the classics: Jane Austen and Edinburgh Castle at night, William Makepeace Thackeray and battle lore, and Bookcases, bedtime reading, libraries and story-telling.

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night

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There’s so much going on at the Edinburgh Festival, and not only strictly-speaking Festival things, but also other events capitalising on the crowds that the Festival brings. Like the Jane Austen evening we stumbled upon that was being held by Charlotte Chapel, a church that can be found in the pretty pedestrian, bunting-lined Rose Street. Like pilgrims, we journeyed to Rose Street on Friday evening to attend the event, secure in the knowledge that any evening devoted to Austen would be a good one. We arrived, and, intriguingly, were among a crowd of women only.

While queuing to go in we were all given an Austen quiz to fill in, and from thinking I would dominate I was instead chagrined to realise I knew very few of the answers with any certainty. For example:

– Who can say what the title of Pride and Prejudice was originally going to be? Options: “First Impressions”, “Elizabeth and Darcy”, or “Pemberley”.

– Also, which actor prompted a phone call from the Jane Austen Society to the director to complain that he was too handsome to play his assigned role? Options: Greg Wise (Willoughby), Hugh Grant (Ferrars), or Colin Firth (Darcy).

(Answers at the end of the post.)

It was a small, intimate affair – maybe 100 of us, tops? – and I really enjoyed it. One lady played Jane, sitting at the desk in the picture above, and she would read aloud extracts from Jane’s letters to her sister, Cassandra, wherein Jane would introduce her latest book and explain the primary themes she addressed in it. Other women from Charlotte Chapel would then appear, dressed in regency costume, and read relevant extracts from the novels. Sometimes snippets from some of the TV/film adaptations were also shown. My only complaint is that they used the BBC Emma when wanting a scene from that story, and I can’t stand that version; the 1996 McGrath version is superior in every way, from casting to directing to editing to … well, yes, everything. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam forever!

Some of the titbits that most struck me were:

– Jane was very concerned with showing a development in self awareness in her heroines, and often her lead males too, Elizabeth and Darcy being prime examples. Only Fanny Price didn’t really need a journey of self-realisation, but rather it was those around her, like Edmund, that needed to learn a thing or two about themselves.

– Of all her heroines, Jane liked Elizabeth the best. Me, I have more sympathy with Emma and Anne.

– Jane dreamt up the independent and wilful Emma in response to complaints from her readers that her last heroine, Fanny, was too much of a doormat.

At the very end, a 30ish, single lady from the church chatted about how Jane’s preoccupation with marriage was very understandable, given that women of that period could only find any kind of financial or practical security through a husband. She then asked why, as modern women, we are still as preoccupied with romance and marriage, since we no longer need it to be financially secure? She pointed to our desire to have a relationship with someone who will love us and meet all our needs. Jesus, she said, is the only one who can actually be that person for each of us.

Charlotte Chapel seemed a really lovely, motivated church, and I was glad to have visited. I really admire them.

Afterwards, we walked home, a stroll of at least an hour that took us first through Princes Street Gardens, then up and over the Mound, before dropping us down again alongside Bruntsfield Links and our little res. As a South African, I have to give a nod to the awesomeness that is a late evening stroll through the city without a care for safety. So, yes: a big nod to that.

This is the beautiful sight of the castle at dusk, as seen from Princes Street Gardens:

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Answers: “First Impressions” and Hugh Grant.

~

For more posts from “Megan’s UK diary”, go to Chatsworth House forever, The green spaces of Sheffield and Edinburgh shows off.

Megan’s UK diary: Edinburgh shows off

Edinburgh is beautiful. I visited it for just 24 hours a while back, but was sufficiently captivated (not a word I use lightly) that I have always maintained I will return. Now I am here for the Edinburgh Festival – lucky sausage that I am – and I am seeing it at its best; the streets are overflowing with all sorts of interesting people, the sun is shining (not warmly, but at least it is there), and the late evening hours are about pink, streaky clouds and expansive parks filled out with lounging, relaxed people.

This is the view from the university residence where I am staying. The photo was taken at about 9pm. I love the romantic architecture, the warmth of the brick face as lit by the last, low rays of the sun, and the pretty, broad leaves of the trees, which were swaying in a bracing, night-is-coming breeze.

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For more “Megan’s UK diary” posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Chatsworth House forever.

Book review: The Honk and Holler Opening Soon (by Billie Letts, author of Where the Heart Is)

Cover of "The Honk and Holler Opening Soo...
Cover of The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon is set in the small, ‘nowhere’ town of Sequoyah, Oklahoma. More specifically, it focuses on a roadside diner originally intended to be called The Honk and Holler, but known as the Honk and Holler Opening Soon because the owner made a drunken phone call to the company tasked with making the roadside sign, and so consequently, 14 years later, the diner is still known as The Honk and Holler Opening Soon. An eclectic cast of characters work or dine at the Honk, and it is their interrelated stories that drive the narrative.

The cast

In terms of our main characters, there is Caney Paxton, the 40ish paraplegic Vietnam vet who is the owner of the diner and who has never left its walls since he was wheeled in after leaving the hospital.

There is also MollyO, his surrogate mother who waitresses at the Honk and pines after her runaway teenage daughter.

Then there is Vena Takes Horse, a homeless Crow woman who rocks up just before Christmas with a three-legged dog she rescued off the highway. Vena muscles her way into a job by showing her skills as a revenue-garnering carhop.

There is also the sweet-natured Bui Khanh, a Vietnamese refugee looking to find a way to bring his wife to America. Bui, who becomes the Honk’s handyman, is also homeless and he sneaks into a local church at night for shelter.

Finally, there is an assortment of other folks who pepper the story with local colour, problems and humour – many elderly, some rather nosy, a few with disabilities, and at least one downright dangerous. These men and women come to the Honk daily for coffee, meals and gossip, and the narrative thus never lags or lacks for storylines.

Why I like it

Letts’s writing is imaginative and skilful. She knows how to tell a story you will care about, but her writing is far from sentimental and she doesn’t wallow in anything – the pace is steady and you are quickly caught up in a handful of interconnected plots. And it’s certainly refreshing to read a story set in Oklahoma.

Thinking about it, you know what else is refreshing? Reading a story wherein none of the A- or even B-level characters is described as beautiful, stunning, handsome, gorgeous, rugged or even pretty. There is just a host of ordinary-looking people whose appearances affect very little about their lives, yet they still have stories worth telling. I like it.

I think what I perhaps loved most about the novel, aside from its humour, is the way that Letts avoids writing cheese while at the same time refrains from writing soul-destroying flint. She describes the dire – people at the bottom of society, desperate situations, all-too-familiar personal tragedies, and some really cheap, Slumsville settings – while still managing to impart a sense of optimism. She does not shy away from describing cruelty, darkness and hardship, and yet cruelty is always ameliorated by kindness, darkness by light, and hardship by hope. Letts somehow leaves the reader feeling that their eyes have been opened to the world and yet they have also been affirmed in the goodness of humanity and the possibility of redemption. I think that rather masterful.

An extract to help convince you to read it

Here is one of my favourite passages, written just after MollyO’s daughter Brenda once again runs away (having first, of course, stolen cash from her mother), which showcases Letts’s humour as well as her heart:

MollyO came on to work the next morning, weepy and exhausted. She hadn’t slept for twenty-eight hours, but it wasn’t the first time she’d spent a night walking the floor in despair.

When Caney found out what Brenda had done, he was so furious that he raged around the rest of the morning, his anger splattering like bacon in hot grease. He banged around the kitchen, slamming skillets onto burners, hacking the meat cleaver into the cutting board, knocking cans of corn and peas from the pantry shelves and cussing onions and eggs as if he’d found them sneaking around telling lies.

But once, when MollyO came back to the sink to wash her hands, he grabbed her around the waist and buried his head in her chest, held her without a word, then rolled away and smacked five pounds of ground beef, punishment, perhaps, for whatever grief that cow had brought to its mother.

I really loved this book. It has a strong sense of place and is funny, imaginative, tense, and heart-breaking and heart-warming at turns. It has a cast of interesting and truly individualistic personalities that you quickly come to own as your own, and so follow their stories with interest and concern. I read it flat-out it was that fun, engaging and easy to read.

~

Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Someone said to me the other day that I should try writing book reviews. It’s not something I’ve ever really concerned myself with (not since the days of forced book reviews in high school).  But I do find myself wanting to share with others when I’ve read a book I really enjoyed. I’ve never really kept up with the latest books, so any book reviews I do stand little chance of being current. But good books surely stand the test of the time, so I won’t worry myself with that. Hence this review of a book written 15 years ago! If you haven’t read it before, I hope you can lay your hands on a copy and that you too will have some fun hours of reading.

~

If you enjoyed today’s post, you would probably also be interested in The 25 best novels of all time, A ditty was promised, so a ditty must be written! Also, a love poem, an old railway advert & Gibson Girls and What have I been reading?.

A superlatively random collection of 11 very short, quotable quotes

1. I just speed-read War and Peace. It’s about some Russians. (Woody Allen)

2. Life reeks with possibilities. (Lauren Bacall)

3. Remember, candy is dandy, but fruit makes you poop. (Kim Possible)

4. It might have been […] chance, or its more flamboyant relative, destiny. (Carlos Ruiz Zafón)

5. You have a tremendous grasp of the obvious. (Wipeout)

6. Competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. (L. Peter & R. Hull)

7. If you want to forget all your troubles, wear tight shoes. (Anon)

8. Whether they find life there or not, I think Jupiter should be considered an enemy planet. (Jack Handy)

9. There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good. (Edwin Denby)

10. I woke up this morning in the mood to not be awake. (23thorns)

11. I have learned from my mistakes, and I am sure I can repeat them exactly. (Peter Cook)

A ditty was promised, so a ditty must be written! Also, a love poem, an old railway advert & Gibson Girls

One of my readers – Sean Smithson – spotted an error in my “About” page; the underlined “as” had been accidentally omitted: “If you read my posts you’ll inadvertently learn probably as much as you would like to know about how this mind of mine works.”

Well spotted, I say! I promised the reader who found a mistake a ditty, and so the below is what I devised.

But first, in case some of you don’t know what a ditty is, it’s simply a short, simple song or poem (from Old French ditie – poem).

Here’s mine:

A ditty (that embraces the silly)

Oh, run away word,
where have you gone?
Your home is right here,
are you going to be long?

Sean S., the word catcher,
caught the thing in its haste;
that word was sent packing,
and now sits in its right place.

Perhaps after that I should share a ditty or two as penned by the pros, so as to highlight all that they can be!

A Ditty (by Sir Philip Sidney)

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one to the other given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven:
   My true-love hath my heart, and I have his.

His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his because in me it bides:
   My true-love hath my heart, and I have his.

Now, for an example from the early C20th, the image below is one of a series of advertisements used by the Lackawanna Railroad in the eastern US to capitalise on its use of anthracite, a kind of hard coal that burns cleanly, not creating the soot and cinders that normal coal does.

The advertisers came up with the fictional character of Phoebe Snow, whom they used to promote the line they accordingly dubbed The Road of Anthracite.

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The quote below, from Steamtown: Special History Study, explains how the railroad developed this advertising strategy:

Early in 1899, […] Mark Twain, wrote the company after a trip to Elmira that he had worn a white duck suit and it was still white when he reached his destination. [The company] seized upon the idea of taking advantage of the line’s clean-burning coal in advertising for passenger traffic and adopted the slogan for the Lackawanna Road as “The Road of Anthracite.” As a symbol, probably for the first time in 1901, the railroad seized upon the image of a demure “Gibson girl” dressed head to toe in sparkling white, and published a seemingly endless series of jingles or poems.

Three more of the Phoebe ditties go like this:

Here Phoebe may
By night or day
Enjoy her book
Upon the way
Electric light
Dispels the night
Upon the Road
Of Anthracite

Says Phoebe Snow, About to go
Upon a trip
To Buffalo:
"My gown stays white from morn till night
Upon the Road of Anthracite.

A coach or sleigh 
Was once the way 
Of reaching home 
On Christmas day 
Now - Phoebe's right - 
You'll expedite 
The trip by Road Of Anthracite

To read more, you can click here.

During WWI, anthracite was needed for the war effort, so trains couldn’t use it anymore and Phoebe Snow disappeared.

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An archetypal Gibson Girl

Phoebe was drawn as a Gibson Girl, and Gibson Girls, I’ve just learned with interest, were designed to be the epitome of supposed feminine beauty at the time: gracious, curvy, fashionable, independent, at ease with themselves, and possessing a fragile outer beauty.

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More Gibson Girls, who were popular images in the late C19th and early C20th

The Gibson Girls creator, Charles Dana Gibson, had this to say about his drawings: “I’ll tell you how I got what you have called the ‘Gibson Girl.’ I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores […] There isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are many thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God.”

– Quote from Marshall, E. (1910-11-20). “The Gibson Girl Analyzed By Her Originator”. The New York Times.

Camille Clifford, a Belgian-born American actress who was the most famous model for the Gibson Girl drawings

Camille Clifford, a Belgian-born American actress who was the most famous model for the Gibson Girl drawings

~~~

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Lindisfarne: A Holy Island

Patrolling the streets of this blog: The quest of a deranged cop

toonvectors-2654-460One of my jobs is editing and proof reading, and when operating in that role I have the excitable, obsessive tendencies of a crusading, steroid-popping policeman. When I sit down to edit, I am working off the grid – tasering spelling mistakes, eradicating typos, roughing up formatting evils, bombing inconsistencies, not to mention roundhouse-kicking indecent grammar and breaking the kneecaps of all other content-related bad asses.

So naturally I hate it when I hit that “Publish” button on a post, and then at some future date (often only seconds later) come across a devious typo or a word stoned out of its mind. It makes my patrol car come to a screeching stop, my coffee spills on my lap, and my mouthful of doughnut sticks in my throat.

But mostly I hate typos and their cronies because they steal the reader away from the content, rudely dragging him or her into the warehouse of linguistics, where they must endure the reality of clanking semantics swaying in the rafters, and have scar-faced goons from the wrong side of the shift button breathe heavily into their face. I work hard to maintain streets that encourage wanderers to contemplate the beauty of the green words on the trees, lose themselves in the lyricism carried in the wind, and relax into the encouraging warmth of the environment. A kidnapping detracts. Always.

So while cruising through yesterday’s avenue of thought (WWII, Socrates, Rwanda & personal boundaries) in an historic part of the local campus, what do I see but this sly malfeasant of a letter sidling up next to an innocent Private Eye:

“It do not consider it necessary or even helpful for me personally in my lifetime […].” What?! Hands up, you low-life, you stinking interloper of a ‘t’! I arrest you on the spot for trespassing on the property of Prof. Reader.

So this is my proposal to all my readers: I will be keeping an eye out for any typos or mistakes in my neighbourhood, but if any of you (citizen of the blog or tourist) should spot one and point it out to me first, then that person will receive the honour (?!) of having a ditty written either about them or with their name in it. I will make a post of it. Your fame will reach to all of my half dozen readers!!

I have no idea if I can write ditties on command (I’ve only ever written one ditty-ish thing that I can think of – Ode to a posy of flowers sitting on my desk), but should the occasion arise, I will do my best, and then we can all muse over the outcome.

So now that I’ve invited you to partner with me in my cop car, hopefully we’ll clean up the streets of Living my write life in no time, and we will all be able to take pleasant Sunday-type strolls anywhere we want, enjoying the peace of mind that comes from a world completely free of typographical thuggery.

~~~

A note: I am not inviting a traditionalist/prescriptivist scrutinising of my grammar – I don’t want to hear about sentences that start with a conjunction, etc. Sometimes artistic concerns must prevail. I am, however, inviting you to alert me to typos and mistakes because I want those to be as foreign to my streets as tanned legs are to a Scotsman.

Quotes for writers

Today I thought I’d simply share some of my favourite quotes concerning the art of writing.  I find them excellent touchstones in the writing process. Less is more * As he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off; a continence which is practiced by few writers …. (John Dryden) * […]

What have I been reading?

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Favourite quote #7 “The best moments in reading are when …” (Alan Bennet)

This idea is similar to how C.S. Lewis describes friendship: And that’s one of the best things about reading – having your own thoughts, which often you’d never even fully articulated to yourself, set down in ink before you, showing you that you are not alone in thinking or feeling as you have done. Suddenly […]

Favourite quote #6: The trouble with real life …

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The 25 best novels of all time

There are countless lists on the Internet claiming to offer the definitive 100 Books to Read before you Die, Sci-Fi’s Top 20, The 50 Greatest Romance Novels, and so on. The problem is that they generally aim at being terribly impartial and eclectic so as to cover all bases, meaning they benefit few readers since […]

Horses sweat, men sweat, and ladies sweat just the same

I stumbled across this very interesting titbit the other day: English generally affords more prestige to words of Latin origin than to words of Saxon origin. For example, we are taught to think of perspire (from per spirare, Latin) as being a more elegant term than sweat (from swat, Old English). That sort of delightful […]

The books I’ve read hold the story of my life

For the past 8 years I’ve kept a record of every book I’ve read. For some that might sound like a silly chore, and for some that is perhaps all it would be. But books have accompanied me through the small and big events of life, and when I think back on a particular book […]

Exaltation of doves & destruction of wild cats: mediaeval collective nouns

We were all taught the more common collective nouns as schoolchildren, being sent home with a list to learn that contained a gaggle of geese, a pack of dogs, a chain of islands, and a bouquet of flowers. But I am quite captivated by the more unusual and intriguing collective nouns that one never hears […]

Favourite quote #5 – “She wasn’t doing a thing …”

“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there, leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” J.D. Salinger Is that not just perfect? It is such a simple statement, and yet beautifully suggests a whole story. If I’d never come across anything else Salinger had written, that would be enough […]

Favourite quote #4 (from T.S. Eliot)

                                        “[…] And every phrase And sentence that is right (where every word is at home, Taking its place to support the others, The word neither diffident nor ostentatious, An easy commerce of the old and the new, The common word exact without vulgarity, The formal word precise but not pedantic, The complete consort dancing […]