Writers’ Accessories

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I’ve always been interested in accessories – not bags, hats and matching shoes (I’m not that type of person) – but more gadget-type accessories. Phone cases and styluses are a good example (or should that be styli?), and writing accessories are well up there on my list of things to look out for.

Obviously, I do a lot of writing on a laptop, but that doesn’t stop me acquiring vast quantities of pens (the more unusual and interesting, the better) as well as notebooks, files, folders and anything else that’s likely to be found in a stationary shop.

The dog shares my interest in accessories, and he is always enthusiastic when I come home and show him a new pen with a flower on the end of it, or maybe a fancy pot for storing paperclips. He’ll look at it from all angles before pressing his nose to it and inhaling deeply, drawing in all the smells that tell him the full history of whatever it is that I’ve bought. He has plenty of accessories of his own, as well; a variety of hats, coats (waterproof and otherwise), leads, harnesses, collars, blankets, toys (chewy and otherwise), a range of festive jumpers for Christmas time – and even a selection of bow ties, for those more formal occasions.

I can never quite make up my mind whether shopping for writing accessories is a way of procrastinating, when I’ve got plenty to be doing at home, or whether it’s genuinely helpful – do I really write better when I’ve got a new pen to take notes with, or a new notebook with fancy, handmade pages, to write the notes on? Who knows, but it’s all part of the fun of being a writer so I’m going to stick to it – probably using that new, bright green, flower-shaped pack of sticky notes that I’ve just brought home and shown to the dog!

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My current pen collection

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Power napping for dogs – and books!

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About once a day, the dog has a mad five minutes – running around the room from one side to the other, jumping up at anyone who is in the way and flinging toys about in all directions. But it doesn’t last long. After a short while he leaps onto a comfy chair and – incredibly – settles himself into ‘sleep’ position while still airborne, bouncing down onto the cushions with his front paws folded and his eyes already shut. He’ll sleep soundly – maybe for two minutes – and then he’s up again, whizzing madly about the room, energy fully restored.

When I’m writing a story I tend to work quite furiously as well – switching on the laptop as the children leave for school and typing away until the minute they arrive back on the doorstep – but sometimes a story or a book needs a power nap, just like the dog does.

When you’ve stared at your manuscript for too long, it gets very hard to see what works and what doesn’t, or to glimpse the bits that are going to need changing. After I’d been writing for about two years, I met an agent who gave me some good advice. She told me that when I thought I’d finished my book, I should put it aside, and leave it completely alone for a few months. At first, this seemed like a complete waste of time to me – but then I tried it – I’d just finished the first draft of something new, and I did as I’d been advised, putting the whole thing away and leaving it well alone. When I came back to it a couple of months later, I was amazed – suddenly I could see loads of mistakes that hadn’t jumped out at me the first time around. Characters that didn’t work; scenes that were too long; words that I’d used too many times in one paragraph – they were all as clear as day.

Having that little break from a piece of writing that you’ve spent a lot of time on, gives just enough distance for you to be able to read it afresh and see it more as a reader; noticing all the problems with it, as well as the good bits.

So, next time you finish a piece of writing, do what the dog would do and let it rest for a while – but whether you shove it into the back of a cupboard, save it to a memory stick, or let it flop down onto the comfiest cushion in the living room, is completely up to you!

‘Meet the Author’ Day at the Library!

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Last Saturday afternoon I left the dog at home, relaxing on the sofa, and I went along to my local library, along with about fifteen other local children’s authors – some of whom had self-published, like myself, and others who had taken the more traditional route to publication.

One of my fellow-authors, who I had met through the amazing Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), had had the brilliant idea of arranging a ‘Meet the Author’ day at the library – it would be great for children (who could take part in loads of creative activities, as well as meeting some authors) and also great for us authors (who could meet some of our readers and – hopefully – sell some books at the same time). It was going to be good for the library as well, as we would hold a raffle and the library would get the proceeds. Everyone would be a winner!

As I dragged my wheelie case full of books through the doors of the library, things were already getting underway. Tables had been set up, all ready to be used for our welcome desk, the raffle, the book stall, the illustrators, and the craft activities, and, in the very centre of the children’s area, a huge and truly impressive throne was in place – all ready for the picture book authors to read their stories aloud.

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Some of the books on our book stall

As I pinned my enormous, home-made name badge onto my front, I wondered how many people would come along, but soon there were crowds of parents and children at all the tables – painting, glitter-gluing, drawing and buying both books and raffle tickets.

For me, one of the most rewarding parts of the event was being on the welcome desk, giving out information to people about our writer’s Society (SCBWI). At one point, a lady approached me. ‘Excuse me,’ she said, nervously. ‘Are you one of the authors?’

I admitted that I was and she seemed relieved. She went on to tell me that she’d written a children’s book, but she wasn’t sure how to go about arranging to have it self-published, and she was worried about falling into the clutches of one of the less-scrupulous publishing companies that sometimes prey on writers.

I reassured her that she was in the right place, and, after I’d answered her questions, I went on to tell her about all the great help and advice I’d had over the last few years, from my fellow SCBWI members. She seemed intrigued, and looked with interest at the SCBWI leaflets that I pressed into her hand. ‘Do consider joining!’ I enthused. ‘It’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever done as a writer!’

Her eyes gleamed as she walked away, disappearing into the crowd around the raffle table. After the raffle had been drawn and I was tidying up and loading my books back into the wheelie case, I thought about what a fun afternoon it had been – but more than anything else, I thought about the gleam in the eye of the lady writer I’d spoken to – and I hoped that when she got home, she’d take the plunge and sign up to our wonderful Society!

 

With many thanks to Cambridge Central Library and to Anita Lehmann, Camilla Chester, Debbie Edwards and everyone in the SCBWI Central East network.

Another blast from the past – taking advice from a photoplay writer (continued)!

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Reading on through my reprinted copy of ‘The Technique of the Photoplay’ (a book originally published by Epes Winthrop Sargent in 1913 to offer advice to would-be American script-writers), has revealed even more advice that I can apply to my own writing for children. See https://catherinerosevear.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/a-blast-from-the-past-taking-advice-from-a-photoplay-writer/ for part one of this blog post).

The author of ‘The Technique of the Photoplay’ has much to say about how to develop a plot, and this is something that, as a children’s writer, I’m very interested in. We’ve all come across books from time to time that are clearly written by people who know very little about the setting within which they are writing, but this was not something that Mr Sargent has much truck with. ‘If you write of firemen you must know the life of the fireman’, he cautions. However, he doesn’t expect us to know it all – ‘It is not necessary to be a Westerner to write western stories… (but you must) know sufficient to be able to write intelligently’.

Once we understand the setting thoroughly, his next piece of plotting advice is this – ‘Lose yourself as completely as you can in your story’. What a great piece of advice! Just get on with it, he advises, without, at this early stage, worrying about word counts or technique – just get it down on paper and ‘catch the story while you are in the mood’. However, once this initial first draft stage is passed, make the story strong – ‘Do not bolster up a weak story with an elephant or a railroad wreck. Put more story in’.

He also suggests the idea of a story arc, with ‘a series of… crises (leading up to) the biggest moment in the play’, after which the story should quickly finish. He also believes that ‘no character essential to the plot should be introduced at the last moment’. We need to know who they are and what they are like, before they start doing whatever it is that they are there to do.

Once the manuscript has been written, the author offers even more sound advice. ‘The glow of enthusiasm must be permitted to die out’, he says, before the script is looked at again and edited or re-written with a fresh perspective, and if you don’t succeed with your first manuscript, remember that ‘the great teacher is experience’, and keep on at it!

After giving plenty of useful advice, he goes on to consider the future, and mentions that recently ‘talking pictures’ have come along. He acknowledges that ‘certain alarmists affect to see in the talking picture, the doom of the photoplay’, but he takes a hopeful stance, stating firmly that ‘Talking pictures may supplement, but they can never supplant the photoplay’. Unfortunately, in taking this view Mr Sargent is as much an optimist as my dog, who firmly believes that every moment will bring a fresh treat his way – sometimes the dog is proved right, but there are some occasions when his optimistic hopes are misplaced, despite wearing his most expectant expression. Sadly for Mr Sargent (who was clearly a good writer as well as a great teacher), this must have been one of those moments for him – I can only hope that he went on to be as successful a writer for ‘the talkies’ as he had been for ‘photoplays’!

 

 

The Technique of the Photoplay’, by Epes Winthrop Sargent, the second edition first published in 1913 by The Moving Picture World, and reprinted by Biblio Bazaar (date unstated).

A blast from the past – taking advice from a photoplay writer

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A few months ago I bought a reprint of a book that had originally been published in 1913. It was called ‘The Technique of the Photoplay’, and was written by Epes Winthrop Sargent. Essentially, it is a ‘how to do it’ guide to writing successful screenplays in the very early days of American cinema, and it gives a great feel of that famous era, back when film-making was in its infancy.

As I sat reading it with the dog (and his new best friend, Owl), peering curiously over my shoulder, I found that although some of the advice was very specific to early screenplay writers (ie. how to make it clear what the characters are saying, in a silent film), much of the advice applied not only to writers in all genres, but was also as useful to writers today, as when it was written over one hundred years ago.

The author writes that between 1909 and 1913, ‘upward of ten thousand persons have sought to win success as photoplay writers… (but) not more than fifty persons… look to photoplay writing for their support.’ Clearly, getting a script accepted in those days, was just as difficult as getting a children’s book traditionally published today. Indeed, he says that ‘Ninety per cent of the stories sent into the studio are worthless because they possess no originality.’ However, all is not lost, as he offers advice about how to (and how not to), increase your chances of success. He advises would-be script writers that when sending scripts off to editors in the hopes of selling them, ‘do not spoil your chances of acceptance by writing gushy letters and do not try the sympathetic appeal by telling the Editor that you are trying to pay your way through college, or (that) you want to earn enough to buy mother a wooden leg’ – the importance of getting your cover letter right, hasn’t changed much then!

He then goes on to deal with the tricky matter of the synopsis. Seemingly, screenplay writers, just like modern-day fiction writers, had to send a synopsis to editors or agents with their work, and it was important that it was carefully crafted – and kept to a strict work limit. ‘The fact that (it) must be held to 250 words seems to cause beginners much trouble’, he acknowledges. ‘It is better to overwrite and then cut down than to try to write to the limit the first time’. But, he warns, make sure you emphasize the important bits – ‘go carefully through your story and discover the real punch’.

Writing a manuscript that, on first draft is far too long, is clearly also an age-old problem, and he talks about the dangers of writers running on for longer than is necessary after the climax of the story. ‘There is an art in knowing just when the story starts’, he says,’ but to know just when to stop… is a far greater accomplishment’. This is very applicable to me, particularly in the last few months, when I’ve been working on getting rid of loads of unnecessary scenes at the end of my current work-in-progress.

The importance of getting the viewer (or, for us, the reader), on side with your protagonist, is something else that he covers, and he suggests that we can go a long way towards achieving this by getting the characters’ names right. ‘Call your hero Steve but your villain Stephen, because you are not as friendly with the villain’, he advises, and, of course, this is exactly how we want our readers to feel as well. Similarly, we should be clear which character’s point of view the story is being seen from. ‘We cannot sit on and watch the struggle without taking sides’, he says, ‘unless the story is so badly told as not to interest us at all’.

There’s loads more in this wonderful book that I’ve found both interesting and useful to apply to my own writing, but I might well have to stop for now and maybe put some more of the advice it contains, into a future blog post – after all, as my new book assures me, ‘brevity with clearness’ is the aim of the game!

 

 

The Technique of the Photoplay’, by Epes Winthrop Sargent, the second edition first published in 1913 by The Moving Picture World, and reprinted by Biblio Bazaar (date unstated).

Thinking outside (or inside) the box

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The dog loves a good box – a bit like a cat, he loves to climb inside and settle down, all cosy and safe. But sometimes – quite often, it seems – you have to think outside the box!

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘thinking outside the box’ as, thinking ‘in an original or creative way’. It’s pretty obvious that you have to think creatively to write fiction – after all, you’re hoping to create an idea or a story that didn’t exist before. Wikipedia goes further and suggests that ‘thinking outside the box’, also encompasses thinking ‘from a new perspective’, which again is essential if you’re hoping to present a fictional story from the point of view of a character who is not yourself. But how do you put yourself in someone else’s shoes (or box!) and see things from their point of view – especially if that other person is fictional, and only actually exists in your head?

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about the idea of ‘interviewing’ your character to find out more about what they are like, and so be able to write more authentically from their perspective (see https://catherinerosevear.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/character-development-in-childrens-writing-how-hard-can-it-be/ ), but how else can you get out of your own box, and into your character’s?

You could write lists of:

  • which sports they like and dislike,
  • things that they’d like for birthday and Christmas presents,
  • their favourite (or most hated) foods,
  • their relatives,
  • their qualifications and the jobs they’ve had (if your main character is an adult),
  • their favourite school subjects (if they are a child),
  • the places they’ve visited on holiday,
  • the places they’d like to visit but haven’t yet,
  • the names and descriptions of all their soft toys (again, if they are a child),
  • their favourite books,
  • the pets they’ve had (or would like to have),
  • the clothes in their wardrobe,
  • the bits and pieces in their coat pockets,
  • the photos on their camera roll,
  • the illnesses they’ve had.

And so the list (of lists!) goes on!

You could also draw up their family tree, a map of their town, their CV or their Will…

So make a new year’s resolution to get to know even more about your main character, and the world inside their very own cardboard box – and happy new year!

Happy Christmas 2018!

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The dog has been casting his mind back over all the things he’s chewed up this year, and is now rightly concerned that he may not be entirely on the ‘good list’. With this in mind, he’s wisely preparing for Christmas by trying to get on the good side of a local elf, who may – if he’s lucky – pass on comments about his kindness and friendliness to the ‘the boss’. I can only hope that it pays off for him!

Season’s greetings – until 2019!

 

The Mysterious Case of the Wartime Diary

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Two years ago, I bought a hand-written diary. It looked interesting, although the online seller told me that there was no name on it and they had no idea who had written it, having found it amongst their parents’ possessions, after they’d died. I sent away for it anyway, and read it over Christmas 2016. Once I’d puzzled out the spidery writing, It was so interesting – it was written in 1944, and was the diary of a man who had lived in Loughton (in Essex and near to the North East edge of London), who had been a member of the World War II Home Guard. Being too old to be called-up, but still of working age, he divided most of his time between working as a fruit and vegetable trader at Stratford market in East London, and attending meetings and trainings for the Loughton Home Guard.

It was so fascinating that I read some of it aloud to the dog, but he started looking quite sad when he heard about the food rationing, so I thought it best to read the rest to myself in silence.

If only I knew who the writer was! How could I find out, I wondered to myself. As he had been based in Loughton, I decided to contact the Loughton and District Historical Society, to see if they could give me any help to find out. At first it seemed that the limited references to names and places in the diary weren’t enough, but as I puzzled out more entries and started to transcribe them, more clues appeared, and then – finally – I had enough information for the Society to find out his name – the writer was a man called Henry Norman.

Once I’d finished transcribing Henry’s whole diary, I showed it to the chair of the Loughton and District Historical Society, and he agreed that it was really interesting. But looking at the Society’s website, I noticed that they had their own publishing imprint – would they be interested in publishing it, I wondered? Yes, it seemed that they would!

This was very exciting, but I was concerned about copyright. I knew that the copyright for the diary would rest with the writer, or, if he was dead (which he was), it would rest with the residuary beneficiaries of his will. I would have to track them down.

This proved to be almost as difficult as finding out who the writer was in the first place, as he hadn’t had any children, so there was no obvious place to start. I contacted the Probate Search service, and found that for a fee of £10, I could apply for a copy of Henry Norman’s will. Crossing my fingers, I filled in the online form, and waited.

When the will came back, it seemed that Henry had left his estate to be divided equally between two of his sisters – but… they had also both since died. Handing over another £20, I sent away for the sister’s wills, and then waited again, hoping that, this time, the beneficiaries would still be alive.

A week later, and back the wills came, but I was still out of luck. It seemed that the sister who had died first had left everything she owned to the other sister, so I was still searching, but at least Henry’s estate was no longer divided. After sending away another £10, I learnt that this sister had also since died, and had left everything to be divided equally between two other siblings – a brother and a younger sister. A bit of research soon showed that they too had both since died. Off went another £20, and when the next lot of wills came back I found out that the brother, Richard, had died first, leaving everything to his younger sister (so again, thankfully, the copyright was held by only one person). This, youngest sister had also since died, leaving everything to her daughter. Could she be still alive…? Off went more money to the Probate Search Service!

No – she had died in 1991, leaving everything to her husband – who had also since died, but he, in turn, had left everything to be divided between his two children, Gary and Gail – I held my breath as I looked for them online, hoping that they would be traceable. As I searched, I came across a reference to someone of the same name as the daughter I was now looking for – working for the Women’s Institute. Could this be the right person? There was only one way to find out – I emailed the Women’s Institute, and asked them to please forward my email on to Gail, in the hope that she would be one of the siblings I was looking for.

I had a horrible feeling that if my email was passed on to her, she would assume that I was a scammer, and would fail to reply, so I didn’t hold out much hope. Then one day I opened my email inbox to find something wonderful – a reply! It turned out that yes, she was the person I was looking for, and she would also be able to put me in touch with her brother, Gary, the other joint holder of the copyright.

Neither Gary nor Gail had had any idea that their great uncle Henry had kept a wartime diary, but in emails back and forth one thing was clear – they were both happy for me to have it published! Very pleased, I contacted the Historical Society to let them know that we could go ahead, and then, in a further email from Gary, he mentioned something very interesting… Henry’s brother Richard had also written a wartime diary – and Gary had got it! ‘Please could I read it?’ I asked. Gary was very happy for me to borrow Richard’s diary, and I was delighted when it arrived in the post.

Richard’s diary was written in a slightly different style to Henry’s, but still covering his wartime activities as well as his daily work, and hi diary was equally interesting. Of course, the next question had to be – could we publish this one as well?!

As Richard had inherited Henry’s estate, via his sisters, fortunately Gary and Gail were owners of the copyright for both diaries, and luckily for me, they were happy for us to publish the diaries together. The detective work could end and the editing and transcribing could start.

Finally, this week the combined diaries of Henry and Richard for 1944 and 1945 have been published, and I’m thrilled to see them united as a proper book.

If you’re interested in finding out more, the diary, published as ‘Loughton in Wartime – Diaries for 1944 and 1945’, is available from the Loughton and District Historical Society via loughton_ponds@hotmail.com at a price of £6.50 per copy (plus £1.25 UK postage – email with any enquiries and orders, or to ask about postage to the rest of the world).

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A Writer’s Chronicle

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As a break from writing, I do a lot of reading, and because I’m interested in history I’ve recently been reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It’s a history of what happened in England between 60 BC (when Julius Caesar tried to invade Britain) and 1154 AD (when King Stephen died), and it’s written mainly by monks. In the earlier sections of the chronicle the writers were simply putting down what they’d read or heard from others, but in the later sections they were recording events shortly after they happened, and, in many cases, it’s clear that they were eye-witnesses. It certainly opened my eyes to the fact that Anglo-Saxon times were very violent. Clearly the ordinary people must have lived much of their lives in fear, not only of regular marauding invaders, but also afraid of the king and the earls who were either in power at the time, or hoping to wriest it from those who were.

I love history, so I found it really interesting, but, as a writer, one thing that really struck me was the amount of fantastic words that are included in it, that have since fallen out of common use. Some of my favourites (that I intend to try to use as much as I can!) are –

  • ‘Swinck’ (sometimes also spelt ‘swink’ or ‘swinc’) – to harass someone. Also, ‘swinkful’ – someone who’s planning to either cause trouble or do a bit of harrassing.
  • A ‘baptismal friend’ – on the surface, someone who was very spiritual, but actually, someone who was likely to be standing around the font at christenings, gossiping.
  • ‘thitherwards’ – wandering off in a vague direction.
  • ‘heavy-timed’ – a difficult time.
  • ‘nighest’ – nearest.
  • ‘tilth’ – land that’s been tilled.
  • ‘very manifold commotions’ – a lot of trouble.
  • ‘firmament’ – the sky.
  • ‘hairy star’ – comet.
  • ‘the abode of the whale’ – the sea.
  • ‘be-ebbed’ – stranded in the mud on the bank of a river that has, unfortunately, turned out to be tidal.
  • ‘betwixt’ – between.
  • ‘Christmas-tide’ – the 12 days of Christmas, all of which was set aside for feasting and mirth.

I was also interested in the fact that Christmas and Easter weren’t the only common religious Christian feasts; important celebrations happened several times during the year, when all the important people in the land would gather at the King’s court (which was wherever he happened to be at the time). There was –

  • ‘Candlemas’ (2nd February – celebrating Jesus’ presentation at the temple).
  • Lammas Day (1st August, although it can move) which celebrates the wheat harvest.
  • ‘Michaelmas’ (29th September – the feast of St Michael and the Archangels. Michaelmas was also important as it was one of the ‘quarter days’. The other three days which were quarter days, were ‘Lady Day’ on 25th March, ‘Midsummer Day’ on 25th June and Christmas Day. These were the four days of the year when servants could be hired, school terms started and rents needed to be paid.).
  • ‘Martinmas’ (11th November – the feast of St Martin, also sometimes called ‘Old Halloween’ or ‘Old Hallowmas Eve’).

All of these, and many others besides, seemed to be occasions for feasting and general merriment.

However, I was shocked by the huge amount of plagues and famines. Famines often seemed to be brought on by diseases of cattle or by poor weather leading to the failure of the crops. How hard life was, might be one of the reasons why people’s aged were described, not as ‘twenty years old’ but as ‘twenty winters old’ – clearly, you were much less likely to survive the winter in those days that you are now – assuming, of course, that you weren’t slaughtered by marauding invaders.

I also really liked reading about the very down-to-earth points that the writers thought fit to include, such as what the weather was like, and when comets or solar or lunar eclipses had been seen, which made it all seem very real. Also, in the section that described the death of William the Conqueror in 1087 AD, I found it amazing to read, ‘If any person wishes to know what kind of man he was… then we will write about him as well as we understand him: we who often looked upon him and lived sometime in his court.’ Wow! The person writing this section had actually met William the Conqueror!

Anyway, as I write this I can see the dog giving me a swinckful eye as he threatens heavy-times and very manifold commotions, if I don’t take him out to wander thitherwards, so I’d better finish for now. Until my next blog-post – enjoy preparing for Christmas-tide!

 

Wither reference to ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – Illustrated and Annotated’, Edited and Introduced by Bob Carruthers, pub. in 2013 by Pen and Sword Military Books, Yorkshire and Philadelphia.

Perspective

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The perspective you adopt when writing a book is very important, as it colours everything that the reader finds out – the perspective (or viewpoint), of the character you’ve chosen, gives the reader all their information about what is happening, as the reader sees and learns usually only from the point of view of that one character. It might be the protagonist or the antagonist (or it might change throughout the book) but, in most cases, whether you’re writing in the first or the third person, you have a reasonably fixed perspective.

However, perspective has more than one meaning. The Oxford Learners Dictionaries defines it as either ‘a particular attitude towards something’ (as in the perspective you adopt when writing), or, alternatively, ‘the art of creating an effect of depth and distance in a picture by representing people and things that are far away as being smaller than those that are nearer the front’. I now know that this is the type of perspective to keep in mind, when buying things online!

I always look very carefully when buying things, to make sure that I know what I’m getting, and to be sure that whatever I’m buying sending away for will arrive in the right size. This is pretty straight forward with clothes – it’s either the right dress size or it’s not. With other items, though, it can be trickier, and it’s far too easy to get things wrong when you’re looking at a screen rather than standing in a shop. I learnt this the hard way, when I self-published my first children’s book and started doing school visits.

As the book was called ‘The Secret of the Wooden Chest’, I thought that it would be a nice touch to carry all my pens, bookmarks, etc., into the classroom, not in a boring old bag, but in a wooden chest similar to the one in the book. I had a look around some local shops with no luck, and so, being a modern girl, I looked online.

I soon came across something that looked ideal – certainly wooden, and not too fancy but not too rustic either. There was some small print underneath the picture, but I skipped over that bit and clicked ‘Buy’.

From my seat in the kitchen, a few days later, I heard a thump – the postman was pushing a parcel through the letter box. I was mystified. I hadn’t ordered any books or DVDs lately, had I? There was the wooden chest of course, but there was no way that would go through the letter box. Whatever could it be?

I trotted into the hall and picked up a tiny package, carrying it back to the kitchen where the dog’s eager nose waited, keen to suck in all the available information about the person who had wrapped up this mysterious item. I found the scissors, and, with the dog’s whiskers quivering dangerously close, I started to cut the tape and unwrap it. It would have been a tricky job, even without the dog’s help. The person who had wrapped it (who the dog had now identified as a fifty year old male, brought up as an only child in Basingstoke, but now living with his girlfriend in a two-bedroomed flat in Bristol), had done a thorough job, and it was several minutes before the final piece of paper fell away. The dog snatched the wrapping up and carried it away in triumph to his blanket, for further examination. I was left with the parcel’s contents.

To call it a wooden chest would have been overly generous – it was everything I needed a wooden chest to be – but in miniature! If I placed it next to a doll from my children’s doll’s house, it looked about the right size for storing blankets, or possibly for actually hiding in. If I put it next to a medium-sized teddy bear, it looked about the right size for carrying books and papers to school, but if I looked at it from my own perspective (that of an average-sized human being), it was fine to hold a paperclip – or maybe even two paperclips – but that was about it. It was about an inch high and clearly designed to be used as some kind of presentation box for jewellery. If I’d wanted to put a ring into it, it would have been fine; a necklace – maybe; but a pen, a pencil, a pack of bookmarks, a paperback book and a page of densely written notes – definitely not! I went back to the laptop and checked the details of the item I’d ordered. There were the measurements in black and white – I just hadn’t read them.

After more searching (and careful reading of the small print), I finally found a wooden chest that I thought would do the job I intended it for, and before long the postman was driving the dog into a frenzy by ringing the front door bell, thankfully unable to force this new delivery through the letterbox. But the whole experience did make me think – whether you’re writing or ordering things online, get your perspective right, or, at the very least – double check the measurements!

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