‘i’ before ‘e’

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One of my hobbies is collecting old books; the older the better, and I have a few eighteenth and nineteenth century books, with a couple of seventeenth century books amongst them. One thing I’ve noticed about old books is that there’s very little regard paid to spelling, and the older the book, the truer this seems to be.

I’ve read, via the wonders of Wikipedia, that that in the sixteenth century Shakespeare spelt his own name in several different ways throughout his life, and that, over the years since then, other people have spelt it in even more different ways, until the spelling of his name finally became more fixed in the last hundred years or so. The same seems to apply to most words in written English.

What I like about old books and manuscripts, apart from the fact that it feels like you are touching and reading an actual piece of history, is that as far as spelling went, the writers just didn’t care. They happily spelt words in different ways, even on the same page. It was of no concern to them, or to their readers come to that, how the words were spelt, as long as everyone could tell what word it was supposed to be and get the general meaning of the sentence.

I find this carefree lack of concern about spelling really refreshing, and most likely this is because I was so shockingly bad at spelling at school. I’d wait apprehensively at my desk as the marked spelling tests and essays were handed out, covered in red ink, and often with the terrifying comment, ‘See me’, emblazoned across the top corner. Did it really matter if I’d got my ‘i’s and ‘e’s the wrong way round? Was putting only one ‘t’ instead of two, such a terrible crime? Was there ever a time when the word I was aiming for wasn’t obvious to the teacher? Probably not.

The dog can’t spell, and does it bother him? Not at all! Whether it says ‘dog fude’ or ‘dog fud’, or even ‘dog food’, on the packets in the kitchen cupboard, doesn’t bother him at all. He’s happy, so long as we can read it well enough to understand what the contents are when we’re shopping. And he’ll stay happy, so long as the contents of the packets get put into his bowl at breakfast time and tea time (he definitely can tell the time, by the way, and in fact, takes time-keeping very seriously, but that’s another story, for a different day).

So I have a lot of liking for those long-gone authors who were so happy-go-lucky about what letters should go where, even when it came to their own names. Well done them for not caring about it, and what a shame for those of us in these modern times, who have to get it right. Still, it could be worse – at least these days we have spell-check to do some of the work for us!

What If…

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So, my book is now out! There are quite a few pre-orders on Amazon, I’ve spoken to all the book shops that are within a few miles of where I live, and I’ve contacted local libraries. What’s more, I’ve got a box of books waiting in my cupboard, ready to take to primary schools in September. The publisher has contacted long lists of people and organisations as well, so as far as the marketing goes, it’s all good! Will they all sell? Who knows, we’ll just have to wait and see.

But the next thing coming up will be the stage where people who have bought the book, start to give me feedback. What will they think? Will they like it? And if they don’t, will they tell me the truth? And if they tell me the truth, will I like what they’ve got to say?! Hmm!

Worrying about what people will or won’t say about the book when they’ve read it (assuming they buy it in the first place!), makes me think how much many of us worry about things, over which we have no control. I like to think of myself as an optimist, but I still spend a good amount of time worrying, probably like most other people. A lot of us are constantly thinking about what could go wrong in the future, rather than focusing on what could go right, or even trying to relax and not think about the future at all.

As I mentioned in my last post, the dog always looks on the bright side, and it would never occur to him to think that something might not go well. But, more than that, not only does he not think about bad things happening in the future, he doesn’t really think about the future at all – he lives entirely in the moment, enjoying what he’s doing at the time, with complete concentration and with no thought to tomorrow. If he’s enjoying chewing a bone, that is enough for him, and he will just get on with enjoying it. When he’s had enough of it, he’ll move on to something else and put all his concentration into the new activity – even if the new activity involves stealing clothes out of the laundry basket, and tearing them into tiny pieces in a quiet corner of the kitchen.

I know that being human beings with complex lives, we do need to think about and plan for the future. However, as far as I can, I will certainly try to be more like the dog – at the moment, my book is published and much of the marketing work has been done – I’ll just enjoy the moment!

Roll up, roll up…

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Well, it has to be said that we all, including the dog of course, really enjoyed ‘Little Christmas’, and I would definitely recommend it! If you haven’t read my last blog post you will doubtless now be feeling confused, but have a look at the ‘Little Christmas’ post, and all will become clear.

Now that Little Christmas is over everything has gone back to normal, and the very exciting news is that my book is now actually published! This being the case, I’m thinking more and more about how to go about selling it. I’ve never been a very good saleswoman, despite spending some time in the marketing department of the organisation I worked for in America, years ago. Still, promoting other people’s products and services is one thing, but the idea of having to promote something I’ve made myself, goes against all my better feelings. Surely that’s just showing off?

The publishers are doing a lot of the marketing for me, but I need to get involved as well, and I’m now at the stage of working with them to promote and market the book. This involves a lot of online work, but also, horror of horrors, taking paper copies of my Advance Information sheet into bookshops, and talking to real people in buying departments about why they should order copies of my book!

If someone asks me if my book is any good, my natural response is, ‘Well, I think so, so hopefully you might like it too.’ However, in the wonderful world of marketing, apparently the right response is actually, ‘Yes, it’s brilliant, so order twenty copies at once and give them to all your friends for Christmas!’ The appropriate follow-up is then, ‘You should order them today as well, otherwise they’ll probably all be sold out, and you’ll kick yourself for missing out on the chance to get a first edition!’

I’m sat next to the dog as I write this, and I’m struck by the fact that he has no such problems with shameless self-promotion. For example, if a visitor tickles the dog’s ear and remarks that he’s a lovely boy, he does not respond by saying, ‘Oh, am I? I’m sure I’m not, but how very kind of you to say so!’ In fact, he leaps on the opportunity to chat to someone who agrees with his own high opinion of himself, and immediately congratulates the visitor on their good taste and their keen observational skills. He’ll then go on to suggest that they might like to expand on which aspects of him they think are the most outstanding.

It’s also interesting to see how he responds when a visitor arrives who is less fond of dogs. Does he sit quietly in the corner, wondering why they haven’t come over to admire him, and worrying about whether he isn’t actually a very good dog, after all? No – he assumes that, by some oversight, they haven’t yet noticed him. How awful it would be, he thinks, if this person missed the opportunity to stroke his soft ears, and view his beautiful fur from closer range. Then he launches himself across the kitchen, tail wagging wildly and paw confidently extended.

Once again I’m finding myself learning from the dog – instead of hoping people might like my book, and worrying about whether they won’t, clearly I should be assuming that they’ll love it, and worrying instead about the fact that some people might miss out on the opportunity to read it, if I don’t push it right under their noses.

So here we go – my book is now available to buy, earlier than expected (I think the printers must have worked through their tea breaks!), so don’t forget to order a copy of this brilliant new children’s book, ‘The Secret of the Wooden Chest’, either from Amazon (where it’ll be available as soon as they receive their stock) , your local book shop or direct from the publishers at http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=4532

Happy reading, and please consider leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, both of which will accept reviews regardless of where your copy was bought!

In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about the process of marketing the book…

Once Upon a (more grown-up) Time…

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In my last blog, I wrote about my favourite children’s books, and I had a great response with plenty of people letting me know which their own favourite children’s books were. It’s really nice to hear about books that I’ve either forgotten about or never heard of, and then go and have a look at them.

Now I’ve moved on to books for grown-ups (not that grown-ups shouldn’t read children’s books as well, of course; they definitely should!). The dog asked whether any of the books I’ve chosen feature either food or dogs, and I was able to reassure him that the second book features both! Here goes with the first one…

‘Something Fresh’ by P. G. Wodehouse (first published in the UK by Methuen and Co, 1915) – this was one of the first ‘grown-up’ books that I read, and is the first of the Wodehouse books in the Blandings Castle Saga. It features the castle and its occupants; Lord Emsworth, his family and friends and of course his beloved pig, The Empress of Blandings. I’d never heard of P. G. Wodehouse until one evening in the 1980s when I was helping my dad to paint a bedroom, and we had the radio on in the background. A dramatization of one of the Blandings stories was on Radio 4 at the time, and it was so hilarious that the next day I went straight off to the library to see what Wodehouse books they had. Ever since then, if I need cheering up at a time when the dog isn’t available, I turn to a Wodehouse book.

‘Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)’ by Jerome K. Jerome (first published by J. W. Arrowsmith in 1889) – the most complete book I’ve ever read, having a little sad bit and comments on society as well as being really funny nearly all the way through, and certainly the only book I’ve had to put down for a full five minutes while I laughed properly, before I was fit to carry on reading. This was at the bit where they try to open a tin of pineapple – if you haven’t read this book, it’s worth reading it just for this section alone. Incidentally, the dog has asked me to point out that Montmorency (the dog in the book), is one of the best characters – he may be right.

‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau (first published by Ticknor and Fields, Boston, 1854) – I first came across this book when I was living in New York in the early 1990s. I’d never heard of the book or the author, but for a while it seemed that every time I went into a bookshop (which was quite often!), it was the first book that I noticed on the shelves. After it had caught my eye about three times, I bought a copy, and it was a life-changer. It’s the story of the author’s experience of trying to live a simple, almost-self-sufficient life, living in a small, wooden house in the woods. Reading this book in my mid-twenties didn’t make me want to become self-sufficient, but it did change my sense of what’s important in life.

‘The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold’ by Evelyn Waugh (first published by Chapman and Hall, 1957) – I’d never heard of this book until a friend gave me a copy as a birthday present. It was the first Evelyn Waugh book I’d read, and it’s a fascinating and partly-autobiographical account of a time when Waugh suffered from hallucinations, brought on by some medication he’d been taking. The book tells the story of a man who starts to hear voices while on a sea voyage. As it’s written very much from the main character’s point of view, it’s hard to tell, at least until the end of the book, which voices are real and which aren’t. This book made me realise how incredibly skilled authors like Waugh are, at weaving a convincing story from the main character’s perspective.

The sharp-eyed reader might have noticed that I had more favourite children’s books in my last blog, than I have favourite grown-up books in this one. What can I say? Children’s books must be the best books – and a furry friend, who’s been waiting (almost) patiently for his walk, has just reminded me that this is especially the case if the books in question feature dogs!

Please, please tell me if you have a favourite grown-up book that isn’t on this list, and I’d also love to hear if any of my favourites are also yours.

Next time I’ll talk about my experience of what it’s like trying to write, while the house is full of builders!

Once Upon a Time…

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What children’s books have influenced you the most? I was thinking about this the other day, when I was reading a story to the dog (yes, he is terribly indulged!). I was reading ‘The Magic Porridge Pot’, from the 1970’s Ladybird ‘Well-loved Tales’ series. When I was a toddler it was one of my favourite books, my kids also loved it when they were younger, and it’s nice to see that now (I like to think!) the dog enjoys it equally. Whether it’s the idea of limitless supplies of porridge that appeals to him, or whether he just likes listening to the rhythm of the spoken words as he falls asleep, who can say?

It made me think about which books I would put on my list of favourite children’s books, so here they are –

‘The Magic Porridge Pot’ by Vera Southgate (first published by Ladybird Books Ltd, 1971) – This is a great story for toddlers (and dogs!), all about a pot that supplies a never-ending supply of porridge. It features lots of repetitive phrases and, in the original version at least, some lovely pictures.

‘Paddington Abroad’ by Michael Bond (first published by Collins, 1961) – always my favourite of all the Paddington books as, unusually for the Paddington novels, it has a continuous story (about the Brown family’s holiday to France), running throughout. As a result of this hysterically funny book, the first French word I knew the meaning of was ‘escargot’. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that the chapter featuring ‘escargot’, is one of the best bits. I can remember sitting up in bed looking at the cover when I was about five years old, and thinking that I couldn’t wait until I could read, so that I wouldn’t have to wait for an adult to read the rest of it to me.

‘Five Children and It’ by E. Nesbit (first published by Unwin, 1902) – When I was about seven, I went to the school fete and noticed this book on the tombola stall. It looked interesting and I was determined to win it. When the stall-holder told me that I had a winning ticket, I reached out happily to pick up the book, but was firmly told that I had won a bar of soap instead, and should be pleased that I had won anything at all. I was very disappointed, but within a year or so I’d managed to somehow get hold of a copy, which became one of my most-read books for the next few years. I loved the idea of normal, down-to-earth children who somehow got involved in magic, and this was in the back of my mind when I had a go at writing my own children’s book.

‘The Magician’s Nephew’ by C. S. Lewis (first published by Bodley Head, 1955) – another book featuring normal children who get involved in magic, but this time a whole, magical world. Although this is officially the first book in the ‘Narnia’ series, I think that it is a shame that it often gets overlooked or even completely forgotten, in favour of the second book, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. In my opinion, ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ is the best one in the series.

‘Jennings goes to School’ by Anthony Buckeridge (first published by Collins, 1950) – this is the first in a series of twenty-three books, all about an eleven year old boy called Jennings and his best friend Darbishire, who go to boarding school. The whole series is hilarious, and I read these books over and over again as a child, buying most of my copies from jumble sales and second-hand shops. Since I’ve become a grown-up, I’ve been able to extend my collection via the wonder of Ebay (although I still don’t have them all), and I still think they are brilliant, side-splitting books.

‘The Sword in the Stone’ by T. H. White (first published by Collins, 1938) – the first long-ish book I bought and read as a child, mainly as a result of stubbornness. I was in a bookshop with my mum, and, glancing round the shelves, I picked this book up. The bookseller looked at me with raised eyebrows. ‘You don’t want to buy that one,’ he said, in a smug, knowledgeable way. ‘It’s far too old for you.’ There was nothing he could have said, that would have made me more determined to buy and read that book. It’s an excellent story, all about the fictional childhood of the legendary King Arthur (known as ‘Wart’ in the story), and as well as excitement and adventure, has some great funny bits as well.

If you’ve got a favourite children’s book that isn’t on my list, let me know.

Typing away for this long about my favourite books has inspired me to go and dig through the bookshelves to see what else I’ve got. Next time, I’ll write something about my favourite fiction for grown-ups. In the mean-time I need to go and read the dog his bedtime story…

Are you laughing yet?

 

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My dog has a very well developed sense of humour. He thinks it is hilarious to put a ball down at my feet, nudge it towards me and then step back carelessly, as though the last thing in the world that he would want to do, is to pick up that ball ever again. Then, just as I reach down to pick it up, he leaps forwards and gleefully snatches it away from my fingers at the last minute. He shakes his head in delight and goes prancing away, the ball in his mouth, snorting and sneezing to himself at his amazing ability to trick me. A few seconds later he’ll come back and lay the ball at my feet again. He looks at me innocently. ‘Go on,’ he says, eyes wide, ‘it’s yours… just pick it up!’ He knows I can’t resist, and the joke starts all over again. Mind you, he can dish it out, but he can’t take it back – if I try the same trick on him, he looks at me with hurt surprise, before wandering away sadly, shaking his head at his misfortune at living with such a cruel owner.

Like the dog, I like a bit of humour. I’ve always loved funny books, both as a child and as an adult, so when I started writing my children’s book, I really wanted it to have some funny bits in it – it didn’t necessarily need to be laugh-out-loud funny all the way through, as most of it is mystery/drama/magic, but in my opinion and experience, all the best children’s books have at least some humour in them, and at least one character who is funny (either intentionally or unintentionally), most of the time. In my first book, Hannah’s dad is the character who brings in most of the humour – often at his own expense.

When I told the dog that I was planning to start a second book in the series, he thought it was a good idea, but he was very firm with me on one point – the second book needed to include at least one dog. I bowed to his (as always, excellent), opinion, and so near the beginning of the second book, Hannah got a puppy. Although Hannah’s dad continued to have a humorous role in book two, the puppy helped out a lot with adding in plenty of extra funny bits, and at the dog’s insistence, I made sure that Hannah’s puppy, although a girl, was the same breed and had the same markings, as my dog.

When I’d finished the first draft, I read it out-loud to the dog and he seemed very pleased; laughing away, in his sneezy doggy-way, as I read the section about the puppy’s arrival. The dog and I smiled at each other – I’d entertained him and helped to keep his (already well-developed), sense of humour alive – my job, for that day at least, was done!