Judith Kerr, still going strong at 92, is surely a role-model for us all; in case you didn't see it, here's my report of her appearance at last year's Edinburgh International Book Festival where she took the stage with her son Matthew Kneale to explore creative heritage.
Back to books now, and in other news, the Costa Book Awards shortlists have been announced, and I'm pleased to see Melissa Harrison's At Hawthorn Time in the novel category. It's a story of contemporary rural life set over a spring month, but it's an original and unsettling piece, beautifully done, and it deserves its place on the list.
Lastly today, as a PLR Twitter advocate I'm reminding UK writers to ensure that ALL your books are registered at www.plr.uk.com. Paperbacks and audiobooks - anything with a different ISBN - should be listed along with hardbacks so that they qualify for payment under the PLR scheme. Illustrators and translators should check, too. If you have writer friends, please nudge them to make sure their registration is up to date.
Writers are often asked where they get their ideas, and I've heard that question labelled 'silly'. I think the criticism is unwarranted, as what is being asked for, in effect, is an explanation of the creative process. While that may be impossible to do fully and satisfactorily, there are surely sufficient identifiable 'germs' of an idea (in whatever medium it might be) for an artist of any kind to outline a work's genesis.
Neil Gaiman sums it all up nicely here, while Diana Wynne-Jones, in the piece 'Answers to Some Questions' in Reflections on the Magic of Writing says, "My very favourite form of [the question] was asked by a twelve-year-old: 'Where do you get your ideas, or do you think of them for yourself?' Very shrewdly put, because some part of an idea, if it is going to start a book developing, has to relate to something outside me, even if I don't exactly get it from this outside thing. It has to be a creative mix of interior and exterior notions ..."
4th Estate have just launched RE4DINGS, videos of a selection of their authors reading short extracts of their new books. I rather enjoyed Jonathan Franzen's one, though I think his character Pip needs to be introduced to Nigel Slater and proper baking forthwith.
Authors are not always the best people to read their own work, however. There are notable exceptions, of course - Alan Bennett and Alexander McCall Smith come to mind, and Hilary Mantel is another (see this post), but not everyone has the skills required to lift the text off the page. The right actor can make it sing: Martin Jarvis is utterly brilliant at reading P.G. Wodehouse, for instance, while Hugh Laurie makes a very fine job of the McCall Smith Portuguese Irregular Verb series, but to go back to the writers themselves and the scores of them I've heard at literary events, for me the readings are usually the least interesting part of the thing. I'd much rather listen to a writer discussing their work, and then go and read it for myself if I'm so minded.
"What happened to those left behind when Alice went to Wonderland?
When Alice fell down the rabbit-hole she found Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But how did Victorian Oxford react to Alice's disappearance?
Gregory Maguire turns his imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Lewis Carroll's enduring tale, this year celebrating its 150th. birthday. Ada, a friend mentioned briefly in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, sets out to visit Alice, but arriving a moment too late, tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.
Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and bring her safely home from this surreal world below the world. The White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and the bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts interrupt their mad tea party to suggest a conundrum: if Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or if Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life.
Either way, everything that happens next is After Alice."
As we enter October I've looked back at my reading journal (kept since 2002) to see what I was reading on this day in previous years. Unsurprisingly, some books remain vivid in the memory while others have faded. I've marked with an asterisk the ones I'd particularly recommend.
W.H. Smith has joined forces with Marie Curie to launch The Big Readcycle, whereby until the 28th of August you can drop off books you've read and loved and would like to pass on at collection points within Smith's stores, or Marie Curie shops, of course. In return for your donation you'll be given a voucher for 25% off books at W.H. Smith, and all donated books will be sold in Marie Curie shops to benefit that charity and further the very important work that it does.
You can find your nearest branch of Smith's by searching here and you can search for local Marie Curie shops here. The aim is to have 30,000 books donated over the next four weeks, so I'm filling a couple of bags to drop off later today. If you can do the same and want to spread the word on Twitter, use the hashtag #readcycle or link to @WHSmith and @MarieCurieUK; the latter is also on Facebook.
Later: I've delivered my load of books, and now would like to point you in the direction of some cake-related fundraising!
"Shannon studied in London during the 1880s and remained there, enjoying success as a society portraitist and figure painter. Jungle Tales portrays the artist's wife reading to their daughter, Kitty, shown in profile, and another child. The painting's title and date and its London origin suggest the little group is captivated by Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, which had appeared in 1894...".
I saw this painting in The Met the other day and loved it - the power of a story to engage and enrapture!
I've been in New York for a few days, staying - appropriately - here.
Mr. C. and I occupied the Biography room at the hotel; each floor is dedicated to one of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System, and within that each room reflects a topic and is lavishly supplied with books accordingly, so we had much good reading from which to choose.
I am only a few pages from the end of Linda Lear's excellent Beatrix Potter: The extraordinary life of a Victorian genius, and I've been spinning it out, reluctant to leave not only a meticulously researched, beautifully written biography, but also the Lakeland world of the last century, and the book's very detailed picture of Beatrix and her abiding interests and passions. If you're at all interested in the subject, I recommend it most highly.
Before we go, here's an addition to the as yet sparsely populated Writers' Dogs archive: Beatrix in 1913 with her favourite collie Kep, who of course appears in The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck and does sterling work regarding the fox.
Here's something I'd love to go to if I could, a printing masterclass offered by Faber & Faber:
"This Masterclass is perfect for people with no prior experience to learn how to prepare work, and print on a press from start to finish. You will learn hand typesetting in both lead and wooden type, how to lock up your work into a forme, selecting paper stock, choosing and mixing inks and how to set up the presses. At the end of the day, you’ll take home your own unique poetry print."
"Beatrix wrote to Norman Warne just after Christmas with obvious pleasure, 'Did you ever happen to see a review of the Tailor in The Tailor and Cutter, the paper which the mouse on the bobbin is reading?' She had given a copy to her old Chelsea tailor, who in turn, had shown it to a traveller from the trade journal telling him how Beatrix had sketched his shop. The 'beautiful review', as Beatrix called it, appeared appropriately on Christmas Eve. It read:
... we think it is by far the prettiest story connected with tailoring we have ever read, and as it is full of that spirit of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, we are not ashamed to confess that it brought the moisture to our eyes, as well as the smile to our face. It is got up in choicest style and illustrated by twenty-seven of the prettiest pictures it is possible to imagine."