I highly recommend Ford Street Publishing when you’re looking for high quality books for children and young adults.
Their mission statement explains that their books explore themes of contemporary relevance. One of their goals is to “provide children and young adults with literary works that explore the significant social issues of our time with intelligence and ingenuity. We see our books as speaking to broad audiences – in Australia and abroad – and not as being ‘issue-bound’ to any marginalised group of which they speak. The quality of our books goes hand-in-hand with building our reputation as a publisher.”
Their mission statement continues: “As well as taking pride in the calibre of our books, we always pay much attention to the design and presentation of our books.
“Our books span beautifully presented picture books for early learners, stimulating titles for the education market, and entertaining and socially conscious books for intermediate readers and young adults. Some of our young adult novels also achieve crossover into adult markets.”
I recommend Ford Street Publishing for their excellence, because director Paul Collins is a friend I’ve known for many years, and because they are publishing a short story of mine in March 2024.
Look out for “Borderlands: Tales from the Edge — a new anthology.” It’s going to be spectacular, with fifty short stories, illustrated by Anne Ryan, and it’s due for release in March 2024.
Isobelle Carmody will write the foreword. Other authors include Bill Condon, David Metzenthen, Kirsty Murray, John Larkin, Justin D’Ath and Simon Higgins.
My contribution is called “The Churchyard Yarrow” and it’s set in a fantasy version of the late 18th century. It is, in fact, a shard of a longer story (another trilogy) – a work in progress.
I’ve always been inspired by, and drawn to, the sound of different languages. Ditto for music, especially folk and rock. Hearing people speak certain languages, or even hearing their accent when speaking my native tongue, can have a physical effect on me, generating tingles up my spine and a strong sense of pleasure. Music can do the same; think of standing in a cathedral whose pipe organ suddenly produces a loud, prolonged chord in some minor key. The effect thrills and saturates you from your toes to the roots of your hair.
Some of my favourite accents include Finnish, Spanish, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. I also love the English regional accents.
The look of the written words of various languages also appeals to me. The Cyrillic alphabet looks amazing on the page. Japanese and Chinese pictograms look gorgeous, and of course we all love Egyptian hieroglyphs.
In the Roman alphabet, the written languages that strike straight to my heart include Irish and Welsh. I read somewhere that as a boy, JRR Tolkien lived in a house with a railway line at the bottom of the back garden, He used to love reading the Welsh names on the freight trucks as they rolled by. I can see why!
I have four works in this beautiful anthology, including poems and short stories. Here’s the blurb:
In the footsteps of the High Priestess of Fantasy… Tanith Lee – 1947-2015 – was a huge influence on fantasy literature, and a towering inspiration to a generation of writers, who were captivated by her iconic, poetic prose, her deft use of language, her surreal visions and her ground-breaking ideas.
Many successful authors claim that discovering the work of Tanith Lee encouraged them to write in the first place. In particular, she was instrumental in giving women writers the confidence to break the staid moulds of the genre – to be evocative, sensual and daring in their work, to smash boundaries.
Its title inspired by Tanith’s Flat Earth sequence of books, (in particular Night’s Master), Night’s Nieces is a collection of stories by female writers, who not only counted Tanith Lee as a close friend, but also as a mentor, a teacher and an inspiration. Tanith, having no children herself, considered these younger women to be her ‘nieces’ and offered her support to their writing. While the ‘nieces’ included in this book do not encompass all of Tanith’s close writer friends – for she had many – it amply provides a sample of her legacy.
Each ‘niece’ has written a short story inspired by Tanith’s work, as well as an accompanying article describing how Tanith influenced her career and sharing fond memories of her friendship. The book also includes previously unpublished photographs from Tanith’s life, as well as artwork by the authors.
Contributors include Storm Constantine, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Vera Nazarian, Sarah Singleton, Kari Sperring, Sam Stone, Freda Warrington and Liz Williams. With an introduction by John Kaiine.
Why eat nothing but toast for every meal when you can enjoy a feast of diverse foods for free?
Like so many people, (such as Kate Burridge and Giles Brandreth ) I love words. We love their sound, the nuances of their meanings, their etymology, their power, and even the way they look written down. As a youngster I used to read the dictionary and thesaurus for fun. I love learning new words (in all languages) and increasing my vocabulary.
How is it helpful to learn more words?
Having a wide vocabulary is essential to effective communication, and it can have a lot of benefits both in personal and professional contexts. Here are some of the most important benefits of a wide vocabulary:
Clear and effective communication: A wide vocabulary can help you express your thoughts and ideas more clearly and accurately. When you have a good command of words, you can choose the right words to convey your message with precision and avoid ambiguity. This is particularly important in professions that require clear communication such as teaching, public speaking, and writing.
Improved comprehension: A wide vocabulary also makes it easier to understand what others are saying or writing. You can pick up on subtle nuances in language and understand complex concepts more easily. This can be particularly beneficial when reading academic texts or when participating in intellectual conversations.
Enhanced creativity: A wide vocabulary can also help to enhance your creativity. When you have a large pool of words to draw from, you can express your ideas in unique and innovative ways. This can be particularly useful when writing creatively or when trying to come up with new ideas at work.
Improved cognitive abilities: Studies have shown that having a wide vocabulary can also improve cognitive abilities, such as memory and critical thinking. Learning new words requires active engagement with the language and can help to stimulate the brain and keep it agile.
Better job prospects: A wide vocabulary can be an asset in the workplace. It can make you a more effective communicator, improve your writing skills, and enhance your ability to understand complex texts. These skills are highly valued by employers, and can give you an edge in the job market.
It’s worth investing time and effort into learning new words and expanding your vocabulary. Reading, playing word games, and using new words in your writing and speech are all great ways to build your vocabulary and reap the benefits that come with it.
Recently I read somewhere that “NASA spent millions to develop a pen that would write in space, whereas the Soviet cosmonauts used a pencil.” This turns out to be a myth, but it got me thinking about pencils – in particular pencils with a graphite core (commonly known as “lead pencils” (despite the fact there’s no lead in them).
In the trenches of The Somme during the First World War, my great-uncle wrote letters to his loved ones at home using a pencil. To this day, those poignant missives can still be easily read. This indicates that pencils have archival qualities. Presumably he simply sharpened the pencils with a pocket-knife whenever they wore down.
The Reidinger website lists the benefits of pencils:
pencils are cheap writing utensils.
there are various hardness degrees for different areas of use.
you can get pencils nearly everywhere.
different types and designs are available.
pencils are easy to handle.
they write perfectly at any temperature.
they write in any position or situation (overhead or in space!)
Made a mistake? No problem – simply erase the wrong parts
words written with a pencils have a high resistance to light
a writing length up to 50,000 metres!
the sound of writing on paper, and the sound of the pencil sharpener that sharpens a blunt pencil
Wikipedia’s article on pencils says, “Pencils create marks by physical abrasion, leaving a trail of solid core material that adheres to a sheet of paper or other surface. They are distinct from pens, which dispense liquid or gel ink onto the marked surface.
“Most pencil cores are made of graphite powder mixed with a clay binder. Graphite pencils (traditionally known as “lead pencils”) produce grey or black marks that are easily erased, but otherwise resistant to moisture, most chemicals, ultraviolet radiation and natural aging. “
I like to carry paper and a writing utensil with me wherever I go, in case inspiration strikes. I’ve given up carrying ballpoint pens. They seem to inconveniently dry up with no explanation. Pencils are more reliable, (unless you drop them and the internal core fractures in a million places along its length, prior to falling out in small, annoying fragments).
These days, we can buy “metal pens”. Wired’s article Neither Pen Nor Pencil: Write Endlessly In Metal explains the principle: ” A tiny amount of metal alloy transfers from the pen to the page. Unlike pencil, it can’t be smudged with your hand, and unlike ink, it doesn’t need to dry. The amount of alloy for each stroke is so tiny that the pens are expected to last a lifetime without needing to be refilled or replaced. You can sharpen the tips for a finer point with a little sandpaper.”
The disadvantages? The alloy in some of these pens contains trace amounts of lead, so it’s not so good for kids, and the thought of lead in my writing is disconcerting.
“Metalpoint is a traditional drawing technique in which a thin metal stylus, usually of silver, is used with paper that has been prepared with an abrasive coating traditionally made from powdered bone and gum-water. As the point is drawn along the surface, tiny traces of metal are left behind creating a delicate and very precise line.”
Artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer and Rembrandt all used metal styluses made of lead, tin or silver. The technique is called Silverpoint when the stylus is made of silver, and this was the most favoured metal.
The pencil I’m using right now
I’m currently using a Columbia Copperplate HB pencil to write down ideas. It’s also useful for drawing visual representations of your concepts, and even shading your pictures for a 3D effect.
How pencils are made
Finally, if you’re into watching videos on YouTube, try this one. It’s by Faber-Castell, and it’s called “How We Make Pencils”.
Why I am writing a post about that amazingly talented, beautiful and genuinely nice man Jon English? Well, because of all of the above, because he’s one of the few Australian performers ever to successfully combine a career in music, television and stage, and because he unknowingly played a part in my life.
When I was a teenager I auditioned for a musical. Jon English was in charge of the auditions. I was starstruck. My singing voice came out sounding like a strangled squeak. I will always remember how kind he was to me. “We’re looking for a rock singer. You’d be best as a folk singer.” What a gentleman, not to crush my youthful hopes, as he could have done so easily!
I went on to sing in two folk bands.
Jon’s performances in Jesus Christ Superstar were electrifying. It’s a pity there isn’t a better quality video of them available online.
I would like to ask the universe in general two questions:
SHE by H Rider Haggard (full title “She: A History of Adventure” “is one of the foundational works of fantasy literature, published around the time of The Princess and the Goblin (1858) by George MacDonald, William Morris’ The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World’s End, and the short stories of Lord Dunsany.”*
“Several authors, including JRR Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling, Henry Miller, Graham Greene and Margaret Atwood, have acknowledging its importance to their own and others’ writing. With more than 83 million copies sold, the novel is one of the best-selling fictional works of all time and has been translated into 44 languages.” [Wikipedia]
The Leaves of Gold Press edition of SHE includes an introduction written by me. It is also the first edition to contain illustrations from not one but four acclaimed artists who were contemporaries of JRR Tolkien, and whose works he admired:
Charles H.M. Kerr
E. K. Johnson, and
G. C. Wilmshurst.
“She” was first published in book form in 1887. The story is an enduring classic, more than a century old. It’s a fantasy adventure packed with action, mystery, wonder, supernatural marvels and beauty, along with violence and darkness. While it bears some of the now-discredited hallmarks of the era in which it was written, it remains an enthralling page-turner. Critics consider it one of the most influential novels in modern literature.
Refreshingly, considering 19th century social attitudes, the story features a strong woman with a complex personality as the central character. Haggard’s representation of womanhood has received both praise and criticism.
SHE is one of those powerful stories whose popularity endures for centuries. The story has been made into movies and radio dramas.
Tolkien and SHE
In common with every writer, Professor JRR Tolkien was influenced by many books. When he was growing up, he greatly enjoyed reading all the works of H. Rider Haggard. He stated in a 1966 interview, “I suppose as a boy SHE interested me as much as anything. . .” Many interesting parallels can be drawn between “The Lord of the Rings” and SHE. Readers will find echoes of Galadriel and her mirror here, and arguably, even the literary progenitors of Frodo and The One Ring.
Tanith Lee and SHE
Tanith Lee’s superb science fantasy novel THE BIRTHGRAVE, first published in 1975, is also the first novel in The Birthgrave Trilogy. The story follows a nameless protagonist who awakens with amnesia. She travels across a fantastic, epic landscape on a quest to discover her past and her identity. The novel was nominated for the 1975 Nebula Award for best novel.
I was captivated by THE BIRTHGRAVE the moment I began to read it, and it remains one of the favourites on my bookshelves. On re-reading SHE, I began to see Haggard’s influence on Lee’s enchanting fantasy work. A volcano. An exotic, wild landscape. Ancient, ruined cities. Lost civilizations. A powerful, beautiful woman who is close to immortal. . .
Dart-Thornton and SHE
In turn, THE BIRTHGRAVE influenced my own writing. The beauty of Lee’s prose was a revelation to me, but more than that, I found the concept of someone who awakens with no memories, no past, no identity, deeply intriguing. That became the seed of THE BITTERBYNDE TRILOGY.
[Ref: Cornwell, Neil (1990). The Literary Fantastic: from Gothic to Postmodernism. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf. ISBN 978-0-7450-0804-2. Also Clute, John (2002). Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St Martin’s.]
Warning: do not read any further unless you are interested in deeply geeky stuff.
Words. I’ve always been fascinated by them. It’s not just the meanings they convey, but the sound of words, and the way they look written down.
Certain languages have an added appeal for me because they sound amazing when spoken, they look mysterious and exciting when written down, and they are bafflingly unlike my own mother tongue – the language you, the reader, presumably knows also, if you’re able to decipher this post.
Such a language is Welsh. It’s “a Celtic language of the Brittonic subgroup that is native to the Welsh people,” says Wikipedia. “Welsh evolved from Common Brittonic, the Celtic language spoken by the ancient Celtic Britons.”
Up till now, the only languages I’ve been familiar with (aside from Pig Latin, Elvish and Klingon) are English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and a smattering of Russian.
Google says there are 48 language families, and they are are at the root of all human languages.
Those I’ve mentioned above all descend from the ancient and widespread Indo-European language family.
The Indo-European family is divided into several branches, of which there are eight with languages still alive today and another nine that are now extinct.
English and German are descended from the Germanic branch, Russian from the Balto-Slavic, French, Italian and Spanish are from the Italic (they have another sub-group, called “Romance“) and Welsh from the Celtic.
The Celtic branch is very distinct. It’s divided into two sub-groups: the Goidelic (or Gaelic) languages and the Brythonic (or Brittonic) languages. I’m intrigued by both of these sub-groups but decided to focus on Welsh due to time constraints. (Oh and Wales has dragons, too, which is a bonus.)
J R R Tolkien and the Welsh language
It was listening to a Welsh song that inspired me to start learning the language. That, and the fact that my literary hero J R R Tolkien was also inspired by Welsh. As a boy, he used to see Welsh place-names painted on coal trucks from South Wales that clattered along on a railway line adjoining his childhood garden in King’s Heath, Birmingham.
I should have said Welsh has always attracted me. By its style and sound more than any other, ever though I first only saw it on coal trucks, I always wanted to know what it was about.
~ J R R Tolkien
The mystery and beauty of the Welsh written language inspired him to create his own languages. He, too, was spellbound by it. On an early train journey into Wales, he spotted the name “Ebbw” and ‘just couldn’t get over it. Not long after I started inventing my own languages.’”
The spell cast by the song
Back to that song, “Yma O Hyd” (translating as “Still Here”). It’s a nationalist song, filled with passion, opening with the drumming of an acoustic guitar and the molten silver notes of a harp. Then in comes the mellow voice of the song’s composer, Dafydd Iwan. I make it a rule to avoid commenting on politics, and it was not the meaning of the song that entranced me (I had no idea what it meant) but the beauty of the language and the melody. As far as I was concerned, the song could have been about anything or nothing. To me it was magical.
For a start, right there in the third line is the word “flynyddoedd”. Gob-smacking. What a word! Completely unpronounceable, obviously, though Dafydd was somehow managing to sing it with no problems. I was tempted never to translate this beauty into English, in case it lost its magic by meaning something mundane like “beige” or “carpet-slippers”, but eventually I did. To its credit, it means “years”. This is a concept that’s majestic enough to suit such a word.
Anyway, what’s with all the “d”s and “y”s in “flynyddoedd”? Not to mention all the “w”s that inundate the rest of the Welsh language? I wonder if it’s something to do with ancient writing systems, and rune-derived characters we’ve lost over the last few thousand flynyddoedd?
“dd” for example is just a pale replacement for “eth”. Eth (uppercase: Ð, lowercase: ð) was a letter used in Old English. The sound is the “th” sound in “those”, “these” and “they”. If we brought eth back we could write “flynyddoedd” as “flynyðoeð”. That would make it look even more Elvish and magical.
The “Barred U” ʉ isn’t a missing rune, but it’s a symbol used in the International Phonetic Alphabet to indicate the sound “oo” as in “goose”. This would be very useful in writing Welsh, because currently the letter “w” is used to represent that sound.
On the other hand, using “w” for “oo” does increase the mystery and allure of the language. Take, for example, a word like “cwrw”. Written down, it looks impenetrable, esoteric, marvellous. It also sounds glorious, “cooroo”… the sound of the wind blowing through the boughs of pine trees at the edge of the ocean . . . cʉrʉ . . .
In fact the word simply means “beer”, which is nice, but a bit prosaic.
I vote we bring back the Old English runes wynn, Ƿ ƿ, thorn þ (the softer “th” sound in “thorn”) and eth ð.
Welsh vowels – some of the other mysteries
Youtuber Gwyneth Angharad teaches us about Welsh vowels. As well as pronouncing “w” as “oo”, you pronounce “u” as “i”. “Y” is mostly pronounced like schwa, the a vowel sound denoted by the IPA symbol ⟨ə⟩. Gwyneth describes this as “the lazy sound you have at the beginning of ‘alive’ or ‘about’.” Depending on where it is in a word, “y” can also sound like “i”. . .
It’s not easy learning Welsh!
Some of my favourite Welsh words
If Tolkien wasn’t inspired by the Welsh word for “The Netherlands” I’d be very surprised. It sounds as if it comes straight from Middle-Earth: “yr Iseldiroedd” (or Iseldiroeð if you use “eth”). So much more attractive than the English version!
Another magnificently Tolkienesque Welsh word is “hiraeth”. This is one of those special words whose meaning actually matches the haunting melodiousness of its sound.
“Hiraeth,” says Wikipedia, “is a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. The University of Wales, Lampeter, likens it to a homesickness tinged with grief and sadness over the lost or departed, especially in the context of Wales and Welsh culture. It is a mixture of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past.”
Just now I asked an AI chatbot if it could “write in the style of Cecilia Dart-Thornton.”
Certainly, I can try my best to write in the style of Cecilia Dart-Thornton. Here is a sample passage:
Amidst the misty vale, where the ancient trees swayed to a rhythm known only to the winds, there stood a solitary figure. Her raven-black hair cascaded down her back like a waterfall, and her eyes shone like emeralds in the pale light of dawn. She wore a gown of shimmering white, its fabric as soft as a swan’s down, and carried in her hand a staff of polished ash. She was the Lady of the Forest, a guardian of the wild, and her presence filled the air with a sense of wonder and magic.
As she walked, the leaves rustled under her feet, and the birds chirped a sweet melody. She paused by a pool of crystal-clear water and looked into its depths. There, she saw the reflection of a young girl with a heart full of hope and a spirit unbroken by the world’s harshness. It was a sight that brought a smile to her lips, for she knew that the girl would one day be a warrior of light, a beacon of hope in a world filled with darkness. And with that thought, she lifted her staff and continued on her journey, her heart filled with a sense of purpose and a deep love for all that was wild and free.
Is that how robots think I write? Of course AI is only in its infancy. . . it’s done its best. . . and to be fair I think it’s captured the general theme and ambience of my fantasy stories.
I blush at the idea the bot thinks my prose is THAT purple, however. 🙂 There are way too many adjectives, even for my liking. And there’s no way I’d every write “amidst the misty vale” because that doesn’t really make sense to me.
The bot rightly included references to emeralds and swans. . . and long hair . . . and love of nature . . . and pools in forests. . . and female protagonists. . . and journeys . . . it’s got a lot right, but this piece has a flavour that isn’t mine. (Obviously, because it isn’t mine). To me, it sounds rather immature and saccharine. But hey, it’s pretty good, regardless!
And of course, this is a bot-in-training. Doubtless given another year or two, it’ll improve out of sight, and I’ll be out of a job.
That’s the scary part!
The delightful part is that such amazing technology exists. I hope people use it for Good, and bring a beacon of hope to a world filled with darkness. . . .
“Katharine Briggs (8 November 1898 – 15 October 1980) was a British folklorist and writer, who wrote The Anatomy of Puck, the four-volume A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language, and various other books on fairies and folklore. From 1969 to 1972, she was president of the Folklore Society, which established an award in her name to commemorate her life and work.” [Wikipedia]
Her book “A Dictionary of Fairies” has been a favourite of mine since childhood. I’ve read it again and again. I’ve loved it so much it started to fall apart and I had it re-bound. The book has since been published under the title, “An Encyclopedia of Fairies“.
Briggs was a passionate, accurate and thorough researcher. She had a PhD with a thesis on Folklore in seventeenth-century literature. She wrote many other books on fairies and folklore, as well as a number of children’s books. “A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language: Part A: Folk Narratives (1970)” was re-published in three volumes in 2011 as Folk Tales of Britain, and is described by Philip Pullman in its introduction as the fullest and the most authoritative collection of British folktales that exists.
In 1969 Briggs was awarded the Doctorate in Literature, and made President of the Folklore Society, a post she held until 1972, and which named an award in her honour.
Briggs collected folk tales and fairy tales from people who had learned them, orally, from their forefathers. She found common threads, “types and motifs” within these tales, such as “Mortals as captives in Fairyland”, or “Tree spirits” or “Fairies steal”, or “Mortal not to thank fairy for gifts”. I use many of these motifs in my own work, which is inspired by British and Celtic folklore. One of them is “Golden hair”.
From Katharine Briggs’s “An Encyclopedia of Fairies”: “GOLDEN HAIR. Some of the FAIRIES were golden-haired, as presumably were the TYLWYTH TEG, or Fair Family, many of the FAIRIES OF MEDIEVAL ROMANCES and the Irish fairies of the TIR NAN OG, but many of them were black-haired and brown-skinned.
“Fair or dark, however, they all set great store by golden hair in mortals. A golden-haired child was in far more danger of being stolen than a dark one. It was often a golden-haired girl who was allured away to be a FAIRY BRIDE, as EILIAN OF GARTH DORWEN was; sometimes, too, the fairies adopted girls of especial beauty, and above all golden-haired, as their special charges; and when they could not protect them they avenged their wrongs.
That said, there appear to be some disadvantages to having golden hair in the Real World!
“Blonde stereotypes are stereotypes of blonde-haired people. Sub-types of this stereotype include the “blonde bombshell” and the “dumb blonde”. Blondes are stereotyped as more desirable, but less intelligent than brunettes. There are many blonde jokes made on these premises. Although chiefly aimed at women, jokes of this style have also been aimed at similar stereotypes associated with men, such as the “dumb jock”, the “surfer dude” and “himbo”.
Wikipedia “Blonde stereotype”
Beautiful golden hair such as that which belongs to the young girl in Gustavo Lacerda’s photo may be the result of albinism, an inherited condition that leads to animals or people (of any race) having very light skin, hair, and eyes. People with albinism are often considered to have a unique beauty. Their hair may be white, auburn or golden.
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