Monday, 19 September 2016

The Ship's Cat & Titanic Belfast

If you noticed my absence last week, it was because Terry and I were in Northern Ireland. The Titanic Maritime Museum in Belfast has long been on our list of must-visit places, and last week we finally got the chance. The museum is located on Queen’s Island, an area of land reclaimed from the water in the mid-19th century and a short walk from the centre of Belfast.

Titanic Belfast
It's impossible to be unimpressed by this gigantic structure. This is no ordinary building, clad as it is with thousands of individual silver shards. Around its base are pools of water, which appear to be as deep and black as the Atlantic Ocean must have looked at 2.20am on April 15, 1912. 
I’m sure the depth of the water is an illusion as there are neither warning signs nor guard rails. 


Looking up at this immense building, it is easy to imagine the iceberg that sent Titanic to her watery grave. I don’t know if the designers intended to give that impression, but it was certainly the feeling I got as I stood there. 

Titanic Belfast

The inside of the building is every bit as impressive as the outside.


The exhibition begins with an explanation of Belfast’s roots as an industrial centre.  Life-size silhouettes are projected on to the walls to give an impression of daily life.

Titanic Belfast
   

From here you are taken on a journey through the construction of the ship, her launch, a virtual tour of the decks and a peek inside a first, second and third class cabin.  





Titanic Belfast



One of the saddest parts of the exhibition is a gallery where the lighting is low and survivors’ voices (drawn from the BBC's archive) recall the horror of the sinking.  As you listen, you are directed along a series of boards detailing some of the distress messages sent to and from Titanic.






Titanic Belfast


Finally, screens beneath your feet take you on an underwater journey to the decaying remains in the Atlantic depths.



We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and are not surprised to learn Titanic Belfast has just been named Europe’s leading visitor attraction.


If you would like to find out more about the Titanic story there are numerous websites offering information. I found History.com and the BBC history websites especially interesting. The Titanic Belfast website is also well worth a look.

Or, if you are looking for an interesting read, I recommend Titanic and other ships written by Charles Herbert Lightoller (1874-1952). Published by Ivor Nicholson and Watson, London in 1935.   Lightoller was the second mate (second officer) on board the Titanic and the only senior officer to survive the disaster. He was also the last man to be taken aboard the rescue ship RMS Carpathia. Just six of the thirty six chapters deal directly with his time on board the Titanic, but I found the rest of his life equally interesting. Titanic and other ships is available on ABE books at time of writing should you wish to look for a copy. 


One final thing - a friend and reader of this blog asked me to keep a look out for the ship's cat. It pains me to say this, but I saw no sign of a cat. However, when I googled Titanic - ship's cat, I found this; 

It’s quite possible there were multiple cats aboard the ship. Many large ships used them to monitor the rodent and pest problem that plagued the lower decks. The Titanic’s mascot and well-known ship's cat, Jenny, was one such cat.

A stoker, Jim Mulholland, volunteered to look after Jenny when she transferred from Titanic’s sister ship Olympia. It was rumoured that the cat had a litter of kittens a week before the ship left from Southampton. But what happened to Jenny on the morning of April 15, 1912?

Reports vary. Some say she, and her kittens died along with most of the passengers. However, others report Jim Mulholland observed Jenny unloading her kittens from the Titanic one by one before it left port in Southampton. He took this as a bad omen, picked up his things, and also left the vessel. He credited the cat with saving his life. (Source

What really happened to Jenny is a mystery. But perhaps this feline photographed in Belfast’s Botanic gardens is one of her descendants?  

Belfast Northern Ireland Cat

Sunday, 4 September 2016

BOOKS FROM MY CHILDHOOD GUEST POST BY STEPHANIE FARIS + GIVEAWAY!

Kids may not believe it, but children’s authors were once children ourselves. Most of us started reading as soon as we could, discovering a love for books that would carry us well into adulthood. I was an avid reader from a young age, often turning to books the way today’s kids turn to their smartphones or iPads. 


While I can’t remember very many of my earlier books, here are some books that made a lasting impact on me.

The Rescuers (Little Golden Book)


I think everyone my age grew up on Little Golden Books. I know I read quite a few of them but one I distinctly remember was The Rescuers, which turns out to be Disney’s watered-down version of a true classic, The Rescuers by Margery Sharp. Disney took that classic and turned it into a movie, complete with merchandising and several tie-in books.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume




If you grew up in the 70s or early 80s, you probably read this one. It’s still considered the ultimate coming-of-age story for girls. As an adult, all I remember from this book was that her father cut his finger on the lawnmower and that she was obsessed with getting her period.

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger


I remember reading more than one of Paula Danziger’s books, but I related to this one as someone who never felt thin enough.

Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key


Two kids have special powers. What kid wouldn’t be fascinated with that? This book was already a movie by the time I read the book, but I didn’t see the movie until later.

Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan


I read several of Lois Duncan’s books, but this is the one I remember best. A group of kids take their English teacher to the woods to teach him a lesson. Things go horribly wrong.

I’m Christy by Maud Johnson


I read a crazy number of books in middle school, but this is one that stuck with me. I’m Christy was the first in a series. I only read the second one to figure out what happened (SPOILER ALERT) after her boyfriend died at the end of the first one. If that ending hadn’t been tacked on, I wouldn’t have remembered it. (Also, I remember it because a boy in band class was always teasing me, asking why I was reading a book called “Jim Christy.”)

There are so many others, but these are the books that I remember most vividly. I think that means the authors did something right! I’d love to see what your commenters say were their favorite books as kids.




Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing.

Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses. When she isn’t crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of online websites on the topics of business, technology, and her favorite subject of all—fashion. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a sales executive. 

Piper Morgan
By Stephanie Faris

When Piper Morgan has to move to a new town, she is sad to leave behind her friends, but excited for a new adventure. She is determined to have fun, be brave and find new friends.

In Piper Morgan Joins the Circus, Piper learns her mom’s new job will be with the Big Top Circus. She can’t wait to learn all about life under the big top, see all the cool animals, and meet the Little Explorers, the other kids who travel with the show. She’s even more excited to learn that she gets to be a part of the Little Explorers and help them end each show with a routine to get the audience on their feet and dancing along!



In Piper Morgan in Charge, Piper’s mom takes a job in the local elementary school principal’s office. Piper is excited for a new school and new friends—and is thrilled when she is made an “office helper.” But there is one girl who seems determined to prove she is a better helper—and she just so happens to be the principal’s daughter. Can Piper figure out how to handle being the new girl in town once more?



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Links

Amazon


Thanks so much Stephanie. I love the cute photo of you! Many of your favourite books are new to me. I’ve read The rescuers by Margery Sharp and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume but none of the others. 

Like Stephanie, I would be interested to know which books you treasure from your childhood.  Have you read any / all of the ones featured here?


Monday, 29 August 2016

THE FINNIGAN EFFECT: A Guest Post by Mary T. Wagner

Writing has been an essential part of my life for as long as I’ve been an adult. I’ve written for newspapers, magazines, and courts of law. Who knew that now—as both a grownup and a grandmother—writing about a kitten would let me channel my “inner child” with such total abandon?!


I can’t claim to have been one of those writers who “just knew” from the time they could read that they wanted to write and to create their own stories. 

To the contrary, I buried myself in books as a child and was quite content to immerse myself in the stories that others created—first all books I could find about horses; then mysteries featuring the teenaged American sleuth Nancy Drew; and finally “regency romances” which usually featured a very difficult hero and a plucky damsel who won his heart by the last chapter. Quite often carriages and castles were involved. I grew up with a great vocabulary…and very little to show in the way of my own imagination!

However, after drifting through my first year in college as an “undeclared liberal arts major,” I took a stab at newspaper journalism, relying on the occasional praise of others that I wrote well in my earlier school assignments to crack open the door. After sitting through my first reporting class, I was hooked. “That’s it, I’m home,” I thought, and I eagerly rolled up my sleeves to practice writing snappy leads and funneling facts into an “inverted pyramid style” of news writing.

I wrote for two major daily newspapers in succession, keeping my prose short and clear, aiming to explain things at a fourth-grade reading level. After I married and started a family, I switched to freelance magazine writing, indulging in more complicated sentences and words with three or four syllables. At the age of forty, I switched careers completely and went to law school, where my early newspaper training served me well in simplifying legal issues. And when I began my career as a prosecuting attorney for the state, I quickly found that putting my legal arguments on paper could be an advantage.

At every step of the way, writing had been a tool to wield, to explain, to persuade, to illustrate. And then friends talked me into starting to write a blog, “Running with Stilettos,” where I finally began to write just for me…and to write for fun!!

And then Finnigan showed up.

Every book starts with a small idea, but Finnigan the Circus Cat started with an even smaller kitten. My youngest son and his wife called from school shortly before they came home for the Christmas holiday. They’d just adopted a kitten from a shelter. Given that my ex-husband was deathly allergic to cats, could they park the wee little Finnigan at my house for a few weeks?

I jumped at the chance! My household already held two adult cats and a large dog, but there’s nothing cuter than a kitten as the saying goes, and that window of “tiny and cute” only lasts so long. 

 Finnigan was the tiniest kitten I’d ever seen away from his mother’s side. So tiny, in fact, that I quickly realized that the standard kitten chow the kids had brought home was too large for him to eat with his tiny teeth and I raced to the nearest pet store for special food that was almost as finely granulated as sugar. 


For the next few weeks, my kitchen resembled a circus act…literally. I had fenced off the kitchen to keep the dog in there so that he didn’t bother—or step on—Finnigan. And so when it was time to give the bigger animals their nightly treats, I stood in the kitchen like a ringmaster and pointed to the far side of the gate. The cats soared over the divider like lions jumping hurdles, while Finnigan perched on my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot. Dog treats and cat treats dispensed, Finnigan and I could retreat to the living room sofa for some quality time.

Inevitably, the new semester began and the kids went back to school, taking Finnigan with them. But in another year, he was back at my house for a half year while my son and his wife studied in Ireland. By this time he had grown into a sleek young feline, with a narrow face, legs that seemed a little too long for his body, and a long tail that draped like a rope behind him. There was something about his coloring—smudges beneath his nose like a mustache; grey and black stripes that resembled a leotard—and his natural swagger that reminded me again and again of a circus performer strutting around a ring.


The “circus” theme was naturally never far from my thoughts, since one of my daughters is in fact a contemporary circus aerialist, and somehow the thought of a foundling kitten in a circus setting just stayed in my imagination. Eventually, in the swirl of selling my house, moving to another, and hitting my marks in court, I began to write “Finnigan the Circus Cat.” Writing the story was just the start of the project, however, as it developed that I also drew the pictures inside the book that start every chapter. Call it a confluence of poor timing, looming deadlines, and pure cussedness, but yes, I rolled up my sleeves and summoned the vestiges of the sketching I did as a child, and drew the pictures too!!!

What I DID NOT expect, however, after getting this first book into print, was just how much the fictional Finnigan would stay in my head as a constant source of happy thoughts! 



I confess to doing “double duty” as my print deadline for the first book loomed. I brought my drawing pad and pencils and photographs of the real Finnigan with me to a law conference as time was running out, and sketched pictures of kittens and mice to my heart’s content as I trained my ear toward lectures on grim subjects such as “lethality assessments” and “drug treatment courts.” I dutifully listened to presentations about evidence and witnesses…while Googling pictures of mice in cute poses. Who says you can’t multitask?




Back in “the real world,” there are any number of sobering subjects to ponder from the time I get out of bed. Bills, car maintenance, yard work. And let’s face it, on the job, the subject matter for a criminal prosecutor is rarely the stuff of laughter. 

But I find to my delight that as I drive around town (or—gasp--as I sit in court waiting for the next case to be called!), there’s a part of my brain that’s engaged with wondering what Finnigan and his friends are going to be doing next. Just how are they going to convince a pair of con men that a circus wagon is haunted? How exactly will Leroy, the larger of the two mice (and a gentle soul quite sensitive about his size,) impersonate a rat in the next book? Which of Aesop’s fables will I work into the conversation in the third book, and how will I stage a faceoff between a circus lion and one of the villainous neighborhood cats? 

I could go on and on…and in my head, I certainly do! But for me it’s not just academic. Because as I feel the “Finnigan Effect,” it’s always with the blissful memory of just how soft that real  kitten was, sleeping in my lap, when he was absolutely, totally brand new. 


Mary T. Wagner
Award-winning author of When the Shoe Fits (Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances), Heck on Heels, and more...

Instagram

 Thank you so much Mary. Finnigan is just delightful. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Back through the Prickle Hedge

As an ex-bookseller, one of the things I miss is helping to reconnect people with “long lost” books. I still get the occasional request for help, and always enjoy the buzz of pointing someone in the direction of a book that has eluded them for years. This request from a couple of years ago was a little different;

When I was little my Mother used to read me a poem called "Through the Prickle Hedge" I found out after much searching that it was written by a lady called, Marion St. John Webb and that you are listed as someone who stocks her books so my question is this "How can I find the words to this poem" as I have forgotten all but the first line.

The Littlest One Marion St John Adcock Webb
Luckily, I recognised the poem and had the very book in stock. It’s from The Littlest-One by Marion St. John Adcock (Webb). It took but a minute to photocopy the words and send them by return mail. I wrote a blog post about it (here) and quickly received more requests for copies of the words. I was happy to oblige and continued copying and sharing until…disaster struck…the book sold. 



In hindsight, I should have shared the entire poem on my blog while I had the chance, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Having found the book again, I can now do what I should have done then. I don’t sell books any more, but that doesn't mean I can’t share some of those in my collection. I hope you enjoy these words as much as I do. Some of the spelling might seem a little odd, but it is exactly as it appears in the book. 


Through the prickle hedge by Marion St. John Adcock (Webb)

While all the grown-up people sat an’ talked upon the lawn, we scrambled through the prickle hedge – and one of us got torn. 

And out into the lane we went, an’ passed the willow tree, Aunt Matilda’s child’en, Mr Peter Dog, an’ me.

Sue, Barbara and Tony Flitney with Peggy the dog
Me (the Littlest One), my sister Sue, brother Tony and Peggy our dog. 

We’d played about the garden all the kind of games we could, and so we went along the lane an’ down into the wood. But jus’ as we had got inside an’ one of us looked round – a little girl we didn't know had followed us, we found. 

Her hair was black an’ straggly, an’ her dress was old and worn, and she on’y had one stocking on, and that was very torn. 
And who she was, and where she came from, none of us could tell; and when we stopped and stared at her, she stopped and stared as well.

And one of Aunt Matilda's child'en shouted "Hullo, Kid" but she never answered anything, but stood and stared, she did. 
And Aunt Matilda's child'en said "perhaps she is a witch. Let's make a fire and burn her, like they used to, in this ditch!"

And they laughed and started picking sticks, an' threw them in a pile, and kept on singing, "Burn old Witch!" an' shouting all the while. I whispered, "Not a really fire? Of course it's on'y play?" But they shouted, "Yes, a really fire! Don't let her run away".

Sue and Barbara Flitney
My sister is the tall girl in the centre. I'm on her left-hand side (right of the photo as you look at it). Sadly, I can’t recall the names of our two playmates. 

Then she pulled a nugly face at us, and said "You'd better 'ad. My mother is a Gypsy, and she'd be most awful mad. And if I call, she'll her me - she lives inside this wood."  

Aunt Matilda's child'en whispered "let us run away. We mustn't talk to Gipsies they'll steal you if you stay." But the little girl was watchin', and she said "Oh no, you won't or else I'll call, now what you going to give me if I don't?"

And all of us were quiet again. Then some thing made a squeak so we gave her someone's brooch. An' then we heard the bushes creak and so she took a coat, a hat, an' Mr Peter's collar. "And now," she said, "You mustn't tell you promise - or I'll ollar." Then Aunt Matilda's child'en cried "It isn't fair a bit!" And snatched their things away an' said "Come on, let's run for it."

An' all of us began to run as quickly as we could. And as we ran she started shouting, shouting through the wood. And some of us fell over - scrambled up, and on again. And the wood was full of creaking's - but at last we found the lane. On'y some of us were crying', and we kept on looking round; But the Gypsies didn't follow, and we couldn't hear a sound.

Back through the prickle hedge
Me with my Grandad and Aunt Gladys. Could that be the Prickle Hedge?

Till nearly home - we heard the grown-ups talking on the lawn, so we scrambled through the prickle hedge - and two of us got torn. And out into the garden jus' as quickly as could be, Aunt Matilda's child'en, Mr. Peter Dog, an' me. 

Disclaimer!  The photographs in this post are from my own childhood. I have no connection to Marion St John Adcock (Webb). The photographs are simply for decoration. I’m happy to say my sister, brother and I were not involved in any of the incidents in the poem, although we often got ‘torn’ while climbing through hedges. Furthermore, burning of witches is not something we recommend!  Have a fun week...


Monday, 15 August 2016

May Gibbs - About Us

About Us by May Gibbs Published in 1912
About Us, by May Gibbs, London: Ernest Nister and New York: E. P. Dutton, 1912.

I’ve been looking for a copy of this since I saw it in Collecting Children's Books in 2007. My nine-year search came to an end when I walked into a second-hand bookshop in *Salisbury. I had no intention of looking for books or anything else that day. I had a hair appointment, and was anxious to get it done and get home. For once my train arrived on time thus I had ten minutes to spare before my appointment. What were the chances? I could hardly believe my eyes when I walked through the door and there was the book of my dreams. I had to stop myself hugging it to my chest! The bookseller looked slightly surprised by my reaction, but honestly it felt like winning a gold medal. My heart dropped a bit when I opened the cover and found someone’s ‘little darling’ had been busy with the crayons. In hindsight, it was a good thing because it was priced to take account of the damage. Actually, it was ridiculously inexpensive, which meant I could still afford to give the hairdresser a tip. I do like a happy ending!

Collecting children's books About us May Gibbs
Collecting Children's Books published in 2007 with black-and-white image of About Us.

About Us began life as Mimie and Wog their adventures in Australia. Written by May Gibbs under the pseudonym Silvia Hood the story followed the exploits of a girl, a flying kangaroo and a little black dog. British publishers, however, rejected the Australian setting believing it lacked audience appeal. Unperturbed May Gibbs tried again this time changing the setting to Edwardian London. In this new setting, Mimie renamed Mamie, and her dog encountered the Chimney Pot People and a group of flying bat like creatures called Smuts. This was more to the liking of the publishers, and the book came out in 1912. 

The following quote and accompanying image are from the original unpublished version of Mimie and Wog held by The State Library of New South Wales.

Hoppy called out 'Open your eyes', and there they were in a wonderful strange country – very wild with lovely flowers and such a blue sky.
 This is the new and "improved" version now called About Us.

About Us Mimie and Wog May Gibbs

Image from About Us written by May Gibbs



About Us written by May Gibbs




As they walked along crowds of pigeons flew around them. 
About Us written by May Gibbs

"We won't hurt you," cooed the pigeons. "Come with us to Chimney Pot Land," and without waiting for Mamie to answer they lifted her up and flew away.

About Us written by May Gibbs


All around were the funniest little people Mamie had ever seen. She though of poor Wog all by himself, and began to cry. The Chimney Pot King asked, "What's the matter?" "Oh, never mind that," he said, "I'll send my Smuts to find him."

About Us written by May Gibbs


About Us written by May Gibbs


About Us by May Gibbs Published in 1912



About Us written by May Gibbs


About Us by May Gibbs Published in 1912


Books from my Bookshelf - About Us written by May Gibbs


THE END
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I don’t know about you, but I found the story rather odd and wonder if I might have preferred the original version. The illustrations are dramatic and interesting, and I’m thrilled to add it to my collection and to share it with you but it left me wanting more. If you are ever in *Salisbury, Wiltshire (UK), you should pop into The History Bookshop on Fisherton Street, you never know what you might find.  

Although this was May Gibbs’ first published book, it remains largely unknown to Australian readers who are more familiar with her Gumnut babies.

The Gumnut babies. Image credit Australian Children’s Literature

May Gibbs (1877-1969), author, illustrator and cartoonist, captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of Australians with her lovable bush characters and fanciful landscapes. Her iconic children's literature and folklore is still as popular as ever, holding a special place in the Australian consciousness. Best known for The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, she also wrote and illustrated many other children's books, produced long-running cartoon strips and a variety of commercial work. A fiercely determined woman, she was Australia's first full-time, professionally trained children's book illustrator, developing an uniquely Australian fantasy vernacular which is relevant now as it was then. In 1955, May Gibbs was appointed Member of the British Empire (MBE) in acknowledgement of her important contribution to children’s literature. [Source - State Library, New South Wales]

What do you think of the story / images?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...