While Thursday Next lives in a parallel universe, The Last Dragonslayer is set in a world of myths, illusions and modern magic. Orphan Jennifer Strange, a practical teenager, runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management with eccentric magicians who create irregular spells. But magic and dragons are losing power and Jennifer discovers evil King Snodd IV wants to grab the Dragonlands, 350 acres of prime real estate. She dislikes the King’s greed and so does the last Dragonslayer, an old wizard named Brian who controls dragons with an ancient sword. Helped by her cool friend Tiger Prawns, and a metal-munching Quarkbeast with frighteningly sharp teeth, Jennifer rallies to protect the Dragonlands. Meanwhile, wizard Brian is hatching a secret plan. Jennifer doesn’t realise she is part of that plan. This is the first book in the Last Dragonslayer/Kazam Chronicles by Jasper Fforde and I loved reading their vital quest. Suitable for 12 years and up, the second and third books are The Song Of The Quarkbeast and The Eye Of Zoltar. There will be a fourth book in the series but at this stage only working titles have been released; possibly Humans vs Trolls or The Strange And The Wizard or The Great Troll War. Guess we’ll just have to wait for the next quirky edition!
This game can be adapted for writers, artists, poets and movie fans!
There are two versions. The version attributed to the Surrealist Movement is when the weirdest possible head, torso, legs of the Exquisite Corpse are drawn by three different players, each folding over the paper so the next person can’t see the results until it is unfolded at the end of the game.
“Consequences” is the original name of this literary pen and paper parlour game which has been played since the 1800s Victorian Era. A random sentence is written near the top of the page. The paper is folded over then passed to several other participants who add to it and fold until it reaches the last person, or the bottom of the page. The paper is unfolded and the whole “story” is revealed––often with hilarious results.
Alternatively, photocopied lines from classic poems can be cut into strips and jumbled into a bowl. Each player blindly chooses nine strips but uses only seven to form a poem. The mind takes over, sorting and assembling into a reasonably cohesive format. The verse pictured above is what I put together in a recent Masterclass during a timed exercise. My Exquisite Corpse earned the comment “feels Gothic and dark”.
To quoteAcademy of American Poets: “The only hard and fast rule of Exquisite Corpse is that each participant is unaware of what the others have written, thus producing a surprising—sometimes absurd—yet often beautiful poem. Exquisite Corpse is a great way to collaborate with other poets, and to free oneself from imaginative constraints or habits.”
Minor changes have been added to Exquisite Corpse over time, from using a single word to including famous lines from books and movies. For example, you can jot down your favourite movie quote, fold over the paper then pass it on. See what you can pitch with Arnold Schwarzenegger or Hugh Jackman. In book mode, an amalgamation of Germaine Greer and Nora Roberts could prove interesting.
This formula for fun was kindly supplied by WordPress blogger Life After Sixty-Five who wrote––“Here is my favourite version of Exquisite Corpse, though I have played the version where a human body is drawn”––
He (male name, fold) – someone we all knew, or someone famous
met She (female name, fold) – could be someone famous, or someone playing the game etc.
at (place, fold)
He wore (description of clothes, fold)
She wore (description of clothes, fold)
He asked, (question, fold)
She replied, (answers question, fold)
And along came (person, fold)
And so they decided to (decision, fold)
And in the end…(finish, fold) “…the gales of laughter at the silly stories…”
Language Is A Virus website has the history of Exquisite Corpse and suggested books on the subject. They started a poem which has been running since 2000 and you can add to the silliness.
My short story mentions a rural event known as a show.
Alternate names can be exhibition, county fair or agfest.
Looks of disbelief washed across the children’s faces. Robbo’s face shone with a self-satisfied smile. Next to his work boots lay Dugger, his Labrador dog, who raised an eyelid then went back to sleep.
A snort came from school teacher, Miss Evelyn, and all eyes turned to her as she gathered up her patchwork squares.
“What a lot of nonsense,” she said as she stuffed sewing material into her carrybag. “Brookfield Show eve and you’re going to fill their heads with fantasy.”
One of the younger children put his hand up.
“Did it really happened, Robbo?”
Robbo said “Yes” at the same time Evelyn snapped “No” and the young boy retracted his hand in disappointment.
“Can you prove it?” asked Angela, an older girl with jet black hair and thoughtful eyes. She was one of many third generation Brookfield students whom Miss Evelyn had known from babyhood.
“Hmm,” Robbo said thoughtfully. If he had a beard, he would have stroked it in contemplation. “I reckon I can try.”
Robbo was a well-known local figure, a carpenter by trade who could turn his hand to any odd job around the residences in the area. He and Dugger were a volunteer Story Dog team at the local school.
Today they had veered off topic and instead of the slow readers reading, Robbo had tantalised them with an opening salvo to his tale.
“Start from the beginning,” Miss Evelyn sniffed “so we can get into the right mood.”
The children chuckled nervously and settled themselves back on the kindergarten cushions. Some of the older boys had objected to being in the kindy room but the seating arrangements were more comfortable than their classroom, currently overflowing with paintings and craft waiting transfer to the Show pavilions.
Miss Evelyn settled herself down again like a kookaburra shuffling her feathers. A couple of the young ones inched closer to her, hoping for motherly support should the need arise.
“Okay,” Robbo rubbed his hands together. “Here goes!” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. A security thumb or two was popped in, soft toys were hugged and someone let off a smell.
“It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, in fact, it wasn’t dark but there was a rain cloud,” began Robbo, lowering his voice, “and two small brown wallabies grazing in a paddock near the Showgrounds.” His eyes roved the attentive audience. “A large crow was sitting high in a nearby gumtree when––” Robbo clapped his hands and everyone jumped. “A bolt of lightning struck the gumtree and the crow flew away. The lightning had ignited the tree and fire was crackling fiercely through it branches before someone in the general store rang the fire brigade.”
Everyone wriggled then settled again, eyes just that bit wider. “The flames had reached the ground and were burning towards the Brookfield Showgrounds at a furious pace.” Robbo looked around. “Where are those two wallabies?”
A hand shot up and the timid voice of Frederick of the smells said “They ran away to safety.”
Robbo shook his head. “No, they were still there. And you know what?” He raised his calloused hands high in the air above his head. “They had turned into giant wallabies.” Then, for extra emphasis, he stood up and reached for the ceiling. His fingers almost dislodged a butterfly mobile but it added to the atmosphere as they fluttered wildly around his uncombed hair.
“These were energised wallabies, they had super powers and were big enough to roll the Ferris wheel away.”
The group froze; Frederick crouched ready to run.
An older boy scoffed “Yeah, but what can they do about the fire?”
Nodding heads inspired him to add “Maybe the crow flew to get help?”
Robbo pulled a face and told them the crow was another story. Sitting down, he attempted a sage storyteller voice.
“They bounded over a fence to Moggill Creek and began drinking lots and lots of water. It tasted a bit like dirt and leaves and stuff but they guzzled until they were full. It was difficult for them to walk so they sort of rolled back towards the outer fence. It flattened and they put themselves right in the path of the oncoming blaze. With puffed cheeks and one big blast like a wall of creek water, they hosed over the flames until they went out.” He cleared his throat. “Of course, the smoke made them cough and they had to wipe their eyes but all in all they didn’t even get their fur singed.”
“What happened next,” shouted two girls in unison, grabbing each other’s hands. “Did they get a medal? Or a free pass to the Show?”
Miss Evelyn pursed her lips and shushed them.
Robbo’s expression sobered. “Not that simple, I’m afraid.”
Dugger shifted position on the floor and put his bony jaw on his paws, the seams of his orange vest creaking beneath him.
“The two giant wallabies heard a sound,” continued Robbo, “and turned to see that stray sparks had ignited inside the main Showground and were crackling and spitting across the dry leaves, past the arena, towards the agricultural buildings and meeting hall. Oh no, historical buildings.”
Nobody saw Miss Evelyn trying to swallow a laugh and regain her composure.
“Surely the local fire brigade would have arrived by now?” she said.
“Their siren could be heard in the distance,” said Robbo, “and the general store had put up makeshift road blocks to stop traffic. The store owner was hosing down the store and the giant wallabies knew if they were seen by him, their cover would be blown. After one mighty spurt of water, they shrunk and hopped off into the distance, far away, up towards Mount Elphinstone. There is a cave high on Mount Elphinstone where, legend has it, two wallabies sit and keep watch over the dry land.”
Robbo surveyed his listeners. “The paint had been blistered off some buildings, and a palm tree was sooty but it survived and a quick paint job fixed the rest.”
“Phew, that’s a relief,” said one of Angela’s younger siblings and everyone laughed. Apparently they shared similar thoughts – the cake pavilion housing their entries sitting under cling wrap on paper plates. “And sideshow alley,” thought Miss Evelyn.
“However,” Robbo spoke at full volume, causing several children to squeak, “whenever there is lightening in Brookfield, or a barbecue out of control, you are wise to stay away from the flames because the giant wallabies will activate.”
“But,” said Frederick gravely, “they are our friends and they would protect us.”
“True, true.” Robbo was momentarily fazed. Even asleep, Dugger thumped his tail in encouragement. Robbo rallied “Just don’t get in the way of giant wallabies at work. Like flood waters, giant wallabies could unleash a wave of water which would wash you off your feet and into Moggill Creek.”
Miss Evelyn puckered her brow. “Robbo, please. No more scary stories.”
Robbo avoided her gaze, patting Dugger and adjusting his leather collar.
“Show’s over, kids.”
Determinedly, single-minded Angela spoke up. “You said you had proof.”
Judging by the looks Miss Evelyn saw on the younger faces, caps nervously twisted between little fingers, they did not want proof.
“Sure,” replied Robbo with an airy wave of his hand. “If you go into the pony club grounds near the Brookfield Cemetery, you’ll spy a bleached eucalyptus tree trunk. That’s the one which got struck by lightning.”
“Also,” piped a helpful voice from the sidelines, “I’ve seen wallabies.”
The collective chatter was enough to wake Dugger. He got to his paws, shook his furry head and looked around. He let out a sharp bark and ran to the open door. With a slight pause to sniff the air, he bounded out of the room.
The space Dugger left seemed suspended, a motionless void.
“Wallabies,” whispered Frederick.
The electronic school bell sounded, breaking the spell.
“Lunch time, children.” Miss Evelyn rose and smoothed her tartan skirt. “After lunch we have choir rehearsal for the opening ceremony.”
As the children helped stack cushions in the corner, Miss Evelyn turned to Robbo.
“Was Dugger motivated by the aroma of tuckshop pies or something bigger?”
Robbo shrugged. “That dog has a great sense of theatre.”
She wagged her finger. “Giant wallabies or not, the Show must go on.”
AUTHOR NOTE: This short story is dedicated with love and respect to Kookaburra Kat of KR, a long-time friend who supports and encourages my literary endeavours and is a passionate wildlife warrior, nurturing and caring for all creatures. GBW.
Katrin Dreiling went from language teacher to illustrator and received prestigious recognition for her picture book illustrations in “The World’s Worst Pirate”. This book, written by Michelle Worthington and published by Little Pink Dog Books, has been awarded Notable Book of 2018 by Children’s Book Council of Australia.
It’s wonderful to have you here, Katrin, I love your beautiful art techniques and I’m excited to learn about your journey as a children’s book illustrator. First, here’s a sneak peek at this special pirate story:
William is The World’s Worst Pirate so does that suggest he’s rude and nasty? Read on…
“Pirates are swashbuckling, treasure hunting, buccaneers of the seven seas. But if your mother is the Pirate Captain and you can’t stand on deck without getting seasick … that makes William The World’s Worst Pirate.” However, young William does have a special talent. Can he use it when the ship is under attack? Save the day, me hearty!
Q&A illustrator background
Katrin Dreiling, originally from Germany, loves to come up with quirky creations that inspire children to get creative. She enjoys giving colourful and messy art classes and says “Children are the true perfect grown-ups. Their hearts and minds are pure and good and it is important to nurture this – I strive to do that with art.” On the studious side, she provided the characters for animated University lectures and Government staff coaching videos that attracted over 320,000 views worldwide. In her free time, Katrin relaxes with her husband, three children and their Golden Retriever.
Q1. What is your favourite part of “The World’s Worst Pirate”?
Thank you, Gretchen, for this interview! My favourite part text-wise is when the Kraken attacks and everyone is supposed to run for their lives. Then there is a silence and Will quietly throws a cupcake to tame the beast. I like the contrast between noise and quietness and that it is such a peaceful, gentle approach. In terms of illustrations I think I like the cover the best. I just really enjoyed doing those ocean waves.
Q2. Of all your creations, who is your best loved character so far?
That would be Anton the Pig. This character has been in the works for a while now and so I really got used to him being around. He is also very sweet-hearted and funny and reminds me of a certain someone…
Q3. Where did the inspiration for this character come from?
Anton and his world are certainly inspired by my German background. The region I grew up in is known for their excessive bicycle riding because it’s very flat. So Anton is a passionate cyclist but I merged the landscape with a lot of ideas I picked up while living in Brisbane, Queensland. The inspiration for Anton’s story, though, came from years of working with children at school and my own three kids.
Q4. How would you describe your creative process on an average day?
My working day usually starts with a good walk with my Goldi to keep him happy and clear my head. Then I usually work down a list of things I have to do for my illustrating business. Once this is done I start creating. This can include simple sketching, commission work or extending my portfolio.
Q5. Do you like working in a group or home-office environment?
I am very happy to work by myself from home but I do seek professional input from other industry professionals on a regular basis. There is the Brisbane Illustrators Group where I made many good friends, WriteLinks and our local SCBWI group. I think it is very important to stay connected in which ever way you prefer, be that online or in real life.
Q6. Was it enjoyable working with writer Michelle Worthington?
Absolutely loved working withMichelle Worthington and would always choose to do so again. She is professional, smart and supportive and I felt very appreciated in my illustrating.
Q7. What is it like collaborating with an editor and publisher?
In the case of Little Pink Dog Books it was the perfect synergy between author, publisher and illustrator. Kathy and Peter Creamer were very inspired to keep this project a creative process which involved everyone in the same measure, and I believe the result reflects this very well. When I worked with other publishers it was a different, yet also enjoyable experience. I had to meet more firm requirements and learned new things along the way. I think you have to be adaptable as an illustrator in order to deliver the best possible outcome for the project.
Q8. Do you like to work with artistic freedom or a strict deadline?
I can do both 😊
Q9. Have you stayed up past midnight to finish an assignment?
Yes. I have worked through nights but if the work does not feel like work it is not a problem.
Q10. Have you ever received harsh criticism for your work?
I have been very lucky so far and mostly received constructive criticism which I value a lot. It’s easy to get too complacent and lose distance to your work. This is why I regularly book in for portfolio assessments with editors to get a fresh perspective on my work.
Q11. What is your favourite medium to work with and why?
I mix a lot of media together because I enjoy many things at the same time. I seem to always come back to ink in some form, though.
Q12. What colour would you be if you were an extra pencil in the box?
Q13. What are your thoughts on hand-painted vs computer generated artwork?
It works really well TOGETHER if you know how to.
Q14. Who are your favourite artists and have they influenced you?
Absolutely adore the work of Beatrice Alemagna. She has inspired me to go my own way, like she did. Then there is the quirky and unconventional style of Russell Ayto that I love. I think both artists truly work to delight and inspire children.
Q15. Are you involved in teaching workshops for children?
Yes, I will be giving workshops with Michelle Worthington to children at selected libraries in Brisbane during school holidays in July 2018. Also I give workshops for both children and grown-ups at a bookstore in Red Hill, Brisbane, as well as giving regular extra-curricular art classes once a week at New Farm State School.
Q16. Do you have a special creative goal for this year or is it a secret?
For my Anton the Pig story, I’d like to finish the manuscript and illustrations completely. Also getting published by one of the ‘big’ publishing houses has always been my dream and I’m still working towards this goal.
And this Q&A draws to a close
My sincere thanks, Katrin, for your personal insights into the world of picture book illustrating. I am sure you will reach your goal and I look forward to reading all about Anton!
Hey, is anyone else left wondering who that 'certain someone' is and why Katrin would be a black pencil...any ideas? Let me know...
With a knowing smile, this Victorian-style book of manners is reminiscent of the period of parenting when misbehaving children were given orders and told dire consequences would ensue if they did not obey. Despite warnings, when a child in this book ignores an instruction, there is an aftermath of great magnitude.
In “A Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds – by Prudence A Goodchild” children’s author and illustrator Judith Rossell has produced an atmospherically illustrated and tightly written volume. She has also mastered the art of a left-right jab, hitting with swift endings which leave the reader breathless.
Each punchy short story closes with a judicious moral. For example, Isadora daydreamed too much during her chores. One day she daydreamed while idly brushing her hair. Let’s just say she didn’t get to finish the task. “Moral: For hair that’s glossy, clean and bright, Two hundred strokes, both morn and night”.
After Isadora’s tale, there is what appears to be a lovely page entitled “Care of the Hair” with a recipe for making Soft Soap which “…will improve both the texture and colour of the hair” until things get a bit nauseating. Apart from kitchen scraps, the mixture must boil for hours until it forms a clear, thick jelly.
Basically the stories are about kids being kids and the 21st century reader should see the endings for what they are – a sample of Victorian etiquette and psychology which we would not dream of using on children today. Right? Okay, explain that to your child and laugh.
This slim book is approximately sixty pages (with attractive binding and colour plates) and scattered throughout are “Interesting Facts” and helpful hints like An Economical Recipe for a Plain Cake, A Useful Compass, Parlour Games and my personal favourite, An Album of Sea-Weeds. I will work on drying and pressing seaweed during my next holiday! Hmm, would seaweed smell like that starfish I once brought home?
In closing, I will give a shout-out to Mr Lindon of Woolloongabba, Queensland (Page 45) who grew a giant marrow. I think he must have read the book’s suggestion To Grow a Giant Marrow which signifies “A Garden of Lilies” is indeed a versatile volume!
I cannot give you a childproof safety rating but I think it is suitable for a sliding age scale and my own rating is 5-star.
Judith Rossell — Biography
Judith Rossell is the multi-award-winning author-illustrator of the bestselling Stella Montgomery series (Withering-by-Sea, Wormwood Mire, A Garden of Lilies and forthcoming Wakestone Hall). Judith has written thirteen books and illustrated more than eighty, and her work has been published in UK, US, Germany and translated into more than twenty languages. Before beginning her career in children’s books, Judith worked as a government scientist (not a mad scientist, a normal kind of scientist) and also for a cotton-spinning company (which made threads for T-shirts, denim jeans, mops and teabag strings). Judith lives in Melbourne, Australia with a cat the size of a walrus.
ACCLAIM FOR WITHERING-BY-SEA AND WORMWOOD MIRE:
Indie Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
Australian Book Industry Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
CBCA Awards – Honour Book 2015, Notable Book 2017
Davitt Awards – Winner 2015, Shortlisted 2017
Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – Shortlisted 2015
ABA Booksellers’ Choice Awards – Shortlisted 2017
Australian Book Design Awards – Shortlisted 2017
Aurealis Awards – Shortlisted 2015
Recapping on myFreytag’s Pyramid Challenge Part One to write a punchy 500 words (or less) short story using exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement, with a dog and cat as the two main characters.
I did the Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge myself – because I had just at that particular moment made up the whole idea! Apologies if some smarter person has already done this. The following short story is my effort featuring an evening in the life of an unruly family.
You can participate in Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge in your own time by posting on your own blog. Add your wordcount and use the name ‘Freytag’ in your catchy title. I would love to see your work, your words or illustrations. NO prizes, no follow-up, just the satisfaction of completing an exercise.
Let’s see what drama your dog, cat and the Pyramid created – here’s mine!
“Hey Freytag, Look What I Wrote”
The house and garden were big enough for Claudia and Doug to avoid seeing each other during daylight hours. Evening meal times were another matter. When Mr Owner came home at nightfall with Mrs Owner and all the young Owners, tempers flared and teeth were bared.
‘Such an uncivilised family’ Claudia thought. She was civilised enough not to hiss and spit, even when someone trod on her tail.
‘Nice manners, nice manners,’ she purred, rubbing against various legs. Her eyes searched for unattended food and her nose twitched at the delicious aromas from cooking pots.
Creating his own maelstrom, Doug ran in excited circles around the farmhouse-style kitchen. He drooled on the tiles and whined hopefully at the oblivious family. Usually Baby Owner was good for a glob or two of mashed potato.
Meanwhile, Claudia prepared to take advantage of pre-meal morsels already on the pine table.
While human mayhem raged about the room, the benefits of salad fiercely debated, she crunched her dry fish-shaped pellets and prepared her muscles for some feline action. With legs bunched, and nice manners forgotten, Claudia was ready to spring. A quick leap onto the chair, then up and over onto the table.
Thump! She landed in a dish of cooked pasta.
Whoa! The dish slid across the table with Claudia clinging on top.
It was speeding towards the edge. Too shocked to miaow, she imagined herself crashing to the floor and thought “What a waaaste.”
The edge arrived and disappeared and she was flying off the table.
Below her, Doug leapt up and clamped his huge jaws on the rim of the dish.
Of course, the dish stopped dead, but Claudia and the pasta continued to fly across the kitchen, headed straight towards the big white bulk of the refrigerator.
Someone caught Claudia in mid-flight. She was saved!
“Eew,” said First Teenage Owner as pasta squelched between her fingers. Second Teenage Owner laughed. Claudia felt cheese squash against her long, luxuriant fur and shuddered.
Doug dropped the dish and began slurping up bits of mangled pasta. “Not wasted after all,” she thought with an angry flick of her tail.
Mr Owner praised Doug for his good catch; First Teenage Owner was praised for her quick thinking; and Claudia? Well, Claudia was chewing on a juicy piece of steak she had snaffled from Doug’s bowl when his back was turned.
Supervision was tightened, orders were given; no fighting, no talking with mouths full, pets dine separately.
Stiff-legged with indignity and cheese, Claudia felt she had received the harshest penalty – being cleaned up by dog-breath Doug and his rough pink tongue. Slurp!
Everyone sat down to a fine dinner and calmness descended on the kitchen. Pasta was now Claudia’s least favourite meal but Doug grinned with satisfaction.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2018
Conceivably Gustav Freytag, novelist and playwright of the 19th century, would shake his head in wonder if he watched a 21st century movie. His Pyramid 5-part plot structure still rings true today.
The Pyramid of Gustav Freytag (1816–1895) is seen in various formats now but the basics of drama stay the same. He based his Pyramid on Greek tragedy and Shakespearean drama and it has been copied by scholars and followed by writers ever since.
Read a book, watch a film, or listen to someone telling a story. Notice the pattern: an introduction, the build up, intensity peaks, a gradual resolution and the final scene. My writing teacher demonstrated with a coathanger. It had baubles and beads hung on it but underneath the basic structure remained firm.
I bet Herr Freytag would have a good laugh over the continued consistencies of human nature. He wrote the novel ‘The Journalists’ (1854) which is still regarded as one of the most successful German comedies of that period.
Okay, kiddies, dust off your keyboard. Your Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge is to write a punchy 500 words (or less) short story using exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement, with a dog and cat as your two main characters.
Harder than you think? Tip: Denouement is not the same as an epilogue.
I am going to do Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge myself – because I have just this minute made up the idea! Apologies if some smarter person has already done this. I will post my speculative effort under my blog heading Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge Part Twoand my sub-heading ‘Hey Freytag, Look What I Wrote’.
I would love to see your work, your words or illustrations! NO prizes, no follow-up, just the satisfaction of completing an exercise. You can participate in Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge in your own time by posting on your own blog. Add your wordcount and use the name ‘Freytag’ in your catchy title.
Let’s see what drama your dog, cat and the Pyramid create!
When we grow up we don’t really shed childhood. It is tucked away inside us, nice and quiet, suppressed by what we perceive as Adult Behaviour. Until something triggers that child-proof gate. Our sillies jump out! Irrepressible, childlike joy will spring into our hearts, gleam in our eyes and beam from our faces. Oldies will smile benignly at us but a child will shriek with delight because they understand.
Anything can trigger your past. A puppy, red shoes, a TV show, theatre tickets, sweets, that winning point, a favourite song, splashing in a puddle with a clear plastic umbrella, er, wait, what was that? “A clear plastic umbrella?” said Adult Voice. Yes, when I was young, the most coveted accessory for primary school students was a clear plastic umbrella. The plastic was plain, you could see the metal spokes through it and the handle was white.
It was enthralling to watch raindrops falling on a see-through umbrella held over your friend’s head, water trickling off and dripping onto the ground while she stayed dry. If you were really fancy (or your father had enough money for kids fripperies) you could buy them with ladybirds or slices of fruit and suchlike imprinted on them. If you were really rich (and more of a teenager) you teamed it with a short skirt, beehive hairdo and white vinyl go-go boots with lipstick to match. Trés chic.
I haven’t researched this but I’m pretty sure one or two models would have slinked down the catwalk twisting a clear plastic umbrella shaped like a mushroom. Or, shock horror, wearing a clear plastic raincoat! “Personally I think you would sweat horribly inside one of those,” said Adult Voice. Anyhow, here comes the sad part. I was not one of the groovy girls, I never owned a clear plastic umbrella.
Somehow I managed to survive the ignominy of having a pale blue nylon umbrella. Its saving grace was a real bamboo handle and it lasted for years. Once I left it on the bus and my parents tracked it down in the city council’s lost property office. Hard to believe now, but there it was in all its pale blue opaque glory. I have since owned a stylish British brolly, frilly French parapluie, Winnie-the-Pooh bear parasol and various brands in various colours mainly used as sunshades.
Until last week, drum roll please, when I came across a clear plastic umbrella hanging on a sale rack. It was the standard shape, with the usual opening and closing action and it was only a couple of dollars. Sold! I actually whooped with excitement. Finally, a dream come true. “Pity it’s a clear sunny day,” said Adult Voice. I brushed this aside. Once I was out of crowd eye-range, I shook it out. So clear, so transparent, so useless in the glare of a hot day. “Be quiet,” I snapped at Adult Voice. I pushed the umbrella open and twirled it wildly above my head. I’d made it. I had joined the Groovy Girls. My childish delight brimmed over! And delight brings recollections.
Myvery own CPU has flourished several times in light rain,occasionally the plastic will stick together, but that doesn’t stop me opening it just to marvel at the concept. Truly, an umbrella worth waiting for. Now I’m thinking about those white vinyl go-go boots...♥Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Excited beyond belief when I found out Jasper Fforde, my all-time favourite post-modern author, has some cool events coming up! Including another book. And the eponymous Fforde Ffiesta rolls around again next year. If any reader attended a recent US event, or may be attending a future UK event, I’m jealous, but hoping I will read your WordPress review.
Photos by Mari Fforde (hover to see date) Information from Jasper Fforde website (see below)
Jasper Fforde says: As usual, please call the venue to check times and dates before you set out just in case I am kidnapped by badgers, eager to promote their dangerous monochrome agenda. Updated 22nd Jan 2018:
Feb 21st-22nd, Casper, Wyoming:
Wyoming Humanities Festival 2018
Book signing and lectures. I’ve never been to Wyoming, and the frightfully pleasant people at Casper have been asking me for a while. Talk and Book Signing Courtesy of Windy City Books, and a lecture plus Q&A the following day. Full details at the Humanities Festival website.
1-2nd March 2018, Cardiff Library:
Crime & Coffee Festival, Cardiff
First Crime and Coffee Festival at Cardiff Library. More details to follow, but I am assured the coffee is the crime, and there will be no actual murders of crimes taking place. Either days, or both, details to follow. Cardiff Library Website.
24th May-3rd June 2018
Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Wales:
“May or may not be attending this year––One of the UK’s most imaginative and entertaining authors creates hilarious, often absurd but always compelling adventures within bizarre and zany worlds. Jasper Fforde’s hugely popular The Last Dragonslayer series is packed with trademark magic and invention.”
Information brochure Hay Festival, Wales.
Gretchen’s book review The Last Dragonslayer.
Launch of Early Riser in the UK:
About bloody time too, say I. Likely 1st to 12th August. More details to follow.
August 13th – 18th, 2018, Wales:
Ty Newydd writing retreat, Wales
With Belinda Bauer, the course is called: Crime Fiction: A Twist in the Tale and from their website: “This course is designed for those who would like to write best-selling crime fiction – with a twist. Whether you’re writing your first novel, are switching from another genre, or have only dreamed of being a published author, we hope you’ll enjoy this down-to-earth, fun, and practical course. In workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions, we will be sharing our tried and tested methods of creating character, plot and tension, while helping you to avoid some common pitfalls. We’ll offer advice on a range of issues, from writer’s block and the art of pitching, to how to cope with bad reviews!”
For more details, please mouse you way to the Ty Newydd Website.
25th-26th May 2019, Swindon, UK:
Fforde Ffiesta VIII, Swindon, UK
These Festivals are held biannually and oh, what ffun we have – and hopefully a lot more to talk about this year as I will have at least one more book published… Their website is here.
March 02031: Asteroid belt and Saturn (technology permitting) More details TBA.
October 02042: 81-year-old Fforde talks to other members of old people’s home: “I used to be a novelist, no really, I did. Is it lunchtime?” More details TBA.
July 02175: Semi-lifelike cloned Ffordesque replicant to tour Gamma Quadrant in the Cygnus Cluster. More details TBA.
Setember 03431: Much improved Fforde cloned back to life to face execution for sedition; all works consigned to erasure.
Janfebry 008910: Last evidence of Fforde’s books vanish forever with the removal of the ‘Formerly Thursday Street’ plaque from what is now W23-61 Rd in the conurbation known as EuroWest-79.
00012972: Visiting archaeologists from Thraal-7 discover incomplete copy of Well of Lost Plots from excavation in landfill. Deciphering takes seven hundred years and a further four hundred years of academic scrutiny before being accepted as historical fact.
The style guide reads: Below are errors in style due to inappropriate or poor choices of language which can lead to boring, imprecise and inaccurate writing. In some situations, they may be relevant and suitable, but they are usually best avoided––
Clichés, over-used phrases, e.g. bed of roses, pretty as a picture.
Vogue words and trendy expressions, e.g. proactive, meaningful dialogue.
Colloquialisms in formal writing.
Parochialism in documents intended for a wide audience.
Jargon in documents intended for a general audience.
Euphemisms, e.g. pass away, upwardly mobile.
Overstatements, e.g. fabulous, incredible, fantastic, amazing.
Archaic words, e.g. herewith, thereby, hereinafter.
Sexist terms, e.g. man-made, nurseryman, waitress.
Tautologies, e.g. totally unique, completely empty.
Ambiguity, e.g. maybe I would if I could.
Unnecessary use of foreign words and phrases.
This information was retrieved from my older Word.doc files with no acknowledgements attached. As a touch of humour, I wrote the short profile of Aunt Belinda. I can only suppose such formal advice is for non-fiction writers.
Jen Storer is an established Australian children’s author brimming with imagination and inspiration. This post encapsulates her talent, personality and future plans. Jump into The Duck Pond and start paddling with emerging writers and illustrators! ♥Gretchen Bernet-Ward
I like writing blog posts at Christmas. No one expects much. Do they?
Writing: I finally finished Truly Tan: Baffled! (book seven) and delivered it to my publisher on time (working right up until December 15, the day it was due). Phew! Next year I’ll be waaaay more organised. Ahem.
Finalising: We signed off on Danny Best: Me First! Check out the full cover. Talk about The Best! 😉 Due out in Feb 2018.
Receiving: I received a Christmas card from a Tan reader. The letter attached said, I know you like wolves. So here’s a card with a fox on it. God, I love my readers.
Planning and: pondering 2018. I have some lovely plans for girl and duck, including a Scribbles Boot Camp in Feb, and an IRL (in real life) Scribbles master class in Melbourne in May. We will also be launching the Girl and Duck…
Real life book shop owner Shaun Bythell tells of the humorous, exasperating and madcap experiences he encounters working in The Book Shop, the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland. Also, The Book Shop is situated in Wigtown, known as Scotland’s ‘National Book Town’. Bythell writes a compelling and amusing account of his daily life, from eccentric local characters to a decline in traditional ways of life where diversity is not always good news for rural farmers or booksellers. A good book for booklovers or would-be book dealers.
“For a few years I have given over the formal drawing room above the shop to an art class for one afternoon a week. It is taught by local artist Davy Brown and takes place every Tuesday. A dozen or so retired ladies make up the group. At this time of year the house is bitterly cold, so I left Norrie instructions to light the fire and put the space heater on for an hour before they were due to arrive, but he forgot. One of them almost needed to be resuscitated. I would happily let them use the space for free, but they kindly pay me enough to cover the heating costs and a bit more beside.”
Maud tilted her head at me and said “Everything is fine for the first three months then the rot sets in and the wheels fall off. Or, for a modern analogy, your reception drops out.” She checked to see if I was listening. “You are left high and dry and feeling cheated, let down, out of sorts, tired, jaded or basically unmotivated. The first three months of anything are the best, then comes the worst three months.” As she took a breath, I gave her a querying look. “Why?” she responded, “Well, who knows? This is my take on human nature.”
I was perched on a wooden stool while Maud had settled herself down in an easy chair, cardigan wrapped tightly and slippers wedged firmly on her small feet. She coughed delicately and adjusted her spectacles before continuing. “A new career, a new car, exercise workout, bonsai class, creative writing, artistic pursuit, second marriage, an extended holiday, all seemingly wonderful for those crucial three months. Then, bam, a total train wreck. Worse, it’s a total bore! Then you wish you had never started.” I opened my mouth to protest but she ploughed ahead. “Of course, this phenomenon can work in reverse. The first three months of a new baby, the first three months of post-operative surgery, or worse, the first three months of giving up smoking. Two words – mindset.” I stifled a laugh. “Okay, one word. But keep an open mind because nothing stays the same for long.”
Uncomfortable, I stretched my shoulders. “Don’t thrash around,” Maud shouted, startling me. She waved her arm dangerously close to her favourite cat figurine. “Look up, look ahead, search for those footholds and handholds to help move you forward again. Work your way out of the slump, not by changing direction (although you might, she hissed in an aside) but by forging through the undergrowth on that overgrown path until you reach a reasonable destination where you can relax, regroup and start again – when you are good and ready! It may not be the perfect spot to wait, nevertheless, it will do until you reinvigorate.”
Maud slumped back. “Do you think that’s too strong for them?” I smiled. “Maud, I am sure the ladies luncheon committee has heard stronger things than that.” She eyed me dubiously, the inference being that she knew them better than I ever could. I was sure her delivery would win them over and if it didn’t, just like seasonal change, there was always another one.
After some shuffling, Maud pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper from down the side of her chair. “I was going to reference Julia Cameron when she says ‘Sometimes these U-turns are best viewed as recycling times’ but I’m going to read this genuine job advertisement first and say ‘Ladies, be thankful you are relaxing here today’ then launch straight into my talk.” Maud cleared her throat and read loudly:
“About you – Highly motivated, you possess excellent listening and strong customer service skills. You have proven ability to build rapport with customers, key partners and management. You possess strong problem solving and resolution capabilities. Resilient, flexible, literate, you have the ability to work under pressure, deal with rapid change and work to strict time frames. Self-motivated, available at short notice, you are currently looking to embark on your next career challenge and add value to a growing organisation. If this sounds like you APPLY today! Previous exposure dealing with print/sales/retail is desirable however not essential.”
With a snap of fingers on paper, Maud whooped “Burnout dead ahead” which I thought was a bit unfair. “Oh, Maud Fitch,” I said, picking up my phone, “You make me want to grab a coffee and start scrolling endless, mindless amusements across my screen.” I don’t think that was quite the incentive she had in mind and may have misinterpreted my gesture. She frowned and started flipping through the pages of her speech, obviously keen to memorise more text. “Look.” I offered her the phone. On the screen was an old Gary Larson ‘The Far Side’ cartoon. Now, that really did make her laugh.
INTERVIEWER: How many unfinished manuscripts do you have on file? ME:
I have nine in varying stages of incompleteness. I love them all, they start off well, the concepts are intriguing, then I stall. INTERVIEWER: How do you get over writer’s block? ME:
At this point my stories can veer one of two ways. Boringly predictable or Man-I-didn’t-expect-that! And believe me, you will know the difference when the creative spark ignites. The momentum is strong, the words flow and come alive. I run with it and don’t look back. INTERVIEWER: What has made you stop writing a particular story? ME:
When that inspired catalyst fizzles out, mundaneness moves in. My tale slips into the writing doldrums and my incentive fades away. I no longer feel the need to flesh out the plot. Of course, a looming deadline can always prod me into action. INTERVIEWER: Do you prefer plot structure or character development?
ME: Oh, I much prefer characters, I love creating their voices, habits and lifestyles. INTERVIEWER: Do you delete your unfinished work? ME: Perhaps it sounds better if I say I have nine good story ideas pending completion. INTERVIEWER: Does that mean you keep everything you write? ME:
Yes, and I return to scrappy stories on a regular basis to see if they are worth saving. Maybe one of them is a work of genius. To find out, I must keep writing. INTERVIEWER: Do you want a coffee? ME:
Sounds like a good idea!
For the last 20 years my lawn have been maintained by a variety of lawn mower men. You might say I’m an expert in using and losing lawn mower men. Some were franchised, many were independent, two were uni students, and my current bloke is the son of a former lawn mowing man. They all have one thing in common, they have stories to tell. From tyre-like snakes to the ubiquitous naked housewife, they would arrive from their last job, either wide-eyed or totally unmoved at what people do or generally don’t do in their gardens.
An interesting fact, little documented, is that lawn mowing men are commonly escaping the grind of an intense and soul-destroying job. They like the fresh air, the physical aspect, their own timetable and the odd cash in hand. I have heard about their families, their weekend activities and their apologies for why they have to charge me more for trimming the edges. I’ve given up querying those five minute extras. Some have used a whipper-snipper over the whole garden and one modern man used a ride-on mower. The noise and the results were equally bad but they didn’t come back. Which is a blessed relief. You can read about my suburban garden in Garden Notes.
In the beginning I used to offer these men a cold drink on a hot day but increasingly I have noticed they bring their own beverages. Once I offered a craggy old fellow a yoghurt ice-cream on a stick, thinking it would be cooling, but he refused telling me he didn’t like that sort of stuff. The stories are real but I have used pseudonyms throughout so let’s call him Doug. Doug had experienced “that sort of stuff” before. Without yoghurt but involving a Naked Lady.
Doug was mowing the front lawn when he glanced up and saw the homeowner standing naked in the front window. She was unperturbed but he was flustered. At the end of his job, Doug went to the door and it was flung open before he could knock. The now scantily clad homeowner ushered him inside, offered him coffee, sat close on the sofa and introduced him to her girlfriend. Apparently they wanted a baby together and he seemed the perfect candidate. Doug was a happily married grandfather and “wouldn’t have a bar of it”. In other words, the answer was “no”.
The Egg Basket was one of Doug’s more humorous stories. Doug was mowing the back lawn of a regular customer, being careful not to scare the free range hens, when he came across fresh laid eggs. He picked them up and placed them out of harm’s way in the peg basket swinging on the clothes line. Next visit, the homeowner told Doug “the funniest thing had happened” and his “chooks must be acrobats” because they laid their eggs in the peg basket. Doug laughed and explained what he had done. The homeowner was relieved since he couldn’t understand how the hens had balanced.
Lawn mowing men are wizards with a mower but rarely are they trained horticulturists, arborists or landscapers. The same goes for a sub-branch called treeloppers but that’s another story. Some mower men are billed as gardeners but often become vague about availability when you ask if they can weed the back garden. Or even more vague when you ask if they have time to remove a pile of garden waste. Their astute move with garden waste is to tote-up how many other householders want rubbish removed, coordinate the same day collection, slug each of us the disposal fee and do a one-stop drop at the council tip.
One thing I have noticed (apologies, I have yet to see a female mower person) is that, to a man, they have their mobile phones in their top left pocket, button undone ready to take calls. They don’t write these calls down so, inevitably, at some point they have to ring the caller back to confirm appointment details. The good ones leave a business card in my letterbox with the next mowing day and the more lax ones fade away.
On the subject of workwear, I have observed that lawn mower men do not go in for burdensome things like high visibility vests or safety glasses. On the plus side, they do wear working boots with heavy khaki socks which match their heavy khaki shirts. Accessories include cheap sunglasses and, depending on the age of the wearer, a sweaty cap or straw-weave hat. Protective gloves rarely make an appearance and I can only put that down to the subtropical heat.
Wally certainly needed all the help he could get. He was always keen to lend a helping hand (even building our budgie aviary) but he had an obsession for removing wasps and spiders. We told him that the big spider over our driveway was our pet and he was to leave it alone. But Wally took a dislike to a wasps nest and attacked it until he was chased around and around the garden, flyspray can in hand. I was on the side of the wasps. And Wally didn’t know it but I had seen him surreptitiously snipping bits off my conifer tree because it got in his way.
Once Wally told me about a customer who came outside complaining because he was using a leaf blower instead of a broom. He also told me of clothes left hanging on drying lines for months, barbecue crockery left out for weeks and large rocks abandoned in strange places. Regarding rocks, Wally had flicked up stones which had broken windows. The best way to identify a novice lawn mower man like Wally is to watch his attention to detail. Does he bring in your empty wheelie bin? Does he shut the gate? Does he make sure nothing has been missed, e.g. palm fronds on the path? If the answers are “no” then you can assume he is experienced; the old hand creating a tsunami of leaves in the far corner of your yard.
Another sign of the more experienced lawn mowing man is the Second Job. Usually this is unrelated, like the chap who hinted that my balcony railing looked unsafe and gave me the number of his carpentry business. Go with your instincts. In this instance, I should have taken note because a year later the carpenter who subsequently did the job was pretty slap-dash and cost me money. On the subject of money, let me tell you about Enrico.
Enrico’s customers are a mixed bag when it comes to paying the bill. Those who live in big houses with big cars take months to pay. There are customers who pay him online and he’s never met them. One customer paid him with lots and lots of coins, and another disappeared owing money. Sounds like an average business day to me. Enrico has three pet peeves. First, the bossy client who dictates how they want the job done then stands with hands on hips to watch. The second is chatty old ladies/men who want to follow him around. And third, the classic Neighbour Across The Street who asks for his business card then angles for a “good” deal.
I think of young Johnno as more of a wildlife ranger. He always had a tale to tell about an animal encounter, from guinea pig wrangling to accidentally letting dogs out, to scaring a goat. One day he was requested to do a garden tidy for a couple who had taken ill. He recommenced where they had left off and scooped up a large pile of leaves and twigs. It wasn’t until he had disposed of the bundle in his Ute trailer that he realised it was full of black fuzzy caterpillars. And they were on his clothes. He did a war dance and hosed himself down but still came up in a rash wherever they had crawled, mainly down his neckline.
Johnno by far had the biggest snake encounters, from a python asleep in a veggie patch to a green tree snake in my begonia hanging basket. One morning he saw a big brown snake sunning on our driveway and he took a spade to it. I was horrified, first because he wanted to kill it but second, because he sent it under the fence into the children’s play area. It was never found.
I believe a lawn mower man does not appreciate the pressure he puts the lawn mowee under. We have to lock up the dog, do a poop patrol, clear away any washing and raise the Hills Hoist, pick up toys, cover the budgies (in case of those flying rocks) remove fallen branches and make sure the area is free of trip-and-fall hazards. It is imperative that I place my herbs and tender potted plants in a safe place and have learned from bitter experience to build a fortress around new shrubs. My prize pomegranate was lopped off at the base and has taken years to reassert itself.
In conclusion, I would say that most of the lawn mower men I’ve employed seemed happy with their work. It’s an early start and early knock-off, and their weekends are free. They seem fit and healthy, none I’ve known have ever set foot in a gym. Of course, sunstroke taught them to drink plenty of water. I am sure I have contributed to their holiday funds in a positive way and they, in turn, have allowed me to walk across my lawn without using a machete.