Archive for November, 2008

Page-turning update!

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I just found a copy of The Happy Prince on the Italian eBay site – already sold, but all the details still recorded, and a photo of the front cover. The narrator turns out to be someone called Frank Phillips, of whom I’ve never heard. Anyway, here’s the front cover.

Turn the page

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008


When we were kids, my mother bought my sisters and me two ‘talking books’. They were large format, beautifully illustrated books of pictures related to particular stories. The only words were the ones spoken on the LP record tucked into an envelope at the back of the book. You put the record on and looked at the first picture in the book, and when that part of the story had finished the actor’s voice told you to turn the page to the next picture. 

One of the stories was Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’. I don’t remember the other one at all, and I suspect that it bored me, and that I ignored it after a couple of sessions. But ‘The Happy Prince’ entranced me for hours at a time. I’d put the record on and listen to whomever it was telling the story (a man with an old-fashioned and highly modulated actor’s voice: could it have been Basil Rathbone?) turning the page every time I was told to, completely engaged in the story which is satisfyingly – and achingly – sad, with a triumphantly resolved ending. I can still recite almost all the (abridged) story off by heart, even now, and hear the narrator’s voice in my head, and picture those brightly coloured illustrations. 

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold. For eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword hilt…

And I was reminded of all this by catching a quote from the late, great New Zealand writer, Janet Frame, at the weekend. Clearly, her family also invested in talking books, and years later she wrote this poem about it. Like Wilde’s story, it’s also achingly sad. 


In the children’s record of the Happy Prince,

before each gold flake is peeled from the Prince’s body,

the voice orders, Turn the Page, Turn the Page,

supposing that children do not know when to turn,

and may live at one line for many years,

sliding and bouncing boisterously along the words,

breaking the closed letters for a warm place to sleep.

Turn the Page, Turn the Page.

By the time the Happy Prince has lost his eyes,

and his melted heart is given to the poor,

and his body taken from the market-place and burned,

there is no need to order, Turn the Page,

for the children have grown up, and know when to turn,

and knowing when, will never again know where.




Hats over the trees!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Do you know what Queen Elizabeth I said, more than four hundred years ago, when they came to tell her she was queen?

She threw her hat over the tree in Hampton Court gardens and said: “This is the day the lord has made and it is wonderful in our eyes.”

Well I say, hats over the trees again today!

For Tuesday November 4 2008

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

An old Irish blessing for Barack Obama.


May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back, and

May the sun shine warm on your face.


Oh, and win the election, why don’t you?

The wind beneath my wings

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Oh wow, what a relief; I am finally finding my way to the end of the first draft of the new book. I’ve been fighting with structure for what seems like months, although it’s probably only weeks, and every time I approached the gritty matter of The Resolution and The Ending they defeated me all over again. It’s reminded me of the days when I’d run as fast as I possibly could along the beach at home, trying to get enough wind under my kite to lift it into the air.  Sometimes the kite would lift into the air before I collapsed breathless on the sand, and sometimes it didn’t.  The wind beneath my wings is what I’ve needed, and it’s been in short supply.

When I’m not feeling anxious or panicky about it, this ‘writer in search of the right ending’ syndrome intrigues me. You start off with a vision in your head of how things are going to go with your story (brand new kite tucked under your arm, kite tail neatly decorated with little bows, kite string wound into a handy ball) and start the journey with high hopes. But somehow – and I don’t know how this happens – the wind changes, or the tide’s too far in, or the kite’s got a rip in it that you hadn’t noticed. And suddenly the story loses its energy, or your characters veer off down side alleys and won’t come back to life, and you lose faith in the whole enterprise. I was never going to be able to fly this kite, I think to myself.  It doesn’t belong to me after all.

Then all of a sudden the wind comes around and your kite lifts up and it’s away! And you can see just where it’s headed and you run to catch up, and the wind lifts you and you’re off again, running across the sand. It seems so natural when it’s working, and so alien and impossible when it’s not.

Now I know what’s going to happen, and what the ending will be. It’s not what I envisaged when I started but it feels right, so I’m sticking with it as long as the wind lasts. With any luck I’ll have it all in place in the next few days. Then I’m taking 10 days’ holiday, and I’ll come back ready to tackle it all again – but at least by then there’ll be something to engage with.

Thanks, wind and weather.