London Stationery Show

Big, BIG, news! – the London Stationery Show takes place next week. It’s trade only, so I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go, but I read up all I can about it. Who doesn’t love stationery? The heady smell of new notebooks, the different colours of ink, the excitement of a new shade of post-it notes.. I can’t be the only writer who buys far more notebooks than she’ll ever use.

This year, Staedtler is yet again increasing the number of shades in their Fineliner range to 60; and offering a wider range of their ‘My Colours’ packs, which has six carefully-chosen and complementary shades in each collection. There’s ‘My Flamingo Colours’, with pinks and purple, ‘My Botanical colours’ in pink, blue, yellow and three shades of green – even ‘My Llama Colours’ in pinks, blue and golden browns. I love these pens, since I like to use a very fine tip when writing. They’re excellent for bullet journaling too.

Scarlet Opus is a trend forecasting agency which is running tours of the show pointing out products that match the trends they have identified. You can see the three distinct colour palettes here. My favourite The Game Changer, with beautiful pastels and soft metallics. Further ahead, intended for Christmas 2019, is The Traveller, which has rich yet natural Victorian shades without the usual red.

As someone who would rather write a letter than an email, I’m delighted that ‘social stationery’ is apparently coming back. The idea is that expressing one’s own creativity is much easier to do via a personal note than online. Well, of course it is! The website for the show has an introductory video which includes a large red dinosaur touring the stalls and many exciting shots of pens and notebooks. Stationery heaven!

 

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Birth of a Trope?

I’m always looking for something to read, and I enjoy finding a new (to me) author and reading the entire canon. And it doesn’t do any harm if they’re free, either, which usually means a visit to archive.org or gutenberg.org. My most recent discovery is a writer with the unusual name of Mrs Oliver Onions, better known to the reading public as Berta Ruck.

Amy Roberta Ruck was born in India to a British Army Colonel and his wife, one of eight children. The family moved to Wales, where Ruck attended school in Bangor. In 1909, at the age of 31, she married Oliver Onions. Onions was a novelist, and Ruck had already begun writing for magazines, so it must been a very literary household. Sons Oliver and William followed in 1912 and 1913 respectively, and a year later her first novel was published. This was called ‘His Official Fiancée’ and I was fascinated to discover it contained the earliest instance that I’ve encountered of that now well-known trope, a fake engagement to the boss:

“I wish it to appear to everybody—to my family, to my acquaintances, to the people in this office—that I am actually engaged,” he explained. “ I wish to find someone who, to outward appearances, could take the place of my fiancée; could go about with me, stay at my home, and be introduced all round as the girl I meant to marry. She must understand from the very beginning that it was absolutely a matter of business; that the so-called ‘engagement’ would terminate at the end of the year, and that there could be no possible question of its ending in marriage. If I found this lady, I would make it worth her while; paying her at the rate of ten pounds a week for her services. You follow me, Miss Trant ? ”

I began to “follow,” but I could scarcely believe that he really intended to carry out this mysterious scheme. It was more like the plot of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera than any “business” I’d ever heard of in real life. Still more incredible was what came next.

“It seemed to me from the first that the most suitable person for the post would be—yourself.”

“Me?” I echoed, aghast. Oh, this was getting out of comic opera, and into the realms of nightmare ! Was he really suggesting that I-

“ Yes; you, Miss Trant. You are a lady in every essential, if I may say so, of looks and manner. You seem to possess the gift of making yourself generally liked. You’re distinctly intelligent, in spite of your work, which is -” here for one instant a gleam of what looked almost like humour seemed to flash from the Governor’s eyes. But it was gone again so swiftly that I couldn’t be sure whether it had ever been there. I must have been mistaken. He went on imperturbably: “I am a very fair judge of character, and I believe you to be trustworthy. As a mark of my confidence in you, I shall pay into your account the whole sum of five hundred pounds so soon as you let me know that you consent to enter into this arrangement.”

John (Still) Waters’ cold-blooded proposal should merit a swift reproof from Miss Monica Trant but unfortunately her brother Jack, in Africa, has got in a bit of a muddle with the firm’s accounts and urgently needs a hundred pounds.  Accordingly, Monica embarks on an embarrassing, sometimes comic engagement at the end of which (plot spoiler ahead) John decides he really does wish to marry her. If you’d like to find out what happens, the full text is on ww.archive.org, along with several other titles.

Ruck had begun her career as an artist and illustrator, but after switching to fiction wrote over 90 romances. These span the years 1914 to 1967’s ‘Shopping for a Husband’, as well as some autobiography and short stories. Berta Ruck had strong family connections with Merionethshire and lived in Aberdyfi from 1939 until her death in 1978, a few days after her 100th birthday. What an amazing life she must have led! – as girl, she would have heard about the war in Crimea from those who were there, and near the end of life she’ll seen footage of man walking on the moon. The National Library of Wales holds quite a lot of Ruck material, both printed and manuscript, and there’s more information here https://www.library.wales/collections/learn-more/archives/archives-of-welsh-writers-in-english/berta-ruck-archive/

Slow Reading – and Fast Knitting!

I’ve discovered something which is going to be a good project (not a resolution!) for 2019. Slow Reading.  There’s more information online if you want to search for it, but the basics are self-explanatory. Rather than trying to increase your reading speed, you should endeavour to slow it down, and really acknowledge and appreciate what you’re reading. Read the same paragraph two or three times. Maybe even make notes. Choose a quiet spot where you can have half an hour of peace (this one may be harder to obtain!) and develop the ability to focus.

It sound ideal for me because I am a fast reader and I really like a longer book, or a series, since I know that will keep me busy for a while. And I actively enjoy lengthy 19th century novels, especially by lesser known authors: I highly recommend Evelyn Everett-Green. Incidentally, I’ve wondered for years if this was a male or female author and just checked; she’s a woman who wrote around 350 books. Something to aim for, perhaps? Anyway, Gutenberg.org has provided a three-volume novel called ‘Monica’, set along the wild Cornish coast, which I’m sure I shall enjoy.

A couple of years ago I knitted some hats for Innocnt smoothie bottles, to raise funds for Age UK. There’s another appeal out for these hats, and this time I’m aiming for 100. I’m already up to 78 and the closing date isn’t until the end of July, so maybe I’ll be able to manage double that!

Merry Christmas!

Properly speaking, I should be wishing my readers a Merry Christmas tomorrow, on the 25th. But if I delayed, it would be too late to recommend ‘Capital Stories’ which is by several friends and is available free for Kindle until this Christmas Eve. Four short stories, including a charming Regency and all ready to dip into if you have a few minutes free over the holidays.

Oh, and I must also suggest keeping an eye an Santa’s progress around the world via http://www.noradsanta.org. Live action tracking of the man in red, and little videos of him passing well-known landmarks. Great fun for little (and big) kids!

I hope you have a happy holiday, and best wishes for 2019.

Romeo Magazine

A friend found a cache of magazines from the seventies, and one that particularly caught my eye was Romeo, ‘for the magic of summer love’. I thought it was meant for women in their twenties, but having read the problem page, where one thirteen-year-age asks about puberty, I think they must have been intended for a younger audience. Many of the stories are written as strip cartoons, and they feature girls who are at school or in their first job. One story, which now seems astonishing, is ‘All There in Our Eyes’, which features headgirl Sally, on holiday at her aunt’s for a few days before her exams. She meets gorgeous, dishy Robin at a disco and falls for him, but tries to play it cool. He tells he he’s moving to her town and will look forward to seeing her again. And they do meet – in the head’s study, where Sally is asked to show new teacher Mr Adair (really!) round the school. She is cross with him for keeping it a secret and flirts with another boy at school. Mr Adair tells the boy he should be concentrating on his exams, not girls. I am cringing as I read and wondering how child protection services will react. In the end, Robin and Sally agree to wait till Sally leaves school before picking up their relationship again – Autres temps, autres mœurs.

Besides that there’s a story set in Iona, the illustrator of which has clearly never visited the West Coast since he has endowed it with towering mountains. The characters are busy filming a story in which a mermaid falls in love with a monk, which honestly doesn’t sound like a box office smash. It’s a serial, so I don’t get to find out if gorgeous, dishy producer Jonah sees through spoilt selfish Zoe and falls for kind Samantha. Will he, won’t he? – and a way to make sure your audience buys the next issue for sixpence.
Aside from the stories, there is beauty advice: Gala’s super new gel foundation, Skin Tint, comes in two colours, Bronze and Tan. Fashion tips: Good old Woolies to the rescue with a bargain in tights (lime, tangerine, cream, pearl grey, French navy and petal pink, 4 shillings and ninepence a pair. Career advice: fill in the form to receive a colour booklet showing girls like you carrying out exciting jobs in the Women’s Royal Army Corps. And pop news: Fotheringay have such a huge amplifying sound system that their roadies have nick-named it ‘Stonehenge’ (me neither, but according to Wikipedia they are a short-lived British folk rock group).

The coloured cover and cartoons look odd to readers now accustomed to glossy magazines, and it’s rather a shock to realise that nearly fifty years have passed since this edition of ‘Romeo’ appeared. It’s such a direct glimpse into the past. Perhaps some of these fictional girls weren’t particularly wise in their search for romance, but it shows that the desire for love transcends eras and fashions.

Whitby

I spent a recent weekend at Whitby, the spookily creepy setting for Dracula. Actually, it’s a very attractive town, with red-roofed houses climbing up the hill from the quay to the Abbey. There are easier ways to get there, but I climbed the 199 steps which are really very steep; I would hate to do it in icy conditions. One story about the steps is that every time you climb them you count a different number, which is perfectly true – I made it 198 going up and 204 going down! The first Abbey on the site was established in 657, but was raised by Vikings in the 860s and no trace can be seen today (although there are early foundations under the grass). The ruins we see today formed part of a Benedictine foundation, abandoned after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. The ruins, however, remained an important landmark for sailors, perched high on the cliffs above Whitby.

The Abbey is very striking, but I was more intrigued by the local parish church, St Mary’s, which stands next door (so most parishioners had to face the 199 steps every Sunday!). It has a very low, squat tower, presumably because the winds that are constantly blowing around the headland would make anything taller too exposed. But it was the interior which fascinated me. In the nineteenth century, in order to provide more seating as the town grew, more and more wooden galleries were added around the church. They have been fitted in anywhere there was space, and in all nearly 2,000 people can be accommodated. Some pews are marked as Free Pews, so no seat rent had to be paid to sit there, and others are marked ‘For Strangers only’.

These box pews fill the ground floor of the church, and are painted in a dull green characteristic of the 18th century. Some had a large cloth spread over them, with a notice saying “In times past it was the duty of our Church Maid to cover every privately owned or rented pew after the Service each Sunday. This was to prevent the chimney smuts from the cottages below the Church settling in the pews and spoiling the occupants’ best Sunday Clothes.” What a strange job to have! Each evening, she would have had to haul the canvas over the pews, and I’ll bet it wasn’t an easy task; even making a bed requires a lot of going round and round the mattress, tugging to make the sheets sit symmetrically. I love little details like that; the Church Maid might not be a major figure in my next novel, but I can see her moving around the church, tugging on her canvases, as the hero and heroine talk together after the service.

In other news: the Innocent Big Knit has been launched again. If you fancy knitting some tiny hats to go on smoothie bottles, to raise money for Age UK, find the details here. The striped pattern is great for using up tiny lengths of yarn.

Cosying up

I enjoying knitting and, to a lesser extent, crochet and I’ve posted pictures of some of the things I’ve made on this blog. I like things that are finished quickly – but I also enjoy making blankets. Well, I enjoy making the squares, but I really have to force myself to sew them up at the end. Mainly, I think, because it then becomes a project that I can’t carry about with me, and the amount of time I can actually spend sitting down is limited.

Three years ago, I posted pictures of the colourful squares I’d crocheted, like this one, ending with a pile of squares – 121 in total – to make a six foot square blanket. Because I really don’t know how to crochet, I’d made them by creating a circle, turning it into a square by adding two extra stitches when I reached a corner, crocheting round it till I came to the end of the row, then turning and going back. This meant that I needed to sew up these seams once I’d finished – if you look closely at the pink and blue square above you can just make out the line of seaming going north from the centre.

Now I have to do that for all 121 squares. So I laid them all out on the floor to work out the order in which I’d have to sew them up to prevent two colours being too close to each other. They make a pretty colourful show all together, but they will look much neater when the blanket is finished. As it’s not practical having a floor covered in blanket squares (trip hazard, apart from anything else!) I used spare yarn to catch together the corners together at every intersection, so I now have a large blanket full of slits to spread across my knee over the winter, keeping me warm while I sew up every one of those seams. Wish me luck!