Pamela L. Travers and “The Tale of Beatrix Potter” (Part I)

This is part 1 of a 2-part post about two quite remarkable writers.
A really well written piece.

The Mary Poppins Effect

Beatrix Potter1

I have long held that the secret of the successful children’s book is that it is not written for children. … Outside appreciation of any kind is of secondary importance to the true children’s writer. For him the first and ultimate requirement is that the book should please himself. For he is the one for whom the  book is written. With it he puts to sleep his wakeful youth and tells the story of the hidden child within him.Such works are more often than not the results of an imaginative mind playing its light over lonely childhoods. What the child lacked in those tender years the imagination gives back to it. 

Pamela L. Travers 

This is what Pamela L. Travers wrote, under the pen name of Milo Reve, in her review of Beatrix Potter’s biography “The Tale of Beatrix Potter” written by Margaret Lane.  

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Tribute to Tolstoy

Cafe Book Bean

imagesBorn today September 9th 1828
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
(Usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy) was a Russian aristocrat and one of the world’s most preeminent writers. Tolstoy become famous through his epic novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

“We can know only that we know nothing.
And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.” (
War and Peace)

Tolstoy’s fictional work includes: dozens of short stories and several novellas such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Family Happiness, and Hadji Murad. He also wrote plays and numerous philosophical essays.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (
Anna Karenina)

Towards the end of his life, Leo Tolstoy became increasingly interested in a version of pacifist Christianity with support for a strand of anarchist Communism. His exposition of pacifism and non-violence had a profound influence…

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Whenever things go a bit sour …

Whenever things go a bit sour …

Whenever things go a bit sour in a job I’m doing, I always tell myself, ‘You can do better than this.’ 

Dr. Seuss



Nicely done, Mr Dahl …

Nicely done, Mr Dahl …

I, Writer … #18

I, Writer … #18

Total Global Nuclear War in a Waste-Paper Basket …

Many years ago, before Twitter was an egg and trolls were just annoying creatures with nothing better to do than scare the living daylights out of unsuspecting travellers, I wrote to several well-known British daily newspapers. I was trying to sell them articles about all manner of things from the price of fish to the likely consequences of total global nuclear war. I didn’t hold out too much hope of getting anything published but these things must always be attempted in any event.

Anyway, just in case my efforts weren’t accepted (and believe you me, they weren’t) I had adopted a face-saving ploy. This ploy was absurdly simple and centred on the subject of waste disposal.

I told them – “If, in the unlikely event you choose not to snap this article up and prefer instead to dispose of it in the time honoured fashion, then the very least you can do is to tell me what colour waste paper bins you have in your editorial offices.”

I thought this to be a perfectly reasonable request.
Did they take me up on this ? Did they hell!  No replies. Nothing. 

Well, except the dear old Daily Telegraph. They actually wrote back to me. “Thank you for your article. Unfortunately we are unable to accept non-commissioned pieces at this time. As to your request. The waste bins in our offices are a nice shiny blue. We have also recently acquired several new paper shredders. We wish you every success for the future.”

Well at least they bothered.

The Desk, the Pen and the Writing Paper

The Desk, the Pen and the Writing Paper …

This is a very nice reproduction Thomas Chippendale style desk. It costs £10,250. The real thing would set you back well over £150,000. Still, I don’t think you can beat a good old-fashioned kitchen table.

OK. Now for a pen. I use a Bic Cristal biro. It does me fine. The current title holder for the world’s most expensive pen is the Fulgor Nocturnus by the famous pen-makers Tibaldi of Florence. This fountain pen sold for $8 million in a 2010 auction in Shanghai, China. So what’s so special about the Fulgor Nocturnus that makes it about 8 million times more expensive than your average Bic pen? It was created based on the Divine Proportions of Phi, so the ratio between the cap and the visible portion of the barrel when the pen is closed is equal to the phi ratio 1.618. In addition to its divine shape, the pen is decorated with 945 black diamonds and 123 rubies.

As for a suitable ink to go with it. Haven’t a clue. But I would like to point out that scorpion venom works out at $37 million per gallon and your average computer ink is about $4,500 per gallon. If you can afford to buy a pen costing $8 million, then a bottle of Parker Quink shouldn’t exactly break the bank.

Finally, writing paper. Yellow lined legal pads are my favourite.
The Golden Store is a Germany-based online shop offering luxury goods to all those who love the rare and the opulent. One such item is a limited edition stock of 14th century paper. Every single sheet of paper has its unique watermark guaranteeing authenticity. Those who can whip up £9,250 can buy a single sheet of paper from the Golden Store.

So … on my shopping list, for when I’ve finished my string of bestsellers, will be: milk, bread, cheese, custard creams, marmite (large jar) and tomato sauce. 

Tea & Cakes with PorterGirl …

 Tea & Cakes with PorterGirl …

Today my featured author is the delightful Lucy Brazier, aka “PorterGirl“. She is the author of the wonderfully entertaining PorterGirl series of stories which are based on her own real life experiences as the first female Deputy Head Porter at one of the oldest and finest colleges of Cambridge University.

Lucy Brazier lives in the university city of Cambridge, England. She started writing from the age of ten when her primary school teachers were at a bit of a loss as to how to contain her effervescent personality. They tasked her with writing stories for the younger children in a bid to keep it from disrupting her peers. Lucy developed her skills throughout her teenage years, when she was inspired to read the words of Homer, Livy and Virgil. These formative years also saw her develop her other great passion of music, where she threw herself into several years of misbehaving and playing bass guitar in unsuitable rock bands. She winded her literary horizons through the works of Terry Pratchett, Oscar Wilde and Flann O’Brien – the latter of which remains to this day her favourite writer.

Lucy developed a penchant for the unusual and the absurd, something which was exacerbated by her time serving in the Police where the many varied experiences and characters she met had a profound effect on her outlook on life. After 7 years on the front line and driven by fascination with Inspector Morse, on a whim Lucy applied for the job of Deputy Head Porter at one of the foremost colleges of Cambridge University.

To her great surprise, and that of many others at the time, she landed a role as the first female to don the iconic bowler hat in the colleges six hundred year history. Having left formal education at the tender age of sixteen with little to show for it, being thrown in among the academic elite was something of an eye opener. Documenting the quirks and fables of College life on social media, Lucy was soon persuaded to start a blog – Secret Diary Of PorterGirl. Acutely aware of the dim view taken by College officials of any slight upon their reputation, she wrote anonymously and in such a way as to disguise the true identity of the now notorious Old College.

However, being quite possibly the worst Deputy Head Porter of all time made her decide to hang up her bowler hat and peruse her dream of becoming a writer. Lucy considers this is the best decision she has ever made. I certainly agree.

Anyway, while you’re sitting comfortably, here are some questions for you Miss Brazier …

Do you tend to write in one place or can you write just about anywhere ?

I am happiest doing the physical writing at my desk in my bedroom, but I come up with ideas and make notes almost anywhere. I construct chapters whilst on the train, walking, driving (bit dangerous, this), in the shower – then once I’ve got it all straight in my head I sit down to write.

Do you keep set hours every day ? If yes, then how do you time it ?

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are usually my writing days, although sometimes this changes due to real life. I like to start first thing in the morning, certainly by 7, and keep going until I am absolutely starving, then stop for some food. Often bacon, sausage, egg and toast and a large mug of tea. My work schedule is very much dictated by my stomach. After doing some practical things, I pick up again in the afternoon for a couple of hours. Sometimes I write on a Sunday, or just go through what I’ve already written. Or I pop round to my nan’s and tell her about what I’m up to.

Do you wear any special clothes when you’re writing ? ( Your bowler hat perhaps)

I wish I could say I wrote in a bowler! But no, it’s usually my jim-jams or, in the winter, one of my many onesies. I like to be comfortable when I’m writing.

Does music help ? A string quartet on permanent standby in the corner ?

Music is almost essential! I used to have Classic FM on but the adverts started to annoy me. Gershwin is my favourite writing music, or a bit of Debussy followed by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. For the more serious bits, you can’t beat a bit of Brahms to get the creative juices flowing.

What are the tools of your trade ?

My laptop, notebooks, pens and a thesaurus – I’d love to say I have a huge, leather-bound copy on my desk, but I tend to use an online one. I also have an app on my phone, in case I come across unusual words when out and about.

Any strange rituals associated with your writing day ?  I hope so.

Nothing too strange, but I do check all my emails, messages and whatnot before I settle down to write. Ideally I don’t want to see or speak to anyone on writing days so I get the formalities out of the way first. Switch off all social media and things so there are no distractions. And I like to have little chocolates to hand when writing, which I always eat in batches of three. It has to be batches of three or my grammar goes skew-whiff. Also, strangely, I tend to do my best writing before I’ve had a shower. I don’t know why this is.

Refreshments to keep you going ?

Tea! And more tea. The aforementioned cooked breakfast and little chocolates then something sturdy in the evening, like a pie or steak or something. Writing is hungry work. Genius is never achieved on an empty stomach.

Would you say you have a writer’s discipline ?

Discipline is important when writing and sacrifices to a personal life have to be made. But I try to make time for mischief and shenanigans where I can. Life – and therefore my writing – would be dull without it. And I absolutely have to squeeze in visits to my grandparents here and there. This is considered an essential.

Does the gorgeous  Terry help you write ?

Apart from being the occasional source of inspiration, Terry is no help at all when it comes to writing. If his adorable attempts to garner tummy rubs go unheeded, he sits himself on the keyboard. Luckily, like me, he can often be distracted by food.

Anything to say about writer’s block ?

There are lots of oft-repeated hints and tips for tackling those times when pen and paper just won’t get it together; oft-repeated because they are good advice. Going for a walk is my favourite. It gets the blood pumping and a change of scenery can jolt a tired brain back into action. Walking is brilliant for thinking. If I’m struggling with a scene I take myself for a good stomp and let myself think of all the wildest and most outrageous things to write – I mean, really let the imagination go. These things will never make it onto the page but it’s better than thinking about nothing and, eventually, the crazy ideas settle down into something much more sensible and useful.

Any final advice Lucy ?

What it all boils down to, is that writing takes time, effort and just a smidgeon of talent. Don’t romanticise it or swath it in esoteric nonsense. Put the kettle on, your bum on your seat and just get on with it.

Thank you so much Lucy. You’re a star. Now, help yourself to a biscuit. More tea ?