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Re-Reading Your Old Favourites

We’ve been out of lockdown a certain amount of time. We’re constantly watching the news, constantly thinking about how to react to it and constantly worrying about what’s going to happen next. This is we as a country, we as a people, we as the world. Each day we, humankind, get flooded with information. We start to become desensitized to some of the bad and then boom, another thing hits bringing in a new type of bad. At the beginning of the year, there were constant jokes about having 20-20 vision and yet now we’re as blind about what’s going to happen as a badger-mole that’s lost its earth-bending (yes, I have been re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s an amazing show).

            On a personal level I opened a business in the hospitality and tourism industry at a time when nobody wants to travel. I’ve tried multiple other ways to bring money into my household, so that I can keep myself (and my sanity) afloat. I’ve attempted to give people peace of mind, I’ve attempted offering teaching classes to locals, I’ve attempted writing and entering competitions and each time that I’ve failed I’ve felt a little bit more of myself breaking off. And the worst part is, I know there are other people in worse positions. I feel guilty for my stress. I feel like I should punish myself for feeling the way I feel. But everyone has a right to that. Even me.

            So, what do we do when all these worries wash over us? What do we do when the world seems so uncertain and stress-inducing? Do we start a new project, one with a fulfilling end? Do we begin to watch a new show, to enter into an exciting new chapter? Well, from what I’ve been seeing over the internet and in my own household, I’d have to argue no. What we do is we return to something familiar. Something that, unlike the year of 2020, we know the end to. We re-watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. We re-read our favourite books. And then we realise what we hadn’t noticed in those things ever before.

            Beyond remembering how amazing of a show or book something is, we also start to see new things. Last night I started to re-read one of my favourite books from when I was a teenager: ‘House at the Corner’ by Enid Blyton. It’s not a book you may have heard of. Enid Blyton, maybe, yes. She’s an extremely famous author. One of the only authors allowed to continue being published during World War 2, in fact. But when you think of Enid Blyton, you tend to think of The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Malory Towers, Noddy etc. These are all big household names (speaking as a Brit. I’m not entirely sure how well known she is in America etc.). I love all of these books, don’t get me wrong. Despite the fact I didn’t know until University that Lacrosse was a sport still played today, despite the fact that many of the views and language are outdated, even despite the fact that the main characters in reality would never have even probably had the time of day for me, I love them (bar Julian from ‘The Famous Five’, who for some reason annoys me no end).

            But ‘House at the Corner’, one of her more obscure works is my favourite. It relaxes me, and even as an adult I give a round of applause to how well the characters are portrayed. I still love it. I still will re-read it and re-read it again, but I could not stop laughing at certain things that happened on this journey into it.

            Okay, to quickly summarise. The story is about the Farrell family. Pam, the oldest: eighteen, too smart, too beautiful, big ego. Tony: fourteen, again too smart, doted on by mother, fairly strong, joker, big ego. Delia and David: ten year old twins, the most sensible members of the children, very serious, very kind, very honest, love them completely, always get ignored by their family. And then there’s Lizzie: sixteen years old, plain looking, wears glasses, wears braces, dotes on her family, drops anything in a heartbeat to help them, shy and quiet. Most importantly for this discussion, she’s a writer.

            Now, maybe there’s a particular reason I’ve always liked Lizzie (or sorry, Elizabeth, as she prefers). Maybe it is that she represents a successful writer at sixteen (let that age wash over for you for a while. Does it sting, just a little?). Basically, Lizzie gets persuaded to write stories because her Great Aunt says she’s good at writing letters. We’ll let that one slide for now. Although a woman I talked to recently mentioned that her friends believed the same of her because she was good at writing letters, and she found she was not very good at stories. Hey hum, moving on.

            So Lizzie writes a successful story, with little to no editing. As you do. Her Great Aunt loves it. Amazing. She sends in to a newspaper aiming to be published. Gets rejected and her Great Aunt persuades her to try again. Great. That’s amazing advice, from a writer to a writer (thank you, Enid Blyton). She sends off to another paper and they accept her. They agree to publish her across six of their papers in children’s corner and agree as well to publish one of her stories in each edition for a paid sum. She starts at £3 a story and then moves to £5 a story. A substantial sum at the time.

            Tony comments at the end: Would they have published her if they’d known her age? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they were publishing her knowing nothing about her. She could have been under the age for working for all they knew (which, as far as I’m aware, though lower, did still exist at the time). She could have been anyone.

            I think what irked me about this is, not that she’s successful at a young age and I’m still sat here desperately trying to find the confidence to put down words, but that she gets to be completely anonymous. I know that’s not what she wanted. She wanted her name in print. But I want that, please. I’d love to publish things without a name, just get paid and then get on with writing again. That’d be great. Please. Can I do that, instead of making my books all about selling me? I’m not nearly as interesting as what I write. Believe me. I have to live with myself.

            Why, you ask, am I sat in my garden writing a rant about this one point. Well, to be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve written on my blog and it was about time. If Lizzie can be anonymous, getting published and being paid for it, then maybe there’s hope for the world yet. It turns out even in the 1940’s (or around about when Blyton was writing) writers still had a fantasy of being a writer. It’s okay to dream about it. It’s okay to want to earn a living from it. At sixteen. Anonymous even to your publishers. You do you. And have fun with it.

            For real though, how was she so productive? One story each edition? Edited? And she claimed she wrote children’s stories because she wasn’t up to the standard of writing adults fiction? Come on, children’s fiction is hard work. They’re very harsh critics. Although, ironic that a children’s author should have been the one to write that line.

            I would highly recommend reading ‘House at the Corner’, especially if you’ve got any aspiring young novelists in your household. I hope you’re all having a good time escaping into your own fantasy worlds.

A Bientot, les ecrivians,

The Literary Onion

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Characters In Quarantine, Part 1: Dorothy (of Oz) and Alice (of Wonderland)

Quarantine’s quite a fun thing, isn’t it? Lots of drama, lots of boredom, lots of lessons and lots of arguments. So, how would certain characters feel if they were forced into 2020 Lockdown with each other? Fun scripts for anyone to preform (at least one adult joke is made in this one). If anybody has any ideas for characters combinations, send them my way.

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We enter onto a plain room. It has white walls. There’s an ugly, old brown couch in the centre with a colourful knitted throw thrown over it. There’s a fireplace to the side of the couch, lit and a pile of ash at the bottom of it as it’s been going a long time. In front of the fireplace there’s an old knitted rug, in similar colours to the throw. There are a few pictures of cats hung on the wall and one picture of a scarecrow in a field next to another cat. Dorothy is sat on the couch, flipping through an old book. Alice is sat on the rug near the fireplace, her shirt partly down as she’s too hot in her dress. She’s hugging her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth and fanning herself.

Alice:              Can we go out yet?

Dorothy:        Nope.

Alice:              (brief pause) What about now?

Dorothy:        Still nope.

Alice:              Surely it must be over now?

Dorothy:        Not according to the news. We just have to be patient.

Alice:              I don’t like being patient (kicks the floor with her heel).

Dorothy:        Well, unless you want to be a patient, you have to be patient.

There’s a minute silence as Alice rolls around on the floor, doing many different silly poses to try and get comfortable. Dorothy continues to flip through her book and doesn’t look up.

Alice:              How are you so good at this?

Dorothy:        I’ve had to sit inside for days when tornado season comes to my Aunty Em’s farm.

Alice:              (shuffling again) Lucky.

Dorothy:        Not really. Why don’t you read a book, Alice?

Alice:              Don’t like books.

Dorothy:        Maybe paint a picture then?

Alice:              (gestures to the room) I’ve already done that. Do you not see all the cats?

Dorothy:        (looks up from book) Oh, yeah. They’re… nice.

Alice:              You didn’t even notice them.

Dorothy:        No, I did.

Alice:              Well, you didn’t say anything about them.

Dorothy:        I was busy, reading.

Alice:              You’re always reading. Can’t you play with me instead?

Dorothy:        Can’t you do your homework for class on Monday?

Alice:              Already done it. What about you?

Dorothy:        I’ll do it later. After I’ve finished my book.

Alice:              Ugh, I should’ve just stayed with my sister. Either way I’d just get someone reading a book and ignoring me.

Dorothy:        Take a nap. That’s what I do when I’m bored.

Alice:              Tried that. Not one sign of a White Rabbit.

Dorothy:        Honestly, I think that’s kind of a good thing to hear. I haven’t seen a sign of Oz lately either.

Alice:              They’re probably all stuck in quarantine too. Ugh, they must be so bored.

Dorothy:        Well, they do say it can get anywhere. I wouldn’t want to get the Good Witch ill. I don’t think she’d ever forgive me.

Alice:              Are you ready to play yet?

Dorothy:        No, Alice. Let me finish my book.

Alice:              Please.

Dorothy:        No.

Alice:              Come on, you know you want to.

Dorothy:        I’m busy.

Alice:              Can we at least turn the fireplace off? It’s boiling.

Dorothy:        No. It took me ages to light that fire. It stays on. A book’s always better with a roaring fireplace going on in the background.

Alice:              Who told you that? The scarecrow or the tin-man? (snickers)

Dorothy:        Don’t be silly. The scarecrow can’t go near fire. And the tin-man’s too scared that he’ll set his forest on fire.

Alice:              All your friends are kind of lame then?

Dorothy:        Oh, yes, what about your friends? The Mad Hatter who’s high on caffeine all the time or the caterpillar who’s high on something else entirely? Doesn’t everyone in Wonderland pretty much just want to kill you?

Alice:              At least it’s interesting there. Never a dull day. Unlike here.

Dorothy:        Well, then, next time this happens you can go and stay with someone else. I’ll be quite fine on my own.

Alice:              Oh, please. You like the attention too much to be all alone.

Dorothy:        How dare you. Get out.

Alice:              I can’t go out, remember?

Dorothy:        Then, go to another room.

Alice:              Fine. I’ll go play with the yellow bricks in the garden (makes to leave).

Dorothy:        It’s raining outside, remember?

Alice:              Ugh. I hate this stupid house.

Dorothy:        Hey, at least you weren’t swept up in a tornado.

Alice:              Oh, please, Dorothy. Everyone knows it was all a dream.

Dorothy:        It was real. I’ve got bruises to prove it.

Alice:              If you had bruises to prove it, why would they still be there? Liar.

Dorothy:        Call me liar again and I’ll…

Alice:              You’ll what? Read me to death?

Dorothy:        (throws her book at Alice, Alice dodges) Get out!

Alice:              Fine. I don’t want to see your stupid face anymore anyway.

Dorothy:        I don’t want to see yours either (goes to pick up her book). It’s corn on the cob for dinner tonight.

Alice:              Ugh, again?

Dorothy:        If you want to do the shopping, why don’t you go next time?

Alice:              I don’t want to.

Dorothy:        Then, we’re eating corn on the cob.

Alice:              Fine.

Dorothy:        Fine.

                        Alice storms out and Dorothy brushes down her book. She wanders back to the couch and fans herself.

                        Wow, geez, it’s hot in here.

                        She continues reading.