Wednesday, December 31, 2008

headlights at night

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." E.L. Doctorow What a great quote to combat the panel of perfectionists inside your head who demand you know completely all about everything all the time before you even DARE to put pen to paper. (I assume they're inside your head, too?) It also reminds me of what I heard Newberry award winning writer Linda Sue Park say on a panel once. She was asked, "Why did you decide to write novels?" Her reply is a life preserver on a stormy sea. She said, "I don't write novels." (That would be too scary and she wouldn't be able to do it.) "I write two pages a day."

Monday, December 22, 2008

saying what you mean

poet Diane Wakoski, (b. 1937) whose more than 40 books of poems include, The Collected Greed, Parts 1-13 (1984) and Argonaut Rose (1998), said: "Poetry is the art of saying what you mean but disguising it." (photo: rear of an old sussex church)

Friday, December 19, 2008

cracked pots

"Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in." -Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

a good proper royal title

Did you know that when she crowned in 1952, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s full title was over 200 words long? And included such lofty and important terms as “Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle.” Here it is in full: "Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith, Duchess of Edinburgh, Countess of Merioneth, Baroness Greenwich, Duke of Lancaster, Lord of Mann, Duke of Normandy, Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Sovereign of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, Sovereign of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Sovereign of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Sovereign of the Distinguished Service Order, Sovereign of the Imperial Service Order, Sovereign of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, Sovereign of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, Sovereign of the Order of British India, Sovereign of the Indian Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of Burma, Sovereign of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert, Sovereign of the Royal Family Order of King Edward VII, Sovereign of the Order of Mercy, Sovereign of the Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of the Companions of Honour, Sovereign of the Royal Victorian Order, Sovereign of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem." (try saying that every time you'd like her to pass the toast)

Monday, December 15, 2008

hard nosed advice to writers

An interviewer once asked Ursula Le Guin advice for writers, and she replied, "I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you're writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn't flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work." Ursula K Le Guin (b.1929)

Friday, December 12, 2008


"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."

- Sir Winston Churchill

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

picture books: words and pictures together

Two really cool picture books (The Snow Show and Snow) are reviewed in the Times this week. But it's the review, written by a Prince of Children's Books, Paul O. Zelinsky, and his words about how a good picture works that struck me. He says (among other great things): "In any good picture book, words and pictures complement each other, each of them necessary and neither sufficient." Working on picture books, you must check your ego at the door. At least if you want a good picture book. It's what one of my publishers calls, "Breaking through The Author Barrier": where you suddenly find that what you're most concerned with is not keeping all of your words, but making the best book. Even if that means, as Faulkner said, murdering "your darlings." (Those pieces of text you are so fond of and think are so wonderful and the very apex of your literary skill usually are the very things that must go. Because in order to keep them you make everything else work around them and end up forcing things. And that, as far as I can tell, never works in books and stories anymore than it does in life.) Putting the book first--not your words--takes the focus off you (and saves you from that awful self-indulgence and thinking it's all about self-expression) and puts it where it belongs: to thinking first of the reader and asking not "Am I a good writer?" but, "Am I telling a good story?" Read more here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"one of the funniest books of the year"

No, it's not just me saying it. Radio 4 said it. Honestly. And they know things. (Radio 4 is the high brow radio station of the UK--for the benefit of non-Brits) In FRONT ROW'S round up of the best books to give younger readers this Christmas, How To Be A Baby: by Me, The Big Sister was in the list! And that's when they said that thing about it being "one of the funniest books of the year" (sorry, did I already say that?) Listen here if you feel like a bit of Brit Radio... Front Row.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Subprime Banking Mess

John Bird and John Fortune (the Long Johns) (who I think surely must have written that interview "the front fell off" in the last post) here brilliantly describing the mindset of the investment banking community in this "interview." Shows how great comedy is for pointing out the ridiculousness of things. The only trouble is no one takes it seriously.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The front fell off

oh dear

(does it remind anyone else of John Bird and John Fortune? if you're not familiar with them, I'll be posting them next week... stay tuned.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I will sing forever

"I will sing forever" sung by Christ Church College (and probably we could listen to I will sing forever, forever. I love the words and the whole idea of singing for your creator as your life's work. it's a great prayer. and this song makes me very happy and sad at the same time. Plus well, it's those chorister bell like voices that completely do you in. my nephew was a chorister once and of course it was completely hopeless. we spent most of the services not being able to see with the tears in our eyes.)

children again

The 16 snowflakes dance at the heart of the storm in The Nutcracker "At this and every point of this 'Nutcracker,' we’re children again. So much drama is about the loss of innocence or of paradise in some form, but here is an enthralling tale of innocence preserved and paradise discovered." Alastair MacCaulay in The Times. He also points out something interesting. Have you noticed how lately it's being referred to as "George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker' TM"? Aside from the TM which is irritating, what about Tchaikovsky?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Annie Leibovitz - Monarchy

The most famous woman in the world photographed by the most famous photographer of the most famous in the world. Annie Leibovitz shoots the queen... very interesting stuff. you actually see the cultures clashing right in front of your very eyes. (And you can hardly blame the Queen. Is there, do you think, a more foolish thing to say to Her Majesty, dressed up in her full Imperial Royal Regalia?)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

the source of joy

by Rumi

"No one knows what makes the soul wake
up so happy! Maybe a dawn breeze has

blown the veil from the face of God.
A thousand new moons appear. Roses

open laughing. Hearts become perfect
rubies like those from Badakshan. The

body turns entirely spirit. Leaves
become branches in this wind. Why is

it now so easy to surrender, even for
those already surrendered? There's no

answer to any of this. No one knows
the source of joy. A poet breathes

into a reed flute, and the tip of
every hair makes music. Shams sails

down clods of dirt from the roof, and
we take jobs as doorkeepers for him."

Translated by Coleman Barks

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

you can't ever tell...

You can't ever be sure what's the thing that will last... it seems you only know what is really good with time. Just look at the books everyone was raving about 100 years ago and you probably won't even recognize any of the titles. And what about Lincoln and his most famous speech of all time? On 19th November 1863, Abraham Lincoln got up in front of about 15,000 people and delivered the Gettysburg Address, which begins, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Lincoln's last line, "government of the people, by the people, for the people." It was a foggy, cold morning. As Writer's Almanac describes it: "Lincoln arrived at the new national cemetery in Gettysburg at about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of 10 sentences, a total of 272 words. The audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken." A 320-page book on Lincoln's 272-word speech was published in 2006 called, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America. Words that remade America. And at the time no one even noticed. Which only goes to prove we most of the time don't really know what on earth we're talking about when we say what's what and who's who. And what about that poor guy who went on for 2 hours. Who now remembers anything of what he was saying? oh dear. (Note on the image: there is no actual photo of Lincoln giving his speech because, of course, it was over before the photographer had time to take one.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

now appearing on a christmas album

Hold on to your hats. Yes, The Jesus Storybook Bible is appearing in a Christmas Album near you. It's in the wonderful Sara Groves' latest Christmas Album (she's wonderful and so is her music). It's read beautifully by 5 year old Toby Groves, in the song "It's True" and it's an exerpt from "The Light of The Whole World" story. I just listened to it and I love it. It reminds me of Charlie Brown's Christmas when the little boy at the end recites the christmas story. Listen here. Album available here on CD or mp3.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'm reading on Winter's Eve, Lincoln Square

On Monday, December 1, 2008 it's the Ninth Annual Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square - NYC's largest holiday festival and I'm lucky enough to be reading. WHEN: Monday, December 1, 2008, 6:30 PM WHERE: American Bible Society Bookstore - Broadway at 61st Street WHAT: reading from HOW TO BE A BABY, HANDBAG FRIENDS, THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO GRANDMAS AND GRANDPAS and more. And signing books afterwards (what an ideal time for purchasing gifts!) more info here or call: 212 408-1201. More about Winter's Eve: Winter's Eve features free entertainment, food tastings, in-store activities and shopping around and about this colorful and vibrant neighborhood. Stores, restaurants, cultural organizations and public spaces in the district will be buzzing with activities for both children and adults. At the same time, sidewalks along Broadway from Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle to 68th Street will be alive with performers, street musicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and more, making for a festive fun-filled stroll through the streets of this dynamic Upper West Side neighborhood. Celebration begins at Dante Park, Broadway & 63rd Street, with a neighborhood tree lighting featuring Grandma from the Big Apple Circus and others! Festivities continue along Broadway from Time Warner Center to 68th Street. FOR MORE INFORMATION: Please call 212.581.3774

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

healing souls

"The soul is healed by being with children." Fyodor Dostoyevsky One of the great privileges of being an author is going into public schools with Authors Read Aloud of Learning Leaders. I get to go to PS 27 in Red Hook Brooklyn and read to the children in the Pre-K and Kindergarten classes. It is a highlight of my year. Whatever I think I'm giving, they give back 100 fold. This photo shows me with my favorite class (and they're ALL my favorites). I'm reading Handbag Friends to them. After reading to them (having been into outer space, rescued some baby handbags, tamed a monster and sung a song and saved the day), here's what happens, it seems without fail. They rush up to me and give me a group hug. Something about this moment, points me to the core of why I am writing for children. It's that joy at the center of the experience of telling a story to a child. That's what I want to be about. Lately, in the class, we've even had time for questions. Last time, in the middle of various questions like "how long it takes to write a book?", "where you get your ideas from?", etc. A little girl put up her hand. "Yes," I said. "What's your question?" Still holding her hand up she said, "I love you."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bolt [2008] - Official Movie Trailer

OK so I saw this movie in an advance screening this week (a benefit of being in NYC) and it's fantastic. Very extremely extra brilliant. Makes you laugh. Makes you cry. John Travolta is the voice of the dog (and the dog's expressions are all modeled on his). Great music. If you love dogs you'll go mad; if you don't love dogs you will by the end.

a full-time job

E.B. White wrote, "Just to live in the country is a full-time job. You don't have to do anything. The idle pursuit of making a living is pushed to one side, where it belongs, in favor of living itself, a task of such immediacy, variety, beauty, and excitement that one is powerless to resist its wild embrace."

But he also loved the city--he's the author of a classic about New York City, Here is New York, of course, as well as the peerless, Charlotte' Web.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

big city, (not so) bright lights

thanks to an army of motion sensors, dimmers, timers as well as costs, codes and conservation, buildings are no longer glowing at night in NYC. They go dark when the city sleeps. Which is good. Except it's not as pretty. In 1957 (below, view from 30 Rock south) electricity set manhattan ablaze, the towers shone all night long and the city sparkled. Read more here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

having a story to tell

"I never feel like I have a story to tell. I write to find the story." Andrew Dubus III, author of bestselling novel, HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (1999).

Friday, November 7, 2008

chutzpah: a definition

here's an illustration of a mouse demonstrating "chutzpah" (from William Steig's Doctor De Soto):

chutzpah is not a word you meet much in the UK.
At least last time I checked.

I like it. It's perfect. I may adopt it as my own. and even start using it on my Friends and Relations next time I'm back and see if I can't introduce it to England.

Plus it's really nice to say.
Except, of course, CAUTION: you do need to know how to say it or you sound like a ninny and the very opposite of the word you're using.

(clue for any chutzpah beginners: it's not "ch" as in church; it's "ch" as in more like you're having a coughing fit)

Anyway, it was Leo Rosten (b. 1908 in Poland) who first put in writing the famous and best definition of chutzpah as "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

worrying and writing

"When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God's business."
Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)

Hmm. I wonder what she'd have said to those people who say (I once heard a whole panel of them say it to a whole bunch of authors) it's an authors job to worry about what happens to the book once it leaves your hands and it doesn't matter these days so much about the content of the book it's all about the platform of the author and whether he or she looks great on camera and is presentable and good at interviews.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Time to Sleep, My Love

my dear dear friend has a magnificent talent and a glorious new book out to prove it. Stunningly illustrated by Uber NYT Bestseller Nancy Tillman. Eric's poem is heart-stoppingly beautiful. There's even an incredible tune (composed by Sally Taylor, the daughter of James Taylor and Carly Simon no less!) that's available on CD. what company he keeps! (CAUTION: before listening be sure to be ready for bed. it will send you straight to sleep.) (Better buy it first.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

happy nyc marathon day!

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the matriarch of American distance running, winner of the first Olympic marathon for women in 1984 and pioneer in bringing acceptance to women’s distance running said: “Marathoning is a metaphor for life, so there are a lot of parallels you can draw. I tell people to follow your dream, follow your heart, follow your passion, run your own race and believe in yourself. I think anybody who wants to succeed has to have passion.” above: exhaustion gives way to elation as runners round the bottom of the park and head towards the finish check out the course and run it in three and a half minutes flat here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

books and muffin crumbs

Anne Fadiman (b. 1953) believes that if you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs. Excuse me but I must leave this instant to buy some Muffins For Work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why did the chicken cross 125th Street?

"That’s what some East Harlem residents are trying to figure out. A bunch of chickens and a big white turkey appeared near the corner of 125th Street and Second Avenue last week and began pecking in traffic." The New York Times. Read more here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Psychologically Sound Picture Book

Kate Kellaway, in a review of Children's picture books, 2-5 years (which appeared in the Observer on Sunday October 26 on p25 of the Features and reviews section) called How To Be A Baby: By Me, The Big Sister "the most psychologically sound, entertaining story to shore up the dented ego of an older child faced with a new baby." The Professor would certainly agree. The review is also in the Guardian online and you can read it here.

tech tips, basically

What are the basic computer basics-that-you-thought-everyone-knew? In a piece in the New York Times, Pogue lists some I had no idea about ... like if you hit the space bar it scrolls down one page's worth and if you add the shift key it goes back up. Cool. Also Google does maths for you. What about this Experiment. Try typing in this horrid head-achey equation: 23*15.3+15/3= (what does that even mean?) and then hit Enter. (On the computer, as we totally already knew of course, * means "times" and / means "divided by.") Want to know more? You can read Pogue's Tech Tips here and even add some of your own. Sorry excuse me but I have to go and practice my equations and scrolls now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

world magazine article

Susan Olasky very kindly came and interviewed me and wrote an article and you can read it here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

very funny

Recently, at an undisclosed facility, in a top secret location, an Expert tested out How To Be A Baby: By Me, The Big Sister. (He is, of course, Professor of Tinyness at Baby University in Teeny-Weeny-on-Thames.)

Here are the results.

His eloquence is stunning and scholars are unanimous: his argument is water-tight and irrefutable.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Biblioburro

what about this? a mobile library in Colombia run by Luis Soriano. it's called the "Biblioburro" and he started it because he believes taking books to people who do not have them can somehow improve this impoverished region. on his way he stops to read stories to children. how great to have books you can biblioburro borrow. as the New York Times says... this "Acclaimed Colombian Institutions has 4,800 books and 10 legs". More here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Math call to 911

Click here.

appearing in a footnote near you...

yes, hold on to your hats, it's true: Jago and I are appearing in a footnote. I felt, it being a footnote, I should give it a blog. Perhaps we could also have a footnote party and wear hats on our feet. here's what it says... (According to my Top Secret Sources with their ears to the ground and their noses in the trifle) (excuse me?) (pardon?) (stop it) As I was saying, here's what my Source tells me: 'At the bottom of page 15 of his book out this month, Ben Patterson writes, "The writers of the New Testament write with the conviction that every story and psalm of the Old Testament 'whispers his name.' There's a footnote, so I turned to it and read, "A phrase taken from The Jesus Storybook Bible, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago Silver ...A terrific book--theologically astute, even profound, and beautifully illustrated." ' (God's Prayer Book.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Isaiah reading

this photo made my day... (Thanks to Reggie, his dad, who let me post this photo of Isaiah from his blog where he very kindly reviewed the book.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Alonso Alvarez Barreda: short

This beautiful 4 min short, The Story of a Sign, won the Cannes 2008 online competition. Watch it here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

campaign chair

This is a replica of a chair used by my friend's dad, Jack Sanguinetti, during the Second World War. Campaign furniture was built during the 19th and 20th centuries for ease of transport--this one is totally collapsible and can be packed up and carried in a bag! These chairs were army inventory that the Army & Navy store used to supply. It traveled with Jack (right) when he was serving with the King's African Rifles in Kenya and then later in Burma (where he served with Mountbatten). Oh it's all so romantic and wonderful and like a movie I can hardly stand it. And as if that weren't enough to make your heart hurt, here are his three children all sitting on it (susie my friend is the one eating the teddy and looking a bit surprised--perhaps it wasn't as tasty as she had envisaged). Today also happens to be her birthday. Happy Birthday Susie Campaign Chair Queen of the Teddy Bear Eaters. (It's also Emily's Birthday, my niece, so happy birthday to Emily The Glorious Princess Nieceness, too) More here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jorge Luis Borges lecture, "A Poet's Creed"

Here is the last of these very short (1-3 min) audio excerpts from two of the six Norton Lectures Jorge Luis Borges delivered at Harvard in 1967 and 1968, recently discovered in the Harvard University Archives.

A Poet's Creed (Lecture 6):
advice to writers...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bardot Before; Bardot After

The photograph on the right was doctored by the “beautification engine” (sounds like something out of a scary novel) of a new computer program that "uses a mathematical formula to alter the original form into a theoretically more attractive version, while maintaining what programmers call an 'unmistakable similarity' to the original." Clearly, they still have some work to do before they even get close to the maker's original. More in this New York Times article.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jorge Luis Borges lecture, "A Poet's Creed"

Here is the next of these very short (1-3 min) audio clips from two of the six Norton Lectures Jorge Luis Borges delivered at Harvard in 1967 and 1968, recently discovered in the Harvard University Archives.

A Poet's Creed (Lecture 6):
I try not to understand it...

Monday, October 6, 2008

FedEx Lemmings to Leaders Commercial

just silly... couldn't help it.

Jorge Luis Borges lecture, "A Poet's Creed"

Here is the next of these very short (1-3 min) audio excerpts from two of the six Norton Lectures Jorge Luis Borges delivered at Harvard in 1967 and 1968, recently discovered in the Harvard University Archives.

A Poet's Creed (Lecture 6):
when I began writing...

where AM I?

back to my site?
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back to my super duper blog?
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