Love your work

Love your work

I was chatting to my daughter yesterday and reflecting on the fact that although I’ve had quite a few different jobs in my career; I have more or less been doing the same work, just in different environments.

I started work at 15, straight out of school. It was common in those days for girls to leave school at 15 and go to secretarial college for a year, or get work in a shop or hairdresser. My grandmother went ‘into service’ as a housemaid when she was 11 or 12, and this meant living away from home during the week and returning home on Sundays, her one day off. Younger readers will think this sounds a lot like Downton Abbey, and I guess it was quite similar, except that she worked for a middle-class couple who owned a chain of shops, rather than for the landed gentry.

My mother left school at 15 and went down the secretarial path, working as a typist in an office in Perth before leaving to get married and have children. This was also a common pattern. I didn’t want to be a secretary and as a result I deliberately avoided learning to type when I was at school. I have regretted this decision several times in my career.

I wanted to be a music producer, an unlikely career choice for a girl living in a smallish city with only one recording studio. Employment opportunities in the creative industry were very limited, but I did snag a job as a film editing assistant with a small production company who made documentaries and television ads.

My job involved typing letters, (one letter would take me all morning), doing the banking, getting lunches, and learning the rudiments of film editing.

Film editing is about storytelling. You start with a lot of content (much more than you can use) and you decide (with the director), what serves the story best. Next you decide how to organise the content so that the narrative arc is entertaining, surprising or interesting, or hopefully all three. It doesn’t have to be linear, it just needs to engage the audience and move the story forward. Often a circular pattern involving flashbacks works well.

Looking back, I realised that this sort of work: choosing, sorting, and ordering content has been the through-line of my career. Teaching also involves choosing salient information and arranging it in a way that makes sense to the students, and doesn’t bore them to death. Writing and editing reports (especially evaluation reports) involves deciding what’s valuable and then arranging the content so that it’s meaningful.

Now I’m interested in writing memoir and realise it involves the same set of skills. When you are writing about your life, you need to think about what the important moments were. The critical turning points that changed the course of your life. Then you need to arrange those pieces in a way that illuminates bigger, more universal themes so that your readers can identify with your story. It’s quite hard work, but the principles are the same, so the process is familiar.

Can you identify any themes or similarities in your working life? Are there tasks that you gravitate to, regardless of your role or job description? I suspect that these are things you are probably good at.

Please share your thoughts, I’d love to know what you think.

Literary fiction

Literary fiction

I’ve been watching a series called Love, Nina on the ABC. It’s based on a book by Nina Stibbe about her early days as a nanny working for a single mum (played by Helena Bonham-Carter) in a somewhat bohemian household in London.

Bonham-Carter plays Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, who Stibbe worked for as a young woman. Nick Hornby wrote the script, and it’s very amusing, especially the dialogue between the two boys and their mum. There’s also an odd neighbour (a Scottish poet) who comes to their house for dinner every night and constantly criticises Nina’s cooking.

In the series Nina moves from Leicester to London and discovers ‘literature’ because of her friendship with a young man who lives three doors up. Early in the series he sees her reading Shirley Conran’s Lace, a trashy novel popular in the 1970s, and gives her a copy of The Return of the Native (Thomas Hardy), but she finds it frustrating and impenetrable. There’s a delightful scene where she’s reading it to her nine-year-old charge and pretending that it’s Enid Blyton so that he can help her understand what it means, but he sees through her plan and demands that she reads him The Famous Five instead.

Eventually Nina realises Hardy is writing about the characters’ interior life and not just documenting their everyday activities. She marvels at the idea that everyone has an interior life, even Aunty Gladys, and that this is what literature is all about.

I’m not sure whether this is true, and to be honest I have read little Hardy since I was about 17, but I have noticed that when you go into a bookshop, there’s always a shelf labelled ‘literary fiction’, and one labelled ‘fiction’ or sometimes ‘general fiction’. Sometimes there’s another shelf called women’s fiction, but never a shelf called men’s fiction. Poor men, why don’t they get a shelf?

Writer and teacher Allison K Williams says that in simple terms, a literary book is just one that has sold less than 10,000 copies, but I think there’s more to it than that (and I think she’d agree). She is merely making the point that if you are planning to write literary fiction, then you’d better not expect to sell thousands of copies unless you win the Booker Prize or another big literary award. Commercial fiction is written with the market in mind, and the big publishing houses seem to think that most people want to read books that are just like other books. That’s why you see books marketed as the new Eleanor Oliphant, for example.

The dictionary defines ‘literature’ as written work that is considered superior or has lasting artistic merit, but I’m not sure who decides these things. Some books are more thoughtful and engaging than others, and these are the ones that I like to read, regardless of the label.

I’m keen to know what things mean, and perhaps be moved to think about wider themes such as the value of friendship, honesty, and love, but I think these ideas can be explored in a well plotted murder mystery or a romance novel. In order for a book to move me there needs to be something that resonates at a conscious, or perhaps unconscious level, but I’m not bothered if it’s also a page-turner. I like complex characters and long sprawling multi-generational books, but most of all, I like strong storytelling.

I like books that stay with me after I’ve finished reading them. Sometimes I even catch myself wondering how the characters in the book are going, as if they were actually friends or people I’ve met somewhere. I like flawed characters and dislike one-dimensional goody two shoes. People who are good all the time are just not realistic in my book. Who’s nice all the time in real life? Not me, that’s for sure.

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor

In the olden days there was a lot of emphasis on being ‘regular’. People were obsessed with it, especially parents. As children, we had a choice between eating prunes or being dosed with castor oil, a horrible substance kept in a dark brown bottle and meted out to us along with a daily fluoride tablet.

Prunes were also pretty cheap and a good filler if you were feeding a family. We had them for breakfast with our cereal and sometimes for dinner with creamed rice or baked custard. It was common to soak them in a little bit of hot water so that they were less chewy. My mum made terrible baked custard and I still really hate it to this day. Recently, my friend Megan explained to me mum’s custard was probably thin and watery because she didn’t put enough eggs in it, or too much milk, depending on how you look at it. This is probably true, because although she was a good cook, she had a lot of mouths to feed and everything was stretched as much as possible to feed the seven of us.

We always had five prunes, never four, and certainly never six, because that would mean that you were going to marry a poor man when you grew up. The prune stones would be lined up on the edge of the dish and we would recite the following…

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, RICH MAN, poor man, beggar man, thief. Five was definitely the optimal number.

The number of prune stones also determined what you would wear when you got married.

Silk, satin, rags, bags, and then back to silk. So if you wanted to marry a rich man and wear silk you definitely needed to only eat five prunes lest you jeopardise your future. I still stick to that rule and only ever eat five prunes, even when they have no stones.

I read somewhere that when Barak Obama made the comment about eating eight almonds as a nightly snack, he was only joking. He was tired of people asking him stupid questions about every part of his life. Nevertheless, I have read over and over again that eight almonds are the optimum number for a snack, as though this were an actual rule and not simply an off-the-cuff comment. It made me laugh to think how gullible we are.

It also strikes me that we put a lot of emphasis on counting things. We measure the number of steps we take every day, the number of hours we sleep, the number of calories we consume. We’ve become obsessed with counting things and unable to judge for ourselves how many glasses of wine we should drink of a night, or how many laps of the pool are enough. I always used to count the number of laps I was swimming until I realised that it was interfering with my capacity to think about other more interesting things. So in the end I just decided that it didn’t matter. I swim until I get tired or my fingers go wrinkly, whichever happens first.

I think that the more we focus on counting, the more we disconnect ourselves from our own inner voice, and the less control we have over our own lives.

I’m not suggesting that there isn’t an optimum amount in relation to what you consume, only that your body probably knows very well what you need, and it must surely vary from person to person. I don’t see how there can be ‘rules’ that fit everyone, so my suggestion is that we listen more to our own bodies and less to what other people say.

Of course this means that I may have to rethink my five prunes rule and marry a poor man.

Plain and simple, with a bit of pizzaz!

Plain and simple, with a bit of pizzaz!

I often see ads for writing courses and conferences on various social media platforms, and it really surprises me that many of them are so visually unappealing. Weird colours and strange font combinations don’t make me want to sign up, and let’s face it, I’m probably their target audience.

I appreciate that the fine folks promoting these events are writers and not graphic designers, and they probably don’t have any money to spare, but I really think that design matters if you are trying to attract new readers, clients or customers.

I know I’ve written about this before, but for those of you who’ve missed it, here are three reasons why I think that you should care about your visual design.

  1. Good design makes you look professional and reassures your customers that you know what you are doing. If you are offering courses or promoting a conference, you want people to be confident that it is safe to spend their money. One way you can do this is by investing some time and effort into making sure your website is well organised, clean and attractive, and that your ads are informative and not laden with unnecessary information.
  2. Good visual design helps you tell a story about who you are and what you stand for without you having to use a lot of words. I love words, but I’m also a busy person so I don’t have time to read a lot of waffly stuff on your website or in your ad. Cut to the chase. People want to know when it’s happening and how much it costs. They also want to know a bit about you, so a photo of yourself is a good idea.
  3. Good design also makes your content more user-friendly. A nice uncluttered design is easy to read, and your visitors won’t have to search for the information they need.

I’m definitely not an expert, but here are a few tips that you can apply to any kind of graphic design.

  • Use a limited colour palette. Use one or two main colours and a third to highlight any really important information. Avoid using red unless it’s part of your branding. Red text, in particular, is very alarming and shouts warning, warning, so be very cautious about using it.
  • If you’re unsure about what colour combinations work, look to nature for inspiration. I’ve used the beautiful image of the blue kingfisher by Vincent van Zalinge as a header for this post as an example of how mother nature always seems to get the colours right.
  • Don’t use more than two fonts. Ever. And make them different, not similar. There are some classic font pairings if you’re not sure what to choose, but in general, choose one bold font and one lighter font.
  • Line things up neatly. Don’t plonk things all over the place. Don’t be afraid of being tidy, it’s very soothing and people like it.
  • Don’t centre justify your body text, it makes it very hard to read. If you aren’t sure what to do, just align everything left and use columns if necessary.
  • Use lots of negative space. This is sometimes called white space, but it doesn’t have to be white. Just make sure you have a bit of room around your words. They need to breathe.

You can be quirky, you don’t have to be boring. Let your personality shine through but don’t go mad with colours and fonts. In general, good design is about making careful choices. Everything needs to be there for a reason.

If this still seems all too hard, there’s plenty of help at hand. There are lots of graphic design apps that are free or very inexpensive and Shutterstock has a free online photo editor that helps you design Instagram ads and other social media posts. They want you to use their photos (which costs money) but you can also upload your own photos and just use their templates which are excellent. You can look more professional in no time at all.

If in doubt, make it plain and simple and use some nice images. It always works.

Back to work

Back to work

I retired from my day job a couple of months ago and naively thought that I would have the time to do whatever I wanted to do (chiefly, more writing), but instead I just futzed about generally enjoying myself, but definitely not making that much progress with my new writing career.

I occurred to me that this is because I haven’t been treating writing as a career at all.

I was always a good worker; conscientious and reliable. I always turned up on time or messaged my boss to explain why I would be late (medical appointment, pet emergency). I never turned up late because I couldn’t be bothered coming in on time. I went to work every day whether I felt like or not. I always met my deadlines and was able to work unsupervised because I was a grown-up and that’s what grown-ups do. So I don’t know why I thought I could take such a cavalier attitude to my writing career and simply not bother writing if I didn’t feel like it. Which turned out to be most days.

So I’ve decided to treat my writing like a job and disregard the fact that I don’t get paid to do it. After all, I didn’t get paid to do any of my degrees and I usually submitted my essays on time, although I did need a few extensions when the kids were sick. I took my studies seriously and I took myself seriously.

But there are a few things that I’m going to do differently in my new job. I’ll have a quick peek at my emails in the morning but I’m not going to answer them until I have put some words down on the page. I’m not going to wander off to the kitchen and chat with people until I’ve done some actual work, and I’m not going to start reading interesting articles on topics unrelated to my work until I have done some writing. I’ll make an exception about getting up from my chair to hang out the washing because seriously, it can’t just sit in the machine all day.

I will change my hours to part-time because I’m my own boss now and I can do whatever I like. I might also schedule in some walks and some coffee dates because my back gets stiff when I sit for too long and I need to talk to someone other than my husband. He’s lovely, but there’s only so much you can say to the person who shares your home. Perhaps some kind of walking and talking arrangement with a friend might work?

I’m not going to work on weekends, and I’ll give myself some annual leave and a Christmas bonus (some new books!) if I’ve reached my writing quota on a regular basis. Perhaps I need to set myself some KPIs and develop a strategic plan as well?

I just can’t wait to get started in my new job which quite frankly, I think I’m going to love. The pay isn’t very good, but the conditions are excellent, and I hear the boss is nice.

December round-up

December round-up

I’ve been reading a few end of year blog posts this morning so I thought I would write my own. I always love to hear what people have been up to, and there are a few bloggers that I’ve been following for years, so it’s almost like hearing from family.

Here are some things that I’m grateful for:

1. Living in Australia

We are looking forward to seeing our grown-up children at Christmas and hope that the current Covid situation can be managed and controlled so that everyone stays safe. I heard a woman on the news say that it was appalling that people weren’t allowed to travel at Christmastime and I thought she was pretty stupid. It’s sad not to see your family at Christmas, but worse to never see them again. Mostly people are being sensible and realising that all of the restrictions are for a good reason. In Australia, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky compared to the UK and the US, so I hope that people continue to comply with the health orders.

I’m also grateful for the weather, even though it’s raining steadily outside and has been for days. Normally it’s very hot at this time of the year and we’re all complaining about the heat, so we are glad to have the rain and the cooler temperatures. This time last year the country was on fire so the endless drizzle has meant that the fire-fighters can have a peaceful Christmas.

2. Good neighbours

Through my window I can hear our new neighbours chatting to their children. I love having kids in the neighbourhood again. When we moved here we had young children and many of our neighbours did as well, but now we are all getting older and the children have grown up and moved away, so it’s great to have some new young families moving in. Our new neighbours seem very nice. I think you can tell a lot about people by the way they talk to their kids and the fact that they all know the words to The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round and don’t feel self-conscious about singing them loudly in their backyard.

We are fortunate to have good neighbours all around us and if you’ve ever had bad neighbours you know that they can make your life a misery.

3. Books

Because I retired this year I’ve done a lot more reading than usual. I think I read about 36 books which is roughly three a month. They weren’t all remarkable (I read quite a lot of light fiction during the lockdown) but a couple that I really enjoyed were Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

Dear Edward is about a young man who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. Despite its rather gloomy premise this is a beautifully written and thoughtful book. It rated very highly on the list that I’ve been keeping. I read A Gentleman in Moscow because several people in my family said it was good and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s about a Russian nobleman who is sentenced to spending the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel. I learnt so much about the Russian Revolution from this book, but in a painless way. I love books where you can just absorb history without any effort at all. It was also a beautiful meditation on what really matters in life and what you hold dear. It’s about friendship, loyalty and making the best of a situation. A great book for anyone who is going a bit stir crazy because they are stuck at home.

I still have a rather long TBR which includes The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue. I’m also planning to read Monogamy by Sue Miller which has been recommended by both of my reading sisters.

4. Friends and family

I was a bit nervous about retiring because I was worried about how my husband would cope with me being at home (and vice versa). I thought we might drive one another crazy, but mostly it’s been pretty good. At the beginning of the Covid situation we were both very anxious and made an effort to be especially kind to one another and this seems to have set the tone for life at home. We are especially lucky because we have two studies (one each) so we always have somewhere to retreat to if we want to read or futz about on the computer. We also have a garden so it’s pretty easy to find a bit of space. I’m glad we aren’t squashed into a tiny flat the way some people are.

I’ve spent a lot more time talking to my own extended family this year and that’s been great. We all live in different states (except for one sister who is about 70 kilometres away) and I’ve really appreciated knowing more about their lives. I’ve also had more time to catch up with friends this year, which has been lovely.

5. Work

I missed work quite a bit when I left, but I have since joined the board of the Central Coast Community Women’s Health Centre. It’s great to be able to use some of the skills and knowledge I acquired during my working life, and it’s an organisation that aligns well with my values.

I haven’t done as much writing as I intended, but I’ve read a lot of writing books (does that count?) and learnt quite a bit, so I hope that next year I’ll be more disciplined and get my backside into my writing chair a lot more often. I’m coming round to the idea that writing is more about perseverance than talent. It’s really not a good idea to wait until the inspiration strikes you. It might never happen.

So that’s my wrap up for the year. I know it sounds a bit like one of those letters that people write at Xmas and then make a dozen copies to send to all their friends, but I’ve enjoyed thinking back over the year which has been mostly good. I hope you have survived the year and that next year brings you peace and happiness and good health.

Stay safe everyone and thank you for reading my blog.

Marg xxx

Why I hate starting new books

Why I hate starting new books

I often get books from the library and then they just sit there waiting for me to dive in. I’m not sure why this happens but I think it’s because starting new books requires extra concentration and sometimes this is in short supply. There’s a whole new bunch of characters to get acquainted with and you need to really focus to work out who’s who in the zoo. I find it especially hard when the book has a lot of foreign names or people with similar names, but sometimes I think I’m still attached to the people I met (and grew to love) in the last book that I was reading. I don’t want to let go of them just yet.

Once you are in a book and caught up in the story, the pages just seem to turn themselves and before you know it, it’s past your bedtime. You become invested in other people’s lives and think about them when you are washing up or cleaning the shower. I love it when that happens.

Someone once told me that if f you are going on a long plane trip or into hospital for any length of time, it’s best to take a book that you have already started reading. In both these situations your concentration is poor, so it’s preferable to be in the middle of a book rather than right at the beginning.

I remember trying to read “I know why the caged bird sings” by the writer and poet Maya Angelou when I was in early labour with my first child and realising that I should have brought a murder mystery or a romance novel with me.

I also recall going to Tasmania with my family for a lovely holiday and being unable to read any of the books I had ‘saved’ for the trip. I spent quite a bit of the plane trip trying to read Harry Potter over the shoulder of the woman next to me who was a complete stranger. I think she cottoned on in the end because she looked a bit annoyed and tried to angle the book away from me. It didn’t help that I’m quite a fast reader and kept getting to the end of the page before she did. I had taken three books with me but none of them were just right.

In Paula Munier’s book “The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings” she lists the questions that readers want answered when they start a new book.

We need to work out what kind of book we are reading, who is telling the story and where it takes place, but most of all we need to know why we should care about them. Very clever writers can answer most of these questions in the first couple of paragraphs. It doesn’t necessarily need to answer all our questions, we just need to get hooked enough to make us turn the first page.

Choosing your next book is also a very personal thing. I like to download samples onto my iPad and read the first couple of chapters before I purchase a book or request a title from the library (it’s usually the latter). When I’m looking for something new to read, I just browse through my sample chapters until something takes my fancy. Either that, or I go to my circle of friends (which includes my reading family) and ask them what they’ve been reading lately.

How do you choose your next read?

How stories work

How stories work

“I thought you’d write a book when you retired” someone remarked recently.

I did too, I think to myself, I just haven’t worked out what it’s going to be about yet…

But the reality is that I really have no idea how to write a book. The advice is to just start writing and see what happens, but this is a scary proposition. I’m concerned that my efforts will be clumsy or sub-standard, so I don’t do anything at all. Better to have tried and failed is a great adage, but the reality is that no-one really likes failing.

So I was delighted when a friend recommended a book called Story Genius by Lisa Cron. It’s just what I needed at this point in my writing life because it lays out some foundational skills about how stories work.

Cron says that you should always try to jump into the middle of the action and then fill in the backstory. This helps to set the scene and pique the reader’s curiosity about how the protagonist (main character) got themselves into that situation.

I was thinking about this advice when I read the opening pages of The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James. The opening is set in a scary motel where a young woman is working alone on the night-desk. She hears a lot of strange noises and next thing you know, she’s disappeared. Already I’m filled with curiosity. Why is she working alone in this creepy place which is far away from her home, and what on earth happened to her?

Next we jump forward in time to another young woman arriving at the same motel. Immediately we want to know what she’s doing there. Is she related to the first young woman? Why is she interested in the disappearance of the first young woman and why now? All this is explained in the first 50 pages, by which time I’m hooked and want to read the rest of the story.

Cron suggests that stories fail when they are merely a series of events. This happened and then this happened and then this happened. It’s like you telling me in boring detail how you drove to my house. Quite frankly, I don’t care how you got here, I just care that you’ve arrived safely.

Good stories keep moving you forward because something happens that leads to something else happening. There’s a causal relationship between events that connects them and makes sense to the reader. Everything happens for a reason, but sometimes it takes a while for that reason to be revealed.

The author’s job is to make you wonder what happened and why it happened.

You might think that this is only true of mystery books, but this is not the case. Take the example of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. After the famous opening lines about happy and unhappy families, we immediately jump into the situation as it stands right now.

Everything was confusion in the Oblonsky’s house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been the governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.

Leo Tolstoy

Do I want to know more? Why yes, I do.

In his weekly newsletter The Maven Game (which I heartily recommend if you’re an aspiring writer), David Moldawer claims that people are either born with the knack of storytelling or they aren’t. He doesn’t think that it’s something you can teach, but I’m hoping that he’s wrong and that I can learn to tell a good story.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep reading Lisa Cron’s book and hope that an idea for a book will pop into my head very soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Weighty matters

Weighty matters

A few years ago I made a New Year’s resolution that I would stop weighing myself for a whole year. I decided to do this because prior to Xmas there’d been a lot of discussion about what size ham we needed, and it occurred to me that since I wasn’t a ham, I shouldn’t keep worrying about my size and whether I was a few kilos heavier or lighter.

Like most women, I have spent a lifetime worrying about how much I weigh, and making new promises to myself that I would lose those extra few kilos that make our trousers a bit uncomfortable. I’ve never been very overweight, but I’ve never been as slim as I’d like to be except for a brief period after my second child was born. I was going to exercise classes three times a week and mysteriously lost all my baby weight over the course of six months or so.

I’ve always thought that weighing myself was a bit of a waste of time because when the scales go up, I feel really bad, and when they go down, I eat more because I figure I’m allowed to.

Anyway, a whole year went by and I felt a lot better without the weekly weigh-in (always on a Monday morning with as few clothes on as possible). The following New Year’s Day I jumped on the scales and found that I weighed almost exactly the same as I had a year before, so clearly the weekly torture was pointless in terms of helping me control my weight and no impact on whether I was fitter or healthier.

I know that for some people, weighing themselves regularly is very motivating, so I’m not giving advice about what you should or shouldn’t do, I’m just saying that it didn’t work for me.

For many people, how much they weigh is inextricably linked to how they feel about themselves, but lately I’ve been trying to think about this differently and I think it’s working.

One thing that has had a big impact on me is my pilates teacher. She’s about 40 and incredibly strong and fit. I don’t think I’ve seen many people with better core strength. And before you say that this is because she’s a fitness instructor, I should mention that she’s actually a high school teacher and she teaches pilates because she loves it. As well as being super strong, she also has very solid thighs (like me). When I look at her, I realise that this is just the shape she is, and that no amount of exercise is going to change that.

Unlike my instructor, I’m not very fit or very strong, but this is something that I am working on. Every week she reminds us that strength and stability (and especially good balance) is critical for avoiding the falls that so often lead to hip fractures, so I practice standing on one leg while the kettle is boiling and try to remember to stretch after sitting at the computer for any extended periods.

Life is short and I don’t think denying myself a piece of bread and jam is going to make me a happier or healthier person, but I hope that in a year’s time I will have sorted out some of my back and hip issues so that I can enjoy being retired. I figure it’s never too late to be fitter and stronger and I don’t really have any excuses for not trying to improve my health.

A bunch of nonsense

A bunch of nonsense

I grew up in a house filled with books. To be honest, they were mainly from the library (we visited every week), but the books we did own included a set of encyclopedias, a few well-worn paperback novels, and quite a few children’s books, received as gifts from various relatives or as prizes at the Sunday School Anniversary.

Our library included two volumes of poetry, one by A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh, and the other a collection of poems by Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971).

Nash wrote over 500 poems in his lifetime, for both adults and children, and early in his career he was employed as a copywriter for an advertising company. His poems are funny and clever; he had just the right type of temperament for an advertising man.

Here are a few of my favourites:

The Fly

The Lord in His wisdom made the fly, 
And then forgot to tell us why.

The Camel

The Camel has a single hump, 
The dromedary two, 
Or is it just the other way, 
I’m never sure – are you?

Celery

Celery, raw
Develops the jaw,
But celery, stewed,
Is more quietly chewed.

Nash was just 29 when he published his first collection of humorous poems to critical acclaim. The following year he left his job to concentrate fully on writing.

He also wrote the scripts for three MGM films and the lyrics for three Broadway musicals including the hugely successful A Touch of Venus, starring Ava Gardner and Robert Walker about a mannequin who comes to life.

Watching this old clip from reminded me of the 1987 film Mannequin which I have always loved.

Despite being a poet at heart, he still needed to make a living. He sums it up beautifully in this short poem.

Introspective Reflection

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

This is an example of a nonsense poem. Nonsense poems often change the spelling of words to make things rhyme or make them more amusing. They are best read out loud and children usually love them. Other writers of nonsense poems include Lewis Carroll (The Jabberwocky) and Edward Lear (The Owl and the Pussycat).

Do you have any favourite poems from your childhood?