Monday, 21 August 2017

Giving, Writing and Receiving

This is a guest post by Jenna Zark 

I was a newly single mother, recently separated from a husband of 13 plus years, with a three-year-old son. I was living in said husband’s home and working on moving, trying to stay sane and trying to sell a couch.

Moving was going OK, but the other two points in my three-point plan were less successful. I have found that the more I need money, the less it tends to come my way, and this instance was no exception.

All I knew was I didn’t want that couch to follow me to the new apartment I’d picked out for myself and my son. I wanted and needed to start fresh. So instead of selling, I decided to give the couch away.

I called up someone I know in the Russian community, and she put me in touch with a place that communicates with immigrant families. Within a day, a Russian man called and asked if he could come by.

We sat on the couch together while my son played with his toys on the floor. The sun poured into the room, and I couldn’t help but wish it was a happier occasion. Yet, the man told me stories that made me feel a lot better than if I had just sold the couch.

“In Russia, you live like wolf,” he said. “You get up and all day you are just trying to get something—food, clothing, shelter,” he continued. “In America, you have no idea.”

I knew where he was coming from, because being a suddenly-single mom when you were not expecting to be is certainly no picnic. Still, I had found an affordable apartment pretty easily and even had an appointment for a job interview that week.

Listening to the Russian man made me count my blessings. It also helped me realize that giving away your possessions can make you feel rich in a way that selling never can.

The man and I talked a bit more and he said he would stop by later with a van to take the couch away. We said our goodbyes and I took my son out to the playground. Some weeks later, the man called and invited me to dinner with him and his wife. It was another way to connect to the world at a time when I was feeling pretty lonely.

If you’ve had a chance to read my book The Beat on Ruby’s Street, you know that my main character Ruby is dealing with issues in her family, too. While nothing in the book is the exact same as my experience, there is a lot I went through that informs the story and how Ruby reacts to crises that befall her.

I bring this up because I think writing and giving things away really saved me. When I think about it, I see those two ideas as connected. Because writing is also giving up something of yourself to (hopefully) reach others who may be going through some of the same things you are.

And because giving can make us feel so rich, when the world and universe brings us empathy and friendship in the form of readers and friends.

This guest post comes from Jenna Zark a columnist, lyricist, playwright, and novelist. Her play A Body of Water was published by Dramatists Play Service and produced regionally after its debut at Circle Repertory Company in New York. Other plays were produced in the Twin Cities, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and St. Louis. As a former staff writer at Scholastic Choices magazine, Zark wrote extensively for middle school and junior high students. Columns, poetry, essays, and articles have been published in TC Jewfolk, Stoneboat literary magazine, Minnesota Bride and numerous other publications. Zark is also a member of a lyricist’s collective in the Twin Cities that performs at local cabarets. She’s still trying to figure out if it’s harder to write a play, a novel, or a song. To share your thoughts on that or to learn more, please visit

Find Jenna at

Author Website:

The Beat On Ruby's Street;

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home. As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart - Goodreads

If you wish to purchase a copy of The Beat on Ruby's Street or learn more, please visit;


Dear Jenna, thanks for sharing your book and a little of your life with readers of my blog. I smiled when I read your comment about needing a little more money only to have far less come your way - I've been there and know exactly what you mean!  As regards giving to feel richer, you are absolutely right. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate gift, a kindness or a smile is often enough. Thanks again, Barbara.  

 “Give others all that is alive in us—our interest, understanding, our knowledge, our humour, everything in us that’s good. In doing so, we enhance the sense of aliveness in others while enhancing our own. When we give, we get a “heightened vitality” of what it means to be human.”  Erich Fromm

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Reunited with Natty Nora and Tatty Tilly!

Some months ago my blogging friend Marcia shared a post about paper dolls. I left a comment saying I remember sitting on the floor at my grandma Daisy’s house cutting dolls out of magazines. My memories are hazy, but I thought they were quite small and usually printed in black and white as well as colour. I also recalled a boy doll as well as a girl doll or dolls.

Woman and Home Magazine February 1962 (left) and March 1956 (right)
Woman and Home Magazine February 1962 (left) and March 1956 (right)

Marcia kindly replied saying she had discovered a Nora and Tilly (and sometimes Paul) in Woman and Home Magazine. The name Tilly jumped out at me but when I looked online I wasn’t sure. Tilly looked ‘right’, but the clothes were too brightly coloured and where was the black and white I so clearly remembered.

Nora and Tilly from the February 1962 issue of Woman and Home
Nora and Tilly from the February 1962 issue of Woman and Home

This all took place in May 2016, and I had more or less forgotten about it until idly browsing on Pinterest the other day I noticed a pin featuring Natty Nora and Tatty Tilly. This is how I remember them! 

Nora and Tilly Cut Out Dolls
Natty Nora and Tatty Tilly as they first appeared in Woman and Home magazine in the 1950s.

Nora and Tilly Cut Out Dolls
It wasn’t long before Natty Nora, and Tatty Tilly became simply Nora and Tilly. 

I’ve now found a couple of old copies of Woman and Home (first picture), and it’s obvious why I was confused. The pictures I originally found online were from a new series of dolls published in the 1960s not the ones I remember from the 1950s. 

Natty and Tilly also had a brother Paul which must explain why I was remembering a boy doll.
Nora and Tilly Cut Out Dolls
Natty, Tilly and brother Paul 

The pictures that follow are from the March 1956 and February 1962 editions of Woman and Home Magazine. Enjoy!
Hoppity bunnies and garlanded elephants to embroider. Woman and Home February 1962
Nursery Frolics ... Hoppity bunnies and garlanded elephants to embroider.
Woman and Home February 1962  

time to try out a new Hair-do.  Woman and Home March 1956
Have you fallen into discouragement about your looks? Then it is time to try out a new Hair-do. 
Woman and Home March 1956

An advertisement for the very first issue of Look and Learn a weekly British magazine published by Fleetway from January 1962 until 1982.
An advertisement for the very first issue of Look and Learn a weekly magazine published by Fleetway from January 1962 until 1982. 

This Pattern Has Everything! Princess lines to suit every figure, a swirling skirt to please the feminine in us, and a big important collar. The Woman and Home March 1956.
 Princess lines to suit every figure, a swirling skirt to please the feminine in us, and a big important collar. 
Woman and Home March 1956. 

Something New!  From toddlers to early teens - designs for everyone.  Woman and Home March 1956
Something New!  From toddlers to early teens - designs for everyone. 
Woman and Home March 1956

Cussons Imperial Leather. Woman and Home March 1956
Advert from the March 1956 issue.

With massive thanks to Marcia for helping me find these long remembered dolls. 

See previous paper doll post here 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Final flight of the DJI Phantom 3

Keeping in touch with family is always important and never more so than when they live on the opposite side of the world. With that in mind our son in Adelaide made this video of him and his two little daughters in the park. Just so you know who is who Lilly is on the swing while Zoe is running around. You may be wondering why this is the final flight. If so there is a simple explanation. Just as Steve was finishing filming his drone, camera and all smashed to the ground! Some might say good job, but we would have to disagree. It was a sad day for Steve and for us, but it makes this film all the more precious.

Thanks to Steve for letting me share this and to everyone who takes the time to watch.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Paper Dolls from the 1950s - 80s and a Royal Wedding

Are you a fan of paper dolls and/or weddings? If so you are in the right place today! I’m going to share a couple of my paper dolls from the 1950s, one from the 70s and finally a Royal Wedding (paper doll style). 

The Dresses of England a souvenir from the Festival of Britain [1951] is from the Muse Arts 'New Fabric' series. The illustrations are by Lottie Gorn, and the accompanying story about two children called John and Elizabeth is by Dora Nash.

Dresses From Many Lands is another from the Muse Arts series. I’m not sure if you can tell from the photographs, but the dresses really do feel as if they are made from fabric. I love the dolls in this one because they are so reminiscent of the actual dolls I played with as a child.

This magic wand dressing doll is from the 1970s. It comes with a ‘wand’ and according to the instructions, ‘everything stays in its proper place once rubbed down with the magic wand’. Well maybe it did once, but not any more. This ‘magic wand’ has definitely lost its potency!  I know the old-fashioned paper tabs are liable to tear but a bit of sticky tape quickly resolves the problem. I’m not sure this ‘new and improved’ paper doll will ever function properly again.

Chuck & Di Have a Baby with dolls of Charles, Diana and new baby (dressed in yellow) together with V.I.P visitors such as Grandma Barbara Cartland and Mrs.Thatcher. It's full of clothes for every occasion, including the engagement, wedding, on the town, yachting, baby’s christening, high life at Highgrove and looking ahead.

What a shame the fairy tale didn’t come true.

We were in London just before the wedding when it felt like the whole country was ready to party. Those were the days when policemen walked around with ice lollies rather than guns... 

This is me with Steve (our son) thirty-six years ago! Steve now has four children of his own. I’ve no idea where those years went, but I can tell you they went quickly. 

Do you have happy memories of the Royal Wedding or the 1980s?

Monday, 24 July 2017

I opened a book ...

and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.

I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.

I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.

I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter

And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came.

The cloak can no longer hide me.

My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

Poem:  Julia Donaldson, from Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum, first published 2004 by Macmillan Children’s Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers International Limited.  With thanks to Willie for sharing the poem and to Pexels for the images.  (All images licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license).

Monday, 17 July 2017

Personal Inscriptions in Words and Pictures

Kate Greenaway
Kate Greenaway

When I first got into book collecting I only looked for children’s books published during the so called ‘Golden Age of Children’s Literature’ (the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries).  This was when picture books came to the fore mostly due to the improvements in lithography and early photolithography. Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, Randolph Caldecott and Arthur Rackham are the people most readily associated with the ‘Golden Age’.Other names you may be familiar with are Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Willy Pogany and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite - Elves & Fairies
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite 

Now I collect books of all kinds, new, old, with or without pictures, fiction or non fiction.  All are precious to me, but those with a little 'added extra' in the form of an original drawing or personal inscription must rate highly on my list of favourites.

The Dragon Whisperer Lucinda Hare
The Dragon Whisperer Lucinda Hare

I’ve yet to read The Dragon Whisperer, but it doesn’t stop me drooling over this wonderful hand drawn dragon. To be honest I’m rather loath to read it because I would like to keep it pristine. I may well buy a second unsigned copy to read.

Katie Cleminson Box of Tricks
Monty the polar bear from the Box of Tricks by Katie Cleminson

In The Box of Tricks by Katie Cleminson Eva is given a very special present. She Opens it, jumps in and becomes a master magician. TA-DAH! This is a truly beautiful book, and the original drawing and signature make it that extra bit special.

I have a large collection of books by my sweet friend, author and illustrator Nicole de Cock

Nicole de Cock Het Jaar Yan de das

They are all very dear to me made more so by the sweet messages from Nicole. 

Nicole de Cock

Nicole de Cock

Nicole de cock Zullen we spelen, Bout?

Nicole de Cock

The one that follows is extra special because Nicole sent it after our much-loved little dog died.
Nicole de Cock Bout en Moertje

When I opened the front cover, I found this and wept happy tears along with the sad ones. 

Nicole de Cock

Emily Gravett has written and illustrated numerous children's books, and I have many of them on my shelves. When I spotted this one at a car boot sale, I was more than happy to pay the seller the asking price of 10p. I didn’t realise it was signed until I got it home. A bargain I think you will agree.

Meerkat Mail Emily Gravett

Meerkat Mail Emily Gravett

26a Diana Evans
In 26a identical twins, Georgia and Bessi live in the loft of 26 Waifer Avenue. Their Nigerian mother puts cayenne pepper on Yorkshire pudding, and their father roams the streets of Neasden, prey to the demons of his Derbyshire upbringing. Forced to create their own identities, the children build a separate universe. Older sister Bel discovers sex, high heels, and organic hairdressing; the twins prepare for a flapjack empire; and baby sister Kemy learns to moonwalk like Michael Jackson

I love the story and the inscription by Diana Evans. 
Inscription in 26a Diana Evans

The final book in this selection is special because of the dedication. I can't tell you how excited I was when I first saw it.  Fame at last! 😀 

Kongomato Roger Lawrence
If you've not read Kongomato you are missing out on a treat. I loved it as did this reviewer on Amazon: 

"Roger Lawrence's Kongomato is horror most primal. Scary, vivid, quite horribly brilliant as you are carried on and on into the terrifying adventure a young scientist is forced to take, not only by his conscience when his friend disappears but also by The Prime Minister of England himself. Dinosaurs in the 21st century? How can we take it seriously? Read this book and find out why for yourself...if you dare! This reader is still shaken from the experience. Theresa Dawn Sinclair"

If you are considering collecting signed books as an investment, it's worth remembering not all inscriptions add value.

For example, to a collector of a specific author, a signed presentation copy inscribed to them will be a unique item and of special value. Previously, this type of inscription may have been seen to be of greater value and interest as there may have been a story behind the inscription. But, with the increase of book signing events, these items are more common today. If you are interested in collecting signed books as an investment, then look for copies without personal inscriptions.

However, there is an exception to this rule: A book signed and inscribed by an author to a person equally famous or more famous than the author is likely to have significantly more value. 


Do you collect signed books?  If not is that because you have no interest in them, or because you prefer your books to be unmarked?

If you are an author do you enjoy signing books or find it a chore? 
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