Haydn Middleton, Dickens, Deathdays and cats, by Enid Richemont.

The Finnish edition of my book - "THE NIGHT OF THE WERE BOY" came out earlier this year, but I've only just received the physical copy. It's a very funny story, based on a cat who's affected by the full moon to change into something else - in this case, a boy, than which nothing, in the moggie's interpretation, coud be lower. I mean, no TAIL? No WHISKERS? No FUR? Also a creature which pees INDOORS (disgusting!) and which has to put on scratchy and uncomfortable CLOTHES before it can present itself to the world. I mean, UGH!
I knew that my publisher had sold the Finnish rights to the book much earlier this year, but I didn't receive a copy, so I agitated, because Finnish is such an extraordinary language. I finally discovered this edition via Goodreads, where it showed up, unexpectedly as "KISSAPOJAN YO" which I initially thought might be pornographic (these things can, and do, happen) but no, it was, indeed my book. I'm still struggling to get in touch with the translator, though - Terhi Leskinen. She has a Facebook page, but doesn't respond when I contact her. I've arranged for her to be included in my ALCS statements, but there's still no response, so if any of you out there know her, please give her a nudge on my behalf.

For the last few weeks, I've been working on a new book aimed at 7- 10 year olds. Its underlying theme is a very ancient one - the battle between good and evil, played out by an eight year old boy who's distressed both by a family move, but also his own conflicting feelings about having a younger sibling. I've now reached the point of completion - I have to let go - which means no longer being an intimate part of these fictional people's lives, and I'm already grieving because I shall miss them. The novel now goes to my agent, and eventually, if I'm lucky, a publisher who will almost certainly dismiss it as I am not a celebrity, and the book will be deemed 'too quiet', which means it has no actual violence, sexual or otherwise, and no obvious jokes relating to 'underpants' etc. However, there is an active element of the supernatural, and a very real sense of evil. Please wish it well.

The 28th of the month has always been the date on which I've chosen to publish my blog, for it's the very easy-to-remember date of my birthday, which happens to be in October, thus making me a stinging scorpion and a few other dodgy things. So today is my birthday, and my age? Aeons! I believe I originally set it up on Facebook to be well over a century.

Birthdays at present make me consider their natural opposites - Deathdays. I remember an occasion when, with a friend, both of us pre-teens, we suddenly realised that there was actually a time before, when we two didn't exist, and for some reason I can't recall, the thought of that really freaked us both out.

Being dead, simply ceasing to exist, must be similar, but the concept no longer horrifies me. What does horrify me, however, is the actual process of dying, especially when it's lengthy and involves both physical and mental suffering. I love Terry Pratchett's personification of death - DEATH ALWAYS SPOKE IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND WAS ALWAYS KINDLY, BUT LOGICAL - which was how, I like to think, he took Terry gently by the hand one day, and led him quietly into the infinity of non-being.

The 19th century American poet, Emily Dickinson, expressed one perfect Deathday so perfectly:
 Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality.

Deathdays could be the gentlest, least painful, and most loving of days - a day when the dying person, in full dignity and in full control, could be able say goodbye to the people and the things they most loved, at their own chosen moment, with their chosen music and words - in a sense, a pre-funeral to celebrate the life of the person about to leave it - a farewell party. This is why I actively support Assisted Dying. A civilised society ought to be able to offer this precious gift to the terminally suffering in the same way as pet animals are taken to the vet when their suffering becomes intolerable both to them and their owners.  Suffering is not noble - it is painful and destructive.

A few days ago, while sorting out one my bookshelves to see if there was anything using up space which might be taken to a charity shop - a project almost certainly doomed to failure the minute I start reading - when I discovered a novel I didn't know I'd ever possessed, and the cover of which was totally unfamiliar, so, of course, I opened it. It begins with what must be one of the briefest first chapters I've ever encountered, taking up less than one third of a page, but it totally grabbed me. The book is called: "THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE", by Haydn Middleton, an author of whom I'd never heard - and I'm now totally caught up in its web to the point of enchantment, and an actual mild unease, a sense that the words and the story are speaking to me on a very deep personal level - not a comfortable feeling. I'd be happy to hear from with anyone who's familiar with this author, or even read the book.

Finally - did you know that Charles Dickens wrote several curious stories for children? This one is about a place - clearly England turned upside-down - where children behave as adults, and adults behave as children. This one - the story of Mrs Orange and Mrs Lemon - is such a curiosity, and I've always loved the illustration, but only now have I googled the illustrator and read his obituary. He was an author-illustrator, better known for one single book: MR CRABTREE GOES FISHING, which apparently became a best-seller in angling circles. The Dickens story is a microcosm of posh middle-class Victorian life, with nurseries, nannies and tea.



Bill Kirton said…
Fascinating, Enid, and it reminded me of the chilling quote from Tess of the D'Urbervilles:

'She suddenly thought one afternoon, when looking in the glass at her fairness, that there was yet another date, of greater importance to her than those; that of her own death, when all these charms would have disappeared; a day which lay sly and unseen among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it; but not the less surely there.'

It used to freak some students out when I brought it up in tutorials.
Lynne Garner said…
Enid interesting post and if I read it correctly HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
Enid Richemont said…
Lynne - yes indeed, so thank you. Having a fairly chaotic one at present. Bill - great quote, and yes, disturbing to imagine that day already written and present in all of our lives. I've never understood why we were so freaked out by the idea that once, we hadn't existed. I can only presume that we were fairly arrogant pre-teens who couldn't imagine a world existing without the presence of our not-very-illustrious selves.
Umberto Tosi said…
I much enjoyed your post. I recall how strange it felt to first view copies of my books translated into a language I could not begin to read, in my case, Japanese. I never knew Dickens wrote children's stories. (Perhaps a gift idea for little ones there?) And happy birthday!
Enid Richemont said…
To the best of my knowledge, Umberto, he wrote two 'long short stories' for children, both very curious. They turned up in one of those priceless anthologies I was given as a child - thin pages, great writers, amazing illustrators and absolutely no concessions made for the intended audience. I think his world turned upside-down and run by children was written to caricature adult social mores in the 19th century, but I think much of it rings true today, and the illustrator is a treasure.

Thanks for the birthday greetings - I had a fabulous one - flowers, cake, Prosecco, and The Death of Stalin!

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