You are currently viewing archive for August 2008
31 August 2008
Two bits of bad news from Llandudno, North Wales. First, the Alice in Wonderland shop is closing - Muriel Ratcliffe who runs it is retiring. Check out her online shop before she goes. It has some good and unusual stuff.

Second bad news is the demolition of Penmorfa, big Victorian house that was the home of Alice Liddell's family. There are persistent stories that Carroll visited Penmorfa but in any case it's a bit of interesting and unique town history, and was visited by Gladstone, Wilberforce and Matthew Arnold. So many traditional seaside towns like Llandudno have gone down the drain. They take an unimaginative approach to development, and then wonder why business is bad...

The town has some pretty architecture but shooting itself in the foot like this about Penmorfa is not a good sign. Here's a page from Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Local History Society with some pics of what Penmorfa looked like inside, in its hotel heyday.
30 August 2008
This is taken from the Illustrated London News, showing a scene from the burlesque to the panto "Dick Whittington" at the Lyceum, one of Carroll's favourite theatres. The image comes from around 1860. If I were going to be fussy I could try and locate the exact date but I have so many copies of Illustrated London News that I'd be searching all day. Perhaps Carroll was in the audience, but since several years of his diary are missing around that time, guess we'll never know. For the book, I've had fun researching some of the plays he saw. Plays and pantos then were very light hearted and not necessarily too respectable - the ladies in this picture are showing extraordinarily large amounts of leg for the time!

Scene from the burlesque at "Dick Whittington"

Tag: steel engravings, pantomime
29 August 2008
A kind reader of this blog has located a copy of Disney's Jabberwocky for me to buy. It costs 1 cent in USA and over ?17 in the UK - about $34. So what's the moral of that?

I wanted to write a bit more about secret jokes and mathematical curiosities in Carroll. There's a bit where Alice does some crazy multiplying: "four times five is twelve and four times six is thirteen and four times seven is - oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate!"

Carroll's counting each calculation on a different base here (and mischievously using different bases on each side of each equation). So 4 x 5 equals 12 on base 18, 4 x 6 = 13 on base 21, and so on. It goes all the way up to 4 x 12 = 19 (on base 39). And sure enough, Alice never CAN get to twenty by continuing this way. Because 4 x 13 = 20 does not work on base 42.

....which leads onto the mysterious number of 42. The number 42 seemed to have a special significance for Carroll. It appears throughout his works, often in heavy disguise. Some people who are mathematically inclined like to track down the 42's. Carroll's puzzles and acrostics show the same devious intellect at work. Here's one of his Puzzles from Wonderland - very easy and aimed at children, apparently. The answer will be on my Links page (see menu) although it may not appear immediately.

"A stick I found that weighed two pound
I sawed it up one day
In pieces eight of equal weight
How much did each piece weigh?
(Everybody says "A quarter of a pound" which is wrong)

28 August 2008
In idle moments (not that I have many at present) I like to photoshop locations for various scenes out of Carroll. This is my idea of the house which has the Mad Tea Party in its back garden. It has no artistic pretensions but I have fun doing these things. It's based on a real house but I've moved windows around, changed the surroundings and added chimneys from the House in the Clouds at Thorpeness, which must be one of the oddest villages in Britain (link here)

The March Hare's House
27 August 2008
Here are two website links to places where Carroll lived as a child. One is Croft-on-Tees, where he lived from age 11. He lived with his parents and his ten brothers and sisters in the large rectory, which still stands. This attractive village has links not only with Carroll but with Byron - not bad for such a tiny community!

The other places is Richmond, Yorkshire, where Carroll went off to school for the first time, at the age of 12. Carroll liked the small school which gave the children a lot of freedom and had a home like atmosphere. The site has a picture of the house where Carroll lived ? something I?ve never seen before. There?s also a picture of the schoolhouse: a real country place where the children were allowed to roam freely. It's still a school, but is due to be sold for redevelopment, so anyone who wants to see it when it's still a school needs to go soon.

Richmond was the first time Carroll had ever been away from home. He must hardly ever have had the experience of having to stand on his own feet outside his family circle. Yet he must have been secure in himself, because he managed well. He enjoyed his time in Richmond, remembered it well and kept in touch with people from the school for many years afterwards.
26 August 2008
One of the best things about writing about Lewis Carroll is that he genuinely is mysterious. He was forever writing - books, pamphlets, letters - but he was also secretive and his mind worked in a very unusual way. So, in a typical Carroll paradox, although so much of what he wrote seems "personal", surprisingly little is personally revealing.

What remains is interesting in a detective-story way, and lately I've been feeling like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, using my "little grey cells" to piece together scraps of information and glimpse the often surprising picture beyond.

I've moved on to examining some material from one of the more obscure archives, and discovered material there which has NEVER been used in any biographies. It ties up with other recent research to show that Alice Liddell's family had a secret about Carroll which they were not telling to the world.

I've spent a couple of evenings around the dinner table discussing this material with my family. Carroll's diary has been mutilated, and information relevant to the Liddells has been lost. I'm reasonably sure I know now which members of Carroll's family were responsible for that. But nobody has looked into other sources, as far as I know, or realised that the Liddells were covering something up!

Fascinating, and rather exciting.

Today's illustration is the Cheshire Cat done by one of my kids and her friend a while back. It looks suitably mad to me.
We're all mad

25 August 2008
I'm looking out for the Disney version of "Jabberwocky." It's said to be full of jazzy cartoons from the Disney archives all done in a 1950s style. In my searches I found a site called which is all about Jabberwocks and Jabberwockies of all kinds.

How's this for a magic chess set? It is inspired by Through the Looking Glass. If I played chess (which I don't) this set would be the one. The pieces all look like blank mirror glass cylinders until you put them on the board, upon which they suddenly go transparent and "become" whatever piece they really are.

You could say that people are a bit like that. Strangers present a blank face - but when they start playing the "game of life", they can soon show what they're really like! Or does that sound too corny?
24 August 2008
. Carroll's home for most of his life. He somehow managed to get his hands on one of the very best suites of rooms in Christ Church.
24 August 2008
I discover that my BBC Radio 4 programme on Carroll is on a BitTorrent site called BitTorrent is peer-to-peer distribution of pirated stuff. People signing up can hear the whole programme but in exchange they have to agree to host parts of other programmes on their computers, so no one site hosts the whole thing. Demonoid isn't taking any more applicants at present, and I suspect it's not legal. I'm strangely pleased that someone thought the programme interesting enough to be worth pirating though. It DID get two sections onto BBC Pick of the Week at the time, but this is the only way anyone will hear it now, since the BBC has taken it offline.
22 August 2008
Saw a copy of Maggie Taylor's surrealist "Alice in Wonderland" which is based on very old photographs - daguerrotypes, I think, although they've been so doctored it's hard to tell. Check it and see....Her book's expensive but I've seen a copy and it's well produced. I've put it on my Christmas list....

22 August 2008
I'm back - and while I was away, I had my first attempt at playing Carroll's Game of Logic. I thought it was great - to my surprise. Basically it trains you in logical thought processes by using counters on a board. You start off with 2 premises, and learn how to analyse them. Then, as you get better, you increase the number of premises, till you can untangle even very complicated ideas.

It's symbolic logic, which is a bit out of fashion these days apparently, but for me, for the first time in years, my brain feels just the way my body feels after doing a sudden burst of unaccustomed exercise. It should be easy, and it obviously IS easy, but my brain's such a paunchy old slob that it was puffing and panting like Billy Bunter trying to do the 100 metres. I could just feel it doing me good.

Carroll always took great care with the design of his books and the Game of Logic book has beautiful bright red covers with swirly gold lettering. The counters are very pretty pink and grey and altogether it's a nice object. As for being a game - it's a cooperative rather than a competitive game, and one person can play alone.

It was helpful to have someone to show me how to do it, since you do have to follow the instructions exactly - it's an ideal teaching aid for strengthening children's minds. I'd say they need to be about 12 or 13 to really get into it, but a mathematically minded child could probably manage at a younger age.

Robin Wilson's book (below) has a very good explanation of how it all works - having read it in detail I think even the most un-mathematical person will get something out of it.

So I shall, I hope, find my mind getting fitter as I go on.
20 August 2008
No time to write - I am about to catch my train to learn more about Carroll's maths. I regret to say the above title is not mine but Robin Wilson's - it's from his excellent book LEWIS CARROLL IN NUMBERLAND - HIS FANTASTICAL MATHEMATICAL LIFE which I highly recommend.
19 August 2008
Any aspiring writer should read what poor Jane Doe says in You'll see why Jane is anonymous on reading her piece. I cannot resist quoting one bit of it, that "being an author has ruined many of my greatest lifelong pleasures. Reading a book that's poorly written I pace the floor, beseeching the Muses, God and the editors of Publishers Weekly to explain why trash like this sells so much better than serious books like mine. Reading a book that's well written, I writhe, instead, with envy."

Whenever I start feeling hard done by as a writer, I think of Mozart, one of the greatest creative geniuses who ever lived, being forced to sit with the servants by the jumped up idiots who employed him. And how the stupid Archbishop of Milan didn't want him. And how he scraped around in crowded little apartments, organising piano transport to he could give concerts to stay alive. And how he couldn't write as many operas as he wanted because he couldn't afford to. You'd have thought that someone, somewhere, might have realised there was a towering genius there and given him a bit more of a break. The money he received wasn't enough and he had a pauper's funeral when he died.

Incidentally, Mozart was tiny and very thin and hardly ate a thing. I was thinking of this yesterday when reading a confident assertion on another website that Carroll was anorexic. Carroll and some of his brothers and sisters were very lightly built, and had all been brought up to dislike "greed", as well they might in a hard-up household of 11 children. He had sherry and biscuits for lunch instead of sitting down to a plate of food. Hence, he suffered from a psychological disorder, in the view of the writer of the website (it had better remain anonymous, since I'm not into being nasty about other peoples' websites.)

One may imagine how it might have been in this imaginary world if Carroll and Mozart had lived nowadays. They might have gone to the same anorexia clinic. There, they might have met - become friends - and Mozart could have written some music for "Alice in Wonderland." Aah!

18 August 2008
I've been reading Lenny's brilliant Alice in Wonderland site forum. Also, criticising Neil Gaiman's "Coraline" in the Lewis Carroll Yahoo group. Now, Lenny's site has offered the trailer for Gaiman's "Mirrormask" . And guess what? It looks great. I don't like the darkness in Gaiman but I love the sense of fantastic happenings in this trailer. I'm going to give him a chance. I'll buy the dvd and get hold of another copy of "Coraline". The next problem will be finding time to read/watch them.

Found a great writing site:

My friend Lee is bothered at the parrot picture. He thinks it should have been a Norwegian Blue. I don't know what a Norwegian Blue is.

17 August 2008
Found an interesting clip of the whole of the first ever feature film of "Alice in Wonderland" made in 1903, with a commentary by a guy from the British Film Institute.

There's been a bit of comment on the Lewis Carroll Yahoo group about the analysis of Carroll's writing, and I've posted some further thoughts on the subject there.

I'm getting ready to go and spend two days getting to grips with my chapter on Carroll and his puzzles, maths, games, acrostics. Not being in the least a lover of games, and not ever having shone at Maths at school, this is the chapter I am dreading most, and a very distinguished Carroll scholar who is also a mathematician has kindly offered to help me through it.

Between you, me and the rest of cyberspace, I reckon I'll need some help. Hopefully, by the end of the week, I'll be up to speed, though.
16 August 2008
Inconsequential comment of the year. My friend Lee read the blog entry of yesterday and remarked: "Vultures are sensitive creatures, and they can be highly strung." It took me a while to find a suitable illustration.

Vultures are sensitive creatures and they can be highly strung.)
15 August 2008
Graphology is handwriting analysis - telling people's character through features of their handwriting. It doesn't have much logical scientific basis and I always thought it was quackery, like phrenology.

But when I was working as a journalist, I did an article involving some graphology, just over 8 years ago. This was shortly after I'd got into Carroll enough to join the Lewis Carroll Society.

I then decided to learn a bit more about Graphology. A graphologist gave me half a dozen lessons. In the course of these, I asked her to look at Carroll's writing. All I told her was that he was a well known man born in 1832, and I said she might have heard of him.

So, one day, we devoted our lesson session to her looking at several samples of his writing (done at different times to see how he had developed) and she then explained and demonstrated to me why she thought what she did about him.

I wrote down everything she said. I'm posting some of what she said now and may put up some more later.

I'm a little sceptical about Graphology as it stands, because even after 6 lessons I couldn't make it work for me at all. But I feel there may be something interesting and valid in this report, although I don't know what it is. Her comments had a sort of irrational, almost dreamlike quality, which made me feel it was emerging from a subconscious.

This is the first part of what she said.

This man was quite friendly and gentle, although he couldn't be walked over. He was open to different experiences and views, although his immediate reactions were sometimes opinionated - but he would tend to reflect and would be quite capable of coming to a more moderate view eventually. He was very truthful and wanted to understand properly - even though he also had a somewhat "tricksy" and devious outlook on life.

He could concentrate very hard - although tended to work in fits and starts - and he had a great bent for precise logical thought, but as he grew older he became a bit TOO logical at the expense of common sense.

He was emotional but kept himself and his emotions under control. She was very struck - in some later samples of his writing - by what she called a very strong femininity. She emphasised that this was not effeminacy or homosexuality - and said it was more as if he empathised strongly with females, almost as if he felt like one himself in some ways. She thought he might have been very preoccupied with a feminine ideal, and may have spent a lot of time thinking about the ideal female.

He could have given an impression of stillness and self containment. However, he would be very good at creating a pleasant environment, and could create a sensation of ease and comfort when you were with him.

He seems to have enjoyed enveloping himself in recollections of his mother and his childhood, and she added that he may well have liked the company of children because of their innocence and playfulness.

He had an underlying need for being looked after and fussed over, but he may not have behaved in a way that made it easy for people to do this for him.

He sometimes got very angry, and kept his anger hidden inside. He could make sharp comments, and be spiky or spiteful when angry - even though he was generally quite a gentle person. And if he got into a temper he wouldn't care what he said. He could be judgmental and, particularly later in life, he would insist on imposing his own views in a very determined way. However he wasn't into conquering or dominating other people for the sake of it..."

That's about half the analysis. I haven't omitted anything.

Now, she was foreign (French). After giving me her views, she looked at his signature of "C L Dodgson" and she said she did not know the name.
At the end of the lesson, when she had given me the whole sum of her views, I said she'd been talking about "Lewis Carroll". She knew "Alice au Pays des Merveilles", and had heard of its author. She was taken aback and quite embarrassed, because she said therefore she thought she must have made a mistake. I don't know what view she had of Carroll but clearly it wasn't anything like this. She even offered to look at the samples again!

I have never forgotten this analysis but I hadn't looked at it for years. This is the first time I've read it through in about 5 years.

14 August 2008
And Who are You?
14 August 2008
There's talk that Johnny Depp may play "Alice" in Tim Burton's new movie. Whether that is true or not I think it's a cool idea. I've thought for years that they should get a boy to play "Alice" because there's so much of Lewis Carroll in her. Have to say I didn't think of a middle aged man, even though that's a cruel way to describe Johnny Depp...
14 August 2008
A writer's worst nightmare must be to get an agent, get a trilogy deal, get published, get great reviews... and then be told that nobody's bought their book and the whole thing gets cancelled. This is what happened to Nick Green, with his novel The Cat Kin blogged about in the Guardian a few months ago. I keep hearing good things about this book so have now finally ordered it on Amazon. I'll report back on it later.

I have to say that in all the piles of children's review copies that the poor old postman lugs to my door, The Cat Kin never showed up.

Carroll never had to deal with this kind of stuff! He published his own books, using Macmillans as a sort of "wrap." He paid for the cost of everything. I don't know if he had a publicity budget but probably not. It was a smaller slower world.

Publicity is so important. The best series for little children I've seen for many years is about Bing Bunny by Ted Dewan. Bing was published by an excellent publisher, David FIckling Books - but they don't seem to have put much into marketing it.

"Writer's Digest" makes the point that you need to market your own work like crazy, but Ted's done this, as anyone who checks his website out will see. Few individual authors and illustrators have the money to do huge marketing and merchandising campaigns, though.

We reckon that anyone with tiny children actually NEEDS Bing in their life and Sidney and Arthur certainly wore their copies out. The books are perfect for small children, full of humour, with simple, bright yet interesting pictures, and they deal with just the kind of things children do.

In one, Bing makes a picture for Daddy, in which the glue gets out of control. In another, Bing and his sidekick Flop (or "Fop" as he is also known by some) make an elaborate picnic only to discover it's raining and they must have the picnic under the table instead.

It slays 'em at nursery.

12 August 2008
I've recently got Sidney a subscription to the DFC comic. It's a traditional type of child's picture comic written by proper children's authors, and illustrated by proper artists. It is great, and Sidney adores it and any child with an IQ over 95 probably will love it too. But, it's only available on subscription. Why?

Actually I had been planning to buy him the "Beano" each week (or at least introduce him to it so he could buy it himself with his pocket money) but then I went to W.H. Smiths and couldn't find the "Beano" for ages. Finally the sales assistant looked at me as if I was stupid, took me by the arm and led me to the children's section and kindly pointed it out.

And eeergh! There it was, a bloated intruder that had swallowed up the REAL Beano. Still, the strips weren't bad, and it did have a free toy gun, so it is as non-PC as ever.

11 August 2008
I don't want to turn into a youtube nut but I'm still a Disney nut and I'm pleased to see that Mickey Thru The Mirror is on Youtube!

Mickey's adventures are inspired by "Through the Looking Glass" which he's reading before he goes to bed. It turns into a song and dance routine with lots of brilliant visual gags, like Mickey dancing with a pack of cards.

There are lots of Carroll references to both Wonderland and Looking Glass and some equally brilliant Disney ideas, such as both reflecting bits of the jealous King of Hearts pulling out their swords and trying to chop his head off.

Among Disney's very first ever short films was a series based on "Alice in Wonderland". I don't think they've ever been released. They were live action against a cartoon background and the cartoons were way, way better than the live action. The little girl "star" was talented though.

Thinking a bit more about the Youtube movie ideas, I've been looking through my photos. Here's an image, not photoshopped, that I found in a churchyard, of faded plastic flowers. Hope I'll find a way to use it somehow. In a country churchyard....
09 August 2008
Having thought about Lego Star Wars someone pointed me to Lego Alice in Wonderland. Pity it's all in Japanese. It begins, "Aris-san!" - "Hai!"

Got me browsing and as usual I found all kinds of strange and interesting links, which quickly broadened out. I found bizarre clips of the Alice in Wonderland Parade at Hong Kong Disneyland. . This led me on to Benny, the Most Popular Mandarin Teacher In The World. I watched several of his microclasses and hope I can now ask for a Coke in Shanghai or tell a Chinese person they are very beautiful.

08 August 2008
Over on the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators group, there are a few postings of videos people have made on YouTube to publicise their books. I like the idea. I'd like to do a video for my book using Victorian panto and joke illustrations.

Don't know yet what the storyline will be but I'll definitely get Sidney to do the commentary. He's desperate to make a movie and goes around muttering the "soundtrack" to movies he's making up inside his head. He's also devoted to YouTube Lego or cardboard Star Wars. (There's a whole group of people out there who re-enact their favourite movies in Lego or with plastic figures, I have discovered).

To get back to the Victorian illustrations, I'm still puzzling over the answer to the riddles in the picture which I am putting up here. Carroll, like many Victorians, was a big fan of riddles. Riddle Me Ree
Tag: Steel engraving, Illustrated London News
07 August 2008
Nearly a year ago, I wrote : "I've been writing on and off for something called Suite 101 and then continued:

"If you read them, click on some of the ad links for me. This is the way we are supposed to make money, although I am told that you don't make much, and I certainly haven't made any so far, although the stats say that I have accumulated the princely sum of $6.... "

Here a post-script to this. If people are inclined to click through the ads on a friend's page- don't. If Google detects (or thinks it detects) ad fraud, it gets very heavy. Perfectly fair, and I should have thought of that - duh.

Anyway Suite 101 doesn't offer the writer any chance to explain, deal with or change if Google objects to the pattern of clicks. It simply removes all the writer's articles, immediately and permanently, with no procedure for arbitration. This happened to me. Apparently many writers were wiped at the same time as me, in a sort of purge, and didn't know why. Perhaps their friends had clicked their page ads. Some of them were terribly upset to lose all the work they had done in anticipation of future earnings.

For me it was not an unhappy ending. I had become embarrassed about my articles - formulaic, hack and rigidly constrained. I didn't become a writer to do that. Editors I hoped to interest in my writing skills were googling me and coming up with this stuff - but I could not get them off line.

In this, as in other ways, the writer for Suite 101 has no real control.

06 August 2008
I was in the British Library this afternoon. Their shop seems to have more and more gifts and fewer and fewer books! Mind you, these books are great, and often quite unusual.

The BL owns "Alice's Adventures Underground", and the shop stocks some interesting CDs, including the CD-ROM "Alice's Adventures: Turning the Pages", which helps you to feel as if you're really reading the book (ISBN:712305254).

Prominently displayed was the "Annotated International Bibliography of Sylvie and Bruno" (ISBN:978 0 7123 5006 8) which I hadn't seen before. It is a rather splendid looking book so I examined it and see that it lists all known editions of the "Sylvie and Bruno" books, with excerpts, anthologies, critical articles and studies and parodies. There's also a long essay by Anne Clark Amor, and a complete list of the recipients of Carroll's presentation of both books, compiled by Edward Wakeling. The authors are Clare Imholz and Byron Sewell, and with that line up I am sure the scholarship is impeccable.

For me the most eye catching and appealing bit of Carrollania in the whole shop was Robert Sabuda's pop-up "Alice in Wonderland". For those who have not seen this pop-up genius's work, his site is worth a peep.

The book's first spread contains a pop up of a leafy tree in which the Cheshire Cat is hidden, and Alice is leaving her sister and racing off after the White Rabbit. There's a small "book" also built in to the scene with a flap across it which says "Open Me". After opening the flap, you see "Pull me up and look inside." You pull the section out and it concertinas up to several inches high. There's a peephole in the top and when you look in, you see Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, which is lined with books. Another section on this spread opens out to show some of the story text, and has pop up "eat me" and "drink me" cake and bottle, plus an animated Alice, swimming in the pool of tears. That's just the first page spread - there's lots more. It's a positively magical book - or I think so, anyway. Sabuda has also done a cool "Wizard of Oz"!
04 August 2008
A window display in Fortnum and Mason
04 August 2008
The idea that Carroll did not know exactly what he was writing when he did his best work, is is part of its charm and interest. It seemed that the minute he started trying to put an idea over, his stories fell to pieces. I'm sure his best work was so good at least partly because he felt free to write what he wanted, instead of what he thought he ought to write.

It's a funny feeling, isn't it, when you get that link to your subconscious. All of a sudden these strange things start pouring out....

03 August 2008
Having been making some long car trips, we've got a CD of Alice in Wonderland to keep Sidney happy. He's 6 and perhaps a bit young but he is fascinated by the story. I'd never heard the whole thing read aloud before, and when I did I suddenly realised why some WW1 soldiers are said to have taken "Alice in Wonderland" into the trenches with them, and why some people still read it when they feel low.

Alice Liddell doesn't sound as if she was a very likeable or indeed very interesting adult, but in the story she comes over as a clever, quaint and assertive little girl, the type who would be quite a useful companion in a tough situation.

My theory - which I go into in the book - is that Carroll wrote both his "Alice" books when he felt in need of some escapism. I can now see how the memory of the "real" Alice could provide that for him.

How delightful to wander through life with someone who is naively courageous and basically optimistic in a puzzling world, and who always deals politely and yet effectively with whatever madnesses life sends her way, and is never downcast for long.

When I read the book from now on, I will see the shadow of Carroll accompanying her through the miseries which were afflicting his own life at the period. I will understand emotionally, not just intellectually, how it made him feel better to have her around.