Doleful delights with a dash of grim humour…

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From the author of Aunt Grizelda’s Treasury of Grim and Grisly Rhymes

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comes the Woebegone Blog of Aunt Grizelda, a sarcophagus of delights for those of a Gothic disposition.

Drawing on my experience as children’s writer, book reviewer in The Sunday Tombs Culture supplement, and life style commentator in Haunted Homes, I’ll be bringing you:

  • interviews with authors from the Middle Ages onwards
  • tips on each new season’s vamp fashions
  • reviews of fiction, poetry and Norse sagas
  • child rearing advice (including for changelings)
  • grim warnings for reckless children
  • news on all things Aunt Grizelda, from sneaky previews of forthcoming books to upcoming public appearances
  • and MORE…

Leonard and Hungry Paul: Book Recommendation

It’s rare a novel comes along that leaves you gasping with admiration at the exquisiteness of its prose and tenderness of its humour, but Leonard and Hungry Paul is one such.

Telling the tale of two unremarkable friends with unexceptional lives it celebrates the joys of the ordinary with a freshness and wit that enchants.

If you’re feeling cynical and world weary, this book is a tonic.

Book Launch of Aunt Grizelda’s Fairy Tales of the Unexpected

I’m delighted to announce the second book in the Aunt Grizelda series will be launched on the 4th July at Book Corner, the wonderful independent book shop in Halifax’s historic Piece Hall. The event is free and starts at 7pm.

I’ll be reading extracts, signing copies and giving an account of the road to publication with some dos, don’ts, and things I wish I’d known – tips that should help other aspiring children’s authors on their own journey.

If you’re local to Halifax, do come along.

Advice on A Dullahan’s Terms of Employment.

This week’s problem comes from Ireland and concerns the extent of a spectre’s job responsibilities.

The detached heads of passengers are a recurring problem for dullahans

Dear Aunt Grizelda,

I feel as if my employers are not paying me fairly for my work. I drive passengers by carriage throughout Ireland: but as I travel through the countryside, I am also expected to call out the names of those about to die. Surely this is the job of a herald?

Another gripe I have concerns the passengers: like myself they have detached heads. On a bumpy lane this can result in them arriving at their destination with a different head from the one they started out with. It is always me that has to sort out the confusion, and I am not paid extra for this.

I am thinking of asking my employers for an increase in salary to reflect these additional responsibilities. Do you think I have a case?

Yours,

A Spectre.

Dear A Spectre,

Since the dawn of time dullahans have announced the names of those about to die, and therefore, even if it isn’t written into your employment contract, it is an integral part of the job. Consequently, you have no hope of extra pay for doing it.

With regard to reassigning passengers’ heads at the end of a trip, you are on firmer ground. Before the explosion of public liability claims, passengers cheerfully accepted a bumpy ride could result in a new look. However, these days, they can turn quite nasty about it. But is it your responsibility to sort out? It rather depends what it says under the Job Responsibilities section of your employment contract.

Go read!

Yours sincerely,

Aunt Grizelda.

P.s. Should any of your passengers actually assault you, you may have a claim against your employers under insufficient Health and Safety provision.

Aunt Grizelda’s Fairy Tales of the Unexpected.

I’m delighted to announce the second book in the Aunt Grizelda series is now printed. Here’s a sneak preview of one of the illustrations (by Natallia Pavaliayeva) and an extract.

Cinders in domestic servitude

Once upon a time there was

A girl called Cinderella,

Whose wicked sisters made her sleep

On straw down in the cellar.

They played games on their smart phones  

While they made her cook and clean,

And called her lots of horrid names –

Good gracious, they were mean!

What is your favourite fairy tale? Let me know, and if it’s in the collection, I’ll print an extract.

Manners. Gum: To Chew or Not to Chew?

Illustration by NatalliaPavaliayeva

Gum – bubble or chewing – can lead to dramatic accidents. The following recounts what happened to one young boy…

The Bubble Gum Tragedy

Bobby blew a bubble out of bubble gum one day,

And it was such a giant one it carried him away.

He sailed above the rooftops like a helium balloon.

His mother cried, “Come back at once, it’s time for dinner soon.”

But sadly, Bobby could not heed this order from his mum,

Because his lips were stuck fast to the bright pink bubble gum.

The neighbours rushed into the street and pointed in dismay,

As Bobby shrank into a dot and drifted far away.

And further yet and further, up up into the blue,

He drifted to such dizzy heights he vanished clear from view.

For weeks they sent up spaceships – on board were rescue men,

But Bobby and his bubble gum were never seen again.

So if you must chew bubble gum, be careful or you may

Come to a very sticky end as Bobby did that day.

To avoid gum mishaps, follow The Gum Code.

Do not chew dramatically in public: you are not the manager of a professional football team. And even if you are, don’t do it.

Do not chew at ANY sad or tragic or important event: it looks as if you don’t care, and even if that’s the case, some of the people attending the sad/tragic/important event do care and won’t thank you.

Dispose of your gum carefully: your sister’s hair is not a suitable place and neither is beneath your desk or bed. Bin it.

A Short History of Manners

A fall in standards resulted in exclusion from polite society

Manners makyth man was the motto of William Wykeham, a man who lived in the 14th century, and although that period isn’t a shining example of civilized behaviour, what with its beheadings, floggings, dungeons, brawls and general brutishness, his motto drew attention to a politer way to live.

Although people’s behaviour continued to be violent, it was at least accompanied by please and thank you, due to William. The aristocracy in particular began to abide by rules of etiquette and would often present a wonderfully formal banquet to the king, before stabbing him to death. And instead of a prisoner being told, “Get yer head on that block,” a much pleasanter, “If you could just lay your head down on that block, please,” made proceedings much more courteous.

By Victorian times genteel behaviour had got out of hand: people required an encyclopaedic knowledge of cutlery items and how to use them, not to mention knowing when and where certain garments should be worn and how often they should be changed. The slightest deviation from the social code could spell disaster. Decorum was everything. I include, below, an excerpt from the poem, “The Lady Languishes,” as an illustration.

The Lady Languishes (an excerpt)

While others trip the polka gay

She grips her throat in anguish,

And calls a footman to prepare

A couch on which to languish.

The party strikes a merry note,

The host is gaily feted,

While she in desperation seeks

Oil that is camphorated.

Ah! What pale lily gilds her cheek?

Her breathing rattles so!

Alas, she has no handkerchief

On which her nose to blow.

And out her dainty nostril drips

A liquid pale as water –

Her heart beats fast and so she grasps

Something she didn’t oughta.

The fine white tablecloth she takes,

And bows her head down close…

And thinking no one sees the sin,

She quickly wipes her nose.

Those of you familiar with the poem will know she is spotted committing the faux pas and is exiled from polite society for the rest of her days.

Today, thankfully, manners have moved on, and polite society is less burdened with dos and don’ts, but it is still useful to know a few basics to ensure smooth social interactions. And this is why my next series of articles will be a guide to modern etiquette.

PARENTS: A Final Thought.

So, what more can be said about parents? As we’ve seen, all types have their drawbacks, but on the whole they do their best, and remember, one day you might be a parent yourself, so cut them a little slack.

YOUR PARENTS

Be thankful for your parents.

Don’t dis your mum and dad –

For though they might not be the kind

You feel you should have had,

They do their best to raise you,

They catch you when you fall,

And out of all the human race

They love you best of all.

Be grateful to your parents,

Because the things they do

Are seldom for the good of them,

But for the good of you.

And though they’re far from perfect –

(They shout and give you chores )

Believe me, they’re the perfect fit,

And that’s because they’re yours.

Parents: A User’s Guide. Part 7, The Embarrassing Parents.

Will never be heard to say: “Stop doing that. People are looking!”

Morris dancing is a particularly attractive hobby to embarrassing parents.

So you’re probably thinking, “How can this be a special category? ALL parents are embarrassing.” And it’s true, they are; from the dads who demonstrate how to do a sliding tackle or a break dance move, to the mums who think they’re still young enough to wear the latest skimpy fashions. But to be fair, most parents are only embarrassing occasionally…except for the ones who’ve made it their life’s work to be cringey ALL the time.

Full on embarrassing parents are without fail

  • Loud
  • Very sociable
  • Ready to try anything
  • Involved in acting/bands/morris dancing/political activism/performance art/poetry/

Your credibility with friends can be seriously undermined by these types. But apart from avoiding being seen with them, what can you do?

Well, on the plus side, they tend to be so involved in their own enthusiasms they probably don’t have too much time to spend with you. But if you run into them unexpectedly there are two possible strategies:

  • Pretend you haven’t seen/heard them and walk away quickly in the opposite direction.
  • If you can’t get away in time, look slightly mystified and when they’ve moved on tell your friends you’ve no idea who those strange people were.

Finally there does come a point where embarrassing parents become clinically interesting, which can be useful if you study psychology at university and need case studies. See, it’s not all bad.

A Rash Decision…

Wild animals are called wild for a reason – approach them at your peril. Alas, Jim thought he knew better.

Jim initially at a safe distance.

The Bear Facts

While wandering in the woods one day,

Young Jim observed a bear at play.          

Against a tree it scratched its back,

And looked too sleepy to attack –

Although a sign made danger clear:

BEWARE THE BEARS – DO NOT GO NEAR!

But reckless Jim did not think twice,

And heedless of that good advice,

Set out towards the grizzly bear,

Regardless of the danger there.

The details of what next befell

Are far too grim for me to tell,                 

But yes, the bear enjoyed a snack –

And foolish Jim did not come back.