I dedicate this blog post to great book dedications

As eager as I often am to jump straight into the story when starting a new book, there is one thing I always have to do first – check to see if there’s a book dedication.

While many dedications are quite simple and usually just include the mention of loved ones, every now and then I stumble across one that includes a bit more, such as a cheeky sidenote, or  something completely different and silly, or sometimes a more serious and inspiring message. I have gathered here some of my favourites, all of which are taken from my personal book collection (so hopefully there will be a few you haven’t read before). Enjoy!

“To my daughter Leonora, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.” – The Heart of a Goof by P. G. Wodehouse

“Simply and impossibly: For my family.” – Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

“This book is dedicated to my bank balance.” – Silly Verse For Kids by Spike Milligan

“To my mother, who liked the bit about the horse.” – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

“To Vik Lovell, who told me dragons did not exist, then led me to their lairs.” – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

“To my dear brother Desmond, who made my boyhood happy and with whom I have never had a crossword, mind you he drives his wife mad.” – ‘Rommel?’ ‘Gunner Who?’ by Spike Milligan

“To the love of my life, my soul mate, and the greatest person in the world: Me.” – The Alphabet of Manliness by Maddox

“To ………………………………………….
                (insert full name here)             ” – The Liar by Stephen Fry

“For Stephen and the bills.” – Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry (Stephen’s alter ego)

“This book is dedicated to my family, for their unfailing faith and enthusiasm; to Caroline, for her fund of stories and luminous presence; and to all those who are persecuted for daring to think for themselves.” – The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman by Louis de Bernières

And finally, perhaps my favourite book dedication of all time, and one I mentioned briefly the other day. I decided this one might be easier to just take a photo, rather than type it all out. Sorry about the glare. Enjoy…

From Calcium Made Interesting by Graham Chapman. Do you think this story is real? I certainly do (I particularly love the mention of Douglas Adams, too).

Are there any great or funny book dedications you have come across? I’d love to hear them if so!

Silly Verse for Kids – a book I wish I had read as a child

I briefly mentioned Spike Milligan’s brilliant book of children’s poetry and songs, Silly Verse for Kids, in this post last week, and decided it deserved a little bit more attention, especially as it is Poetry Month still (also, I just love Spike Milligan).

Written almost half a century ago, this small book contains over thirty rhymes, all with Milligan’s own ridiculous drawings (which feature prominently in his other books too, including his war memoirs), which were written either to amuse his children, or as a result of things they had said at home. The poetry and songs aren’t particularly amazing in terms of poetic technique, but they are funny and are quite clever in terms of content, still retaining enough of a musical quality to make them fun for children (and, let’s be honest, fun for adults too – I’m twenty-five but I still enjoy reading this book).

Some of the rhymes in this book became quite famous and are still sung to children today – in particular, Spike Milligan wrote On The Ning Nang Nong, a song I grew up with, but which I only attributed to Milligan recently. There are a few others that I particularly enjoy, that I thought I’d share for a bit of fun. The first is a cute one about a Granny struggling in adverse weather, the second is making fun of the stereotypical English teeth (which as an English born man with imperfect teeth, I can appreciate), and the last is just plain silly (the third line of which goes off the page in the book…you’ll see what I mean).


Through every nook and every cranny
The wind blew in on poor old Granny;
Around her knees, into each ear
(And up her nose as well, I fear).

All through the night the wind grew worse,
It nearly made the vicar curse.
The top had fallen off the steeple
Just missing him (and other people).

It blew on man; it blew on beast.
It blew on nun; it blew on priest.
It blew the wig off Auntie Fanny –
But most of all, it blew on Granny!


English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.

English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Clamping down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.

English Teeth! Heroes’ Teeth!
Hear them click! and clack!
Let’s sing a song of praise to them –
Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.


I’m trying to write the longest first line that poetry has ever had,
For a start that wasn’t bad,
Now here comes a longer oneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
I know I cheated:
It was the only way I could avoid being defeated. 

I know there are many other great books of children’s poetry and song out there, but this is one book that has certainly grown on me, in all its silliness. It makes me want to write similar rhymes for my children, one day, and any book that inspires one towards writing of any kind has to be worth a mention.

Have you read this book before? Who’s your favourite author of children’s rhymes (if you have one)?

On Poetry – Part 5: Comic Verse – The Limerick, The Cento, and The Clerihew

We’re nearly at the halfway point for April, and thus the halfway point for the many poets participating in NaPoWriMo. I suspect many are feeling the same as I am – exhausted and deflated. Writing poetry daily under this kind of pressure can quickly turn this hobby into a chore, and I find the best thing to do in such a situation is to change the tune, to break it up a little. So, we move from the villanelles and sestinas I have discussed in previous blogs to comic forms that will remind us that poetry can be fun and simple, too.

I am going to look at three forms of comic verse – the limerick, the cento, and the clerihew – and briefly discuss what they entail, along with some fun examples, to show that these forms can be just as much fun for adults as for children.

The Limerick

The limerick has been popular for the last two centuries, and is a five line poem normally of a silly, funny or sometimes even lewd nature. Despite its simplicity, it does in fact stick to a strict rhyming pattern, where the first, second and fifth lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with one another. What really gives the limerick its power, however, is the rhythm, which has a bouncy feel to it using double weakly stressed syllables, and this type of rhythm is known as an anapestic rhythm. The rhythm can be demonstrated by the following pattern, where dashes are weakly stressed syllables, and the back-slashes represent emphasised syllables.

1) – / – – / – – /
2) – / – – / – – /
3) – / – – /
4) – / – – /
5) – / – – / – – /

Of course, not every limerick adheres strictly to this pattern, but you’ll find if you do it gives the poem a lot more power and buoyancy, which often adds to the comic feel you are wanting to achieve. I’m going to provide two examples for this, one by Edward Lear, and one by Spike Milligan (which is slightly off in terms of rhythm, but which still works). Particularly in the case of the Lear limerick, read it aloud to hear the rhythm we just discussed.

From Edward Lear’s Book Of Nonsense

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”

There was a young soldier called Edser from Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse For Kids

There was a young soldier called Edser
When wanted was always in bed sir:
One morning at one
They fired the gun,
And Edser, in bed sir, was dead sir.

The Cento

The cento is remarkably easy to explain, and a surprisingly good way to come to terms with a particular poet and their way of writing. Why? Because the cento is made up of individual lines taken from fragments of other poetry, often all from the same poet (although you can mix them up). The result is a parody of that poet, particularly if using well-known and much loved lines, and yet, despite the parody, it can also be a form of tribute to the poet, especially if it still works well together. The example I am going to give is by Ian Patterson, and is a cento made up of lines from some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I have taken this poem from Stephen Fry’s marvellous book on poetry, The Ode Less Travelled.

Ian Patterson’s Shakespeare Cento

When in the chronicles of wasted time
That thy unkindness lays upon my heart,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime
To guard the lawful reasons on they part,
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And scarcely greet me with that sun thine eye
To change your day of youth to sullen night,
Then in the number let me pass untold
So that myself bring water for my stain,
That poor retention could not so much hold
Knowing thy heart torment me in disdain:
        O cunning love, with tears thou keep’st me blind,
                Since I left you my eye is in my mind.

The Clerihew

The Clerihew, named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley, is a four line poem non-metrically written in rhyming couplets, where the first line is a proper name with nothing added. They tend to be clumsy in feel, and are supposed to tell a biographical truth about their subject. Other than that, there’s not much to them really. I’ll include two examples, both of which are taken from Stephen Fry’s book again, and the first of which is actually his own attempt at one.

Oscar Wilde
Had his reputation defiled. 
When he was led from the dock in tears
He said “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at two years.”

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

So there we have it – three forms of poetry that are a bit more fun, and a nice way to give yourself a break, particularly if you happen to be writing thirty poems in thirty days!

I would absolutely love to see people’s attempts at these forms, too, so please feel free to share (I will be sharing some more comic verse of my own soon).

Lastly, you can find Part 1 of this series, which included some of my thoughts on poetry, here, Part 2 which looked at some great poetry books here, Part 3 which looked at the villanelle here, and Part 4, focusing on the sestina, here – please do click on these links and check out these pages if you haven’t already, as there may be something that grabs your poetic interest on those posts too.

Happy reading and writing, poets, authors, readers and friends!

30 Day Book Challenge Day 28 – Favourite book title

They say never judge a book by its cover. Maybe they’re right (whoever ‘they’ are), but let’s face it – people are much more likely to buy a book if it has a good cover, a good blurb on the back, and, in my opinion, if it has an awesome title. I have bought books several times entirely because of the name of the book, so it definitely works on me.

Again, it is too hard to pick just one, so I’m going to list a few of my favourite titles. Enjoy!

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke – I picked this novel up, having burst into laughter at the title, and about two minutes later I bought it. The great thing is, this book is about exactly what the title suggests it would be about – a man accidentally burns down a famous writer’s house in New England, and goes to jail for ten years. The book begins when he gets out of jail, and tries to start life nearby in a different town, hiding his dark past from his wife and children, until eventually the houses of other famous writers start going up in flames, and he realises his past has come back to haunt him. A great and funny read.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell – This was another novel that I bought based purely on the title. It just sounds so poetic, and though I haven’t read it yet, I have heard nothing but good reviews for it, so I imagine I will love it. The title is also a reference to a native poetic name for Japan – The Land of a Thousand Autumns. I’ll review this novel when I do get around to reading it.

Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall by Spike Milligan – I have probably mentioned this before, but this title is too good not to bring up one last time for this blog. This is the first book of a series of seven war memoirs that Milligan wrote about his experiences in World War Two, and it is absolutely hilarious. Some of the other titles in the series also happen to play on the wording of this original book. Definitely worth reading.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks – After I read Musicophilia by Sacks (which I discussed back in the blog for day 24), I knew I had to go back and read the rest of his books about various neurological cases and the inspiring people behind them. This was the first title I found, partially due to its popularity but mostly due to its quirky title. The opening case of the book is about a man who has trouble recognising faces and putting parts of his vision into a coherent whole, and so went to grab his hat one day only to find himself grabbing his wife’s face. A great read by an inspiring non-fiction author.

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge by John O’Farrell – This is one of the best history books I have ever read. It is absolutely hilarious the whole way through, as O’Farrell pokes fun at all the ridiculous events and people caught up in Britain’s history, from 55 B.C. to the end of WWII in 1945. He followed this up with an equally entertaining history of Britain from the end of the war onwards. If you want a good laugh, while learning a little bit of fascinating history at the same time, this is the book for you.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka – This book caught my attention not only because the title made me laugh, but because it made me curious – I wanted to know what the title could possibly mean. The story follows two daughters who react in different ways to the news that their father is marrying a much younger Ukrainian immigrant. Their father, in the meantime, is also trying to write a history of tractors in Ukraine, which we see extracts of through the story. It is quite funny, not a life changing novel but I would recommend it for a light hearted read.

I could go on with this list but I’ll stop there. Are there any titles of books you absolutely love, or that make you laugh?

30 Day Book Challenge Day 17 – Favourite Quote From My Favourite Book

Ahh quotes, who doesn’t love them? Well, a few people actually, but that’s beside the point. I have often thought a sign of a good book is when it is quotable, when it has lines in it that you want to memorise so you can go and tell all your friends, regardless of whether or not your friends even care about it. In many cases, those quotes are unique to that writer and their style of writing, and can remain as powerful out of context as they are in context.

For this day’s challenge, I’m going to show a few of my favourite quotes from a number of my favourite books, because picking one is just plain impossible! So here goes:

Catch 22From Catch 22:

  • “He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”
  • “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

Douglas AdamsFrom Various Douglas Adams books:

  • “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
  • “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
  • “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.”
  • “My doctor says that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency in moral fiber, and that I am therefore excused from saving Universes.”

Louis de BernieresFrom Birds Without Wings:

  • “Man is a bird without wings and a bird is a man without sorrow.”

From Captain Corelli’s Mandolin:

  • “It was an idea so inconceivable he had never even conceived of conceiving it.”

Spike MilliganFrom various Spike Milligan books:

  • “All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.”
  • “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected.”
  • “How long was I in the army? Five foot eleven.”
  • “I can speak Esperanto like a native.”

Stephen FryFrom various Stephen Fry books:

  • “Old Professors never die, they just lose their faculties.”
  • “You are who you are when nobody’s watching.”
  • “It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue.”

I could go on for days, but I’ll stop there! What is surprising is that about half of these I knew off the top of my head without looking them up, so there you go.

Do you have any favourite quotes from books or authors you’d like to share?

30 Day Book Challenge Day 4 – A Guilty Pleasure Book

This is a day late due to the SOPA/PIPA related blackout, but I will make up for it by marching straight onto day 5 after this. But first, Day 4 of the challenge requires me to admit a guilty pleasure book, which again is proving difficult.

The whole premise of a “guilty pleasure” implies that it is something a reader would feel guilty about, whether it be because it is daggy and embarrassing, or trashy, or they just know they should be reading something of an altogether higher quality, but just prefer to indulge in this instead. Often books under this label are based heavily on ideas of escapism, and so often for many people fantasy falls into this category, as does paranormal, romance, erotic, and so on and so forth (no offence to any fans of these genres, I myself love a saucy read from time to time (okay I don’t really, I just wanted to say the word ‘saucy’ in a blog (look, I did it again))). While I have no trouble thinking of guilty pleasures when it comes to my music collection, or my taste in television and movies, it seemed a lot more challenging for books.

In the end, I can’t settle on a single book, but on a series of books by one of my favourite authors and comedians, the late, great Spike Milligan. Spike Milligan wrote a lot of books, and a lot of series of books, which I am slowly but surely collecting and making my way through. Lately I have found that when I am braindead, exhausted, and just looking for a laugh, I have been turning to a particular series of books that all contain “According to Spike Milligan” in the title, and are all essentially rewrites of classic tales. Some of the stories include Frankenstein, Robin Hood, and even The Old Testament of The Bible (which I must confess is my favourite – hilarious and somehow condensed down to just 200 pages, which in itself is an impressive feat). A lot of these aren’t the best writing in literary terms, but they are some of the funniest things ever put to paper, which is particular impressive considering how many of them were written towards the end of Milligan’s life, as an old man. I can honestly say every time I read from one of these books, I actually laugh out loud (which is awkward if it’s in the wee hours of the morning).

If you’ve never read anything by Spike Milligan, you are most certainly missing out. If you’ve never even seen or heard anything by him either, then you need to buy some of his books or find copies of the radio show The Goon Show as soon as you possibly can! That is all.

Now, onto Day 5, because I’m nice like that. (Give me an hour or so, though).

12 days down, 354 to go! So far, still sane (I think).

So, just under two weeks ago I posted a blog about my New Year’s resolutions, in which I listed 12 goals which, when combined, show me to be an overly optimistic and stupidly ambitious silly person. So, 12 days into the year (okay, I didn’t mean the last 12, that was just a coincidence I swear), how am I going? Because let’s face it, if I’m not on track already, I could be in trouble…

Actually, overall I’m going okay. Some goals, like the writing groups and paying off my debt, are hard to measure or won’t really be important until later in the year. But the measureable goals I have, for the most part, made a start on. Here are some tidbits on some of those goals:

Reading Goals: To read 50 books this year

So far, I am on track for this goal. I have finished two books so far this year, Spike Milligan’s interpretation of Frankenstein (it was quite short, to be fair), and For One More Day by Mitch Albom. Milligan’s book was as ridiculous as you would expect, but roaringly funny the whole way through, and perhaps one of the more entertaining retold stories he wrote (he rewrote many classics for a laugh). Mitch Albom’s book was much like his other books, with the same melancholy vibe as Tuesdays With Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven, but also with that uplifting view of life that shines through the many cracks of the characters and story.

I am very close to finishing a book about the art world by Steve Martin (no, really – he knows a lot about the art world, actually), called An Object of Beauty, and am also nearing the end of Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Hemingway’s Chair by Michael Palin. All of these I will likely finish in the next week, which would push me a couple of books ahead of schedule, which would be nice.

Viewing Goals: To watch 100 films this year

On track with this goal, too, as I am currently sitting on 4 films so far this year. I started the year with watching an older Simon Pegg film, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, which was fairly classic Pegg, though perhaps not my favourite film of his. This was followed a couple of days later by seeing the film The Iron Lady, about Margaret Thatcher, which was a brilliant film, in particular Meryl Streep’s fantastic portrayal of Thatcher, not to mention being interesting for me as that was the period of England I was born into (and which I left as it ended, at the young age of 4). Earlier this week I watched the football hooligan film Awaydays, which was a lot better than I expected it to be, and has only just been released in Australia now, 2 years after it’s initial release. Finally, over the last two days I watched Scorsese’s epic documentary film, George Harrison: Living In The Material World, an amazing 2 part, over 3 hour long film using unrivalled and in some cases never before seen footage and interviews to cover his entire life, both musical and personal, and I must confess this just blew me away (to be fair, The Beatles are one of my favourite bands).

I have many more films I plan on watching in the next couple of weeks, so hopefully I can push ahead on this goal too.

Health Goals: To become healthier, fitter, and eat better foods

Okay, this goal is a bit hit and miss so far. I haven’t been running and going to the gym as much as I should be, but I have been going a little, so the ball is rolling I suppose. I have been trying to eat better, however, keeping a lot of junk food out of the house, keeping a lot more healthy food in the house, trying to cook with fresher foods. I have also been experimenting with different recipes, with varying levels of success. Tonight I created an awesome spinach based pasta meal which was actually a lot tastier than it sounds and looked (and someone else tasted the meal to verify this)! So I have a way to go on this goal, but I am slowly making the changes.

Writing Goals: To write (among other things) 12 novellas

Okay, this goal has hit a brick wall. It’s not writer’s block (personally I don’t like that phrase – I don’t believe it really exists). The problem is that I don’t like the story of my first novella, and I especially hate my protagonist. I was attempting to write a comedy, but it is easily the least funniest thing I have ever written. So I have decided, nearly halfway through the month, to scrap this first novella and start over – and still try and finish before the end of January. Am I completely insane? What in the world am I going to write about now? Any ideas for something I could write a comedy novella about in about 18 days would be greatly appreciated!


And that’s it so far. I am mostly on track with my goals, though more with some than others. But this is the easy part of the year – the true tests will come later in the year when I become busier with work and other areas of my life. But for now, I’m on track, and I’m loving 2012 so far! Bring on the remaining 354 days!

Opening lines that kept me reading

The importance of having a strong beginning to any book, fiction or non-fiction, should never be underestimated. While some studies suggest that customers will buy a book based on the cover and blurb on the back, or familiarity of the author, I know myself that I will often open up a book and read through the first page or so before I make that final decision to buy it (or go home to order the book online, but that topic is for another blog, another day).

Over the past few years, there have been a few books with openings that have had this effect on me – have made me laugh or have made my eyebrows shoot upwards, and have caused me to not only buy the book but to read it as quickly as possible. In some cases it has been the first sentence on its own, in others, the first few lines. I wanted to share some of my favourites here, all of which are books I finished and enjoyed, and some of which have gone on to reside among my favourite books of all time.

  1. From The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul by Douglas Adams:
    “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression “as pretty as an airport.”
  2. From The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry:
    “I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry.”
  3. From Catch 22 by Joseph Heller:
    “It was love at first sight.
    The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
    Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn’t become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.”
  4. From Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall by Spike Milligan:
    “September 3rd, 1939. The last minutes of peace ticking away. Father and I were watching Mother digging our air-raid shelter. ‘She’s a great little woman,’ said Father. ‘And getting smaller all the time,’ I added. Two minutes later, a man called Chamberlain who did Prime Minister impressions spoke on the wireless; he said, ‘As from eleven o’clock we are at war with Germany.’ (I loved the WE.) ‘War?’ said Mother. ‘It must have been something we said,’ said Father. The people next door panicked, burnt their post office books and took in the washing.”
  5. From The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe by Douglas Adams:
    “The story so far:
    In the beginning the Universe was created.
    This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
  6. From Devices and Desires by K.J.Parker:
    “‘The quickest way to a man’s heart,’ said the instructor, ‘is proverbially through his stomach. But if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye-socket.'”
  7. From Thank You, Jeeves by P.G.Wodehouse:
    “I was a shade perturbed. Nothing to signify, really, but still just a spot concerned. As I sat in the old flat, idly touching the strings of my banjolele, an instrument to which I had become greatly addicted of late, you couldn’t have said that the brow was actually furrowed, and yet, on the other hand, you couldn’t have stated absolutely that it wasn’t. Perhaps the word ‘pensive’ about covers it. It seemed to me that a situation fraught with embarrassing potentialities had arisen.”

There are probably a lot more I could list, but these were the ones that jumped out at me from memory, before I even looked at my bookshelves. From the whacky humour of Douglas Adams and Spike Milligan, to the sweeping wordplay of Joseph Heller and P.G.Wodehouse, these authors all drew me into their stories right from the outset.

Do you have any particular books you remember for having brilliant opening lines? Please feel free to share if you do, or to comment on these ones I’ve just shared!