The Unadulterated Cat – Terry Pratchett

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One of Terry Pratchett’s least well known books, The Unadulterated Cat is an odd mix of cat lovers companion, a parody of the Campaign for Real Ale, and a heavy dose humour about the joys (or otherwise) of owning a cat. It is illustrated by Gray Jolliffe whose style completely fits in with the text and as discussed below is one of the reasons why I would recommend the later editions over the first. So what is it all about then? Well the opening lines give a pretty good guide.

Far too many people these days have grown used to boring mass-produced cats which may bounce with health and nourishing vitamins but aren’t a patch on the good old cats you used to get. The Campaign for Real Cats wants to change all that by helping people recognise Real Cats when they see one.

Hence this book.

The Campaign for Real Cats is against fizzy keg cats

That last line is a definite reference to CAMRA which as an organisation prefers ‘proper’ cask conditioned ales over anything in a pressurised keg. That used to a reasonable position but nowadays a lot of craft brewers are producing some wonderful keg beers. However on with the review, or at least Pratchett’s idea as to what a Real Cat is…

For example: real cats have ears that look like they’ve been trimmed with pinking shears; real cats never wear flea collars… or appear on Christmas cards… or chase anything with a bell in it; real cats do eat quiche. And giblets. And butter. And anything else left on the table, if they think they can get away with it. Real cats can hear a fridge door opening two rooms away…

Anyone who has ever owned a cat, or gained a cat they didn’t intend to, or indeed have been owned by a cat will recognise most, if not all, of the situations described in the book. Just a selection of chapter titles will give a feel for what is covered.

  • How to get a cat
  • Types of cat
  • Naming cats
  • Illnesses
  • Feeding cats
  • Training and disciplining the Real Cat
  • Games cats play
  • Schrodinger cats
  • The cat in history

etc.

That types of cat includes ‘Black cats with white paws’ and ‘Boot faced cats’ is a hint that this is not a book that regards pedigree highly. Training cats is also not something that can be done well apart from using a litter tray anyway as Pratchett points out

You think it’s the cat turning up obediently at the back door at ten o’clock obediently for its dinner. From the cats point, a blob on legs has been trained to take a tin out of the fridge every night.

If you have a sense of humour and own a cat, or frankly even if you don’t then read this book, it will definitely give you a laugh.

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Note of variations between editions

I have two distinct versions of this book. The original first edition was a paperback published by Victor Gollancz in 1989 and is shown at the top of this review. I also have the first hardback edition, also published by Victor Gollancz, but not until 2002, pictured above, and this, along with two intermediate paperback editions, Gollancz in 1992 and Vista in 1997 are all described as ‘revised editions’ so what is different?

Well the initial obvious difference is the covers and the sizes of the two books I have, the first edition is 242mm tall by 172mm wide and the revised hardback is 185mm by 120mm. Partly due to this size differential the first edition is 96 pages as opposed to the 159 pages in the hardback. It appears the text is unchanged, unless there are minor corrections that I haven’t spotted, but the illustrations are significantly different between my two editions. There are a lot more of them in the later edition, which also adds to the page count, and those carried over from the original are sometimes in different places in relation to the text. There is one example of a mirrored version being used. Original version of what can happen if you accidentally leave your real cat in the house when you think it is outside is first.

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Another where the text is amended, apparently to clarify a joke that I think was already quite clear, original to the left

And two illustrations are dropped altogether, along with the front cover of the original which didn’t make it into the revised edition. In the first case the mink coat cartoon was replaced

In the second example there is no illustration at this point in the text in the revised edition.

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My Name Escapes Me – Alec Guinness

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Subtitled “The diary of a retiring actor” this book takes us from the 1st January 1995 to the 6th June 1996. 1995 is treated rather episodically with large gaps in the diary but there are much more frequent entries for 1996 at least as far as that year goes. The book is quite a gentle read, ideal for a quiet afternoon where you just want something to entertain rather than educate. Guinness is in his eighties by the time he wrote this and effectively has retired although he does do a couple of very small parts for films and a short voice-over during the 18 months of the diary.

There are the expected reminiscences scattered through, not just of stage and screen but also of his conversion to Roman Catholicism forty years earlier. Through most of the book his wife Merula is having problems getting about leading to hip surgery and a long slow recovery and he clearly dotes on her, with various changes of plan wrapped around her current health. He is an inveterate name dropper and chides himself several times in the diary for long convoluted stories he tells at dinner parties probably boring everyone else in the process, a habit Merula sometimes curtails by commenting, with the punchline that he is slowly working up to, during the story. People expect actors, especially ones of his seniority, to be able to talk in public but Guinness is quite clear several times that having him give a speech is doomed to failure from the start, it always has been and age has not improved his ability.

One running commentary relates to the Star Wars films and the fan mail, usually with photographs they want signing that he gets all the time.  As in this entry from 16th December 1995 which gives a good flavour of the style of the book.

Today I have felt querulous. Behaviour has been spiky; largely due, I think, to our affable postman dutiful pushing piles of junk mail through the letterbox daily. It gets worse near Christmas. The rubbish, the charity appeals (often in duplicate) and worst of all, the photographs from Star Wars demanding autographs. They mostly come from America and as often as not enclose a stamped addressed envelope – the stamps being US stamps are useless her. The English usually make their demand without photograph, envelope, stamp or money. The nation has got acclimatized to asking something for nothing. Bills in the post are welcome in comparison. It’s mean and hard of me but from 1 January 1996 I am resolved to throw it all in the waste bin unopened (bills excepted, of course); I no longer have the energy to assist teenagers in their idiotic, albeit lucrative, hobby.

He makes a good point here, that a lot of the signed pictures are probably destined for Ebay or some such autograph trading site, where they would make a significant profit for the person who sent them and that is the reason for the contact in the first place. This is something that Sir Terry Pratchett was also somewhat wary of, threatening to sign any book where no dedication was requested “To Ebay purchaser”. Terry does actually make a slight appearance in the book in the 13th June 1995 entry where Guinness praises the Jungle Quest episode from the previous night which featured Terry and his PA Rob in Borneo with Orang Utans.

The diary ends on the 56th birthday of their son Matthew (also an actor) soon after a much needed holiday at Lake Como, not just to mark his birthday but also the anniversary of the Normandy invasion in 1945. Guinness was in the opposite side of Europe, in Italy, at the time having taken part in the attacks on Sicily and Italy several days before, designed not only to take that area but also to divert German military forces away from Dunkirk.

It’s a good read, if a little light, and has an excellent index which reveals that Alan Bennett is mentioned twelve times, The National Theatre four times whilst the National Lottery gets five. Shakespeare or his plays are name checked forty five times whilst the second highest is his wife Merula at twenty nine (although much longer entries) and third comes dogs at twenty one times. I think this says a lot for his priorities. Sir Alec Guinness died in August 2000 and Merula only lived another couple of months afterwards.

Sourcery (book proof) – Terry Pratchett

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The fifth Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett was published on 26th May 1988, before that however Gollanz released a sample for book reviewers and this was the only time that the book proof of one of Terry’s works was not the complete book. Instead what you got was just the first 61 pages and an essay from Terry explaining Discworld as it was still not well known. It is this short essay that makes this book so interesting as it has never been reprinted so you can only read it is you are one of the lucky few people that own a copy. It is not known exactly how many were printed but the proofs of books four and six in the series were both only of circa 100 copies produced so it is not unreasonable to assume that it is also the case for this example. The poor production value of what is basically a pamphlet with what looks like a bad black and white photocopy of the cover for an author who was not then famous would also suggest that not all of the printed editions were kept.

When Sourcery was printed for real the first edition (see below) ran to 7,600 copies, ten years later Carpe Jugulum (printed 5th November 1998) would have a first edition print run of 160,000 in the UK alone although the proof for that book was still only 148 examples. Pratchett UK book proof collecting takes a lot of looking to find copies and they are all rare.

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But back to the sample book proof, the essay inside describes how Terry saw the Discworld at the time, over the years this evolved and it is fascinating to read his views then, just four and a half years after the first book in a series that would eventually run to forty two novels, along with numerous other books, maps, plays etc. that added to the Discworld universe. The essay is headed

An Introduction to the series, composed by the Author, and included to make this special preview sample of Sourcery even more valuable as a collector’s item

In it he gives this description of why he invented Discworld in the first place

 It was created as an antidote to all those trilogies whose worthy heroes stagger across three volumes in order to do whatever it is that the fates have decreed that a hero must do. But fairy tales and folklore and all the feedstocks of fantasy have been dragged into it, and the humour gently teased out of them by the simple process of taking them seriously and staffing them with real people. This is very unfair on them, because it is like turning loose a large herd of cows in a small pottery.

This was indeed the case in the early Discworld books, the story is played for laughs and there is a strong sense of parody about the writing particularly in the ones up to and including Sourcery. The name of the novel by the way is also a joke and is deliberately spelled that way rather than Sorcery. The concept is that the eighth son of an eighth son is automatically a wizard of power but if he then goes on to have children each son would be as powerful as any existing wizard and if he has an eighth son then he would be a wizard squared and be all powerful with access to the source of all raw magic on the Disc hence a Sourcerer rather than a sorcerer. This duly happens and wizards start building towers to fight with one another, laying waste to the lands and peoples between; does this remind you of any three volume series by any chance? Pratchett specifically mentions Tolkien a little later.

Thus on the Discworld, wizards smoke. Nothing new about this Tolkien revealed to the world that wizards smoke. But on the Disc they really smoke, you can tell a wizard by his golden fingers, stained beard, tendency to cough when walking upstairs and, in the dark, by his little red glow.

The book goes on the amplify to the ridiculous numerous tropes of the fantasy novels up until then, barbarian heroes that are either like Cohen at 87 years old and sometimes needs to be carried off by the young maidens he has just rescued from sacrifice or patently unsuited for the role they have chosen such as Nijel who is far too polite for this sort of thing with his battle cry of “Erm, excuse me”. The book is very funny especially if you are well read in the sort of books that Pratchett is mercilessly parodying.

People keep asking for maps of the Disc, on the basis that all fantasy world have to have a map, but I retreat into my Somerset bunker and refuse on the ground that I may decide to move places around a bit if it makes a better joke.

As stated above there are now maps not just of the Disc itself but also specific regions but they weren’t created by Terry, instead Stephen Briggs eventually convinced him that it could be mapped, starting with the city of Ankh-Morpork and eventually the whole world and yes it did prove difficult because there wasn’t a map when the books were written and the lost continent of XXXX had to have a huge extension added just so that one of the books worked. The later books are also less parody of fantasy novels and more a humorous parody of life on Earth, back then Pratchett could never have seen where his work would take him and the millions of books he would sell, indeed he was somewhat bemused that it was as popular as it was even then.

the evolution of the books into a cult has rather perplexed me.

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At the time of writing there is a copy available on Abebooks should you be interested at a quite reasonable (considering its rarity) £225

It’s been a year

I have kept this weekly blog now for just over a year and I thought I would take the opportunity to look back at the entries and see if it can give me some ideas as to which books to talk about next. To my surprise the top five liked entries as I write this are all related to Scotland

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William McGonagall wrote excruciatingly bad verse about Scotland and the people there and was a proud resident of Dundee, eventually Dundee has become proud of him as well. Iain Banks was another Scotsman through and through and the book I reviewed was his homage to the land of his birth. Shaun Bythell’s book was one of the first things I wrote about so his diary of keeping a Scottish bookshop going has had a whole year to accumulate its tally of likes whilst I only wrote about Elizabeth Cummings book about Scottish artist Sir Robin Philipson a couple of weeks ago and it has already made it to number five. You may have noticed I skipped Robert Service, he was also Scottish although found fame as a poet in Canada however I left him to last as he highlights another trend in popular posts here and that is poetry.

This is even more obvious when I look at the next five entries…

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The Frogs is a classical Greek play in verse, Persian Poets is clearly about poetry and Under Milk Wood is a poetic masterpiece by Dylan Thomas, this makes half of the top ten liked entries are about poetry although there is nowhere near that percentage represented in the total number of essays I have produced so far.

The remaining two are interesting. The Royal Tour is a beautifully illustrated diary of a cruise around a lot of the then British Empire and Uncle Jim is a bit of a sleeper as it deals with the early output of fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett but without mentioning him in the title so you had to read the article to find out.

There are other statistics available that don’t display on the front page so aren’t visible to readers of the blog and from those I can see that Deep in the Forest – Estonian Folk Tales is looked at more often than any other entry and it is viewed from all over the world, as opposed to my other Estonian review of the Apothacary Melchior books which also gets quite a few readers but 90% of these are in Estonia or Finland. Only one entry has not been read by anybody according to the statistics available and that is The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Sorry Will although I have all your plays several times I don’t think you are going to be featured here again.

So what does all this tell me? Well poetry is definitely popular here and that’s good as I also like poetry and have quite a few more poets to write about, one of which will probably be in the next four weeks. Bearing in mind the Scottish bias as well I suppose I had better get the volume of Robert Burns I have from 1946 out and reread that soon.

The Frogs by Aristophanes was a surprise hit, to me at least, so we will see how next weeks entry, which is also classical Greek, goes down. I have a lot of ‘the Classics’ and am also planning a review of a book dealing with the subject of what makes a classic in the next month or so. Art and Design has also been popular and again this is something I have a lot about in my library so expect more of those subjects in the coming year.

But is there anything you would like me to write about? Not specific books, as according to the rules I set myself I have to own the title to write about it so you would have to be really lucky to hit one of the 6,500 titles on my shelves, but general subjects. I haven’t done much on Travel and Exploration but what has been done has been generally well received, should I do more? Any suggestions would be good either as a comment below or as a message through the site.

The Complete McGonagall – the worlds worst poet

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William McGonagall has gone down in history as the worst poet in the world and this book is a collection of almost every poem that can be reliably attributed to him. These have been published in various collections, but Duckworth have produced the most complete versions admittedly by creating extra volumes by merely selecting from the few books and pamphlets printed in the 1800’s along with some previously unpublished works. This book appears to combine an existing seven volumes into one but only two volumes were produced in McGonagall’s lifetime along with lots of single sheet poems sold as he was going along. In reality four of the listed volumes were created by Duckworth in the 1980’s and the three others were considerably shortened by them at the same time in order to provide works for the extra books.

I think we need an example from his first collection printed in 1890 just so that the uninitiated can get the measure of the man’s genius, this was his first poem, dated 1877 and is entitled “An Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan”

All hail to the Rev. George Gilfillan of Dundee,
He is the greatest preacher I did ever hear or see.
He is a man of genius bright,
And in him his congregation does delight,
Because they find him to be honest and plain,
Affable in temper, and seldom known to complain.
He preaches in a plain straightforward way,
The people flock to hear him night and day,
And hundreds from the doors are often turn’d away,
Because he is the greatest preacher of the present day.
He has written the life of Sir Walter Scott,
And while he lives he will never be forgot,
Nor when he is dead,
Because by his admirers it will be often read;
And fill their minds with wonder and delight,
And wile away the tedious hours on a cold winter’s night.
He has also written about the Bards of the Bible,
Which occupied nearly three years in which he was not idle,
Because when he sits down to write he does it with might and main,
And to get an interview with him it would be almost vain,
And in that he is always right,
For the Bible tells us whatever your hands findeth to do,
Do it with all your might.
Rev. George Gilfillan of Dundee, I must conclude my muse,
And to write in praise of thee my pen does not refuse,
Nor does it give me pain to tell the world fearlessly, that when
You are dead they shall not look upon your like again.

Gilfillan when hearing of the poem is reported to have said

“Shakespeare never wrote anything like this.”

which McGonagall took to be a compliment. This was the also the first example of what could be called the curse of being celebrated by McGonagall as a year later in 1878 he had cause to write two more poems about Gilfillan, entitled “Lines in Memoriam of the Late Rev. George Gilfillan” and “The Burial of the Reverend George Gilfillan”. He famously wrote in praise about the Bridge over the Silvery Tay only to subsequently write less that 2½ years later about “The Tay Bridge Disaster” This latter work is a good example of the unintended humorous nature of his works by forcing lots of facts into the poem without worrying if it then made any sense whatsoever and destroying any rhythm that may have been wanted. His need in poetry was to make it rhyme not scan and as long as a tenuous rhyme was achieved he appeared to be happy.

William McGonagall was born in 1825 in Ireland but came with his parents to Scotland as a very young child, indeed he claimed for a long time to have born in Edinburgh but the family soon settled in Dundee which he where he grew up. For the first fifty two years of his life he sometimes dabbled in acting but was by profession a weaver like his father until in 1877 the poetic urge struck him

I remember how I felt when I received the spirit of poetry. It was in the year of 1877, and in the month of June, when trees and flowers were in full bloom. Well, it being the holiday week in Dundee, I was sitting in my back room in Paton’s Lane, Dundee, lamenting to myself because I couldn’t get to the Highlands on holiday to see the beautiful scenery, when all of a sudden my body got inflamed, and instantly I was seized with a strong desire to write poetry, so strong, in fact, that in imagination I thought I heard a voice crying in my ears-
“WRITE! WRITE”
I wondered what could be the matter with me, and I began to walk backwards and forwards in a great fit of excitement, saying to myself– “I know nothing about poetry.” But still the voice kept ringing in my ears – “Write, write,” until at last, being overcome with a desire to write poetry, I found paper, pen, and ink, and in a state of frenzy, sat me down to think what would be my first subject for a poem.

That he knew nothing about poetry was proved by the poem above, but whilst a poet can have a bad day, especially with their earliest works, McGonagall was if anything to get worse. There is a beauty in the total awfulness of his works that sucks the reader in, the Complete Works includes 247 poems and I have read it cover to cover several times. You just can’t believe what it is you are reading. The photo on the cover of the edition I have is of Spike Milligan as McGonagall and Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria as Milligan in particular popularised ‘The Great McGonagall’ from the 1960’s onwards and ensured that his body of work did not get neglected.

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His works have been in constant print for many decades, above is the 1966 edition of More Poetic Gems published by David Winter and Sons in Dundee (who were his original publishers) and Gerald Duckworth and Co Ltd as a joint venture. Although appreciated now McGonagall died in poverty in 1902. He had eked out a living more as a sideshow than a poet from 1877 although it is clear that he regarded himself as a much put upon performer who was delivering great work to people who didn’t appreciate his ability. It was quite common for an audience to throw rotten fruit and vegetables and sometimes even fish at him whilst he was reciting, indeed the opening paragraph to the preface of his first published work ‘Poetic Gems’ includes the line

the first person to throw a dish of peas at me was a publican

It isn’t so much the fact that somebody threw a dish of peas at him as that this was just the first time…

Because he had no money when he died he was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriers kirkyard in Edinburgh, his grave received a nearby marker in 1999.

William McGonagall
Poet and Tragedian
“I am your gracious Majesty
ever faithful to Thee,
William McGonagall, the Poor Poet,
That lives in Dundee.”

I shall include one final poem and it’s one of the less well known ones “The Death of Captain Webb”. Webb was the first person to swim the English Channel (22 miles at its shortest point). He is something of a local hero here in Shropshire as he was born less than 5 miles from where I am sitting but died in a somewhat foolhardy attempt to swim across the rapids below Niagara Falls. The poem shows McGonagall at his prime, it was written in 1883 and has all his stylistic failings…

Alas brave Captain Webb has acted the part of a fool
By attempting to swim the mighty Niagara whirlpool,
Which I am sorry to say and to relate,
Has brought him to an untimely fate.

’Twas in the year Eighteen hundred and eighty-three,
With the people of America he did agree,
For $10,000, to swim through that yawning whirlpool;
But alas! He failed in doing so — the self-conceited fool.

Captain Webb, he courted danger for the sake of worldly gain
And the thought of gaining for himself — world wide fame;
And although many people warned him not to throw his life away,
He rushed madly to his fate without the least dismay.

Which clearly proves he was a mad conceited fool,
For to try to swim o’er that fearful whirlpool,
When he knew so many people had perished there,
And when the people told him so, he didn’t seem to care.

Had it not been for the money that lured him on
To the mighty falls of Niagara, he never would have gone
To sacrifice his precious life in such a dangerous way;
But I hope it will be a warning to others for many a long day.

On Tuesday the 24th of July, Webb arrived at the falls,
And as I view the scene in my mind’s eye, my heart it appalls
To think that any man could be such a great fool,
Without the help of God, to think to swim that great whirlpool;

Whereas, if he had put his trust in God before he came there,
God would have opened his blinded eyes and told him to beware;
But being too conceited in his own strength, the devil blinded his eyes,
And all thought of God and the people’s advice he therefore did despise.

But the man the forgets God, God will forget him;
Because to be too conceited in your own strength before God it is a sin;
And the devil will whisper in your ear — there’s no danger in the way,
And make you rush madly on to destruction, without the least dismay.

At half-past three o’clock Webb started for the river,
Which caus’d many of the spectators with fear to shiver,
As they wondered in their hearts if he would be such a fool
As to dare to swim through that hell — whirlpool.

Webb was received by the people with loud and hearty cheers;
And many a heart that day was full of doubts and fears;
A many a one present did venture to say –
“He only came here to throw his life away.”

The Webb entered a boat, in waiting, and was rowed by the ferry-man;
And many of the spectators seem’d to turn pale and wan;
And when asked by the boatman how much he’d made by the channel swim,
He replied $25,000 complete every dim.

Have you spent it all? Was the next question McCloy put to him,
No, answered Webb, I have yet $15,000 left, every dim;
“Then” replied McCloy, “You’d better spend it before you try this swim;”
Then the captain laugh’d heartily but didn’t answer him.

When the boat arrived at point opposite the “Maid of the Mist”
The captain stripped, retaining only a pair of red drawers of the smallest grist;
And at two minutes past four o’clock Webb dived from the boat;
While the shouts and applause of the crowd on the air seem’d to float.

Oh, Heaven! it must have been an awe inspiring sight,
To see him battling among that hell of waters with all his might,
And seemingly swimming with ease and great confidence;
While the spectators held their breath in suspense.

At one moment he was lifted high on the crest of a wave;
But he battled most manfully his life to save;
But alas! all his struggling prov’d in vain,
Because he drown’d in that merciless whirlpool God did so ordain.

He was swept into the neck of that hell — whirlpool,
And was whirl’d about in it just like a light cotton spool;
While the water fiend laughingly cried ”Ha! ha! you poor silly fool,
You have lost your life, for the sake of gain, in that hell — whirlpool

I hope the Lord will be a father to his family in their distress,
For they ought to be pitied, I really must confess;
And I hope the subscribers of the money, that lured Webb to his fate,
Will give the money to Mrs. Webb, her husband’s loss to compensate.

In the Tiffany Aching young adult series of books by Terry Pratchett the Pictsies or ‘Nac Mac Feegle’ are a race of 6 inch high beings that are more Scottish than it is probably possible to be. They have as their most feared tactic on the battlefield their Gonnagale who at times of greatest danger recites strange and terrible poetry which has the effect of reducing all that hear it to gibbering wrecks. The poems, and his title, are clearly based on the works of William McGonagall and are a tribute to the man whose writings approach genius by being so atrocious they reach round the spectrum of quality and get there from the other side.

Read him and weep

from laughter

Dovetail – Bernard Pearson

He’s a craftsman, not just good with his hands, an artist, an artisan, the man you go to when you need something a bit special. Years of making wonderful objects have given him an eye for beauty and the skill to create it and if he can’t do it then he knows a man who can. But now he’s older and no longer hale and hearty and the body won’t let his hands do what they could do before. The old comfortable clothes and wreathes of pipe smoke still mark out the well known local character but a new chapter is beginning.

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I could be writing about Bill Sawyer, the main character in Bernard Pearson’s first novel but in reality that was a shorthand portrait of Bernard himself. I’ve known him for over 20 years now and have handed over more money for things he’s made than I care to think about, beautiful finely detailed sculptures, unusual candles and interesting pottery figurines by him decorate my home and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Unfortunately he can’t sculpt any more, he can’t hold the tools long enough and steady enough for the work, but he can tell stories and what wonderful tales he tells, and has told over many years and many, many more pints of strong Somerset cider and so the new chapter begins…

Dovetail isn’t Bernard’s first foray into print, fourteen years ago he collaborated with Terry Pratchett to produce The Discworld Almanak, the first book to exist in our world that was specifically mentioned as an existing publication in Terry’s Discworld series of novels. Since then, with his wife Isobel, and the team at The Discworld Emporium in Wincanton there has been several other books and diaries set within Terry’s fantastical imaginary world. Towards the end of his life Terry told Bernard to try writing something of his own and this first novel is the result. It’s not high literature, it’ll never make the Man Booker short list, or even the long list for that matter but that isn’t what Bernard or indeed his readers are aiming for. What he has produced is a cracking good read with the eye to detail that distinguished his sculptures now turned to give depth to the characters and draw you along through the book as you get to know them and the twists and turns of the dodgy antique furniture trade.

As stated above, Bill Sawyer is a craftsman, one of the best, a man who can repair something old so that an expert wouldn’t know he had touched it or, if the need arises, can make something centuries old that didn’t exist last month. Known throughout the trade in the UK his fame, and skill, is about to get him into a lot of trouble and he wants to retire. He’s ill, just how ill is revealed as you read through the book, and it’s going to affect not only his work on this last unwanted project but his ability to protect those he cares for and he so desperately needs to be able to do that.

The book starts with a fire, one of many on the 5th of November, which is bonfire night here in the UK, a date redolent of history and violence, then jumps back three months as the remaining 345 pages tell the story of how and why the conflagration came about and you very quickly want to know the how, why and especially the who of that particular inferno. It’s a genuine page turner, I found it difficult to put down even when sleep was the obvious thing to do at that time of night.

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Bernard used to be a policeman as a young man and knows about evidence and how untrustworthy it can be and how experts can be fooled especially when they don’t want to be (oh the stories). Actually he probably knows more about how to do all sorts of things you are not supposed to do at a police house without senior officers finding out than just about anyone alive but that really is another story. He’s a teller of tall tales, always has been, always will be and because they always contain a solid foundation of truth they are all the better for it. God knows what nugget from his memory was the foundation for this story, maybe I’ll find out one day over some cider, maybe I won’t, but I don’t mind as long as he writes some more.

The book is self published and available from No 41 Publishers which is presumably Bernard himself (or more likely Isobel as easily the most organised of the two) as 41 High Street is the address of the Emporium. My copy is dedicated and numbered although this isn’t really a limited edition book. All my limited edition sculptures by Bernard (and there are quite a lot) are number 128 of however many were produced even when there was less than 128 made…

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The photograph of Bernard is by Len Brook, another artist of my acquaintance and a photographer of considerable skill who also has a few tales he can tell.

Uncle Jim

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Back in 1965 a teenage apprentice journalist started work at the Bucks Free Press, then as now, the local newspaper covering the Buckinghamshire area, places such as High Wycombe, Beaconsfield, Marlow, Gerrards Cross etc. The newspaper had started over 100 years earlier and there was nothing really to suggest that this new trainee was much different to the many that had gone before him except that 2 years earlier at the age of 15 he had had his first story printed in Science Fantasy magazine (volume 20, number 60), more of that particular magazine in a later blog because that is also on my shelves.

The Bucks Free Press had a section called Children’s Circle (the image at the top is scanned from a 1966 copy) which had stories and birthday wishes aimed at younger readers all of which were apparently written by Uncle Jim, the general nom de plume of whoever was tasked to write them and it seemed logical to give the job to the new starter who had already proved he liked to write stories. In the coming years he would write over 80 tales as Uncle Jim nearly all of which were split over several weeks to keep the kids coming back for more, whilst also working as a journalist covering all the things that a local paper needs to do, he saw his first dead body within a week of starting.

The name of this young chap – Terence David John Pratchett, later to become Sir Terence, knighted for services to literature in 2009, or just Terry for those of us lucky enough to have met or indeed spent time in bars late at night with him. Because Terry always had time for his fans and we loved him for it.

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Now trying to find local newspapers from over 50 years ago is largely a fruitless task so the first time I saw some of these stories from Terry’s early days was on a website started by the Bucks Free Press in association with the Friends of High Wycombe Libraries in June 2010, which posted 2 of them and the first 4 parts of what would become Terry’s first novel The Carpet People. They indicated that they intended to make them all available before they were told to stop quite quickly after the site was started as Terry owned the copyright. The site never actually added any more work and was eventually taken down by the end of 2012. What they did have on the site though was a partially useful list that showed the first time Terry wrote as Uncle Jim was published on the 8th October 1965 and the last they listed was 20th December 1968, in total there were 167 parts listed making up 47 distinct stories. The earliest was a 12 part story that eventually led to The Carpet People, the next longest were 2 stories, one in 1966 and one in 1968 which needed 8 parts and there were 7 stories that were completed in just one part.

These figures are however known to be incomplete as even the article on the Bucks Free Press website announcing the launch of the site in 2010 states that his last appearance as Uncle Jim was in 1970 and there were some 250 episodes, however they do provide an insight into the first 3 years of Terry’s work on this column and the way the stories were split. In fact there were 247 parts written by Terry between 8th October 1965 and 17th July 1970 making up the 80+ stories but apart from going to Beaconsfield library and reading their newspaper archive that seemed to be the end of being able to access these stories far less being able to have Uncle Jim wish you a happy birthday.

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However as can be seen from the image of the books above there have now been 3 collected volumes and I have all 6 of them. Yes you read that right, each one has come out as a standard edition alongside a collectors version.

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So lets make a comparison of the available volumes:

Dragons at Crumbling Castle – published 2014

  • Standard edition – Dust wrapper – 14 stories, two of which went to make up The Carpet People but are here presented as 2 separate works and an introduction.
  • Collectors edition – Slipcase – 16 stories, the two extras being ‘The Wergs Invasion of Earth’ and ‘Bason and the Hugonauts’. There is also a different, significantly longer, introduction; commentaries after each story written by Terry and a colour print tucked inside.

The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner – published 2016

  • Standard edition – Dust wrapper – 14 stories and an introduction
  • Collectors edition – Slipcase – 16 stories, the two extras being ‘Johnno, the Talking Horse’ and ‘The Wild Knight’. Commentaries after the stories were written by Terry’s assistant Rob Wilkins as Terry had sadly passed away in March 2015 and there was also a postscript added by Rob by way of a eulogy to his boss and friend. Again a colour print was included as a loose insert.

Father Christmas’s Fake Beard – published 2017

  • Standard edition – Dust Wrapper – 11 stories, including one of the stories from The Dragons at Crumbling Castle, ‘Father Christmas goes to Work at the Zoo’.
  • Collectors edition – Slipcase – Identical text to the standard edition but on better paper and all the illustrations are in colour. No other extras

This means that 42 (or 41 if you regard the two parts of The Carpet People as 1 piece) have now been published which is roughly half of what appeared in the newspaper all those years ago.

The books are great fun, the pages are covered in typographical games, at one point when the lights go out in a story the next two pages are white text on black, and there are numerous uses of other fonts and text sizes to emphasise the action.

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The colour edition of Father Christmas’s Fake Beard is also a joy to own, the original looks great but the colour just looks fantastic.

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During Terry’s tenure as Uncle Jim a lot of the stories are centred on the fictional county of Gritshire, its county town of Blackbury with surrounding towns like East Slate and Umbridge (on the river Um) and the notorious Even Moor where strange things happen in the wild places. The characters gradually develop over the stories so you really feel that there is such a community where odd events occur almost every day and almost feel sorry for the largely incompetent county councillors who just seem to invite disaster with their every plan for improvement. I suspect that this was Terry letting his main job. which included reporting on local government decisions. drift into his fantastical imagination.

I shall finish with the two prints from the collectors editions. The one on the right of Sir Terry as a knight in armour includes his actual coat of arms as ably described in this Wikipedia entry. Let’s hope to see more of these wonderful stories from Terry aka Uncle Jim being published in the future, after all there is still 50% of the work unavailable apart from in frustratingly difficult to obtain old newspapers.

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