Why it’s important for kids to see themselves in books – Hayley Scott

Why it’s important for kids to see themselves in books

How important is it to see ourselves in stories? To see people, or families like ours in stories? For me, I never realised quite how important it was until my daughter, aged 3, asked me why none of her favourite books had ‘people like us,’ in them. When I asked her what she meant, she said, ‘A mum and a kid, living together. And a dad who’s lovely too, but just lives somewhere else.’

She pointed to the Gruffalo’s Child as one she identified with – a little girl and her dad in cave, she said they were like her and her dad and she liked it. Even though she didn’t live with him, it made her feel good to see a story about the relationship between a dad and a daughter where it was obvious the two loved each other, and there was adventure.

‘You should write one about a mum and daughter who live in a house in the country like us.’ So, I did.

I’ve been writing a long time. I’m 40. I decided to write seriously when I was still at primary school and wrote a book called, ‘The Girl with The Golden Hair’ about a girl whose reflection climbed out of the mirror at night and got up to all sorts of adventures. I wrote my first (awful) novel at 19. In my mid twenties I left a town/life/life I loved to go to UEA and do the MA in Creative Writing, instead of continuing with a budding career in magazines. I’ve put a lot of time and thought into stories. I didn’t know how not to.

Stories are the way we make sense of the world. Stories fill in the gaps and make our imagination overflow. Stories are the voices in our head made real. They’re not just in books. They are everywhere.

But. The chance to write something that would last, that my daughter could read when she was grown up, when I myself might not be around anymore, that showed a mum and daughter living happily together felt different, it felt utterly right to me. I remember somebody saying to me, ‘That poor girl,’ in the street about her dad and I not being together, and me looking at her, bright, happy, knowing both her parents loved her, and thinking, ‘I’d love it if people stopped automatically looking at separated parents, single parents, different family shapes as somehow ‘less’, somehow something to feel sorry about.’

I realised that really mattered to me.

Anyway. I’ve thought about it a lot since my daughter said what she did. Everybody deserves to see themselves in stories. We all need to do more to make sure everybody does.

The family shape ISN’T the story. Stories happen in all households. That’s what matters to me. Showing that, then getting on with the adventures. Imagination. Hope. Silliness. Bravery. The ability to find the bright bits of life, without pretending the dark bits don’t exist. Stories about the thrill and colour of every day magic. I just feel so lucky to have the opportunity to put that all into these books, and to see Pippa Curnick make such beautiful pictures from my words.

Hive’s Top 10 Sellers in 2017

Our top 10 selling titles of 2017 on Hive.

#1 Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

What if the jealous step sisters were supportive and kind? And what if the queen was the one really in charge of the kingdom?

Illustrated by sixty female artists from every corner of the globe, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls introduces us to one hundred remarkable women and their extraordinary lives, from Ada Lovelace to Malala, Amelia Earhart to Michelle Obama.

Empowering, moving and inspirational, these are true fairy tales for heroines who definitely don’t need rescuing.

#2 Down to Earth

Unrivalled gardening wisdom from Monty Don, including essential tips, knowledge and musings from his 50 years of gardening experience.

Written as he talks, this is Monty Don right beside you in the garden, challenging norms and sharing advice.

Discover Monty’s thoughts and garden ideas around nature, seasons, colour, design, pests, flowering shrubs, containers, and much more.

Read about the month-by month jobs he does in his own garden that he hopes are relevant to you.

Monty’s intimate and lyrical writing is accompanied by photos of his garden, showing areas rarely seen on television.

#3 The Book of Dust

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford.

Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live.

Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .

 #4 Doughnut Economics

Economics is broken.

It has failed to predict, let alone prevent, financial crises that have shaken the foundations of our societies.

Its outdated theories have permitted a world in which extreme poverty persists while the wealth of the super-rich grows year on year. And its blind spots have led to policies that are degrading the living world on a scale that threatens all of our futures. Can it be fixed?

In Doughnut Economics, Oxford academic Kate Raworth identifies seven critical ways in which mainstream economics has led us astray, and sets out a roadmap for bringing humanity into a sweet spot that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet.

#5 Cheer Up Peter Reid

A popular and successful footballer, manager and now pundit and media personality, Peter Reid reveals all about his successes and failures in the game, from his humble beginnings growing up on Merseyside to reaching the highest level with club and country.

#6 The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k

Fed up with pleasing everyone else before you please yourself?

Then it’s time to stop giving a f**k. This irreverent and practical book explains how to rid yourself of unwanted obligations, shame, and guilt – and give your f**ks instead to people and things that make you happy.

From family dramas to having a bikini body, the simple ‘NotSorry Method’ for mental decluttering will help you unleash the power of not giving a f**k and will free you to spend your time, energy and money on the things that really matter.

#7 Gambling For Life

Gambling For Life reflects one man’s extraordinary passion for gambling.

How he cannot live without it. And how he knows that even if he loses all of his money, he can never be a loser.

#8 The Lost Words

All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives.

These are the words of the natural world – Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone.

The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds.

#9 The Greatest Magician in the World

Prepare to be amazed! Elliot is mad about magic. Completely and utterly mad. It’s all he talks about, all he thinks about, and even all he dreams about! And it’s not surprising, because magic is in Elliot’s blood.

His great grandfather had once been known as The Greatest Magician in the World and Elliot is desperate to follow in his footsteps.

But it’s tricky when the only magic book in the library is missing half its pages, and there’s no one around to teach you.

But all that’s about to change when Elliot discovers a long lost letter from his great grandfather and embarks on a magical adventure that could change his life forever!

#10 The Wellbeing Journal

Explore your inner world and be inspired with The Wellbeing Journal.

Developed in partnership with Mind, the mental health charity, each page of this gorgeous journal has been thoughtfully crafted and it includes activities, colouring, drawing prompts, contemplative quotes and lots of space for you to write about your own thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Creativity and reflection can have a powerful, positive influence on our lives.

After more? Then check out the top 50 list over on Pinterest to see what ones you might have missed!

Christmas Poems

Christmas Poems

For me, the greatest gift of the Christmas season is time to read. The offices and schools are closed. The weather is often appalling. The nights are long and dark and seem designed expressly for the purpose of snuggling under a blanket on the sofa with the tree lights twinkling, a glass of something tempting within easy reach and a great big pile of delicious-smelling, beautiful new books. I have small children now, so it’s more of a challenge to find uninterrupted reading time, and I’ve found myself turning more and more frequently to poetry. Unlike a novel, I can easily slip reading a poem into the brief pockets of calm bought with a new colouring book or puzzle. Here are some of my festive favourites – all would make great gifts, too.

Never has the exhilaration of whirling about on ice-skates been better captured than by Wordsworth, in a breathless and beautiful section of ‘The Prelude’ which I included in my second anthology, Tyger Tyger Burning Bright. I speak as a clumsy person, whose few attempts at skating have resulted in the kind of falls that elicit audible gasps from witnesses and some truly spectacular bruising. If Wordsworth can fill me with the desire to sail across frozen lakes under a wide wintry night sky, he can inspire anyone.

The Journey of the Magi can be found in this beautiful edition of selected T. S. Eliot poems (if, like me, you are a fetishist for stylish endpapers, this volume won’t disappoint.) It has an eerie, cold magic to it, perfect for reading and chewing over on a bitter winter’s night.

I love Betjeman’s ‘Christmas’, with its evocation of the pull of family (‘And girls in slacks remember Dad,/And oafish louts remember Mum’) and the seasonal cheer infecting everyone everywhere – from ‘provincial public houses’ to ‘many-steepled London’. Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Oxen’ perfectly captures how some scrap of childhood magic can cling to Christmas Eve and the vision of the nativity no matter what age we are. On a melancholy note, ‘Blue’, from Di Slaney’s recent collection Reward for Winter, is a moving reminder that Christmas can be an agonising time for some.

A contemporary poem I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed is one for the festive refuseniks: ‘Bah… Humbug’ by Gregory Woods. I love the jolly chaos of a family Christmas – but I can’t deny the allure of a solitary, batteries-not-included celebration with ‘books to the left of you,/gin to the right’. This poem is part of Christmas Crackers, a pamphlet designed to be sent instead of a greetings card – perfect if you’d like to say something more substantial than ‘Season’s greetings’.

I bought this edition of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ a few years ago and am frankly delighted that my four year old insists on hearing it all year old. Clement C Moore’s poem is a nostalgic delight and the gorgeous, admirably sturdy pop-up illustrations are magical. Due to our – frequently unseasonal – repeated readings, I am now word perfect. This confers an additional advantage: I can name all the reindeer (and, no, Rudolf doesn’t feature) and am therefore a splendid addition to any Christmas pub quiz team. Moore was a slightly unlikely Christmas poet, being an academic whose other works were heavy tomes on Hebrew. Legend has it that he composed this, his only famous poem, to entertain his children during a sleigh ride through Greenwich Village on Christmas Eve 1822, basing jolly St Nicholas on their coachman. I hope it’s true.

Whatever you do at Christmas and wherever you are, I wish you happy reading. May your stocking be full of books and your cheeseboard always groaning.

Ana Sampson is the editor of five poetry anthologies including I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Poems to Learn by Heart and, her latest, Best-Loved Poems. She works as a freelance publicist and copywriter and tweets as @Anabooks.

 

5 Amazing Christmas Lecture facts About the Natural World

5 Amazing Christmas Lecture facts about the natural world

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have become a Christmas institution themselves, as much a part of the festivities as mince pies and the Queen’s speech. Each year, a prominent scientist steps up to deliver a series of lectures on his or her specialist topic, with the aim of enthusing a young audience – both the lucky ones who have seats in the Royal Institution’s famous Lecture Theatre, and everyone else glued to their TVs at home.

While I was researching and writing 11 Explorations into life on earth I uncovered a treasure-trove of fascinating facts delivered by the Christmas Lecturers who over the last century have focused on the natural world. Here are my top five:

  1. Lemurs fight with smelly tails

When Sir David Attenborough gave the Christmas Lectures in 1973, one of his favourite animal guests was quite obviously a ring-tailed lemur called Tammy. Attenborough cuddles the adorable lemur while explaining to the audience how in the wild, in Madagascar, this species will rub their tails over a scent gland on their wrists. Opponents then flick their pongy tails at each other, wafting the stink in battles over territories.

Attenborough filled his lectures with a parade of other animals, not all of which participated as he had hoped; his fear of misbehaving animals almost put him off doing the lectures at all, which were broadcast live on TV (nowadays they’re pre-recorded). In the end, there were only a few hiccups, including the porcupine who wouldn’t come out of its box and the chicks that ignored Attenborough’s recordings of mother hen clucks. 

  1. Dinosaurs used to live in Antarctica

2004 Christmas Lecturer, Professor Lloyd Peck from the British Antarctic Survey transported his audience to the frozen continent at the bottom of the world, revealing the wonders of life that survive in the coldest place on earth. Today, Antarctica is covered in 30 million cubic kilometres of ice, weighing 30 quadrillion tonnes. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Peck brings out the skull of a three-foot dinosaur that roamed around Antarctic forests 75 million years ago. Back then, the southern continent was still attached to South America and a warm ocean current swept down the coast stopping Antarctica from freezing. When South America drifted away, it left behind an isolated land that grew colder and colder. Now, Peck warns, Antarctica is warming up again, faster than anywhere else on the planet, thanks to effects of human-induced climate change.

  1. There’s no such thing as an exploding beetle

In 1991, Richard Dawkins was the first RI Christmas Lecturer to tackle the topic of evolution. In his usual confrontational style, he doesn’t pull his punches and takes on the creationists who hold up certain animals as proof against evolution.

The bombardier beetle has the extraordinary habit of squirting boiling hot, corrosive liquid jets at their enemies. They do so by combining two different chemicals inside their abdomens. Only a divine creator – so the creationists say – could make a beetle that doesn’t blow itself up; it can’t have gradually evolved, but needs all the necessary equipment to prevent a dangerous accident to be in place from the start.

Dawkins delights the audience by mixing together various combinations of these dangerous chemicals in front of them. He shows that bit-by-bit he can produce hotter, more impressive reactions, with stronger and stronger chemicals, until the lecture room is full of steam. The beetle, he says, could quite feasibly have evolved through the gradual steps of evolution.

  1. Plants scream for help

In only the second botanical Christmas Lectures since their inception in 1825, Professor Sue Hartley introduces her audience in 2011 to the incredible war that’s been raging between animals and plants for 300-million years. Animals eat plants, and plants have evolved ingenious ways of getting their own back.

To demonstrate many wonders of plant-animal interactions, Hartley brings out a string of models including Kenny the caterpillar. She invites an eager member of the audience to come and help her; he pulls off Kenny’s head, reaches inside and brings out a handful of nasty goo and some grubs, laid by a parasitic wasp.

When plants are chomped by caterpillars they release an airborne chemical siren, calling for help from parasites that fly in and attack the herbivores. Parasitic wasps usually only lay eggs in a particular kind of caterpillar, so plants customise their messages accordingly, and send out an SOS to summon the right sort of wasp.

  1. Deep sea squid species were discovered in whale vomit

In his 1937 Christmas Lectures, Sir Julian Huxley (former secretary of London Zoo and co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund) talked about rare and disappearing wildlife. He told a story of the Prince of Monaco, a keen zoologist, who was sailing his yacht when he encountered a group of whalers killing a sperm whale (this was back at a time when commercial whaling was still legal). The harpooned whale coughed up a ball of partially digested food, which the prince gladly scooped up from the sea. Examining the vomit, scientists discovered two species of squid that were new to science.

Huxley delivered powerful conservation messages to his young audience, long before such ideas were mainstream. He warned against the greedy misuse of wildlife, including crocodiles for their skin to make shoes and butterflies to make into colourful jewellery. He even showed a film of seal pups in Canada being clubbed to death for their white, fluffy fur. Huxley also introduced various solutions to these problems, such as persuading hunters to stop killing animals for sport and the need for setting up more wildlife reserves.

11 Explorations into Life on Earth by Helen Scales is published by Michael O’Mara.

The 2017 Christmas Lectures by the Royal Institution, presented by neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott, will be broadcast on BBC Four in late December, produced by Windfall Films.

 

10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About The Suffragettes

Author Sally Nicholls

When I started writing Things a Bright Girl Can Do, a young adult novel about three teenage girls and the Suffragette movement, I knew little about the Suffragettes beyond what I was taught at school. These are some of the things I learnt as I researched . . .

  1. There was no such thing as a single ‘suffrage movement’. Like the environmental movement, it was made up of lots of smaller organisations. Some were local groups like the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, some religious like the Friends’ League for Women’s Suffrage, while others were organised by profession like the Actors Franchise League. More militant groups were generally members of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union, while those who preferred peaceful methods generally joined Millicent Fawcett’s National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
  1. The colours of the WSPU were green, white and violet – which stood for Get Women Votes.
  1. Suffragettes weren’t all white and middle-class – although Emmeline Pankhurst preferred to recruit from the middle-classes as she thought educated women with time on their hands made better soldiers. East End women and Lancashire mill-girls were some of the most active Suffragettes, however, as were women like Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. In 1920, Sylvia Pankhurst hired Britain’s first black journalist, Claude McKay, to work for The Worker’s Dreadnought, (formerly the Suffragette newspaper The Women’s Dreadnought.)
  1. Suffrage campaigners weren’t all women either. There was even a Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage who participated in many marches and rallies. Famous male suffrage supporters include HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and the Labour MP Keir Hardy.
  1. Modern feminism tends to concentrate on the ways in which men and women are similar, but Edwardians saw men and women as very different creatures. Men were more rational, more brave, but also more impulsive and less morally steadfast – women were encouraged to forgive drunk husbands, for example, because they ‘couldn’t help it’. Women were more timid and weaker physically, but they were also angels of patience, virtue and negotiation. Men argued that it wasn’t fair to taint these saintly figures by allowing them into the rough-house world of politics. Women argued that if they really were so steadfast, virtuous and good at finding peaceful solutions to problems, why the hell wouldn’t you want them to have political power?
  1. You might have heard that women were given the vote as a ‘thank you’ for their war work. This, however, simply isn’t true. It was already clear in 1914 that women had won their battle – the only thing left was for the government to find a way to concede without looking weak. The war provided that. Under previous legislation, men had to be resident in Britain for the twelve months before an election in order to vote, a law which disenfranchised most of the armed forces. Since it was clear that the law would have to be changed, giving women the vote as a ‘thank you’ was simply a way of saving face.
  1. In fact, many Suffragettes were vehemently anti-war. Emmeline Pankhurst came out very early on in favour of the war, as, somewhat reluctantly, did Millicent Fawcett. However, one of the tenets of the movement was that once women got the vote there would be no more war, as women would never vote to send their sons to be slaughtered. Many suffrage campaigners felt betrayed by Pankhurst and particularly by Fawcett, and many resigned their membership in protest.
  1. The International Woman Suffrage Alliance did more than just campaign against the war. They organised a Women’s Peace Congress in 1915, with representatives from neutral countries and all countries involved in the war. Over 200 women from Britain were supposed to attend – but the British government cancelled all North Sea shipping to prevent it. The women who attended the conference arranged meetings with government representatives up to and including Woodrow Wilson. The warring nations agreed that – in principle – they would try to negotiate a peace if a neutral nation would facilitate and Sweden agreed – in principle – that they would. Sadly, however, nothing came of it.
  1. The Suffragettes had many grand ideas about what would happen when women began using their vote. Equal pay rights for men and women! Pensions for spinsters! Old age pensions for all! State orphanages! Financial support for carers and parents! Divorced women to have the right to see their child, and even retain custody! Reading it now, they sound like fantasists. Except . . .
  1. . . . In the hundred years since women gained the right to vote, every one of those predictions have come true.

Hive Talkin’ with Author Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware

Ruth signing copies of The Lying game.

We caught up with best selling author Ruth Ware talking about her writing life as she marks the release of her brand new book The Lying Game.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Wow, ok I haven’t actually been asked that before! I think the answer is probably both, when it’s going really well it’s amazing and I get really fired up and really into the emotions of the characters. In fact, if I’m writing an argument or something I come down and find myself snapping at my poor husband because some of it over-spills! However not every day the words come that easily and there are days when it feels like, you know, you are just joylessly grinding away – it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. Those days are definitely quite exhausting!

Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?

I’m really boring when it comes to writing (laughs). I have two small kids so I drop them off at school and then I come home and I sit in my chair at 9:30am and I write until I go and pick them up. That’s pretty much it but I do have an alarm because sometimes if I’m really into a scene ill just write through the school pick up and completely forget to go and get the kids!

Describe what your ideal writing space looks like.

Well, my heart would like to say a beautiful library with lots of shelves, you know, the lovely shelves you would need a ladder to get to the top tier! That was always my dream as a child but in reality my ideal writing space would be somewhere that is as boring as possible. I mean we have a beautiful view from where my study is over the Sussex hills and it’s a really exquisite view but my desk is in a corner facing the wall. It’s really important that the view in your head is more interesting than the view in reality otherwise you can’t shut everything out. So yeah, my ideal writing space would be a padded, sound proofed cell!

It’s really important that the view in your head is more interesting than the view in reality otherwise you can’t shut everything out.

How long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

It depends, in a Dark Dark Wood I did quite a lot of research as there was quite a lot of technical stuff like the memory loss, police procedures etc. With the Lying Game it was much more about the emotions and what was going on in the characters head which wasn’t as much research. However I did spend quite a lot of time tracking down people to check that it was plausible and that I’d got the details right. Usually I think about a plot for about 3 or 4 months before I actually start writing and kind of mull it over and do a bit of googling. Most of the research is done then but inevitably stuff crops up once you start writing and sometimes it’s the really small stuff that’s hardest to get right. Things like would this policeman be able to do this? and no one seems to know, Google’s not helping and then you have to take a pragmatic view of well, if none of the police officers I’ve spoken to knew, then what percentage of the readers are going to be able to figure it out?

What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for a book?

Basically my Google search history is like every intelligence officers nightmare! It’s basically a litany of bullet wounds, shootings, poisonings, substance abuse and then what sentences are handed out in the event of all these terrible occurrences! The weirdest thing is probably the vast amount of very specific drug stuff that’s in the current book which is hard to describe without spoiling the plot! To do with the different types of effects overdoses – I probably know more than I should do about the effects of heroin in the system!

What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?

I should say my kids really… well, my kids and my current book, obviously!!

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Social media. It’s so addictive. The one thing as a writer it’s quite a weird, lonely existence and you don’t have that kind of comfort necessarily as you do in an office. If you have a frustrating day you can go chat about it at the water cooler and get it all off your chest and for writers the only way to do that really is on social media. But inevitably you go on there for some factual reason or to off load something and you get sucked into endless debates about Brexit or something that has nothing to do with your writing life! So yeah, sometimes I will have periods where I will de-register from Facebook until I’ve got 30,000 words down on this new book.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Have Faith. I was convinced that I wouldn’t get published. I wrote for years and years and years and literally all the books went under the bed, I always wanted to be a writer but I think I just thought that it didn’t really happen for people like me. So it would be nice to have someone tap you on the shoulder and say ‘it’s probably gonna be ok , keep going!’.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Its’ very different writing as a job than it is writing for fun. Part of that was getting published and part of that was when I gave up the day job and began writing full time and then I realised I just had to write what was fun and what sold.

I think I’m probably not alone in this but my only way of getting the courage to write a book is to pretend that nobody is going to read it. I just pretend I am writing for me and put in all the ridiculous stuff and not think about the fact my mother in law is going to be reading the sex scenes. The further you get down the publishing path the harder it is to maintain that illusion because it becomes not just probable but certain that this book is going to see the light of day. The mother in law will buy it and so will all of your friends so that definitely changes things!

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I used to be a press officer so I guess if I hadn’t published I would still be doing that. When I gave up my day job to become a writer full time, I told myself that if it didn’t work out I was going to retrain as an accountant. I love numbers, I love spreadsheets and I love the satisfaction of finding out about weird quirky bits of legislation and making it all fit so I think I would be good at it.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Because I write stand alone’s, (I think this is a problem specifically for people who write stand alone’s) and I write a book a year at the moment I have to start the new book before I finish editing the old book. Each book has a different narrator and a different voice and a different kind of feel to the book and coming up with that whilst simultaneously editing in the voice of the old book is really, really difficult – it’s a process. I kind of liken to rubbing your stomach while patting your head or someone singing a song in your ear while you are trying to sing another. It’s hard and that’s the bit I least enjoy.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

I believe people get it, but touch wood I haven’t so far, I’ve probably jinxed myself now! I believe it’s as real as depression or any state of mind that you have no control over. Why people get it and what you can do to combat it I think is a myriad of different answers because I think it’s a symptom rather than a single thing but yeah it definitely exists.

What’s in store for the future?

Hopefully finishing book four which hasn’t got a confirmed title yet otherwise I would tell you! I have the finish line in sight now so I’m feeling a bit better about it!

Bill’s Blog – Come on Chelsea!!!

How well I recall my first visit to The Chelsea Flower Show. As I was leaving ,a young lady from local radio stuck a microphone in my face and asked me : “So was this your first time?” Yes, I replied. “And what did you think? Just a quick comment”. Not enough gnomes I said firmly. “Seriously? “ Yes, absolutely. I didn’t see a single gnome. At first I thought maybe Chelsea didn’t go in for bad taste and silliness, but I soon realized that wasn’t the case at all. For a start, if you want a good giggle just clock some of the ridiculous hats women wear. I presume they only get worn twice a year : Chelsea and Ascot , and a Royal Garden party if they are invited, as I assume most of them are. No doubt they would consider garden gnomes to be cheap and vulgar. Maybe traditional gnomes are banned ,from Chelsea, but this doesn’t mean that so are all manner of humanoid garden creatures. Some are inoffensive. Some are hideous. None of them are cheap.

Gnome corner. No vacancies

Bill Oddie with his pet owl

Dunnock perched on Purple Heron – a frequent sight in my [Bill’s] garden.

In recent years, gnomes have been usurped by woodland folk such as faeries- with an e to denote that they are magical- pixies, nymphs, goblins and sprites. The standard type wears tights, a Peter Pan jerkin, and a perky little cap with a feather , so twee that even Robin Hood would be embarrassed to be seen out in it. Most of them have an expression on their faces that I expect purports to be cheeky or mischievous, but is in fact more of a lascivious leer. Presumably their ardour is directed at females of their kind, though it seems that all pixies, goblins and sprites are male, whilst all the females seem to be faeries- or fairies if you prefer. Come to think of it ,I have never ever seen a lady gnome. Presumably it is all done by magic.

Actually ,it is all done by “craft” companies, who constantly wrack their brains to come up with this years hot ornamental garden creature.  They have of course taken a frightful bashing from Meercats. I am in fact a considerable aficionado of fake garden animals, but I have very strict rules. Principally, that they have to be realistic and really do look like they are supposed to. A rummage through my new book will reveal much much more about the menagerie I have accumulated.  There are some really accurate resin creatures, ranging from a  piglet to a gorilla (neither fully grown).  The best ones are almost exclusively made by a company called Vivid , who no doubt exhibit at all the big flower shows. Moreover, they are by no means exorbitantly pricey, which cannot be said about many of  the work on show, which would have to be carved from gold to justify their price tags. The amazing thing is that at Chelsea there will be people who can afford to buy them.

There are some people who would consider contorted creatures fashioned from copper, tin cans or scrap metal to be art. And some of it certainly is . However, surely no one could claim the same about the ‘comical captions’ section that delights those who have a sharp and eloquent sense of humour. Oscar Wilde would have been jealous. “ Never mind the dog, beware the husband.” “ Or beware of the wife.” “ It’s a bad day, piss off.”  (Wow that’s a clever one.) “ I am down the pub”. Why is that funny? “ Gone hunting” I am reporting that one to the League against cruel sports).At least they are cheap, in both senses.

But surely -you may be wondering – I do have a browse round the flowers? I do, but only outdoors. The massive marquees give me claustrophobia , and the flower displays look like a massive funeral parlour. I far prefer gazing at the “wildflower” gardens ,which happily seem to improve and multiply each year. Natural colours are delightful ,so why on earth is it becoming a fashion to spray blooms in your flower bed to change their colour!. My  wife recently came home with a large hydrangea and a spray can of flower paint to enhance its natural pink! Heathers and rushes seem to be popular targets in parks and flower shows. The natural purple of wild heather looks wonderful, spray it gold or silver and it looks ridiculous.

I don’t know if this little piece -or my book -is helpful or a  harangue . The fact is, the only rule about my gardens has been ‘anything goes ‘. My only advice is”Do your own thing.”

Bill Oddie OBE