Publication Update for The Fall of a Sparrow

Photo by Brett Jordan from Pexels

UPDATE – since my last post, it appears that some discombobulation at the printers has necessitated a teeny tiny change of date.

The Fall of a Sparrow will now come out on 28th May, 2021.

The Fall of a Sparrow – OUT ON 28 May, 2021

The best laid schemes….

April brings out fritillaries – and The Fall of a Sparrow

And the moment has (nearly) come! Three weeks TODAY, on Wednesday 28 April, my book The Fall of a Sparrow will burst on to the world. Inasmuch as any new book can burst anywhere these days, what with bookshops barely open again and launch parties being out of the question. No matter. The book’s glorious cover depicting a lime tree newly come into leaf against a clear blue sky speaks of reawakening and the return of spring. Publication date wasn’t intentionally fixed to match the story but it’s only just occurred to me how neatly it does.  

The Fall of a Sparrow by Griselda Heppel
Ante’s Inferno by Griselda Heppel

All my books are set at different times of the academic year. This doesn’t just give variety; it also contributes to the atmosphere of each. For Ante’s Inferno, it’s the autumn term with its dark, damp days and solemn theme of Remembrance; The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst unfolds against the bleak light and cold winds of January/February; and now the mystery running through The Fall of a Sparrow is all the more poignant for its setting in the early summer term, a season of hope and bright spring flowers.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst by Griselda Heppel

One flower in particular. If you look closely at the bottom left-hand corner of the cover, you may spot it.

Fritillaries

As a young teenager, my son had a delightful German exchange friend called Niklas. The boys quickly bonded over their common language of computer games, and my biggest problem was finding things for them to do which got them away from their wretched screens and into situations where perhaps a little English chat would be needed. One Easter, I managed to coax them on to a bus into the city centre, determined we should make at least one museum visit (this being Oxford, after all) – only to discover that all museums were closed. ‘Right,’ I announced. ‘That’s it. The fritillaries it is.’

Fritillaries in the Fellows’ Garden of Magdalen College, Oxford

No turning back

Triumphant grins turned to looks of horror when it dawned on the boys that I was talking about… a flower. No turning back, though. I marched them down the High Street to Magdalen College, through several quads until we reached the Fellows’ Garden, where the path skirted a large, fenced off meadow in which this loveliest of spring flowers was in full bloom. Thousands and thousands of fritillaries dotted the grass, their purple and white checked petals seeming to flow together to create skeins of colour against the green. The boys maintained a lofty lack of interest, gazing around out of sheer kindness to me before heading home at the speed of light. Ah well, I thought, I’d tried.

Fritillaries with Magdalen College behind

On Niklas’s return to Germany, his mother emailed her thanks, adding an urgent question: her son couldn’t stop talking about some amazing flowers he’d seen. Bell-shaped, their petals looked as if they’d been cross-hatched with pen and purple ink. What could they be? From a dictionary we discovered that the German for fritillary is Schachblume, or ‘chessflower’ – a perfect description of its fine, almost startling chequerboard pattern.

Chessboard pattern on a fritillary, aka Schachblume.

The key to the mystery

So the boys had been intrigued, in spite of themselves, by this magical flower. Somewhere I must have stored up the memory because in The Fall of a Sparrow, fritillaries play an important part, bringing my heroine, Eleanor, face to face for the first time with the mysterious little boy who won’t leave her alone. Who is he and how does he know so much about her? These delicate, fragile petals are the key.

And they bloom in April.

Bring back The Log of the Ark – children are missing out.

Here’s a fun Desert Island Discs type question. If invited to discuss a neglected literary work on https://www.backlisted.fm/, what would you choose?

I’ve recently come across this website and discovered it to be one of the most popular book podcasts. On each episode a guest (usually a writer) chooses a book they love and makes the case for why it deserves to be better known. The result is a rich treasure trove featuring half-forgotten classics ranging from The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary to Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, discussed by writers of such heft as Mark Haddon, Hilary Spurling and William Fiennes.

In the unlikely event that I’d ever be asked to contribute, I know exactly what I’d choose. If they’ll allow a children’s book, that is (they do, sometimes).

The Log of the Ark

The Log of the Ark by Kenneth Walker and Geoffrey Boumphrey is a wonderfully written version of the bible story, full of invention and humour, both witty and absurd, with charming line illustrations. First published in 1923, it went through several reprints, the last one in the 1970s. And while I hold it to be every bit as enchanting and timeless as its contemporary forever-in-print Winnie the Pooh, I can see why, in the last few decades, it has disappeared from the bookshelves. Because alongside all the warmth and fun of a bunch of chatty, squawky, roaring and harroomphing animals sharing cabins, learning to eat porridge instead of grass (none of them are carnivorous – as yet), organising games of skittles and concert parties to pass the time, there are some very dark moments indeed.

The Loathsome Scub

A strange, slippery creature, the Scub, is discovered on board. Noah – a kind and fair man – welcomes him along with everyone else, while deep down fearing there is something sinister about him. His fears prove well-founded: the Scub sets about spreading poison throughout the ark, planting thoughts in the minds of the strong animals and terrifying the weaker ones. Some of the funniest and most endearing creatures simply don’t survive. To let children laugh at and grow fond of characters only to abandon them to a heartless fate is something no publisher today would accept from a writer for 9 – 12 year-olds.

The arrival of the Seventy-Sevens on the ark.

So were children tougher up to 50 years ago, more able to cope with this kind of harsh realism? In a way, yes. Up to the 1970s, the bible played a much greater part in their cultural surroundings. From a very young age they were used to stories of evil worming its way into human relationships and corrupting them: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the wickedness of mankind before the Flood. The Loathsome Scub is just another depiction of how bad things happen to good people. Watching him subtly set one creature against another, you wish he’d never come on board the ark, or that Noah might catch him in the act of terrorising defenceless animals and be justified in expelling him. But he’s too clever for that.

The Loathsome Scub slinks away from the ark under cover of night.

A new, divided world – yet there is hope

This illustration of people’s powerlessness in the face of determined evil might seem a tough message for a 9 year-old reader, but there is hope too. The rain stops. The floodwaters recede. The ark comes to rest on dry land and the animals gallop off into fresh, green meadows and freedom – all within the parameters of a new, hard reality of survival. The serene, antediluvian equilibrium has been swept away; the world is now divided between carnivores and herbivores, predators and prey. You just have to adapt, that’s all. Evil can never be eradicated but life is beautiful too.

In our more secular age, in which justice and equality are highly valued, the Scub would have to get his comeuppance. Smaller animals might be threatened, but they’d survive. (Unless the book were rewritten for a Young Adult audience, in which case bleak realism and hopelessness may reign unchecked.) Our instinct to protect younger readers from the random unfairness of life is totally understandable and I feel it myself as a writer for this age.

The elephant’s bath.
The spherical wumpitty-dumps conquer a hill on their way to the ark.

Generations are missing out on the wumpitty-dumps

At the same time I regret the fact that generations of children will never be able to laugh at the elephant’s difficulty with bathtime soap, or the hippopotamus’s attempt at poetry, or the wumpitty dumps’ totally unique mode of getting about.

And that is their loss.

(Adapted from an article first published on Authors Electric.)

How not to Pile it On

It’s OK to fire barbs, tweeps. We’re the good guys.
Photo by Anastasia Zhenina from Pexels

‘People lashing out need to take a step back and think about what they would actually say in person rather than when hiding behind a screen.’

So wrote a fellow Tweep a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s not a groundbreaking idea; we know that social media – Twitter in particular – have reshaped the whole way subjects are discussed and how people relate to each other. But we don’t seem able to control ourselves, to stop pouring hatred down the throats of those who express a different view, or – heaven forbid – use the wrong words by accident. Before this global free for all, irritation and outrage could be vented harmlessly by yelling at the television screen; now the temptation to fire barbs publicly at the writer/politician/newscaster/actor/singer/academic/footballmanager/poorclumsytwit who’s ventured an opinion they might not even realise is controversial – is just too much to resist. Especially when your own sense of virtue allows you to participate blamelessly in the fun. You know you’re the good guy here.

The Matt Haig Pile-on

Recently the well-known bestselling writer, Matt Haig, was subjected to an avalanche (or pile-on, to use the technical Twitter term) of vile, poisonous, I-want-to-kill-you type abuse. His crime? Describing as ‘psychotic’ a troll who threatened to burn down his house with him in it. He saw his mistake at once and apologised to all those suffering mental health problems hurt by his casual use of the word, but this didn’t save him. Eventually he issued 4 screenshots totalling over 1000 words of apology, self-castigation, bridge-building and earnest avowals to Do Better, before leaving the Twittersphere altogether.

What I found heart wrenching about this whole episode is that Haig himself suffers acutely from depression and anxiety disorder. His memoir Reasons To Stay Alive recounts the years of suicidal depression he experienced in his twenties and how he got through them with the help of what he liked doing best – reading and writing – and the people he loved. All the more reason, of course, why he should have known not to use mental health terms carelessly, and that could explain the intensity of the vitriol unleashed. Yet somehow it also allowed those who felt the most outrage to ignore his own fragility, the ease with which this one, much-apologised-for mistake could tip him back into the well of depression that is never far away. Was that their aim? Even those who acknowledged his apology took care to let him know it would never be enough. What did they want – blood?

Be Kind

Photo by Eva Elijas from Pexels

Every so often an appeal goes round on social media for people to Be Kind. From the above you can see why. It’s a shame, because in other ways Twitter can be a wonderfully supportive, entertaining, exciting and funny place where you engage with people who share your interests, find out about new books being launched, ask questions, watch videos made from unintentionally hilarious mundane events, from that majestic early You Tube sensation, Fenton, to most recently, the gloriously anarchic Handforth Parish Council meetings – in fact, ahem, spend far too much time on when you should be, cough, writing.

But that’s another story.

(Adapted from an article first published on Authors Electric)

THE FALL OF A SPARROW – a haunting tale for 2021

The Fall of a Sparrow by Griselda Heppel

Happy New Year, all!

I am VERY excited to announce that my new book, The Fall of a Sparrow, will be released in April 2021. If you haven’t already seen the cover – and even if you have (I just can’t resist reposting it asoftenaspossible) – here it is: a stunning combination of the talents of leading wood engraver Hilary Paynter and designer (also wood engraver) Pete Lawrence. This is the third book cover they’ve created for me and while the ones for Ante’s Inferno and The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst are equally awesome, I think this one may be my favourite. The contrast of the fresh, summery green leaves of the lime tree with the spookiness of the face peeping out gives the atmosphere of the story perfectly.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst by Griselda Heppel
Ante’s Inferno by Griselda Heppel

I don’t know about you but I find a haunting tale set against a dark, menacing background doesn’t stay with me nearly as much as one in which the writer builds a warm, sunlit world where things aren’t quite right…

In The Fall of a Sparrow, 11 year-old Eleanor Cooke has been sent away to a school run by a great-aunt she’s never met. Shunned by the other girls, dismayed by Great-Aunt Margaret’s coldness, Eleanor struggles with loneliness; so when a strange, gawky little boy greets her as a long-lost friend, she’s glad to find an ally. But as Davey follows her around, begging her to play games and climb the lime tree ‘like they used to,’ Eleanor is at first baffled, then horrified to find the boy knows things about her he can’t possibly know, things no one should know. Unravelling the mystery draws Eleanor into a dark web of family secrets, awakening a long-buried tragedy that soon threatens to engulf her.

The Fall of a Sparrow is my third book with Matador and like the others, for age 9 +. Here’s hoping that by April 2021 the bookshops will be open again; but if not, there’s always online ordering, from the publisher direct or the websites of many traditional booksellers such as Blackwell’s, Waterstones, Bookshop.org ….

Oh, and of course, um, Amazon.

How to burst into tears while racking your brain

The die is cast. The cover revealed. The Fall of a Sparrow – a haunting tale for 9-13 year-olds, set in a spooky boarding school– will come out with Matador in April, 2021, and I’m at that awkward stage common (surely?) to all writers, of having returned the completed copy edit to the publishers, only for several missed errors to occur to me. Ah well, I may have another chance to tweak things.

Nevertheless, to have got to this stage is very exciting, and while giving the manuscript its final polish, I had a flashback to someone I hadn’t thought about for years: someone who managed to inspire the idea that I could be a writer one day while giving the first, unwelcome inkling of how hard it was going to be.

Between the ages of 12 and 13 I had an amazing English teacher. She was young, warm, funny, kind, extraordinarily widely-read and determined that we should be too. She only stayed a year before returning to the USA but in that time we studied Lord of the Flies, Silas Marner, Julius Caesar, Arms and the Man, most of The Master Builder (a bridge too far, that was) and some short stories including E M Forster’s The Machine Stops (which recently had a new lease of life, thanks to Covid) and a shocking tale called The Lottery. (I know. It was only years later I discovered Shirley Jackson’s short story to be one of the most famous of all.)

Mrs McGrath’s sudden reappearance in my writing life is down to the fact that, in addition to opening our eyes to such a fabulous world of literature, she taught a rather more painful lesson: she introduced the concept of cliché to our innocently creative minds. I’d been accustomed, till that moment, to have my depictions of Dark, Stormy Nights and Wild, Tempestuous Seas and Sunshine Flooding the Cornfields with Gold praised for their colourful descriptions; now here was my favourite teacher telling me something I couldn’t quite understand but which clearly wasn’t good news for someone who thought being able to write easily meant being able to write.

Sunshine flooding cornfields with gold
pexels-adrianna-calvo-365265.

It’s a lesson we never stop learning. Avoiding clichés like the plague (groan… sorry) is one of the first things drummed into newbie writers, along with Show Not Tell, Active Voice Not Passive and For Heaven’s Sake Cut The Adverbs. Given that The Fall of a Sparrow is my third book, I may no longer be a newbie writer but all of the above still have to be struggled with if the end result is to be a freshly imagined, gripping, well-written (oh yes, I hope so) and thoroughly unputdownable read.

What’s challenging is that while some clichés are easy to avoid (does anyone really burst into tears? I’ve never been able to visualise that), with others, it’s hard to find a way around them. I spent ages racking my brain for another way of saying, er, racking your brain, and if your main character has a lot of puzzles to solve, as mine does, an awful lot of brain racking goes on.

What I really need is Mrs McGrath.

PS To rack or to wrack? Now there’s a question.

(From an article first published in Authors Electric Blog)

Seeing the Wood from the Trees

Out of the Woods exhibition at the Weston Library, Oxford

Just before this second lockdown, I went to a fascinating exhibition, all to do with books. Yes, I know, writing about it now looks like Schadenfreude. How could I be so tactless, given that all museums – including the Weston Library, where the exhibition takes place – are closed?

Clare Leighton: The Farmer’s Year

Ah, patience! Lockdown is due to end on 3 December 2020 (yes it jolly well will), while Out of the Woods in the Weston Library (the splendid modern Bodleian building in Broad Street, Oxford – just watch out for the disappearing steps outside) is scheduled to continue until 31 December 2020. So that leaves 4 weeks (give or take the odd Bank Holiday, which I seem to remember falls during that month) to catch this well-presented demonstration of what goes into crafting a beautiful book.

Engravings and their blocks by Hilary Paynter and John Nash

Celebrating this year’s centenary of the Society of Wood Engravers, Out of the Wood illustrates, in a single glass display cabinet, all the ways in which trees make books, from 15th century wood cuts by Albrecht Dürer to wood engravings by more recent artists like John Nash, Clare Leighton and Hilary Paynter, to the actual raw material: the wood itself. Lightly inked blocks below some of the engravings show how exquisitely fine lines have created the picture printed above.

Wood is also used as a binding material, and one artist, Gaylord Schanilec, has taken the theme back to its very roots, having made a book out of trees cut from his own land, with pages bearing their direct imprint.

Sylvae by Gaylord Schanilec
Capriccio by Ted Hughes, illustrated by Leonard Baskin

I should perhaps declare an interest here. One of the exhibition’s curators is my husband, Nigel Hamway. Readers of this blog in July may remember he was also behind another stunning work of art created to celebrate the SWE centenary: Nomad Letterpress’s 2020 Vision: Nineteen wood engravers, one collector and the artists who inspired them. Not a wood engraver himself, Nigel is the next best thing: a lover of the art.

And definitely a collector.

Materials for wood engraving: a seasoned boxwood log, blocks and tools

(From an article originally published on Authors Electric Blog)

Look at it from my Point of View… and mine… and mine…

Recently, Eden Baylee, a fellow Authors Electric member, wrote an interesting post discussing all the different Points Of View a writer can choose to tell a story. It particularly caught my attention as I’d just finished reading a book which not only pushes the POV rules to the utmost – but got away with it. Brilliantly.

When I started writing children’s books, I saw no reason not to change points of view between characters. How else to follow their different paths if they get split up on their journey, as happens in Ante’s Inferno? I needed an editor to point out that this was Ante’s story from the start, and that abandoning her half way through to get into the heads of the other characters wrecked all narrative tension. Restructuring the story was difficult but of course the editor was right. I learnt my lesson. One day I may be ready to bring off what many writers – Tolkien and C S Lewis among others – do so effectively, but not yet.

And obviously, changing points of view between characters can only work if you’re writing in the third person; or, if employing multiple first person narrators, you headline each change with the name of the character so the reader knows what’s happening (as Faulkner does in As I Lay Dying, an example Eden gives). Whoever heard of a story being told successfully while swapping back and forth between half a dozen anonymous first person POVs, one limited third person POV and one third person omniscient POV? You’d have to be an exceptionally brilliant writer to bring that off. Maybe even (spoiler alert) a Nobel Laureate.


Anyone who’s read the book will recognise by now that I’m talking about Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. I am ashamed to say this is the first of Morrison’s books I’ve read, so I don’t know if this is her standard technique or peculiar to this wonderful, luminous novel set in the harsh environment of settlers in 1690s America. Ostensibly the story is told through the eyes of Florens, a slave girl taken aged eight from her mother in a Catholic southern plantation to join the household of Dutch Protestant Jacob Vaark in the north. Everything that happens in the book and every main character is referenced in Florens’s first, compact, image-laden, bewildering stream of consciousness opening chapter; but it’s not until the story unfolds that the significance of all those haunting images – a corn-husk doll, garden snakes crawling up iron posts, a dog’s profile in the steam of a kettle – is gradually revealed.

Meanwhile other female voices break in, adding fragments here and there to build up the picture, interspersed with third person narrative focussing on the males (an interesting division in itself). It doesn’t make for easy reading and for the first 40 pages or so it’s hard to work out what’s going on; but the sheer, overpowering beauty of the writing makes this not matter. The effect is like the work of one of those clever television artists who paints a canvas in such a way that it’s not until the final brushstrokes that the whole thing comes together and you can see what the picture is. In A Mercy’s case, not even the title makes sense until the very last chapter, when its full, uncompromising meaning is explained.

‘Twas ever thus. A genius like Toni Morrison can break every rule in the book, in more ways than we ordinary folk can imagine, to create a work of art that resonates and deepens in your mind long after you’ve finished reading.

For now, I’ll just stick to the one point of view.

The Little White Horse – too cosy for a classic?

Faraway treeBeing a sucker for children’s books, I’m often drawn to those shelves in a bookshop – only to wonder how many well-established authors of a bygone era would have a chance of being published today. Take Enid Blyton; her stereotypical characters, mediocre writing style and gloriously un-pc assumptions about class and nationality would surely send her straight to the bottom of any slush pile. Yet 50 years after her death, her books still sell in their millions worldwide. Why? Because despite all these shortcomings (which earned her plenty of criticism even in her own lifetime), she knew how to craft a cracking good story, whether it be about a mysterious tree that played host to different magical lands, or about groups of children solving mysteries and going on adventures. In her own way she was a genius.

wedged-in-great-tightnessBlyton’s books will never achieve ‘classic’ status though because they aren’t ones you’d pick up as an adult to enjoy. Children’s books still in print half a century and more after written generally are so because they’ve become classics, possessing qualities that can be appreciated at any age. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Winnie the Pooh, The Secret Garden, the Narnia books, The Phantom TollboothPhantom Tollbooth… Until a few weeks ago, I’d have trusted any children’s book considered a classic to be worth reading, because its quality would shine through, no matter in what era originally published.

Then I picked up The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.

The little white horseI am now going to upset all those people for whom – like J K Rowling – this was their favourite book as a child. I had great hopes of it, and in fact it starts well, with 13 year-old Maria being sent to live at Moonacre, a hidden estate in the west country owned by a distant cousin. It soon emerges that her destiny is to save Moonacre from the wicked marauding Men in Black and restore its prosperity. Unfortunately, the cosiness of the plot allows not the slightest frisson of danger. Everywhere she turns, deferential, rosy-cheeked villagers fall over themselves to help her; while the author’s use of authoritative male figures to curb her heroine’s natural curiosity and impatience as ‘unwomanly’ is more patriarchal than anything Blyton is guilty of. (All the more irritating when it’s clear this moral framework is needed as a plot device, to prevent Maria finding out clues too quickly.)

a little princessWould I have felt differently had I read The Little White Horse aged 8? Hard to say. I think I’d have quite liked it but not bothered to read it more than once. The lack of intensity, the ease with which Maria wins all hearts and dutifully performs the tasks set her – I can’t imagine her story would have gripped so much that it would become part of me. Nor is it just a question of judging unfairly by modern standards. The Little White Horse was first published in 1946, 30 years after Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess.Yet Mary Lennox and Sara Crewe leap out of the pages of these two books with all the strength, fighting spirit and clear-eyed ability to judge the flawed adult world of any heroine of a contemporary children’s novel. Compared with them, poor Maria Merryweather comes across as an engaging, obedient character, only too happy to be guided by all the (mostly male) adults around her. Yawn.

yawning cat

Photo by Serena Koi on Pexels.com

(From an article originally published on Authors Electric Blog)

3 English hills to die on

A couple of weeks ago this tweet from Robert Colvile entered my timeline:

Linguistic hills on which I will die: 1) ‘Fulsome’ apologies are insincere, not full 2) ‘Chatham House rules’ does not mean off the record 3) It is in fact the Chatham House rule 4) ‘Enormity’ means bad 5) ‘To coin a phrase’ means it’s overused, not that you’ve invented it. 

There followed a lengthy thread in which others piled in, citing grammar howlers that irked them. I read all the way through (and added to it myself, naturally) with increasing joy. So much proof that after all, people do care! It isn’t just me. Everywhere you look linguistic hills pop up, complete with lovers of the English language willing to die on them, holding back the tide of barbarians championing the right of language to change and grammar to be mangled.

person standing on green grass mountain

A hill or a pimple? Photo by Kasuma on Pexels.com

More of a pimple

 

Some of these hills strike me more as pimples: is it really so bad to split an infinitive, or to end a sentence with a preposition? Winston Churchill famously dismissed the latter so-called rule as something ‘up with which I shall not put’ – thus neatly indicating what is to me a far worse solecism: the over-correction of perfectly good grammar arising from intellectual snobbery.

Here are 3 of the worst offenders, which you can call hills if you like. I see them as monumental crags.

Worst offenders

person standing on edge of cliff overlooking lake below

A monumental crag.  Photo by Sam Kolder on Pexels.com

 

  1. WHOM. A word of such strength it should only ever be used in the genitive, dative or ablative case and sometimes not even then. Of whom, to and for whom, by, with, from, in and about whom are all correct. But you don’t always need to be so pure, especially not in realistic dialogue. ‘Who are you talking to?’ rings much truer than ‘Whom are you talking to?’ or, to be thoroughly Victorian, ‘To whom are you talking?’ (see W Churchill above).    The problem with such purity is it results in a tendency for whom to be used where it has no business at all. No one – as yet – would ask, ‘Whom do you thing you are?’ But even top writers, editors and journalists and increasingly everybody else think it correct to write something like, ‘The man, whom his wife said was out of town, returned later that evening.’ Nooooo! Drop ‘his wife said’ (subordinate clause) and the sentence reads, ‘the man whom was out of town returned later that evening’ – which no one in their right mind would actually say or write. 
  2. FEWER. I am heartily sick of the self-conscious insertion of this perfectly useful word in all the wrong places. Has ‘less’ become a dirty word, that no one dares use it anymore? The rot set in from the supermarket ‘five items or less’ checkout counters, which caused so much distress to millions. Yes, ‘five items or fewer,’ should be used there because the items are countable. But fewer has now taken less by storm, barging into all kinds of situations where the number is measured, (as in time or percentage), rather than counted (like individual items). Christmas, for instance, is less than 6 months away, not fewer, and I am less than three years younger than my brother. And it’s less than 50 percent, less than 10 percent, less than – for crying out loud– one per cent, NOT fewer, which sadly is what you’ll find in every newspaper, from the tabloids to posh ones like The Times, which sported this crass headline on Monday, 27 July: ‘Fewer than half Disney resorts’ employees have returned to work.’   How can you have fewer than a half? Ye gods.
  3. Peter_Paul_Rubens_009

    The Three Kings do homage to the Infant Jesus in Rubens’s painting in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

    And finally, saddest of all, HOMAGE. Sad because the ghastly faux French mispronunciation of this lovely old English word can only arise from the fact that no one hears the Christmas bible lessons read anymore. If they did, they’d know that the Three Kings did not do Ommaaj (to rhyme with mirage) to the Infant Jesus, but Homage (with a proper H and to rhyme with porage). Nor did George Orwell write Ommaaj to Catalonia. Homage is a genuine English word which has long been used not just in its original sense of submission/worship, but metaphorically, too, as in a book/play/film/any piece of art created in admiration of a more famous one. So why do self-important artists/critics feel they have to use the French word, which isn’t even spelt the same, having an extra m? Yes, homage probably came over with the Normans but then so did thousands of English words, and these days we say attention, not attonssyon, and decision, not desseezyon. 

     

    So there you have it. Trois (less than quatre) montagnes linguistiques which I shall die sur. Homage to all three.

    51qHbkDyiAL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_

    No Ommaaj here