Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Animals”

Author Spotlight: James Herriot


Eons ago I became smitten with the James Herriot series All Creatures Great and Small—both the books and BBC show.

The gentle humor, the insights into human nature, the animal stories, the quaint English countryside with all of its unique characters, the appreciation for life even in the hard circumstances of being a country became a tonic for this reader.

james herriot life work

It wasn’t until recently, while researching for a writing project, I came across James Herriot once again. This time I paid more attention to the writer. I came away more impressed than ever, and developed more respect for James Herriot or rather James Alfred Wight, the man behind the stories. Here are some facts I learned while reintroducing myself to his works:

  • He choose to write under the pseudonym of James Herriot due to strict veterinary association ethics of not writing under one’s own name to avoid self-promotion. He took the name from a professional football (soccer) player who played for Wight’s favorite Sunderland team.
  • Born in England, his family moved to Glasgow, Scotland when he was a baby. He spent 23 years in Glasgow and naturally developed an accent causing people to think he was Scottish.
  • He decided to become a vet due to the combination of loving animals, reading an article about choosing a vocation, and listening to a guest lecturer from the Glasgow Veterinary School.
  • Wight was an avid reader, one dedicated to classics and authors such as Sir Conan Doyle, H.G.Wells, H. Rider Haggard, O’Henry, P.G. Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare. These literary influences are evident in Wight’s writing with his ability to inject humor in unexpected moments with irony, imagery, and a turn of a phrase. His ear for natural dialogue added greatly to the rhythm of the story.
  • Being born in 1916 put Wight at a disadvantage since it placed him in the middle of an economic depression by the time he graduated from vet school, making it difficult to find a position.
  • He first worked with a veterinarian in Sunderland (where he was born) but due to the vet’s contract with the dog racing track having ended, Wight had to find another placement. This led him to Yorkshire where he would work with Donald Sinclair (Siegfried rom the books) for nearly fifty years.
  • After being hired by Sinclair, Wight had to run the practice single-handedly because Sinclair had joined the Royal Air Force.
  • Wight had tried publishing other stories before writing his country vet tales, yet only met rejections. He didn’t begin publishing his memoirs, his life as a country vet, until he was 50 years old and continued writing through his early 70s.
  • His initial book, If Only They Could Talk, was serialized in the newspaper, and a favorable literary review launched further reader interest. Soon after, his books sold constantly and his career as a writer began and to this day people are still fans of his writing.
  • Wight claimed 90% of his stories were true, having had the need to change names and situations, yet some dissenters, particularly Graham Lord, a biographer, say it’s closer to 50%, making his memoirs more fiction than fact. However, Wight’s son, Jim, maintains in his biography of his dad that 90% true is accurate [Does it really matter? The stories are marvelous—so what if there are embellishments?]
  • Wight continued his veterinary practice even while becoming a successful author, as he truly enjoyed being a country vet.
  • His books were bestsellers, sometimes remaining on the New York Times list for over six months.
  • To this day Wight’s books have sold over 60 million copies.
  • Thousands of fans, mostly Americans, would trek to Yorkshire to meet Wight and he would personally sign books and meet with people and he took the time to answer the cascade of letters sent to him. Today there is a World of James Herriot museum located at his original practice where devotees can learn more about the author.
  • James Alfred “Alf” Wight was always surprised at his success as a writer; he remained humble and in awe of his publishing achievement throughout his life. Though he became a millionaire author, he nevertheless lived a simple life, enjoying his marriage to Joan “Helen” for over 50 years and had a loving relationship with his two children, Jim and Rosie, who both became doctors (Jim carried on in his father’s practice, and Wight talked his daughter out of becoming a vet due to the strenuous work, so she became a general practitioner).
  • He received the OBE for his contribution to veterinary science, along with many other significant awards.

His original books published in Britain had titles such as It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet, The Flying Vet, and were short volumes, which were combined to create longer volumes and retitled from lines of a famous British hymn: All Creatures Great and Small. Although I have read most, if not all of Herriot’s books, including his biographies, I do have my favorites:

Picture Books

Oscar, Cat-About-Town

Moses, the Kitten

Collections

James Herriot’s Cat Stories

Image result for james herriot cat photographs

The Best of James Herriot, Favorite Memories of a Country Vet

Biographies

The Real James Herriot, Memoir of My Father by James Wight

Television and Film

The entire BBC series with Robert Hardy

Image result for all creatures great and small bbc

The first film with Anthony Hopkins

Young James Herriot

Debatables: Mouse Appeal


Another round of Debatables starts today. Mike and I are both pro-rodent (although I am not a rat fan since Ratigan and Willard *yikes*). And we celebrate the arrival of Mike’s new book:

So–it makes sense to make our February Debatables all about mice, particularly the Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Reader Literature.

Mike’s vote is for Amos from Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me.

I am promoting Reepicheep from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Voting takes place at Mike’s blog. This shall no doubt be a lively round. Stop by and cast your vote (for Reepicheep, of course).

Dogs–the new cigarette?


When I was a kid, the family dog was in the backyard and cigarettes were found everywhere. Today, dogs are everywhere and smokers are banned to their backyard.

I’m not complaining. Just wondering how dogs have reached such a thumbs-up public approval.

Check out this New Yorker article in which the journalist trots a turkey, a snake, a pig, and an alpaca in public places.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/20/pets-allowed 

Now, before we get started. I need to state right up front. I like dogs. Our family dog taught me to walk (I grabbed on to him and he patiently led me along), and we were buds until he died at age of fourteen. I still miss him. Not that it’s a big deal, but I nearly died trying to protect our neighbor’s Cock-a-poo who had been attacked by dogs gone wild.  I have considered becoming a trainer for guide dogs once I finally retire from teaching. And just today I reunited two boys with their list Labrador. So–I do like dogs.

I just prefer dogs in the proper setting. Restaurants, hotels, the library, grocery stores, the farmer’s market, my local Home Depot, and the post office are not places I expect or desire to interact with dogs. I have no issue with true service dogs. They are trained and serve a needed purpose. The wolfhound blocking the sidewalk at the local farmer’s market (where it is posted “No Dogs in Park)–purpose?

Some communities are crazy for dogs. Oregon’s Hood River is such a place. San Francisco is another city gone to the dogs, and many of its citizens are wondering if they have gone too far in embracing doggy appreciation (3-1 said yes in a poll). It’s become so prevalent to see dogs when I go out to eat that I’m tempted to ask if there is non-dog section when going to a restaurant. True service dogs stay at their owner’s feet, they do not share their table, nor their lap. No fuss is made over them because they are on duty. They are well-behaved. They aren’t that noticeable.

Regular dogs and their owners–that’s a different matter.

Even though it’s posted at our local community park, where the local farmer’s market is held, that no dogs are allowed, that does not deter either the locals or the tourists from bringing their canine with them as they shop for garlic cloves and search for the perfect scone. I see the sign “Service Animals Only” posted on the door of most businesses, yet that request does not apparently apply to the lady with the Pekinese stuffed in her purse as she rolls out her grocery cart.

The value of a posted ordinance, rule, or request is only as good as it is enforced. The farmer’s market association says it’s the job of the city to enforce the ordinance. The police department says they will stop by the park if they don’t have other pressing duties. The store manager says they risk a lawsuit if they ask the person if their dog is a service animal. Clerks have developed a “we don’t ask” policy at the library and post office. The people I encounter in public places who do not have their dog on a leash, although it’s posted to do so, say “Oh, no worries. She’s friendly.” Maybe so, but I still don’t want that friendly nose snuffing my leg. There’s a set of teeth ever so close to that friendly nose that may decide otherwise. It’s happened. 

I’m wondering if society has replaced the cigarette, a selfish, noxious habit that can harm those in its presence with another risky habit. Whoa, C. Muse. Equating cigarettes to dogs is a bit harsh. Maybe so. There remains a deep-seated amazement that people seriously think I want to share my space with their four-legged habit. I am not the only one who is wondering about this new dog-permissive attitude.

David Lazarus of the LA Times decided to test the new doggy permissiveness. Even though there are health codes, he acknowledged, he took his dog Teddy with him one day, wondering why no one stopped him when he decided on taking his dog everywhere he went. Perplexed at being ignored by those around him he summed it up: “I have only one answer to that. It’s L.A., dude.”

I will expand on that answer: It’s America. Americans don’t like being told what to do. Americans like to celebrate their freedom. Americans like their dogs.

Has anyone else noticed the new dog permissiveness? Are dogs as prevalent as cigarettes once were in public places? Dog gone it, I just don’t understand why society wants to have such dog day afternoons. 

 

 

The Writing Mews 


As Hemingway once said: “One cat leads to another.”

This is exactly what happened to me. 

I wrote a story for Highlights magazine about Mark Twain’s affection for cats and decided to keep going with other writers and the cats in their life.

This has become a much bigger project than anticipated. 

One great thing about the Internet is that there is the ease of getting information. It’s only a click away. The truly terrible thing about the Internet is the ease of posting information. There is way too much traffic of absolutely wrong information out there. It’s a game of “telephone” in an exponential factor of believability because it’s so vastly repeated.

Their are no less than a bajillion sites devoted to writers who loved cats. They all say pretty much the same thing about the same set of writers. For instance, Sir Walter Scott, famous for Ivanhoe, as well as being credited for creating the historical adventure nivel, is down for being a wondrous cat lover.

Getting correct or first source information takes determination and endurance. 

I spent all day yesterday tracking down Sir Walter Scott’s supposed love of cats.

Where did people who have posted on their cat sites that SWS loved cats? He owned at least five dogs and owned ONE cat. They didn’t even spell the cat’s name right.

But I dug, and I dug. I reformatted my search inquiry again and again. I looked and looked in Google books. It’s a delightful accomplishment to find that grain of sand in that vast sea of information.

This process has been repeated pretty much for each of the writers selected.

Sigh…

I have a couple of more weeks to get my first draft in working order, because end of August is the beginning of school and once school starts my brain and writing time goes into teacher mode.

So while the muse is available I will focus on my mews.

BtW: if you know of any agents, editors, or publishers looking for an amazing book about authors and that special cat connection, send  them my way.

Here’s some fun cat/author facts:

1. Edgar Allan Poe really loved animals. Don’t let his story “The Black Cat” mislead you.

2. Macho man Ernest Hemingway was a total softie for cats. He kept over thirty of them at one point. 

3. Ray Bradbury was another cat collector. He and his wife owned around twenty felines during their marriage.

4. Louisa May Alcott connected cats with having a happy home. Check out Little Women sometime.

5. L.L. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables fame, definitely depended on Luck, her cat, when it came to writing happily.

As for me? I’m felineless for now, but I married my husband because he owned four cats. Okay, that’s not the only reason why. His house had an ocean view. I’m also prone towards freckles.

And we did own quite a happy little clutch of cats when we lived out in the country. Seven. They did not sit on my desk or shoulder while I wrote. They had their house and we had ours.

See, old Poe did like cats.

Tis the Month of Maying


April brought showers, daffodils, moose eating tulips (again), a trip to see the First Folio, unprecedented warm temperatures, and a month of poetry. Now we are on to May.

May–yes, may I just say that May makes me tired, and we are barely five days into the month. As I write this it’s 3:30 a.m., about two hours too early to be so wide awake. My head is spinning with how much I need to do this month. May I just stop a moment and reflect what the month of May involves…

  • Complete the Victorian Era unit with my seniors, yet leave enough time for Modern and Post-Modern by end of this month
  • Post progress grades by 3 pm Thursday–today!
  • Create my unit exam
  • Figure out my second semester final
  • Create a meaningful series of activities for my AP students for the rest of the month now that they have taken their exam and are basically done with the class, yet still need to attend. Did someone say film appreciation unit?
  • Speak at the annual Women’s Tea talking about getting a “piece of quiet” which is based on my essay in Chicken Soup for the Multi-tasking Mom’s Soul (I should be nervous but I’m too worn out to be nervous–wait it’s next week? I am nervous)

(Survivor of the nefarious Tulip Moose)
Just thinking about my “get’r done” list makes me tired enough to maybe go back to sleep. May I, might I, may I get it done because all this is going through my head:

Tis is the month of maying:

  1. May I get my gradebook straightened out
  2. May I get my lesson plans written up
  3. May I win against my everlasting match with yard maintenance (Weeds 3, Cricket 1)
  4. May I get caught up on my book reviews
  5. May I get a month of blog posts going
  6. May I send off yet another volley of queries to editors and agents
  7. May I actually find time to pack for my escape weekend–that’s right, I’m taking two personal days and making a four day getaway. By doing so I may survive the outbreak of senioritis at our school.

May I just go back to sleep so that I’m not a zombie impersonating an English teacher… 

Still Crazy About Cows


If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you will have noticed I have a thing for cows. I don’t know why, except I’ve been around them off and on for most of my life and as a result I’ve written a cow joke book, which, by the way, gets the nicest rejection letters. Mike Allegra has even pitched in and contributed a cow drawing. In my quest to come up with even more cow jokes for a sequel to the first cow joke book (thinking positive here) I came across a website that has 100 words related to cow.

My intent is to become inspired and come up with some original bovine blockbusting humor. Here is the site:

And here are a couple of udderly hopefuls:

#74: freshen–related to cow, as in coming in to her milk

Why did the cow take so long getting ready to leave the barn?

She had to freshen up first.

Okay–

How about this one then?

#45: kine–archaic plural of cow

Why are cows such a popular animal?

They are the best kine of animal on the farm.

Okay–

Maybe Cow Too will be a bit longer in the draft phase.

In the mean time, I keep sending out my udderly wonderful cow joke book to publishers and editors, as it will behoove me to get it published sooner than later as it cud drive you all crazy hearing me milk it for all its worth.

image: morguefile/jackse “All this bovine banter is making me have a cow–it’s driving me mad!”

It’s Howdy Doodle Time


I finally possess a Mike Allegra doodle. It’s a dandy doodle. I’ve been working on a cow joke book (for heifer and heifer, it seems), and figured the best way to get it published is to have it illustrated. I almost had a publisher, but part of the package was providing an illustrator. Well, that opportunity evaporated, so I am still trying to market my herd of cow jokes. Possibilities are looking better since I now have a sample doodle and a willing illustrator–now I need to find a willing publisher.

Kids love jokes and riddles. I know. I have an eight year grand kiddo who loves telling me the same knock knock banana/orange jokes (you know the one). If banana jokes are funny, cow jokes are dairy funny, it’s finding an editor or agent who thinks so as well. Now that I am equipped with my doodle I feel more confident venturing forth in my quest for publication, and feel it won’t be udder folly this next go round.

I claim the joke. Mike Allegra claims the artwork. You decide who is the more talented.

What do you call a cow who is a thief?
A Hamburglar!

Okay, maybe the doodle is better than the joke. Now that I have Mike’s doodle to accompany my submission I am feeling this book will become a published winner–it might just become outstanding in its field.

Yes, you too, can gain this confidence with your very own Allegra Doodle. I suggest you secure one sooner than later. Since I have yet to win one through his ever popular doodle contests, I have sought other avenues, and if you are unable to get your entry slip drawn, and need an Allegra doodle in your life, then I suggest you contact him.  And, yes, his talent goes beyond cows.

BONUS: there is dairy funny pun-off happening between Sarah W and I. Mike wants to know who the winner will be. It would behoove you to take a look at our witticisms–look in the comments section.

Blog Spotlight: Reading with Rhythm


As a professed Book Booster I have a definite soft spot for a blog that promotes books. The added bonus of Reading with Rhythm is that this is all about a dog dedicated to sharing the love of books with children through visits at schools and libraries. This gets double Shazam points!
Just who is Rhythm and why is this dog so besotted with books? Rhythm’s story is quite interesting. She first trained to become a guide dog, but like some first pick careers, things didn’t go according to plan. However, her second career is just as special and important, because she is enriching many lives now that she is a registered therapy canine. To read more about her career change, read this post.

Rhythm’s Mom Person keeps readers updated with books of note, along with keeping readers entertained with the various adventures she and Rhythm’s family and extended network of pals enjoy and experience.

Rhythm also is the star of her own book! Now that’s something to brag and wag about.

book

Image: Amazon Books

Rhythm and her Mom Person provide a lively and light-hearted perspective to life and life with books. Hoping you’ll stop by and extend your paw of approval for this lovable labrador’s love of reading.

Let’s Stop With The Cloning Around


STOP: SPOILER ALERTS for the following
Never Let Me Go
The Island
Moon
I, Robot
Oblivion
Frankenstein
Robocop

“Four legs real, fake legs baaaad.” image: nature.com

What is this fascination with the humanity aspect of clones or artificial intelligence? Why do we want to inject a soul into something man has created? Or a more defined question is: why do we explore whether man-made creations have a soul?

Is it guilt? Afterall, creation is best handled by the Creator, the One who has the Master Plan. That statement could incite a whole firestorm of commentary in itself, which is fine, but I’m really after the literary and even film aspect of cloning/artificial intelligence.
For instance, having just finished Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro, I began thinking about other cloning works: The Island,Moon, Oblivion, and while there are other aspects attached to these films, the main takeaway: “cheated.” The clones are cheated because even though they look human, act human, they are not, which becomes a matter of concern because there is an investment of empathy for these characters, yet part of me says “Wait! They aren’t real.” I feel cheated because I am tricked (seemingly) into believing and caring about something I inherently don’t subscribe to: cloning.
Have you ever tasted imitation crab? Once–thank you very much. Looks like (mostly), tastes like it (kind of), smells like (a bit), same texture (not really). After being duped into eating it I came away with the same feeling: cheated.
Duplicating sheep, crab, humans–it’s not the same, and can never be. I believe in science; I do not subscribe to Luddite philosophies, but there are moral boundaries and these boundaries keep reappearing in novels and films as guilt and even revulsion. Why?
I think we try to justify the curiosity to recreate human life through the compassion for the Creature, as in the case of Frankenstein. The Wretch had initial goodness until it met up with repeated rejection. However, Shelley pointed out the disastrous results of man attempting to recreate man.
We root for Tom Cruise (Oblivion) and Sam Rockwell (Moon) as clones, only because we thought they were human. Upon realization they were clones I immediately reneged my emotional investment–I had been cheated, someone had switched in that imitation crab.
I have no problem with robots though. The A.I. component works for me. I liked R2D2, who didn’t? And Sonny, from I, Robot? A charmer. They were machines with heart; they did not have a soul. Machines are machines. On the other hand, that fuzzy line is not so warm and fuzzy when it comes to cloning: Humans with no soul? Are these simply sophisticated machines with feelings?
Which brings me to my latest Ishiguro read, Never Let Me Go. Having heard raves about it, and having read two other of his novels, I looked forward to this particular one. Ishiguro’s style of unreliable first person narrative and undercurrent, deceptively complex plot is very much evident. It wasn’t until about halfway through I realized I’d been cheated. Here I thought Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy were victims of a cruel government experiment, only to discover (oh so subtly) they are clones. Dissapointment. I finished the novel, although I felt a detached flatness. No joy in that one. I did feel a resonance with Robocop, but then has man trapped in a machine. And even though he was mostly machine I rooted for him because people I can relate to–fake crab, not.
Anyone else have thoughts on cloning in literature in regards to character empathy?

Just Swallow the Leader


Summer wouldn’t be the same without those plucky little backyard aereo acrobats–the swallow.

Although I have never been to San Juan Capistrano, I would surely like to be there when they make their yearly return.  The MEPA has related how spectacular the event is, and so it’s been placed on THE B.I.G. LIST. For now, I still thrill to seeing the few swallows that  swoop and dive and line twitter in our neighborhood. They are such cheeky little things with their bombing straifs if we get too close to their nest, and I always glance up upon hearing that endless parakeet chittering as they zip through the air on their bug runs.  Gosh, I just love ’em!

image: vickiesvintage.blogspot.com

Growing up, my dad had constructed a row of birdhouses, nailing them to the back of the house which faced the sidewalk leading to my playhouse and the garden. I had to pass in front of this airport of activity if I wanted to go to either of these favorite hangouts. The frantic commuter flights both enthralled and frightened me, and I distinctly remember the cacophony of the endless tweets and peeps of fledglings and parents.

Moving to Northern California for continued college, I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was to discover swallows galore. Maybe they got confused or liked the area better than San Juan Capistrano. These guys weren’t the shiny, futzy glossy white shirted swallows, these were the raucous barn swallows who much preferred making nests of mud in the most inconvenient places.  Whole apartment duplexes of them! As much as I loved them, I did not like the mess they made on the stairs which I had to use everyday.

image: pedestrian.com

Once we got settled in our own house I convinced, begged, and bothered the MEPA to install three birdhouses.  Great guy that he is he did so.  It’s taken almost four years for swallows to rent out one of the bungalows. The middle remained unoccupied and a family of chickadees moved into the other end house.

The chickadees have been long gone, but those swallows, my oh my, talk about failure to launch! They’ve been keeping mom and dad busy for these past few weeks. But today was the day they finally moved out.  Like most kids, they blew this small town and mom and dad must have fallen deep into empty nest syndrome, because they seem to have moved on as well.

The robins never returned from last year, and there just doesn’t seem to be as many birds at the feeder this year.  The progeny tease us how we’ve turned into old folksies with our bird books, binocs, and have our chaise chairs aimed towards the feeder.

“Look, hon, a chickadee–or is it a junco?”

“Ohmigosh, it’s an oriole. Lookitlookit.”

“Two o’clock. Nuthatch.”

I got birding love from my dad, and I now I got the MEPA hooked on birds. He’s taken it to a far higher level than me, however. He’s got a telescope trained on the feeder, has at least two bird books on hand for identification, and he talks and whistles to them.  He even gets them to land on him when he’s changing the feeder.

That’s a bit over the top for me and I get a little snippy with comments about nutty about nuthatches.  I kind of feel like Lucy when she catches Linus petting the birds on their heads and yells at him to knock it off.  Don’t know why it makes me crabby when he talks to the birds.  I best watch out. I wouldn’t want a Hitchcockian adventure in the backyard.

image: lecinemadreams.blogspot.com

My bird book of choice (from a college birding class I took):

image: amazon.com

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