Thursday, 13 April 2017

Leverets & Plovers: the origin of the Easter Bunny?




There'll be hares (and eggs) out there somewhere

My favourite theory about the origin of the Easter Bunny is this one, which I found in a wonderful book called The Leaping Hare, by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson. 

‘Some images have their origin in the observation of nature, and that may be true of the Easter hare. Birds, like the plover, that make nests on the ground lay their eggs near the hares’ forms. They may even choose a deserted form and convert it. Their eggs and baby leverets are frequently found on the same terrain in spring.’ (p134)

I love this idea of spotting hares nosing about in old forms (the sort of dent, or seat, a hare makes in a field, to lay low in) where there might now be plover, or lapwing, eggs.
In a separate section of the book, we’re given a wonderful transcript of conversations with a warrener and gamekeeper named Percy Muitt. He was born in Blythburgh, Suffolk in 1909 and worked nearby. (Incidentally, Blythburgh church now has a special animal blessing service at Easter, where pets are brought along. When I attended, one girl brought a spider in a match box to be blessed.)

Percy Muitt gives many vivid accounts of hares, and here’s the part that supports the ‘observation of nature theory’:

‘Well, I go about: I’ve done nothing else all my life only wandered about here, and I fell in with these little leverets; and I’ve seen ‘em as I’ve looked for plovers’ eggs. I’ve seen two little leverets on an owd stubble, on an owd corn-stubble. They make little seats just like their mothers do, just backed in, you know. Before I left that field there was a tremendous storm; and I was back on to this field after this heavy storm because I thought they must be dead; and there they set – just the same; and everywhere was all over water. I saw these little owd chaps there and I said to myself: “Well, they can’t survive.” (but we used to look at the field every four days, so we used to look at ‘em twice at that time o’day, look at ‘em twice to pick these owd plovers’ eggs up, years ago.) They’d moved two hundred yards away, and they’d grown. They were four or five days old, nice little chaps; they were alive and well’. (p55)

An old-fashioned egg hunt with baby hares all about, and nice little chaps too. It’s certainly an image that’s hard to resist. I wonder what Percy Muitt would have made of chocolate eggs wrapped in foil and cartoon bunnies everywhere…


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Delayed Gratification. Or, the Long Path to a Real Book


Sketch by Iz Simonds


Here's a little insight into what is happening between a publisher buying my ‘book’ (a collection of words), and my Book (with covers, pictures, and all that) actually appearing in the real world. If you’d rather not have that insight, I recommend you go and read this wonderful short story by Steven Millhauser instead.

Editing

I thought this would be painful, and it’s been great. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’ve spent so much time critiquing, and being critiqued, in writing land, that it would take troll galumphing through my manuscript to rile me now. Listening to feedback from an accomplished editor who understands both literature and selling books is useful and fascinating. Rare is the literary writer who can sit down and deliberately write a ‘sellable’ book. Some genre-writing may work like that, but this stuff doesn’t. Entertaining thoughts about ‘the market’ when you’re on your first draft, even your fourth, will only screw things up. Getting a professional view at the end of the process, however, I have found exciting. My editor’s suggestions make sense. Nobody is asking me to add a twist, or a happy ending, or a girl with a secret on public transport. Good editing is about making sure the writer’s intent comes across, and as a result my book feels entirely itself, but polished up. I consider myself lucky.

Book design

‘Keep an eye out for illustration styles or book covers you like, and we can show them to the designer’ my editor blithely said. Three Pinterest boards later, she has not yet expressed any regret. Is it a good thing, letting a writer try to influence a book cover design? For me, I’m delighted to be able to make suggestions. But unless the draft that comes back is like a child’s drawing of a giraffe (there are no giraffes in the book), I won’t mind if they ignore my ideas entirely. After all, I’m about as expert as a giraffe at this.

Illustrations

That these are on the table at all is a source of great pleasure to me. Over the years, I’ve worked hard at lowering my expectations around publication (good for avoiding disappointment), and I’d dealt some time ago with the fact that grown-up books don’t get pictures. Except now, it seems, some do. Even more exciting is that someone I know and love is currently filling a sketchbook with ‘illos’ (I’m learning the lingo) for that very purpose. It was with trepidation that I suggested a relative illustrate my work. Probably, the publisher expected that giraffe, or something equally unsuitable. But no! We have pages of glorious, atmospheric motifs and sketches, and permission to jump up and down a bit more.

Patience

We’re still a year away from publication. There are copy edits, cover designs, typesetting, proofs, quotes and all the rest yet to come.  By the time the book comes out, how different will I be as a writer? Will it still feel like mine? If I’ve moved on, it will only be easier to watch it emerge, vulnerable, into the world. The less of a big deal that seems, the better. For now, it’s still a thrill to sashay up the steps to my publisher’s office with my final draft under my arm.