Don’t get me wrong, I know the Dog Days are in summer after the rising of Sirius but that feeling described below in Auden’s wonderful poem is the one I’m having now, under Jupiter.

I’m not doing a lot. I’m not especially bothered about that either; I’ve cats to feed, a garden to pootle at, lots to read and no sign of words wanting to be made into worlds at all. Oh, I’ve sent a grand total of 2 tweets.

But sometimes it’s good to far niente.

Over to my favourite poet:

Under Sirius – W. H. Auden

Yes, these are the dog days, Fortunatus:
The heather lies limp and dead
On the mountain, the baltering torrent
Shrunk to a soodling thread;
Rusty the spears of the legion, unshaven its captain,
Vacant the scholar’s brain
Under his great hat,
Drug though She may, the Sybil utters
A gush of table-chat.
And you yourself with a head-cold and upset stomach,
Lying in bed till noon,
Your bills unpaid, your much advertised
Epic not yet begun,
Are a sufferer too. All day, you tell us, you wish
Some earthquake would astonish,
Or the wind of the Comforter’s wing
Unlock the prisons and translate
The slipshod gathering.
And last night, you say, you dreamed of that bright blue morning,
The hawthorn hedges in bloom,
When, serene in their ivory vessels,
The three wise Maries come,
Sossing through seamless waters, piloted in
By sea-horse and fluent dolphin:
Ah! how the cannons roar,
How jocular the bells as They
Indulge the peccant shore.
It is natural to hope and pious, of course, to believe
That all in the end shall be well,
But first of all, remember,
So the Sacred Books foretell,
The rotten fruit shall be shaken. Would your hope make sense
If today were that moment of silence,
Before it break and drown,
When the insurrected eagre hangs
Over the sleeping town?
How will you look and what will you do when the basalt
Tombs of the sorcerers shatter
And their guardian megalopods
Come after you pitter-patter?
How will you answer when from their qualming spring
The immortal nymphs fly shrieking,
And out of the open sky
The pantocratic riddle breaks –
‘Who are you and why?’
For when in a carol under the apple-trees
The reborn featly dance,
There will also, Fortunatus,
Be those who refused their chance,
Now pottering shades, querulous beside the salt-pits,
And mawkish in their wits,
To whom these dull dog-days
Between event seemed crowned with olive
And golden with self-praise.

Younger Auden


Well, I have opened a twitter account and that’s quite enough to be getting on with. (I seem only to be able to deal with one thing at a time just now.)

So my appeal for help with promotion ideas is now focusing on Twitter till I get the hang of it. Sian Glirdain has already come up with a helpful idea for getting the hang of twittering, but any other people who have experience of the twitterworld, what thoughts might you have for me?

What to Tweet, for a start!



They say we all have our good points as well as bad, and dear Felix has been proving that this week.

Felix the loner, the hitter of brothers and occasional biter of Mum, who has caused Fluff to develop a particular squeak of fear when he sees Felix coming; this tyrant has turned out to be the best cat I’ve ever known in the matter of eating up his Renal Diet as if he really enjoys it. What a relief.

Promotion – only one suggestion so far (thanks Jan Hawke) and that’s to try Twitter, so I have dipped my toe in (@eluthpublishing) though I retain my right to be sceptical!


Is Amazon Changing How We Write Books, As Well As How We Buy Them?

Another example of the dumbing down of the world. 😦

Tara Sparling writes

Is Amazon Changing The Way We Write Books, As Well As How We Buy Them? Yay for uniformity!

The other day, I tried a little experiment, and attempted to browse Amazon as though it were a good old-fashioned, bricks-and-mortar bookshop. It didn’t end well. It’s a miracle that my laptop survived the experiment, given my frustration.

Most bookshops I know, whatever the size, broadly have 3 sections for adult fiction: ‘Bestsellers’, ‘General Fiction’, and the perennially popular* ‘Crime’.

The bigger bookshops, in this country at least, might have further sections for ‘Sci-Fi/Fantasy’ or ‘Irish Interest’: but broadly, and for decades, booksellers simply used to separate ‘Fiction’ from ‘Non-Fiction’ and ‘Children’s’.

My experiment on Amazon went broadly as follows: first I stupidly thought I’d browse through ‘Bestsellers’. But Amazon said ‘No’. Amazon decreed that I couldn’t merely browse by ‘Fiction’ bestsellers from their home page. There were only 5 Fiction bestsellers available on the landing page, and no option to click through to a longer list.

Is Amazon Changing The Way We Write Books, As Well As How We Buy Them?

With some effort I eventually…

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So the book’s done and dusted and I’m starting to give it away to the usual suspects, family, friends, the local library etc.

But promotion in the hope of generating sales has always been my weakest point since I started writing.

Lots of advice and suggestions on the web, but to be honest there’s so much I can’t take it all in, and such a lot of it seems to demand far more energy and enthusiasm than I have in store.

I deeply admire other self-published authors I know, who seem to achieve good sales by something resembling the endurance and determination of an antarctic explorer a hundred years ago.

Captain Scott, I am not.

I’d be grateful for one-sentence ideas from you all describing what you think is the most important thing to do by way of causing sales to happen to your works.

Many thanks. I’ll look at them when I’ve napped.


Indolence Voltaire


Felix behaved very well at the vet yesterday, in spite of there being two needle events; one for the Program to go into Felix, and one for some of his blood to come out.

The vet has just rung to confirm that everything is reading higher than it should, and Felix must go onto meds and special kidney diet, which I will collect tomorrow.

Fresh chicken is still OK. So life is not completely ruined.

That’s now three cats with three different well-being additives to their meals. Sounds like fun, maybe a I need a live-in cat assistant?

Nil desperandum.



HISTORICAL PRINCIPLES:  a reader’s response to

The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver

OUP, 2016: ISBN: 9780199283620

On his five hundred and fiftieth page, opening the thirteenth chapter of this astonishing book, Peter Gilliver says: ‘The body of archival material relevant to this period [1989 – ] becomes increasingly incomplete, and incompletely accessible, as one approaches the present.’

I feel his apparent concern that this may make for a loss of readerly interest in the closing pages to be unfounded, since by the time of reaching this chapter the reader – this reader for certain – has been drawn deeply into the esoteric world of dictionary-making by way of a narrative as compellingly drafted and structured as any novel.  The experience of coming to the end was as much one of loss as the moment of finishing a fictional narrative whose characters and events have led one into another world.  The diverse and remarkable characters that people this world and drive forward its story are captured with the same narrative skill and deft handling of cliff-hangers and subtle hints at possible futures, as a great detective story.

Gilliver takes us back to the early nineteenth century to show us the role of the Philological Society and the scholarly European context in which its ideas about the importance of a national dictionary were developed, before leading on to the involvement of the Oxford University Press and the whole vast history thereafter.

Now, many might assume that a work thus rooted in those Victorian scholarly realms, concerning itself with Lexicography, Philology, and Etymology, could not possibly be the sort of exciting read that I claim to have found it.  But it is. Gilliver’s research and scholarship are deep- and broad-reaching, leaving no memo unturned and no crisis undescribed.  But the enduring strength of this book will be its blend of that scholarship with its readability.  Not every academic can write; Gilliver can.

The cast of characters of this book comprises – among others – some of the most eccentric, learned and dedicated scholars who ever lived.  But they do not appear to us as mere dry old Victorian men with funny whiskers; we see their pains and joys, we are aware of their quarrels and friendships and illnesses and of how the Dictionary subsumed their lives and impacted on their families. F.J. Furnivall, James Murray, Henry Bradley, William Craigie, C. T. Onions and their twentieth century successors are presented as real living people and this brings alive to us the nature and importance of the Dictionary as a less personalised study could not do.  Although the book, considered as a biography, is in fact the biography of the OED itself, Gilliver never lets us lose sight of the people who made it.


It’s the best book I’ve read for a long time.  And it’s a beautiful book, if I may indulge my love of the physical object; the quality of its production.  The paper looks feels and smells nice.  In spite of its size, it asks you to pick it up.  I found only two very minor typographical errors in all its ‘625 pp’.  I recommend it, I love it, and I have expanded my reading list by a ridiculous number simply by adding  so many of the books listed in its bibliography.

Simply excellent.


An Unfortunate Break-Up With My Brain

Tara Sparling writes

Late night. A single candle burns in a garret. A young(ish) woman sits alone at a wooden table, kneading her frozen fingers. She sighs, and from a distance comes the faintest sound of a bell ringing. The candle flickers. This is because she has sighed again. She is doing an awful lot of sighing (it’s melodramatic, and fits in well with her surroundings). Suddenly, the candle burns brighter and the bell rings out, crisp and clear.

Me: Hello? Are you there? Please? Hello?

My Brain: Yeah. Howryeh.

Me: Oh, thank heavens. I thought you were never going to answer.

My Brain: Well, for a while there I wasn’t sure I was going to either.

Me: It’s just that I’m in a bit of a bind.

My Brain: I know, yeah. You’re sighing a lot.

Me: It’s getting really late, you see, and I have no blog post for tomorrow –

My Brain: The…

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Tolkien at Exeter College: Birth of a legend

Got my copy – don’t miss yours!

John Garth

In which I blow my own trumpet…

When you picture J.R.R. Tolkien, it’s probably as a member of Oxford’s Inklings, writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the 1930s and ’40s, or in old age when fame caught up with him in the 1960s. Yet he first wrote about Middle-earth in 1914–15 while studying at Exeter College, Oxford University. My 2003 book Tolkien and the Great War started a shift in interest towards the author’s early development. In Tolkien at Exeter College, published by the college in 2014, I return to focus tightly on his undergraduate years.

So how did Tolkien first strike his lifelong creative seam? It’s an unlikely and fascinating tale, involving Beowulf, Hiawatha, the outbreak of war, and – most crucial of all – the college library’s Finnish Grammar. We meet a fresh Tolkien – a classicist who nearly failed Mods; a…

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One of the jobs I am trying to progress in the afterdays of The Dry Well is the clearance of paper from Andrew’s office.

He had made some headway on this at the time of his death, and I have done odds and ends since then, but there is a new urgency now since at the end of this month the moth-devastated carpet will be replaced, and I must empty the filing cabinets so they can be moved. Current stuff can come out then go in again, but one whole four-drawer cabinet holds business and political files which need to be disposed of, so I am sorting that one first and planning to find a new home for it somewhere, thus making more space in the room.

It’s a strange experience going through Andrew’s working life as I am at the moment – he ran the business for over 30 years, and the files and files of shipping documents, pro-forma invoices and handwritten calculations of costs that remain are only a fraction of the paper that passed through his hands in that time. Yes, I’m recycling it!

He had a very distinctive hand, not easily legible but dearly familiar to me. It’s quite heavy work physically to shift all this, but I’ve been finding it harder emotionally than I expected.

Yet it’s good to feel the essence of people lingering where they used to be.

Xmas 2011 A on East Lancs train