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Monday, 10 November 2014

FRONTIER DOCTOR The TV show starring REX ALLEN

As you may know I write the character of Doctor Logan Munro of Wolf Creek. He is the town doctor in the Wolf Creek series of novels, written under the house name of Ford Fargo, published by Western Fictioneers.

I am interested in everything to do with medicine as it was practiced back in the Old West. I was particularly keen to get hold of a DVD of FRONTIER DOCTOR, about the adventures of a small town doctor in Arizona set in  the 1880s. It is the collection of 39 half-hour episodes of a TV show featuring Rex Allen, originally broadcast in 1956-57.



It is good fun and typical of the Westerns of the day. It certainly took me back to those glorious times when Westerns were supreme.

The Frontier Doctor is a combination of medicine and adventure, about Dr Bill Baxter.  And with each episode only a half-hour long they are a good stimulus for a writer of westerns. The stories all have pretty decent plots, too.

Rex Allen (1920-199) was a an American actor, singer and songwriter. He gained fame as the Arizona Cowboy and as The Voice of the West.  One of his biggest hits was "Don't Go Near the Indians.' In his later career he narrated over 8 Disney movies.



In 1975 he gained his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.




My novel about Dr George Goodfellow, the Tombstone doctor known as the surgeon to the gunfighters, published by Westrn Fictioneers Library in the West of the big River series.


And if you like dipping into shorter works, rather like the Frontier Doctor series with Rex Allen, my linked collection of short stories Adventures from the Casebook of Dr  Marcus Quigley is available, published by High Noon Press.



Both books are available in print or ebook.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

I'VE BEEN BUSY LATELY

It has been a while since my last post. In part it has been because I was over in the USA driving route 66, and in part because I have been busy on the keyboard. As a result there are a few works coming out now.


ADVENTURES FROM THE CASEBOOK OF DR MARCUS QUIGLEY 

The collected short stories is out now published by High Noon Press.

Doctor Marcus Quigley, qualified dental surgeon, gambler and sometime bounty hunter has gradually been working his way west. His reasons for choosing such a lifestyle are personal and pressing, as well as expedient, for there is someone he means to track down and hold to account for a murder committed some years previously.

It is actually the featured paperback on Helping Hands Press this week. Check the link:

HELPING HANDS PRESS


THE HEAT OF BATTLE

 A while back Jeremy Jones came up with the idea of getting a bunch of writers together to pen some boxing tales for an anthology, the profits of which were to go to help a writer-in-need. He was so successful in getting authors to write stories that he was able to produce two anthologies.

My story, The Heat of Battle starts during the Korean War and ends up in the old boxing booths of England.




Fight Card Presents: Battling Mahoney & Other Stories is the second in a series of charity anthologies from the Fight Card authors’ cooperative – a writers’ community featuring many of today’s finest fictioneers, including James Reasoner, Loren D. Estleman, Len Levinson, James Hopwood, Mark Finn, Jeremy L. C. Jones, Michael Zimmer, Marc Cameron, Nik Morton, Marsha Ward, Clay More, Chuck Tyrell, Bowie V. Ibarra, Art Bowshire, and featuring an extensive essay, On Boxing, by Willis Gordon. 

Compiled by Paul Bishop and Jeremy L. C. Jones, 100% of the proceeds from these anthologies go directly to an author-in-need or a literacy charity. Words on paper are the life blood of a writer. The writers in this volume were willing to bleed in order to give a transfusion to one of their own – and then continue to bleed to give a transfusion to literacy charities in support of that most precious of commodities...readers. They are true fighters, every one...


WELLS FARGO EXPRESS


Another collection of short stories written under the collective house name of Remington Colt. 


Best-Selling authors Murray Pura, Jen Cudmore, Clay More, James J. Griffin and Clay Dolan bring to you the adventures of Wells Fargo agents Remington Holt and his assistant Amos Drewery. 
Are they who and what they appear or are they that and much more? 
Take the high octane ride with the Wells Fargo agents as they solve the big mystery that awaits them. 


WESTERN TALES VOL 7

My story redemption Trail is one of five stories in this anthology from Western Trail Blazers.



Sam Gibson used to be a lawman, until the day he made a terrible mistake that could never be taken back. Since then, he has alternated between wishing there were a way he could redeem himself and believing he deserved punishment. 

He’s about to get both… 


THE DOCTOR

My novel about Dr George Goodfellow, the surgeon to the gunfighters, one of the most remarkable doctors of the 19th century.



West of the Big River, published by Western Fictioneers is a stand-alone series that can be read in any order. In Tombstone, Arizona Territory, the town too tough to die, Dr. George Goodfellow is known as the Surgeon to the Gunfighters. Friends with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, his services as a doctor are needed in the aftermath of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but Goodfellow is handy with a gun and his fists, too, and he needs those skills to survive when he's stalked by a crazed miner and has to untangle a deadly murder mystery! 


And coming out at the end of August from Robert Hale....


DRY GULCH REVENGE




Fate handed Hank Hawkins the opportunity of achieving his ambition of buying a ranch, and all he has to do to make it happen is to make it easy for a gang to rob the stage in Devil's Bones Canyon. Hank soon realizes, however, that the robbers never had any intention of leaving anyone alive and had planned a dry gulching. He survives but regains consciousness back in Hastings Fork, he vows to track down the murderers who betrayed him and have his revenge. But, when he sets off, he finds he has a companion - Helen Curtis, the fiancee of the messenger whose death lies on his conscience. Hank has many things to figure out, such as why there was one body missing and things are about to get even more complicated with the threat of death for both of them never far away.

There are also a couple of stories in upcoming anthologies, but more on that in a later post.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

SPRINGY CHICKEN AND THE ART OF WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING PICTURE BOOKS FOR CHILDREN




By Isabel Atherton

Illustrated by Bethany Straker


It is a pleasure to have a successful children’s book team with me, in the persons of author Isabel Atherton (who also happens to be my literary agent-extraordinnaire) and illustrator Bethany Straker. 


A few months ago I talked to them after the publication of their adult picture book, ZOMBIE CAT, which has gone on to develop cult status. Now they have followed their success up with a string of children’s books.


We’ll talk about a few of them. First up we have SMELLY GHOST.



In Spooky Town, there live many ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, and scary creatures. However, none of these creepy characters wants to play with a particular ghost—Smelly Ghost. The reason is simple: Smelly Ghost only consumes frightening junk food. He devours bone chips, chocolate toes, and eyeball pizza. Sadly, these foods make his tummy growl and yell—keeping everyone far, far away. Devastated, Smelly Ghost wonders why no one wants to be his friend.

The story is exciting and has a message.


I give this book an unreserved ***** rating. So too, did my granddaughter, which is quite an accolade in itself.

So now, here are the creators to tell us about themselves and about their collaboration.

Welcome, ladies.

Isabel, tell us a little about yourself and your background.


 Isabel Atherton

Hello Keith! Thanks so much for inviting us to talk about our work. A little bit about myself – well, I’ve been in publishing for nearly a decade. I’ve been running my own agency Creative Authors Ltd (www.creativeauthors.co.uk) for over six years. I relocated to New York City last year and live in a 188 year old apartment in the Village, which I feel I am always cleaning. I also have a little black pug called, Rosie, who sleeps on me as I work. I thoroughly enjoy exploring the city with her. Being in NYC has been brilliant for the agency and my clients, who are based all over the world.


Bethany, give us the lowdown on yourself.



 Bethany Straker

Hi Keith! Thanks for having us! I’m an illustrator based in deepest Kentish countryside, and I’ve worked on a range of materials from picture books to magazines. I mostly work with humorous subject matters as I think my main style fits best with that and I like making people laugh. I do have a softer side though, and have worked with the talented author, Rose Mannering, on a sweet watercolour picture book called ‘The Spotty Dotty Daffodil’. I’ve also worked with the wonderful writer Kate Ormand on a picture book about recycling, called ‘Pierre the French Bulldog Recycles,’ so both of those have a more serious theme. Teaching children is an important part of my work, and I’ve worked with the super brainy James Duffett-Smith on space themed books, notably an educational book about planets called ‘Stella and Steve Travel Through Space.’ I have also written my own stories which are due to be published soon.



Their second book was SPRINGY CHICKEN. It too is funny, witty and beautifully illustrated. Again, it is a ***** rating from us.



Martha’s the tallest chicken on the farm—and it’s not because she hit a growth spurt. Unfortunately, instead of normal chicken legs to hold her up, Martha’s legs are two giant yellow springs. After a run-in with a nasty fox, the farmer does the best he can to fix poor Martha, but it just isn’t the same. Now, she’s too tall to fit inside the chicken coop like all the other hens, her eggs are always smashed and scrambled since she’s so high off the ground, and it’s difficult to maneuver such big legs without stepping on a few toes and ruffling some feathers. But when the fox comes back, can Martha and her spring-legs muster the courage to save the day? Will that be enough for the brood to welcome her back?



Isabel, where do you get your ideas from? And can you give us an insight into how you write your books?
I was actually having lunch two years ago with our editor at Sky Pony and she mentioned she really wanted a book about a chicken. I said to her I would give writing a script a whirl. There were two drafts from memory. One was quite sentimental and the other one (the one we ended up running with) was incredibly quirky. What I described to Beth as a chicken sort of meets Edward Scissorhands. Beth, who was on honeymoon at the time, (she is an incredibly hardworking writer and illustrator) came back and said she preferred the more quirky one. So we went with a chicken with springs for legs! I’ll always talk to the illustrator to hear their thoughts. It really is a 100% collaboration. Beth is simply awesome to work with – she totally gets my sense of humour.


Bethany, these illustrations are spectacular. How did you go about deciding how to illustrate your books? And can you give us a typical day for you?

Thanks Keith, that’s very kind! I think ‘Springy Chicken’ is amongst my strongest work. I find that as time has gone on I have grown in confidence and that has reflected in my work. My illustrations start off with a lot of talking to the author. Isabel and I are a great team, and we often have a huge amount of excitable chatter before we begin work on the illustrations! Isabel will tell me her vision for the characters, and the type of mood she would like to get across. Then I submit some character sketches to her, and we tweak until we are happy.

A typical day for me starts quite early. I like to have a good breakfast with my husband before he goes to work, and then I feed the dog and rabbit and get myself settled. I find it harder to work when the place is untidy, so normally I’m tinkering around the house before starting. Then I’ll put some music on, probably sing along very loudly and start on a spread. I’ll do a few thumbnails first, but not too many as I find my best work is spontaneous. Then I’ll start scribbling.


And coming up in September is RUBY MOO’S DEEP-SEA ADVENTURE. This looks like a real fun adventure.

Ruby Moo has always been different from the other cows. She isn’t content making yogurt, milk, and cheese on the dairy farm. Ruby wants to be an astronaut, an explorer, and, more than anything, she wants to be the first cow deep-sea diver. So one day, brave Ruby Moo stows away on a van and rides it all the way to the ocean. Borrowing a helmet, she dives right into the water and discovers an exciting shipwreck along with a scary, giant squid! Thankfully, the squid is only looking for a chess partner—and maybe someone to play with on his trampoline. Phew!


Isabel, what else have you got in the pipeline? Do you have any plans for a further adult picture book? Is Zombie Cat going to rise again?

Good question, Keith! I am asked this often. Zombie Cat may well rise again at some point in the future. I think, at present, I really want to carry focusing on building Creative Authors Ltd in New York. I’ve been getting some wonderful deals in for my clients and want to continue building both the UK & US side of the agency.



Bethany, what else are you working on?

I’ve just finished work on an adult picture book, called ‘Why Am I Scared of Everything?’ which I wrote and illustrated. Anxiety is something that’s close to my heart, having suffered from it myself. I wanted to create a book that addresses it, but makes the reader laugh in recognition and hopefully find some reassurance in the pages. There are inspiring quotes to contrast the character’s suffering, and to remind us that some things can be overcome.

I am also awaiting the release of several new books, including a second that I’ve written, this time for children, called ‘The Funny Bunny Fly.’ This one concerns a weird little creature who spreads illness by swimming around in dog poo. It’s a cautionary tale about washing your hands!

At the moment, I’m working on a knock-knock jokebook for Skyhorse, and a new pitch with Rose Mannering, which we are very excited about. I also tried my hand at illustrating a great new humorous history book, called ‘Faux Figures: Legends, Fakes, and Phonies Who Changed History’ by Brianna DuMont. So I’m pretty busy at the moment.




Ladies, it has been a pleasure. I wish you the greatest of success with Zombie Cat – and will be looking out for your next work.


Thanks so much, Keith!! Isy

Thanks Keith! Beth


Saturday, 31 May 2014

DR GEORGE E. GOODFELLOW - A NOVEL

My latest novel, THE DOCTOR, is published now in paperback and ebook by Western Fictioneers Library. This is the latest in the West of the Big River series of novels, which are all based on historical characters of the Old West.




Dr George Emory Goodfellow was without doubt one of the most remarkable characters ever to practice medicine and surgery. He was a polymath, a man who would have made an impact anywhere, any time. He just happened to be practising as a doctor in Tombstone, Arizona during one of its most violent epochs.



Dr George Emory Goodfellow (1855-1910)

Among his many achievements, he was the first doctor to perform a laparotomy (the operation to open the abdomen) to treat abdominal gunshot wounds. He was the first surgeon to perform a perineal prostatectomy and he was an early advocate of aseptic surgery and of spinal anaesthesia. He was a geologist (his father was a mining engineer), an expert on Gila Monsters, a boxing champion in his youth and a man that you didn't cross (he carried and was prepared to use a concealed Italian poniard dagger).

West of the Big River is a stand-alone series that can be read in any order. In Tombstone, Arizona Territory, the town too tough to die, Dr. George Goodfellow is known as the Surgeon to the Gunfighters. Friends with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, his services as a doctor are needed in the aftermath of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but Goodfellow is handy with a gun and his fists, too, and he needs those skills to survive when he's stalked by a crazed miner and has to untangle a deadly murder mystery! 

Monday, 19 May 2014

REDEMPTION TRAIL

My latest ebook is out now, published by Western Trail Blazer.




In a nutshell:

Sam Gibson used to be a lawman, until the day he made a terrible mistake that could never be taken back. Since then, he has alternated between wishing there were a way he could redeem himself and believing he deserved punishment. 

He’s about to get both… 



It is a novella of 18k, or 61 pages. Short enough for a read in one or two sittings.


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS






I went to see this brilliant 1927 silent movie the other night. It won three Academy Awards and I can quite see why. It is haunting and enchanting at the same time.

Basically, it is a morality tale about a young woman from the city, played by Margaret Livingstone, who has an 'affair' with a farmer, played by George O'Brien. She persuades him to drown his wife, played by Janet Gaynor. When it comes to it, he cannot, for he realises that he loves his wife. Yet she fears him and runs off to the city with him in pursuit. They rediscover their feelings for one another (which had almost gone after the hard work of scratching a living on the farm) and after a wild day full of romance, partying and adventure they head for home.

I will say no more, lest I spoil the movie. Suffice to say that there is much more and it is worth seeing.
George O'Brien and Margaret Livingston

We saw it in at the  Grand Theatre and Opera House in Leeds  and enjoyed live music specially composed to accompany it, provided by pianist Joanna MacGregor  and jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

The movie was directed by F W Murnau, an exponent of German Expressionism. 

and the cast was as follows:

George O'Brien as The Man

Janet Gaynor as The Wife

Margaret Livingston as The Woman from the City

Bodil Rosing as The Maid

 J Farrell MacDonald as The Photographer

Ralph Sipperly as The Barber

Jane Winton as The Manicurist

Arthur Housman as The Obtrusive Gentleman

Gibson Gowland as The Obliging Gerntlemen


Janet Gaynor

The cast list suggests that there are scenes that are comedic against the backdrop of the romance, the drama and the potential tragedy. There are and they work well.


The three Academy Awards were given at the Ist Academy Awards in 1929, for the movies of 1927 and 1928. These are therefore the best of the first batch of Academy Awards.


  • Best Actress in a Leading Role to Janet Gaynor. She was superb as the wife. The Oscar was given for three films she made in 1927, since the 1st Award was for the body of work in the year. The rule would be changed for the 2nd Academy Awards, so that it would be given for one film only.
  • Best cinematography - Charles Rosher and Karl Struss
  • Best Unique and Artistic Production - this was the first and only time that this particular Award was made at the Academy Awards.

George O'Brien (1899 - 1985) was a successful movie actor of the silent era, who went on to become a successful Western actor in the talkies. He had been decorated during the Great War and was light heavyweight champion of the Pacific Fleet.



Margaret Livingston (1895-1984) was successful in both the silent era and the talkies, making another twenty movies in the talkies era. She married the band leader Paul Whiteman and retired from acting in 1934.

Janet Gaynor (1906-1984) was successful in both the silent and the talkie era, but semi-retired from acting in 1939.

If you love the movies of the silent era, then this is gem worth seeing.

Monday, 21 April 2014

FOUR FEATHER FALLS




One of the first Western TV shows that I remember was Four Feather Falls. It was set in the town of the same name in Kansas, where a daring sheriff called Tex Tucker was the sheriff.

The four feathers that the town was named after were magical feathers given to Tex by a medicine man called Kalamakooya, as a reward when Tex saved his grandson, Makooya who was alone and lost in the desert. When Kalamakooya appears, Tex and Makooya and Tex's horse and dog were all extremely thirsty, so the medicine man caused a waterfall to appear. A town is later built on the spot and Tex becomes the sheriff. Aptly, the town was named after the four feathers and the waterfall.

Four Feather Falls was a puppet show produced by Gerry Anderson for Granada Television in 1960. He would go on to produce other puppet shows like Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and most famously of all Thunderbirds.


Tex was brave, resourceful and utterly honest. He proudly wore the feathers on his hat. Two of the feathers gave his horse Rocky and his dog Dusty the power of speech. The other two caused his guns to swivel in their holsters and fire whenever he was in danger. They could, of course, shoot the guns out of the hands of baddies whenever needed. In keeping with the times and the genre Tex also used to burst into song and had a great voice.


The full introduction

Kids loved the show which was screened every week in black and white. Each episode was a mere thirteen minutes long, but they all had a neat little adventure that provided conflict when Tex either lost or had his feathers stolen. Thus, although he had the magical feathers that made him and his friends, Rocky and Dusty unbeatable, yet he often had to get out of trouble by using his brain or his fists. And of course, Rocky and Dusty contributed their special equine and canine wisdom.

The show ran for thirty-nine episodes  throughout 1960 and attained a cult following among British youngsters. The stories were narrated by the legendary Nicholas Parsons, while Michael Holliday, a popular singer of the day, provided Tex's singing voice. You'll hear him 

Four Feather Falls may have been responsible for instilling a love of Westerns in many British youngsters back in the '60s. The stories have an old world charm about them. Pure nostalgia.


The complete series is available on DVD:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Four-Feather-Falls-Complete-DVD/dp/B001NPKR9A/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1398073574&sr=1-1&keywords=four+feather+falls

Saturday, 29 March 2014

LONG SHADOWS BY TERRY JAMES

This is a great Western novel published by a fellow Black Horse Western author, Jo Walpole, who writes as Terry James. Recently, Hale have reissued three of her Western novels as ebooks.Here is the first one, Long Shadows.




This is a really enjoyable page-turner of a Western. It features a strong female character and a strong square-jawed US marshal. Yet it is Ros West, the fiery redhead who carries the story. She has amnesia, but is struggling with memories that come back fleetingly. The story is told with panache and it keeps tempting you onwards as her past unfolds and gradually everything starts to come together. Having said that, the way things come together reveal past family schisms and a cartload of duplicity. There is danger all the way through, building to a great ending.

Bravo! I thoroughly recommend this novel and I am heading off to buy Terry James' next one.

Friday, 14 February 2014

THE GATHERING MURDERS TRANSLATED INTO CZECH

I am pleased to say that The Gathering Murders, which was the first of my West Uist crime series, featuring Torquil McKinnon has been translated into Czech.



I am pleased with the cover.

Here is one of the first reviews (Please note, this is a Google translation from Czech to English)

Murders in the Hebrides ( Keith Moray )
Published: January 29, 2014 | 

Review by Michael Turková

Keith Moray Murder on HebridáchKdyž Ann Cleevesová proved that even the small Scottish islands can deliver quality thriller , has broken the way for other authors. Keith Moray chose Hebrides , namely fictional West Uist , so who read Shetland Black raven from Cleevesové may also compared.

The hero is the young inspector Torquil McKinnon, who is preparing for a bagpipe competition during the annual literary festival. He is known to his friends as Piper. The literary festival and highland gathering on the island brings a diverse mix of tourists, writers and fans to the island - and a mysterious villain, who, according to the prologue has just murdered their relatives. 

Keith Moray simply writes about the Scottish islands without frills, but is quite optimistic - a lot of Gaelic, golf and enthusiastic young people. However, police on the island consists of three people with a low average age, and none of them are  melancholy - but that does not want to touch Inspector Perez , I loved it and I hope that they come from other parts of Shetland series ... But just cops Torquil , Morag and Ewan are quite balanced and happy nature.

We have , however, several candidates to be murdered. Fiona is a hot tip, the author of detective stories inspired by real cases and persons. Her next book is said to be about someone from the island Oddly enough, the first corpse will be a different kind of writer , also a participant of the festival, poet Ranald Buchanan.

New episodes investigation par excellence, západouistský police force is busy, and even have to take on auxiliary constables (although the Drummond twins only seem to share a brain cell.) Island is closed , no one is allowed to sail because, as possibly explained Sergeant Driscoll officer McPheeovi " Ewan , dear, right now they are in the West Uist suspects absolutely everyone ! "

But as the investigation goes always slow addition of three people and an island full of suspects , it was necessary to increase the risk escalate adversity really dramatize the plot . Author accomplish the threat Dudáková superior that the quest have 24 hours - before they will lift the embargo , the suspects leave and arrive commander, will take over the case and the buggers . Time is running ...

Murders in the Hebrides is a straightforward thriller that does not even attempt to play something else. Although they are quite manage to subtly show life on the island as it is today. When the modern era struggles with ancient legends and superstitions of the seal where men Selkie investigating inspector who travels around the island on a motorbike and a leather jacket. I enjoyed every page and in the spirit marveled at how the author managed to tangle ties and motives of a few key characters , as featured here . And until the last chapter, I believed that there was finally a Scottish thriller that is NOT depressed. I hope that we will see other cases pipers McKinnon and his two-member division - good reading can please , though rainbow ends and alpenglow ...

Original: The Gathering Murders, 2006
Translation: Michal Frost
Published by: Lykeion , 2013
216 pages

Sunday, 2 February 2014

JOHNNY GUITAR - A WESTERN MOVIE WITH A DIFFERENCE


“The Beauty and the Beast of westerns, a western dream," 

Francois Trauffaut






I went to see this movie at a special showing at the Grand Theatre in Leeds last night. Before it started we had an introduction by Dr Lee Broughton, who is the Lever Trust Early Career Fellow in World Cinema at Leeds University.  He has studied the movie and provided a background to the Western movies of the period and highlighted just how unusual a movie it was, given the state of American politics and how they were reflected in the cinema in the 1950s. And indeed it is an unusual movie, with singing cowboys and female gunslingers.

It was made in 1954 by Republic Pictures, an independent studio. Nicholas Ray directed it and it starred Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, Sterling Hayden and Scott Brady. There were also a strong cast of Western stalwarts, including Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine and John Carradine.

The screenplay was credited to Philip Yordan,  based on a novel by Roy Chanslor. But in fact, the screenplay was written by Ben Maddow, who had been blacklisted during the MacArthy era, because of past left-wing sympathies. Republic were making a lot of cheap movies and Maddow would have been offered the lower paid 'blacklist rate.' That was an interesting piece of social history, because it demonstrated that blacklisted writers could still work, but they just weren't credited.

The plot is fairly simple, but it stands out because of the strong female characters and the reversal of the traditional Western movie roles. Also, the title song co-written by Peggy Lee and Victor Young, and sung by Peggy Lee is quite haunting.

In 2008 Johnny Guitar was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry because it was considered to be culturally, historically and aesthetically significant. I can quite see why it was. It isn't the greatest Western ever made, in my opinion, but it was unusual and it certainly made an impact on me.


Friday, 24 January 2014

POETRY IS GOOD FOR THE BRAIN

POETRY IS GOOD FOR THE BRAIN
It is Burns Night tomorrow, the annual celebration of Scotland’s national bard.  Scots around the world will be enjoying a haggis supper where guests will be reading and reciting some of the immortal words of Robert Burns of Ayre.

‘Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe or thairm;
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.’

 That is the opening verse to the address to the haggis. It may seem hard to understand, yet if you read it I am sure you will get the gist.  It is a celebration of the haggis, a sort of super-sausage.

The dialect actually comes naturally to me, as a Scot, and I have been reciting every Burns night for decades. Indeed, many moons ago when I was at school in Scotland I came third in the school Burns’ recitation contest.  I won’t tell you how many people were in the contest!


The poet’s lumps and bumps
Robert Burns was originally buried in St Michael's Churchyard, Dumfries, in a simple grave, but his body was removed in 1817 and placed in a mausoleum built by public subscription. When his wife Jean died in 1834 the mausoleum was opened so that she could be laid beside him. Bizarrely, a plaster cast of his skull was then made to see whether phrenology could show where the genius of Robert Burns was located in his brain.



Phrenology was the name given to a school of thought devised by a certain Dr Gall in 1800. Essentially, it attempted to associate faculties of the mind with anatomical areas of the brain. It was at that time thought that the contours of the brain were mirrored by the contours and bumps on the skull. Interestingly, the phrenologist who did the examination, George Combe, one of the foremost practitioners commented that he had a remarkable degree of ‘philoprogenitiveness.’ This was a Victorian way of saying that he had a high sex drive. 


In this conclusion George Combe seems to have been correct, for Burns was known to have had a remarkably  active love life. Of course, phrenology is now known to be utter nonsense, yet if you are interested in the bizarre, if you go to the Robert Burns centre in Dumfries you will still see this curious exhibit.

But poetry is good for the brain
Poetry does actually stimulate the brain. That is the conclusion of scientists, psychologists and English academics at Liverpool University who have used brain imaging techniques to watch what happens to the brain when someone listens to or reads poetry.
            
They used Shakespeare, Wordsworth and TS Eliot. They looked at the brain images of volunteers while they read these poets. They then repeated the study, but this time substituting a ‘translation’ of the poetry. They found that the brain lights up in the right hemisphere when they read the real poetry, in an area associated with what is called ‘autobiographical memory.’ This curiously means that it helps the reader to reflect and reappraise their own experiences in the light of what they have read. In other words, reading difficult poetry actually seems to help you solve personal problems.



 Poetry stimulates the brain by making you pay extra attention as unusual words or patterns are read or listened to. Shakespeare in particular, really stretches the mind and stimulates the brain, because he used a linguistic form called ‘functional shift.’ This means throwing odd words into seemingly normal sentences, which catch the brain off guard. And all of that is good for you.

            
Enjoy your Burns Night.