THE RELUCTANT TEABAG
This was the title of my talk for this summer’s Virtual Festival of Chichester.
You can still hear it on Facebook, and at YouTube
Send my roots rain
Doubtless, you also have days when nothing seems to go right. I had one such, this week. Gripped by an unhappiness and helpless to shake it off, I stared gloomily at the trees, sadly bare of leaves and bemoaned the lack of a cheering sun.
In the end, I just went to bed, for a read. I picked up a book, PRAYERS OF HOPE, and memories came flooding back…
It was 1975. I was PR-promoting books for the then-named BBC Publications. A slim paperback landed on my desk, PRAYERS OF HOPE, a collection of ‘Prayer for the Day’ broadcasts on Radio 4 by Richard Harries, then vicar of All Saints’ Church, Fulham. I found myself devouring every page. This was direct communication; the friendly sharing of his thoughts. (Unsurprisingly, Richard was later made Bishop of Oxford.)
Back to the now. At random, I opened on a Prayer containing these words:
‘Or it may be that without feeling actually depressed, there seems a terrible heaviness, sameness and pointlessness about each succeeding day…’ He goes on to recall that there used to be a special name for this mood: acidie. This, he continues, was an experience of ‘one who was both one of the great innovators in English poetry and a Jesuit priest. In a poem, Gerard Manley Hopkins contrasts his own apparently barren life with the joyful abundance of nature’.
Now leaved how thick! Laced they are again
With fretty chervil, look and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunich, and not breed one word that wakes.
Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain…
After reading this, I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep. When I woke up, all was well.
'Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest...'
This evocative sketch of threshing is by Charles Bone, a former President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour. He was a friend (and neighbour, in Puttenham, Surrey) of Norman Wyatt, whose book, AN EVER-ROLLING STREAM, SMH were proud to publish in 1993. Not many copies left now, back at the full price; a lovely, informative reminder of how life used to be lived, 'in the slow lane'.
According to the Gregorian Calendar, 29 August 1987 fell on a Tuesday. On that memorable day, I published COLDWALTHAM: A Story of Three Hamlets. That day marked the start of an Enterprise which David Holloway, a former distinguished Literary Editor of the DAILY TELEGRAPH, called my ‘garden-shed industry’.
Thus, we have now celebrated 30 years of publishing under the SMH imprint! Not bad for a chiefly one-woman band, if you’ll excuse the immodesty!
Looking back through the years, there have been highlights. Our books have concentrated on country matters, Christian thoughts, poetry and memoirs, in no particular order.
Our two Sussex memoirs, AN EVER-ROLLING STREAM by Norman Wyatt (November, 1993) , and MOLLY: The Years at Ends Place by R A H Muggeridge (December, 1993), have been much-loved by our readers. ’Rural Life in the Slow Lane’ is how the FARNHAM HERALD described 'STREAM'. The CHURCH TIMES wrote: ‘This charming book…is full of warm reminiscences and characters.’ ('MOLLY' is out of print, but we still have a few signed copies of 'STREAM' for sale.)
AN EXALTATION OF SKYLARKS by Stewart Beer (1995) with a Preface by Richard Mabey, is a 2,300-year anthology of Skylark prose and poetry – the only one in the world. With its beautiful cover painting by world-famous bird artist Terence Lambert, and a 29-minute, twice broadcast, Words and Music Skylark tribute on BBC Radio 4 (all the readings taken from our book), it went on to become a Triple Award Winner! (A nice family connection: the book was typeset by St Leonard's Press, Exeter - aka Libby, and her husband, Orlando, my youngest son. He was then assisting the Vicar of St Leonard's Church, and the couple were living at nearby St Leonard's Terrace. (almost out of print).
REDBREAST: The Robin in Life and Literature by Andrew Lack, with illustrations (including cartoons by Euan Dunn, RSPB) received an equally generous amount of media coverage. Terence Lambert again painted for us, this time, a glorious wrap-round jacket painting. (Almost out of print)
JOSTLING WITH THE PEARS – the third part of my trilogy of writings was inspired by 28 years living in my beloved Pear Tree Cottage, and in its garden, in Watersfield, West Sussex. Parts 1 and 2 are o/p, but I still have some copies of ‘JOSTLING’.
Almost last, but by no means least, I published Patrick Moore’s only book of poems for children (of all ages!), WITHIN THE GLADE (2011) again with cartoon illustrations by Euan Dunn. Sir Patrick gave the poems to me as a tribute to our friendship of almost forty years. What a gift! Happily, the book came out before his death, in 2012, and he was ‘delighted’ with it. We have sold thousands of copies but I have some, left, unsigned.
Now to the present….
STAR SANDWICHES AND MOON CUSTARD
In autumn 2017, to mark the 30th SMH Anniversary, I published my second children's book,* written many years ago for my four children, when small, chronicling our family happy years in Ireland. At last, after DECADES of searching, I found the ideal artist, The Happy Designer.
The illustration from Chapter 1 shows the young brothers, quiet Will and noisier Charlie, looking out their bedroom window, and remembering playing among dead apple trees, and having their make-believe tea of Star Sandwiches and Moon Custard…
So I decided to hold a Reception to mark the Official Launch of the book, and also my 30 years as a small, solo publisher. The party was held on Friday, 25 May 2018, at Gaskyns Café in Arundel, and proved to be a most enjoyable gathering of like minds.
A picture board evidencing thirty years of publishing and marketing by Sandra at SMH Books, posted on their website on 20 December,with the full story, by THE BOOKSELLER - which means it was circulated online all over the world.
Until 2 December, I am deducting £1.00 off all SMH titles, save FLOWERS IN THE WINDOW.
*My first children's book, THE GIANT AND THE MOUSE (2003), also written for my four children, when small, was illustrated by Martin Hargeaves, a nephew of Roger Hargreaves, of MISTER MEN and LITTLE MISS fame. It won for us a prestigious David St John Thomas Award, for my Marketing Strategy presentation.
The history of THE GIANT AND THE MOUSE goes back to 1977. I discovered a letter from David Attenborough, to whom I’d sent the typescript, in which he wrote that he found the stories ‘enchanting’. He went on: ‘I do hope you discover some publisher with his wits sufficiently about him to publish them.
WOW! I didn’t! But I published them myself, and won a David St John Thomas award for my marketing strategy.
I was looking at this photograph, taken many years ago, of two bunches of Mothering Sunday flowers sent by two of my sons.
What if I could interest friends in St Nicholas’ Church, my church in Arundel, in letting me have short pieces on the thoughts and life-enriching memories they would like to share with others? Slowly they came in, many from Arundel Church friends; others from friends far and wide, and from family members. The result is an amazing collection of contributions, some prose, some poems, with colour and black-and-white illustrations to accompany them.
Priced at a modest £5, this is no ordinary little book, but one of which, as contributor, editor and publisher, I am especially proud.
‘You can’t use up creativity.
The more you use, the more you have.’
Wise words, indeed, this time from Maya Angelou, in
Conversations with Maya Angelou (1989) by Jeffrey M Elliot
'I know Why The Caged Bird Sings'
For those of you who missed this, the first volume of Maya's autobiography,
as dramatized by Patricia Cumper, and broadcast recently
on Radio 4, it's available on the BBC's iPlayer
Recently, I decided to go back to my writing, and stop publishing. But... I couldn't resist re-publishing Roy MacGregor Hastie's SIGNOR ROY. It took four years to get together the finances and carefully re-edit the book, for a paperback edition, £9.95 (UK post-free to my Personal Customers).
All kinds of local, national and international connections supported my desire to publish my brother’s book, with the hardback long being out of print
It was launched at Arundel Co-op, after its refurbishment, in February 2014.
The Co-operative News (distributed globally, in print and on their website) had used a major feature on SIGNOR ROY in their issue devoted to 2012’s Year of the Co-operative Then, in their 23 August issue 217, they published another illustrated feature on the book. An Italian edition is to be published by Alasdhair MacGregor Hastie, Roy's son, and my Godson and nephew. WATCH THIS SPACE!
SIGNOR ROY is a fascinating story. As a respected journalist and commentator on international affairs, Roy writes on significant political and social history of the time (not just in Italy), some of which has remarkable implications today! Roy's determined efforts to bring prosperity to 'his' peasants (which he did!) is lightened in the text by very amusing interludes.
I read in THE LADY magazine that 'New research by Vetsure reveals a third of dog owners over 55 are likely to confide or seek comfort in their pet'!
If only Fred, the family dog, was still around! We communed daily and often, inside and outside our old Sussex cottage; even more, when the children had left home. I also communed with Thely (Othello), another lovely dog at my son's parents-in-law's Cambridge home..
Here are two photos you may like.
In 1961, Michael Ramsey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, went to Chichester Cathedral to dedicate the newly-rebuilt Arundel Screen, in memory of George Bell (1883-1958), one of the most outstanding Bishops of Chichester. (And, in my book, and in that of the 2000+ who signed a Petition to have his name cleared and his greatness reinstated, a Bishop forever to be remembered.)
On Wednesday, 8th October, 2008, another equally special occasion, the recently-retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, visited Chichester to declare open George Bell House.
Two of Bishop Rowan's special guests were Mother Angela and Sister Jane, two Anglican Sisters. (see photo to the right)
Why am I telling you this?
Now we go back in time again, to 2003. when a small package arrived in the post. It contained an exercise book crammed with small handwriting, accompanied by pony-camera photographs which had been glued tightly into the book. A note read: 'Would you like to publish my story ? Sister Jane.'
I went on to read a beautiful, heart-warming account of an Anglican Community's life and the devoted but joyful way the Sisters lived it. And of course I published it.
SURPRISED BY JOY A History of the Community of the Servants of the Cross This is a beautiful, heart-warming account . On the back cover, I quoted from the Rt Rev'd Eric Kemp, Bishop of Chichester, 1974-2000, and the Community's Episcopal Visitor:
...an admirable and encouraging story. I have known the Community since 1974. It has given long years of faithful service to the church, in various ways. The Sisters have been faithful to their calling, through many changes forced upon them by circumstances.
As the publisher of Patrick Moore's WITHIN THE GLADE Poems for Children of all ages! I represented him in May 2013 at The People's Book Prize awards ceremony in London. He had been nominated as a finalist and, sadly, having died in 2012, could not be there himself.
It was a glittering, glamorous evening, held in the Stationers' Hall of The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers in the City. Before the reception, I was filmed, talking about Sir Patrick, our long friendship, WITHIN THE GLADE and my own work as a poet and writer. (Click here to view the Awards Evening interview on YouTube: go to The People’ Book Prize 2013/Finalist interview with Sandra Saer.)
I met Patrick when I worked at the BBC, PR-promoting their books. We became friends when I worked with him on media interviews for two editions of The Sky at Night.
The friendship lasted almost forty years. When my four children were small, Patrick invited us over to his Selsey home where, in great excitement, they walked round the garden with him, peering through the telescopes and getting a master stargazer's guided tour. What an adventure!
Although he had no children of his own, apart from two 'adopted' sons, to whom he was devoted, he loved the company of small people (and big people, for that matter!). It was, first, for children that he wrote the poems in WITHIN THE GLADE.
However, I purposely sub-titled his little book (his only book of poems) 'A collection of poems written to amuse Children - of all ages' because, as with Edward Lear's Nonsense poems, like 'The Owl and the Pussycat', they have an appeal for readers aged nine to ninety. My own memories are of Patrick as a man.
I could chat with him on many subjects, usually unconnected with the stars! He asked me once "Do you like avocados?" "Yes," I said. "And what do you make your sauce with?" he enquired. When I got to garlic, he said, firmly "I hate garlic!" I parried with "You should eat garlic. It's very good for the heart".
He looked me full in the eye and said, with a smile "There's nothing wrong with my heart". Nothing else needed to be said. He was so kind, so friendly, so hospitable, so generous with his time, and with the garden he threw open for Selsey events, especially those in aid of cats! S.S.
As a long-time published poet and lover of other people's poetry, too, I am totally committed to encouraging people to write poetry. For me, it is the greatest, most versatile, and most accessible art form.
On the front flyleaf of WITHIN THE GLADE, the late and great Sir Patrick Moore's poems for Children (of all ages!), I incorporated a mini-lecture!
The poems (we compose), whatever our age, could never have been written by anyone else They are ours, out of our own thoughts: unique. However, they should be written not just because we have to, but so that they may be read by others It is the sharing of our thoughts that give them universal value.
If our poems are good enough (and we can work on them to make them so) then others will enjoy them - as they will, without doubt, enjoy Patrick's own special offerings...
They are lovely, lively, happy events. One springs easily to mind. I gave two mornings of Readings and Workshops at ACE - Arundel C of E Primary School. I began by reading from WITHIN THE GLADE. Suddenly, there were children all round me. They snatched the book from my hands (I didn't mind a bit!) and read poems for themselves. In the second part of each session, they wrote poems for me. All had merit; some were extremely beautiful as well as original.
On the second day, I noticed a little girl tucked in the corner of our room, trying not to be seen. I asked her to come over and read a poem. Reluctantly, she got up and stood beside me. "You don't really want to read, do you?" She shook her head, hard. At break, suddenly I found her standing before me, eyeball to eyeball (I was sitting). Then, firmly, she said "I've unzipped my lips"!!! I made a guess at what it meant. After break, Hannah was the star of the writing session. She was helping other children with words and phrases. I might just as well not have been there!
Hannah made those two days so rewarding for me. The fee was nothing compared to the sense of success I felt; the ultimate compliment for my work.
Another compliment was a second request from the Head Teach of ACE (one of the top primary schools in West Sussex) to go back in February and give more Poetry (and Prose) Workshops, to two groups of children, aged 7-9 and 9-11. Fantastic fun, with lovely poems - and prose written by the children!
Let me know if you would like to book a Poetry Reading and/Poetry Workshop. I don't charge the earth!
For more than two decades I worked and re-worked THE LUCKY ONES. It is a series of eight plays, based-on and inspired-by The Eight Beatitudes, momentous teachings by Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. They are now ready to be performed on television or radio, although the plays were first written with television in mind.
I am seeking a production company who likes the idea of taking these on, for radio or TV production, and would welcome discussion with anyone showing interest.
CHRISTMAS PLAYS were written for my own four children, when small; one a year, over a period of five years. They were performed in our Chelsea mansion flat, to entertain family, friends and neighbours - and they did! Quite undated (except perhaps that I am "Mummy", not "Mum"!), they are short, simple plays, requiring no special scenery, and very few props, for children aged between five and thirteen, and they can equally easily be put on either at home or at school. The names can could be changed, to suit any cast. Plus – Buy one copy, photocopy as many as you like, free. (I know about school – and home – budgets!)
In his detailed Introduction, David Holloway, a former, eminent literary editor of the THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, wrote: "I am sure the plays will be of interest, not so much for slavish reproduction but as a basis for an adaptation to fit any (group) of children who want to act."
The Plays, published at £12.00, are currently available plus £2.00 towards UK postage, for personal customers, including schools, parents, grandparents, and Home Education groups. Sandra owns the Copyright but allows FREE COPYING FROM ONE BOOK BOUGHT! The book is spiral-bound, for ease of copying This is a really great project for children - with adult encouragement and participation, to get involved in.
SMH DATES AND VENUES
Sadly, there are no SMH events to register at present. Roll on the Spring!
In the meantime, the November Arundel Market is not taking place in the town, but the organizer has put in place an ONLINE SHOP.
Go to https://arundel-farmers-market.square.site/s/shop for more details
SMH Books has been invited to be listed. WATCH THIS SPACE…