Christmas, at least for me, brings back memories and feelings like no other season can. Every year, in early December, my mom would get out the decorations – glass ornaments, silver tinsel (re-used year after year), and large multi-colored lights.
My favorite ornaments were two metal birds with clips for feet. And I loved listening to the music (on 33-1/3 rpm records) on our big mahogany Magnavox stereo.
“This is a story about wishing. It is also about a doll and a little girl. It begins with the doll. … She was ten inches high and carefully jointed. …”
Holly is a true Christmas doll, with a red dress and shoes, and green socks and petticoat. She’s not the only one wishing, though. Ivy – a 6-year-old orphan who’s being sent to an Infants’ Home for the holidays – wishes too. (You can read more about this book under “Resources.”)
I was about 7 years old when I first read this story, but I still remember the feeling it left me with. The best way I can describe it is warmth, with a little bit of excitement and joy mixed in. And a deep feeling of contentment at the end.
Judging from the number of 5-star reviews of the book on Amazon (73!), I’d say a lot of others have probably felt the same way. (Three of these reviews were posted in the last month. This story never gets old!)
Godden was an extremely prolific writer, not just of children’s books but of books for “grown-ups” too. At least eight of the 40+ books she wrote for adults were made into popular movies, including In This House of Brede and Black Narcissus.
The takeaways for business writers from Godden’s writing are the same for anyone trying to communicate with others through the written word. First, is there a topic YOU are passionate about? If so, how can you turn that topic into something potential READERS and/or CUSTOMERS will care about?
Godden was passionate about many things, some of which found their way into stories. One of her biggest passions was India, where she lived for so long. Her spiritual life was also important to her. (She converted to Catholicism in 1957.) I love this quote of hers:
“To me and my kind, life itself is a story and we have to tell it in stories – that is the way it falls. I have told the truth and nothing but the truth, yet not the whole truth, because that would be impossible.”
* * *
“I always thank God that we did not have sensible parents,” Godden once wrote.
The freedom she and her three sisters experienced while growing up in India – where their father moved the family from England in 1908, to run a steam navigation company – was quite different from the life they would have had back in Europe.
Godden was only 6 months old when her family moved to India, where she lived until the age of 12. Family members called her “Peggy” (her first name was Margaret).
They lived in a “vast mansion, where each room was as big as a ballroom, staffed by many servants.”
Born near the turn of the century (December 10, 1907), Godden spent almost 50 years writing books for children – from 1947 to 1996. The early years of freedom she and her three sisters had in India seems to have fed her imagination so well, she never ran out of new stories to tell.
“Part of the bliss of our childhood,” she claimed, “was that, being most of the year without the normal preoccupations of most girls of our ages, there was all the time in the world to think, avenues of time.”
While rereading some of her books that I’d read as a child, I saw something I hadn’t noticed before … a recurring theme of dolls wishing for things, and how those wishes interact with the children who own them.
Candy Floss, Impunity Jane, and Tottie Plantaganet (of The Dolls’ House) are just a few of the “wishing” dolls in these stories. The resilience of these dolls in the face of over-whelming obstacles seems to echo Godden’s own resilience.
She learned how to survive (and thrive) on very little while raising her two oldest girls in India after being abandoned by her first husband. She returned to England after escaping their home in India when she discovered that their temporary cook was poisoning them.
Slowly but surely, Godden’s hard work paid off and her books became noticed. (She remarried in 1949 and lived for many years in Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex, England.)
‘A House with Four Rooms’
“Like everyone else,” wrote Godden near the end of her life, “I am a house with four rooms. … The room of the mind has always been mine. … All of us tend to inhabit one room more than another but I have tried to go most days into them all [physical, mental, emotional, spiritual] – each has its riches.
“My house is, of course, slightly worn now, but I still hope to go on living quietly in all of it, finding treasures, old and new, until the time comes when I shall have, finally, to shut its door.”
Godden spent the last 20 years of her life (she lived to age 90) in the small 10th-century village of Moniaive in southern Scotland, near her oldest daughter, Jane.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Hard work; being faithful to share the “gift” of writing with others, through stories; a balanced life; perseverance in the face of challenges and setbacks
When Ivy discovers there really IS a town called Aylesbury (where she claims she has a grandmother), she gets off the train and begins exploring the town.
Her wish for a grandmother and the doll’s wish to be held by a child combine to create some powerful “magic” that somehow brings the two together on Christmas Day, while guiding Ivy to the home of a woman who’s been wishing for a girl of her own to raise.
This book is also about wishing, but in a different way. The story begins with: “Once there was a little doll who belonged in a pocket.”
Jane’s first owner is Effie, but more than 50 years pass before a child really takes notice of Impunity Jane in the dusty dollhouse where she’s been placed. That child is a boy named Gideon. Soon after Jane starts wishing “Rescue me, don’t leave me here,” Gideon sneaks Jane into his pocket, and the adventures begin.
“Once upon a time is the gate to the entire world,” says Herring in this blog post. Books matter, she says, because even though the world is constantly changing and “leaving behind what no longer fits,” STORIES ALWAYS FIT.
“The reader is the wild card,” she says. “Each reader co-creates their own story, makes it personally relevant, and then engages with the world from that new, changed place.”
Feldman doesn’t believe in separating “professional writing” from “creative writing.” She says that letting your creativity flow into your business writing will greatly improve the chances of your content being read.
She suggests adding a few similes and metaphors to “dry facts,” along with some contrast and rhythm, to turn your content into material that readers will look forward to seeing.
HEALTHY COPY TIPS
WALK … THEN BLOG.
I recently came across two good articles that give excellent reasons for doing each of these things every single day. I guess you could substitute “write” for “blog,” since having a blog DOES help motivate you to develop the habit of writing daily.
“Why Walking Helps Us Think” (by Ferris Jabr, NewYorker.com, Sept. 3, 2014) is an EXCELLENT article on the values of walking … for our creativity, our health, and just thinking in general. (I’ve been trying to get myself motivated to start walking again on a daily basis, and I think this article is helping!)
“What Blogging Every Day Taught Me About Creativity“(by David Santistevan) gives five pieces of advice. I especially like the first two: “Don’t Underestimate the Importance of a Morning Routine” and “There’s More Inside of You Than You Think.” (This last one relates to people worrying that they’ll run out of ideas.)
Santistevan says, “The more you write, the more creative you become. As long as you’re writing on something you’re passionate about, you’ll keep taking your writing to a new level the more you do it.”
* * *
“Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” – Bill Moyers
“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.” – George Lois
This article originally ran in the December 2014 issue of The Write Stuff.