Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I grew up surrounded by all things Jane Austen. She died in my hometown of Winchester in the county of Hampshire in England, and is buried in Winchester Cathedral. She spent much of her life in Hampshire, and lived her last eight years in Chawton, near Winchester. The cottage is a museum in her honor.

Where Jane Austen died, now a private house, in Winchester

I love Jane Austen, but it wasn't always so. She was my mother's favorite author, and Pride and Prejudice was her favorite book; that alone was almost enough for me to dislike her. Then I was forced to read Persuasion for my 'A' levels and that clinched it. I didn't want to. Ugh. Jane Austen. Ugh. And because I was a silly 17-year-old, I didn't read it, at least, not properly. Somehow, I managed to pass the exam with a good grade -- better than I deserved, obviously, but not what it could've been.

A few years later, when I was commuting daily by train from Winchester to London and back, and reading several books a week during my two hours a day, ten hours a week, on the train, I happened to finish a book on the journey to London, and had to get something at lunch time for the train home. I found a copy of Persuasion in a second-hand bookshop on the Charing Cross Road, and almost as a joke I bought it and began it while waiting for the train to depart Waterloo Station. I was hooked. Hooked good and proper. Hooked forever. It's now my favorite book.

I've read and/or seen TV or movie productions of everything Jane Austen has given us. Without fail, each time a new version of one of her books comes out, I watch it, critique it, then wish I could be in it. I've dreamed I might be pretty much every character she ever created. I was unsuccessful in earlier auditions, but now, finally, at last, TA DA! -- it's going to happen. Because Austin Playhouse is doing Sense and Sensibility, and director, Lara Toner has cast me!

We had our first read-through last night, and we laughed and laughed because, even before a playwright adapts or reinvents Jane Austen's work, it's funny. It's very funny. It's hilarious. And I may not be Elinor or Marianne or Lucy or Anne or Fanny, but it doesn't matter. I really don't mind. I simply longed to be a part of something Jane Austen, and now I can say that I am. Come join us at the Austin Playhouse, opening Friday, 31 March 2017. I can hardly wait to share it with you all.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen and Kate Hamill

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Summer 1984, Tripoli, Libya -- My First Voice Work

Excerpts from letters to England (grammar and spelling choices have been left intact)

Tripoli, 24th July 1984

"Another thing which is quite interesting is that some of the Tripoli Players are doing a sound recording for some educational tapes to teach Libyans English words and grammar, and they have asked me if I would consider doing some recording as well, since I have such a clear voice. Someone remembered me from the CALL MY BLUFF evening and suggested me. Nice to be remembered. Mind you, I'll probably bungle it on the day, stutter so much that no one will understand a single word, English or otherwise.”

Focused on my "True" and "Bluff" words at the CALL MY BLUFF night
Tripoli, 31st July 1984

“The sound recording went very well last night. I was terribly nervous at first, particularly since I only knew a couple of the people there and I didn't know them well. It was a proper recording studio with the soundproof booth in which the speakers had to sit, and out of which, guys ran around, twiddling knobs and setting up tapes. I had to read twice, long passages with Arabic names I had never seen before, certainly never had to say aloud before. You get the chance to read it once aloud and then you record. Well, it was fine. After I'd lost my nerves a bit, it wasn't so bad at all. Listening to myself afterwards was the worst. I sound so high-pitched and I've always thought of myself as having quite a low voice. I'm having to train myself to speak more slowly; you know what I'm like, gabble gabble. I shall be there again twice next week and so on, until the whole book has been recorded. It is to teach children, a whole book with specialised grammar and words which the authorities here consider useful, like the life of bees, the use of a forklift truck, a visit to Sabratha. Honestly, when I think of *JANET AND JOHN, it makes me laugh!”

*JANET AND JOHN (from Wikipedia --

Originally, these books were based on a series published by Row Peterson and Company as the Alice and Jerry books in the United States. Alice and Jerry was written by Mabel O'Donnell and the stories were illustrated by Florence and Margaret Hoopes. In 1949 United Kingdom publishers James Nisbet and Company licensed them and had them Anglicised by Mabel O'Donnell and Rona Munro to make a UK series of four books called Janet and John. The Janet and John books used the same artwork as the Alice and Jerry books but completely new text was written by Munro, originally a New Zealander. Also in 1949 a New Zealand series of seven books was released by Nisbet and used as a textbook in New Zealand primary schools.

The books became hugely popular and influential in the teaching of schoolchildren throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This was one of the first popular "look-and-say" reading schemes and, as such, introduced the less regular "Key words" at an earlier stage of reading than the phonics schemes.

Janet and John were portrayed as average English children, living a typical middle-class life that reinforced many of the stereotypes of the time, and the books consisted of stories that progressively incorporated key words needed in the development of reading skills:
  • Out and About, 1949
  • Off to Play, 1949
  • I Know a Story, 1949
  • Once Upon a Time, 1951
  • Snow-White and Red-Rose, 1951

Friday, December 2, 2016

On the 2nd Day of Advent, 2016: Christmas Memories from my Mum

Late in my mother's life, I asked her to write down anything she remembered about our growing up years, a difficult time as Mum was a single parent, and Dad rarely sent the money required to take care of three little children. Fearing that Christmas had become a sad occasion for us, she made a concerted effort to "create" Christmas. Although she doesn't mention all the "memories" she established, here's a little piece she wrote about the Season. She's talking about the English cities of Winchester and Southampton in the early 1960s.

"When the children were very young, there were several things that were done, year after year, as "treats." The first one would be the making of the cake. I would get the old Hoovermatic washing machine out into the middle of the kitchen and sit the children round it on high stools. Then out came the ingredients and the various utensils, and we would start. All the weighing was done taking turns to get it exactly right then we would start to put everything into the mixing bowl. As the more edible items were reached they would all get a taste: a few currants, sultanas, raisins, and one (glace) cherry each. No one like candied peel. As the mixture was formed, everyone had to do some stirring until it was ready to go into the cake tin. Everyone put some in until only a little of the mix was left. Then there would be cries of "Leave some for us!" and finally as I put the cake into the oven, spoons would be given out and the bowl attacked until it didn't need washing, so thorough was the clearing.

The first of the outings was to see the lights and shops of Southampton. We would go down by train on a Sunday afternoon. No shops were open (on Sundays) in those days of course, so it was a cheap outing. We started at the Bargate where there was a big shop called Mays. We spent ages there looking in the windows. There was always a moving display involving Santa and polar bears, or the Sleeping Beauty. Then the toy display was examined, and then on to the next. There were enough department stores to make it quite an event. Behind Above Bar, there was a children's play park and we always went there for a swing and see-saw and slide. I remember how cold it often was, and how I wished the wind wasn't blowing up my skirt. We generally found a tea-shop and had a bun or scone and a drink, and then back to the (railway) station.
Edwin Jones, Southampton High St., one of Mum's chosen Christmas shops
The next outing was in our own city of Winchester when we did the same as in Southampton even including the swing and the slide. This didn't take quite so long because we had no train journey and Winchester is nothing like so big. Even so, everything was examined minutely and we particularly looked at the shop where we would be going to see Father Christmas.

This was the next thing. It had to be on a week-day when the shops were open. Nearly always, we went to Sheriff and Ward but there were other "grottoes." Once, we went to Curry's and it was the worst. Every child received a pair of plastic binoculars regardless of age and sex. Father Christmas was not very polite to me, I must say. Still, what could you expect for a shilling? On very rare occasions, we actually went to Southampton on a weekday and visited one of their grottoes. They were much superior to those on offer at Winchester.

That really took care of the outings. The other events were indoors. I think making cards and perhaps a present came next with about a ton of glitter and a vat of glue. It is impossible to describe the mess. Every family will know it. Each worked according to their age. Dominic was two years older than Bernie so was properly scornful of anything she had made or decorated. Verity swam in a sea of paper and sticky scissors. Things did get made and were as good as anything any other child did, I'm sure.

Then came the present wrapping done with great secrecy and cries of "You're looking!" It's a wonder anyone received anything at all considering the loss of temper over this important area of preparation. The trouble with the wrapping paper was its thinness. The expensive paper was thicker but we were always watching the pennies so had to make do. Soon little thumbs would poke through, the present itself would show only too clearly exactly what it was and the wrapping paper would end up on the floor, flung down by furious hands. Selotape (Scotchtape) was a disaster; sticky paper, which had to be licked, was even worse.

This happened in the early days before school took over most of the "art work" but we went on with the outings for many years until Dominic was too old for such "baby stuff" and only the girls still enjoyed them.

Still, all in all, I remember these days up to Christmas as very rewarding. I wonder if my children think so too."

Winchester Cathedral, unchanged for a thousand years

Monday, October 31, 2016


I’ve just got in from my last Halloween storytelling session for this season — I calculate about 3,300 children in the past ten days have gobbled up those Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night. It’s my most heavily booked program because, without a doubt, creepy tales are the most popular among school students. Every year I’m treated to squeals of delight and screams of gleeful horror.  Even kids who say they don’t like to be scared seem to get a kick out of a little mild terror.

I especially appreciate the older kids — 4th through 6th grade — who insist that there’s nothing I can say or do to frighten them. They look me up and down, sneering and disdainful, and know FOR SURE that this middle-aged woman can’t possibly offer anything to give them goosebumps. “Go on,” they dare me. “Do your worst!” Imagine my pleasure then, when the simplest suspense tales freak them out. I watch their faces change: eyes widening, lower jaws dropping, heads shaking with disbelief. These youngsters have seen some of the worst possible movies…violent, disturbing, shocking movies, quite unsuitable (in my opinion) for children their age…so they think they’re untouchable, indestructible. But set up a horror story so they’re living it with you — something’s dragging itself up the stairs, you’re the victim, where can you hide?; that sweet-looking horse you’re riding is actually a goblin and he’s stealing you away forever; that weird little man your mother warned you about is going to boil you and eat you for supper — and those same children are eating out of your hands. They don’t need massacres and bloodshed when delectable tension and delicious anticipation will do it every time.

At the end of today’s program, I told a group of 5th graders that last year I’d sat on my front porch with a huge bucket of candy, dressed as a witch, and every time a child went by, I cackled, “Ha ha ha! Come and get some candy, if you dare!” Then I embellished the anecdote, saying that when the children were too fearful to collect the goodies, “I ate every Kit Kat myself! Ha ha ha!” For some reason, this tickled them, the idea of small kids being afraid to get treats. One boy, however, was as stunned as if I were telling him another ghost story. He kept shaking his head, trying to form words. Finally, he put up his hand. “Did you really do that?” I took on the witch persona. “I frightened them all away!” His hand was still up. “No, I mean, DID YOU REALLY EAT ALL THE KIT KATS?!”

Come and get some candy...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


To celebrate I LOVE READING!, I recently presented at Pillow Elementary, a wonderful multicultural school, and also my local. I pass it every day when I walk. After the event, I was thrilled to get a nice testimonial from the faculty, and along with it, a packet of Thank Yous from the students. I love reading notes from children I've presented to. Since I performed for them around February 14, some were combined with a Valentine message: extra joy! Among the precious comments, here are a few gems, a few of them bluntly honest, for your enjoyment.

You are nice and active.

Thank you so much for reading to us. I love you so much, Mrs. Nason.

Thank you for reading us a story. I like when the hugs started.

I like the two parts...when you sing a song and you make us laugh.

Thank you Ms. Nason for your two plays.

Thank you for the three stories.

To the Best Reader on earth. THE BEST!

Thanks for telling us those awesome stories and for acting it out. Really, those stories were cool and long.

THANK YOU, Ms. Nason. Also, since you're from the UK, have you seen the Mallard steam locomotive? It looks like this (great drawing of a train). Answer here: ______________

Pillow Elementary Principal and PTA representative

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Inappropriate Laughter

Last Tuesday, I worked long and hard. At my computer by 7:45am, I completed a detailed online review for a local business, a tight, pithy anecdote for a grant report, a short story, and an edit of another short story. I updated my Texas Public Library email list (15 Excel pages, nearly 600 entries) and sent introductory emails, some of them personalized, to half the people on that list. I took only a coffee break, lunch break, tea break and chose to forego walking and yoga so as to feel smug and self-righteous at the end of the day. Which came at 6:45pm after nearly 11 hours of labor. Now I wait for the piles of cash to roll in, right? Welcome to the life of the self-employed arty farty. And if it sounds as if I'm blowing my own trumpet, well, so be it, but it's really more like self-encouragement, balancing the days where I do nothing, sweet Fanny Adams, sweet f*** all. Such days also play a huge part of the life of self-employed artist.

Anyway, at 6:45 p.m. all I could think about was WINE. I need WINE. There was nothing fitting that description in the house, unless you count an aged box of red, now answering to the name of vinegar. Better nip 'round to Fresh Plus, our nice, local, expensive corner store and get a bottle. "Need anything?" I called as I departed. "Beer!" was the response. "Sierra Nevada!"

I didn't look in a mirror before leaving home which, since turning fifty, (this is how I avoid saying, "as I approach sixty...") tends to be a mistake, especially when I've been alone all day with only cats for company. I thought about that as I walked towards the store and caught sight of my bedraggled self in the sliding glass door. "Did I brush my hair this morning?" I speculated. "Did I brush my teeth?"

I knew what I wanted and went straight there. No Sierra Nevada available in the Beer Cave so I got a 6-pack of Shiner IPA. The Sauvignon Blanc I selected was within my reach price-wise, but just out of it, height-wise. I beckoned a tall shop assistant who was happy to help this short, elderly woman. That's not how I'd describe myself, you understand; it's how this young man looked at me...with a look completely void of any kind of sexual interest, closer to that special brand of old folks' home flirting, where young men feel safe flattering the ladies because, well, clearly, no one's going to misinterpret it and think that they might actually be interested.

I made my way to the front, picking the checkout with two young men (high school? college?), one at the register, the other bagging purchases. They didn't acknowledge my presence as a human, but they did notice my purchase of two different types of alcohol. Seemed to me they gave each other a side glance that meant, "Whoa...a boozer..." To defuse the situation, I smiled and said, "Guess what I'm doing tonight!" They looked up for the first time, staring, frozen. Finally the cashier said, "Er, I dunno. What are you doing?" I put on a swagger and an appalling Texan accent. "Drankin'..." I said. No response. Complete blank. Their bug-eyes and slack jaws were so precious, so funny, that before I could stop myself, I released a loud cackle. Both lads literally jumped back, which made me laugh again. I fumbled my bags off the counter so I could escape without further display of weird. I was still laughing as I walked to my car, still laughing aloud, I mean. I imagined them telling their friends, "Served this crazy old bag lady today..." And you know what? As I curled up with my glass of crisp, citrusy New Zealand white in front of Finding Your Roots, it dawned on me that, after 11 hours alone at a computer, I probably fit that description rather well. And I'm not entirely ashamed to admit it. They should be grateful I wasn't still wearing my panda pajamas.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


What does the average woman expect to receive on St. Valentine's Day? Flowers, chocolates, and champagne come to mind, naughty knickers perhaps. At the very least, a card.

I haven't lived in Great Britain for ages, and haven't been there on that special occasion for thirty years so I can't be sure how it goes down in the 21st century, but back in my day (I'm old) you could count yourself really lucky to get a bunch of daffs or a box of chocs. You were much more likely to get just a Valentine's card, and these were sent anonymously--even if you were courting or married, your card wouldn't be signed personally. "Someone loves you!" or "Guess who?" All sorts of trouble could ensue if a married person received more than one card because, well, who the hell sent the second one? I once stirred things up when I sent my boyfriend two cards as a lark: an "anonymous" card which was obviously from me, and a cheeky second card ostensibly from someone else. He dismissed my card immediately as duly expected, and spent the whole day waxing fascinated by the concept that "someone else" was keen on him. Moron.

In the mid 80s, I lived in North Africa--Tripoli, to be precise. St. Valentine's Day, as you might imagine, was not big in Libya. There were no Valentine's Day specials: no red and sparkly balloons, no chocolate-coated strawberries, no scarlet, frilly undies in shop windows, teasing panting lovers to splurge their well-earned dinars on their partners. And there were certainly no romantic, whimsical, kissy-kissy cocktails on Tripoli restaurant menus. If you found your regular bread, sweaty Emmental cheese and a coupla tins of sardines, you'd count yourself blessed.

This meant that on St. Valentine's Day 1985, my fellow secretaries and I were feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. Some of the ladies still had boyfriends in the UK, and not a single one of those sorry twits appeared to have remembered the event. The overseas snail-mail came and went without a tell-tale red envelope. Actually, I'm not sure that red envelopes were the thing back then, but you know what I mean--an envelope that spoke of LOVE. Those of us with boyfriends among the British expatriate community in Tripoli held our breath for a while...until it was obvious that nothing was going to arrive to lift our spirits...I mean, we didn't want to die. I sat at my desk wallowing in self-pity, and when Jackie, Sally, and Janice passed by my office, we all grumbled at our misfortune. The following thought did cross my mind, "What are you expecting? Hand-delivered home-made cards? Really? From Englishmen? From geologists?" but I wasn't prepared to allow that thought to influence my self-righteous indignation.

When my boyfriend, Steve, eventually phoned me from his office on the other side of downtown Tripoli, it was clear that he'd no idea it was Valentine's Day. I soon sorted him out. "How could you forget?" I said, "How could you?" though of course I was fully aware that unless a note had been pinned to his forehead with a thumbtack, there was absolutely no way he'd remember, and even then, it probably wouldn't have occurred to him to have done anything. He was English, a geologist, and an ex-public school boy. Nothing I knew of his upbringing had led me to expect a romantic gesture of any sort ever. And yet, and yet....

I told him that the secretaries were upset, particularly the ones who regularly hung out with the geologists, and that he was to find a way to correct the situation, and quickly.

About half an hour later, my fax machine clicked and whirred, and I've attached what came through. When I called Steve to acknowledge its receipt, he told me I was to photocopy it and pass it around. Please note, I am not first on the list so either Steve didn't create this masterpiece himself, or he liked Jackie more than he liked me.

As my mother would've said, "Well, darling, it's better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish."

I suppose so. But only a little.

Happy Valentine's Day from some English Geologists