Saturday, 21 September 2013

H. G. Wells born this day in 1866

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 Today is birthday of writer H.G. Wells, born Herbert George Wells in Bromley, England (1866). Although popularly known as one of the fathers of modern science fiction, having published classics such as The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The War of the Worlds within the first few years of his writing career, Wells went on to publish dozens of novels, story collections, and books of nonfiction, most of which were not explicitly sci-fi. Most, however, dealt in some way with Wells' interest in biology, his strong belief in socialism, or his vision for the future of mankind. Indeed, much of what was fantastic and fictional when he conceived it came to pass, like his predictions that airplanes would someday be used to wage war and advanced transportation would lead to an explosion of suburbs. 

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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Samuel Johnson born this day in 1709

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Today is the birthday of Samuel Johnson, born in Litchfield, England (1709). 

He was a sickly boy, and had been since the day he was born — "almost dead," he said. He contracted the lymphatic form of tuberculosis, called scrofula, when he was two, and because it was popularly believed that the touch of royalty could cure scrofula, he was taken to the queen. She touched him and gave him a gold medallion, which he kept for the rest of his life. Her touch didn't cure him, and neither did various disfiguring treatments that left him scarred. But he grew up strong and tall, and enjoyed walking, swimming, and riding. He was also very intelligent, proud, and somewhat lazy. 

In 1735, he married a widow who was 20 years his senior. He set out to find an intelligent wife, since he was convinced that his parents' marriage had been unhappy because of his mother's lack of education. Around this time, he also started writing. He published some essays early in the 1730s, and began a play, the historical tragedy Irene. In 1738, he became associated with the first modern magazine — called The Gentleman's Magazine — and contributed poems and prose. 

The 1750s were his most productive period. Not only did he write more than 200 essays for the twice-weekly newspaper The Rambler, but he was also at work on a monumental undertaking: a dictionary of the English language. The dictionary took him nine years to write, and he wrote The Rambler essays because they gave him a steady income; even though money was his chief incentive, he was still quite proud of those essays. He said, "My other works are wine and water; but my Rambler is pure wine."
The dictionary was finally published in two volumes in 1755. Johnson's patron, the Earl of Chesterfield, had pretty much ignored Johnson and his project for several years; as a result, the dictionary entry for "patron" reads: "one who countenances, supports, and protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery."

In 1763, Johnson met young James Boswell, who was 22. They didn't get along well at first, but they grew to be friends. Boswell kept remarkably detailed diaries, and he later wrote a comprehensive biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791). Boswell's scrupulous descriptions of Johnson's mannerisms led to a posthumous diagnosis of Tourette syndrome; his transcriptions of Johnson's many aphorisms made Johnson one of the most-quoted authors in the English language. Johnson said, as quoted by Boswell: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." And, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." And, "A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization."

To obtain a free EBook ~ The Works of Samuel Johnson

Sunday, 15 September 2013

James Fenimore Cooper born this day in 1789

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Yes today, 15th September,is the birthday of the first best-selling American novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, born in Burlington, New Jersey (1789). For most of his life he was known as James Cooper, but after his father's death, he tried to have his name legally changed to Fenimore, so as to inherit some property from his mother's family. He didn't get the property, but the name stuck. 

He started out as a Navy man, but after he got married, his wife persuaded him to quit the sea and stay home. He struggled to run the estate he had inherited from his father, and he got into terrible debt. One day, he was reading aloud to his wife from an English novel, and he said he thought he could write a better novel himself. His wife laughed at him, because he didn't even enjoy writing letters much, but he sat down and wrote a book and it was published as Precaution (1820). He wrote six novels in the next six years.

He became best known for his series of five novels called the Leatherstocking Tales, including The Last of the Mohicans (1826), about frontier violence and adventure. At the time, most Americans read English literature about kings and queens, because they thought it was more romantic than their own difficult, colonial lives. James Fenimore Cooper was the first American author to make the wild, untamed life in America seem romantic. 

During his life, he was widely respected as a great novelist, but after his death, Mark Twain wrote an essay called "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" (1895) that helped to destroy his reputation. Twain wrote:"[The rules of literature] require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in [Cooper's books]." But Fenimore Cooper is still remembered for making America a subject for adventure and romance. 

You may obtain an Ebook Edition of the "The Last of the Mohicans" by going to

Friday, 13 September 2013

J. B. Priestley born this day in 1894

Yes it is the birthday of  the British novelist, playwright, and essayist John Boynton — J.B. — Priestley (1894), born in Bradford, Yorkshire. I was reminded of this by

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"Priestley served in the infantry during World War I, and most of his friends were killed in combat. He didn't write about the war, and remained nostalgic for the pre-war years, saying, "I belong at heart to the pre-1914 North Country." After studying English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, he became a journalist, and then a novelist, and then a dramatist. He was also a popular and talented radio speaker, and produced a series of patriotic broadcasts during World War II. He wrote more than 120 books, most notably the novels The Good Companions (1929), Bright Day (1946), and Lost Empires (1965).

In a 1978 interview with the International Herald Tribune, he said, "Most writers enjoy two periods of happiness — when a glorious idea comes to mind and, secondly, when a last page has been written and you haven't had time to know how much better it ought to be." And, "Much of writing might be described as mental pregnancy with successive difficult deliveries."

Monday, 9 September 2013

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy born this day in 1828

Today is the birthday of novelist Leo Tolstoy born into nobility near Tula, Russia  in1828. 

This brief summary of his life was sent to me by The Writer's Almanac - why not join the Group and give them a hand by joining up with Garrison Keillor. You will receive a wealth of information of which this is a very small part.

"Apart from the pain of losing his mother as a young boy, his childhood was one of relative ease: He read books from his father's extensive library, went swimming and sledding, listened to stories, and played in the fields and woods on his family's large estate. After his father died, he lived with relatives and then enrolled at the University of Kazan. His teachers thought he wasn't very bright, and although he managed to teach himself about 12 languages, he was less interested in academics than he was in gambling, drinking, and women. He dropped out of college and spent years visiting brothels, binge drinking, and racking up such huge gambling debts that he had to sell off part of his estate. Finally, Tolstoy's brother suggested that he needed a change and encouraged him to sign up for the army. He agreed, joining his brother's artillery unit in the Caucasus in the spring of 1851. The following winter, 23-year-old Tolstoy wrote his first novel, Childhood (1852). It was praised by Turgenev and established Tolstoy's reputation as a writer. Over the next few years, he published two more novels in the same vein, Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1856).

In 1854, he was promoted and sent to the front to fight in the Crimean War. He was horrified by the violence of war, and in 1857, he witnessed a public execution in Paris, which affected him deeply as well. He wrote: "During my stay in Paris, the sight of an execution revealed to me the instability of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw the head part from the body and how they thumped separately into the box, I understood, not with my mind but with my whole being, that no theory of the reasonableness of our present progress could justify this deed; and that though everybody from the creation of the world had held it to be necessary, on whatever theory, I knew it to be unnecessary and bad; and therefore the arbiter of what is good and evil is not what people say and do, nor is it progress, but it is my heart and I."

By 1863, he had finished a draft of what would become the first part of a novel he was calling 1805. It was set during the Napoleonic Wars and the French invasion of Russia, but he channeled his experiences in the Crimean War. A version of 1805 was published in 1865, but Tolstoy did not like it, so he went to work rewriting and expanding the novel. He gave it a new name: War and Peace.

In 1867, the first three sections of War and Peace were published, and sold out in a matter of days. Tolstoy began writing furiously, publishing the sections as he wrote them, and finally, in December of 1869, he published the sixth and final volume. He said, "What I have written there was not simply imagined by me, but torn out of my cringing entrails."

Tolstoy did not think of his new book as a novel. He published an article in 1868, even before the final parts of book had come out, called "A Few Words Apropos of the Book War and Peace." In the article, he wrote: "What is War and Peace? It is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed." Tolstoy published Anna Karenina between 1873 and 1877, and he declared that it was his first true novel."
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