The Trip to Mars

Warren Clements writes:

Given all the news recently about billionaires flying into outer space — Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos — a skit I wrote a couple of years ago seems prescient. It appears in the Nestlings Press book Stopping for Words on a Snowy Egret. And here is the complete text, for what I hope will be your reading enjoyment.

The Trip to Mars

[Inside a rocket ship to Mars. The HOST addresses the passengers, including BILL.]

HOST: Welcome aboard the new rocket ship to Mars. We realize how exciting this must be, and what a novel experience it will be for all of you. I want to let you know we will make our maiden flight as pleasant as possible. We have thirty-four brave souls on board, and you will have plenty of time to get to know one another. If there are any questions, I or any of the crew will be happy to answer them. [BILL raises his hand, waves it] I see a hand waving. Yes?

BILL: Excuse me, but you said thirty-four “brave” souls on board. May I ask why you chose the word “brave”?

HOST: As with any maiden excursion into the unknown, it requires a certain amount of courage to embark on a voyage knowing you will never see Earth again. Now, are there any oth – [BILL has raised his hand, is waving it] Yes?

BILL: Excuse me, what do you mean, may never see Earth again? I have a doctor’s appointment on Earth next Tuesday.

HOST: Sir, did you read our prospectus before you signed on?

BILL: Prospectus? I never saw a prospectus. My daughter-in-law thought it would be a marvellous opportunity to see the nearest planet in our solar system, and she signed me up.

HOST: And you thought it would take, how long to get there?

BILL: Well, it was never spelled out, but I assumed, what, a couple of hours?

HOST: Sir, we’re going to Mars.

BILL: Yes, I know, the Red Planet.

HOST: It’s estimated the trip will take years, and we don’t expect to be returning to Earth. The thrill is that we will be the first humans ever to arrive on the surface of Mars.

BILL: Are you telling me my daughter-in-law didn’t spring for a return ticket? Of all the cheap skinflints…

HOST: Sir, I hesitate to broach the subject, but since we’ll be together for a long time, we might as well start the conversation now. Do you and your daughter-in-law get along?

BILL: That’s a rather personal question.

HOST: Well, yes, but I –

BILL: No, no, I’m happy to answer. If you’d asked me that a couple of months ago, I would have said no. She was always complaining that I wasn’t giving my son enough money, that I was hoarding my multi-billion-dollar fortune without thinking of them.

HOST: And this changed, when?

BILL: Well, the trip to Mars. She thought it would be fun for us all to travel there, as a family, you know. So I sprang for the few billions necessary to buy all the tickets.

HOST: How many tickets?

BILL: Now, that’s the thing. I gave her enough for her, my son and the two kids, as well as me, at a billion dollars a pop. But just as I was boarding, I got a text message saying they wouldn’t be able to join me. Which I admit was a huge disappointment.

HOST: I’ll bet.

BILL: But I’d given her the money to buy the tickets, and she seemed sure she’d be able to get a refund for the tickets they couldn’t use…

HOST: Four people, so, four billion dollars…

BILL: Yes, exactly. But I don’t remember her mentioning anything about a one-way trip.

HOST: Nothing is carved in stone. We’ll be able to keep going on the surface of Mars for a little while, so there’s always the chance another rocket will come up.

BILL: With my family on board?

HOST: I wouldn’t count too heavily on that. I mean, call it a hunch, but…

BILL: But what?

HOST: What I mean is, science may discover a way to bring us back to Earth. It’s a huge step into the unknown, and that’s the thing about the unknown. It’s unknown.

BILL: I can’t imagine what could have made them miss the flight.

HOST: For the sake of harmony and peace on the voyage to come, I’m going to say they were scared.

BILL: Yes, that must be it. I see what you mean about “brave.” I am brave. And my family isn’t. Does that sound about right?

HOST: Absolutely. I can think of a million reasons why they didn’t come. Four billion, in fact.

BILL: Thank you so much. That makes me feel a lot better. So, I can’t remember what you said earlier – four hours to get there?

HOST [to the other passengers]: Anybody else have a question? Anyone? Please?…

How do you know when…?

One result of the continuing shutdowns and lockdowns is that I’ve been going through old files. The other day I found a batch of entries to the Challenge column I used to run at The Globe and Mail, and it’s worth sharing a few of them. The authors’ names are in brackets. If they amuse you, check out the Nestlings Press book How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan (and Other Tips for Daily Life), which has 176 pages of similar gems – and illustrations to match.

How do you know you are a poor housekeeper? Your children think Easter eggs are delivered by the dust bunny. (Alanna Little)

You know you’ve stayed too late at the restaurant when the waiters stack the chairs – with you on one of them. (Gary E. Miller)

How do you know the deep-discount cruise wasn’t a good idea? The first clue is the long row of oars with chains and padlocks. (Gordon Findlay)

How do you know you’ve been cloned? Somehow you’re just not yourself any more. (Cheryl Minuk)

You know you’ve been conned when the coin you bought is inscribed “200 B.C.” (Audrey M. Bates)

You know your audience with the Pope didn’t go well when afterward you get traded to the Anglicans for future consideration. (Jerry Kitich)

You know you’re watching too much TV when you try to use the zapper to wake up your children. (John O’Byrne)

You know it’s time to buy a new computer when the Babbage Company notifies you they will no longer provide technical support for your Difference Engine No. 1. (Bruce W. Alter)

You know you need to wash your car if the speeding ticket says your car is grey, when it’s really white. (Arthur Chapman)

You know your party is too loud when the airport calls to complain about the noise. (Arthur Chapman)

You know you’ve gained too much weight when your talking scale says, “One at a time, please.” (John Roberts)

You know your blood pressure is too high if the nurse steps back a few feet as he pumps up the gauge. (Karl Dilcher)

How do you know when you have a computer virus? How do you know when you have a computer virus? How do you know when you have a computer virus? How do … (Brian Yamashita)

The illustrations of Robert Lawson

Ferdinand the Bull was popular from the day his story was first told, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Lawson’s black-and-white drawings were strong, evocative and beautifully detailed, such that the reader could feel the bull’s startled reaction to sitting on a bee and imagine the cavernous arena into which Ferdinand would be led.

Well, Lawson drew much else, and, since his drawings are out of copyright in Canada (though not elsewhere, so Nestlings Press can mail copies only to Canadian addresses), it was decided to compile some of his best illustrations. From Ferdinand to Mr. Popper covers not only The Story of Ferdinand and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, but also such classics as The Crock of Gold, The Prince and the Pauper and Aesop’s fables. It covers books that Lawson wrote as well as illustrated: They Were Strong and Good, Rabbit Hill, Ben and Me (written from the point of a view of a mouse who lived in Ben Franklin’s hat), I Discovered Columbus (in which a parrot tricks Christopher Columbus into sailing to the New World), and Country Colic, a witty anti-valentine to the country living Lawson enjoyed with his wife in Westport, Connecticut.

Lawson’s work was well recognized during his lifetime. He is still the only winner of both the coveted Newbery Award and the Caldecott Award in the United States, for best children’s literature and best children’s illustration respectively. Nestlings Press hopes this gathering of his terrific drawings will please his fans and introduce others to his work. That it includes snippets from his writings is a bonus. From Country Colic: “The cow’s sole ambition in life is to be on the other side of any fence which confronts her. Barbed wire and electrified fences have been tried as barriers, but so slow are the cow’s mental processes that she frequently pushes the fence down and escapes before the pain of barbs or electricity has communicated itself to her brain.”

Matthew Chapman’s Gothic-themed illustrations

Posted by Warren Clements:

Matthew Chapman, a young artist who specializes in dark, Gothic-themed work, has put together David in Black Manor, a tale of a vulnerable boy working his way through a large, intimidating mansion with the shadow of a wicked uncle hanging over his perilous journey. The illustrations are dense, dark and beautifully rendered. Matthew asked me to write short verses to accompany the illustrations, based firmly on his story outline, and I was happy to do so. Don’t mistake it for a Nestlings Press book – it is far darker than that – but for fans of illustration, graphic novels and tales of Gothic intrigue, the work should certainly be of interest. He is very talented.

Matthew is in the process of crowd-funding an online release for his work – with hopes of a print release eventually. If you are intrigued, you can check him out at this website:


The Curious Case of the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk

While versifying the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk for The Nestlings Press Book of Fairy Tales in Verse, I began wondering about the Giant.

Okay. The Giant lives in a castle on a cloud. (We will forget the laws of physics for now.) He has pillaged other people’s property, captured humans – specifically, Englishmen – and used their bones to grind his bread. When Jack’s magic beans produce a beanstalk high enough to reach the cloud, Jack is able to steal the Giant’s gold, singing harp, etc.

But how does the Giant get his food and other supplies? Is there a city on the cloud that he can regularly ravage? At least one version suggests there are roads on the cloud, which might indicate a community ripe for the picking. But the Giant specifically speaks of an Englishman – “fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman” – which suggests that, unless people from England have colonized the cloud, he has done much of his pillaging on the ground.

If so, how does he get down, and how does he get back up?

Presumably he can’t fly. He can’t just jump down, or he would have done so when chasing Jack instead of climbing after him on the beanstalk (and falling to his death when the stalk was cut).

If there are other large beanstalks reaching up to the clouds, presumably somebody would have noticed – and, since the Giant’s predations would have been general knowledge, would have chopped down those beanstalks. Ditto if the Giant let down a rope ladder.

I know, it’s bootless to seek realism in a fairy tale, but there should at least be internal logic to the tales. Maybe he has a private airfield and pilots a plane to do his dirty work, but given that the fairy tale long predates airplanes (and Jules Verne), that would be a stretch.

I sent these musings to a few friends. My partner Sandra recalled the version with the roads on the cloud. Doug Tindal said the Giant used a grocery delivery service. (“Instacart, Warren. Duh.”)

Peter Harris said the answer hinges on the golden goose. “Not only does it lay golden eggs, but it can go out and do grocery shopping and buy other Giant supplies (at the local Giant Party Goods, natch). Aesop lent out the rights to the use of the GG to Jack for his Beanstalk caper, but Jack hogged the limelight.”

Bill Aide said he consulted the singing harp in his basement, and “she explained that, like some African crocodiles, the Giant could survive for over a year on a giant helping of his nutritious bread. Jack’s timing was perfect, since the Giant had reached the 364th day of living off his own fat and was getting roaring hungry. As for the other supplies – toilet paper, Brahms CDs, etc. – he had hoarded them but was running low. Another reason to celebrate Jack’s timing.”

Richard Bachmann wasn’t sure he could help with this problem (“essentially I don’t know jack”), but “I do recall seeing a giant on a bag of frozen corn, so I guess he does come down now and again.”

So there you have it. There are niggling doubts – could the goose carry an Englishman up to the clouds? – but at least now we know there is a degree of verisimilitude to Jack’s story. I’m waiting for the local garden store to start stocking magic beans.

And here, for the record, are the opening lines from the Jack/Beanstalk verse:

There once was a hut made of second-hand wood.

It sat far from town and the soil wasn’t good.

Young Jack and his mother had little to eat.

They’d run out of eggs and they’d run out of meat.

The vegetable patch had been shrivelled by drought,

And all of their other supplies had run out.

Jack’s mother said, “Seems we have little choice now.

Go into the village and sell our sweet cow.

And make sure you get every penny she’s worth,

Or else we’ll be dining on rainfall and earth.”

Copyright under the new USMCA trade deal

Canada has just ratified a new trade deal with the United States and Mexico, replacing the old North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA). The general line is that the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada pact (USMCA) will extend the copyright on books (and much else) by twenty years. Currently in Canada, a book comes out of copyright fifty years after the death of the author. The new deal will change that to seventy years.

But must it do so? I think we have an alternative, entirely consistent with the wording of the act. It’s a complicated subject, but I’ll make the argument as painless as I can.

The crucial passage in USMCA is Article 20.62. It requires each country to calculate the term of protection for “a work, performance, or phonogram” (a phonogram is essentially a sound recording) this way:

“(a) on the basis of the life of a natural person, the term shall be not less than the life of the author and 70 years after the author’s death; and

“(b) on a basis other than the life of a natural person, the term shall be:

“(i) not less than 75 years from the end of the calendar year of the first authorized publication of the work, performance, or phonogram, or

“(ii) failing such authorized publication with 25 years from the creation of the work, performance or phonogram, not less than 70 years from the end of the calendar year of the creation of the work, performance, or phonogram.”

My reading of this section is that it gives us two ways to determine the duration of copyright. With respect to published written works – which is what I will focus on here – Canada could say that it will protect an author’s copyright for 75 years from the date of authorized publication, at which point the copyright would expire.

Why should it change one system for another? Well, a couple of reasons.

First, it would reduce (though not end) a major inconsistency. Let’s say that we adopt the death-plus-70 rule. If I publish a work when I’m 25, and I live till I’m 85, the work gets 130 years of copyright protection – the 60 years while I’m alive, plus the 70 years after I die. If I publish the work when I’m 70, it gets 85 years of copyright protection – 15 plus 70. Why should one work be protected for 45 years more than another?

There is a wrinkle, which I should address now. Canada is a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. This requires us to provide protection for the life of the author plus 50 years (as Canada does now). We can’t alter this. So, if we switch to the new system, we would need a line saying, “The term of copyright shall not be less than fifty years after the death of the author.” But in most cases – assuming the author lives 25 years after publishing a work – that would amount to the same protection we have had under NAFTA. It would still cut the usual duration of copyright by 20 years, compared with the death-plus-70 measure in the USMCA.

The second reason to change our system is this. The three countries agreeing to USMCA “recognize,” in Article 20.4, “the need to … promote innovation and creativity … [and] facilitate the diffusion of information, knowledge, technology and the arts … [while] taking into account the interests of relevant stakeholders, including rights holders, service providers, users and the public.” Now, I am a great believer in copyright, and in protecting copyright, but I think 70 years from the author’s death is too long. It imposes a cost on “diffusing” the information, knowledge and artistic contents for so long that it makes a mockery of “taking into account” the interests of user and the public. With death-plus-70, almost no one alive at the time of publication will legally be able to do what, for instance, hundreds of authors have done with Sherlock Holmes – reinvent him, create new adventures for him, make cultural use of a literary icon. Just as there is a societal value in protecting an author’s right to profit from his creation, there is a societal value in freeing other artists or users to disseminate and expand that creation. Deciding at what point the first element may give way to the second element is the art of copyright law – and death plus 70, to my mind, ignores society’s second interest.

So, let’s assume there is value in choosing USMCA’s second option for copyright protection – ending it 75 years after publication or (because of Berne) 50 years after death – rather than going along with the United States’ preference for death-plus-70. Is it workable?

I have run my idea past federal experts on the subject who, because I didn’t say I would be writing a blog on this, I don’t think it would be right to name. They were very helpful, and I am extremely grateful that they took the time to discuss the subject. Here are a few selected quotes, with my reaction.

The experts: “For works of authorship, Canada already calculates term on the basis of the life of a natural person, and would therefore be required to provide ‘life plus 70’ for these works.” The term of publication plus 75 years would be used for “published performances and phonograms.”

My response: I see nothing in the act that would prevent Canada from adopting the second basis instead of the one it now uses for works of authorship. Both are given as legitimate options in the act. Indeed, the United States has a bifurcated system: Works published between 1923 and 1977 have copyright protection for 95 years from the date of publication, while those published after 1977 now have death-plus-70.

A later letter from my experts seemed to soften the blanket statement in their earlier letter.

“[T]here is no real possibility of contemplating a change in approach from that based on the life of the author where there is an author of a published work. The general term of copyright is and will continue to be computed relative to the lives of authors and only in the limited, special cases will it continue to be computed relative to the works’ publication dates.” [I assume this refers to the U.S. 1923-77 anomaly.] “To my knowledge, there is no jurisdiction that calculates the term of protection for published works of authorship on a basis other than the life of the author. This has been the case since the Berne Convention was created in 1886.” [I’m a bit confused here, since the U.S. jurisdiction certainly had a different basis in place until 1977.]

Again, I appreciate the argument that we’ve never done it that way, but I have read the act carefully and see nothing that would prevent us from doing it that way. The consequences of arbitrarily (and I use that word advisedly) adding 20 more years to the term of copyright are serious enough – delaying for 20 years the right of “users” and “the public” to make free use of the material, long after the author and most of his immediate heirs have died – that the federal government should consider doing what the act (to my mind) allows it to do. Change the basis for copyright in published written works to 75 years from date of publication, that period not to be less than the death of the author plus 50 years.  (The Berne requirement.)

USMCA gives Canada 2.5 years from the date of enactment to make the necessary changes to its copyright law. This gives us time to argue the point. Thanks for reading this.


Fairy Tales in Verse

I am happy to say that Nestlings Press is now an https website, which is to say secure. If it doesn’t come up that way, please type in, and it will.

Nestlings Press’s first book for 2020 is The Nestlings Press Book of Fairy Tales in Verse — so called to distinguish it from any other books called Fairy Tales in Verse, which is a generic title but can’t be bettered for describing what’s inside.

The book, 128 pages long and selling for $19.95, turns twenty familiar fairy tales into verse (e.g. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk), ropes in four outliers (e.g. Pandora’s Box and Rip Van Winkle), and adds Alice in Wonderland. Yes, the entire book, more or less, but versified into twelve pages.

The book is marvellously illustrated by Alan King.

The mystery of Dorothy Ann Lovell

Nestlings Press will soon be bringing out The Many Worlds of Walter Trier ($22.95), collecting many of the illustrations of a great artist/illustrator who was hugely popular in Germany from 1910 to 1936 (when he fled the Nazis) and in England from 1937 to 1947 (when he and his wife followed their daughter to Ontario). He did some of his best work in Canada before his death in 1951, and has a small gallery in his honour at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

This book will tie 2018’s How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan for the most pages – 176 – and will mark the first time an NP book has used colour inside. Sixteen colour pages in the middle of the book will showcase Trier’s illustrations from Baron Munchhausen, Puss in Boots, Till Eulenspiegel and other works.

Researching this book uncovered a mystery. One of the books Trier illustrated was Toby Twinkle, a 1939 picaresque adventure by English author Dorothy Ann Lovell. Lovell wrote many books in the 1930s and 40s, was published by such prominent firms as Jonathan Cape and Faber & Faber, and boasted such notable illustrators as Trier, Nicolas Bentley and Shirley Hughes.

Yet it was surprisingly difficult to discover basic details of her life, including her birth and death dates. She is not included in the major reference works on British children’s authors, and the usual troll through the Internet proved futile. Clearly, I had to seek the help of the experts.

My first stop was the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books in Toronto, a world-class repository for children’s literature. Services specialist Martha C. Scott knew of Lovell – she put her hands on a couple of Lovell books in the Osborne’s care – but her own search in the available catalogues yielded no clues. She suggested that I write to the Children’s Books History Society in England, which I did.

While awaiting a response, I contacted the University of London, since Lovell had written several books for the University of London Press in the 1940s. Laura Pritsch replied that the press had been taken over by Bloomsbury Publishing, and offered contact details there. She also said she would contact her colleagues at the university’s Institute of Historical Research.

I heard from Philip Carter, head of that institute’s digital wing. “There is very little on Lovell as a writer that we can find: nothing in the national newspapers online, no obituaries, and almost no secondary literature,” he wrote. But crucially, he was able to find United Kingdom census records on a Dorothy Ann Lovell who lived from 1888 to 1952, a death date that dovetailed with Lovell’s final published book. He provided a summary of important biographical information he had found – that she had worked as a schoolteacher (which meant she was familiar with materials written for children) and that she had worked as an editor for the Christian Science Monitor, which offered a connection to the world of publishing.

Yet there was still a missing link between this Dorothy Ann Lovell and the one who wrote so many books. Fortunately, Philip Carter ran into the archivist at Faber & Faber, Robert Brown, and mentioned the mystery. I wrote to Brown, and received the missing information I was hoping for. The letters in Faber’s production files were “mostly with the printers and illustrators of her books”, and “her own letters do not give much away”. However, a letter she wrote to her editor (Charles Stewart) on Jan. 14, 1944, said that she would be willing to read “junior books” for Faber because she had a little more spare time, as she had recently left her sixteen-year job as sub-editor of the junior department of the Christian Science Monitor. In fact, it turned out that a number of her Faber books, including In the Land of the Thinsies and Silvanus Goes to Sea (illustrated by Bentley), had first been published in the Monitor. Bingo! The link was made; it was the same Dorothy Ann Lovell.

Thanks to the help of all these professionals, I was now able to state definitely that Dorothy Ann Lovell, author of Toby Twinkle,  Stories of the Hoppity-Pops (1935), The Strange Adventures of Emma (1941), Curly-Top (1946), Little Gold Boy (1946), Magic in the Air (1952, illustrated by Hughes) and many other titles, was born on Aug. 2, 1888, in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England, and died on Dec. 5, 1952 at University College Hospital in London. Her father was a Bristol-born timber merchant’s manager. As she was unmarried at her death (the form says “spinster”), her estate of 13,562 British pounds went to her sister, Phyllis – who, further research discovered, had been a prominent suffragette in her early years. Both Dorothy and Phyllis had driven ambulances during the First World War – a detail that resonated with me, since one of my grandmothers also drove an ambulance in Europe during the war.

One mystery solved, then. Now, if I could only learn the identity of “Bold”, the illustrator for two or three Walter de la Mare books in the 1920s…

How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan

Although my Challenge column ran in The Globe and Mail for seventeen years, and although it had a large and wonderful following, it was seldom mentioned in  other publications. I would have said “never”, except that recently I came across a tribute to it in Let Me Be the One, a 1996 collection of short stories by Elisabeth Harvor.

The story in question is “How Will I Know You”, and this is the first part of the opening sentence: “When she stood in the doorway to his cubicle one cold and sunny Monday morning in early spring, feeling newly shiny and slim and reading him some of the winning entries from a Globe and Mail contest for invented mistakes that drunken or incompetent sign-painters might make – HAZARDOUS FOOTBATH, SMALL APARTMENT FOR RUNT, HOSPITAL NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LONGINGS – he laughed, looking with surprised alertness into her eyes…”

I do not know whether these particular entries were genuinely from the Challenge, although they would certainly have qualified, but it was heartening to know that a writer (an excellent one) enjoyed the column sufficiently to refer to it in a short story, included in a collection that was nominated for the Governor-General’s Literary Awards.

I mention all this in part to let the Challenge take a public bow, and in part because Nestlings Press is about to issue a new book made up of entries to the Challenge. How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan is a compilation of reflections on “how you can tell that” your romance is going badly, or you should be suspicious of your lawyer, or you’ve taken your car to a bad repair shop. It is very funny, which I can say with some modesty because I am merely the editor, and hundreds of other Canadians are the authors who dreamed up the boffo lines that fill the book.

Here is a sampling from the title chapter, with the writers’  names in brackets. You can tell you’ve moved next door to Satan because:  The lawn sign reads, “Beware of God” (Izabella Cresswell-Jones). Your front lawn is littered with handbaskets (Paul Davy). The Good Intentions Paving Co. truck is often parked next door (Al Wilkinson). He’s obviously very taken with your wife, Rosemary

(Elsie Wollaston).

The book will be out later this year. It will tell you everything you need to know about everything that exists. How many other books can make that claim?

Warren Clements, July 2018

Nestlings Press in The Devil’s Artisan

We are happy to report that a long, profusely illustrated article on Nestlings Press appears in the latest issue (81) of The Devil’s Artisan: A Journal of the Printing Arts. Edited by Don McLeod, the journal appears twice a year and looks at interesting private presses and other print-related topics. Illustrations by Anthony Jenkins appear on the front cover (from Aesop, ASAP) and the back cover (from If Famous Authors Wrote Nursery Rhymes). The website is