Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pitman Shorthand

During my travels in England last month, I stumbled upon Collards, a tiny bookshop tucked down a narrow road below the ruined castle of Totnes, Devon. It was filled with all kinds of unusual books from first editions to a collection of the "Lilliput" monthly pocket magazine.   But what caught my eye was a slim book on Pitman Shorthand published in 1919.

Developed by Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-1897), Pitman Shorthand is a form of phonetic speedwriting. The symbols do not represent letters but sounds. The words are written as they are spoken using a series of strokes, loops and hooks that differ only in thickness and length and where they are placed above, through or below the line. Vowels are light or heavy dots, dashes or dipthongs. It looks mind-boggling on the page but I love it. 

I'm particularly fond of Pitman Shorthand because without it, I wouldn't be a "Resident Alien" and wouldn't be working in the USA.

It was Pitman Shorthand that gave me a "special" skill when I applied for my Green Card many years ago. Who could have possibly imagined that these little squiggles would open a door to a new chapter in my life!

I first learned Pitman Shorthand when I was 19 on a sandwich course (as they were known back in the day) in Cardiff, Wales. We took dictation every day for three straight hours. It was excruciating and I resented it at first.  But gradually, my speeds picked up and by the end of the first month I was writing 120 words per minute—that's pretty fast. The average writer writes longhand at 20-30 wpm. A good typist is 50-80 wpm at a push since we're all so keyboard savvy these days. Apparently the fastest shorthand speed attained in a test was 350 wpm by Nathan Behrin in 1922!

Three decades plus later, I can still read my shorthand (I wrote an entire diary one year - obviously not wanting to let my mother read it) - and I still remember how to write the basics though I'm not that fast anymore.

Here is an excerpt from the little book that I purchased for £1.50.  I still find shorthand beautiful to look at.

If you're really interested in learning more, check out this fabulous blog called Long Live Pitman's Shorthand and sharpen your pencil.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back in La-la-land

Yes! I'm here at last. What a grueling few months! I have neglected this blog horribly but I've returned from my six week trip to England full of a gazillion resolutions—losing weight, never eating sugar again, exercising every day, keeping a clean house, wearing a permanent smile at work with a "Yes of course, I'd love to do your expense report"—and writing a regular update on my blog. Giving up wine is not on this list.

I also turned in the first book in a new series for St. Martins Press. Writing a new series is always a challenge especially when other things get in the way e.g. breaking my hand last November, having a very demanding full-time job and finding windows of time to promote Vicky Hill in England. I'm also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mum, an aunt, a great-aunt and a slave to my cat Mr. Tig. Life has never been so busy. 

England was glorious as always but gosh, the weather was atrocious. I've lived in California for nineteen years (can't believe it. I was only coming here for two). I'm used to sunshine even though I don't have time to really enjoy it (see above paragraph). It's good to wake up to a blue sky every morning but it can never beat the beauty of the English countryside. 

The book part of my trip was lovely. There are so many bricks and mortar stores still standing. I had a great launch party at the Torbay Bookshop (thanks Mum for buying six copies and boosting my sales). I also did interviews with the amazing Judi Spiers on BBC Radio Devon and with the wonderful David White on  BBC Radio Cornwall which will be posted on my website in the next few days.

The last part of the trip ended with a ten day family holiday in Trebarwith, North Cornwall. There were twelve of us. My sister and I have been going to the same place for fifty years. It seems to be the only place we know that has never changed and hopefully, never will.

The headland is owned by the National Trust with glorious walks. Like this one ... a six mile trek—mostly in the pouring rain—from Trebarwith to Port Isaac. It took us four hours and it took my hiking boots four days to dry out.

Along the way is Barrett's Zawn and the entrance to an old tunnel that runs through the cliff down to the beach. It's very steep, narrow and dark and was supposedly used by Cornish smugglers in the nineteenth century. The locals call it The Donkey Hole.
Tunnel Opening

Daphne du Maurier's famous novel, "Jamaica Inn" is set locally and tells the story of Mary, a young orphan sent to live with relatives who are the landlords of Jamaica Inn. Mary soon realizes that her uncle's inn is the base of a gang of ship wreckers who lure ships to their doom on the rocky coast. Jamaica Inn is still there and reputedly haunted (of course) with regular Overnight Ghost Hunts.

Opening from Beach
There is something magical about Cornwall—the legend of King Arthur, Merlin's Cave, the Knights of the Round Table. Perhaps that's why I continue to go back year after year ... it's certainly not the weather.