The Interesting Origins of the Phrase ‘Swings and Roundabouts’

The literary origin of the expression ‘swings and roundabouts’ in a forgotten poem

The phrase ‘swings and roundabouts’ is a familiar one in Britain in particular, but what is surprising it that it actually has its origins in a little-known poem by Irish writer Patrick Reginald Chalmers (1872-1942). Chalmers was a banker Swings and roundaboutsas well as a poet, and he also wrote biographies of several literary figures, including author of Peter Pan J. M. Barrie and The Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame.

But his most lasting legacy is the phrase ‘swings and roundabouts’, meaning ‘a situation in which different actions or
options result in no eventual gain or loss.’ In other words, ‘it’s all much of a muchness’. Read the rest of this entry

10 Interesting Facts about Famous Writers at School

Fun facts about the schooldays of well-known authors and other literary types

September is the ‘back to school’ month, so to take the edge off that inevitable sinking feeling, we’ve put together ten great facts about the schooldays of famous writers. Some authors have been teachers, but all have been schoolchildren at some point. Here’s our pick of the best facts about writers at school. We’ve included a link on some authors’ names to previous interesting posts we’ve written about them.

Samuel Johnson had only three pupils enrol at the school he opened in his hometown of Lichfield in the 1730s. However, one of those three pupils was the actor David Garrick, who later followed Johnson to London to seek his fortune.

Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language defined the word ‘pedant’ as a ‘schoolmaster’. (More facts about Johnson’s Dictionary here.) Read the rest of this entry

Five Fascinating Facts about Mary Shelley

Five facts about the life and work of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein

1. Her most famous novel, Frankenstein, is widely considered the first science fiction novel. Brian Aldiss certainly thinks so. It’s worth mentioning here that two other leading science (fiction) writers, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov, argued that the honour of ‘first science-fiction novel’ should go to a much earlier book: Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (‘The Dream’), first published in 1634. But Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (Wordsworth Classics) is considered the first work of what we can confidently label modern SF. It was published in 1818, when Shelley (1797-1851) was just 21, and came out of the famous ghost-story competition at Lake Geneva, which involved Shelley and her husband (the poet, Percy), Lord Byron, and Byron’s physician and travelling companion, John Polidori. Polidori’s contribution, The Vampyre (1819), claims the honour of the first vampire novel. Read the rest of this entry

Five Fascinating Facts about H. Rider Haggard

Fun facts about the life and work of Henry Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon’s Mines and She

1. He is the author of one of the biggest-selling books of all time. H. Rider Haggard’s She (Oxford World’s Classics) (1887) is reckoned to be one of the bestselling novels ever published: by 1965 it had sold some 83 million copies. Ayesha, the ‘she’ of the title, is a powerful and mysterious white queen who rules the African Amahagger people. Ayesha has magic powers and is immortal, making She a fantasy adventure novel, precursor to the fiction of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and countless other writers of the twentieth century. The novel is also the origin of the phrase ‘she who must be obeyed’ – which, curiously, originated in a ‘hideous’ rag-doll owned by Haggard as a child. (The phrase would be given a new lease of life in John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey series.) She has been filmed numerous times and was even one of the first novels adapted for (silent) cinema, when Georges Méliès filmed it in 1899 as La Colonne de feu. It remains one of Haggard’s most popular novels, along with… Read the rest of this entry

10 Great Facts about Writers and Dogs

Short facts about writers and their pet dogs – and the canine figures in the works of famous authors

Fearing attacks from rivals, poet Alexander Pope rarely left his house without a brace of pistols and his dog, a Great Dane named Bounce.

Virginia Woolf’s first published essay was an obituary for the family dog, Shag.

The first draft of John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men was eaten by his dog, Max.

Emily Brontë’s dog, Keeper, followed her coffin to the grave when she died and, for weeks after, howled outside her bedroom door waiting for its owner to return. Read the rest of this entry


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