Colin McNairn

Welcome to my Website, which is designed to introduce you to my recent books, both non-fiction and poetry. The Home page features Signs of the Times, published in June of 2021, and What If Jack Wasn't So Nimble, published in April of 2022. The Books page features two books about language, particularly the expressions, sayings and idioms that have become part of our everyday communications.

Bridging the gap between humour and poetry, this collection of 64 reimagined nursery rhymes will conjure up memories of verses learned in childhood. Each of the author’s new rhymes is built upon elements of a Mother Goose original. Familiar characters make their appearance but their relatable experience is freshly conceived, for example:

• Humpty Dumpty equivocates, by sitting on a fence, and avoids falling off a wall;

• Betty Blue, without a benefactor to replace her lost shoe, adapts, with the aid of a crutch, to life with only one shoe; and

• The Three Little Kittens are upset, not from the loss of their mittens but because their mother’s milk has run dry and she fails to arrange for a new supply.

Some modern twists are added as the reimagined nursery rhymes focus on subjects of contemporary interest and concern, such as the law, business, electronic communications, air travel and politics, none of which drew the attention of Mother Goose.

This collection is a follow-up to the author’s previous collection of light verse, titled Signs of the Times through Reimagined Nursery Rhymes. Between the two books, the author has reconceived over 130 of Mother Goose’s original nursery rhymes, approaching the full complement of her contribution to children’s literature.

In this follow-up to last year’s Signs of the Times, Colin McNairn once again turns his quirky sense of humour to casting a contemporary turn on the nursery rhymes many of us grew up with. From Humpty Dumpty unable to make up his mind and so perching firmly on the fence, and Pussy Cat who went to visit the queen only to find that the exterminator had already been, to the titular Jack at risk of setting his tush alight, McNairn’s reconceived rhymes are sure to elicit smiles.

--The Year in Books: 2022, In the Hills Magazine, Winter Edition, 2022

This collection of original light verse for adults has been published by Kelsay Books of American Fork, Utah. It includes seventy original poems, several of which are delightfully illustrated by Rosie Pittas. All of the poems have been inspired, to some extent, by traditional nursery rhymes  

If Mother Goose were writing her nursery rhymes to-day, she would no doubt burnish her MeToo credentials by condemning Georgie Porgie for kissing the girls and making them cry, have Billy Boy, a.k.a. Charming Billy, look for a wife online rather than by pursuing a ground game; warn us against catching a tiger by the toe, given the dangers of nail fungus; and recognize a twinkle, twinkle in the evening sky as just as likely to evidence a drone as a star.

These are among the revisionist scenarios portrayed in this collection. The subject matter of the poems ranges widely and includes, politics, language, the law, dating and mating, social behavior, food and drink, health, sports, commerce, technology, travel, and the natural environment.

Colin McNairn is clearly having fun as he rewrites nursery rhymes to comment on the wider world. With jabs and plentiful jokes (“hickory, dickory, daiquiri”), he happily draws readers into his imaginative wordsmithery.

--Warren Clements, Author, The Nestlings Press Book of Fairy Tales in Verse

Signs of the Times is good clean - or not so clean - fun in two ways. It's a joy to be reintroduced to so many dearly loved and justly renowned nursery rhymes, long after their sparkle and pungency may have faded from adult memory. It's also fun to see what an informed and somewhat sardonic modern sensibility makes of them anew in the context of these times we are all now living through.

--Bruce Bennett, Emeritus Professor of English, Wells College


As reproduced from the Literary Titan

Signs of the Times reexamines classic nursery rhymes through a contemporary and humorous lens. What inspired you to write this book?

My mother was an English teacher and a great fan of humorous poetry. She introduced me to the light verse of Ogden Nash and the nonsense rhymes of Edward Lear, kindling my enthusiasm for their writing styles. I have also been fascinated by wordplay, of one kind or another, and have written about it in earlier books. The light verse style offers considerable wordplay possibilities. It struck me that classic nursery rhymes would lend themselves to reinterpretation in this style and that they could do with some updating as it were.

What is the most memorable nursery rhyme from your childhood and how does that speak to you today?

One of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, nursery rhyme from my childhood is “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” It speaks to me today because I now appreciate that a lamb represents innocence and purity and that the pure whiteness of the typical lamb’s coat reinforces the notion of purity. I now believe that this nursery rhyme emphasizes the faithfulness that a pet, endowed with the characteristics of innocence and purity, is capable of showing to a human companion. In the nursery rhyme, that faithfulness is reciprocated by Mary, to her enduring credit.

What nursery rhyme shocked you the most when reexamining it?

For me, the nursery rhyme “Goosey, Goosey, Gander” didn’t take much reexamination to reveal its shocking nature. It portrays someone throwing an old, presumably defenseless, old man down a set of stairs for the simple crime of refusing to say his prayers. For me, the shocking nature of the narrative wasn’t particularly dampened when I learned that what was being described here was likely the fate of a priest, hidden away in a “priest-hole” in a Catholic home, being rousted and punished for refusing to swear allegiance to the Protestant Queen. This would have been a not untypical occurrence in England during the Papist purge of the sixteenth century.