Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Long Ships

A copy of ‘The Long Ships‘ by Frans G. Bengtsson has just been brought by the postman. I think it is also known as ‘Red Orm‘ in some countries.

I first read it at school and haven’t been able to get it until now through Amazon.

I started to read it and was immediately beguiled. The energy, the characterisation and the lightly worn historical verisimilitude are simply wonderful. It is one of those books which live with you for ever so I’m delighted to now own it.

I have a lot to do today but I’ll begrudge each moment until I can relax and plunge into the book.

Friday, 26 August 2011

A 5 star review for The Lost King: Resistance

I've just read another 5 star review for The Lost King: Resistance. It's by MegaReader who seems to read very widely about this period. Thanks very much, indeed.

The other great thing about this review, by the way, is that when I looked at MegaReader's other reviews I found lots of other novels which look really exciting.

Two things in one, a great review and a pointer to other novels. Fantastic.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Which places inspire you?

I have written before about my favourite place in the world, where I feel inspired. This is the lovely town of Menton. It is nestled between Monaco and Italy, a paragon of a frontier town. It is said to be the Pearl of France.

It has many literary associations, mainly because consumptive Victorian writers came here to recover their health or to die. Writers who visited or stayed here include Robert Louis Stevenson, Katherine Mansfield, Guy de Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola and Jean Cocteau. WB Yeats died in the next village. I love it.

I get my inspiration from two places. One is a lovely cafe overlooking the Mediterranean. I imagine Greek Triremes sailing past on their way to Marseilles, or even Odysseus searching for the Western Seas. I get my best ideas for stories here, for characters and plots. I scribble furiously in my notebook then glance up and look at the shimmering sea. Time for a glass of wine, I think.

The second place is sitting on a bench looking at the view of the old town.

My wife and I conjure with our life dreams here. I love Menton and we visit three or four times each year.

Now we are planning to take a senior gap year there, starting soon. Can't wait.

Where are the places which inspire you?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Back in circulation

I've not been blogging for a while because my wife and I have decided to move to France and have put our house on the market. Enough said for all those who have had the trauma of even beginning to move house. Back at the helm now, though.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

How about an indie writing prize for the UK

Prizes such as the Man Booker and Orange Prize generate a huge interest in their authors, as do prizes in the US such as the Pulitzer. I have found a few such prizes in the USA but how about one for indie writers in the UK?

If you know of one, please let me know because I can't find one.

If there isn't one and you'd like to think about planning one then contact me on twitter or on martinlakewriting.wordpress.com

Who first thought of indie publishing?

When most people think of indie publishing they think of Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo or Diesel. But who was the person or persons who first came up with the idea?

I want to thank them for making a life-time's dream come true.

Let's hear their names.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

What Rating would you give to Credit Ratings Agencies?

So, Standard and Poor’s have down-graded the US economy.

Given the fact that the masters of finance seem to have such trouble doing basic sums I wonder what rating ordinary people would give to financial institutions, including the Credit Ratings Agencies.

For me, none of them would include an A or any sort.

What do you think?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Ten people who screwed up my country

I’m feeling in need of a good rant so here is my list of ten people (plus) who I believe have screwed up Great Britian.

William the Conqueror. For stealing English lands and concentrating it into the hands of his robber barons who ruled the country as an alien elite. (And arguably, still do today.)

Richard Cromwell, son of the more famous Oliver, for making a mess of his time as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth and thereby allowing the Restoration of the monarchy to England.

William Pitt the Younger for fighting against Republican France and allying himself with countries dominated by tyrant Kings.

Lord Liverpool, the reactionary Prime Minister who did his best to make Britain a country fit only for the aristocrats and the wealthy.

Arthur Balfour for thinking that the Conservative Party had the right to reverse the will of the people by organising the House of Lords to obstruct the measures of the radical Liberal Party who had been overwhelmingly elected to office.

Stanley Baldwin for allowing the country to suffer more than it should have done in the Depression of the Thirties, refusing to re-arm adequately and presiding over a government which appeased Hitler.

Jim Callaghan for being an incompetent Chancellor of the Exchequer and even worse Prime Minister. As an indecisive, inadequate leader he dithered his way into defeat by my next villain.

Margaret Thatcher. For being a small-minded hysteric who set out to destroy the working class and, in the process, destroyed much of the industrial power of this country. She also encouraged the belief that Britain was still a powerful nation with the right to interfere in other nation’s business, encouraged the flow of money from the poor to the rich and soiled and derided the notion of society.

Arthur Scargill. For his hubris in thinking he had the right and the power to defeat Margaret Thatcher, an act which led to the destruction of the mining industry and its communities and a legacy of distrust for collective action.

The bankers. I don’t know all their names and don’t care to research this. They have ruined the economy which they are supposed to be the custodians of yet still get their fat bonuses while ordinary people are losing their jobs and their homes.

Phew, I enjoyed this. If you’d like to comment on who you believed screwed up your country please add a comment.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

1914. Great Britain declares war on Germany.

The First World War led to over 15 million deaths and 20 million casualties. It also ended the political, economic and military dominance of Europe. Four empires, Austria-Hungary,Germany, Ottoman and Russia disappeared. Two empires,France and Great Britain were terminally weakened. The war has haunted every generation since then. Worse still, it was refought, on an even more catastrophic scale, twenty years later.

I have been horrified and fascinated by the Great War since I was a child when I stood with my parents in silence on 11 November.

This fascination grew for two reasons. The first reason is that, unlike with the Second World War, I never read a convincing justification of why the war took place at all. The second is that the torment of the fighting men in the Great War seemed so dreadful. The thought of living in a trench for any period of time is appalling. The thought of clambering out of it and advancing into a hail of machine-gun bullets is beyond belief.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course. I have always assumed that nobody really had an idea of the horror of what they were embarking upon. As the years pass, I begin to suspect that they were much more aware than I realised, and therefore, much more culpable.

I began to wonder why the governments of Europe didn't end the war when they realised how terrible the casualties were. I had assumed that there was no mechanism to end the war. So I have recently been shocked to read that the Swiss and American governments made strenuous efforts to get the belligerents to the negotiating table but without success. Could the ruling class have really been that arrogant and unyielding?

And only a few days ago I read a second piece of information which made me question the whole madness of the politicians and the times.

When Lord Kitchener was made Secretary of State for War he appears to have been the lone voice who predicted that the war would last many years and cause terrible casualties. 'It will be over by Christmas' seemed to be the belief not just of the public but of the politicians as well. I assumed that the politicians did not believe Kitchener's wild prophecy.

Two days ago, however, I read 'Kitchener's army: the raising of the new armies, 1914-16 by Peter Simkins.

In fact,Kitchener told the Liberal government that the war would last beyond 1917 and that Britain would have to build an army many millions strong to throw into the balance when France began to feel the strain. The government immediately began to put his plans into effect, asking for half a million men to enlist immediately. These were the men who would be slaughtered on the Somme in 1916.

It is clear, therefore, that British politicians were prepared to launch a war knowing that it would destroy the lives of a generation.

I can only assume that they were not the only European government who knew this.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

How do we know when we are in a time of transition?

I love reading and writing about times of transition. I’m not so sure that I would like to live in one.

Of course, the people who live through transitions may well have no idea that their world is changing. Take the latest budget crisis in the USA. I suspect that the activists in the original Boston Tea Party had a sense of change and that they wanted to drive that change. They succeeded, big-time, helping to create a new nation without the need to bend the knee to a monarch, a nation destined to be the greatest economic power in the world.

What an irony if the present day Tea Party would have initiated an equally seismic change. It is not just their political opponents who felt they were in danger of destabilising the American economy, maybe setting it on the path towards decline. All empires have trod this path and there is often no foretelling at the time which factors may start them on the road.

However, we have to go back less than a century to find one event where it seems astonishing that there was no such foresight. This was to prove an event which destroyed empires and peoples on an unprecedented scale, an event which has haunted the politics, imagination and soul of the continent.

On August 2 1914 the German Government conquered Luxembourg and signed a secret treaty with the Ottoman Empire. The Russian Empire invaded Germany. In a move which meant that Great Britain and eventually the USA joined the war, the German government sent an ultimatum to Belgium and Britain began to mobilise.

The First World War proved to be Europe’s suicide attempt.

It would never have the same wealth, power and influence again. Four empires would fall, two more would live on weakened and on borrowed time. Worse than that, the whole savage conflict would be replayed a generation later.

I will look tomorrow at the extent to which people thought they were living on a precipice and what those who suspected they were actually did at the time.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Ben Kane's 'The Lost Legion'

I've just finished Ben Kane's first novel 'The Lost Legion.' Here's what I thought about it.

Ben Kane's novel 'The Lost Legion' is a gripping novel set in ancient Rome. Kane writes about the last days of the Roman Republic but with an unusual approach. He chooses his main characters from people on the margins of Roman society, those who inhabit the underbelly of the Republic and provide the essential services to keep the wealthy in a life of luxury. This means that the society they describe is almost as much of a mystery to them as it to the reader of two thousand years later.

Kane opens the book by giving us Tarquinius, a character from the long-conquered Etruscan society, moves swiftly to introduce Brennus a giant of a Gaul and then to Romulus and Fabiola, slave siblings who are sold into two of the most awful worlds of Rome, the brothel and the circus.

Kane chooses to develop different streams of his novel, never an easy task but one which he manages with skill. I never felt I had to go back to re-read what was happening to one of the characters even when there had been a gap since I had last read about them.

I particularly liked his portrayal of the clever, beautiful Fabiola. Many epic historical novels tend to side-line female characters but Fabiola is not a woman content to be side-lined by anybody, (including, I suspect, the author.) I look forward to seeing how she will develop.

Kane seems to me to be historically accurate, adept at capturing the essence of Romans such as Caesar, Crassus and Mark Antony. This dedication to authenticity led to one of my few niggles. He uses the accurate Roman words for weapons, almost all of the time. This gave me pause; I'd rather he dispensed with the Latin and said swords and shields for ease of reading. Because of his accuracy I was also somewhat surprised to hearRomulusdescribed as a teenager and wondered whether Alexander's soldiers would have been as fair of skin and hair as Kane suggests.

These tiny niggles apart, I loved this book. I have bought the next one in the series and look forward to branching out to his book about Hannibal.

Bad news, Great news

The bad news is that I have been ill with a nasty infection this weekend. The good news, correction, the great news is that I have received my first royalty payment from Amazon.

I’m so impressed at the speed and efficiency of this mammoth organisation.

Leslie Dunn, my ex-father-in-law (there should be a term for this) has just published a collection of short stories called ‘Funny Peculiar’ on Smashwords.com so I shall nurse my germs while reading this. You can find this on: