Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Big School

My collection of short stories: The Big School, is now available on Kindle and on other e-readers through Smashwords. It concerns the adventures of young kids in the 1960's/70's. This was a time when the schools were crammed with kids because of the Baby Boom.

It is also a time of great change. Some of the things the characters do had been going on for generations. But change, nevertheless, was in the air.

I would have liked to have been Eric, the hero of the stories, but am probably more like Malcolm, the narrator.

Monday, 12 September 2011


I’ve had a phobia about broken bones, (cured by NLP) and dislocated elbows since the age of three when my mother dislocated both elbows. I watched them come out of place periodically and the agony as she had to manipulate them back. Compounded with my erroneous belief that I had caused her to fall it is not too surprising that I developed the phobia.

So, the worse thing which could have happened to me was to suffer the same injury. Yes, folks, I had the same injury.

It wasn’t caused by cage fighting an exceptionally large and vicious canary as I told my friends. It was caused by me slipping on a inch high path. I broke my right ankle, shattered my left are and, terror of terrors, dislocated my elbow. It was a terrible trauma, the worst thing to have ever happened to me. I still have intermittent pain some two years after the accident.

Today I went to the doctor to see about a tingling pins and needles I have developed in this arm. I saw a temporary doctor and she was rough. I know she was only doing her job but as she woman-handled me I was astonished at how the phobia swept back. And the pain. I felt quite wobbly.

Why am I blogging this? Five reasons.

One is because it made me remember how dreadful I felt when I had the accident and how powerful phobias can be. This, I can use in my writing. I now believe that a phobia can explain why people will do weird things which are otherwise inexplicable.

Two is to thank my arm for standing up to the accident in the first place.

Three, to thank the people who have done so much to help me, Nr Dunkley the surgeon, Dr Newmarch,my GP and the therapists at Marlborough House in Taunton, Mr Marar, Daniel Hayward and Yvonne Bottarelli who have worked marvels. I have recovered from my morning wobble speedily due to their techniques.

Four, to thank the accident for forcing me to stop focusing on my training business and start to fulfill my dream of being a writer.

And finally, to acknowledge, in the biggest forum I have, that I have an injury, am getting over it and the pain and can live with the growing pains.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ben Kane's The Silver Eagle

I enjoyed the first novel in The Forgotten Legion series and rushed to buy the second, The Silver Eagle. I found much of the book a splendid read. I like the characters a great deal, especially Brennus and Fabiola. Fabiola is a great creation, a slave woman who makes the best use of her looks and her intelligence to thrive in a world dominated by dangerous men. Kane introduces a lot of interesting minor characters who caught my imagination, sometimes more than the major ones. Sadly, he has a propensity for killing off some of these or letting them drift away from the narrative. Hopefully, some at least will return in later books.

I thought that the links between the Romulus and Fabiola sections worked better in this novel than in the first. I had to flip back to catch up with events far fewer times in this novel. The whole narrative flow worked better.

The best parts of the novel are where Kane focuses on the harsher aspects of life. He magics us to the cruelty and squalor that must have been everyday experiences for the Roman soldiers; shows the fragile hold that slaves had upon their own lives and illustrates well what Tom Holland says in Rubicon: the Romans were often very different from ourselves. Best of all are his battle scenes which are well researched and described with great skill and command of the narrative.

I thought he was poorly served by his editor on a few occasions. It could do with a little trimming over all. There are also careless errors in the text. Secundus, a one-armed veteran, was lucky enough to be able to raise his arms above his head for example. (Unless he carried the severed limb with him as a talisman this was surely beyond even the skills of the best healers.) On other occasions there are times when a word cut would have helped. 'Romulus looked over himself,' might have been better without the final word. Also, on occasion, modern idiom sneaks in when it shouldn't.

I know that we can be too picky about words but and the historical novelist has to tread a difficult path to give the sense of the past without distracting from the story. I am surprised that Kane continually uses accurate Roman ones, pilum and scutum, for example, which can sometimes slow the dialogue. Yet, at the same time, he calls ancient pirates Corsairs which conjures up the eighteenth century rather than the first century BC. I don't know if the names Ahmed and Mustafa were current two thousand years ago (especially for a Nubian) but again, they make me think of Moslem culture rather than Roman. Kane takes his research about Roman life very seriously so I was surprised to be brought up by these things which slowed my reading.

My biggest problem with the book is all the mystic foretelling of the future. However, this may be just about my personal choice so I won't harp on about it. I am sure that the people of this time were superstitious and would be able to read into events some explanation derived from a piece of liver or a bird flying backwards a few pages previously. On occasions, however, we are led to believe that the prophecies are really accurate rather than being explicable in some other way. I also found Tarquinius became more and more omniscient, soothsayer, military strategist and even a tour guide to Alexandria. I hope he calms down in the next novel.

Despite these criticisms I thought the book was a good read. The concept is a great one, showing how the powerful machinery of society can wreak havoc with individual lives, sending people from one end of the earth to another. The interesting thing here is how the characters deal with this maelstrom. The characters are interesting and I like the way he teases out their relationships under strain. I admire his ability to let us walk in Roman shoes, particularly those of the under-class. Kane interweaves historical narrative with the personal story with a light hand. His historical characters act in a believable manner and, in particular, he gives us a great insight into Brutus and, maybe, a believable motive for the later actions of the man. I shall definitely read the rest of the series and recommend it as one of the best novels set in a world which is a mixture of the strange and the disconcertingly familiar.

Friday, 9 September 2011

New e- reader promised by Waterstones.

James Daunt, the Managing Director of Waterstones, today announces they will launch a new e-reader which, he hopes will be at least the match and, hopefully, substantially better to the Kindle.

He has taken the lessons from Barnes and Nobles Nook and plans to emulate this. He hopes that the loyalty of Waterstones customers will mean they will choose to buy from them rather than Amazon.

He plans to have the e-reader available from Spring of 2012.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Trafficked: The Diary of a Sex Slave by Sibel Hodge

Sibel Hodge should be applauded for tackling this difficult and emotive subject. Trafficking is one of those things which everyone knows takes place but few people want to face. This novella relates the experiences of Elena, a young woman who has been snatched from her village and taken into a life of sexual servitude.

Hodge avoids sensationalism and sentimentality by writing in a restrained and controlled style. This serves to heighten the brutality and squalor of Elena’s new life. Slowly but surely we experience a terrible atmosphere of claustrophobia, hopelessness and despair. As a male reader, one of the most disturbing things is the collusion of the many men she comes into contact with, whether users of her sexual favours, taxi-drivers and even policemen.

I would have liked for the control and restraint in the writing to have been relieved at the height of the story as Elena’s heroism is in danger of getting a little lost in the objectivity of the prose. I also thought that the character of Jamie would have benefited from a more in-depth analysis of his character and motivation. However, I am aware that this may have removed the focus from the objective description of the dreadful life which Elena has been condemned to live.

This is an honest, tough and unremittingly recital of the inhumanity which some men descend to. All is not hopeless, however, and this well-judged and nuanced book allows us to see that a glimpse of better things in the end.

A dark and stormy day

It was a dark and stormy night is one of the most parodied openings to a novel.

It, and the fact that it is raining a storm here, got me wondering if weather affects people's writing. I like to write when it is calm generally but find that stormy weather does imbue my writing with increased pace. Weird but true.