Thursday, 13 August 2015

Outcomes

Ah, there I was with last blog anticipating a new era in British politics post the General Election.  In the end it was all a complete let-down.  No slugging it out between Labour and Tory, no breakthrough by UKIP, no realignment of progressive parties to keep the Tories out.  No move towards PR as a result.  Same old Tory hierachy, now released (as we have already seen) to carry out it own extreme agenda irrespective of only getting 36% of the total vote.  I guess you can see where my sympathies lie!
Now we have a leadership contest for Labour that is creating real interest, and a man who has emerged from the 'loony left' to speak honestly and straightforwardly about issues that affect us all.  It's so refreshing that Jeremy Corbyn is clearly not in the mould of standard party hack that he is a tempting option to consider.  Some say he is unelectable as a Prime Minister - I say so what?  The next election is five years away, so in the mean time let's have Tory ideas tested against real left-wing opposition.
But I think I know in my heart that the norm will prevail, just as it did at the general election, and one of the other career politicians will come through.  But did you notice how Andy Burnham is now claiming he has never been part of the political establishment, or wrapped in the Westminster bubble? It's what I call the Corbyn effect.

On another tack completely, I recently read  a novel called "The Circle" by David Eggers.  It is the story of the takeover of society by an Internet company and its social media arm.  Some deride it as nonsense, but they mainly come from the rarified cyber world.  It does take current use of the Internet to an extreme, but it does show where it all could end up, if we are not careful.  Total absorbtion in social media networks, a life responding to Facebook and Twitter messages, the pressure to report everything we do in order to be seen to be sharing experiences.  The expunging of those who refuse to be online for their whole lives, with their every action and locale known by everyone.  All in the cause of sharing and being part of some insidious whole.  Read it - laugh in amusement, and growing horror.  I mean, do you really want a fridge that automatically orders more milk from a supermarket delivery service because it can't find any on its shelves?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Politics

Here we are in the middle of a general election campaign that promises to produce a very interesting result.  And yet I can't get worked up about it.  I think it's because I just want to get to the finishing line now.  I've had enough of politicians promising all sorts of goodies, if I vote for them.  It would seem we can have lower taxes, higher pensions, more funding of the NHS and also cut the deficit at the same time.  Amazing how this can all be done just before an election, but not for the five years before it, and probably not for the next five years after it.  I also saw the end of a Nigel Farage interview on TV yesterday, where he actually said that, if the government lowered taxes, there could be an uplift in the economy that meant more income would flow into the Exchequer.  He insisted it could happen.  Not a matter to base your budget strategy on though, is it?

I am currently involved in the next Stables production, which is "Anne Boleyn" by Howard Brenton.  It is full of the political scheming around Henry VIII's desire for a divorce from his first wife, so he can marry the fecund Anne.  While Anne is shown as fervently for bringing Protestantism to England out of religious conviction, Henry is persuaded by a very different motive.  Not only will he become Head of the Church and be able to approve his own divorce, all monastic revenues will accrue to him and not the Pope.  Taxes and money make the world go round, then as now.

The play is seen through the eyes of James I, and he makes a very perceptive comment at the end of the play.  One that is pertinent in the present day of ISIS and Fundamentalist Christianity.  He says "Why is it that all we do in the name of God is always exactly the same as what we need to do in our own self-interest?"

Think on.

Friday, 30 January 2015

I have had an email from a fan asking about my progress on the Georgian novel featuring Joe Malinferno and Doll Pocket.  It made me feel guilty about the lack of progress I have been amking on both it and the new Falconer book.  I confess I have not been writing much for the last three months, and now I must remedy that.  I am split between making headway with either book, and need to decide which one I will concentrate on first.  The Falconer has been begun, and calls me more urgently, whereas the Georgian book needs more research.  But research fascinates me more than the task of writing!  Maybe I can dovetail both together.
In the meantime, my am-dram hobby calls and I am going to direct "Blithe Spirit" by Noel Coward in July.  It is a perennial favourite in the theatre, and I shall be looking for fresh ideas to revive it for a new audience.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Turkey

OK.  This new Falconer I keep on talking about is set in Trebizond, which is now Trabzon in modern-day Turkey.  I could say my recent trip to Turkey has been for the purposes of research.  But it hasn't.  Lynda and I have spent two weeks in the opposite corner of Turkey on a walking holiday.  The first week we were in Torba, which is close to Bodrum on the Aegean coast of Turkey.  From Bodrum you can see the Greek island of Kos, and realise how odd the border is between the two countries.  Islands closer to the Turkish mainland and far from mainland Greece are Greek.  We were amazed by the remains at Ephesus of a major Greek city.

The countryside around is very like Cyprus, where we lived for seven years.  Turkish and Greek Cypriots lived closely together and shared culinary techniques and some words.  But all that was destroyed when the strife over Cyprus resulted in a Turkish invasion.  Forty years on, and the rift between Turkish and Greek Cypriots is still too huge for many on the island.
Our second week was spent close to Olu Deniz and Fethiye on the Mediterranean coast.  Once again, the walking was great, but the outstanding memory was of an abandoned village.  Kayakoy is the village on which Louis de Berniere based his novel "Birds without Wings".  It is the tragic story of Greeks and Turks in that region living side by side until the Turkish war of independence in the 1920s resulted in a mass exchange of peoples.  All the Turks living in Greece had to relocate to Turkey, and the Greeks living in Turkey had to relocate to Greece.  Despite the fact that Greeks had lived for generations in Kayakoy, they had to go.  The returning Turks who were relocated in Kayakoy could not settle down there and left.  The village stands deserted.
A Turkish guide took us round the village and told us personal stories of his family - how Greeks begged not to leave, and how arriving Turks yearned for their old life in Greece.  He is part of a movement to have the village stand as a memorial to peace and tolerance, and a monument to the stupidity of ideology and political expediency.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Italian Job

I am in the process of signing a deal to publish my back catalogue of Falconer stories (and maybe the short Zuliani series) in Italy.  The publisher is Mondadori, who have a series of detective novels under the name of 'Il Giallo'.  This has a curious symmetry as the word means 'yellow' in Italian and derives from the background colour of the early editions.


My first publisher was Victor Gollancz, and though my books were too late for the treatment, early Gollancz crime and SF books were, of course, always published in a yellow cover.


I always recall as a young teenager (though the name was not used in my day) that I scoured the public library shelves for yellow spines as my primary means of book selection.  I was later very proud to become a Victor Gollancz author, though rather disappointed my crime stories would not be 'wrapped' in yellow!  There was some talk, I suppose in the late 90s, of reviving the yellow cover.  I think some Gollancz books did come out with a yellow spine.  But none of my titles.
Now, at last, I will be published in yellow.  I will keep you up date concerning the progress of my Italian editions.  If you want to read them in Italian, that is.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Chicago

I am breathing a sigh of relief.  The hectic time of directing "Taking Steps" is at last over.  Eight weeks of intensive rehearsals led to the opening of the play in Hastings, and eight performances at the Stables.  These were well received, and we had an average attendance of some 70%.  After a mere week's break, we were on a flight to the USA, and performances in Chicago Heights at The Drama Group.  I had been working on the set with the crew in the USA by email.  I liken it to building a set by remote control!  But it worked.  IN The Stables, we had a stage about 20ft wide.  In Chicago Heights, the width was almost 50ft, so we had to do some adjusting to stage positions.  Also, the audience was so close to the actors that we were afraid the fight scene would result in one of our actors plunging into the laps of the front row.  We did manage to avoid that, but with the stage on the same level as the two front rows, people coming in often walked acros the stage itself.  Very disconcerting.
Our hosts were the epitome of hospitality, taking us to and fro in the delightful suburb of Chicago Heights.  This involved taking each of us from our temporary home to the theatre, and after each show to a wonderful tavern at Flossmoor, as well as to a station to allow us to travel into Chicago itself.  They could not have been more accommodating, and generous.  Many a boozy hour was spent at the Flossmoor Tavern testing the 16 beers that were brewed on the premises.  My favourite was BAD (barrel aged Dubbel).  I am not sure what the specific gravity was, but two glasses were enough!  The shows went down a storm, and we even got a standing ovation one night.
Chcago is a wonderful city, set on the shores of Lake Michigan, with spectacular skyscrapers all around the central area.
I went up to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower and stood in a glass box projecting out from the side of the building.  You can look down below your feet for over 1300ft to the street below.  Chicago also boasts several museums - the most impressive for me being the Art Institute, which housed many works of art from Europe.
The old town area - which is not very old, as Chicago burnt down in 1871 - has some very graceful houses.  And in the suburbs are areas where Frank Lloyd Wright plied his trade.  Ernest Hemingway also lived in the same suburb as a child.  The city is bursting with parks which host festivals.  I was lucky to get to see the Blues Festival, which was a completely free event.  The other jaunt which I must mention was a trip down part of Route 66 in Model A Fords organised by one of the Drama Group members.  That was quite a memorable event, ending up in Pontiac.

It was altogether a memorable two weeks, and lasting friendships were made.  The Drama Group of Chicago Heights comes over to Hastings in 2015.  But for now, I must get back into the groove and continue writing that new Falconer.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ancestry

Doing genealogical research is a drug.  I cannot stop following up leads, even though the person I am researching may be the brother-in-law of the sister-in-law of my second cousin four times removed!  If the information is there, I must have it.  I am now tracking down hints provided by the Ancestry.com website on existing members of my family tree - all 3,000 of them (the hints, not the people).  I am disciplining myself to only get birth, marriage and death of remote relatives, but even so this will take months.
The lighter side of this research is that I find literary links.  So far, I have relatives called Walter Scott, William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy and Edward Lear.  Naturally, they are not the famous ones, and most of my relatives - including these - are generally labourers.  I come from a long line of agricultural labourers, interspersed with coal miners and iron workers.  The latter two occupations explain why my ancestors moved between Derbyshire and Yorkshire - where there were coal mines - and from the Forest of Dean to Derbyshire - to find jobs in iron works.  In fact I have many Welsh ancestors whose families slipped over the border from the Forest of Dean into Monmouthshire to work in Blaenavon and Abergavenny before trekking on to Derby.
Some adventurous souls emigrated to Canada, and some found work in the USA. Of course - in this anniversary year of the outbreak of World War One - it is sobering to find records of those young men who died in Flanders and other foreign fields.  Some of course left no direct ancestors, but a few married, had a child, and died soon afterwards.  I saw a Great War cemetery a couple of Christmases ago.



The impact then was tremendous, but the cold facts of an individual's death are just as great.  What a tragedy.