Book Review – The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking: a novel, by Timothy Balding

I need to make some apologies first. It has been a long time since I posted a book review, and I feel I have somewhat let my readers down – but hey, this blog isn’t called Flailing Through Life for no reason!

I also need to apologise to the author I am reviewing today, Timothy Balding, as I read this book some time ago – last October to be exact, and I am sure that I promised to write something about it, what can I say? I’m a slow reader and a lazy blogger! And, another person to apologise to – Emma Lombard author and ‘mother’ of the Twitter #WritingCommunity, who has probably been wondering when I was going to get around to this. So, without further ado, here’s my take on The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking…

The Man Who Couldn't Stop Thinking: A Novel: Timothy Balding ...
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking
by Timothy Balding

Genre: Fiction, Satire
Pub Date: 2019
Publisher: Upper West Side Philosophers, Incorporated
Length: 274 pages
Kindle Edition: £7.91

Synopsis

Victor Andrews cannot decide whether thinking is a good thing or not. He has managed to escape it till now, too occupied with his career and the pursuit of his romantic and carnal ambitions. A heart operation and an inheritance suddenly change all that. He has time on his hands and new ambitions to invent for himself. If he starts thinking, will it take him forwards or backwards? he wonders. Will it lead him out of the confused labyrinth of his life and give it some new meaning before it’s too late? Or push him to join the company of the crazy people who chase endlessly the tails of their obsessions?

Firstly, I must tell you that I was bought this book by the writer Emma Lombard. On a Twitter post, she ran a competition asking the community which book they would most like to read at that moment. I responded, and was one of three individuals who received their chosen book. Also, I must add, that she bought me the paperback version AND had it posted to me! So many, many thanks to @LombardEmma.

Secondly, this is not the sort of book to read if you’re after action or huge dramatic scenes. It is very low key, with a few sections of dialogue, and mostly focuses on Victor’s day to day musings and concerns. But that isn’t to say it isn’t a good read, it is. In fact I found it to be one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while.

8 common mistakes people make when ordering whisky and how to ...
Wee dram of whisky, image courtesy of Scotsman Food and Drink

Victor has just had surgery again, and (this is only my take as a female of a certain age!) is possibly going through a mid-life crisis; I have to admit that the opening scene made me laugh a lot, still does when I re-read it, a good example of how to grab your audience’s attention! Instead of succumbing to mastering ‘the use of a boomerang’ or taking ‘up skateboarding’, he buys an African grey parrot which he decides to teach phrases such as Nietzsche’s “God is dead.”

The parrot becomes a kind of sounding board for Victor and his philosophising, beginning with questioning his own motives for buying the bird, “Was his act the realization of a tyrannical dream of power, he joked to himself?” and later questions his own motives for teaching the parrot the phrase “God is dead” and how humanity could possibly continue without hope and a deity. He also has a relationship with a woman called Helen, who I would say is Victor’s intellectual equal, but doesn’t give credence to some of his ideas; she comes across as somewhat acerbic and I quite honestly don’t see how Victor stays with her.

Balding’s writing style made me think of British authors from a bygone age. It strikes me as terribly British and a little old fashioned; this is not a criticism, far too many aspiring writers concern themselves with being unique and ‘modern’ instead of concentrating on producing good writing. It is deceptively easy to read – but not to be rushed! Victor’s self-questioning (and self-questing) had me pausing for long moments to give some thought to, well, Victor’s thoughts (but without the whisky). There is no superfluity in his writing, Balding has the skill that many of us budding authors so crave, the ability to write concisely and to the point.

Objectivity and subjectivity drive Victor through his post-op life – he asks, how can a person make decisions if one cannot see the world from the perspective of others? Who is responsible for one’s personal happiness? And “I know I’m egocentric…but I will try harder.” Though I cannot say that I fully understood every philosophical musing, nor every reference to research topics that Victor had undertaken, I was acutely aware that I was probably missing something due to my lack of acquired knowledge or intellect, but I still found the story fascinating. And although Victor seems to suffer minor existential crises internally, he never comes across as morose, or self-obsessed. I found the character to be less white-middle-aged-man-with-English-pomp, and more bemused-middle-aged-man-seeking-the-truth; I felt I could relate to him very much. Victor’s musings are funny and he has a much more positive and generous attitude toward his fellow human beings than many folk I know in real life.

He makes statements like “Women were as unpredictable as Belgians.” which made me laugh out loud, because it’s so English and so male, but, and it’s an important but, this never comes across as offensive, because Victor always quizzes his own opinions and offers us facts that he has dredged up from news articles or papers he has read. I found myself reading a paragraph and thinking, Yes, I think this or I have done that – spouting off my theories to a stranger then wondering why on earth I did that. When I tried to describe the book to friends, I found it really difficult, why would a woman want to read the musings of a middle aged man? one asked me. I can’t explain. To the uninitiated, I suppose Victor Andrews might epitomise all that is wrong with white men of a certain age, however, I found him to be lovely, thoughtful, witty, erudite and at least he’s trying! It also goes a bit Kafkaesque near the end when Victor is interrogated! Maybe I just find ‘male humour’, if it exists, to be funnier than female?

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Roger Allam, whose voice is very distinctive, very English. I adore Roger Allam and his voice, you might recognise him from the film ‘V for Vendetta’ and the TV show ‘The Thick of It’. And I would love, simply love this book to be made into a radio or TV drama with Mr. Allam in the lead, though what the author Mr.Balding would have to say about that I don’t know!

Roger Allam - IMDb
Roger Allam, English actor

If you’re after some good strong writing that is humorous as well as thought provoking, I can thoroughly recommend this book.

I’m giving The Man Who Could’t Stop Thinking 5 stars.

Maybe You’re Just NOT THAT Creative !

Sorry. But it could be true.

But hey, it doesn’t matter if you don’t mind.

Just don’t try telling other people what to make, write, draw, design, sew, compose.

Maybe you think you have something special going on. Maybe you think you have something to sell. Maybe you’re going to be the next big thing. That what you do is ‘my creativity’. Maybe you have urges to make things. But where does true creative talent end and hobby craft begin?!

I know some people are going to read this and think ‘You sanctimonious bitch’, and you may be right.

This is going to be harsh. Look away if you have a weak stomach.

Top 30 Boo Hoo GIFs | Find the best GIF on Gfycat
Fat Bastard says ‘Boo hoo’.
From gfycat.com

1. But my mum said my voice/painting/ is great

That’s wonderful, but don’t confuse parental praise with real, honest, healthy criticism. Of course your mum would say that, she’s your mum! And friends are, often, no better. They don’t want to HURT YOUR FEELINGS.

If you’re thinking of going professional, semi-professional, or exhibiting your creativity in public in any way, shape or form- you’re going to need a thicker skin.

I once spoke to an art student about what she was going to do after college. Sell my work in a gallery, was her naive response. HER WORK WAS SHITE! And what if they don’t like it? I asked politely. She stared at me as though I was saying something in a foreign language. This young woman had no idea how talentless she was.

Stop living in fantasy land. It’s just self-deception.

Be brutally honest with yourself.

Otherwise, things are going to get painful somewhere down the line.

2. Your creative endeavours are original

Are they? Really?

Nothing is original. Everything has been said before. We just try to find a unique way of re-purposing the original message. It might be that the wonky-eyed portrait of your pet poodle looks unique, but is it really creative. And let’s be honest, should you even expose the world to it?

Please don’t set up an Etsy shop, and proceed to fill it with tat. It is quite simply embarrassing. Don’t do that to yourself.

Why would anyone want to buy your shit?

Why do you think it merits equal attention as someone who has worked seriously and with total dedication for decades?

Look at it – it doesn’t!

3. You love being free and Bohemian, surrounded by tubes of paint/paper/fabric/instruments

You think this is the 60s? You want to remain in a student state of mind forever?

Time to grow up.

For most artists, creativity does not come from flopping around in silk dressing gowns, traipsing through a mist of linseed and oil paints. It’s fucking hard work.

You must work at honing your skills on a daily basis. You must practise your craft – and I use this word in it’s true sense; ‘skill, dexterity, strength, talent’. You must learn that what you created last year, is not as good as what you will produce this year. It is a never-ending striving to reach something over there.

Art doesn’t make itself. The tools of your trade, whether they be brushes and pens, electronic devices, piano, fountain pen or keyboard, will need to be used on a regular basis for you to learn what they can do. After that, your brain needs to be trained, put into gear and applied to the problem at hand.

One doesn’t simply wake up one day and dash off a masterpiece. Your painted stones with hideous dog and cat faces are NOT ART!

One does not simply. Made on imgflip.

4. I’m an introvert, therefore I must be creative

No. Not necessarily so.

Stamping INFJ, or whatever the fuck, all over your social media pages doesn’t make you a better person, or more interesting, or more thoughtful, or creative!

And then you get upset if someone passes a remark that doesn’t fit your idea of yourself. And weep copious tears so your ‘Followers’, or whoever, send hugs and kind thoughts, and tell you to ignore the vicious bitch in the corner, because you’re a ‘beautiful person’.

Bull. Shit!

Just because you class yourself as introvert, doesn’t mean you have to affect a delicate flower demeanour. Introverts live in the real world, we just need time to recoup energy away from other people.

Plus, just because you’re a ‘beautiful person’, doesn’t mean you have a ‘creative soul’.

5. But isn’t creativity whatever I say it is?

Well, if we’re sticking with creativity as meaning using one’s imagination to create something – to invent, then yes.

But simply painting from a photo is not using one’s imagination!

Making fan fiction – I hear a gasp of horror – is not true creativity. The honest truth is that most fan fiction is fucking awful, and why?

Because it is the soup of the soup. It can never be as good (or tasty) as the first/original.

Why is it that we can all spot a truly gifted sportsman or woman when we see them in action? We know that Serena Williams is one of the best tennis players, and that Usain Bolt cannot be beaten at his game.

Because we can see the evidence with our own eyes. When a footballer scores repeatedly, that tells us they’re one of the talented ones. We know who is the best, the talent oozes from gymnasts and boxers and cricketers.

But art is another thing. Most people won’t have a clue what makes Turner fucking amazing, whilst Tracy Emin is shite. Many will say that’s my personal opinion – and there’s the rub!

People today simply don’t have the ability to determine what is good and what is bad. Should we say that someone who has been practising their craft for over 30 years can have the right to make this decision?

But newcomers don’t want to know. And the talentless get mardy and whinge and whine because, “I have a right to make art as much as anyone.”

Yes, you do.

But don’t try telling an experienced and ‘time-served’ creative that you know better than him/her.

Maybe listen to criticism once in a while.

Perhaps give the experienced people the benefit of the doubt, and look at what you’ve created, and say ‘Shiiiit, I really am bad at this, maybe I ought to go and do something more useful with my time.’

And stop putting it on Etsy for fucks sake!

May You Live In Interesting Times – or – Let Us Not Forget

These are extraordinary times we are living in.

In fact, ‘Interesting times’. This expression is fairly well-known in England, and is often attributed to the Chinese, although there is no proof that it originated there. While appearing to be a blessing, it is in fact a curse. The expression is used ironically, with the inference that ‘uninteresting times’, of peace and tranquillity, are more life-enhancing than interesting ones.

It basically means that interesting times are not peaceful, they are times of war, uprising, change – or pandemic.

Last night, I stood on my doorstep, along with some neighbours, to applaud and show our appreciation for our country’s NHS staff (Clap for Carers) – who are doing an exemplary job under strained conditions. On social media, we see this ‘trend’ occurring across the world. We are all seeing just how vital our hospital staff are. It’s just a shame that it takes something like COVID-19 for those in government to truly appreciate this.

But around the world, there are other people who are still working through this. They provide us with products and services, and some, many, are invisible to the general public.

I wanted to take a moment to show appreciation for these people. Many of whom do very unpleasant work; sewage workers. There are people who are putting themselves at risk daily so that you and I can continue to live our lives as smoothly as possible.

Let us not forget the:

Shop workers – Supermarket employees are working very hard at personal risk – and always appreciate a thank you. While you’re hunkered down at home, supermarket employees continue to show up to work every day, putting themselves at risk as they come into contact with hundreds or thousands of people who may be asymptomatic.

Bin/Refuse Collectors – “The Covid-19 pandemic poses a serious and unique risk to the 6,000 Teamsters employed by Waste Management. Over the course of each workday, our members visit thousands of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals,” https://www.wastedive.com/news/coronavirus-covid-waste-recycling-safety-collection-mrf/574359/

Sewage Workers – Sanitary workers around the world are carrying out, potentially, life-threatening tasks, some without access to the most basic hygiene. In many parts of the world, they often descend into the sewers without gloves or any other protective gear for very little money or respect. The work is usually accompanied by a set of risks, some of them life-threatening. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/sanitary-workers-risk-lives-spread-coronavirus-200325051916407.html

Long Distance Lorry Drivers – “Truckers aren’t health care workers and we’re not anybody special. We just have to keep working because, what else are we going to do right now? And people need their toilet paper.” https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/26/cars/truck-drivers-coronavirus/index.html

Zoo-keepers and Animal Sanctuary Staff – ‘COVID-19 could infect great apes’. Those who care for animals must go to work, who else is going to feed and minister to them?

Emergency Services – It goes without saying that our Police, Firefighters, Ambulance, Paramedics etc are doing extraordinary work. Remember, not everyone is as willing to be as thoughtful as you and stay at home. Some will test the boundaries of authority for sure. People with nothing to do, people with no moral compass, people with learning difficulties who simply do not understand the situation.

Farmers – Your food does not come from Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Lidl, etc. In the first instance, most of it comes from farms. The challenge is how long suppliers will carry on supplying the farmers with feed for the animals, with diesel and fertiliser. Without that supply, the farmers cannot provide you and me with our fruit, vegetables, meat, wheat for cereals and more.

If you work in one of the ‘industries’ I have mentioned above –

I thank you.

If you work in an industry I have not mentioned, that is keeping me supplied with goods –

I thank you.

If you are enabling me to live as normally as possible diring these difficult times –

I thank you.

It is not the billionaires who will get us through this. It is the low-paid, the put-upon, the invisible, those usually taken for granted, those who in normal circumstances we do not spare a thought for.

Let us not forget – it takes all sorts to keep a community, a country, a planet working daily.

Let us not forget – that there are people performing job roles that you and I have not even thought about, who are working very hard at this moment.

Let us not forget – to say ‘Thank you’, to these people, let them know we appreciate them.

Waving Not Drowning, or, I've Been Preparing For This My Whole Life

It’s here folks!

That moment that we’ve all discussed whilst watching TV shows about the apocalypse; whether zombie or otherwise. The question we all ask is: Who would you want on your side in the event of such and such disaster – and how well could you survive?

Well, I gotta say, me and my hubby have been preparing for this for years. No, we aren’t ‘End of the World’ nuts, or ‘Doomsday Preppers’. We’re artists.

Yes. I did say artists.

In the early 1980s, we were both students at a mediocre university studying Fine Art. Afterwards, we were two of the unemployed millions in the UK. For almost 4 years, we lived off £27 a week. We went shopping once a fortnight – because that’s when one received dole money. We played a single game of pool at the local pool-hall, for 20p. Then we went back to our little flat, and worked.

UK in the 1980s under a Tory government was full of class warfare, hate, violence, unemployment, closures, cutbacks, protests and riots.

When I say worked, of course I mean painted, created, drew etc. We also (to the amusement and puzzlement of friends), had separate bedrooms. He worked in his; the larger one, whilst I worked in the living room. We came together for evening meals, TV ,occasional walks and of course, a bit of fun!

On March 2nd, 2019, I wrote a post called The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer In light of the current situation; COVID-19, Coronavirus pandemic, in this post, I’m sort of returning to that theme – being alone. Not lonely.

After university, whilst my then boyfriend, now husband, were on the dole, we lived a rather meagre existence. Our rare annual holiday consisted of heaving metal-framed rucksacks with tent around the soggy hills of Wales or Scotland (Note: this is now called ‘Wild Camping’, which involved finding somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, to pitch the tent before it went dark, and balancing a trangier with pan of dried noodles set to cook in water that wouldn’t boil quickly because the air around was blowy and cold, and sleeping with your clothes on, as opposed to staying in a fucking wooden construction on a campsite with hundreds of others and drinking Pinot Grigio. That’s called Glamping). We once found 12p down the back of the sofa with which we bought a bag of chips between us from a mobile Fish and Chip van. On one occasion, he went off for a few days with a male friend, camping in October. I had no money, so lived off Marmite drinks for about 6 days, wrapped up in bed against the cold – we couldn’t afford heating – drawing and watching our tiny black and white telly.

Over the years, neither of us have had well paid jobs. Freelance artist is not a secure way to live. Community artist even less so. The 80s was shit, for us at least. The 90s slightly less so. We did live an almost hand to mouth existence. We paid our bills on time, thus ensuring we had little left for luxuries, you know, things like – nice shampoo instead of washing-up-liquid or soap, food that wasn’t ‘My Mums’ brand, meat!

Then as time moved on, I got a ‘real job’, as a tutor on the YTS/ET (Youth Training Scheme/Enterprise Allowance) scheme that the government introduced. Hubby also got a job. We had money, proper money for the first time! We got married. But I lost my job 2 years later due to cutbacks, and the eventual demise of the training schemes.

Since then we have changed jobs a couple of times. Moved home. Had a child. We made a conscious decision to have only one, as that was all we knew we could afford. We rent from a housing association because we can’t get on the property ladder, even on our joint wages.

This is not a hard luck story.

This is a story about a couple of 50-somethings who were made ready for this event. Our age identifies us as Generation X. There’s been a lot on social media from Gen-X recently. About how ours is the survivor generation, the isolated ones, the latchkey kids who everyone, even government forgot. So a double positive whammy for me and hubby – Gen-X artists, who enjoy our own company, who are NEVER lonely, because we have our imaginations to get us through this – what more could one want!?

Lock n Load

My workplace has now closed for an indeterminate length of time. For me, it’s a kind of bliss – I get to write and read books, and maybe do some drawing. I can plan my next D&D campaign, create maps! It’s marvellous. My colleagues who are neither self-motivated nor creative, are already flooding WhatsApp with inane trivia minute by minute. Two days we have been off work! Two days, and they’re already loopy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t WANT the virus to spread, I don’t WANT anyone falling ill, I don’t LIKE this situation we’re in, all I’m saying is, I’m with the right person, and we’re ready to roll.

Gimme two weeks, two months, hell, I reckon I could handle two years!

So to the creatives out there – writers, artists, sculptors, musicians, dancers, poets, painters, crafters, et al, I say, this is our time. This is the time for introspection, for personal creativity and development. This is when being isolated, or locked down does not mean disaster. It is a chance to show why art; all the arts, are so important.

Because very soon, the rest of the population will begin to realise how vital art is.

When they haven’t been able to visit a cinema, library, concert hall, theatre, museum, gallery, for weeks, they’ll be gagging for it when this is all over!

So get busy now!

Above from left: Paul Costello (courtesy @costelloguitar), The Poet (courtesy Holy Spirit System), Louise Bourgeois (courtesy East Oregonian)


The difference between an essay, a report and a story. In brief…

What’s the difference between an essay, a report and a story?

I see this question a lot from people in secondary school, Further Education colleges, and even University students! I’m talking about UK students, I believe elsewhere they teach the difference quite early on. When I was in school – back in the 1970s and 80s, the English teacher would set an essay writing task – what she meant was – write a story. So I never learnt until late adulthood what the difference is. I’m not an academic, so this is going to be basic…

A very brief run-through of the differences.

First off, they’re written in different styles. Essays and Reports tend to be written in a formal, academic style with attention to grammar and spelling. While a story is a sequence of real or, most commonly, fictional events told in any manner that the author chooses.

A report is a summary of an event and an essay explores a particular issue or subject. Both start with an introduction, body with discussions and/or analysis, and finally a conclusion. The main difference is purpose; an essay presents writer’s personal ideas and opinions, a report provides unbiased information.

Basic lexicon of related words –

Essay: describes, analyses, evaluates, combination of facts, statistics, personal opinions, descriptive, narrative, argumentative, persuasive, and expository.

Report: systematic, well organised, defines, analyses, provides information, sections, headings, and sub-headings.

Story: narrative, novel, short story, novella, plot, characters, genre specific, entertaining, aesthetic, creative, tale, chronicle, dramatic.

See the same event in these three examples below:-

Story Extract

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: A Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction

We came to a narrow tributary of the Amazon River, about eight feet across, dotted with floating islands, clumps of debris washed downhill with the rains. Raising our packs above our heads we waded. Something glided just beneath the surface; I halted so as not to draw its attention, Daniel squealed as it touched his thigh. Things gibbered above us in the overhanging branches, creaks and croaks resounded all about. We crossed three more tributaries before the end of day.
Exhausted and soaked in foul smelling swamp water. With the fauna of the forest reduced in our wake by; four stabbed snakes, a shot river dolphin, two blasted parrots, an incapacitated capybara, an assaulted alligator, numerous leeches burnt and a frog that popped when Daniel stepped on it, behind us, it was time to take it easy.
On (relatively) dry land, we made camp for the night. Whilst I cleaned my blades and blasters, Doppler did whatever one did to bright blue frogs to coax some venom from them, Daniel made
tea; and jolly good it was too,
You’ll make someone a lovely wife one day Daniel.” Says I with a wry smile.’

 

Essay version

Although not mentioned within the body of this particular extract, we can glean the narrator’s name from the title of the book. Lucy Lockhart, renowned treasure hunter, and her assistant, Theodora Doppler have arrived in the Amazonian jungle with cartographer, Daniel.

They cross a series of tributaries en route to their destination. Lockhart describes the area as being difficult terrain that the party need to wade through, with unknown things gliding beneath the surface of the water, small islands of earth, and animals in the surrounding environs. Daniel – whom Lockhart has previously described as ‘a lily-livered clerk’, is evidently extremely uncomfortable in this environment. The party have during their progress, killed or maimed a number of animals, including a river dolphin. Although this is a short section from a longer tale, one could surmise that this is not an unusual situation, for at least one of these characters, to be in. They are kitted out for travelling; otherwise, mention would be made of the inconvenience of attire in the circumstances. No-one in the party truly complains, or seems surprised by the ‘foreignness’ of the situation – the names suggest that these are all English characters.

One might argue that Lockhart has a blasé attitude to her comrades as well as the flora and fauna hereabouts. She does not speak of the beauty of her surroundings, only the death left in her wake. It could also be said that she has an Imperialistic indifference to animals and people. The party eventually find some dry-ish land to rest and recuperate on. The cartographer is once again the butt of Lockhart’s teasing, as he makes tea for the party.

In conclusion, one could surmise that the narrator; Lockhart, is if not enjoying the situation, relishing the discomfort of one companion; Daniel. We get the impression that she is unconcerned for the welfare of wildlife and this does not sit well with a modern audience. She is, however, determined, skilled with weapons, so capable of looking after herself and has a sense of humour.

 

Report version

A trio of adventurers are on some sort of quest in the Amazonian jungle. From this extract, we cannot determine what it is they seek, nor how long they have been here. We do know that they cross a number of tributaries on their journey, so the terrain is not easily navigable. We have no way of knowing how the characters are related, nor what their relationships are like. The main character; the narrator, refers to one by her surname; Doppler and the other by his first name, Daniel. This might suggest that the relationship between the two women is stronger than that with the male, as females rarely refer to themselves or each other by surname.

Lockhart

Though unnamed in this extract, Lucy Lockhart is the narrator, the protagonist of this adventure. She is clearly the leader of the party, as the other two characters follow her, and she is skilled in using various weapons – as evidenced by the killing and maiming of a number of creatures – some of which we might assume she has dispatched herself. At the end of the passage, the narrator is cleaning her blades. This tells us that she carries a number of knives, or swords, about her person. Her description of the animal slaughter – ‘stabbed’, ‘blasted’, ‘incapacitated’, ‘assaulted’, suggests a level of humour on her part at the demise of such creatures. The fact that she likes to tease Daniel, the cartographer, also gives us a small insight into her personality – which leads one to question the agreeableness of this character.

The Amazon

The party reach a tributary in the Amazon River – a tributary is a river or stream flowing into a larger river or lake. We know that it is eight feet wide and is ‘dotted with islands’. There has been a heavy rain at some point in the near past, as we are told that there is debris from uphill. The Amazon contains a wide variety of animals including capybara, parrots, alligators and snakes, among other things. There are also unseen creatures living in the trees, as evidenced by, ‘Things gibbered above us in the overhanging branches,’ Even though this is a tributary of the main river, we know that it is fairly deep, as the party must carry their belongings over their heads to prevent equipment from getting wet.

Doppler

There is little mention of this character in the passage. What we can glean is that she is intrepid – otherwise she would not be on such a venture, and she is skilled in poisons. At the end of the passage, she is trying to extract poison from small frogs. From this, we might conclude that she A) knows about animal poisons, and B) has used poisons in the past. One might further conjecture that this tells us that Doppler is either a medic, a collector, or quite simply – a poisoner.

Daniel

There is very little information about this character; however, we can speculate that he is not comfortable in this environment. He is probably frightened of the wildlife, ‘Daniel squealed as it touched his thigh.’ He also makes a good cup of tea; Lockhart comments on it, whilst simultaneously taking a sideways swipe at his manhood.

We might conclude from this extract that the tale is not set in the present day. The narrator carries bladed weapons and at least one gun, which she refers to as ‘blades and blasters.’ This is not parlance from the 21st century, neither is ‘Says I…’ The narrator is clearly sexist from a contemporary reader’s point of view, otherwise she would not use the phrase “You’ll make someone a lovely wife one day Daniel.” In our 21st century society, there is little issue with stay-at-home husbands. In addition, the narrator’s attitude towards killing animals is not commendable, from a modern standpoint. We do not condone the careless destruction of wildlife to suit our own means, and none of the characters seems disconcerted at their demise.

 

I hope this has been of some use, to someone, somewhere.

 

Should you be at all interested – The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: A Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.de/Life-Crimes-Lockhart-Doppler-Illustrated/dp/1723026891

 

“There’s Something Terribly Wrong…”

V’s revolutionary speech – V for Vendetta

Many of you will be familiar with the graphic novel, or film of aforesaid, ‘V For Vendetta’, by Alan Moore. Moore is an English writer, primarily known for his graphic novels, who has written for ‘2000 AD’ and ‘D.C Comics’.

I thought, like the antagonist revolutionary; V, I’d take a moment to have this quiet rant…

V: Allow me first to apologise for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of everyday routine, the security of the familiar, the tranquillity of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, where upon important events of the past, usually associated with someone’s death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, are celebrated with a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this…day… by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat.”

You see I’m going to reference V quite a bit! Many people at this time of year – Christmastime, claim to feel the joy of the season. Their sense of goodwill to all mankind lights up, and they feel better in themselves. But isn’t this all hypocrisy? How can one feel a sense of obligation and empathy for one’s ‘fellow man’ for a day or two, then disregard it for the rest of the year? How can those who follow religious doctrine claim to be caring and giving when they do not open their doors to the poor and homeless at this time of year? How can any of us claim to be feeling the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ whilst closing our doors and curtains against the bleak truth that there are thousands – if not millions, suffering right now?

“V: There are, of course, those who do not want us to speak…Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?”

And not just England – which is where V is set and to what he is referring. Take a look at where you live. Be honest. Is it truly a place of equality? Do all people really avoid the truncheon? Do those who speak out maintain their freedom? Or is your government frightening you into a state of impotent paralysis, whereby you feel unable to speak against it, or act against it? Or vote against it? Is your government smothering you with platitudes? Is your government telling outright lies that seem so unbelievable that – you simply cannot bring yourself to believe them?!

“V: Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well, certainly, there are those who are more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable. But again, truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”

Is there a nation on Earth that does not have a system of surveillance anymore? In 2016, China had a reported 176 million surveillance cameras in operation, with plans to increase this number. The U.S. has approximately 15.3 cameras for every 100 individuals, followed by China with approximately 14.4 and the U.K. with 7.5. Other top 10 countries include Germany (6.3), Netherlands (5.8), Australia (4), Japan (2.7), France (2.5) and South Korea (2). So forget about your ‘western freedoms’; you are being watched, counted, surveyed – spied upon on a daily basis. And how do they get away with it? Because we let them. They say it is for our security and protection, but one has to wonder at the increasing level of CCTV’s around the world. And yet the ‘cruelty, injustice and intolerance’ are rarely recorded by these CCTV’s. These crimes are exposed by the people who happen to pull their phones out the fastest. And when these people stand up for what is right, and honest and true – someone somewhere silences them – or attempts to.

“V: I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. They were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic, you turned to… He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m innocent, no, far from it. I am as guilty as the next person. I am as complacent and self-serving as anyone who feels they should keep their head below the parapet of politics. I am comfortable and lazy with it! But our turning away is as bad, if not worse, than the act itself. We know these things are happening and yet….
We know the seas are choking on our plastic – OUR plastic, and yet…
We know the President/PM/Chancellor/Governor lied, and yet…

And yet…
…there are sparks of light in the darkness we all create. Individuals who shine so brightly, speak so passionately, hold up the truth to anyone who will look and listen, that they just cannot (or should not) be ignored.
2019 has seen a rise in young people calling out their governments. Youngsters who have revitalised the people’s passion in a variety of subjects. From gun laws, to education. From female empowerment to climate change.
I raise my glass; and invite you to do the same, to those brave individuals who have not been cowed, or restrained, who have spoken out with fierce determination against systems of oppression. They deserve our support, our thanks and most of all, our cooperation.
Some of them are familiar, some not so; depending on where in the world you live. So let us say ‘Thank you’ to:-

Hong Kong protests – Joshua Wong, age 23 years, helped organise the protests and the Umbrella Movement, criticized the oppression of protesters by the Hong Kong police, and the extradition draft law as pro-Beijing and called for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam to resign.

The #NeverAgain movement – David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin, Emma González, Cameron Kasky, and Alex Wind. The center of a massive youth movement for gun control after surviving a massacre that killed 17 of their classmatesat Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Jihye Yang, 22, is one of the leading youth feminist voices in South Korea, which was rocked this year by protests against a spate of illegal filming cases. Women have been recorded in their homes, on the streets, and even in toilets. Tens of thousands of women have marched in protest under the slogan “My life is not your porn”.

Alexandria Villaseñor, 14 years old – the founder of Earth Uprising, a global climate change movement, and one of the youngest organizers of the historic Sept. 20th Global Climate Strike, is on the front lines of the climate change movement.

Youth Climate StrikeGreta Thunberg, aged 16 years, was first pictured sitting alone outside Swedish parliament in a strike that she hoped would raise alarms among lawmakers. Soon, she had spurred an international movement of students striking on behalf of climate change.

V: So if you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of… government remain unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the… [year] to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.”

Well, I’m not suggesting we all gather around our parliament buildings on the 5th November or to conduct V-like Vendettas. But I am inviting you all to join these; and other, young people across the world in making things better, making things right. Forget slogans like ‘Make….Great Again’. None of the countries who use this phrase have ever had a decade which was great for all it’s citizens.
But they can be made great for the first time in their histories!

Have a peaceful holiday season wherever you may be. And remember, we can make a difference. YOU can make a difference.

Wishing you all a Very merry Christmas!

And a happy, healthy New Year.

V for Vendetta Christmas

Reboots – Good or Bad?

Image result for pennywise
Which is your Pennywise?

Definition- ‘something, especially a series of films or television programmes, that has been restarted or revived.’ (lexico.com)

It isn’t a new thing; this remake business. It’s been going on since the beginning of the movie industry’s success. It is an industry that has always ruthlessly utilised anything it can. It’s like an unstable, mammoth beast that constantly needs feeding, whether on new produce or the scraps from others, doesn’t matter – just keep feeding the beast!

The well-known musical, Singin’ in the Rain although a new movie actually used songs from earlier films. They jujjed them up for a new audience and set them to dance scenes. Make ’em Laugh is also a complete rip-off of the earlier Be a Clown.

So what films are you probably going to see remade in the near future?

Ace Ventura – Morgan Creek Productions are definitely looking into it.

Akira – in the works for a live-action version.

Alien Nations – series of new movies is in the planning stages at 20th Century Fox.

An American Werewolf in London – Max Landis, John Landis’ son penning remake.

Big Trouble in Little China – Kurt Russell has given his blessing.

The Birds – supposed to be overseen by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes company.

Candyman – a Jordan Peele project in development for 20 years.

Charlie’s Angels – reboot is in the works from Elizabeth Banks of Pitch Perfect 2.

Childs Play – reboot directed by Norwegian film-maker Lars Klevberg.

Clue – Hasbro and 20th Century Fox.

Death Wish, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Don’t Look Now, Fantastic Voyage, Flash Gordon and more! The remakes go on and on and on……Personally, remaking Don’t Look Now is the biggest offence.

(denofgeek.com/uk/movies/remakes)

Chances are, you’ve already watched; and enjoyed, remakes of earlier films:

The Thing – 1951, as The Thing From Another Planet, 1982, 2011

It – Bill Skarsgard taking on the role of Pennywise originally played by Tim Curry.

Conan The Barbarian – Jason Momoa in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s role.

Dumbo – The 1941 animation turned into CGI/live-action combo.

A Star Is Born – has been remade 3 times, the latest with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

A Christmas Carol – more than a dozen versions have been remade from 1901 to the present day.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – originally made in 1920, remade in 2005.

(theweek.co.uk/99568/the-29-most-remade-movies-of-all-time)

Image result for the thing from outer space
The Thing 1951
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John Carpenter’s The Thing 1982

Undoubtedly, there are remakes that have been successful, both in terms of profit and audience appreciation. La Cage Aux Folles, was a 1978 French movie based on a 1973 play, it was remade by Mike Nichols as The Birdcage; starring Robin Williams. Cape Fear was originally created in 1962 with Robert Mitchum in the role of Max Cady; a wonderful edgy performance. It was later remade in 1991 with Robert De Niro playing a truly terrifying Cady – Mitchum appeared in a cameo as the Lieutenant.

The 1982 remake of The Thing with Kurt Russell, was enjoyed by audiences who had previously seen the black and white version – who wouldn’t want to see some coloured gore?

Some film makers see an opportunity to recreate something that was a personal favourite, or a classic story they enjoy, and to make their own version with updated visuals. How many film versions of the various Shakespeare plays exist?!

Compare the lush visual quality of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula with those early Hammer Horror films. I grew up with Hammer Horror, and have a fond sense of ownership of those early films, and for someone to remake one feels like sacrilege. Coppola’s version did allow for the titular character to be abroad in daylight – as was in the original novel, and the costumes were undoubtedly gorgeous, however, the casting seemed very much intentionally geared to bringing the audience in; after all, Anthony Hopkins had the year before completed the hugely successful, Silence of The Lambs – and brought some of Hannibal Lecter with him – the scene in which he meets Mina Harker, he sniffs her!

Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman portraying Dracula.

So is it all about the money? Have the studios really run out of creative ideas?

Mention of a remake of The Princess Bride or Battlestar Galactica, for example, has caused great consternation amongst fans of the originals.

What about the screenwriters who are desperate for a break into the industry, to get their story ‘heard’, to be given a chance? There are thousands of writers across the globe, with fantastic concepts and stories, why are they not being given the chance to make their words into a visual feast?

One might argue that some film makers approach the craft with an artistic bent. They may, for instance, want to pay homage to an earlier director, or writer. They may enjoy creating parodies. But the bottom line for making movies is, let’s be honest, to make money. And if a movie or show was successful for the last generations, why wouldn’t it work for the next?

Many are pointing the finger of blame at Hollywood. Well given that it is the largest and most prominent film industry in the world, who can blame them?!

Me. There are films being made across the world, by all sorts of producers and indie companies. You have to make some effort to seek them out, sure, but they do exist. For instance, how many of you reading this are from English speaking countries? I’m primarily thinking UK and USA here. How many films have you ever watched? How many films do you have in your home? How many of those films are NOT in your own language? I would bet the vast majority of English speakers will stick with their own language when viewing for entertainment.

By profits garnered, the largest industries are to be found in –

USA and Canada

China

India

UK

Japan

English language films make the most, but there is nothing to stop English speaking people from seeking out foreign language films. In the age of the internet, much entertainment is at our fingertips. Think of the success; in the UK at least, of the Scandi/Nordic Noir films and TV shows. I devoured all the shows that hit our TV screens – The Killing, The Bridge, Bordertown, Wallander etc.

I hear people say things like, “But I don’t like reading subtitles.” Waah, waah! Make some effort. Don’t sit like a cabbage on a beanbag and allow a drip feed of sanitised, candied mulch to pass through your eyeballs to brain bypassing your critical centre – which is probably so underused in people by now that we don’t even consider we might be being fooled into believing a thing is good when it is shite! Wake up. Make choices. Choose NOT to go to the cinema to see a remake/reboot. Choose NOT to watch a TV show that was around in the 50’s and is a quick, easy option for the studios.

There are a whole shit load of TV shows also currently in the planning stages of reboots/remakes.

In America there is in the pipeline – Bewitched, The Jetsons, Alf, Daria and Rugrats! In the UK there will be a Christmas return to Gavin and Stacey, possibly a season 6 of the incredibly successful Line of Duty, Poldark: series 5, End of the Fucking World: series 2 and the long awaited Taboo with Tom Hardy. But there is a slight dissimilarity between the American and British reboots – the British TV industry is tagging new stuff onto the end of previous shows; making new series, but the American industry is actually re-making old stuff.

Why?

The American market also has a tendency to take British shows and recreate them in their own image. Almost as though they are using the British market almost as a testing ground to see what is popular with audiences – this does irk many Brits and they feel as though the British TV industry is ‘selling off’ what belongs here; national pride kicks in slowly here. On the other hand, the so-called Snowflake generation, seem to adore these dilute American versions. They have grown up with a media swamped with American influence and it isn’t unusual to them, (true Brits quite often find the humour lacking and infantilised). A very quick scan of lists shows over 100 British shows that have been remade for American audiences.

It does seem as though we are reaching a tipping point. Sure, it might be fun to see Christina Ricci’s version of Wednesday Addams, or de Niro’s Max Cady. It also allows for makers to recreate scenes that may not have been publicly acceptable in past times. However, enough is enough the people are saying. Some things, favourite films and shows, should remain sacred and left alone. People will speak out when they aren’t happy, and my, unquantifiable and non-quantitative, research has shown that the prime country for audience dissatisfaction with it’s film industry is America.

The largest, most profitable industry in the world is failing it’s customers. Hollywood, you seriously need to get your act together (no pun intended). You are a money grubbing, money grabbing, egotistic, inflated, sugar-coated, bloated corpse with little regard for the art of film anymore. The whole industry is a cesspit of greed – who the fuck needs $425,000 – $1,000,000 per episode? (The Big Bang Theory gang!) Yes, we may love these shows, and the characters, but seriously folks – YOU’RE NOT THAT IMPORTANT!

The truth is, reboots/remakes are commercially successful, so that means you’re all guilty of making it the way it is!

People, you need to stop watching stuff that hasn’t been newly written, that isn’t original. In the world of literature, there are literally thousands of new books being published weekly. NEW BOOKS, not rewrites, not copies, new. Give writers a chance. New screenwriters must be desperate, DESPERATE, for work, because no-one is hiring them, because studio executives don’t want to take a chance, because they want to pump out the same old tripe to line their pockets.

I suggest you write to producers, film makers, film studios. Tell them you demand something new. Tell them to get off their fat, padded arses and go looking for new talent. Stop watching the remakes.

Studios, STOP IT! Just stop taking the easy option, stop thinking with your wallets. Make something new and interesting. Put out the call for new writers. Advertise for scripts. Trawl through social media and see what’s trending and maybe you’ll pick up a shiny new talent with fantastic ideas – stop playing it safe.

“So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!Howard Beale in Network

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Peter Finch in Network (1976)

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – WHY DID YOU HAVE KIDS?!

I felt a strong urge to update this post – it’s currently the summer vacation time in UK for schools. (sigh) If you visit here regularly, you should be used to my irate rants by now, for newcomers; in the words of April Ludgate ‘Welcome to the terror dome.’

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April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation

So…..

If you don’t like profanity – stop reading.

If you don’t like being told what to do – stop reading.

If, as a parent, you don’t like other parents berating you – stop reading.

ETC. ETC.

*This primarily refers to the UK, parents from other countries are ‘available’.

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – WHY DID YOU HAVE KIDS?!

I cannot tell you the number of times myself, a friend, or colleagues have said this.

First of all – once a parent, always a parent. It never stops, EVER, get that straight first off. Christ, my mother is 82 – and still worries about me and my brother! (Dad died this January 2019). She still has parental concerns. Still hopes we are managing okay.

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New Parents Don’t Have a Social Life!

Secondary schools are busy telling 13 year olds that their GCSE options are the most important decision they will ever make. NOT TRUE!!

Listen up – There are only 2 – yes two – decisions you will make in life that have great importance.

1. Do I spend the rest of my life with this other person?

2. Should I/we bring another human being into the world?

That’s it. Everything else is gravy.

Assuming you, reading this, said ‘yes’ to number 2, then I hope you have thoroughly prepared yourself for a life devoted to another human being’s well-being until said being is a fully independent adult – (this might extend to 25 as the new scientists are saying this is the age of real maturity for humans today!)

Question – What do you think IS the role of a school teacher?

I recently read a comment on Twitter from a young mum. It was in response to a thread about young people today not being able to tell the time on an analog clock. What? she asked, were teachers doing these days. Why weren’t they teaching her daughter to tell the time? She was vaguely outraged. I responded – as you do on Twitter, without engaging my ‘Do you really want to get involved in this?’ brain portion as follows:

Me: My mum taught me how to tell the time. I taught my daughter how to tell the time. Not teachers. Why is it always the teachers fault?

Her: Good for you. I’d expect my kid to learn time in school considering she’s there 8 hours a day.

Let’s break this down – she expects her kids to learn to tell the time in school – because she did. Plus the Maths, Geography, History, English, General Studies, etc that teachers are required to teach. When have they got the time?(No pun intended). What is she doing with them herself if she cannot devote 20 minutes a day to play with her kids and incorporate time-telling?! Second, her kids are in school 8 hours a day?! I thought school day went from 9am to 3.30pm. A 6 1/2 hour day is usual, so unless they attend after-school clubs, I’m not sure where these 8 hours come from.

But the point is – teachers are now being asked to take on a bigger workload, why can’t you, the parent, do some of the work? It’s your child! You chose to have it!

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – WHY DID YOU HAVE KIDS?!

Do you realise that in hundreds of primary schools across the UK, teachers are having to –

a)Teach children how to tie their shoelaces.

b)Teach children how to use a knife and fork.

c) Teach children how to blow their noses.

d)Teach children how to use the toilet.

e)Teach children how to write their own first name.

f)Teach children to be nice! FFS!

This is basic stuff folks. Your child should be able to do all of the above before he or she begins school. At this point I will say that in some instances, some kids aren’t going to be able to do these things, because they may have a physical difficulty; say cerebral palsy, which vastly reduces their co-ordination skills. In my experience, mostly, these parents have found ways to help their kids deal with this – so it’s not those parent’s I’m talking to – it’s the dolts who don’t give enough of a fuck to make an iota of effort to do something to help their own kids!!!

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – WHY DID YOU HAVE KIDS?!

Then there’s the little maggots who are apparently so darling, that mummy and/or daddy will cosset them to the extent that they cannot do or cope with anything by the time they hit their teen years. They even got their own moniker – ‘Snowflakes’, think they’re special and unique but emotionally melt if challenged or made to feel ‘uncomfortable.’

‘Entitled Parent’ and ‘Entitled Children’ are yet another breed. YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO WHATEVER YOU WANT! GROW THE FUCK UP! Makes me puke!

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – WHY DID YOU HAVE KIDS?!

1. Forget about ‘rights’ – we all have the right to have a baby, I hear someone wail – really? You think? What about the child’s rights to be nurtured and loved and fed correctly and clothed and schooled and nursed and so on and so forth. You do not have to have children. It is NOT ‘what you do’ because everyone else does it! I see so many young mothers with multiple offspring who complain about their kids! You made a choice – get on with it! And use contraception next time!

2. Children come first. YOU hold sole responsibility for your child before he/she starts school. YOU are the primary carer – ALWAYS! Get over yourself if you think that your interests are more important than your child’s well-being.

3. Stop handing over responsibility! Teach your child something before he/she goes to school – for Christ’s sake!!!! It is NOT the schools job to teach your child how to – use a knife and fork, tie her shoelaces, blow his nose, wipe her bottom, fasten shirt buttons, tie his school tie, pronounce his name correctly, write her own name, recall own home address, learn some manners. All these, my daughter could do before attending Nursery school aged 3 1/2. No, she isn’t a child genius – she was prepared. It’s what parents used to do in the ‘good old days’ before teachers even had the massive additional workload they have today.

4. If you annoy me is it okay for me to punch your lights out?! At work, we can often spot the teen who has been smacked by his parent/s. Stop it. Just, stop. There is absolutely NEVER any need to smack a child. You are the grown-up, find a way to deal. Babies and Toddlers are not naughty, really; they are exploring the world around them – so you’re going to make them angry at the world from an early age – just because you are?! Grow up.

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – WHY DID YOU HAVE KIDS?

Parenting is hard fucking work!

But the rules are easy – so long as you stick to them. Here we go –

1. If you aren’t prepared to put yourself second – don’t have kids. No exceptions to this rule, nope. Stop right now. Go get a dog, better still, a mouse – they only live for two or three years.

2. Assuming you agree that you are, in fact ready, prepare. Like military preparation, stock up on knowledge – that’s your weapon stash. Read stuff. Inform yourself. Take classes. Whatever it takes for you to gain knowledge about parenting, do it. (*Pssst…as a side note, but not to ruin it…you can never be prepared for the reality.)

3. Get them out of the damn nappies before they start school. FFS! And teach them how to wipe their bums – why should someone else have to wipe your kids arse because you were too damn lazy to show them how?! And blow their own nose – who wants to see all that green candlewax?

4. Let your child have fun – that’s what kids are meant to do. You did not give birth to your own domestic servant. Praise them when they try. Everyone likes to have their efforts recognised. Your kids do great things too, so tell them.

5. Have rules, and stick to them. Regular bedtime. Regular mealtimes. Consistency is key!

Take responsibility. Sure, we all make mistakes at times, we can all get stressed and make a cock-up of a situation. But if you’re not making the effort in the first place….

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – DON’T HAVE KIDS?!

If you made it to the end of this rant, congratulations. I don’t have a prize for you, but I do offer my gratitude and delight that you stayed the distance.

Now go be the best parents (or non-parents) you can be.

 

Book Review: The Bastard Legion #1 by Gavin G. Smith

The Bastard Legion: Book 1

Genre: Sci-fi
Pub Date: 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Length: 336 pages
Kindle Edition: £2.99

Synopsis

Four hundred years in the future, the most dangerous criminals are kept in suspended animation aboard prison ships and “rehabilitated” in a shared virtual reality environment. But Miska Corbin, a thief and hacker with a background in black ops, has stolen one of these ships, the Hangman’s Daughter, and made it her own. Controlled by explosive collars and trained in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine sergeant, the thieves, gangsters, murderers, and worse are transformed into Miska’s own private indentured army: the Bastard Legion. Are the mercenaries just for fun and profit, or does Miska have a hidden purpose connected to her covert past?

* SPOILERS*

This is book 1 in a trilogy, and the first novel, by Gavin Smith, that I have read. Will I be buying the rest? Read on…

But first, I want to tackle the ‘problem’ of men writing women. There has been much discussion across the media platforms about the, oft hilarious, but mostly irritating; to women, way that male writers portray female characters.

There seems to be some kind of gulf between male experience of how women behave and think, and what they lay down on the pages. Surely every single one of these men cannot be singletons, can they?

For as long as novels have existed, male authors have managed to write hilariously inaccurate descriptions of female characters. Indy100 – indy100.com

There have been occasional landslides of Tweets when another male writer is ‘revealed’ to have little working knowledge of how women perceive themselves.

the latest author to scale the whole mountain of male writers who get carried away when describing women, particularly their breasts. The Guardian: ‘A nice set of curves if I do say so myself’: a Twitter lesson in how not to write women‘ – theguardian.com

And the responses range from friendly micky-taking to total outrage. ‘Why can’t men write women?’ Goes the cry. Who are these men writing for? Not me.

‘She was 40 but could have passed for a year younger with soft lipstick and some gentle mascara. Her dress clung to the curves of her bosom which was cupped by her bra that was under it, but over the breasts that were naked inside her clothes. She had a personality and eyes.” The Guardian: All cleavage and clunkiness – why can’t male authors write women? – theguardian.com

Enter (into my sphere of reading), Gavin G. Smith. As I write this, I cannot recall a single moment in The Bastard Legion where Smith portrayed his MC in derogatory terms – I think she looked in a mirror once, and ran her hands through her short hair once or twice– that’s it. So what does Miska Corbin look like? Smith hasn’t given us an abundance of description. We know she has ‘dirty blonde hair’ with shaved undercut, she’s short, and she has ‘elfin’ features. He mentions her breasts once, and that’s only because one of her ‘crew’ is staring at them when he thinks she isn’t looking, and because he is a young man, a prisoner in a previously all male environment and probably hasn’t seen a female for a long time – unlucky him that he got Miska!

For me, Miska Corbin is an example of a female MC successfully written by a male. You see, women and men feel the same things, we all get emotional, and men don’t always express anger, and conversely, not all women cry. I felt that Smith had written a human being. Of course there has to be some physical description, we, the readers want to see what the writer sees, and he uses an economy of description that allows us to visualise her very nicely, thank you, without being a complete and total douche-bag slavering over his own creation.

Corbin comes from a military family, she was a marine; as was her father and her sister, and so trained in all kinds of weaponry and combat techniques. She’s also a hacker, a good one. And finally, she has a slightly unstable personality which means that she may, or may not, decide to blow a person’s head off – literally!- depending on her mood and what occurred prior to the current encounter.

I like her. I want to be her. She is Ripley for a new generation, with a sense of humour; if a little warped, and takes no shit from anyone. She is a great tactician and even in the direst situations, is capable of keeping her cool. So what’s her weakness? you may ask. Her dad.

Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Corbin is dead and Miska, his youngest daughter, is determined to find out how/why/who. But Corbin senior’s death hasn’t prevented him from being a prime player in the story. He is a huge influence on our MC, and in Book 1 her raison d’etre. Her relationship with her father might be deemed unhealthy, but Miska Corbin seems to have unhealthy relationships with everyone she encounters.

When we meet her, she has turned pirate. She has stolen a maximum security prison barge – think of those great 19th century hulks in the Thames, then imagine it four hundred, or so, years in the future, and in space, with weapons, now you got it. There are six-thousand prisoners on board, from car thieves to gang leaders, rapists and murderers, some so dangerous that they are kept in some sort of suspended animation. How does one small female maintain control over this motley crew? Explosive collars! How frackin’ cool is that?! Smith sticks our heroine (is she though? Really?) in this high-risk situation, but needs a way to force all those men to do her bidding. Threat of instant death is a great inducement to do as one’s told. And if one’s head pops off, well then, one less mouth to feed. With the aid of her fathers hologram, mechanoid guards and VR environments, Miska begins to train her own personal army.

I find it a really interesting premise – take a bunch of violent criminals and make them into a formidable fighting force. There is potential danger from the men she now lives on board with, there is threat from the Corporation that hires her to do a dirty clean-up job, and from the unknown killer, or killers, of her father. Miska Corbin is a walking magnet for endangerment. You’re never sure who might turn on whom, how far will a bunch of mercenaries go to ensure their own heads remain firmly fixed to their necks?!

It is action packed. And I mean, all the time, action, (maybe a little too much?) even the moments when she is netrunning with her enhanced abilities. This area of the story I found less easy to follow – but I have the same problem playing Cyberpunk TTRPG. She meets a human shaped virus, has her skin flayed by gritty sand, and when Smith writes, ‘she dropped a number of heavily occulted hacks,’ I couldn’t honestly swear that I totally understood what that means.

I’ve read reviews of books that compare them to TV shows or films. I’m not sure I like this habit. Some reviews of The Bastard Legion claim it was like Suicide Squad or Killjoys crossed with The Expanse. I hated Suicide Squad, thought it was poorly written, clichéd, weak. Loved the other two. The Bastard Legion is the first ‘military in space’ story I have ever read; I’d not heard of this sub genre before. It is not poorly written, clichéd or weak. Smith’s writing is strong, it has the feel of a chunky, persistent force, prodding and driving you forwards. The prisoners aren’t just faceless men, they are nuanced; some more than others, not all bad – sort of, and in a couple of instances come across as more sane and less violent than Miska.

It’s a pretty unique idea; stealing a prison and all the prisoners in it, and turning them into a well-oiled fighting machine, and I think that’s getting harder in sci-fi writing as technology in our world continues to advance, the writers have to up their game. Smith has a great premise and compelling main character; even though she ought to be locked up herself, who has some complicated relationships going on. Not just with her dead father – she and her sister really don’t get on, why does she give more slack to the prisoner Torricone? And what’s with the angelic, technologically enhanced Ultra?

There’s a lot going for The Bastard Legion – the mercenaries as well as the book – and I will definitely be purchasing # 2.

I’m giving The Bastard Legion

4 stars

Should I Have A Website?

Image result for thinking woman

Having an online presence seems to be increasingly important for writers. Although I can’t imagine Beatrix Potter or Joseph Conrad would have had much truck with all this social media and self-promotion.

The anatomy of a Blog

Unlike many bloggers, I am not efficient nor consistent in my posts, it has been what, five weeks since I last updated? Shocking. But they are are a fantastic way of sharing information and opinions, and they can be a great tool for starting debates and conversations; if that is the way your blog is written. Blogs tend to be written in a chatty or informal style, or at least mine do, and often reveal something about the personality of the blogger.

Lately, I have been considering the idea of setting up a website – as somewhere to promote my books. The website also needs attention once it is set up, but not as much. One could liken the blog to an allotment – it needs regular tending and maintenance, whereas the website is akin to a meadow – it might need a little mowing or sowing now and again.

If I did decide to use a website, I imagine this blog would sink slowly into the sunset as I’d not be able to divide my time between work, writing, blogging and the website – so what to do?

The anatomy of a Website

Websites tend to follow a standard format, not dissimilar to blog pages as far as I can tell, in that they have a Homepage/About page, a Contact section, and Products and Services; though these may be incorporated within the body of a post on Blogs.

And which sort of website set-up would I use?

Content management system (CMS) – Is a system designed to support the management of the content of web pages. You can easily manage text and embedded graphics, photos, video, audio, maps, and program code (e.g. for applications) that displays content or interacts with the user.

Self set-up involves lots of skills, such as being able design and code. Although it might be the cheapest option in the long term, it might be time consuming; and in my case as someone with little IT competence, almost impossible.

Website/blog builder service – a program, or tool, that helps you build a website. The programs are very user friendly and use a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface with drag and drop elements.

For authors to best showcase their products and give full details of WIP (Work In Progress) they are better off setting up a website. But what are the different Pros and Cons of Websites and Blogs?

Using a free Content Management System (CMS)

Pros
Flexible
Advanced features
Easy to publish
User friendly
Usually includes hosting and free for basic websites
Content can be updated rapidly
Cons
Regular updates are required to make the site safe from hackers
The CMS stores everything separately, then assembles it on the fly when the web client requests a page, which means they can be slow

Doing all the setting up yourself

Pros
Cost-effective
Total Flexibility
Easy to publish
Cons
Time consuming
Requires design skills
Requires coding skills

Using a website/blog builder service

Pros
You don’t need any coding skills
You don’t need any design skills
Quick turn around
Easy to publish
Usually includes hosting and domain names for a premium cost
User friendly: WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)
Cons
Usually comes with strings attached
Less flexibility
Expensive

After ploughing through the possibilities; which reduce drastically the less computer literate a certain person might be (!), there is then the problem of choosing a…

DOMAIN NAME

When I first started using computers and the website came of age, this word suddenly entered my world. What on earth is a Domain Name? I wondered. It sounds, still, like something from a Dungeons & Dragons quest: The Domain of Uglith The Mighty!!

Image result for D & D domain demon
Image from Forgotten Realms.

Simply, a Domain Name is a web address, like: mywebsite.com. If you’re not using a web builder service, you need to register a domain with a company that sells domain names, apparently! Not only that, you have to pay for it! If the name isn’t available, you have to try for another one – so I have read. Does this mean that I can’t make my own up? I couldn’t locate that information…in all honesty, I got bored reading yards and yards of text. What I did pick up was to make your domain, Catchy, Unique and Easy to Remember.

Then there is the issue of Hosting.

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Note: I’m sure you can see a pattern beginning to develop here. Information and explanation becoming less cohesive and explanatory as I progress. If you’re familiar with my blogs, then you’ll understand – I am simply not built for the Information Technology Age. Anyway, back to Hosting. It’s not about wearing red velvet smoking jackets and regaling your guests with tales of derring do. Rather it’s something to do with computers called ‘Servers’, which run operating systems, store files and connect to the internet. They are designed to be open to the public so browsers can access web content. ‘Hosting’ refers to the company that rents space on one of their servers so they can ‘host’ your site there.

Some things I have to consider – so I am told.

  1. What type of website do I want to create?
  2. What will be the technical requirements of the website?
  3. What level of security do I require?
  4. Do I need email hosting?
  5. How large is the data I will be storing?
  6. What volume of traffic do I initially expect? And in the future?
  7. What’s my monthly hosting budget?

To all of the above, my answer is a consistent, I don’t know!

But I have collected some Top Tips to keep people engaged in your website:

  1. Have clear navigation – if it’s not clear, people will get frustrated and leave.
  2. Use call to action buttons – helps lead people to desired actions.
  3. Make sure your site is loading quickly – humans are impatient creatures.
  4. Keep it minimal – too much design is distracting.
  5. Keep the same look and feel throughout – a ‘brand’ identity is visually more appealing.

It all seems like a lot of hard work. I’m lazy by nature and will try to get away doing as little as possible. But, I feel on the cusp of progressing with my writing. It needs a home of its own, something that can ‘look after itself’ so to speak.

So…

Should I Have A Website? I haven’t got a Scooby Doo!