Radio Silence

‘I feel I need a holiday,’ said Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings. ‘A very long holiday. I need a change or something. I want to see mountains again and then find somewhere where I can rest in peace and quiet. I might find somewhere where I can finish my book.’

Yeah, you and me too, Bilbo old chum.

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Perhaps it is something to do with the changing seasons; the falling leaves and the shorter days, or perhaps it is just that I need a long rest, both mentally and physically, but in recent days I have found Bilbo’s conversation on my mind rather a lot.

I’m not going on holiday. I’d love to, but I can’t afford it and there is stuff here I need to do. Some of this state of mind is a result of the uncertainty (of my own making, I freely admit) caused by my retiring from the job I have done in one form or another for the last twenty years or so, and the need (so far unsuccessful) to find something else

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Some of it is a result of other ongoing issues that will resolve themselves in time, but until then cause worry and sadness.

It has, really, been a difficult last year or so.

I need some space.

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So I’m just going off-line again for a while. Maintaining radio silence. Ignoring the blasted Facebook (although I will respond to Messenger – I value my friendships too much not to!).

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I might even finish that book.

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The First Draft

It’s November. And I’ve set myself the target of finishing the first draft of ‘A Good Place‘ by the end of the month.

What is a first draft? No one seems to agree with anyone else on this one. And my use of the term here is a little different to most of the definitions I have come across.

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A hill station in Northern India photographed by my father during WWII. How is this relevant? read on…

Ideas of what constitutes a first draft seem to vary from, at one end, a sketch of the story arc with most of the characters written in, a mixture of great and awful writing, plot holes and loads of inconsistencies to, at the other end, the story pretty much as the author imagines it, but with minor inconsistencies to iron out, prose to polish and some information dump to delete.

I imagine that any single writer’s idea of a first draft will depend upon what type of writer they are. Being a pantser myself, i.e. NOT beginning with a carefully planned storyline and characters, but making it up as I go along, I think the first draft has to be closer to the finished article than if I were a plotter. This is because it is a little harder to see when I have reached that destination.

So my personal idea of a first draft is the book written from beginning to end, no obvious plot holes, no gaps, and nothing I think is glaringly wrong.

When I come back to revise, plot holes will reveal themselves, and I’ll deal with them then. What I shouldn’t be doing is coming back to a work with a huge gap where I found it too bothersome to write the dialogue in the first place.

So it’s mainly dialogue I’ll be working on. There are two scenes which need a lot of work on them still, and quite a lot of smaller gaps in the final third of the book. The draft currently weighs in at about 85,000 words, which is almost twice the length of Making Friends with the Crocodile, and feels to me to be the right length for the story.

It’s taken quite a while to get here. I know it’s generally accepted that the second novel usually has a far more difficult birth than the first, but the storyline has changed tremendously over the couple of years I have been working on it, and has become something I had not foreseen at all.

I’m not quite there yet, though.

And what is A Good Place about?

I’m so glad you asked.

It is 1988, and an Englishman arrives at a small hill station in Northern India. At first he appears to be no more than just another tourist, but gradually we learn he lived in the town as a child, during the time of Partition. A couple of years later his family moved back to England in a hurry, and he suspects it might have been due to some dark or ignoble reason and has decided to do a little research.

The human landscape of the story is the mixture of characters living there, the good and the bad, the well-off and the poor, the weird and the apparently normal, especially the English left behind after Partition.  It also happens to be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the town by the English, and amidst the planned celebrations there are predictable feelings and tensions over this.

And the main character’s private life is a bit of a mess…

Catharsis

Today is one of those grim and dark autumn days. It isn’t actually raining, but there is a damp chill in the air that seeps into your bones and just makes you feel miserable.

 

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Yesterday wasn’t a whole lot better, although we did see a little of the sun. So what to do when you need to feel a bit better? When you’re feeling a bit down, lethargic…fed up…you know, whatever fails to float your boat at the time.

Me? Go for a walk. Always helps. But I’ve told you that before. There are a few other remedies, though. Throwing stuff out always helps. Even just going around the house and emptying the rubbish bins is a step in the right direction. I’ve long had this dream to live an incredibly minimalist life – just the bare essentials, no real luxuries, no more than I actually need. The problem is, though, the bare essentials seem to involve hundreds and hundreds of books. and…I…just…can’t…

I love Peter Cook’s line: ‘My tragedy is I was an only twin!’, and I think there’s a slight echo of that in that my tragedy is being a minimalist who can’t stop collecting books.

And photos.

And elephants (but that’s a story for another time).

And…

I’m sure you get the idea.

We have an attic space full of all sorts of stuff that needs to be cleared out. Loads of my old paintings, for a start. And all the other junk that tends to accumulate in attic spaces. There are old carpets and window blinds that are of no use to anyone, including us. Tools. An old water tank (How on Earth can I get that out?). Pet carriers – those little cages that are used to take pets to the vets if necessary – our cats rush out of the house and over the horizon if the carriers ever make an appearance; they learn quickly!

And other stuff.

But I chucked a load out yesterday, including some of my old paintings. It felt very cathartic. And I deleted loads of emails. Some of which I’d actually read.

Cathartic.

Loads of old paperwork that was filling up drawers and files.

Cathartic.

It’s a step in the right direction, anyway. I look at it as trying to take back control of my life.

On the other hand, of course, I could just look at a few somewhat more cheering photos and then get on with writing my book…

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Changtse, Everest, Nuptse and the Khumbu glacier

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Coffee

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Along the South Downs Way, Sussex

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Dozing cat

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Stone elephant, Five Rathas, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

That should do it.

Who Shot Tony Blair? The Novel

As Minister for Culture, Media & Sport I have to tell you to buy this book! 


 

Who Shot Tony Blair?

Now available on Kindle and coming soon on paperback!

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Not the political thriller we wanted, but the political thriller we deserve

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US

In a post-Brexit, pre-dystopian Britain, the traditional political system has collapsed and Tony Blair is back in Number 10. Only this time, he is tied to a chair in the kitchen under the watchful eye of the accidental Prime Minister’s mother.

Following several years of instability, Britain is more divided than ever. The country has devolved into a ragtag assembly of self-governing provinces, each with their own unique and particular arrangements. 

Elected to the position of Prime Minister of East Anglia by lottery (considered the only true method of democracy by some drunk Cambridge scholars), Lucy Wastell comes to power with the intention of reuniting her beloved country, establishing Cambridge as the new capital city and giving her chums all the top jobs. Which…

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Deadlines and Breadlines

My loyal follower will have noticed that I have a tendency to drop off of the grid for a while from time to time.

I do that, yes. Sometimes I feel I don’t really have anything worth saying, and at other times I feel there is just too much (self-imposed) pressure on me to come up with a new blog post or to keep up with all those I follow.

Some people thrive on deadlines and work best that way. Others dread them, especially those who have regular confidence and anxiety issues.

Dreadlines, indeed.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never really had the kind of job where I have someone shouting at me constantly to produce plans or reports by this or that deadline, or else I’ll be sacked and out of work and the family will be thrown out of the house onto the streets and starve boo-hoo. Yet I set myself the task or writing a new blog post once a week or twice a week, or whenever I feel I should be doing that.

Preposterous, isn’t it?

I enjoy blogging, and enjoy following other blogs, but every now and again I wonder why on earth I don’t just go and spend the day walking in the countryside or cleaning the house or exercising the badger or something.

And that is why I’ve been rather quiet for a week or two.

So, here’s a picture of a small boy and three sharks on a donkey in the desert as some sort of recompense for you.

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You’re welcome.

Five o’clock

I’ve been away from the computer for most of the last week, but now I’m back with a slightly longer poem than I usually write.

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At five o’clock the fire is lit.

Around the table we all sit,

With buttered bread and eggs and ham,

With cups of tea and cake and jam.

The idle talk is of the day,

The work now done, the latest play,

And ‘Anything to watch tonight?’

Or in the warmth and soft lamplight,

Perhaps we’ll read and play a hand,

Of whist, or bridge, you understand.

And ‘Don’t forget, at half past nine,

The radio – it’s music time.’

Then bank the fire, put out the lights,

The household settles for the night.

 

The heat blasts out in every room,

And lights and games and TVs soon

Take over so completely that

It’s pointless even trying to chat.

The sounds of gunfire, screaming cars,

Exploding buildings, and on Mars

The aliens armed with laser beams,

Are killed on several different screens

In different rooms by different boys,

With highly deadly killing toys.

The evening mealtime’s such a treat,

With pizza, chocolate, crisps and sweets.

Although it seems they all are eating

Different things at different sittings.

 

‘A cup of cocoa? I don’t think

That that will do, an energy drink

Is what I need, the evening’s young,

And there’s still much that’s to be done.

And if I cannot concentrate,

Upon this game, it’ll be too late,

The zombies will have won and then

I’ll go back down to level ten.’

It’s one o’clock, they still can’t sleep.

There’s not much point in counting sheep,

‘cause they’re all battery-powered toys,

Just so much electronic noise

And moving parts all running round,

And round and round and round and round.

 

I’m standing now beneath night skies,

Pale silver light from fresh moonrise.

I’ve walked for almost half a day,

It takes that long to get away

now, searching for a quiet place

Where I can pause and have some space.

I’m thinking how it used to be,

At five o’clock, the time for tea.

It seems to me that what we’ve gained,

Is not worth any of the pain.

And even more what we have lost,

We should have saved at any cost.

But anyway, now it’s just me

I have my flask, I’ll pour my tea.

 

Seven Cities of Delhi by Rajiv Chopra

 

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On my first visit to Delhi, almost thirty years ago, I was overwhelmed by the huge numbers of monuments there, such as the Red Fort and Purana Qila. I found the area around Paharganj to be chaotic and exciting and everything an inquisitive Westerner could wish for – a mixture of smells of food and incense and, yes, sewage. A mixture of ugly concrete buildings and beautiful dilapidated buildings left over from the British Raj and often much earlier. Milling crowds of people and cows and rickshaws and bicycles and autos, and history, history, history.

Chadni Chowk was incredibly crowded, the Lodi Gardens completely deserted. The Jama Masjid crowded by tourists and worshippers alike, the Janta Manta often almost empty.

There is so much history everywhere you turn in Delhi.

Other Westerners I met tended to be highly disparaging of Delhi, which was something I couldn’t completely understand since many of these same Westerners seemed to praise Mumbai and Kolkata for the very reasons they hated Delhi.

Yet Delhi is, I think, one of the most exciting and interesting cities I have ever visited. From a historical viewpoint alone, it has over ten thousand listed monuments.

Ten thousand!

Rajiv Chopra is a Delhi based photographer with a passion for recording both the historical Delhi and the street life he comes across from day to day. In this book, he has combined his photographs with a little of the history of the seven historical cities that constitute Delhi, and also a perspective of the differing processes that photography has passed through from its invention up to the present day.

To illustrate all these factors, his book is split into seven sections – one for each of the historical periods – and in each section he has outlined one of these photographic processes so that, for example, in the section covering the first city, Mehrauli, he speaks of daguerrotypes. And then his own photographs he processes through Photoshop to simulate the effects of these processes.

This is not a long book, but it does not pretend to do more than act as an introduction to the history of Delhi. And in this it certainly whets the appetite for more, and then for anyone with even a passing interest in photography it gives a concise and potted description of these photographic processes. Finally the photographs themselves complement the text perfectly.

I unhesitatingly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know a little of the history of Delhi, and who enjoys photographs that give a real flavour of the history of that magnificent city.

Five stars out of five.

You can find Rajiv’s website and blog here

Keep Watch at the Window

It’s October.

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That must mean it’s autumn. It certainly feels like it, now. So here’s a little poem for when the days are drawing in and it’s becoming colder and darker outside.

Keep watch at the window in the Westering light,

On the distant hill in the approaching night,

Under darkling clouds, over dew-touched heath,

Where the flowers of summer are now touched by death,

I’ll be coming home in the fading light.

 

Keep watch at the window in the fading light,

You’ll see me walking when the moon is bright,

My shadow before me coming down the hill,

My breath opaque in the air now chill,

I’ll be coming home in the last of the light.

 

Keep watch at the window in the last of the light,

When I’m weary you’ll see me come into sight,

Drawn by the firelight and the thought of wine,

By the thought of you; so glad you’re mine!

I’m home now, let’s shut out the night.

 

Salt

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I should feel like an Egyptian pharaoh,

But I never had all that splendour.

Mine was such a short life,

And then I was mummified for the Hereafter.

 

There was never anyone to wait on me,

To bring me delicacies or fan away the flies.

You could not imagine Liz Taylor

Wanting to play my part in a film.

 

But I want you to take a moment or two,

To imagine that your feet and hands

Are permanently covered in cracks and crevices.

And to imagine the constant burning pain.

 

And contemplate now, the virtual blindness

That comes from seeing – day in and day out –

The bright sun reflected from the brilliant white

Of salt, from horizon to horizon.

 

And breathing, such a natural thing!

But even breathing was slowly killing me.

Coughing, spitting, rasping breath and breathlessness

And worse…

 

And when I died, they could not burn me.

Not properly, for the years of salt had seeped

Into my skin and as a final indignity,

Ensured that even death was not a true escape.

 

 

Sprinkle, sprinkle on your dish,

Shut your eyes and make a wish,

Up above the world so high,

If there’s a watcher in the sky,

Pray they somehow can arrange

For this indignity to change.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the extremely difficult conditions endured by Indian salt workers – and many others all over the world (the link is here should you care to read it) – which I don’t think have eased since then.

As you add salt to your meal today, think of them.

Review – The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

 

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Late in the year 1327 Brother William of Baskerville, a Franciscan monk, and Adso, a Benedictine novice, arrive at a monastery in Northern Italy. Winter is rapidly approaching, and so is both a legation led by a notorious inquisitor and another that contains that inquisitor’s implacable enemies. William is to speak in intercession between them.

But once they arrive at the monastery, a series of brutal murders begins, and, at the request of the Abbot, William and Adso are drawn into the investigation.

Every detective story needs a detective, and in The Name of the Rose it is William of Baskerville, who indeed uses logic and observation to make deductions, much like a medieval Sherlock Holmes.

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As the plot develops, there are long theological debates centred around both the poverty of Christ and the question of whether Christ laughed. Questions I have little knowledge of, but which read as authentic to me. But these debates are central to the plot. On the interpretation of Christ’s poverty alone, men and women are accused of heresy and burnt at the stake.

But everything is centred upon the monastery’s library. This library is the greatest library of its time in Europe, containing innumerable rare, important and beautiful volumes. At the centre of the story lies a mysterious and forbidden book, and this book lies at the centre of the labyrinthine library where only the Librarian and his assistant are permitted. But are the murders being committed to get hold of this book or is there another reason? Could they, in fact, be connected with the predictions in the Book of Revelations?

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This is such a well-known book that I found I forgot it was a translation from the original I was reading. Much like the Bible, of course, which point is salient to the monks, and certainly in medieval times this interpretation was a matter of life or death to thousands.

But the translation of  prose does not pose the same problems as the translation of verse, and I don’t suppose the English translation is any different from the Italian original. But the potentials made me smile

As a long book, it provides a canvas for long descriptions, both of the abbey and the associated buildings – essentially a castle – and of the long debates between the monks and the other players. At times there is undoubtedly a temptation to skip some of these, but the reader is adequately rewarded for persevering in that the descriptions paint a powerful picture of the place and time, while the debates tell much about the importance of religion and the ridiculous interpretations of every word of the Bible that quite literally governed the lives and deaths of everyone at that time.

A word about the pace of the book, though. Some readers may find it a little slow (although if those readers skip the debates and longer descriptions it is as fast-paced as any other), but remember it is not just a detective story, it is also a historical novel and moves at the pace one would expect of a book of that genre.

I read this a very long time ago, and although I remember it as having been a very good book, I had forgotten just how good. I will unhesitatingly give it five stars.

And the meaning behind the title? Well, you need to wait until the end to find out, and then you need to understand Latin…