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OOPS! Fire on train: Passengers alight
--COUNTY DOWN SPECTATOR
DEATH OF THE SHAKESPEARE MYTH
23 jUNE 2016
by Charles Bryce
SUCH A SHAME, but now proved beyond reasonable doubt. The much vaunted Bard of Avon wrote nothing. William Shakspere, gentleman of Stratford, penned not a single line of the Shakespeare plays and sonnets that enrich world literature. Two learned literary detectives have finally cracked the mystery which baffled academics for 400 years.
The Shakespeare Debate has raged fierce and wide, so who was he (or she?). An unlettered country lad from Stratford upon Avon could never have the familiarity of court, knowledge of European places and languages, and the life experiences evident in Shakespeare's comedies, histories and tragedies. Many candidates have been suggested as the true author against vigorous defence from Stratford believers who have theorised the many ways young Wil came to own such erudition in so many diverse areas.
Over the years the main Shakespeare aliases have included the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Countess of Pembroke, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland and Sir Henry Neville. The last named is the true creator of the famous works, according to seemingly irrefutable evidence. This is recently published in Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare, by Professor William D. Rubinstein and Dr John Casson. So far (meaning my last google search) it has not been challenged.
With Bard of Avon ideology now convincingly demolished, methinks England's tourist promoters will have to create a new profile for the genius author.
Until they do, Stratford on Avon is sure to lose much of the glitter that annually draws tourists from all over the world to ‘the birthplace of Shakespeare’. Is a new idol (perhaps the Bard of Berkshire) now going to supplant the Bard of Avon because Neville was born in a small village between Maidenhead and Reading and ten miles from Windsor?
Must the appeal of Stratford on Avon fade before the thrill of treading the ancient lanes of Waltham St Lawrence (population 1500)? Should Anne Hathaway Cottage bow out to a totally different heritage, such as The Bell pub or Neville Community Hall? Or tourists spurn ‘Shakespeare’s tomb’ at the Stratford Holy Trinity Church in order to seek Neville’s grave at St Lawrence Church?
It is a serious issue for Stratford on Avon, the economy of which centres around Shakespeare and five million tourists a year. In contrast, Waltham St Lawrence is off the tourist map, although not without minor fame as a television clone site for episodes of Pie In The Sky, Rosemary and Thyme and Midsummer Murders.
It is hard to imagine what Stratford can do to retain the town’s reputation and prosperity. Doubtless the pro-Stratfordians are desperately seeking how to respond to the Casson/Rubinstein evidence. They face a difficult task.
Arguments against Neville being the Shakespeare writer have been made before, ever since author Brenda James nominated him in 2005. In fact, eight previous books have explored the Neville qualifications. However, none has been as thorough and overwhelming as the Casson/Rubinstein findings. Both wrote previous books on Neville as Shakespeare, but now their teamed talents combine in what I would call absolute proof.
Dr Casson, now retired, is a psychotherapist specialising in psychodrama – which includes how an individual uses language. He is also an expert on ancient documents.
Professor Rubinstein is a historian with enormous experience and scholarship, a Royal Historical Society member whose work is well known internationally and highly regarded.
They solve the Shakespeare puzzle by comparing undisputed chronology of the famous works with events in the life of Sir Henry Neville of Waltham St Lawrence and that of William Shakspere of Stratford, actor, theatre manager and property investor.
Also, they detail scribbles and annotations by Neville in books recognised as source material for many Shakespeare plays. They compare Neville’s letters with words and phrases used at a later date by Shakespeare. Handwriting too. They point out a change of genre in the plays, from comedy through history to tragedy, as Neville’s parliamentary career progressed to imprisonment in the Tower of London when linked to the Essex Rebellion of 1601.
They explain why Neville chose to write secretly – his head was at risk. They show how Shakespeare had Neville family members in his histories, and how he often twisted facts to turn historical Neville baddies into goodies.
Most enlightening, they insist Shakespeare was not just writing for fun or profit. They identify themes coinciding with dangerous ideas about dethroning an English monarch.
As for Shakespeare’s sonnets, these are analysed to show motive and relationship with Neville’s Tower of London accomplice.
This book is well produced by Amberley Publishing, with extensive end tnotes and a massive bibliography. It is so convincing that I declare the Bard of Avon to be well and truly dead. Long live Wil Shakespeare of Waltham St Lawrence.
At the age of 15, Neville matriculated from Merton College, Oxford and toured the Continent with his tutor. He was Member of Parliament for New Windsor (1584, 1586, 1593), Sussex (1589), Liskeard (1597) and Berkshire (1604, 1614). His father (also Sir Henry) took custody of Mary Queen of Scots 1584-1585 before her beheading in 1587.
Neville succeeded his father as High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1595. He owned a business that made cannons. He was Deputy Lieutenant of Berkshire in 1596 and knighted in 1597. Appointed Ambassador to France, he returned to became involved with the 1601 rebellion against Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Essex. Confined to the Tower, he was released 1603 when James of Scotland succeeded to the throne.
Like all writers, he used autobiographical experience in his fiction, leaving an uncanny trail to be brilliantly exposed only 400 years after his death. Ironically, the truth is revealed in the very year England holds 400th anniversary shows, events and celebrations to honour a Bard of Avon who never was.
17 June 2016
THE SINS OF THE FATHERS ****
by Lawrence Block
Slow start, roasting climax. Ex-cop Scudder smokes and drinks his way through an investigation into a most peculiar murder. Seemingly impossible to explain the facts, he works it out convincingly. This is a whodunit to which a reader can apply brainwork, guesswork, or shrewd understanding of terrible things. Or, like me, cruise with Scudder along the trail to eventually be shocked, amazed and delighted.
THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE ****
by Philip Kerr
Gunther and the British traitors. Ex-cop Bernie Gunther somehow manages to offend the secret service of every nation – to my continuing delight. This time he’s on trial for his very life. Wonderful! (I know he’ll wriggle out of it like he beats the challenges in every book).
Philip Kerr’s research, as usual, is deep and shocking in revealing truths. Via Gunther, his tale makes the most of bestselling author Somerset Maugham as a spy. There’s lots of controversial stuff, too, on moles within the highest level of British Intelligence. A fascinating read.
Migration: a grail that changes the world
11 June 2016
IN A HAPPY CONTINENT, removed from the tumultuous politics now shaking Europe and America, June marks a momentous triumph of human endeavour over established power. They’re celebrating one man’s vision in the far west of Australia, as they do each year, true to the spirit that created a nation and changed the southern hemisphere.
Defying impossible odds, the dream of James Stirling in 1829 was to seek an Eden where enlightened people could dwell in peace and comfort. The unexplored wilderness he chose for a migration of British landed gentry matched the location of fictional Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels. His idea was scorned, opposed by commerce and government, and his determined settlers turned their Eden into a murderous Hell.
Nevertheless, the survival and eventual success of Swan River Colony led to the Australia existing today. It was the first Free Settlement in the Great Southland, and notably distinct and separate from the convict dumps that blighted eastern shores. Stirling’s pattern of democratic government was later copied by other regions of Australia.
The exciting tale of Swan River is a niche in world history, and little known beyond Australia. It is brilliantly chronicled by John Ivor (pictured right). He is himself a British migrant who brought his wife and two small children from London seeking, yes, the grail of peace and comfort that still pulls people in our ever changing world.
John Ivor’s fiction and history is unequalled in scope and content. “I was entranced by Western Australia’s unique history,” he says on his Authors Den website. “At the Battye Library in Perth, the state capital, I found a treasure trove of personal diaries, old government reports, and newspapers long out of print yet crammed with human drama.” His Swan River books are listed on his Amazon page:
Or in digital format at Smashwords:
They range from a history (The Fabled Swan), through a fictionalized autobiography of James Stirling (Captain Striver), to novels and short stories dramatizing the bloody clash of rival cultures:
(Java’s Dream, Run Maggie Run, No Kiss For A Killer, Eden’s Deadly Shore, Amateur Rebel, Reverend Rapist, Invade America!, Prize Bride, The Painted Ladies, Kill).
Happy reading! from Cathy.
FLEMING EVER TRUE TO HIS BOND
4 June 2016
JAMES BOND, code name 007 (licence to kill), has been with us a long time but hardly long enough to send him to the knackers yard. Therefore I was dismissive of the recent suggestion by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Spectator that: ‘After six decades, and several writers better than Ian Fleming, this character is simply worn out’.
Fiction heroes never wear out. They are immortal.
But how credible is Bond nowadays? No more than he ever was, which means he was never truly credible, just a thrilling read. The Bond books remain ‘politically incorrect’ entertainment -- when written by original author Ian Fleming after World War 2. The substitute authors employed after Fleming’s death have never quite been true to Fleming’s Bond. They fail to capture the mood of the suave rogue. They were better writers than Fleming, as the Spectator crit states (and I agree), but for this very reason they could not depict 007 with the same flamboyant flair.
Fleming’s Bond books will remain popular classics as long as storytelling lives. For the era they reflect, they are historical gems. As for the movies, these have become a circus of explosive visuals. In this they are similar to most current film thrillers that rely on special effects rather than acting or plot. If we have to do without these two ingredients, give me a good musical any day. However, I dare say that for filmgoers who lap up the comic-book heroes now dominating screened adventure, Special Agent 007 is going to be around for the foreseeable future.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
THE GHOST BEHIND SHAKESPEARE
28 May 2016
FOUR hundred years after the death of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, the claim flares fierce as ever that he did not write the immortal plays and sonnets. I googled ‘Shakespeare debate 2016’ and got 1.9 million results. No way can anyone read all the wordy evidence and squabbles, facts and fancies, or stormy insults worthy of invention by the playwright (whoever wielded that quill).
An excellent summary, however, is offered in Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays? Published in 2012, it tackles the issue in 158 scholarly pages easy to read. The author is history professor William D. Rubinstein. He explains the controversy before giving separate chapters to each of the eight main candidates, including the Stratford celebrity.
Despite naming his own favourite (Sir Henry Neville) the author assures us: “If this work is seen as anything other than balanced and objective, that is contrary to its purpose.”
He also confesses he began his researches believing the theatrical producer from Stratford really did write the famous creations. He gives the case for and against each possible genius and finishes with Possible Conclusions. His evidence favouring Neville is strongly asserted, believe it as ye choose.
Placed on trial in this neat wrap-up are Shakespeare of Stratford, the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Countess of Pembroke, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland and Sir Henry Neville.
Rubinstein appends a select bibliography for addicts to explore for themselves. Doubtless this will be extended in a new presentation, in collaboration with Dr John Casson, which has only just been published and which I have not read. This one is bluntly titled Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare. The preamble states that Neville’s annotated library books, manuscripts, notebooks and letters show he was the secret author. He survived dangerous political times by keeping his authorship under wraps.
Which brings me, as always in the Shakespeare Debate, to crime fiction diva Ann Morven. She presents my own favourite conspiracy in her whodunit The Killing of Hamlet. She has no academic laurels, just writes a rattling good murder mystery. Highly recommended!
The relevant links:
The Killing of Hamlet: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Killing-Hamlet-Evil-will-out/dp/1468023802?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0
Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sir-Henry-Neville-Was-Shakespeare/dp/1445654660/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1462856112&sr=1-1&keywords=sir+henry+neville+was+shakespeare+casson
Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays? https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wrote-Shakespeares-Plays-William-Rubinstein/dp/1445601907/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1462856199&sr=1-1-spell&keywords=Who+Wrote+Shakespeare%E2%80%99s+Plays+rubinbstein
Happy reading! From Cathy.
CHINA TICKS OFF MEDIA BARBARIANS
21 May 2016
IT is many years since I worked in Fleet Street, but even then the barbarian tabloids offended both good taste and responsible journalism. Now, judging by an eavesdrop on Queen Elizabeth, this villainy infects global networks. An intrusive microphone, attached to a long pole, hacked a private conversation.
I’m referring to that report flashed worldwide in which the Queen said Chinese officials were ‘very rude’ to walk out of a meeting about security arrangements for President Xi Jinping’s state visit.
Well, rude they jolly well were. Reason for the walkout: They did not like Britain allowing protest rallies.
The full private conversation between the Queen and Metropolitan police officer Lucy D’Orsi was not broadcast – only the bit about rude Chinese. It was actually talk about working mums.
Afterwards, rabid newshounds tried to make it an international scandal. Without factual justification, headlines said UK-China relations were ‘in balance’. China declined the bait, saying bilateral ties remain strong. And China’s biggest-selling tabloid, Golden Times, chided Britain’s ‘hyped up’ newspapers.
“It isn’t a big deal for your friend to complain a little bit in private. I presume Chinese officials make jokes about British officials in private too,” said an editorial.
“The West in modern times has risen to the top and created a brilliant civilisation, but their media is full of reckless gossip fiends who bare their fangs and brandish their claws and are very narcissistic, retaining the bad manners of barbarians.
“As they experience constant exposure to the 5000 years of continuous Eastern civilisation, we believe they will make progress in terms of their manners.”
Nicely put. Tittle-tattle is never news.
Commander D’Orsi commented: “We were talking about juggling being a working mum. I said the diversity of my day, sometimes you are in charge of the Chinese state visit and then at home in the evening you are at home being a mum.”
Here’s exactly what was said at the hacked Buckingham Palace garden party when the Queen greeted her police guest:
Lord Chamberlain: Can I present Commander Lucy D’Orsi, who was gold commander during the Chinese state visit.
Queen: Oh, bad luck.
Lord Chamberlain: And who was seriously, seriously undermined by the Chinese, but she managed to hold her own and remain in command. And her mother, Judith, who’s involved in child protection and social work.
Judith Copson: Yes, I’m very proud of my daughter.
Lord Chamberlain: You must tell your story.
D’Orsi: Yes, I was the gold commander, so I’m not sure whether you knew, but it was quite a testing time for me.
Queen: Yes, I did.
D’Orsi: It was … I think at the point that they walked out of Lancaster House and told me that the trip was off, that I felt …
Queen: They were very rude to the ambassador.
D’Orsi: They were, well, yes she (Ambassador Barbara Woodward) was with me and they walked out on both of us.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
MY URGE TO COMPARE
14 May 2016
IT is always interesting to compare opinions by other people on books I have read. My own views do not always agree with popular favourites, especially the big earning bestsellers. I wonder what readers think of my comments on these recent reads, which are not necessarily recently published:
THE SUMMER OF A DORMOUSE *****
by John Mortimer
Philosophical delights of old age. Published in 2000, nine years before his death at age 85, this commentary on old age flows with the wit and observations we associate with Rumpole of the Bailey. It is also a memoir, of the world and of Britain in particular, since the author’s 1930s boyhood.
He includes the vocational travails of his days as a barrister and a writer, discussions on Life, and anecdotes about the famous, the politicians, the judges, and the weird situations he encountered. It is a delightful read.
DEATH OF A KINGFISHER **
by M.C. Beaton
Promising start, unbelievable second half. Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is a great character and so are the Scottish Highlands folk, but this mystery deteriorates halfway through into unbelievable juvenility.
BASTARD OF A PLACE *****
by Peter Brune
Heroes and villains. Australia’s military forces were the first to defeat Japan in its remorseless conquest of Southeast Asia. Their WW2 heroism and sacrifice in Papua ranks with Gallipoli as a national cause. Strangely, the brilliant Aussie generals have been ignored or sidelined, and some were even sacked. Many historians give the glory to General Douglas MacArthur of the United States.
Peter Brun’s non-fiction describes the actions, the jealousies and the political bungles. He draws on campaign reports, memoirs, varied judgments, and personal accounts – all sourced in a detailed bibliography. He restores the deserving and condemns the self-seekers. The reputations of Prime Minister Curtin and generals Blamey and MacArthur get an unbiased condemnation. The real heroes turned back the Japanese tide despite atrocious situations and lack of resources. Their thinking, their strategies and their battles are here brilliantly documented.
HIT ME ****
by Lawrence Block
An entertaining murderer. I cannot totally relate to a hero who kills on contract, irrespective of the victim’s character. Soldiers, of course, do that all the time but this fictional character, John Paul Keller, makes murder a business. Yikes! All the same, author Block entertains as always. He partly mollifies my basic disapproval by relating what happens when the hitman is paid to assassinate an innocent child!
Always a delicious blend
7 May 2016
STORIES fascinate and so do great events of the past. Blend the two and you get the thrills, entertainment and knowledge of historical fiction. Maybe the heyday of such novels is past, yet adventure (to me anyway) is never more delightful than when an author places it in a bygone era.
That’s my lead-in for a mention of the novels of John Ivor. His theme is a fascinating niche in the days of the British Empire, the attempt to create a social Eden in a wilderness at the end of the world. It was Britain’s first free settlement in the Great Southland – nowadays called Australia. The idea was widely hailed, the outcome horrendous. John Ivor’s fictional characters do their thing amid the weirder ones of real history!
John Ivor’s books are displayed on his Amazon page or, for digital enthusiasts, at Smashwords.
For Barnes & Noble customers (with whom he’s a favourite) the link is http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/%22John%20ivor%22?Ntk=P_key_Contributor_List&Ns=P_Sales_Rank&Ntx=mode+matchall
Meanwhile, I was interested to glance through another reader’s list of the 200 best adventure stories of all time. We all have personal preferences. Here I found a few unknowns to be investigated in days ahead. The Internet makes browsing an ongoing joy.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
SHAKESPEARE’S ANNUAL EXHUMATION
2 May 2016
THE delving into Shakespeare’s death is over for another year. How the world loves to speculate about it! His grave, his Will, his dying days . . . all get an airing on the anniversary of his passing in April 1616. That’s 400 years ago, yet the world invokes the genius with ever-swelling enthusiasm. This year was no exception and it all made for some lively debating.
Amid the many theories concerning conspiracy and identity, Lloyd Evans in The Spectator revealed a possible cover-up to disguise the actual cause of the Bard’s demise. Whether one believes it or not, the diary of the 1661 Vicar of Holy Trinity has intriguing details.
Was England’s immortal playwright an alcoholic? Did he suffer from the pox? Is there a clue to the real man in his fictional writings?
Equal Shakespeare puzzles are presented by fiction author Ann Morven in her whodunit The Killing of Hamlet, which I have mentioned before. Her modern murder mystery includes the grave, the real identity and a Will that stretches across the centuries to an English village linked to the Battle of Agincourt.
In the aftermath of their crowded week of remembrance, Shakespeare addicts will find the Spectator article here:
And Ann Morven’s delightful fibs, in paperback or digital format . .
Happy reading! From Cathy.
THE BOOK AND THE COVER
25 April 2016
YES we do! Judging a book by its cover is a global trait. Who selects the cover? Someone versed in the mood of the book, which is more than can be said for jacket blurbs – a chore passed to juniors who have not read the book. That’s my assumption, anyway, after reading a few recent blurbs that fail to match the content.
So, back to covers. If one is a self-published author, a good professional cover is just one of the steps to online sales. And where there is a need, you will find enterprising folk rising to meet it. In recent times, online artists have emerged to fill the requirement of self-published authors. They are low-priced, or even better, totally free. The free service is part of Create Space, which is an Amazon business that also leads writers to self-publication at the lowest cost. Recommended! Especially if the author already has a good image.
For something unique when no such picture is available, authors can browse the many online premade covers and adjust them to a specific title.The Huffington Post has a good article, with links, to internet help. It is worth a read before beginning one’s own search.
Not so long ago, books sold with a plain cover containing nothing but title and author’s name. The evolution of attention grabbing artwork is one of the happy additions to book publishing. For example, view these ‘hooks’ that enhance the content of the stories within.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
SCRIBBLES ENHANCE FIRST FOLIO
18 April 2016
SHAKESPEARE had an editor. I’ve just learned this with the news of a First Folio discovered on a remote Scottish island.
Actually, the Immortal Bard has had thousands of editors in the 400 years since his passing, each adding some speck of enlightenment to Shakespeare’s works. The editor in the news today is Isaac Reed, born 100 years after Shakespeare but not averse to scribbling in the margins of the First Folio, arguably the world’s rarest book. (Only 234 copies known to exist, each worth well over a million dollars).
Reed (1742-1807) was a London lawyer who dabbled in literary collections and who was a wellknown editor. He published several anthologies. His copy of the First Folio, complete with his scribbles, rested for hundreds of years on a book shelf in a mansion on the Isle of Bute, west of Glasgow. It came to light when the seventh Marquess of Bute’s extensive library was being sorted and tidied.
Many tourists to Rothesay town who enjoy open-days to the ancient residence (family seat since the 1100s) might have strolled through the stacked library unconscious of this literary treasure.
News of its unearthing was released this week as prelude to an exhibition coinciding with Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23. The printed treasure is not for sale, but experts state that Reed’s scribbled editorial notes would add considerably to its value.
Of the current authors who delight us with Shakespeare my favourite is a fictional discovery leading to murder in The Killing of Hamlet by Ann Morven. It is a baffling whodunit.
Description of the Isle of Bute find is good reading too, including confirming its authenticity.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
THE RIGHT ROYAL BIRTHDAY CHOICE?
11 April 2016
IT is good to know (especially for marketers) that the queen of Britain and the Commonwealth has endorsed a children’s book to mark her 90th birthday on April 21. But I can’t help wondering if it was her personal choice, because it is written by a foreigner.
Davide Cali is a Swiss-born Italian. The Birthday Crown is one of his few books to be originally published in English. Most of his stories are translated from Italian or French. He is certainly talented, with his work selling in 25 countries. His tale for the Queen’s birthday is about her efforts to find the right headgear to celebrate her big day.
Children, of course, care nothing for an author’s nationality. Isn’t Hans Christian Andersen of Denmark an immortal world favourite? British and Commonwealth authors could query the selection, however.
Published by the Royal Collection Trust, there is a whiff of political correctness, if not European Union politics, about the content. Nevertheless it’s a tale well told by Cali. And at least the illustrator, Kate Slater, is a lass from Staffordshire, England.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
There’s double joy in historical fiction
4 April 2016
IT is an odd truth, but fiction in this ever-popular genre relies heavily on fact. And the best authors dipping into humanity’s past provide readers with both an entertainment and lessons in history. I love ’em!
Just announced are the current top tales set in times past, the 2016 shortlist for the Walter Scott Award.
The judges said:
"The six books we have chosen are certainly evocative -- transporting us from the Great Northern prairies to the South Australian coast, via a wide sweep across pre-war and post-war Europe. But they also tell great stories, and bring periods of history alive, much as Walter Scott did in his time."
The six books are:
Sweet Caress by William Boyd
A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea
End Games in Bordeaux by Allan Massie
Tightrope by Simon Mawer
Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
Last year's prize went to John Spurling for his book The Ten Thousand Things. This year's winner will be announced on June 18, during the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland.
My favourite historical novelist remains John Ivor. He takes real characters and events from history and he invents interesting intruders. There are lots of thrills in his work, only medium romance, and a good sense of irony.
Note there is only one woman in the shortlisted six named above. To my mind, this lapse is because female writers often overplay the romance at the expense of research into real historical incidents. Maybe I’m wrong. We all have individual likes.
A woman, Hilary Mantel, won this award in 2010, its inaugural year, for Wolf Hall, and Andrea Levy in 2011 (The Long Song). Among other popular females are Kamila Shamsie, Diana Galaldon, Dorothy Dunnet, Danielle Steel, Alice Walker and of course (from an older generation) Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier.
Yet it appears to be the male authors who dominate the history genre. One who never fails to grab bestseller ranking is Bernard Cornwall, although, as with John Ivor, the Walter Scott has eluded him. Another guaranteed top seller is Robert Harris, whose books have recreated several different times of yore. He won the Walter Scott prize in 2014 for An Officer And A Spy.
Among more recent masters is Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng. His first two books received instant world acclaim. The Garden Of Evening Mists won the 2013 Walter Scott prize. I have long been awaiting his third novel.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
READERS SLAM ‘GLOBAL BESTSELLER’
27 March 2016
MILLIONS of people use the London Underground. So non-fiction about a serial killer stalking passengers must be a sure global bestseller, right? Wrong. Since launched in 2015 by Pen & Sword Books, The London Underground Serial Killer has met mostly one-star hate-it response by readers.
The 137 pages lack detail, apart from boring history of the London Underground and unnecessary geography of the city’s public parks. Oh yes, and insider reports of the killer and witnesses being transported to and from the trial hearings. Sadly, a full report on these court proceedings is not included. There are one or two amusing courtroom anecdotes, also skimpy mention of a scandal alleging authorities hushed everything up to avoid public panic. Essentials unmentioned are when did these murders happen, and where exactly, and how? Who were the victims?
My first reaction to the title was personal, having been a youthful tube commuter in London. Did the fiend ever sit next to me? Or stand behind me on a platform, ready to push? Reading the book, it is impossible to guess. Only the first killing (1953) and the last in 1983, when Kieran Patrick Kelly confessed to 16 murders, get acceptable coverage. This is unforgivable and destroys the book.
Recorded initially as suicides, police eventually linked the deaths to Kelly because they occurred on each day he was absent from his usual residence, a prison. Also suspicious was that he volunteered himself as a witness to each ‘suicide’. Author Geoffrey Platt, retired police detective, spent long hours with the killer.
This is a horrifically fascinating subject that deserves a better book.
BOOKS BRAVE A CHANGING WORLD
20 March 2016
BEFORE writing, there was oral history a culture that raised humans above other creatures. Today, an ability to read and write has lifted individuals and whole nations to success over the 781 million illiterate people sharing Planet Earth. It stands to reason that literacy is not just important but essential in the world we live in.
I was fascinated, therefore, to find the chart reproduced here and accompanying information comparing the literacy of different countries: http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/03/09/10-most-literate-countries-world
The report refers to a study led by Mr John Miller of the Central Connecticut State Library. African nations were not included, and of 200 countries analysed only 61 gave results that were reliable enough to be considered. Looking at these findings, the surprise is that Scandinavian countries hold the top five places.
My guess is such a culture for absorbing the written word must derive from the long freezing nights, both winter and summer. Or maybe television reception is not all that inviting. It was no surprise to see the United States leading English language literacy, because a prominent indication of this elsewhere is that US newspapers still include a Books section.
The Books section is something all but vanished from the periodicals of many English speaking countries. I ask myself why these (supposedly literate) book-rejecting editors disappoint readers in this way. And I suspect it is caused through lack of advertising by book publishers ho, like newspapers, have to follow the dictates of bean-eyed accountants who greedily worship Profitability And There Shall Be No Other God.
The dearth of newspaper reviewers has been partly countered by online critics (like me), yet these remain too few to fill the need for informed advice. This paucity adds to the confusion of readers facing oceans of choice. There are more books available than ever before, and the titles that get costly promotion are those with best marketing potential. Quality no longer decides in a trade where A-list titles, often including big-selling trash, capture the budget.
Where then can a reader discover the good stuff? How to learn of brilliant new authors matching one’s personal preference? The answer has to be online browsing, and this activity has fortunately become easier.
Amazon for sure is a popular first option for browsers, and the big global publishers have websites displaying their own wares. I just wish there was an easier way to link with the many small publishers who still believe that only quality matters. In these lesser enterprises, dedicated editors ensure the future of literature.
I would hate to see an end to creations that carry literacy to a global audience on merit alone.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
JUDGING DONALD TRUMP BY HIS BOOKS
6 March 2016
CAN we tell what a person is really like by reading their writings? Before he became president of the United States, Barack Obama’s books (I read several) suggested a decent sensible man. The books of Donald Trump (I have read none) suggest exactly what we have seen on television. Good or bad? That’s what Americans are struggling to decide. And so is the rest of an unsettled world. The result of the US presidential election on November 8 is going to affect us all.
As those insulting, brawling, infantile debates recur, my conclusion is God Save America. They remind me of kids squabbling in a schoolyard. I decided early that I wouldn’t vote for any of the three Republican front runners: Trump, Rubio, Cruz. Nor Clinton or Sanders for the Democrats.
The Republican establishment has an unusual dilemma in that their most popular candidate is the anti-establishment Trump. He is also a prolific author, so what do his written words reveal?
Late last year he became a book-a-month creator (mostly co-written) to seek votes for his presidency bid. Certainly the titles are good: The Art of the Deal, Make America Great Again, Time To Get Tough . . . and he has repeated their big-sell messages on the debating stage. Is he an actor, a salesman, a genuine author? A more unsettling question is his worth to lead the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country.
Trump, 69, has a website that for many years has pushed themes like How To Get Rich, Think Big, Make It Happen, The Midas Touch, Think Like A Billionaire, and so on.
His books on Amazon share five-star praise and one-star venom, leaving readers (as with all Amazon reviews) to sift for reviewer sincerity.
Here are some resources that might clarify Trump’s literary and presidential talents.
Trump’s Amazon page:
A sober anti-Trump assessment:
ly written books:
Some unbiased facts:
Happy reading! from Cathy.
BULLYING BIGOTS THREATEN BOOK TRADE
7 February 2016
THE first month of 2016 showed that the weird and wonderful world of books is thriving stronger than ever. Too bad the weird and wonderful was not actually a book but the peculiar reaction to one. As often happens, its cover offended. What was the offense? Believe it or not, the outcry was because it showed American slaves who were smiling.
Scholastic Publishing caved in and (shame on them) withdrew this children’s book from distribution and offered to refund people who had already bought it. Their statement said:
“Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.”
I’m still flabbergasted that there still exist bigots who exert such influence in the book trade. They are real and dangerous enough, though. The School Library Journal in the US said the book was ‘highly problematic’ and Kirkus condemned it as an ‘incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery’. Agitation followed by librarians, social justice groups, activists from BlackLivesMatter and some journalists who should know better.
One summed up Scholastic’s crime thus: “The need for accuracy, not for sweetening, with regards to the enslavement of Blacks in America is critical to this country. This era in American history has shaped our national identity and until we get it right, we will continue to be encumbered with racism.”
I fear these bullying wowzers may infect children’s books from now on. No more friendly tigers (unless the author warns they eat people), ditto happy crocodiles and loving dragons. And for goodness sake, never portray those victimised fox creatures as baddies. The Big Bad Wolf? Hey, that’s an endangered species, so do not disparage. Cinderella? Ban her. She gives false ideas about handsome princes. Snow White? A misleading representation of dwarfs.
My verdict: children’s books are for children to enjoy before they grow up to the realities of history and this troubled planet. And I rather like the fantasy of President Washington hugging his Black chef, as appears later in the book. It suggests to me, and perhaps to children, that Black and White Americans can co-exist without rancour. Now where can I purchase A Birthday Cake for George Washington?