The Vanishing Velazquez
by Laura Cumming

Forget Shakespeare,
celebrate Bronte

Writing tips by Shakespeare

The art of book reviewing

Empire of Things
by Frank Trentmann

Female Marines

Shakespeare’s Will:
new revelations

New crime fiction

Writer in Legoland

The Quest for Mary Magdalene
by Michael Haag

Ronnie Corbett

Jungle Book racism

The Blade Artist
by Irvine Welsh

Ruled by writers

REVIEW: The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan

Wild Island
by Jane Smith

True or fiction?

Rare hoax

Vinny’s Wilderness
by Janet Shepperson

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Rubbish

Rowling rejected

by Pat Barker

Debut book contest

Angry author




OOPS! Downstairs also is the luxury family bathroom with
three-piece coloured shite. -- MERCURY AND EASTWOOD COURIER


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?

Fascinating stuff.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

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.

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:

Trump’s personal

ly written books:

Some unbiased facts:

Happy reading! from Cathy.


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.
SCAKEcholastic 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?




whodunit diva


historical tales