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OOPS! The Yarwood Trophy for the best male member went to Charles Boffey of Brereton. -- CREWE CHRONICLE
Military shambles led to victory
THE glories and the disasters of warfare have inspired many books as the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of World War 1. In Australia the emphasis is on Gallipoli, a horrendous military defeat when Churchill sent an Allied force to invade Turkey. Not so well known is a second Anzac shambles during World War 2, also inspired by Churchill.
Anzac Fury by Peter Thompson describes the brave yet futile landings in Greece, subsequent retreat and the infamous 1941 Battle of Crete. This Aussie historian has delved into the military muddles and terrible tactics to analyse the political and personal faults. Also the personality clashes. Churchill was obsessed with striking at Germany’s underbelly from the Mediterranean. The wartime politicians and generals strangely persevered despite repeated stuff-ups and full knowledge of the remote chance of success.
However, this particular boondoogle led to Hitler’s defeat. While victorious, Germany’s almighty parachute division was destroyed in the effort and never recovered.
Although outnumbered, outgunned and prey to German airpower, the tenacity of the Anzacs – who did most of the fighting and withdrew with heavy losses -- delayed the German invasion of Russia by a vital month. The Anzac threat forced Germany to split its all-conquering forces into two fronts. With resources thus weakened, Germany failed on the Russian front, North Africa, Italy and, in the end, succumbed to the advancing Allies in Europe.
For more Anzac histories see the wide selection at http://www.booktopia.com.au/books-online/non-fiction/history/anzac-history/cHBB-p1.html
The inspiring Irish
AUTHORS of Ireland stand out for their unique creations, whether humorous, tragic or sheer Celtic word magic. Readers will find some of the best in the shortlist for the 2014 Irish Book Awards.
Famous ghost stories
WITH Halloween just past, there was timely retelling of many a monster tale. An entertaining look into this genre is contained in a new book by Andrew McConnell Stott. This professor of English presents The Poet And The Vampyre, subtitled The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature’s Greatest Monsters.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 Nov 2014.
GREAT stories last forever, and that’s why themes and situations they contain will reappear wherever folk read fiction. One of my pet grouses is that the global publishers, who still largely control the book world, milk a brilliant book quick as they can and then discard it. Fast bucks, it seems, is paramount to them. Such behaviour doesn’t have to be. That’s one reason why Amazon has captured wide acclaim – the titles it offers are immortal. It means they are available anytime, anywhere and (Armageddon permitting) forever. And as the world’s biggest bookstore, holding the longest backlist, the fast bucks still flow to Amazon’s delight.
So just what are these everlasting elements that make immortal fiction? We find them most easily in Greek, Norse, Asian and Biblical myths. Also in fiction’s bestsellers. They are the situations and emotions personally familiar to the human race.
This week I came across two modern works that reflect this rather well.
The first cleverly picks up the story of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. In this original tale from Ancient Greece, Orpheus wins back Eurydice from Death by enchanting the demons of Hades with his music. And then, calamity! The modern novel, A Song For Ella Grey, by David Almond, uses similar ingredients of Love, Life and Death. It’s a good read.
The other example is a straight rewrite of ancient oral tales, Mousedeer. A collection from Southeast Asia, each story holds a moral message. This is perfect for parents to read aloud to children aged, say, 4 to 8
HISTORICAL fiction remains ever popular. Check out these great titles for November 2014. And here’s one by top military author Allan Mallinson, published a while ago and still selling well: Warrior deals with a niche topic – the early days of British settlement in Cape Colony and tricky dealings with King Shaka of the Zulus. Mallinson’s spare prose has a military bearing to match his plot. No other writer I can think of reports action and tactics with such directness and authority.
The Cape Colony of 1828 is a thrilling setting for Britain’s headaches on a troubled Empire border, aggravated by the tribal intrigues of Zulu nasties Shaka and Dingane.
And it kills
EVER FASTER! Is there no end to the craving by humans to speed? An interesting new article explores this strange compulsion.
Nobel Prize? No thanks
THE Nobel Prize for Literature is greatly prized by authors, so how could this famous writer refuse it? For a reason he considered well justified.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 31 October 2014.
Loving and learning
AS we go through life we all learn a few things from the joys and snares of romance. Author Maya Rodale claims the painless way is to learn from fiction, and she lists 31 things to learn simply by reading romance novels. Whether or not you can find such enlightenment through reading, as she suggests, there’s delight to be found in her writing about it.
I came across her piece at Huffington Post and this put me in mind of a particular heroine who relies on book learning to the disadvantage of herself and everyone else. Her name is Maggie, created by John Ivor and ever enduring in his Swan River series. Originally aged 9 when sentenced to death in Scotland, this feisty lass survives a pedophile, pirates and slavery in her odyssey to womanhood in Run Maggie Run, a novel that takes her to ‘the end of the world’ (Australia), reading for dear life.
She reappears in No Kiss For A Killer (narrated by headstrong Jeremy), and returns to her own point of view in Eden’s Deadly Shore. Here Maggie reapplies her book learning to unwittingly bring disaster. Mind you, this is historical fiction, so readers (just like Maggie) actually do learn some grim truths about pioneering The Great Southland. Finally, in Amateur Rebel, Maggie continues her flawed progress and her prickly relationship with young Jeremy. Naturally, all ends well and peacefully. Romance? In books it never runs smoothly or there wouldn’t be a story!
Having read all these novels I can recommend them, and maybe readers will pick up from them some useful knowledge about romance. But to get the forementioned 31 lessons listed by Moya Rodale take a peek at her Huffington Post article. I love it.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 24 October 2014.
Great Scot! Fiction idols contend
SCOTLAND is voting again. Hard on the heels of their vote not to leave the United Kingdom, the people are now contesting an even harder issue: who is Scotland’s greatest fictional character?
The nominations make a mountain to rival Ben Nevis and vary from crime to comics. And the debate is more steamy than a hot haggis. Consider some of the contenders created by Scots authors: Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Long John Silver, Peter Pan, Precious Ramotswe, Tam O’Shanter, The Gruffalo, Rebus, Jean Brodie.
From highland glen to city garret, the debate thrives noisily North of the Border. Their paper phantoms are on the march. Wha’s like us? Gye few. (And they’re all alive forever!).
The nationwide poll is part of Book Week Scotland, November 24-30. This is sponsored by arts agency Creative Scotland, which initiated the Week two years ago. Although confined to Scottish authors, it is an open contest that pits comic identities like Dennis the Menace and Oor Wullie against literary favourites such as Jekyll and Hyde, Jean Brodie and Dr Finlay.
In varied manner each is a Scottish icon: sweeter than deep-fried Mars bar, intricate as woven tartan, rollicking as an eightsome reel, passionate as a pibroch. Get the idea? The Scots love their written creatures.
Contemporary writers JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Iain Banks, Dorothy Dunnett, Muriel Spark, Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, and others, find their genius compared to classic greats Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, AJ Cronin, JM Barrie, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Neil Munro, Kenneth Grahame and the like.
Is this competition logical? No! It’s not meant to be, either, it is a celebration of literary wealth aimed at stirring a love of reading.
Explained Philippa Cochrane of the Scottish Book Trust: “We decided to open it up to poetry, children’s literature, even Gaelic writing.” The topic is new also. Last year readers voted for a book title – the winner was Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.
There is no time limit on when the characters were created. That’s what I like. A good story lasts forever.
My two personal favourites happen to be contemporary: Sheil B. Wright (mystery), the bumbling female sleuth invented by Ann Morven; and Flashman (historical fiction), an army cad immortalised by George Macdonald Fraser
Hey! You’re not allowed to read that book
JUST like readers, every country is different, a situation that leads to certain books being banned. I was reminded of this when Singapore deemed Archie comics to contain unacceptable content and had them removed from retail shelves. Ludicrous yes – to other people. But Singapore’s government, benign in many ways, strongly condemns same-sex marriage. When this behaviour occurred in Archie’s recent adventure, censors in the island republic were quick to act.
Elsewhere in the world, local beliefs and policies have led to similar harsh reactions. Who would ban The Wizard of Oz? A United States library who considered it supported ‘negativism’. The Harry Potter books were banned in many church schools for “inappropriate magic and sorcery”. One of the silliest bans, however, was a version of Little Red Riding Hood. Not because of the wolf or Grandma’s traditional fate, but because her basket of goodies contained a bottle of wine.
Even more ridiculous is the banning of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The reason: Dressed as a boy, Viola falls in love with Duke Orsono. And a dictionary was banned in California for including sexual definitions. Little House on the Prairie was banned for racist attitude towards Redskins (oops, I mean Native Americans). And Tarzan for shacking up with Jane before marriage.
An article in The Christian Science Monitor drew my attention to these forbidden texts. Its magazine section named 30 of them, mostly in the United States, and it makes for an entertaining read. The Washington Post meanwhile listed ‘the 10 most challenged books ever’. The New Yorker magazine also published an essay on banned books.
Why all this coinciding interest in writings that failed to meet universal approval? It was Banned Books Week, an annual event by the American Library Association to highlight the dangers of censorship in a free world.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 10 October 2014.
Some recent reads:
How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
by Mohsin Hamid
ODD title, oddly written addressed to ‘You’, but this novel is original and compelling. Highly recommended. Different in concept and entertaining in its vision of the human condition. It is told in a radically unusual voice. I have encountered this before in short stories but never previously for 228 pages of finely crafted narrative. It absorbed me intimately spellbound.
The theme is familiar – from powerless poverty to fabulous wealth. The hero and heroine could be any of us hungry for a better life, just as the jacket blurb promises.
The book’s structure follows the suggestion of its title, with chapters divided into advice -- such as Move To The City, Get An Education, Don’t Fall In Love -- , and so on. Each relates an episode towards the ultimate goal and its pitfalls.
The Curious Incident at Claridges
by R.T. Raichev
Cozy country house mystery. The narrative is in the most entertaining Agatha Christie mood, and the plot worthy of her cleverest. Dialogue paints the characters and carries them along an intriguing murder trail.
It was pleasing to meet the middle-aged amateur sleuths – an army officer and his crime novelist wife. Their respective professions provide much of the light humour.
by Phiip Kerr
Couldn’t put it down, this is one of his best. This thriller, written 1996, takes readers to the Himalayan peaks. It is convincing, informative and exciting. There’s intelligent backing to the yeti hunt, treacherous icefields, scary cliffs and a murderous unknown spy. And let’s not forget Esau and his hairy tribe
Speculation on evolution and the origin of humans comes from the author’s hard research and a bibliography of scientific experts. A mix of nationalities in the expedition, and their conflicting personalities, add to the tension.
by Stuart MacBride
Entertaining horror mystery.
This is a gripping police procedural thriller. Also horror and whodunit. Meat eaters beware! Set in Aberdeen, Scotland, there’s a light touch to the narrative and cops who speak and behave like real people. Which means they’re not particularly nice and not as efficient as law-abiding citizens might wish, but they give the baddies hell.
A serial killer spreads nationwide panic when victims, or bits of them, appear chopped and packaged for sale on supermarket shelves. I liked the hero, a lowly detective sergeant who suffers strife from his superiors and his girlfriend and his scarred stomach stabbed 23 times in the line of duty.
This is a long read. Structure and pace hold nicely. Sometimes funny, sometimes gruesome, entertaining to the sizzling end.
The Blunders of Britain
IT was a close-run thing, as victorious Wellington said after the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Another near disaster for Britain, Scotland’s 2014 Independence Vote, was an even narrower escape.
The definite No saw only four electorates out of 32 voting for separation from the United Kingdom. These were Dundee, Glasgow and the near-Glasgow regions of North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire. This sounds reassuring but in nearly every area the margin was close. I was delighted when my ancestral Isle of Lewis voted resoundingly No, but concerned that so many voters elsewhere backed the losing Yes camp.
Saving Britain from breakup, the two million No votes outvoiced 1.6 million Yes to avoid calamity – 3.6 million people deciding the fate of Britain’s 60 million! And now comes the aftermath.
Following this near dismemberment the United Kingdom faces years of internal politicking in a backlash from the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and England. These have greeted the new favours promised to Scotland with demands of their own.
Westminster’s blunder was neglecting to see the danger until almost too late. The UK parliament held all the logic for a No vote, yet failed to voice it strongly enough to be heard by jingoistic Yesers.
Nationalist Alex Salmond’s fantasy was itself a blunder because his illogical vision left Scotland still dependent on the British pound with no longer a say in its control; and still depending on British trade and the Union’s market of 60 million people (add Customs Duty) compared to Scotland’s domestic market of a mere five million.
He dreamed a cash-strapped European Union admitting yet another member to prop up (think France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain); he imagined a Defence Force conjured from nothing; tax income to equal Scotland’s present share of massive UK earnings; a Health scheme without existing generous funding; Education ditto; Pensions too; and his naive belief was that the rest of Britain would write off Scotland’s share of UK National Debt.
In short, the Salmond cart was hitched before the horse. He promised to negotiate the above national needs with recalcitrant Westminster only after a Yes vote. The amazing thing is that so many Scots accepted his illogical and belligerent rant.
The whole concept of Scotland leaving the Union was a bad idea allowed to ferment, a blunder allowed to happen. Britain has experienced others, of course, perhaps smaller in scale. While browsing I stumbled upon a whole book of British blunders. They make an entertaining study by political engineers Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. The Blunders of our Governments is a razor-sharp diagnosis of flawed government. Its message holds true beyond Britain to democratic nations everywhere.
Fictional blunders make good reading too. I recommend Run Maggie Run by John Ivor. His Scots heroine endures a maelstrom of mistakes in her odyssey to womanhood.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 September 2014.
The tempest howls on
I JUST love it when academics swap insults in the Shakespeare Debate. Their arguments are a yawn, but the verbal vitriol they hurl at each other fascinates me like a good whodunit.
Who wrote Shakespeare? Latest storm in the ongoing tempest is reported in the Times Higher Education magazine. This time the brulzie erupted when a learned professor this week submitted his evidence favouring the Earl of Oxford. The don was praised by some, abused by others . . . well, that’s what always happens.
Mind you, the best theory regarding authorship of the immortal works comes from Ann Morven. She has remarkably escaped castigation because her solution is blatant fiction. Her bestseller, The Killing of Hamlet, is historically logical, thrilling and a challenge to mystery readers.
And here’s the professorial dust-up as reported.
Teenagers read the most
DESPITE the many digital gadgets, teenagers read more books than their parents, according to a surprising survey this week. Not so surprising, sadly, is that fewer adults read books at all!
Meanwhile, children’s books are selling big for Christmas, but there are other worthy titles coming afterwards. Here’s a sneak peek at early 2015.
Literature embraces crime
A LEADING school of writing has recognised crime fiction as literature. The University of East Anglia, southern England, will begin special courses in the genre next year.
In announcing this addition to its Creative Writing classes, the university says it is the first fully dedicated, specifically designed, low-residential crime fiction Masters Degree in the world.
Commented course director and author Henry Sutton: "Crime and thriller fiction is the most popular literary genre in the world -- one in every three books sold in the United Kingdom is a crime novel and sales of crime fiction have risen by 80 per cent in the UK in the last decade.”
It’s good to see literature catching up with popular opinion. I’ve noted in this blog before that crime fiction contains some of the best writing ever. There’s evidence galore for this ... just count the murders in Shakespeare.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 19 September 2014
Birth of Global Order
ONE hundred years since the outbreak of World War 1, and the books keep coming. We can expect four years of them, covering every campaign, country or weaponry. Some will even relate ‘the war to end all wars’ to the conflicts that have followed it and to wars that even today were seeded back in 1914-18.
The Deluge by Adam Tooze (Viking $40) is one of the most comprehensive. Its sub-title says all . . . The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order. There is a concise yet perceptive review at Publishers Weekly.
Another big war – against Napoleon – can also be seen to have shaped the world. With its 200th anniversary coming up, the battle that ended the dictator’s expansions in Europe is studied in 24 Hours At Waterloo by Robert Kershaw. This non-fiction analysis by a colonel from the Parachute Regimental is reviewed by Bernard Cornwell.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph newspaper in London recommends 15 war books released this year until 5 September.
WITH 30 titles in partnership with Amazon and Smashwords, the Darling Newspaper Press (1971) has already begun a hectic lead-up to Christmas. The titles are available in digital format (on Kindle with Amazon and other formats with Smashwords). Also in paperback.
Search the authors pictured in this blog. They are among the best in crime fiction, historical fiction and memoirs. Just click on a head to view titles and a free sample.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 12 Sept. 2014.
At stake: the human race
PLANET EARTH and the human race are heading for extinction, according to the alarmists. And they’re probably right, according to an evolutionary guru in the current Smithsonian Magazine.
An article explains, quoting Professor Wilson, 85. He has written more than 25 books on biodiversity. Some of these have changed scientific understanding of human nature and of how the living parts of the planet integrate.
Mass extinction of the human race is inevitable, he reckons. It will be Planet Earth’s sixth mass extinction. There have been five previous eliminations of a life form, best known being the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. (But didn’t crocodiles survive?).
Never mind, we’re all doomed anyway. If not immediately then within, say, another million years. But does the professor have a way to prevent human extinction? Yes he does. Simple in concept, unlikely to happen. The human race must abandon half the planet and enjoy everlasting life on Half Earth. This is the only way to stop humans killing the other animal and plant species which are vital to human existence.
Killing ourselves, mind you, might come before God or Nature do the job. Barbarism and war have been with us since the very first humans, and our deadly inventions improve all the time. I’m reminded of a tale by John Ivor.
Java’s Dream is fiction and set in the time of the earliest two-legged creatures. It ends on a hopeful note, yet here we are in the future and things have only got worse for humanity!
For this alone, Professor Wilson’s Half Earth suggestion sounds almost plausible.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 5 Sept. 2014
IT is not difficult to think of 300 crazy politicians. Some countries have them all in one parliament, but who tops the list worldwide? We’ll know when British publisher Myrmidon releases the book it is now preparing. It is called, somewhat lengthily: The Fat Boy with the Bomb and 299 More of the World's Craziest Politicians.
No prize for recognising President Kim of North Korea. The 299 others are also much in public odium or mirth.
Variously, they have pronounced that women should refrain from laughter in public and that long hair saps the brain of energy. They have executed their girlfriends, volunteered to be blasted by water cannon, tried to drive Darwin from the classroom, or opposed cannabis legalisation while themselves imbibing crystal meth to get them through the day. They believe homosexuals destroy civilisation and that the world is just 4000 years old. And so on.
One page is dedicated to each politician, complete with full-colour caricature and the reason they qualify for lunacy.
Says Myrmidon: “Our medium-term goal is to make this an annual publication and something of a worldwide institution.”
The book is due for release on November 5, Bonfire Day, when folk celebrate the crazy who tried to blow up Britain’s Parliament along with the King and all MPs.
More fireworks might eventuate after publication. I can see 300 possible libel writs – paid for by myself and other captive taxpayers!
Charlie and the sexy cover
THE re-marketing of children’s books for adult readership takes a new twist with the release of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory within a sexy cover. What on earth was the publisher thinking of? Sales, that’s what.
Author Roald Dahl’s classic tale has content great for kids but it’s hardly steamy stuff and is unlikely to hold the interest of grownups beyond Page One. Undaunted, the publisher reckons that books sell by their cover. Take a look.What do I think? I think I would rather spend my money on a box of chocolates.
SOCIAL MEDIA: Good or bad for book readers?
Social media is the sheepdog of the new, crowd-loving Britain. It is the beast which manipulates minds and concentrates attention on a few favoured places, ideas, products and cultural works at the expense of others. No one discovers anything any more; it is all discovered for us. Social media works on the latest obsessive-compulsive disorder in us; the voice in us telling us we must do or see something because everyone else is telling us to. What has happened to the publishing industry is instructive. Social media has not quite killed off books; but they have killed off browsing while inflating sales of a few titles for which the only recommendation required is that 10 million people have already bought them. Whether these lucky books are actually read, as opposed to discussed in 140 characters, is another matter.
(By Ross Clark in Spectator magazine 2 Aug 2014. His full essay is at
http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9276831/individualism-is-dead/. Apart from books, Ross observes how social media affects the whole world).
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 29 August 2014.
Remembrance of things embellished
FOR all his mysterious ways to perform wonders, the Good Lord can’t change the past, but I can. Heavens! So can everyone else. Our magic wand is called nostalgia. Politicians, generals, showbiz idols, sports champions and others waft it wildly in recounting their long-gone years. To relive self-edited memories is a pleasure widespread, especially for the over 50s. More folk should write them down. I love memoirs that remember, or embellish, the joys and jeopardies of yesteryear.
What about ‘misery memoirs’, a genre currently pushed by some publishers? No thanks. Give me happy, give me funny, give me insight into little corners of mentally decorated history. And give me my own special memories, too, of people who shared my past. Just thinking of them now is a private entertainment. Boyfriends, teachers, workmates of long ago. . . where are they today? Alive and well in nostalgia, that’s where.
There are many notable recollections in print, but a few come to mind instantly.
nAngelas Ashes by Frank McCourt – amateurish yet sincere and hilarious -- set a new standard some years ago, while Beyond Nostalgia by Tom Winton is a recent Amazon bestseller. More to my liking, though, are the anecdotes (allegedly true) by George Macdonald Fraser in The Sheikh And The Dustbin and McAuslan in The Rough. Both cover his early years as a young soldier.
Meanwhile the big human comedy is philosophically served in Brat by Bryce McBryce.ﾠ
His funny recall of childhood in British Empire days is truly described as a literary gem, just one of the many delights to be found by searching online.Memoirs by women are listed at length in the Goodreads website, a selection guaranteed to please.
Thankfully, the internet has also made possible easy access to books from the past that describe their own past. I’m not just talking Proust. Remembrance of things, all sorts of things, occurs to each of us, and we all of us can enjoy our personal past or the published nostalgia of other people.
Reader vision counts
THE imagination of readers contributes to their enjoyment of a story. It’s the reason some people get more out of a novel than others. When you consider these differences, it also varies the vision one may have of fictional characters
In Paris Review there is an interesting article exploring the individual ways we see an author’s description. Itﾒs worth repeating.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 22 August 2014.