Captain's blog: Stardate....
February 26th 2012
First blog of the year! I've taken to blogging again because I simply have to say something about bankers' bonuses. Don't worry, this isn't a political rant really, just an observation related, I think, to common sense. Oh, and I might throw in a little bit about John Carter, Dejah Thoris, Disney and Dynamite at the same time. So, bankers' bonuses, then? It's simple, really. And this is where the commonsense bit comes in. I spent the last twenty years of my working life at Bernard Matthews. UK readers will know him as the turkey king. The company has gone downhill in recent years, in terms of profits, thanks to an over-zealous cockney git who wanted to overhaul school meals and didn't care who he trampled on underfoot on the way. No one really likes the food you serve up, Oliver, certainly not the schoolkids. The Yanks saw right through you immediately, didn't they? You have all the charm and charisma we've come to associate with cockney wide-boys. Anyway, at Matthews, they had a simple philosophy. If the company made a profit, those of us who were in the profit-sharing scheme got a share of those profits. A tiny share, to be sure, but a share nevertheless. Even the staff who weren't in the scheme got an extra week's pay at Christmas to go with their free turkey. Matthews wasn't a philanthropist, he was a hard-headed businessman who didn't suffer fools (gladly). No profit, no profit-share. The last four years I was there, thanks to Jamie Oliver, the company's profits nosedived to below zero, and there were lean times for us profit-sharers. Matthews was a privately-owned company, the shares divided between the family and the directors. It wasn't even a public limited company. So what are we to make of a company that is almost wholly owned by us, the taxpayers, who made an £8 billion loss this year, but still find millions to share out in bonuses? It's not rocket science, lads. We're owed £45 billion, and it's looking less likely by the day that we're ever going to get that money back. You can bet your life the tory-boys will decide it's time to cut our losses some time in the near future and hive it off to their cronies in the private sector, the crooks who brought the financial markets to its knees and still don't suffer while millions of us who had no part in this financial fiasco are "in it together" and face austerity for the forseeable future. The millions set aside by RBS to pay those pay those unearned bonuses may be a drop in the ocean, but they would be a percentage of the £45 billion we're owed. No profits, no bonus. It's as simple as that. And is it just me, or doesn't setting aside £800 million for bonuses out of negative profits mean you're compounding the loss for next year? I can do simple maths like most people. It's just the commonsense bit I don't get. Now for the rant. See, I lied. This is all part of Cameron / Clegg / Osbourne's plan to plough our money back into the hands of their banker/financier/crook cronies. It wouldn't happen under Labour. Would it? These politicians must think we're all fools. Sadly, when it comes to money, we all are, it seems. This really shouldn't be allowed to happen. No time for Disney Dynamite, I'm afraid. Time to finalise the March issue for upload tomorrow. Hope you like it.
December 29 2011
Over a month since I last blogged! Sorry, I've been busy converting the Books Monthly pages to this format prior to publication today. First off, I want to say something about The Borrowers. Sorry, BBC, I thought your film starring Stephen Fry and Victoria Wood was rubbish. The girl who played Arriety looked to be in her twenties rather than a sprightly 16-year old, and the plot was so far removed from the original Mary Norton book it really didn't earn the right to be called The Borrowers at all. The special effects were hit and miss, and a far cry from the excellence of the original TV series with Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton. Stephen Fry may be a good presenter (QI) and he was brilliant in the Blackadder series, but his acting days are over, I'm afraid. His performance in The Borrowers was simply shoddy, as was his appearance in that other piece of nonsensical drivel, The Little Shop of Stuff, or whatever it was called, with Robert Webb and David Mitchell. Poor, really poor. What else didn't I like on Christmas TV? Well, as there was very little new to watch, there was little to take offence at. I thought that MERLIN ended magnificently, with Arthur finally wed to the lovely Guinever (Angel Coulby). This is a brilliant series, and thankfully there's a fifth on the way. Lucky me, I received the first series on DVD as a Christmas gift from my daughter, which I shall treasure. Eastenders took on Downton Abbey and won. It was pretty good, but I thought the Boxing Day episode with the fire was the better of the two. On ITV, they pulled out all the stops and gave us day after day of dross, with only Emmerdale to brighten the picture, and they didn't really pull any stops out, with just the Moira/John and Amy/Val/Eric/Kyle stories running their course, with Debbie/Andy thrown in for good measure. No sign of Cameron, and I don't blame him. I blame satellite television, and in particular, Sky TV. You knew where you were with just four TV channels... This has been an exceptional year for books, though, and you'll find some fantastic titles in this issue, including the incredible Joe Jusko paintings book, the second in Marilyn Hume's breathtakingly good Merlin series, and possibly the best ever Peter Maxwell book from M J Trow. I can't remember a better year for books, and hopefully 2012 will be even better! It will have to go some, though! I hope you all had a fine Christmas break and can look forward to a better new year (other than on the book front, of course!) See you in 2012... and may your Gods look out for you.
November 30 2011
I've just updated the ADULT FICTION, CHILDREN'S FICTION, NOSTALGIA and NONFICTION pages, and there's a supplementary nonfiction page as well, because books keep arriving... and they're too good to miss. The next issue will be the January issue, which I shall be uploading on or around the 29th December...
November 28 2011
A word about colour blindness first, I think... It seems I have been diagnosed as suffering from colour blindness. This happened several years ago when I worked at BAe and I failed that rather silly test where numbers are suppose dot appear on cards full of dots. After I failed that test I passed with flying colours a supplementary test of being able to identify electrical wiring of differing colours. I know, for example, that grass is green (unless burnet brown by excessive sun), that the sky is blue, fire engines and ;postboxes red, and earth is brown. My point is this: how do the people who devise these tests know that they're right and I'm wrong in identifying colours on their dotty cards? Could it not be that my perception of reds and greens is right, and theirs is wrong? How do they know? Not to Christmas. Still not December, and yet it is time to think about gifts, of course, because many of the books you will see in the new Books Monthly will not be available from your high street bookseller or supermarket. Our Morrisons, for example, has a few cookery books, and nothing else. The Tesco in Aylsham has perhaps fifty paperback titles and thirty hardbacks on offer. And although the bookshop in the high street has rather more than that, I will hazard a guess that they don't stock over one third of the new titles I have lined up for you in December's Books Monthly. However, Amazon (and the Books Monthly Amazon store) do. They're all there, probably cheaper than anywhere else, and if you're seriously thinking of giving books as gifts this Christmas, my advice to you would be to place your orders this week. Which means, of course, you really need to read through the new Books Monthly and see what staggeringly stupendous books are on offer. There are probably over 200 titles in this issue, maybe even more. Some of them are red, some are blue, some green... heck, there are even some white ones... It's published today - see you there!
November 8th 2011
Masterchef: The Professionals started on BBC2 last night at the time when I should have watched my recording of University Challenge. I hate Masterchef, and always have. It is full of stupid people cooking things that invariably end up looking like roadkill, and you'll gather from this that I am extremely conservative in my eating habits. Beef should not look red, raw, and uncooked, and neither should any other meat, in my opinion. Furthermore, meat doesn't belong with fruit under any circumstances, that is a perversion too far for me. Foam looks like phlegm, and calling something jus when it's supposed to be thick, brown gravy just doesn't cut the mustard for me. Masterchef has always been pretentious and overbearing, and it takes up far too much airtime on TV, with at least three separate series occupying thousands of hours throughout the year as endless boring contestants try to cook something that will satisfy the most horrendous people in the world - food critics, and, in this case, someone who is slightly more obnoxious than Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver - Michel Roux, who wouldn't look out of place in an SS uniform. At least Giles Coren makes a joke of food on TV, though he may be just as bad in his writings... No, playing with food is wrong in the first place, and to stick it in front of people on TV is just plain wrong too. So rather than watch something I hate, I finished my BORROWERS book and waited patiently for the beginning of what promises to be the best thing on TV for the next few weeks - GARETH MALONE'S THE CHOIR: MILITARY WIVES. I wasn't disappointed. This man is the most inspirational man I have ever seen. I thoroughly enjoyed his book, I've watched all of his CHOIR series and other programmes, and find myself thinking that here is a man who should be running the country. Utterly brilliant, inspiring, inspired and just tremendous fun. As for cookery programmes - The Great British Bake-off was OK, because it was about cakes and biscuits, and not about things that live at the bottom of the sea and shouldn't ever see the light of day on a dinner plate. There are just too many of them on TV altogether, we've reached saturation point, and hopefully they'll stop making them when the BBC cuts start to dig in. As long as they don't ditch University Challenge, Casualty and Holby City , and Merlin... Now, still on the subject of mixing fruit with meat, is it just me, or is the character Ben Mitchell in Eastenders simply an alternative lifestyle too many? The soaps are totally dominated by gay storylines and Ben Mitchell has all the charm and charisma of his father, the odious Phil Mitchell - more than that, he has all the charm and charisma of a jar of chutney (you'll gather from this that I detest chutney - it's something some people bizarrely mix with meat, and it's made predominantly from fruit). Get rid of him, he's unwatchable, there's something nasty about him... he doesn't contribute anything to the programme and he reminds me of a grubby little public schoolboy, you know, like those odious turds who are running the country right now, Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, Gove... repulsive, every one of them, vile and repulsive. I have to look away when he's on, as I do when the equally repulsive Dot Cotton and her sister are on. Past their sell-by date, if they ever had one.
November 6 2011
At the time of writing, the book I'm reading is MARY NORTON's THE BORROWERS. It's a 2-in-1 volume published by Orion Children's Books, with the original illustrations by Diana Stanley, and it is quite brilliant. It will be my children's book of the month in the December (Christmas) edition of Books Monthly, and it wouldn't look out of place amongst my 1950s Enid Blyton Barney mysteries and Famous Fives. But I have a confession to make: I have never read The Borrowers before now. I remember watching, entranced, the BBC series with Ian Holm as Pod, and Penelope Wilton, Holm's real-life wife, as Homily. It was utterly brilliant, and I enjoyed it immensely. This was followed a few years later by the film starring Jim Broadbent and John Goodman, which, as you would expect, was Hollywood-ised and not nearly so good. But the book? I'd never even heard of it until the BBC series, and that's what I want to talk about in this blog (which has been a long time coming, since the last one in October!). I read widely and voraciously in my formative years, which began, I suppose, when I was around seven years old, in 1953. Favourite aunts and uncles bought me books for Christmas and birthdays on the advice of my parents, and I soon had quite a collection, including some Dickens, The Three Musketeers, Coral Island, Mr Midshipman Ready, etc., etc. All classics, you see. It wasn't until the ginger-haired twins moved in next door and lent me THE ROCKINGDOWN MYSTERY that I discovered Enid Blyton, and at the same time I was also starting to discover the delights of Jane and Dagobert Brown in Delano Ames's brilliantly funny mysteries, and the joys of Leslie Charteris's THE SAINT, John Creasey's THE TOFF and other such volumes. How did children in the 1950s/early 1960s get to know about new children's books? I well remember my comics (Lion and Tiger) carrying advertisements, for such establishments as Ellisdons, who sold magic tricks and fake money, and whose emporium I once visited, somewhere in London, whilst visiting relatives in Hornchurch; and Raleigh bicycles, and Daisy air rifles, and stamps - why anyone would want to collect stamps is now quite beyond me, but I did it... And then there were the adverts for children's books, like Angus MacVicar, and Malcolm Saville. And there was the Children's Book Club, which I joined. The problem with the CBC, I soon discovered, was that the book of the month selection (which you could return if you didn't like it), was quite often aimed at an age-group much lower than mine. There was no such thing as a book aimed at an older age-group in those days. If you could read, you could read anything. I could never be bothered to send the books back and choose something else, and so I ended up with MONICA DICKENS alongside THE MOOMINS, and so on. I read them all - like I said, I read everything in those days. In the village where I lived, our library consisted of three bookcases of books in the junior school entrance hall, and by the time I was eleven I had read every single book. They changed the titles once a year, or so it seemed (probably more frequent, it just seemed that long!). Occasionally we would go shopping in Gloucester city, on the bus, and occasionally I went into one of the two branches of W H Smith to order the next Whiteoaks title or to pick up the new Saint book. I rarely browsed the children's section, because, being precocious in my reading habits, I wanted to look forward and never back. I only ever read the Barney mysteries of Enid Blyton, and then only two titles in the series. I never discovered the Famous Five, though I did read some Lone Piners as part of my CBC membership. But the opportunity to discover the enormous amount of literature available to children in the 1950s simply did not present itself. I did discover Eric Leyland and, in consequence, Billy Bunter and Greyfriars School, with its Famous Five (Wharton, Cherry et al), but I missed out on so many titles. You, who have those fabulous displays in the children's section of your local library, hopefully still open, would simply not believe how deprived we were in terms of knowing what was available. We had children's newspapers, which carried the occasional advert from Newnes, or Collins. We didn't have the marketing of children's books that takes place nowadays. I am widely read, and I don't think I suffered too greatly. I have discovered many gems, such as the CHALET SCHOOL, courtesy of Girls Gone By Publishers, and re-discovered many more, such as Malcolm Saville, again from the brilliant Girls Gone By Publishers. And my collection of Enid Blyton's BARNEY MYSTERIES is now complete, and I have a huge number of FAMOUS FIVES, MALORY TOWERS and ST CLAREs. Children's books are marketed just as brilliantly as adult titles and YA titles nowadays, especially on the Internet, and more especially in specialist publications such as BOOKS MONTHLY. My point is, there are thousands of brilliant children's books out there just waiting to be read, and in that sense, you really never had it so good. Times are hard, thanks to an uncaring coalition government who would happily see poor people go cold and starve than redistribute wealth and introduce fair taxes; libraries will close, and the rich will continue to take an unfair share of the wealth of the developed nations. Nothing changes in that respect. But publishers will continue to publish stunning, brilliant books such as the 2-in-1 Borrowers book I'm reading right now, and there are endless opportunities to find out what there is to read. The Christmas edition of Books Monthly will have several galleries of new books in addition to the several pages of reviews. Most people are happy to receive a book for Christmas - the next issue of BM will have many pages of ideas to inspire you. Incidentally, there is a new BBC BORROWERS series beginning at Christmas, and starring Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood and Christopher Ecclestone - that's something worth waiting for! I'll probably do another blog before then but if not, see you there! Take care...
October 14th 2011
It's taken quite a while to get the final redesign on the site finished, so this is the first moment I've had to start blogging again! Two things to say today: firstly about the BBC cuts - there are rumours that UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE is to be axed - they can spend millions of pounds on stupid people throwing themselves around an outdoor water feature with a moronic little squit, a refugee from that other dire programme TOP GEAR presenting it, in a bizarre attempt to compete with the second worst channel on TV, ITV, but something as simple and cheap as UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE has to go? The mind boggles, it really does. Secondly, our beloved "government" of millionaires and cheats, liars and scroungers continues to push back the boundaries of decency and morals while the tory-democrats continue to back them up whatever the cost to their backbone, and their scruples. My mind hasn't stopped boggling at the University Challenge fiasco, and there's only so much boggling a man can endure. But this government knows no depths to which it will not sink, and still people sit back and take it. What happened to all those people who took the streets against the poll tax? Isn't the destruction of our National Health Service much more important than a stupid tax? They will stop at nothing to get the working classes on their knees, where they believe we should be... One can only hope that a stronger Labour party leader will emerge during the coming months with the drive to win the next election (at the expense of the LibDems, who deserve the oblivion they now face) and reverse everything the tories (for it is a right-wing tory government we have) do. Ed Milliband clearly isn't up to the challenge, for he should have had the tories on the ropes long before this, given the enormous gaffes they have made, including the desperate clinging to power by "Doctor Fox" (as of today he's still there, of course). Maybe Yvette Cooper would do a better job. Sorry, Ed, you're a nice bloke, but you simply don't have what it takes. Political rant over. Till next time. Probably this time tomorrow... And a plea to ITV - please ditch the new Barnaby and bring back John Nettles. Midsomer Murders is just awful. Awful...
September 12 2011
Today is the eve of my 65th birthday, and I will probably be minimally involved with anything to do with computing, so I thought I'd get my latest rants out of the way today... My recent blogs have been particularly exuberant about this year's promenade concerts, but I had the misfortune to turn over for the last hour of this year's "Last Night" and have to take issue. In the first place, I haven't been happy with the last nights since they ditched the Henry Wood Fantasia on Sea Songs in favour of cramming in some dire piece of modern music in the first half and leaving insufficient time for the best part of the original last nights in the second. Does that make sense? I think not. We all know that most modern classical music that isn't written for films is a kind of Emperor's New Clothes thing, where the composer or his or her family starts the applause and everyone else thinks they had better join in. We pretend that we like new classical music when in fact it is absolutely excruciatingly bad, nasty and totally unlistenable. I did have the good fortune to miss anything of that nature in the first half of this year's concert because I was busy watching one of the greatest modern thrillers of all time, HEAT, with Pacino and De Nero. Two colossuses of modern film... Anyway, back to the last night. The conductor was a nice enough chappie, but then he started wittering on about having to do two songs this year rather than one because he didn't want to be outdone, and some soprano or other who is best forgotten, sang flat and out of tune, a rendition of the rather nice song from THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Climb Every Mountain. That was bad. The orchestra were fine, the singer was simply bad. Sorry, girl, you're meant for provincial musical theatre, not the Royal Albert Hall in front of an audience of many hundreds of TV millions. And then they performed YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE, and for some unknown reason, the orchestra played a totally different tune while the "soprano" and the choir sang the proper tune. It was, to say the best thing I can think of to say about it, a cacophony. It was inexcusably dire, awesomely, terrifyingly tragic, the murder of one of the finest songs from a musical ever written. I was so disgusted with it, I turned it off and watched something else. I have never heard anything so disgustingly bad at a prom concert in my life. Whoever wrote that arrangement is not worthy of the post. He or she should hang their head in shame and put away their composing hands forever. It made the recent rejigging of the EMMERDALE theme for synthesiser sound positively Mahlerian... but hey, tomorrow is my birthday, my 65th birthday and all, and I am officially retired... See you soon!
August 26 2011
I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks for the simple reason that I was flat out preparing Books Monthly for the multifarious "buy from Amazon" widgets that you will see in the September issue and which mean that any book you see reviewed has a direct link to its page on Amazon allowing you to buy it there and then, and you will already know that Amazon have amazing prices! Any book really means almost any book, because there are some, like the excellent Dennis MagBooks, who sell their own books from their own site, and it's just as easy and convenient for you to nip across from Books Monthly and place your order direct from the MagBooks site. But I digress. It's been a dire week in what used to be my favourite soap, EastEnders. Some of the characters spent the week in "Sarfend", and therein lies my first problem. We never made it to Albert Square until late Friday evening, when they all returned, but the ones who went to "Sarfend" were the worst characters, the dregs from Eastenders, and it was to be hoped none of them made it back. Only Fatboy went who has any real acting talent and any real appeal as a character. The others? First there's Whitney - we're meant to feel sorry for Whitney and ring the helpline at the end of the show if we've been affected by what's happened to her, but really, she's just a stupid little tart with no brains who still couldn't see what Rob was doing to her, right up until Fatboy rang brother Ryan to come and dig her out of the mess she was in. Added to that is the fact she's a crap actress, and the combination of bad actress and awful character really don't add up to anything worth watching. I couldn't care less what happened or happens to Whitney - she has no brain. That doesn't mean I don't sympathise with real-live victims of this awful crime. But the character has no credibility in EastEnders, and the story has dragged on for too long. Anyone stupid enough to be seduced by her own stepfather really doesn't deserve our sympathy. To get involved with Rob in the first place... well, the least said about him the better - he's a terrible actor, and not a very nice person either. Next we had Shirley and Heather, two more of hell's spawn from Walford. The Carter woman is a monster, and doesn't really deserve the appellation "woman". She's something else, a brute, a charmless thug, and well suited to her other half, the equally monstrous Phil Mitchell, whose own sell-by date as a Walford character is long gone. Heather Trott may be a nicer person, but she's grotesque, and not really what you want to see hogging the screen at a time when obesity worries once again surface in the national psyche. Then there's Dot. She should never have been allowed to join the cast in the first place. Like Heather, she's a caricature, a monstrous, disgusting woman full of her own self-importance and carrying so much baggage she's unbelievable. Just imagine how awful she must smell! And whoever had the idea to write in her sister Rose really wants shooting. Add to that the feeble man-mountain Andrew, who appears to be besotted with Heather, and the reappearance of thug Rob, who was a monstrous character first time around, and you have a week of EastEnders that is best forgotten. I was totally turned off by the pantomime gays and lesbians at the festival, but I was more turned off by the assortment of rubbish characters they carted off to "Sarfend" and had to look away from the screen most of the time they were on. EastEnders plummeted to rock bottom last week, and Emmerdale now becomes my favourite soap. It will take the return of Max to Albert Square to make me sit up and care about what goes on in EastEnders once more. Dire. Absolutely dire - the worst week ever. There are some really nasty, offensive characters in EastEnders right now, and to put 90% of them in "Sarfend" for a whole week, to the exclusion of all the other characters, was a golden opportunity to ditch the lot of them in a Big Wheel accident. Unfortunately, the best character, Ryan, had to leave because he'd killed Rob, and the rest of them, along with the two new grotesque, ugly Cotton family members, made it back to the square. Ugh! I know it's not real, but I do expect some acting - most of these people mentioned above are just playing themselves. I'm beginning to dislike EastEnders intensely, something awesome has to happen, like a plane crash killing off most of the characters, starting with those listed above, and with the exception of Fatboy, and get rid of Ian Beale, Phil Mitchell and Ben. Bring back Lucy, for goodness' sake. Time for a serious clearout in my opinion. It worked so well with Emmerdale, although the odious (but excellent) Eric Pollard and his odious (but crap actress) partner Val Pollard should think long and hard about the hard time they're giving Amy, and reflect on the disgustingly bad things they've done themselves over the years! At least Casualty and Holby City go from strength to strength, and Dylan is an inspired creation in Casualty. From October, by the way, you'll find the Books Monthly blog on its own page...
August 14 2011
Yet again BBC2 provided a superb prom last night, this time it was the turn of the NATIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, performing the Britten Piano Concerto (soloist Benjamin Grosvenor, now 19 years old) and then, after a fascinating interval in which we watched members of the NYO arriving at Birmingham University for their summer get-together, we saw them perform the Prokoviev suite based on his ballet Romeo and Juliet. It was absolutely fantastic, and when you put the achievements of these young people into the perspective of last week's mindless and extremely distressing riots, it makes you realise that the vast majority of youngsters are law-abiding, sensible and decent. If you want my take on the rioting, I'd have to say that I believe the "do-gooders" have an awful lot to answer for. It's easy to look back and say that things were so much better in my day, but it would be absolutely true. We went in awe of policemen, we respected our elders, we certainly didn't cheek them, and we heeded what they told us, and by and large, we behaved ourselves. The worst crime I can remember committing was scrumping apples from the vicarage garden, by shinning up a tree that grew just outside the six-feet-high garden wall and picking a few apples that hung out over the road. Then, in the 1960s, everything changed. Change is never a good thing on its own account. If it's not broken, don't interfere with it, it doesn't need fixing. We had punishments in the 1960s that were a real deterrent, and then some joker in America, Dr Spock, decided that we should let everyone do exactly as they liked, especially the children, and all hell broke loose and has been loose ever since. Now, as soon as you even look at a child who's behaving abysmally, an army of do-gooders is ready to move in and tell you you shouldn't be punishing it in any way, shape or form, which is simply outrageous, and the root cause of all of the problems with our youth culture today. Boundaries have to be set. If you overstep them, you're punished. In some way. You're not protected by an army of stupid people with nothing better to do than dream up novel ways to reward others for misbehaving. If all of the do-gooders were to take themselves off to some remote island and stay there tomorrow it wouldn't be soon enough for me. People who go against the laws of our society have no place in it. Confiscate their toys, their phones, MP3 players, iPads, iPods, game consoles, TVs, cycles, hoodies, lock them up, set them to work, bring back penal servitude, hard labour, don't pay them, stop their benefits, put them in the stocks. Two images remain in my head from last week - the shameful face of Britain's lawless rioters... and the brilliant National Youth Orchestra, playing with joy, and a shining example of all that can be achieved. Now then, there has to be a cause for the rioting, and whilst it's tempting to blame the coalition for their excessive cuts to public spending, I can really only accuse them of being so far out of touch with well, everything. They're all millionaires, for God's sake. They're not affected by lack of prospects, no money, rising fuel costs, rising energy costs, inflation etc. It passes them by. The first thing to do is to reinstate the idea of respect for other people's property, for the police, for the law, and to punish those who transgress the law in such a way that they will think twice before doing it again. Time to stop pussy-footing around. But more importantly, we have to give people something to do. Really bad recessions are made worse by cuts in public spending, made better by spending more. Put people to work building much-needed houses, mending roads etc. More tax revenue and growth will automatically follow. People will feel valued by society and everyone will be happier. Just stop all the do-gooders. For good.
August 7 2011
Last night we were privileged to watch a magnificent performance of Mahler's 2nd Symphony performed to perfection by Gustavo Dudamel's Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra at the Proms on BBC2 - perfect soloists and an inspired orchestra made this a really memorable concert! My second favourite Mahler symphony and it was a brilliant performance - very long, very stately, very reverent. The superlative playing of those young musicians was thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation they received from the 6,000+ orchestra, and the scenes of joy as the soloists came off stage which the BBC very kindly showed us wrapped up a terrific evening. I have at least three recordings of Mahler 2, two by Simon Rattle, one by Zubin Mehta, but this one was really quite special and moving. How can all that glorious music come from one man's brain? It defies belief - Mahler was a genius touched by God...
August 1 2011
I've given up on TORCHWOOD - there's little or no science fiction in it, Barrowman's acting has plumbed new depths and the script is simply a vehicle for his own gay proclivities. He never was a particularly good actor, and his adverts for his Saturday night show reveal him in his true guise as someone with no real charisma and not much talent for acting either. The latest series is a real turn-off, just as the over-sexed CAMELOT turned out to be. Not for me. I used to be a fan of Dr Who too, but the freak they have playing the latest doctor is also a turn-off. Why didn't they choose someone half normal? In future on Thursday nights I'll watch THE KILLING or TOWN with Nicholas Crane. Torchwood sucks, bring back SPOOKS, for God's sake!
July 26 2011
Watching last week's BBC TV IMAGINE programme about Harry Nilsson inspired me to dust off my Nilsson CD collection. On Sunday afternoon, rather than sit through another failed attempt by Jensen Button to win a Grand Prix (not his fault, I'm right behind him, and hope he performs better in the second half of the season!) I played NILSSON SCHMILSSON, then THE POINT, and finished up with AS TIME GOES BY, surely the most laid-back album, the most laid-back sound ever recorded? Nilsson's voice is unique, and Gordon Jenkins's arrangements are sublime. This album collects the original A LITTLE TOUCH OF SCHMILSSON IN THE NIGHT and the second album, which I never owned on vinyl, but I see that AS TIME GOES BY now retails for over £250 on Amazon, presumably, like BOBBY DARIN'S EARTHY, because it's no longer available. I don't know who makes the decision to remove an album from the list, but at least EARTHY is now available as an MP3 download, so you can create your own CD. Not so with AS TIME GOES BY, and this is terribly sad and unfair. There are countless "BEST OF NILSSON...." albums, but the finest showcase of this unique and beautiful voice is not to be had! I bought mine in HMV around twelve years ago for the price of a fiver, I believe, and I will always treasure it as the best album of the best male singer in the world (apart from John Lennon and Bobby Darin, of course!)
July 25 2011
What really annoys me is the modern trend of showing people smoking in soaps and TV dramas - the US shows are particularly bad, and a few years ago they had a kind of moratorium on it, where only the really nasty guys were seen smoking, and the good guys refrained. I know it isn't like real life, but then in real life, you wouldn't get people refraining from using the "f" word, would you? Let's think about the English soaps for a moment, shall we? All of a sudden, everyone in Eastenders smokes, whereas it used to be just the ghastly and grotesque Dot Cotton and the hot-air balloon Pat Evans. Now everyone's at it, including Tanya and Max. In Torchwood, everyone smokes, and it's almost as bad as standing next to someone in the street, seeing them doing it, makes me feel quite ill. I cannot recall seeing anyone smoking in Emmerdale apart from the nightmare that is Val Pollard, and even Eric disapproves, so there is a moral message here; and I firmly believe that stopping it from being shown on TV would be a huge step in the right direction if we are really serious about stopping people from smoking and draining the resources of the NHS. Casualty is another serious offender, whilst Holby City manages to avoid it for the most part. There's nothing worse than seeing an attractive female lighting up on TV. Kind of destroys it instantly, don't you think? We're not aiming for realism in the soaps, after all, or everyone would be effing and blinding just as they do in real life. So cut it out, producers, and do us all a favour - make our soaps a smoke-free zone, and for Christ's sake, ditch the awful Dot Cotton. She never could act, and she contributes nothing to the programme whatsoever... Thank goodness Rickaaaaay has gone back to Dubai for the foreseeable future. Whoever had the bright idea of bringing him back?
July 22 2011
It's time to get excited by the JOHN CARTER movie - I've been reading that some people are annoyed that the director, Andrew Stanton, has left out the "Of Mars" from the title so that the character grows within the movie from an American civil war veteran to a Martian warrior. I don't have a problem with that, and the hype that will come in the months leading up to the movie's release will mean that the majority of people will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the John Carter books in preparation. There are a huge number of editions available on Amazon, but by far the best one is from ENGLISH ROSE PUBLISHING, and contains the first five stories in one fabulous volume! This staggeringly beautiful book, which is the size of a modern-day fantasy novel, is reviewed in the August issue, just over a week from now! Artwork associated with Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter series is breathtaking (mostly). There are some dire covers out there, about which the least said the better. But when you get people like Joe Jusko, Alex Ross, Boris Vallejo, Frank Frazetta, Bruce Pennington and all the fantasy greats turning in beautiful illustrations, you'll come to realise that this is something really special. There's a collection of JC artwork in the August issue. Dynamite comics have their own project going on, and you'll be able to read about these also in the August issue, which is rapidly turning into a John Carter of Mars special! I've started reading the original novels again, to remind myself in readiness for the film, I suppose, but also because of the magnificent English Rose five-novel volume. These stories are truly classics, and probably the best writing ERB ever produced. I still long for a decent TARZAN film, and remain convinced that someone will do it one day. In the meantime, it's most gratifying to know that Hollywood, in the shape of Disney, have the foresight and dedication to put money into a project that will bring the best of Edgar Rice Burroughs to millions of people in March of next year.
July 9th 2011
This month's WRITING Magazine has a few references to the Kindle and E-publishing, all of them mentioning the fact they believe books will stay in spite of the forecasts for sales of E-publishing, particularly in the UK, to rise sharply. I said as much in my blog last month (see below), and I stand by it; it seems I'm in good company, because one of the people voicing this opinion is Melvyn (Lord) Bragg. However, it does seem that the percentage of E-books will certainly affect our high street bookstores detrimentally, which is not a good thing, of course. The same magazine also carried a feature on how to self-publish for the Kindle. I've already done it once, and you can find an obscure first part of my Heraklion fantasy saga available for $5.99 - I forget the £ equivalent, but it's probably too much, and in several months, no one has bought a copy. Undaunted, I've started preparing some of my Mike Thompson mysteries for E-publishing, and by the time you read this blog, you'll find the latest, THE SILENT THREE, in the Amazon Kindle store for the princely sum of $2.50. A second Mike Thompson mystery is already "under review" which is Amazon-speak for being prepared for sale. I decided to join the E-publishing revolution when I received THE SILENT THREE manuscript back from Robert Hale a couple of weeks ago. Friends in the publishing and writing business tell me that just because one publisher doesn't like a submission, it doesn't mean another publisher won't like it. But consider this: although this advice is sound, it costs £7 to post a manuscript to a publisher or an agent - £3.50 and £3.50 for its safe return. For someone on pension credit and living hand to mouth because generations of politicians with more money than the average wage earner coming in fail to understand the reality of living costs, £7 is an awful lot of money. It would pay for two or maybe three shopping trips to the next town because the Freemasons of Sheringham managed to prevent us from having our own supermarket for the best part of fifteen years. Probably two shopping trips, with the price of fuel being what it is. I can't afford to send my MSS to other publishers and agents, even though Robert Hale describes them as "Very well written and of publication standard". Why should another publisher or even an agent take me on? I don't see that my stories are any less good than the ones Robert Hale actually publishes. In fact, as I've said on more than one occasion, I have yet to read a published book that doesn't have a typo or two - and I read plenty of books, as you will already know! My point is this: there are precious few publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, and getting an agent is almost as difficult as getting a publisher to read your work. Even fewer publishers accept e-mail submissions, and this is quite wrong. Everyone works on a PC or a laptop nowadays, and this would save those of us on small fixed incomes from having to fork out the enormous cost of postage. Why can't publishers read submissions via e-mail or even online? So, I've given up. I am working on a new novel, written about 15,000 words, and hope to have it ready for submission in about three months' time. In the meantime, my rejects are gathering dust on the hard drive, so I've decided to E-publish for Amazon's kindle store. Three more titles to go, all described by Robert Hale as "Very well written and of publication standard", so, by the end of July, the Amazon kindle store will be groaning with the Mike Thompson mysteries - all five volumes, including DAYLIGHTS, a horror story, and his very first appearance. You have been warned. And, by the way, they're very cheap!
July 4th 2011
Just finished reading Jessie Keane's new blockbuster PLAYING DEAD which is published towards the end of this month, and will be my book of the month in the August issue. I'm not in the habit of giving spoilers, and today is no exception - this is a sensational return for Annie Carter, Jessie's first "heroine", if you can call her that. Trouble follows Annie like a dog on heat and this book will keep you riveted with its twists and turns, its murders and maimings, its relationships and its cruelties. Following the blogs, I've been struck how many people are waiting for this new Jessie Keane, and it's a measure of her success - she has got the formula for successful writing exactly right, and she deserves it. The sticker on the front says "As good as Martina Cole or your money back"... Not sure how you'd have the nerve to write in and say "I didn't like this as much as I like Martina Cole", but I, for one, know which author I prefer. I've stuck with Jessie from day one, and she's never let me down. The Annie Carter saga still has mileage, I'm sure, but not before we've all caught up with this one. Sensational.
June 23rd 2011
I've been a little quiet on the blog for a few days - been working hard getting the next issue of Books Monthly ready for publication, taking delivery of several fantastic new books, including the one I'm currently reading, which is Tana French's FAITHFUL PLACE - it's my crime read of the summer, so it is! The dialogue is sparkling, the characters tremendously real, and the plot is to die for. This is one to watch, most definitely. Nothing much else to report, except that I'm also working on a new series for Books Monthly called WATCHING THE DETECTIVES, which will feature a series of articles about our TV detectives, beginning with Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie, which finished its first series (hopefully not its last!) last weekend. I'll be covering VERA, BARNABY, LUTHER, DALZIELL AND PASCO, GENTLY, LINLEY, LEWIS (and Morse, of course) and as many as I can think of. It's going to be great fun, and will feature some terrific books. More blogging at the weekend.
June 11th 2011
I was in our new local branch of W H Smith yesterday, just browsing to see what was on the shelves, and had a good look at the children's section. Quite good, three whole racks, probably eighteen shelves or thereabouts, with markers, one of which showed a compendium of Enid Blyton Famous Fives (I think it was the Best of the Famous Fives, a boxed set), and then a whole shelf dedicated to EB, including all of the Malory Towers, some of the St Clares, some "Adventures", some Secret Sevens and a handful of Famous Fives in various liveries (you may already know that Hachette publish two distinct versions of the Famous Five - a new version and a classic version - guess which version I prefer!) The remainder of the children's racks were filled with new authors - the Blytons were all new, of course, but as far as I could tell from the ten minutes or so I stood there drinking it all in, she was the only author published during the last century still on display, and it occurred to me that there's a huge opportunity here for modern bookshops to offer the kind of titles being published each month by GIRLS GONE BY publishers, and FIDRA, of course. I imagine these good people have tried to get their titles distributed more widely, but I have to say that I have never ever seen a GGBP or a FIDRA book in a modern bookshop, which is a great shame. It would be so good to be able to look at the children's shelves in WHS and see all of the Malcolm Savilles, the Monica Edwards, the Chalet School series, which many people must believe to be available only in secondhand bookshops, and all the other wonderful titles I'm privileged to feature in the pages of Books Monthly - two new titles from GGBP coming in the July issue, of course, a Chalet School which is absolutely brilliant, and a Saville's LONE PINE story, The Secret of the Gorge, which kept me amused for several hours - a real pair of page-turners, I can tell you! If dedicated people are prepared to invest their time and money in reprinting these essential children's books, which still manage to excite and enthrall nowadays, then it isn't oo much to ask that booksellers like W H Smith should stock them. Most books nowadays come on a sale or return basis. What would be the harm in populating those children's shelves with some of the classics from the last century? I'm utterly convinced they would sell. Have a great weekend. I'll share my views on the new CAMELOT TV series with you next week.
June 10th 2011
Hurrah for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has gone up astronomically in my estimation... it's never easy writing about politics in a review magazine, but it's something I feel passionate about, and at the risk of alienating some readers, I'd like to say that I agree wholeheartedly with what the archbish had to say. Just finished reading THE SECRET OF THE GORGE by Malcolm Saville, one of my favourite children's authors. Published by Girls Gone By, this is a superb story, full of the kind of excitement children could only experience in a narrow band of decades from the last century, and in a time now long forgotten by historians and modern generations, but well-remembered by people of our age [sixties plus]. It was a time when the seasons were properly defined, the skies were a deep blue throughout the summer months, and when children could play outside without fear, and there were other priorities than the latest computer game and fad, and to make a phone call you had to walk to nearest phone box, often half a mile away, and press button B then button A and wait for your old pennies to drop into the box. It was a time when there was full employment, a monumental building programme for affordable council houses to rent, food was again plentiful after the rigours of WWII, and you could spot a villain a hundred yards away, because they were all furtive and mean-looking and exactly as Saville and Blyton described them! Where and when did it all go wrong? My dear wife often accuses me of wanting to turn the clock back so that we would still be living in the fifties - she's right in some ways, but I wouldn't want to lose any of the precious forty-five years we've so far had together, or any of the wonderful children we've brought up. There are adverts on right now for tablets that are identical to those used by Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Technology has moved on so far in such a short space of time, but the enormous steps that need to be taken in finding a way into space and to colonise other worlds and planets simply hasn't happened. Communications seem to be dominating our lives, at least the lives of the developed world, often at the cost of everything else. The obesity epidemic is simply a by-product of children and adults spending too much time in front of the TV and games consoles instead of getting out of the house and walking, or playing. That 's what's different between the 1950s and now. I've said it so many times before - we had books, radio, gramophone records, and we balanced it all by playing outside, climbing trees, playing football in the playing fields, cycling, walking. Eating sensibly didn't really come into it, because we burned off so many calories it didn't matter what we ate. Or so it seemed. Was it all so good back in the 1950s? I can't remember anything that wasn't good, except one thing, one dark episode that I've spoken about before, and don't want to speak about again. It was a brilliant time, uncluttered by technology, populated by books, comics and magazines and outdoor leisure activities that are alien to today's younger generation. I don't want to travel back in time to the 1950s, but I do reserve the right to look back on those years with fondness, and to be excited by the things that enriched our lives then. I have a cupboard full of 1950s books and annuals, and a load of Enid Blytons have pride of place on the window sill, in between the Titanic book ends. It's the sort of thing that Kirsty Allsopp has in her house, and whilst I don't subscribe to her political ideals, I do recognise that she has style, so if it's all right for her, it's all right for us. This is a bit of a rambling blog today, beginning with the good old archbish and ending with Kirsty. More at the weekend.
June 8th 2011
DOES IT REALLY MATTER WHO THE PUBLISHER IS?
If you see a book you like the look of, i.e. you judge it by its cover, do you bother to check who it's published by, or do you simply assume that all books are published by someone, doesn't matter who, as long as it's a good readable book? Publishers do matter, especially when it comes to non fiction, and, to a lesser extent, in my opinion, for fiction also. Take the wonderful DORLING KINDERSLEY as my first example. They publish a huge amount of books each month, many of them are what you would consider to be "coffee table" books. My nonfiction page for July kicks off with a stunning book from DK - the Lego Harry Potter book - an encyclopedic record of all the Lego Harry Potter sets so far issued. It's visually stunning, impeccable printed, and meticulously researched. You can trust Dorling Kindersley, it's as simple as that. You know it's going to be printed on high quality paper [from sustainable sources] and that the illustrations, of which there are many, will also be high quality. I've yet to encounter a DK book that isn't perfect in every way. Another trustworthy publisher is CARLTON PRION. Their reprints of 1980s Commando picture story libraries is fantastic - printed on slightly cheaper paper, not glossy, for example, but in keeping with the original publications, and perfectly registered. They, too, produce some fantastic titles, many of them containing facsimile reproductions e.g. Beatles memorabilia, Jack the Ripper letters, Beethoven memorabilia - if I was looking for a book with such additions, I'd automatically look for a CARLTON/PRION publication. SHIRE BOOKS are brilliant little social history commentaries, beautifully illustrated and again impeccably researched - you know you can trust them to be accurate. If you were looking for a car owner's workshop manual, there's only one publisher, really, and that's HAYNES. So, if you were to see a book on garden landscaping or a history of the LMS railway, or a workshop manual for the Titanic, or the Space Shuttle, or the Starship Enterprise, you'd know it was pretty good value for money and extremely trustworthy if it bore the Haynes logo, wouldn't you? As for fiction, well, the same thing applies, only with different parameters. Take Stephen King, for example. Hodder UK publish a huge percentage of King titles in the UK - and given the reputation of the world's most popular novelist, you'd trust Hodder if they came to you with a different author and told you it was a good book, wouldn't you? I would. Similarly with Harper Collins, who do a splendid job with Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden. And Titan Books, who publish all of those fantastic DAN DARE reprints from the Eagle comics of the 1950s. They also import and publish loads of US comics, of course. So yes, in my opinion, it does matter who the publisher is, because it's a matter of trust, and trust, nowadays, is absolutely everything. If you wanted fine art books, you'd go to Thames and Hudson, or Phaidon - they've been in the business of publishing fine art books for decades. Next time you buy a book, look at the spine and see who the publisher is. If you like the book, look for more from that publisher. It sometimes works, and it's why I always print the name of the publisher in Books Monthly.
June 2nd 2011
I've never been tempted to put my boot, my fist, or a brick throught the television, no matter what the provocation. If there's something on that annoys me, I'd rather switch channels or turn it off. It isn't there to be abused, it's a vehicle for my entertainment. If I happen to be watching something that makes my blood boil, that's my fault. I have a choice, the TV does not. Furthermore, I hate it when people lose their temper (on TV or in real life) and throw their mobile phone to the floor, usually breaking it because something has gone wrong. Venting your anger on an inanimate object is just stupid, such as hurling a glass at the wall - someone has to clear it up, and broken glass is extremely dangerous. Having said that, some things do make me really angry, such as people saying "for free". It's commonplace, everyone does it, especially on TV and, so I'm given to understand, in newspapers and magazines as well. I should explain that I do not read newspapers, and the magazines I read (Classic FM, BBC Music etc.) don't appear to transgress this rule. Something is not "for free", it's either free, or "for nothing". "You can join for free" is so wrong, and it makes my blood boil. You cannot join "for free", you can join "for nothing", or "Joining is free". Let's put a stop to this harsh, grating and totally wrong phraseology right now. Please. Or I may be tempted to put my foot through the TV...
June 1st 2011
Although I have several new books coming, I've just about finished reading all there is to read at the moment. I'd better write some more of my new crime fiction novel so I have something to read until those new books arrive!
There could be some news on the Stephen King/Dark Tower front soon... We watched the penultimate episode of THE EVENT last night, and have the last episode still to watch - disappointing that they didn't have the faith to invest in a second series - we thought it was quite good, well worthy of air time, unlike the interminable X Factor and America's/Britain's Got Talent that promote people to God-like status who have no business being there. Reality TV leaves me cold unless it's about something worthwhile, like VICTORIAN FARM or VICTORIAN PHARMACY, and there are far too many cookery programmes on TV in Britain right now. I read in the Radio Times that the new controller of BBC1 is drama-orientated, so that may be a good thing. Having said that, most of the cookery programmes are on BBC2 anyway! Drama comes in all shapes and sizes, of course, and the trend lately has been to try and shock people. Alison Graham, Radio Times columnist, implores people to stick with SHADOWLINE - there's a reason people are drifting away from it, Alison - it's not to their taste. It isn't the best cop drama ever, as you claim. It's clichﾬ shocking, and nasty, full of things we don't want to see on TV. Our preference in cop shows has never been reality - the demographic of people who watch TV cop shows is of people who were brought up with the locked room mystery, witness the spectacular success of Midsomer, Morse, Lewis, Lynley, Dalziel and Pascoe et al. Just look what happened to Taggart when they changed the format half a dozen episodes and introduced the all-too-familiar feeling of dread when the announcer says "contains violent scenes and something really quite nasty which you won't want to see right at the start..." TV isn't the cinema. TV is supposed to be entertaining, where the producers, directors and writers do not have licence to shock, but to bring people what they really want to see, which is good detectives solving interesting crimes. Real life is quite horrific enough without putting it into what is supposed to be escapist drama, otherwise all TV might as well be reality TV. Thank goodness for DVDs, and my boxed sets of Lewis, Foyle, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Such a pity there are no novels based on any of these spectacularly good and thoroughly enjoyable shows. Time was when someone made a TV show, someone else novelised it, and everyone was happy, and the franchise just grew and grew. Sadly, those days are gone. Sadly, we're moving faster and faster towards a time when everything is materialistic. Doom merchants say the book is dead (yes, back to that!) but thankfully, the likes of Carlton, Dorling Kindersley, Hodder, Harper Collins, Titan and Haynes don't believe it. Neither do I. The book is dead? Long live the book!
May 31st 2011
Some feedback on E-books, kindles, and the demise of traditional publishing... David Farland quotes some enticing figures about the rise of e-publishing, from 1% four years ago to 27% this year (estimated). However, kindle sales remain low - around 2 million according to Farland. I know the kindle isn't the only e-reader, that people with iPads also download books, but it seems to me that the future for books is not yet over. Take Dorling Kindersley, my favourite nonfiction publisher. Many of their new titles are available both as hard copy and as e-books, as of a few months ago. They've taken the initiative and given people an alternative. I will try to find out how many of each format they are selling - not actual sales figures, but percentages, and blog it in the days to come. HAUNTING VIOLET is excellent, by the way, I can heartily recommend it. Incidentally, going back to the business of e-publishing - what would happen to our libraries? Would you be able, for example, to pop into your local library and ask to borrow a kindle or an e-reader with the eight books on it that you're entitled to borrow? Would the bookshelves be populated by e-readers? Would you be expected to sit in the library with a kindle and read the book you used to be able to borrow? Your thoughts on a postcard, if you please...
May 29th 2011
I just finished reading a beautiful new book about angels, UNEARTHLY by Cynthia Hand - you can see the UK cover at the top of the page on the right. I don't usually like present tense works, but this one is perfect, a real romance, and written so beautfully... probably my book of the month for July. I'm a huge fan of WATERLOO ROAD, mainly because it's a school story, and I have loved school stories for as long as I can remember. Nothing much changes in school stories - the children are always at loggerheads with the teaching staff, some of the teachers are absolute pigs but really only want the best for their pupils - anyway, this season of Waterloo Road has one of the saddest storylines yet, and it involves two of my favourite characters - Sambuca Kelly, played brilliantly by Holly Kenny, and Finn Sharkey, played even more brilliantly by Jack McMullen - both of these excellent young actors have terrific futures ahead of them, I'm sure. I also understand that the head teacher, Karen Fisher, is also leaving in a few weeks' time, and one wonders if Robson Green's tenure as site manager will also come to an end. Off now to start reading HAUNTING VIOLET by Alyxandra Harvey, who also wrote the excellent Drake Chronicles, of course. Can't wait to get stuck in. More soon...