Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

history of loneliness

A History of Loneliness is a novel about the abuse of children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. It’s an important and unflinching work exploring the corruption of power on a vast scale, its systematic cover-up, and the devastating effect the scandal had upon the psyche of a nation when it woke up to the truth of its betrayal.

Odran Yates, is a good man, sent for the priesthood by his mother at the age of 17. He’s not sure if he has a true calling. It was simply the done thing and, in common with many other lads of his age, he simply went along with it. But he finds he enjoys the seminary life and excels at his studies. Scarred by tragic childhood events, and abused by the parish Priest – a thing he’s long suppressed – Odran is more damaged than he seems. Is the Church to be his rehabilitation into back life, or an escape from it?

Reticent and bookish, he begins his career teaching at the Catholic school, thinking to settle into the quiet cloistered life. For decades, he keeps the real world at bay, only to find himself suddenly sent to cover a parish for his old friend and fellow priest Tom Cardle who, after only a short tenure, has been quietly “moved on”. Although promised it’s only a temporary thing, Odran finds himself marooned in the position, a hapless pawn in a grand power-play as the first paedophile cases begin to break, and the church seeks to cover itself. We learn it’s not the first time Tom Cardle has been moved on, and though it’s obvious to us now in hindsight why, to Odran it remains a mystery.

To be a priest in Ireland at the outset of Odran’s career, was to be man highly regarded and trusted. People gave up their seats on trains for him, bought him food and drink and generally prostrated themselves in hope of currying favour with God. But when the scandal breaks, the priesthood becomes at once universally reviled, priests reluctant to go about in their collars for fear of attack. Odran is accused of attempting to kidnap a small boy when he was only trying to help the child who had lost its mother. Such is the paranoia and hatred of the public, he is set upon in the street, punched to the ground, then treated appallingly by the Garda who are quick assume him to be a paedophile “like all the rest”.

As the story shuttles back and forth in time, pieces of the puzzle and the all too human weaknesses in Odran’s character are revealed and we are forced to ask: how could such an intelligent man really have been so naive as not to know what was going on? Did Odran, and all the other good men of the Priesthood, simply turn a blind eye? Or were the good men themselves also victim to the institution they so loyally served?

Worse is to come with Odran discovering how the corruption goes to the core of the Church, that rather than work with the authorities in exposing and punishing rogue priests like Tom Cardle, the Church has defended them, covered for them, because the Church could not be seen to be anything less than omnipotent, having set itself above all other authority save God – above the state, and the law – that Ireland had become up to the time of the crisis a virtual theocracy, the Church unchallenged in its domination over the lives of the Catholic population, and under the cover of which many an appalling abuse took place.

All Odran wants is a return to the quiet life of the school, but as the layers of deceit unfold he looks back and asks himself has he not wasted his life in devotion to an institution that is morally unworthy, indeed responsible for ruining the lives of so many innocents? And as an outraged public turns upon anyone wearing the collar, including Odran, are the good priests not equally culpable and deserving of the public’s anger? But if that’s the case, with so many wrongs in world, who among us is entirely without sin? Who among us has never turned a blind eye to a thing out of a sense of one’s own powerlessness to make any difference whatsoever to a rottenness so deep?

Read this book if you can bear it. Put yourself in Odran’s shoes, then ask yourself, honestly, what would, what could you have done?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

avia-peseus

So, I write this blog and I publish novels online. I do it all for free because publishers don’t want my stuff, and life’s too short to be endlessly promoting it against a tide of whims all running the other way, and it doesn’t matter anyway because there are far too many books in the world and too few of them ever made a difference to anything, and no one actually reads books anymore, do they?

Writers! Well, we’re a pretty conceited bunch, all of us thinking our book, our blog, is going to change the world if only the world would shut up and listen, ether that or we’re thinking it might help us to get laid, or that this small clique of other writers we hob-nob with, will be daunted, if only for a moment, by the size of our gargantuan ego/intellect, as demonstrated by our latest killer piece.

There was an age when books changed the world, I suppose, back when knowledge was first written down and disseminated by copy-scribes – the mathematics of the Greeks, perhaps? Nowadays someone would be making it up, just to get a name for themselves and refusing to blush when the logic fell apart and swearing blind it was someone else’s fault, and everything is fake anyway, and most of us couldn’t tell the difference. And books are hard to take in, aren’t they? Five hours the last one took me to read, and I can barely remember any of it now. As for those seriously droneful fictions of the Victorian era, I’d sooner watch the box-set.

Books simply don’t matter any more. Nowadays we’ ve got Youflicks and Fishwit, and that Tweety-Bird thing and we believe every damned thing they tell us, their psychometric algorithms feeding back on our deepest darkest selves as betrayed by our clicks, and tuned in turn to bend the shapes of who and what it is we love or hate, and even how we vote. The Internet is the thing, you see? For sure it is! At least it is in its most addictive incarnations, where we crave the novelty of that latest notification and all in the hope it’ll finally change everything for the better. And even though you know by now it won’t,… go on, resist it, I challenge you. The Internet for five minutes is the same as all the books in the world on steroids. People walk the street like zombies, glued to it, plugged into it, oblivious of reality, so defenceless are we now against its clever little memes and all its tiny brain-devouring worms.

I mean how else do you explain it?

The fix we’re in.

Read Full Post »

real magic

Psychical research, or Psi, is a subject I think most of us are interested in, though perhaps without going so far as to admit any firm beliefs in it – at least not to our friends. Indeed, a cautious approach is advisable, this being a field beset with poseurs and frauds. But there are serious researchers too, and Dean Radin is one of them.

By Psi we mean things like ESP, Psychokinesis, Divination, Clairvoyance and Mediumship. His previous books, Supernormal, Entangled Minds and the Conscious Universe detail his careful research
going back over the decades of his long career. What’s always separated him from other writers on this subject though is a reluctance to fly his kites too high. He sticks with the research, with the methods, and most of all with the evidence. And the evidence he has published is consistently persuasive.

One of the fascinations in this field is the ingenious methods devised by researchers to tease out what could be genuine anomalous phenomenon, and to isolate them from other effects, be they error, wishful thinking, or simply fraud. At times I’ve struggled to bend my head not only around the extraordinary concepts Psi research explores but also the fiendishly elegant reasoning behind the experiments. As a result Dean Radin’s books are ones I tend to have to revisit from time to time just to see if I’ve got it right, that he’s actually saying and showing what I think he is.

In his latest book though, ‘Real Magic’, it’s as if he’s looked back over a long career, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s of these careful, double blinded experiments, and he’s said: you know what? To hell with it, here it is straight up: Psi is real, now let’s talk about what that means.

Psi effects in the general population are imperceptibly small. There may be just the odd occasion when they flare up and produce an effect that is stunning, at least to the person involved – say dreaming of something that comes true, or knowing with absolute certainty something bad has happened to a loved one. But as with all skills, some people are better at it than others, with some indeed being naturally talented to a degree that inspires either awe or deep suspicion. And so it is with Psi. In certain individuals these effects can be very strong but the trick is knowing who those individuals are, and how you tell them apart from the fraudsters.

For most of us its probably safer to assume someone’s pulling your leg when they say they can read your mind. But that people can indeed sometimes read minds, is proven and has been for a long time. They can sometimes see into the future, they sometimes know who’s ringing before they pick up the telephone. The fact that for most of us these effects are very small can be disappointing, but this misses the point, that what even a fraction of a percentage deviation from chance when guessing those cards tells us, is that the universe isn’t what a couple of hundred years of materialism has browbeaten us into believing it is. It’s actually more like what the Perennial Philosophy tell us, what Hermes Trismegistus tells us, and several millennia of other esoteric writings, be they religious, alchemical, mystical, heretical or downright diabolical, that at some fundamental level what underpins the physical reality of the universe is consciousness.

Real Magic is one of Dean Radin’s more accessible books. If you want to immerse yourself in the evidence you’ll need to look back over his other works. But what Real Magic tells us is that psi research over the past hundred years is where the scientific method has looked at “Magic”, not trick magic, but ‘real magic’, and has concluded that actually those old world magicians, alchemists, shamans, mystics, and holy-men weren’t completely crazy after all. Through their esoteric traditions, they were pursuing effects and working with a theory of the universe, millennia ago, that science is going to have to come to terms with if it wants to advance beyond its current materialistic impasse.

But this is not to say we abandon reason, quite the opposite. The protocols observed in Psi research are among the most stringent because they have to be. It’s only by applying such gold standards in a notoriously murky field we can expect to make reliable progress. But one of the reasons this work is not more widely known is an abiding prejudice within the established scientific community, also it must be said among even moderately educated people in general who ape the sneers of their scientific elders and betters – and for the first half of my life I would count myself among their number. This is understandable. It is by far the safest option, when reading about Psi, to react with a smug expression and dismiss anything that questions the mechanistic, materialistic world view as “woo woo”. In doing so we seek safety in the prevailing paradigm, but close our eyes to the real magic of the universe itself.

Such prejudice is of course strongest where vested interests are concerned. Those  who persecuted Galileo refused even to look through his telescope. Similarly much Psi research is undeservedly rubbished by ignorant, sneering debunkers, including many otherwise serious scientific minds, who refuse to even look at the evidence. I looked at the evidence, and was persuaded to open my eyes a little.

Real Magic is a compelling read from a highly respected, unflappable, and very sober-minded researcher of psi – there are even some instructions on how to practice a little bit of magic yourself. But as with all magic, be careful what you wish for or you might just get it.

I leave you with the man himself:

 

Read Full Post »

When the heart is young, by John William Godward

For a male writer, it’s perhaps safer to write only as a man, and about men, that all the characters in our stories should be men, and the women no more than cardboard cutouts in the background labelled loosely: mother, sister, wife, love/sexual interest. Except that by doing so we eliminate half the population from our stories, and that would be silly because – you know – women can be interesting too!

But when we include women, and particularly when we try to write women characters, and especially in the first person, we risk making ourselves look ridiculous – especially to women – and that’s half our potential readership right there, laughing at us. It’s a terrifying prospect for any male writer who wants to be taken seriously! But knowing how women think is something men have been debating for millennia without coming to any satisfactory conclusions, so it would seem even the most diligent research on the subject is pointless. As for actually passing ourselves off as a female writer, with a female pseudonym, it would be a very brave man indeed who hoped to get away with that!

Apart from the monks among us, most men have at least some experience of women, so if we’re writing from experience, how come we’re prone to making such a hash of it? Don’t we take any notice of women at all – even the one’s we’re with? Could it be there’s something simplistic about the way we relate to women? For example how about this:

“She breasted boobily to the stairs and titted downwards.”

This little gem went viral on social media a while back and, yes, it’s a fair description of how a man might describe a woman in his story – what she looks like, what she did and how she did it. It’s exaggerated of course, but it drives the point home nicely. We do tend to relate on a physical level, eyes glued to bosoms and bums. All right, maybe as a man, what makes us notice a woman is what we find sexually attractive about her, or not, but if we’re introducing her as a character there must be something else about her that others – i.e. women – can relate to.

A woman might notice what the character is wearing and what that says about the person’s social, income and even moral standing – is she casually dressed, smart, frumpy, tarty? Does she look happy, sad, pensive? How does her appearance, her demeanour make you feel?

The fact she has bosoms probably wouldn’t be mentioned by a woman writer, any more than a man would write about another man having elbows – it’s simply a given that all human beings come equipped that way – unless the lady’s bosoms are the reason a guy got distracted, tripped over his feet and crashed into the water-cooler. Then it would be reasonable to mention them.

Altogether it would appear a lighter brush is needed when us chaps are writing women into our stories. We mustn’t get hung up doodling extra goggle-eyed detail into those erogenous zones – it’s all a bit adolescent. Yes, we’re programmed to respond that way, but we have to somehow transcend that level of thinking as writers of stories, realise there’s more to women than whatever it is that gets us going in the trouser department, unless of course, it’s a woman our male protagonist is interested in sexually. But even then, is it purely her physical appearance that attracts him? If it is, then say so, but accept that also says something about your guy, and is that really what you’re trying to flag to others?

What else is there? There must be something? The way she looks at him? The fact she bites her nails, taps her toe, fiddles with her hair. Why does she do that? The fact she likes re-runs of Mork and Mindy – what does that say about her? And why does he like that about her?

Now for the hard part: try imagining you’re a woman, writing as a woman, and what it is that attracts you to a man. Do you imagine it’s simply the bulge in the trouser department, or  the enormous, rippling gym-honed torso? If that’s all there is to it then fine, we can assume women are wired the same way as men – only the other way around. Except, that can’t be the case can it? Because why do you see so many good looking women hanging out with such defiantly unhealthy looking guys? Is there, after all, something fundamentally different about the way women relate to men? I mean why would they waste a body like that on such an unreformed slob? Could it be women see bodies differently – both men’s and their own?

You could have a stab along those lines: that it’s more something in his smile perhaps, or his eyes, or maybe it’s that a woman can tell a lot about a guy simply by the way he smells, and not so much by the things he says, as the things he doesn’t say. And if you’re really, really struggling, then try reading some books written by women. And if you want to know how they relate to others in an erotic way, then read some female erotica, but make sure it’s erotica written for women by women, not by men pretending to be women for men.

I’ve written ten novels now, so I’m sure I’ve come a cropper several times, had the girls breasting boobily all over the damned place. I suppose in one sense it doesn’t really matter if you get it wrong, because we’re all just amateurs writing online, aren’t we? But if you’re a big shot writer making millions, priding yourself on your authenticity, and you have your girls breasting boobily,… well, shame on you!

Of course the other argument is you’re wasting your time writing if you’re a man anyway, or at least flagging yourself as male with a male pseudonym, because an oft quoted and very discouraging statistic tells us 80% of readers these days are women and most of them prefer books by women, at least when it comes to genre stuff. About the only place left for men to write as men is  literature, but since no one’s reading much of that anyway these days no one’s going to notice, or care, if we’re breasting boobily or not.

How to write a woman into your story? There are no rules. Just do it,… but think about it, and in the process you might learn something.

 

Read Full Post »

IMG_20180321_195030_processed

Unless you’re involved in espionage it’s unlikely you’ll ever know what that world is truly like. We can hazard a guess it’s not the glossy shaken Martini and fancy sports car world we see portrayed in the James Bond movies, that the truth is rather less glamorous. John Le Carre worked both as a spy and a handler in the early cold war years, and it’s this formative experience we trust lends such authenticity to his work. Coupled with that we have a unique voice, bleakly charismatic, like an old English folksong. When it comes to writing about spies, there’s nobody else I can take quite as seriously as John Le Carre.

The emphasis of your typical Le Carre spy story isn’t the gadgets, fast cars and guns but the people themselves and through this the revelation that spies are often deeply vulnerable, flawed, fragile individuals, chosen by their handlers for the ease with which they can be manipulated. Then there are the handlers themselves – in Le Carre’s world usually of a classically educated public school background, as is Le Carre. Then there are the people they work for, and of course the tiresome bureaucracy of it, and then the politics, the ambition, the vanity. In other words it’s a distinctly human world, rich in deception, duplicity and betrayal, and one in which people occasionally meet with a terrible end.

In the Perfect Spy, we are introduced to Magnus Pym, an intelligence officer working under cover of the diplomatic service who finds himself sidelined to a posting in Vienna which is a bit of an espionage backwater. The reason? For years, and secretly, his masters, but especially the Americans, have doubted his reliability, and suspected he might in fact be a double agent. When he suddenly disappears, the assumption is that it’s true, that Pym has been spying for the other side and has now defected. The chase is then on to catch him and limit any damage he might do. But Pym has not crossed over – yet. He’s gone to ground in a nameless English seaside town, where he pens his life-story for the benefit of his son, Tom.

As Pym’s story unfolds we discover a man of many layers and many faces – always an actor playing to an audience, always walking a tightrope of love and betrayal. The son of a con-man and a black-marketeer, even his upbringing was one of deception and spin, but as the novel unfolds we begin to feel the yearning in Pym, and the search for the one thing that’s authentic in himself.

Too deliberate and nuanced to be called a thriller, this is more like reading a piece of existential literature, with giant characters, impossibly conflicted and totally believable. Le Carre’s bleak world-view is as infectious as it is at times repulsive, and nowhere is that world view better portrayed than here.

Pym’s potential nemesis is his one time handler, Jack Brotherhood, sometime friend, most times bully and arch manipulator, a man so deeply intimate with Pym over the decades that Pym’s disappearance has led to him being sidelined in the investigation. But while the career types chase their tails, and the CIA with its vast resources muscles in on the hallowed ground of British espionage, it’s Brotherhood, the crafty old field hand, who painstakingly closes in on Pym.

The story unfolds mainly from two viewpoints, Pym’s and Brotherhood’s, but remember both of these men are  spies, which makes neither of them entirely reliable narrators, leaving the reader to bounce around between them in the most dizzying and fascinating way in the search for our own truth amid the smoke and mirrors. Thus, slowly, we form a picture of where Pym has come from, what it takes to be the perfect spy, also the baffling nature of what it is, exactly, that Pym has done, and of course, as the net closes in, what it is he’s about to do.

Often cited as the best of Le Carre’s many novels. If you’re not familiar with him, this is a really good place to start.

 

Read Full Post »

solarIan McEwan isn’t always an easy read, often challenging in the depths he takes us, and at times brutal in his picking apart of human nature and all its attendant frailties. In Solar we meet surely one of his most monstrous creations, Professor Michael Beard, Nobel Laureate, author of the Beard-Einstein Conflation – something about light and really hard physics. He has a brilliant mind then, but he’s also a serial philanderer and insufferably vain, not an easy man to be around which is what I felt made this one of the more challenging of McEwan’s works, given the company he forces us to keep. Worse still, the third person perspective is kept entirely on Beard, so not allowing us even temporary respite in the intimate company of other characters.

Although at times darkly comic, I found Beard so loathsome, so pompous and amoral, I failed to find any of his scrapes funny, but for all of that I found the book to be a compelling read, which is quite a feat for an author to pull off. How do you get your readers to relate to an anti-hero like this? What is it that keeps us hooked, when surely we would much sooner part company? Is it anticipation of a spectacular comeuppance? Or do we long for a glimpse of a redeeming facet of character, or do we anticipate an incident that will cause Beard to finally see the light and achieve some sort of redemption?

The story charts his misanthropic ambitions in the field of synthetic photosynthesis, a process aimed at providing a limitless source of energy from sunlight. But his patents are based on research stolen from a junior colleague, and his motivation appears to be no more than self aggrandisement rather than the moral imperative of actually saving the planet. Indeed when challenged about the likely interest in his work in the face of opposition from the oil and gas lobby he quotes the approaching inevitable climate catastrophe with glee as a guarantor of his inevitable success, as if even God were on his side wrecking the planet to suit Beard’s ambitions.

Of course things don’t go smoothly and, over the years of his egotistical excesses we witness the slow disintegration of the corporeal man, his decline into ever greater depths of slovenliness and physical decrepitude. It was a challenge to understand what it was in Beard that his long line of lovers found so attractive, other than the hope they might be the one to finally rescue him from himself.

Beginning in the cold, cash-strapped breeze-block labs of British academia, in the year 2000 and ending in 2009, in the fierce heat of a privately funded New Mexico solar farm, Beard’s past misdeeds finally gain sufficient momentum to catch up with him. So, what will become of him? Will his obnoxious ego keep him one step ahead of calamity yet again? Will he find true love? Will his creaking frame give out on him before he gets to prove to the world, finally how appallingly and ruthlessly magnificent he is?

Loved it.

Read Full Post »

the outsider

The Outsider is another thrilling read from one of Britain’s best known, best selling authors. It’s filled with intrigue, betrayal and danger. It’s also his autobiography, and as such is especially interesting to other writers. Even writers like me.

I mean – how the hell did he do it?

He wrote his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, because he was down on his luck and needed the money. I was once in a similar bind, stuck in a job that was shedding its workforce year on year. It was only a matter of time before I was potted. I needed an exit, and fast. So I wrote the Singing Loch and posted it off in naive expectation. It was rejected at every turn and has never made a bean.

The story of how the Jackal was published illustrates how getting picked up by the big-boys takes more than just a good manuscript. All writers come to this conclusion eventually. What we do about it comes down to sheer grit and self belief, or we decide not to bother and do something else. Me? I avoided the potting, and have never needed the money. Fair dos.

Fluent in five languages, he was flying Vampire jets with the RAF at 19. He began a career in journalism, got mixed up in the Nigerian civil war, at odds with the official pro Nigerian line. He’s been shot at, mortared, strafed by a Mig, and more than once fired by the BBC. He’s been an occasional odd job man for HM’s security services, and was once seduced by an amorous Stasi agent who was supposed to be tailing him. Politically well to the right of centre, outspokenly traditionalist, Conservative, and euro-sceptic, Freddie and I are clearly not natural bedfellows but, through his stories at least, I find him good company.

So anyway,… the day of the Jackal was hacked out under pressing financial circumstances, then did the rounds, but like the Singing Loch it got nowhere. Unlike me, Forsyth weighed up the situation and reckoned you had to skip the publisher’s slush pile and find a direct way to the top otherwise you were stuffed. Through his circle of contacts, he established nodding terms with an editor, sufficient to bluster into the guy’s office one day on pretext of a social visit, oh and – while I’m here what do you think of this? The result was a three book deal. The Odessa File, and The Dogs of War made up the other two. Forsyth was suddenly a professional novelist making a lot of money.

The lesson for other would-be writers here is obvious. Simply dropping your manuscript through a publisher’s letterbox, the odds of it getting far enough up the chain of command to make a difference are about the same as coming up on the lottery. You  need good contacts and a lot of brass neck. For those with both the talent and the connections, it’s still possible to make money from your writing, but for those without, the choice is smashing your head against a brick wall, or self publishing.

The title, “The Outisder” refers to a particular frame of mind that always puts one outside events, makes us an observer of life and a withdrawer to the silence of a closed room, and the space to think, to write. That’s me too, but not all writers are known as writers, our outsiderly ways forgiven on account of the tangible goal of the next best-seller. Some of us aren’t even known as writers at all.

My life’s path rarely takes me out of Lancashire, let alone Britain. My vision is macroscopic, seeking a life and interest in the parochial details of the humdrum. No guns, no knives, no steely eyed assassins, nor beautiful Stasi agents. Yet I am a writer. I can’t help it. More than that I am a novelist, in so far as I am a person who writes novels, though I’d never say so out loud. I suppose it’s that “success” thing, and how you measure it. No sense calling yourself a writer to people’s faces without anything tangible to show for it, like maybe be a best seller or two, and a Jag on the drive to prove your net worth.

But life is also about understanding what you’ve got, changing what you can if you feel you must, and making peace with whatever you feel you cannot. I think few men would object to being seduced by a greater number of beautiful women than has been the case, but being strafed by a Mig? That would probably have been the last straw for me, followed by a one way ticket back home to the quiet and comfort of my Lancashire bolt-hole. Nope. I wouldn’t change a thing.

What’s most striking, throughout reading Forsyth’s life story, is his confidence, his courage and his total self belief. In addition to his obvious talents as a writer, that’s how the hell he did it.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »