A much rarer phenomenon

I’ve taken my title today from an article in The Guardian by Aditya Chakrabortty. It seems so apposite to what so many of us are thinking that I want to share it with you. A lot of us have been campaigning – quietly because no one on the right will allow us to raise our voices – to express our concern that nearly half the electorate have been rendered powerless by the remorseless drive towards a Brexit we certainly never wanted or voted for. I suspect that if we were to be allowed a second referendum the remainers would be more than half of the electorate. For lots of people are now waking up to the fact that they were conned into voting ‘out’ by some very heavy, very expensive and insistent LIES.

But first let’s consider this ‘rarer phenomenon’.

‘Between these two extremes lies a much rarer phenomenon, which blights Britain today. We are right in the middle of an infrastructure breakdown – we just haven’t named it yet. You’ll know what I mean when we list the component parts. More than 760 youth clubs have shut since 2012. A pub closes every 12 hours. Nearly 130 libraries were scrapped last year, and those that survive in England have lopped of 230,000 opening hours.

Each is a news story. Each stings a different group : the books trade, the real-ale aficionados, the trade unions. But knit them together and a far darker picture emerges. Britain is being stripped of its social infrastructure: the institutions that make up it’s daily life, the buildings and spaces that host friends and gently push strangers together. Public parks are disappearing. Playgrounds are being sold off. High Streets are turning to desert. These trends are national, but their greatest force is felt in the poorest towns and suburbs, the most remote parts of the countryside, where there isn’t the footfall to lure in businesses or household wealth to save the local boozer.’

And it is all being done deliberately. I’ve been using the hashtag #keeptheplebsintheirplace ever since this all began and now and at last BBC News has reported that the Head of News at Channel 4 an admirable lady called Dorothy Byrne: “gave a keynote speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday, in which she called Prime Minister Boris Johnson a “coward” for not granting news interviews.  She also said he was “a known liar”.

Byrne told the BBC: “If someone has deliberately spoken an untruth and we have evidence, we have to consider saying that what is said is a lie.” Shock horror and three rousing cheers!!!

In her MacTaggart Lecture, she said: “What we all need to decide: what do we do when a known liar becomes our Prime Minister? I’ve talked to journalists from several television organisations about this issue. They said they would be loath to use that word ‘liar’.

“Remember when Andrew Marr told [former defence secretary] Penny Mordaunt her claim that the UK couldn’t stop Turkey from joining the EU was ‘strange’?

“It was strange, but it was also untrue – a lie. Is it time for us to start using the L-word? I believe that we need to start calling politicians out as liars when they lie. If we continue to be so polite, how will our viewers know that politicians are lying?”

She added that it “isn’t necessarily obvious” to the audience when politicians are untruthful in interviews.

“They are not journalists, they don’t have all day to research stories,” she said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday. “Journalists have a purpose. We go away and study and research whether what politicians say is true and then we ask them informed questions and make them accountable.”

How very necessary this is. I can hear remainers up and down the country cheering.

We have been lied to long enough, our infrastructure has been damaged to breaking point, we loathe lies and despise liars. It really is high time they were all publicly called out. The Augean stables need a thorough cleansing. Roll on that river!

BREXITWEAREEUROPE

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This entry was posted on August 23, 2019. 4 Comments

I’m still hoping to achieve a first and I’m still trying not to brag! But it’s getting harder and harder!

There are now, believe it or not, three books coming out, the two books about the Jackson family and a book of short stories printed by a local writers group called CHINDI which contains one of my short stories. If you live in the area of Chichester and Bognor and can hear an odd buzzing noise, do not be alarmed, it’s just my head spinning!

And as a reward for being patient with me in my crazy mood, here is a taster from the new book Citizen Armies, it is the story of my heroine’s first night on the London streets during the Blitz. I chose it for two reasons, because it was as accurate as I could get it and because it gave me the chance to give the official figures about the very first raid, they make chilling reading, be warned, but they are true.

“A Major Incident”

Theirs was the third ambulance to arrive on site and more came soon after they did, and, even in the darkness, she could see that a quarter of the block had been blown away and that the debris had fallen into a huge mound almost as high as the flats. The heavy lifting team were already at work along with more wardens and helpers than Rosie had ever seen together in one place, and there were electricians there too, setting up spotlights, and gas men standing beside their vans. A major incident. The first casualty was eased gently out of the wreckage as she watched and carried off at once to the nearest ambulance. It was going to be a long job.

‘I shall be more use out there than sitting in here, so I shall,’ Sister Maloney said, and she wrapped her cloak warmly round her and was gone.

More helpers were arriving by the minute and, watching them, Rosie was full of admiration for them. They were all so calm and careful, doing what had to be done, but standing quite still and perfectly silent whenever the team leader held up his hand for quiet. There was no panic, no excitability, no fuss, just a group of hard working people doing what they could to rescue the injured. We’re a sturdy lot we British, she thought. Hitler can rant and roar all he likes but he needn’t think he can beat us. The thought sustained her through the rest of the night, even though it was full of suffering and revealed more grief than she cared to see. We do what we can, she told herself, as she carried the injured into her ambulance; we do what we can, as she cleaned and serviced her vehicle when the all clear finally sounded.

She and Jim didn’t get home until after half past five that morning and by then they were both totally exhausted. Jim arrived five minutes after she did and bought a copy of yesterday’s evening paper with him.

‘They had it hot off the press last night,’ he said. ‘After all that. You gotta hand it to ‘em.’

The headline was huge as befitted the news. ‘350 bombers in daylight raid in London,’ it said and went on to give the details. ‘It is estimated that 300 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the docks and the streets of the East End of London. There was considerable damage and many casualties. The RAF shot down 99 planes and lost 22 of their own.’

I’m going to achieve a first and I’m trying not to brag!

But I have to say, having two books published on the same day, feels like an achievement. And they will come out together in eighteen days time.

They are a novel and its sequel, so it’s fitting that they’re being published together. Between them they cover the life and times of my heroine from 1908 – when my she was twelve years old and heading off for her first job as a skivvy, miles away from her family whom she will only see from then on, on Mothering Sunday – to 1945 when she and her husband have worked through the London Blitz, the buzz-bombs and the rockets in the Borough in London, she driving an ambulance, he as an air-raid warden. They were tough times and in a way I feel honoured to be describing them. And it is apposite that the two books are being published on the day before the anniversary of the day the war broke out.

Everybody’s Somebody will be available to pre-order tomorrow and Citizen Armies is already available to pre-order on Amazon now and I know it’s had one sale already, because a very old friend of mine and an extremely good writer has mailed me to tell me so. Despite my attempts to keep calm, it’s actually quite exciting!

This entry was posted on August 15, 2019. 2 Comments

Citizen Armies on the way!

CA FINAL COVER AUGUST

This is going to sound a bit previous because this book isn’t due out for another month and when it comes it will come with a re-print of Everybody’s Somebody which is the prequel. So for the first time ever I’m going to have two books out on the same day and it’s making me a bit nervous!

But Endeavour, who are publishing it have just told me that the e-book version will available to pre-order from Amazon at a special price of £1.99 from the 7th of August and I’m a great one for a bargain! And this book, I have to admit is rather special to me.

There have been so many books about the second world war written recently that it quite makes my head spin, especially as the writers, with the best will in the world, don’t get it quite right. And one of the reasons for this is that no-one – as far as I know – has ever spelt out how totally different the people who were alive during the second world war were from the people who are alive now.

I lived through that war and was in London during the first four months of the Blitz and back again in time for the buzz-bombs and the rockets. And I don’t just remember it very well, but have a written record of what it was like (which is much more reliable than memory), because I kept a diary from the time I was seven until I was nineteen.

So I know that the people who endured the war were made of very different stuff from the people who are alive now. They thought differently to the way people think now and that made them speak and act differently. My characters are not late 20th Century or 21st Century people dressed up in the right clothes. They’re the real macoy and I’m very fond of them. Hence this advance notice of their book!

Later on I shall have a cover for the republished version of Everybody’s Somebody and I will put that up alongside the cover of Citizen Armies. But I shall do all that at a more appropriate time when publication is nearer.

In the meantime, I hope you will forgive me for pushing the book at you in this brazen way! I do it with my heart in my mouth.

This entry was posted on July 30, 2019. 2 Comments

The silence of the girls or what the Trojan war was really like.

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This stupendous book was on the Shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction which is one reason why I’m writing about it now. It’s a richly deserved place because Pat Barker is a powerful writer, one of the most powerful I have ever read. I started with Union Street back in 1982 and have been a fan ever since.

The Silence of the Girls is Pat’s take on the Trojan war. Not for her the posturing of the famous heroes, however renowned they might be and however much Homer admired them. Their courage in battle is undeniable but there is much, much more to them then hacking other men to pieces and making noble speeches – although, to be fair to Homer, he does show us how petty and tiresome they can be when they quarrel, with Achilles quick to offer  insults and sulking in his tent when he loses the argument.

The men in Pat Barker’s clear eyed version of the Iliad are cruelachille-2165043_960_720 in the extreme and in every sense of the words ‘blood-thirsty’. We first see Achilles hacking his way through the Trojan forces, protected by his God-given armour and his semi-divine parentage, killing at random, brutally and almost carelessly.

Women are treated as the spoils of war, even if they are Queens and/or daughters of Kings. They are passed from man to man, raped, beaten and quarreled over, not as people, but as prizes. The war is a very ugly business and everything these heroes do is brutal, even the burying of their dead.

Virgins and young men are sacrificed and put on the funeral pyres 5, 7, 10 at a time and many of the virgins were just little girls. Animals are killed in the same way and in the same way too. Not just for feasts, but for funerals and they die in pain and terror as Pat shows us. She is passionately opposed to the horror and cruelty of war.

At the end of this stunning, terrifying and shocking story, Briseis, the main protagonist, looks into the future and wonders what future generations will make of her ghastly tale.

‘What will they make of us,’ she says. ‘The people of those unimaginably distant times? One thing I do know: they won’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery. They won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something altogether softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.

This entry was posted on July 23, 2019. 1 Comment

34 years and I don’t believe it either!

Hearts and Farthings eBook Cover37 years ago I started to write my very first novel. I was 51 years old and not at all sure that I would be able to do it or that anything would come of it when I had but I went ahead with it anyway.

Because I knew that most new writers are tempted to write about their own lives, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t give anyone the chance to say that’s what this novel was about. So I chose a young man as my central figure and started the story in the 1890s but then of course I started to cheat.

The place that I new better than any other was Tooting and so that is the place that I used as the main setting of my story. I also knew what an immigrant to London in the 1890s would have had to contend with.

parodigarden

My maternal grandfather was called Albert Parodi and kept an off-license at the corner of Mitcham Road and Church Lane. Here he is sitting in the garden of his house in Longley Road with my mother on his lap. I never knew him because he died when my mother was 19, but I heard sufficient about him and the life they all led at Longley Road to feed my imagination.

 

And here is a picture of the shop with his name on the shop blind.

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I lived in the flat above that shop while buzz-bombs and rockets were falling on us during the war. So what with Longley Road and Church Lane, I was steeped in local history, which I found fascinating. For example, the funny little object on the island in the middle of the road with the railings round it was one of the two artesian wells in Tooting, long before the coming of running water. The other was in the slum area known as the Salvador which was demolished to make way for the great Granada cinema.

It took me a long time to write that book because I was teaching then and had to squash the writing into whatever time was left around the edges of what I was doing in the classroom. But it was finished at last and to my total amazement and incredulity it was taken by an agent and published by Century-Futura in 1985 and became a best-seller pretty well overnight. No I didn’t believe it either!

And now the wheel has come full circle and this Thursday as ever is, my present publisher Agora are re-issuing this old warrior as an eBook and paperback. Welcome back old friend!

You can find it on Amazon here. It’s available now as a paperback and the eBook will come out too on Thursday.

This entry was posted on July 13, 2019. 2 Comments

How to cope with a negative review

heartsofoakbookcoverI went to the Chindi meeting in Chichester yesterday evening. It was lively, friendly and only marred for me by the fact that I haven’t got used to my new hearing aids and had to ask my questioners to shout at me and repeat the question! Oh woe! But they were interesting questions and it was a happy evening.

Not quite so happy as the previous Saturday had been. For on Saturday, I received a copy of a bum review for Hearts of Oak. It was written by a young woman, who describes herself on her blog as ‘an English student at university’ and says she is twenty and ‘constantly trying to find ways to put myself out there’ explaining that ‘It’s not the easiest venture, finding careers with an English degree. But I’ve always loved the idea of working for a publishing company, or even to work as a magazine editor.’ I rather imagine that panning another writer’s book is her idea of ‘putting herself out there’.

It was a revealing review because although she says she’s ‘often enjoyed novels which focus on some kind of disguise and adventure’ and then goes on to say the ‘historical setting was especially fun to read’ she then moves on to her reasons for giving the book a 3-star rating. ‘The characterisation’ she says, ‘was, overall, decent.’ But then goes on to tell us that there were moments when my heroine ‘frustrated’ her and in the next sentence put my hero in the same category ‘ridiculously frustrating most of the time’. Well, I thought reading it, she doesn’t like them. You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

But then, bless her cotton socks, she thought she had better give me a lesson in how to write a character well. ‘The narrative,’ she said, ‘is very much a telling narrative rather than a showing narrative.’ And then went on to explain there ‘was a lot of ‘he did this’, then ‘did this’ rather than an exploration of how he is feeling’. This is the standard advice given to students following a creative writing course, ‘don’t tell, show.’ I wonder if that’s what she is studying at University.

Then having seen off the characters, she turned her attention to the settings. ‘As befitting a 3-star rating, the descriptions of the places could have been a lot better.’ At which point I thought, she hasn’t actually read the book, she’s skimmed through it or, even worse, read the synopsis instead. One of the things that my fans and readers enjoyed most about this book when it first came out was that I took them to so many different places, like the Caribbean, mid-Atlantic, the Mediterranean, Cape Trafalgar  and described them all so vividly. Other people, other times.

I wrote back to thank her for her review, as I always do, and said it was kindly done as she didn’t like the book. I wonder whether she will notice or if she will skim read that too.

Not that it matters over much. She has given me information for a story that will comfort new writers who are given a bum review. I’ve had lots of reviews in my time, some of them glowing and some almost as bad as this one. We have to take the bad with the good.

Best of luck fellow writers. Keep your chins up.

This entry was posted on July 2, 2019. 1 Comment