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Saturday 19 November 2016

Book review - The Paradise Game

Fourth in the six-book Hooded Swan sequence by Brian Stableford, The Paradise Game (1974) is another intriguing space opera offering an alien planetary puzzle.

Space-pilot Grainger, still lumbered with the mind-parasite or symbiote ‘the wind’ has landed on Pharos, a planet that appears to be paradise. Unpolluted, with no large predators, no disease, indeed no death, it seems truly ideal. That’s why the Caradoc Company wants to take over the planet, to make money, of course; future wealth is in the service industry. The only indigenous natives are quite obliging about the project. However, conservationists in the guise of the Aegis group object strongly, even resorting to explosive sabotage. Charlot, Grainger’s boss, has been tasked with the job of arbitrating and determining if the Caradoc claim can succeed.

Yet again, Stableford has created interesting aliens and a planetary life-system. The natives ‘were humanoid, curious, gullible and all female… Her skin was covered in light gray fur. Her face reminded me of an owl, with huge large-lidded eyes. The eyelids moved slowly up and down, so that one moment the whole of the eyes were exposed, the next only a half or three-quarters. She had a sort of mane of lighter fur or hair descending down her back from the crown of her head, starting off in between her small pointed ears. Her arms were thin and short, and she walked with her legs permanently crooked. She was naked, but thick hair covered her loins.’ (pp9/10)

The natives have ‘no generic name for themselves, and they have no word for death.’ (p42)

Of course, no paradise can be perfect. Eden had its snake. Grainger wondered what lingered in the verdant vegetation of Pharos. ‘It’s always darkest before it gets even darker.’ (p45)

Stableford likes word-play and one of the lawmen on Pharos is Keith Just. He goes further, ‘Four of them. And Just.’(p113)  Four Just Men, no less? Edgar Wallace would smile, I suspect. And his final two words in the story hit the right note, too!

As in earlier adventures, ‘the wind’ is instrumental in resolving the puzzle for Grainger. There’s also a good assessment of his relationship with the symbiote: ‘my relationship with the wind became a matter of vital necessity…’ (p133) ‘In a way, he was more me than I was.’ (p134).

Inventive, as usual, and worth reading for that reason.

Editor’s hat on:

On more than one occasion, characters speak without interruption for over two pages. This is unrealistic (pp 151-153, for instance).

Repetitive use of some words. ‘Back’, for instance, written seven times in 10 lines (p77) And ‘lot’, another one of those echo words: 5 times in 10 lines (p153).

There’s a great visual description of a mother spaceship launching an invasion fleet of smaller craft: ‘the battleship was beginning to shrink as she accelerated and climbed, while the infant fleet grew as it descended, changing appearance momentarily as our prospective adjusted, so that it was first a swarm of bees, then locusts, and then black butterflies. (p94) Pity ‘prospective’ was used instead of ‘perspective’.

Thursday 17 November 2016

'Atmospheric descriptions of life under the yoke of Soviet rule'

Latest Amazon review of The Prague Papers (e-book) from reader 'Sandbagger'.

Set during the Cold War behind the Iron Curtain in the mid- 1970s the storyline follows the young, intriguing Tana Standish, a British secret agent, who was orphaned and yet managed to survive the brutality and the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto in WWII. She possesses a psychic ability that gives her an advantage but occasionally appears to be something of a double-edged sword.

Tana is called in to help repair the beleaguered underground network in Czechoslovakia, who had been stymied after the so-called Prague Spring, when the reformist First Secretary, Alexander Dubček, well meaning attempts of reform were brought to heel seven years earlier by the arrival of Soviet tanks.

This is a well-researched novel with atmospheric descriptions of life under the yoke of Soviet rule.

A real page turner. Highly recommended.
Many thanks, Sandbagger! 

The follow-up is The Tehran Text, set in Iran in 1978.

My apologies for not posting here regularly of late, but I'm moving towards the end of the third Tana Standish mission, set in Afghanistan in 1979: The Khyber Chronicle.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Books - Library loans

The Irish Public Lending Right statement has arrived in the inbox. The earnings are not great, but what is interesting to me is the number of loans.

All six of my westerns (by 'Ross Morton') are represented in the Irish and UK libraries:

Death at Bethesda Falls
Last Chance Saloon
The $300 Man
Blind Justice at Wedlock
Old Guns
The Magnificent Mendozas

For 2015 They have clocked up between them 217 loans.

Not many, true; by averages that suggests that 36 people have read each book.
In truth, it shows how averages can be skewed.

Book - loans
Blind Justice - 69
Last Chance Saloon - 39
Old Guns - 46
The Magnificent Mendozas - 24
Death at Bethesda Falls - 29
The $300 Man - 10

It's heartening to know that the oldest, Death at Bethesda Falls (published in 2007) is still finding a readership.

The loans in the UK libraries are considerably higher; that statement comes out in the new year.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Writing - animal cries and calls

Cries of despair today, in British date-format, 9/11... as Mr Trump is voted in as president-elect of the USA.

To the cry, call or voice of many animals a special name is attributed. Rarely can the accepted name of the cry be changed. Here you will find a selection from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Perhaps some will end up in your text:

apes gibber
asses bray
bears growl
bees hum
bitterns boom
bulls bellow
calves bleat
cats mew, purr, swear and caterwaul (swear?)
crows caw
cuckoos cuckoo
dogs bark, bay, howl and yelp
doves coo
eagles, vultures and peacocks scream
flies buzz
foxes bark and yelp
hawks scream
ravens croak

Some I didn't know:
beetles drone
blackcap 'chick-chicks'
falcons chant
grasshoppers chirp and pitter
grouse drums
guineafowls cry 'come back'
nightingales pipe and warble and 'jug-jug'
swallows twitter (hence the Twitter avatar?)
whitethroat chirrs

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Writing – animals in symbolism

Browsing through my old (1981) edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, trying to find the root of the phrase, ‘Fed up’, I came across this interesting item.

I won’t quote all of it, but you can get the drift, and the list should bring to mind relevant idioms and descriptions:

Creature          symbolizes
Ant                  frugality and prevision
Ape                  uncleanness, malice, lust and cunning
Ass                  stupidity

Bantam cock    pluckiness, priggishness
Bat                   blindness
Bear                 ill-temper, uncouthness
Bulldog            pertinacity

Cock                vigilance, overbearing insolence
Crocodile         hypocrisy

Dog                  fidelity, dirty habits

Fox                  cunning, artifice

Goat                 lasciviousness
Goose              conceit, folly
Gull                 gullibility

Hen                  maternal care

Lamb               innocence, sacrifice
Leopard           sin
Lion                 noble courage

Owl                  wisdom
Ox                   patience, strength, pride

Pig                   obstinacy, dirtiness, gluttony

Rabbit              fecundity
Raven              ill-luck

Sheep               silliness, timidity

Worm              cringing…

Whether it’s the realisation that ‘the law is an ass’, or acknowledging the pluckiness of bantamweight boxers, or noticing that person acting like a bear with a sore head, while shedding crocodile tears; or thinking of the faithful friend, a dog, or the wily fox, or mother hen, or gulling people out of money, or leopards being unable to change their spots, or rabbits breeding like rabbits, or those ravens of the Tower of London, this symbolism has crept into our everyday language.

Oh, and ‘fed up’ wasn’t in there. It is in the OED and stems from having enough, fed up to the back teeth, a surfeit, can’t eat another morsel or rather, no more, thanks, I’m bored. (I can take a hint, and will close now…)

Monday 7 November 2016

Writing – competition – short story – Inktears

Short story 1,000 to 3,500 words

Deadline is 30 November 2016

Any theme.

There are six prizes which will be awarded by the InkTears judging panel:
    Winner: £1,000
    Runner-up: £100
    4x Highly Commended: £25

Entry fee - £7.50

This is of interest indeed: Story may have been previously published in a magazine or online, providing the author still owns the copyright and there is no exclusivity with the prior publication. Alternatively, the story may be as yet unpublished.

Open to non-UK based writers.

Entrants must be a minimum of 18 years old.

Winning entrants agree to have their story published by InkTears in both electronic and paper format. Authors will retain worldwide copyright on their work with InkTears having publication rights. 

Full rules and submission portal can be found here

'Will of the people'

Brexit alert!
In the recent Mail on Sunday, which is a pro-EU, Remain periodical, Lord Falconer wrote an article headlined ‘Off with her Head!’ I doubt if the former Lord Chancellor actually wrote the headline; a sub-editor probably thought it was a good one in light of the allusion in the text to Charles I losing his head.

This Labour peer who, alongside Tony Blair, took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq supports the recent High Court ruling against the Government regarding Article 50. You couldn’t make it up.

He states that ‘the executive – in this case the Government led by Theresa May – cannot take away the rights of the people simply by issuing an executive decree.’

Clearly, it is the government led by Theresa May that is actually fulfilling the rights of the people by opting to trigger Article 50. The rights of the people, Lord Falconer; your phrase.

The elephant in the room is that the Remain lobby is ever-hopeful that taking the issue to Parliament will delay implementation of Brexit or even ultimately confound the will of the people. Smoke and mirrors, it's called.

The referendum asked the people to vote, and they did so. That is defined as the will of the people. Argue all you like, but that’s the basic fact.

As an aside, what I find fascinating is where newspapers stand on this issue; they’re all the same. Those pro-EU feature letters from readers confirming that stance (notably judges and lawyers in The London Times, for example), as if no reader of their august periodical holds alternative views. The same goes for the pro-Leave papers too. Even-handed? No, of course not. It just confirms you cannot believe everything you read in the press, no matter what political complexion they wear on their sleeve (to mix metaphors).

Sunday 6 November 2016

Roger Eames, R.I.P.

Our friend Roger died on 30 September. He was born 1 May 1940. There was a memorial service to celebrate Roger’s life at Campoverde Church on Monday, 7 November at 11:30. Members of Chorale (Christine’s choir), Vivace, Coro Pilar and others sang, and Jennifer sang a solo, ‘Where’er You Walk’.
Order of Service - p2 - RAE - Roger Andrew Eames

As his obituary says, he was “a brilliant husband, dad, and grandpa who will be very sorely missed.”

Roger bravely battled bladder cancer for 6 years before it claimed him. He was full of courage, showed wisdom with a twinkle in his eye, and was a purveyor of “fabulous” jokes. His various pursuits revealed his endless patience: a wordsmith not averse to the odd pun, he was also an excellent model-maker and incredible jazz bass player and producer.

Six years ago I wrote an article about Roger that was published in the local magazine, The New Coastal Press, June 2010, under the title ‘A Model Retirement’. This is a fair portion of it, which illustrates his artistry, skill and infinite patience:

Roger Eames has three passions, it seems: his wife Christine, music and his modelling. The last developed from his childhood interest in model railways.
            While living in Northampton, he met an ex engineer called Arthur who offered to make glass display cases for him. ‘Indeed, quite a lot of modellers were Reverends or engineers,’ he says. Roger pointed out that the Pendon model museum, established in 1954, was and still is an inspiration to any modeller. Many excellent images of model scenes and dioramas can be viewed at
            For about forty years Roger has created models – some eighty of them, in thin glass cases, their edges soldered with copper. They’re attractive to look at and you can spend considerable time studying the exquisite detail.

            ‘It’s essential to plan ahead,’ he says. ‘I measure everything first on card and create a mock-up using Publisher, computer software. Remember, these buildings are 1:72 scale.’ The finished product will be semi-relief – false front, if you like – and three to four inches deep.
            His source material is usually a number of photographs, mixing and matching. He’ll begin with a prototype and work from there, altering as appropriate. ‘I’m very self-critical,’ he says. ‘Sometimes, I’m not satisfied, no matter how long I’ve spent on the piece, and it has to go – though I’ll butcher it to preserve certain items, of course!’ It’s quite satisfying, as often the process entails a certain amount of problem solving. ‘It certainly isn’t model-making by numbers!’
            The materials he has used over the years vary. ‘I’ve tried to keep abreast by reading railways magazines.’ Straws and spaghetti might serve as pipes or architectural embellishments; tealeaves mimic ivy, small pieces of Rutland oolite stone and cork can give a faithful reproduction of old stone walls. Care must also be taken regarding the potential danger of adhesive fumes and paint smells.
            In the old days, as if emulating Blue Peter presenters, he used brown sticky paper. Also, he’d utilise poster paints, oil, cardboard, Perspex and lichen. Now, he employs acrylic paint, modern glues, etched brass plates and obtains many of his materials via the Internet. For example, Spanish paints from the Vallejo Company offer over 200 different colours. Websites such as are useful providers of items, such as bricks and stones, providing the scale is right.
            ‘I much prefer to depict real textures you can feel,’ he says. ‘I’m not keen on printed facsimiles of surfaces.’ Some items are only available from specialist suppliers nowadays, such as self-adhesive paving, but given the time and inclination he will make them himself.

            A single building can take from two months to two years from conception to end. In his individual miniature scenes, Roger has to have an eye for transposing – whether that’s trees, post boxes or people – thus moving them to different positions from those depicted in the source photo.
            Like many hobbies, it’s a solitary pursuit. ‘I find working on these models is an antidote to music-making, which is a more social activity.’ While working in the BBC – on their radio music programmes – Roger took a sabbatical and was part of a craft promotion in Japan. Various British craftsmen and women exhibited their talents – jewellery makers and model boat builders, for example. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Japanese were fascinated with miniaturization, watching Roger on the stand as he built a model with the aid of a magnifying glass. Roger sold twenty models and was even commissioned to provide others.
            Some of Roger’s models were displayed in the Savoy Hotel – a row of cottages, a pub and one was bought by Janet Jackson. Roger has been commissioned to replicate existing properties which entails making measurements he can then reduce in scale for his model.
            The amount of detail is quite remarkable, whether that’s a Vernacular arch or Georgian and Victorian buildings from London, completing the scene, an Austin 1934 taxi will be thoroughly appropriate to the era. Street signs and posters are somewhat easier these days, thanks to the computer.

            Often, behind the curtains, furniture can be glimpsed, walls decorated, lights courtesy of fibre optics and LEDs. He’s particularly proud of his pub, the Ruddles Arms with its drinkers inside.
            Roger created a film studio for his son Dominic, who is involved in filmmaking. For his son Miles, he created a pub with a band playing inside. For his granddaughter Sophie he is creating a ladies’ clothing boutique. For a close friend who was a Methodist minister he built a chapel and adjacent manse. Usually, he likes to include two or three figures to represent life and action.
            In effect, these models are slices from reality.
            Still on the drawing board are Victorian shops, a garage, and a ballroom. ‘One day,’ he muses, ‘I’d like to exhibit my collection. One day soon.’
            The theory goes that retirement was supposed to provide more free time, yet Roger is a popular and successful jazz musician and writes for a local newspaper as well. He has just celebrated his seventieth birthday and shows no sign of letting up: ‘I’d like to make models of the houses we’ve lived in – and there are lots! – but I don’t seem to have the time.’
Until recently, Roger and Christine played live jazz at El Pescadito restaurant, Mil Palmeras.

R.I.P., Roger.