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A sneak peek into Room 101

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Part of The Scream by Edvard Munch

A harrowing read

Ever watched that TV show where celebrities vie to dump their pet hates into Room 101? Anyone who has read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four will know of course that Room 101 was the torture room, the place wherein lurked the thing that most horrified the prisoner of Big Brother. Forget “Ve haf vays of makink you talk” accompanied by a handy Anglepoise directed into the eyes. In “1984” ordinary common or garden torture was used merely to coerce the victim into revealing his one true pet hate, the single most abhorrent horror the victim feared, the thing guaranteed to break him, to reduce him to a gibbering wreck incapable of further resistance.

No, I cannot really recommend 1984 as a Good Read despite its legendary status in the literary cannon. Apart from Animal Farm I’ve never been able to read Orwell since being traumatised by 1984 forty years ago.

But I recently had a sneak peek into my personal Room 101. It happened like this… Read More →

The Charter, by Gillian Hamer

I read a good book the other day #16

book jacketA good story well told with plausible plot and setting despite a hint of the ghostly paranormal.

Mystery set in and around the village of Moelfre in Anglesey, Wales, which caught my attention because I know that part of the world somewhat. Not a police procedural, although there are detectives in the story. I was intrigued by the setting and subject matter of the contemporary mystery which is skilfully woven around the historic wreck of the Royal Charter.

The Royal Charter was wrecked in a great storm in the late 1800’s. She came to grief near Moelfre (pronounced, more or less, somewhere between Mole-vra and Moyle-vree, for the un-Welsh) when her anchor chains parted and she was driven ashore onto a rock-bound coast. She was carrying passengers home from Australia to Liverpool reputedly laden with gold from the Australian gold rush. Although the wreck was well observed by people ashore there was heavy loss of life. Rescue services in those days were rudimentary and nobody could actually help the poor souls struggling to reach land from the pounding shipwreck. Many were said to be drowned by the weight of gold in their belts, which allows Gillian E Hamer the opening to weave the ghostly character of a drowned child into her story.

But excuse me if I digress a moment. The real story of the Royal Charter reminds me of the sage advice to modern yachtsmen that no amount of insurance will save your life in a disaster. Far better to spend your money on sound ground tackle (which is what seamen call their anchors and chains), and that, in extremis, you will regret saving money on a dinky modern lightweight job with a piece of string for a warp. When the snarling, jagged teeth of a rock bound coast threaten to leeward, even the smallest rag of sail is too much for your boat to bear and its thrashing engine seems little better than a noisy egg whisk, then the biggest, heaviest sodding great anchor you can possibly heave over the side is the only one that matters. It might just save your life. Claiming the insurance when you’re dead is not a good plan. Heartfelt personal experience in there somewhere, I think.

But back to the book in hand (or at least the book in my Kindle). With that mix of contemporary fictional mystery and historic reality it is no surprise that the author managed to weave in a thread of the ghostly paranormal. That ghost of a drowned child appears momentarily to help or warn the protagonist. Now, I’m not much inclined to believe in ghosts, other than the ones we willingly or wilfully conjure within our own heads and in dreams, but I liked the way the author managed this. It did not at all jar even with a ghostly sceptic like me, if you see what I mean.

Gillian Hamer allowed herself some licence with geography, adjusting the village and cove of Moelfre and its surrounding countryside a little to suit her story, which is fair enough. It’s what most writers do, including me. Anyone who knows the place will find pleasure in recognising it in the text, and I found myself comfortably fitting the story into its settings. I was quickly drawn to the characters too, a daughter returning from London life to clear up the estate of a late parent in the sticks; her high-flyer footballer husband; and the various characters she re-encounters from her youth and childhood in Anglesey. A good story well told, with plausible plot and setting despite a hint of the paranormal. Enjoyed it. 4/5 stars from me.

 

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

I read a good book the other day #15

book jacketDetective mystery with intriguing setting and subject matter. The case concerns the search for a missing child. Not a police procedural, but to me, very realistic and has the ring of truth.

I found The Crossing Places by accident while scrolling through Amazon’s cozy mystery category. There seem to be two sorts of cozy mystery, one characterised by cartoon-ish covers that give the impression the story might be farcical, the other with mainly straight photo covers, like The Crossing Places which is a straight detective-cum-archaeology mystery that will appeal to an adult audience, but qualifies as cozy because it contains no foul language or sex. (Um… I mean explicit sex, not foul sex… though there’s none of that either.)

In the bleak midwinter

The setting is bleak wintertime in a fictional north Norfolk saltmarsh, which sounds on the face of it less than promising. But the story concerns Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist who helps the police with their enquiries (…and there’s a loaded phrase!). Elly Griffiths shows much feeling for place and landscape but pulls no punches, allowing her characters, very realistically in my opinion, to slag off the landscape for which she shows so much affinity and observes carefully. For example, Ruth observes: “In the distance, a heron watches them, standing meditatively on one leg.” That’s exactly what herons do in north Norfolk and we get the impression the author knows of which she speaks. Some characters, however, observe the bleak marshland with a distinctly jaundiced eye and wonder how the blazes Dr Ruth can possibly bear to live there. Townies! Tsk!

Hypocrites all?

I liked the way Elly Griffiths writes interesting and realistic characters. For example, when Ruth is distressed over the death of her cat she hears a doom-laden knock at the door. It is her friend and mentor, Erik, and Ruth thinks, “Thanks be to the God she does not believe in.”

When Ruth describes the national trust as “Sensible women in quilted coats selling souvenirs at castle gates…” she is not being nasty about the sensible women or the National Trust, just voicing a certain view of them that very likely prevails in some circles.

When she tells us that the victim’s garden is “long and untidy, littered with old sofas, broken bicycles and a half constructed climbing frame” she tells us something about that family that might fit a certain ill-conceived prejudice. But then we learn something different about them in the following pages, so that our sympathies are properly restored.

As a bloke of a certain age I particularly liked this observation of modern society: “Although Ruth has often signed petitions in favour of a woman’s right to breast feed in public, in practice she finds it rather embarrassing.” To all of which I can only say, Yeah, me too! With knobs on. Like Dr Ruth, we all of us have ideals that somehow conflict with our real lives. That doesn’t make us all hypocrites, it just shows we are humanly fallible.

But there’s always a niggle…

Just one tiny niggle, an appeal to the publisher’s ebook formatter. In paper books the traditional way of signalling a section break, where the point-of-view character changes, for example, or just where the same character moves on in time or subject of thought, is to leave a one line gap between sections. But in an ebook this is inadequate because the formatter cannot predict where the section break will fall on the page. If it falls at the end of a page, then without some visual signal (a centred asterisk is adequate, three is better) the section break may not be noticed, leaving the reader slightly floundering. The un-indented first line of the new section is not adequate by itself to signal the break. Ergo, every section break in an ebook should be signalled by some visual device. Whoever formatted The Crossing Places for ebook sometimes gets it right and sometimes not. One would have thought ebook formatters (especially those working for trad publishers) would be up to speed on this sort of stuff by now. Maybe the publisher was lazy and just used the paper format without modification for the ebook. Just my personal beef and a handy stick with which we indie writers like to beat the legacy trade over the head. Not a reason to pass over an otherwise good novel that I really enjoyed.

And a surprise…

One surprise for me was the style of writing. I have never been a fan of present tense fiction. Usually it smacks of the writer attempting to inject a sort of breathless immediacy to their prose. (I go to the door. I turn the knob. The door opens. The milkman is asking to be paid…). Just my opinion. YMMV as they say these days. For some reason it always sounds French to me. Do the French always write like that? Not that I have anything against the French, you understand. France and England may have been at each others throats for centuries, but hey, we’ve moved on since Nelson (a namesake in The Crossing Places) clobbered the combined Spanish and French fleets at Trafalgar, and The Iron Duke saw off the dictator Bonaparte at Waterloo. So… um… where was I? Oh, yes, The Crossing Places. Elly Griffiths writes not just present tense, but multiple-point-of-view third person present tense, and I have to say I’m a convert. She pulls it off brilliantly. Personal prejudice shattered, I’ll definitely read more of Elly Griffiths’ third person, multi POV, realistic cozy mystery. A rare 5/5 stars from me. Loved it.

Faffing about with Facebook

I mean, Facebook! Me!

Facebook symbolSo I’ve just signed up at Facebook. When it asked what were my interests I wrote cultivating my inner hermit. I guess you can tell I’m not a natural Facebooker.

Now don’t get the wrong idea. If you send me a friend request and feel like I’m ignoring you it’s not because I’m a grumpy curmudgeon who hates the world (probably). It’s most likely because I’m totally incompetent at social media. That, or I’m busy Doing Something Important and haven’t time for faffing about on Facebook, which I suppose amounts to the same thing. So, apologies in advance to anyone who might be offended by my complete inability to make the wretched thing do what I want.

For the record:

I have a personal profile like everyone else which will (sometime… soon… when I can figure it all out) be there for friends and friends of friends and heaven knows (I don’t) who else. And I have an author page, which is a separate entity that is meant to be open to the world and his wife. I say meant to be because at the moment it’s not even open to me unless I sign in (see below).

My author page:

As a part time hermit and full time social incompetent I guess most of whatever time I can find for this stuff will be spent keeping and eye on my author page. I don’t know what for, as yet. I have not the foggiest clue what might appear there outside of my control (if anything) but I’ll be adding links to selected blog posts (mine and maybe others too) and maybe some book reviews and… Oh heck, I don’t know. I expect I’ll get the hang of it eventually. So again, for the record my Facebook author handle is:

www.facebook.com/charlesbeddingfieldauthor

But here’s the thing. If you see my page when you try this in your browser before signing in to FB (as I do in the case of most other authors) then hurrah! Do please let me know. At the time of writing Facebook seem to regard me as a suspicious character. When I try that address in my browser without logging in to FB it doesn’t even offer me the security captcha. It just tells me I’m not in the audience for my own page. Sigh!

Image: not in my own audience

It’s my guess (and anybody is welcome to chip in here with their own guess) that I’ve inadvertently changed some setting, or failed to set something that I ought. If anybody knows what or how to fix it do please let me know. I’ll be your best friend forever. :-)

Revamped and rejuvenated! Or sulking in the corner…

My dad’s is bigger than your dad’s…

book jacketI wonder if there is a collective noun for people who obsessively collect email addresses. Emailophiles? Electroepistleophiles? In the writing community it’s all the rage these days to collect readers’ email addresses, the better to bombard them with junk mail… um, sorry, I meant the better to keep in touch when Mr or Mz Author releases something new. A humungous email list has become a writers boast, like children swaggering in the school yard trying to puff themselves up: “My dad’s mailing list is bigger than your dad’s mailing list…” 

Doubtless an email list the length of War & Peace is a brilliant marketing technique for writers who can squeeze out a book every three months. And good luck to them too, I say. No malice on my part. I’m just outright jealous of their talent, that’s all. I got caught up in the craze for collecting email addresses too a while ago, but it turns out I’m not that sort of writer. I have other interests too, and I mentioned somewhere, I think, that I only write in winter, which one wag described as very Zhivago-ish. (Thinks…Hmmmm!)

book jacketIt’s marvellous what a break can do…

So after a spell of heavy duty boat building sent writing into the corner to sulk awhile, this past winter has seen me picking up the threads again. My Next Novel is still there in the pipeline and new ideas are forming, but meanwhile what used to be Sunset over Salhouse Broad has transmogrified (without a hint of irony on my part!) into the JUST ONE MISTAKE mystery and romantic suspense trilogy.

book jacketWhat’s in a title?

It’s not just the title that has changed. The new titles and jackets reflect new editions with substantial interior revisions. In each book the main character is now in first person POV and the endings are much more uplifting. Mixing first and third person POV’s in this way is a writers’ technique that I mentioned in a previous post. I think the result really suits the story too, as does the all-new Happy Ever After treatment of the ending.

My hero!book jacket

Or rather, my heroines (Sally in Sally Does Hair/Lucky, lucky Me! and Annie & Kate in Sophie Sews for You) now have a much stronger and more satisfying voice. They have become confident, sassy, independent young women each with a distinctive and I hope entertaining outlook on the world. In fact, I’d really like to meet them all, now. (What, they’re only fictitious characters in a book? Okay, okay, don’t send for the men in white coats. I’m not round the bend yet. But… Sigh!)

Look Inside and you’ll see…

To check out the new versions use Amazon’s free LOOK INSIDE feature to start reading a sample. Or download the Amazon sample direct to your Kindle for free. You’ll notice the difference right from the start. If anyone has a mind to critique the new versions they are available at Amazon now. If you’re quick you could be first to get your review up on Amazon too…

To read the free samples tap one of these buttons. Choose a book and click LOOK INSIDE.

button amazon UK

button amazon US

The more the merrier!

Just FYI, anyone who bought the original Sunset version will not be able to buy the new JOM3 omnibus (all three titles in one omnibus) because it retains the original Amazon identity number for copyright protection reasons. The three individual titles, though, are new books in their own right and can be bought and reviewed by anybody with a mind to do so. The more the merrier, and I hope you enjoy them.

OK, shameless plug over. Normal service will be resumed.

Courage Begins by R. Scott Mackey

I read a good book the other day #12

Image: Courage Begins book jacketUsing your nous to nail the guilty

Detective story… sort of. That’s to say, not a police detective story, though police do come into it. Ray Courage is a fifty something former college professor making a life change. He signs on as apprentice investigator for a Sacramento insurance company who harbour suspicions that one of their clients has done them over by murdering his wife in order to make a claim.

Now, I would normally find it difficult to sympathise with an insurance corporation. In my estimation they are, taken as a class of people (admittedly limited to my experience of such mundane things as motor and house insurance), a bunch of thieving baskets who only offer cover for things they think most unlikely to happen anyway! On the other hand, neither do I approve of murdering one’s spouse in a fit of resentment at all those premiums paid and nothing to show for them.

Courage is assigned this cold case as his first investigation for the company. The story is well constructed and written in a style that appeals to me. I’m not much into superheroes with the sort of mental or physical powers the rest of us mere humans lack. Roughie-toughie detectives who treat everyone else as a piece of horse manure and merrily spray bullets around the streets of New York or indeed anywhere, leave me yawning mightily. I prefer realistic characters in whose shoes I might, albeit with a little stretch of imagination, see myself or others of my acquaintance, and R. Scott Mackey gives us just this kind of story. Nothing happens that would require the likes of James Bond or Dirty Harry to sort out; no spectacular explosions; the body count is minimal; nobody does anything that any of us might not have done in similar circumstances, and that’s just the sort of story I like. Realistic people in a realistic setting, albeit filtered via the imagination of the author. Ray Courage does what detectives have to do: he follows the clues; he has to be a bit devious here and there; he uses his nous to nail the guilty, and quite right too.

Courage Begins is a novella designed as a freebie giveaway introduction to the Ray Courage series. This is a laudable marketing ploy. It gives readers new to the author a chance to try him out at zero cost, and if the rest of the series (I haven’t yet tried any of them) lives up to this intro then R. Scott Mackey has done a good job. My verdict: If you’re into mystery give him a try.

Disclosure: The author’s agent brought this book to my attention. I do not normally review to request. I only mention books I happen to have read and liked. This looked interesting and I was in need of a good read at the time so I gave it a shot. I did not formally accept the invitation to review but simply downloaded the book independently direct from the author’s website.

 

The Cockpit: Flying Adventures for Young Pilots

podcast: (download: duration 6m 31s/9mb)

I read a good book the other day #11

TheCockpit02“Dad…”

“Yes, son?”

“What does ejaculated mean?”

(Cough, cough) “Er-hum… Sorry son, what was that?”

“Percy ejaculated. What does it mean?”

Uncomfortable shuffling on the landing outside my bedroom, where Dad just happened to be passing when I asked my innocent question. “Well, it means, um… sort of… Is your bed a bit wet, son?”

“No dad. Is that what ejaculated means?”

“Never mind, son. It’s nothing to worry about. Settle down now, eh? Time for lights out.”

“But dad, it says in this book…”

“OhMyGod,” (rushes into my bedroom) “Lemmeseethatbook. What are they teaching kids in school these days?”

Dutifully I hand over my now precious copy of The Cockpit to father. It is nearly 11 inches by 8, an inch and a half thick, quite a weighty tome for a youngster. Published sometime between the World Wars it is now getting on a bit, and such are the dangers of archaic language in old books that I swear that conversation actually took place between me and my father when I was maybe eight or nine years old. Okay, so I invented the detail, but the gist is there.

Listening to Dan Snow’s Voices of the First World War on the wireless recently (BBC Radio 4: the Home Service, don’t y’know…) has been inspiring. Sadly, there are no WW1 ‘vets left now. All gone. Only their recorded voices survive to tell it as it really was. They inspired me in this centenary period of World War One to re-read The Cockpit: Flying Adventures for Young Pilots.

You’ve all heard of Biggles? The Cockpit is a collection of short stories of World War One flying. There is one Biggles story in The Cockpit, as well as seven others by a variety of authors, all brilliantly evocative of the times and of the mind-set that pervaded such stories in that heroic period of sanitised reconstruction of history for public consumption. My favourite features Comstock the Canadian Camel crasher, a Sopwith Camel being a variety of WW1 biplane, of course. He is succeeded by Glorious Devon the Perfect Pilot.

Image: The Beauty of Flight. A Hawker Hart of 33 Sqyadron RAF

THE BEAUTY OF FLIGHT one of eight colour plates by Stanley Orton Bradshaw depicts a Hawker Hart of 33 Squadron RAF, probably the most modern aeroplane depicted in The Cockpit. The diagonal stripes are a defect of digital scanning not present on the original.

There is no publication date in my copy of The Cockpit, but in this year of 2015, fully 100 years since the times and events described in The Cockpit I thought it appropriate to read again one of my favourite books from childhood. The pages are yellowed now with age, but the print is large and the paper stiff as card, so despite its thickness there are not so many pages as to daunt a nine year old. As well as line drawings depicting exciting scenes from each story there are eight gorgeous full colour plates depicting aircraft of the time in flight, one of which, the Hawker Hart, to my eye, shows in its profile hints of the Hurricane later to be developed for another dreadful war.

In The Cockpit, pilots and their gunners are heroic figures. They shoot and bomb and deal with spies and outwit the enemy’s best efforts. Their machines – that’s what they call their aeroplanes – are of the most advanced for their time. They outfly and outgun the enemy’s machines and bring them down in flames. All the stuff of adventure for boys of nine or ten. But in spite of all the carnage, nobody seems to suffer too greatly. Nobody is horribly burned or dies in agony, shot to pieces by red hot lead or plunged headlong into the ground at full flying speed. False fantasy? Not truly representative of the horrors that must have befallen many of those heroic pilots and aircrew? Yes, sure, but of such stuff is adventure made for nine year olds, without giving them nightmares. It would be just too cynical, even for me, to suspect The Cockpit of being recruitment propaganda for the next world war shortly to follow, the one in which my father served.

Do beware of letting your nine year old loose with The Cockpit, though. Some guidance might be in order. That archaic language includes words and attitudes that we might consider dubious these days. U-boats are called pig-boats, for example, which I assume was authentic language for the time but which displays an attitude to Johnny Foreigner that we might no longer wish to encourage in our children.

Don’t ask to borrow my copy of The Cockpit. I image it came to me via an uncle from one of my grandfathers whom I am sad never to have met, since he died the year I was born. I treasure it now for its heritage as well as its power to take me happily back to childhood, a momentary escape from our modern world of trouble and strife. My copy of The Cockpit is not in the best condition. It is a bit ragged round the edges, stuck together here and there with bits of tape and bearing the mouldy signs of some long past storage in a damp place. It’s my guess that you’ll be lucky to find The Cockpit even in an antiquarian bookshop, but if you do then grab it at any cost. It’s a rattling good read that takes me right back to that innocent question one night in my boyhood…

Father studies the page I show him and reads aloud the offending lines: “Forty pounds of cast iron, high explosive, delicate concussion mechanism and aluminium guide tail went hurtling toward the monster of the deep. “Dash!” ejaculated Percy, as he watched the yellow egg strike the water ten feet from the greasy-sleek U-boat. There was a gurgling roar, a torrent of foamy sea water, and that was all. A complete miss.”

“Whew!” father ejaculates, relieved. “It’s… an expression of surprise, son. That’s all.” He hands back my book with an indulgent smile and allows ten minutes more for reading before lights out.

Stories in The Cockpit, published by John Hamilton Ltd, London:

HOODOO by Kenneth Quintrel

PRICELESS PERCY by Arch Whitehouse

THE UNFORGIVING MINUTE by Kenneth Quintrel

THE ACE OF SPADES by Captain W.E.Johns (a Biggles story)

FRIGHTFULLY BRIGHT by Kenneth Quintrel

MAD MIDNIGHT by Arch Whitehouse

THE ENGLISH OFFENSIVE by Rudolf Stark (a flying story told from the German point of view)

ONE CROWDED HOUR by Kenneth Quintrel

PS: I checked ebay and found one copy of The Cockpit for sale at £52, so there are copies out there if you search.

Disgraceful behaviour in Beccles:

Podcast: download (duration 6min 23s/8.77mb)

I happened to be in Beccles recently, a smallish town in Suffolk, UK, not far from the limit of navigation on the river Waveney. Beccles is a lovely old market town with winding streets and buildings of brick and flint, painted render, whole and half-timbered oak frame, the hallmarks of this part of England.

Beccles is just the sort of romantically twee place people managed to build centuries ago before the invention of planning control; the sort of place beloved by many who live in today’s rigidly regimented, planned-to-death urban streets and avenues. I’m tempted to believe that if only we could be left alone, free of the little Hitlers of modern Town Planning, we might again build what suits us instead of what suits them. (Please forgive my italics: I get overwrought sometimes, being a second generation survivor of my father’s run-ins with Town Planning.)

Image: Church tower

The church in the town centre has a peculiar detached tower.

At the heart of Beccles is a quaint town square and a large boat dyke. Situated at the quieter southern end of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads rivers system, from the boating visitor’s viewpoint it seems a friendly, welcoming place, with all the facilities of civilisation including water hoses at the staithe (WT*? Water hoses? Okay, most tourists don’t care much about water hoses, but trust me they’re vital to visitors by boat). With pubs, restaurants, shops and banks Beccles is often the highlight of a Broads holiday.

You can easily find out about Beccles on the interwebz (start with the links at the end of this post) so instead of regurgitating other people’s stuff I’ll tell you a couple of personal tales about this favourite of Broadland towns.

Tales from the Riverbank

Image: Collage of photos.

The 1947 crew (collage of photos courtesy of UD)

My mother told a tale of Beccles. She visited there in 1947 on a three-boat family holiday. In the hopeful, forward looking spirit of those post war times when rationing was still in force, the holiday party were in high spirits when the combined crews spent the evening at a certain pub in Beccles town centre. Pubs in those days didn’t have jukeboxes, much less broadband or giant screen TV showing the footy. If you wanted entertainment you had to make your own.

Image: The Bear and Bells.

The Bear and Bells in Old Market, where mum played piano, unless…

My mother, being a pianist, was encouraged to play the pub’s piano which she did to such effect that the landlord begged her to return and play again the next night. His takings had soared, so he said.

Image: The Swan House.

…it was at The Swan House. Or maybe…

My uncle says he remembers the incident very clearly but as the party visited so many pubs that night he can’t now remember which pub had the piano, which must go to show what a good night out it was.

Image: The King's Head.

…it was at The King’s Head.

But my abiding personal memory of Beccles is the day we moored there when I was a teenager. Our boat, the Amethyst (or maybe it was the Knave of Hearts?) was moored stern-to in the boat dyke and after our evening meal my would-be brother-in-law, no doubt keen to impress his girlfriend’s parents, volunteered to do the washing up. The skipper (father) detailed the most junior member of the crew, an archetypal moody, monosyllabic teenager (me), to dry.

Image: The boat dyke at Beccles

The boat dyke at Beccles, now called Beccles Quay.

We toiled at the galley sink which was right in the stern under an open port that looked out across the staithe, a spread of neatly mown grass under the dappled shade of trees. Families picnicked on the grass. Children played under the trees. Ducks and geese roamed freely, unafraid, hoovering up scraps from the picnics. Across the dyke a great crested grebe, among the shyest of Broadland birds, glided silently through the shadows under the bank, shunning human contact, its cute black and white striped Everton Mint chicks hitching a lift on its back. An elderly gentleman sauntered along the staithe in the balmy summer evening, leaning on his walking stick, looking at boats and enjoying the pleasures of a peaceful evening stroll, lost perhaps in his fading memories.

Right outside our boat was a sort of hoarding with a poster advertising some event in the town. I was just thinking there could hardly be a more peaceful impression of pastoral contentment and all right in the world than the happy scene at Beccles that evening, when the old gentleman bent to read some small print on the poster and delivered the most enormous, resounding, trouser-ripping thunderblast imaginable, right outside our open port.

Sound carries across water. The report rumbled around the boat moorings like distant thunder. Heads bobbed up from surprised holidaymakers, eyes shaded in search of a blackening sky but finding only cloudless blue.

Crestfallen, my brother-in-law and I stopped dead in our dishwashing and looked at each other accusingly. Then the truth dawned. The old gentleman strolled off to continue his evening walk without a word. Vic, quicker than me to recover his wits, poked his head out of the port. “COME BACK HERE AND EXPLAIN YOURSELF,” he bellowed indignantly across the staithe. All went quiet. The picnicking families stared in bewilderment. Mothers gathered their children close. People began to chunter about morons spoiling the evening peace and quiet.

The culprit appeared to be as deaf as he was flatulent, and continued his stroll unperturbed. As the startled ducks resumed their quacking my brother-in-law quietly closed the port and we slunk back to our shipboard duties. The elderly gent who caused all the trouble got away with it entirely.

Later, our sense of shame appeased by an hour’s perspective and the wine bottle uncorked, our whole crew fell about laughing. I imagine the pubs of Beccles were awash with chatter about the incident that evening.

As Michael Green says in The Art of Coarse Sailing*, I do like Beccles.

[* first published by Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) 1962. Sadly out of print. At time of writing one vendor is offering a copy on Amazon for £350]

Useful links:

http://www.visitbeccles.co.uk/

http://www.lovebeccles.co.uk/

http://www.visitsuffolk.com/suffolk-places/beccles/

All photos copyright C.Beddingfield except as indicated. If you want to borrow for your own blog please include a clear link back to charlesbeddingfield.com

Playing Bottom: an alternative Easter message.

Podcast: download (duration 8mins 32s/12mb)

Image: A Midsummer Night's Dream

The play by William Shakespeare

So, it’s nearly Easter. Listening to breakfast radio the other day I heard of a feud between rival amateur dramatics societies somewhere in England. (Bear with me: this is relevant). One group planted saboteurs in its rival’s audience to disrupt their production by heckling.

No, don’t laugh! I expect this was deadly serious for the folks involved. But forgive my cynicism if I wonder out loud whether the whole thing was a setup to gain publicity for an upcoming performance of Jack and the Beanstalk. I expect it would be sold out after its mention on a high profile national news program, and I for one wish them well with it. I’d tell you where it is (or was) if I had caught the venue, but I was too busy spluttering into my cornflakes. Anyway, the incident spurred me to write this essay and as it has an Easter connection this seems an apt time to post it.

I will come clean at once and admit that apart from playing 13th sheep, duly mystified by the unnatural happenings in a primary school nativity play, I have only once been on stage with a speaking part. In my first year at secondary school I played 1st Roman Centurion in the Easter play. I forget the production. For some reason I have it lodged in my mind that it was some variation of Shakespeare.

Being no actor (as Mr Jones, our English master and director, made a point of telling me) the part allotted me was mercifully brief and utterly disastrous. Mr Jones directed me to listen for my cue, stride purposefully on stage and arrest the accused party. Don’t ask me what he was accused of: I doubt I ever knew and have long forgotten anyway. As it was an Easter production possibly the miscreant was Jesus, though I don’t recall actually nailing the poor blighter to a cross.

“Centurion, arrest that man…”

Grousing at being coerced into what I didn’t want to do in the first place I grudgingly donned my centurion’s getup and waited sullenly in the wings for the rest of the class to play their pieces. Uninvolved in the principle action, I got talking to a friend, another centurion who was supposed to accompany me on stage to effect the arrest. Unforgivably bored by the playwright’s genius and finding greater interest in some puerile joke of our own, as boys will… yes you guessed it: we missed our cue.

“Centurion, arrest that man,” said the principal actor. Thinking about it now, I suspect the play was some biblical plot entirely concocted by Mr Jones himself. Whatever, nothing happened. The stage froze as though someone had shouted “CUT…”. The audience grew restless. We centurions didn’t even notice. I think maybe we were amusing ourselves rehearsing a more interesting fight scene with our wooden short-swords.

“CENTURION, ARREST THAT MAN,” bellowed the principal again, glowing red with embarrassment before his audience of a hundred or so parents whose onerous duty it was to attend.

Thus prodded, we centurions rushed on stage, took Jesus in a severe headlock and unceremoniously hauled him off into the wings protesting all the way at the excessive realism of our performance. “But we’re acting,” we responded, astonished that Jesus had the temerity to complain. “You’re supposed to make it look good.”

“Not that good!” Jesus whined, massaging his stretched neck. I don’t suppose it occurred to him he was lucky this was England in the 1960’s, not Palestine in the year zero. I daresay but for Mr Jones’s intervention we bloodthirsty centurions would have gleefully sharpened the six inch nails and carried the thing through to its logical conclusion.

All this was clearly audible to the audience, who sat stony faced and silent (miserable lot!). I forget whether Jesus ever forgave we centurions. I suspect we all fell out permanently, but out of common courtesy I offer Jesus my apologies now for any permanent injury to his neck.

Curtain down, play over, our excuses cut no ice with Jesus or with Mr Jones. Having ruined the reputation of the whole class, we centurions remained in deep disgrace for the rest of that term, and in my case at least never recovered from the excruciating shame of it all.

So it was that when, a year or two later, Mr Jones pressed hard for me to play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I refused outright, and being both disastrously shy and determinedly belligerent in those horrible teenage years I stoutly maintained my refusal even in the face of thundering authority. I was no actor; I knew it, and Mr Jones knew it, and I was more than glad to tell anyone so who would listen. I remain to this day rather proud of that particular teenage rebellion.

Bottom’s revenge:

Thankfully, I was relegated to backstage duties and after a period of disgruntled, monosyllabic teenage skiving found myself out of the loop altogether, merely part of the audience watching rehearsals with no part in the production at all, which suited me just fine. But I was later to regret my stubborn strop.

The boy appointed Bottom in my place (I forget his name; I’ll call him Johnny) was no better actor than me. At some point he was directed to lift a pint of ale and glug it down enthusiastically. Johnny did his best, but I guess a whole pint was too much for him. It took a while. The rest of the cast stood about woodenly on stage waiting for Johnny to swallow his pint of cold milkless tea and play his next line.

“No, no, that’s no good,” boomed Mr Jones from the hall in front of the rehearsal stage. “Leave the glass empty for now, Johnny. Just make some swallowing sounds as you pretend to drink. Positions, everybody: we’ll do it again.”

This time, coming to the point of the scene, Johnny lifted his empty glass, tipped it to his lips and said loudly, “Glug glug, glug glug, glug!”

The whole class in the rehearsal hall erupted in laughter. Johnny was a hero and Mr Jones, to his credit, agreed to keep the glugs in. It went down a storm with the audience on play night as I recall. But I was kicking myself. I could have done that, I thought, and been the hero of the class. But of course, now we’ll never know. Maybe my teenage Bottom would have been as disastrous as my earlier Roman Centurion.

Bottom gets a walk-on part:

So, I’m no actor, but I do count myself a novelist and fictional characters need background and personal interests if they are to appear real to readers. That breakfast radio item caught my ear because I wrote a fictional AmDram society into one of my novels when (at least in later editions) I gave one character, an unhappily divorced woman more than a bit prone to jealousy, an interest in amateur dramatics. This tied in with another character who needed a stage crew to help him set up an unconventional wedding for the love of his life, and as a by-product, in fond memory of Mr Jones’s long-ago production, Shakespeare’s Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream got a walk-on part.

I did worry that someone might be offended by my humorous take on AmDram, but that Jack and the Beanstalk story might have been made for the purpose. I’ll keep it in reserve for a light hearted moment in My Next Novel. Just think yourselves lucky you will never be exposed to my dreadful Bottom!

Ever thought of writing your own novel? I’ll be glad to answer queries in the comments below.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I read a good book the other day #10

Image: Gone Girl book jacket.Portrait of a wronged wife who gets her revenge by shredding her husband’s life instead of his ties.

No wonder this has been such a hit. Deservedly so. The story is set in America, with totally American characters, attitudes and language (non of which is a criticism; just so you know what to expect), but there is a lot that is universal in this portrait of a disintegrating marriage and disintegrating lives. If you don’t see yourself reflected somewhere in the first half of Gone Girl, and admonish yourself for the same stupid errors in life that you’re reading about, then you’re either very lucky or you’re telling yourself lies.

But that’s just the first half.

Suppose your spouse went missing. Who would be chief suspect? It’s got to be the partner, right? And it turns out he’s a rotten cheating louse. He appeals on TV for help to find his missing wife. At first the nation’s heart goes out to a bereft husband. Then the details of his illicit affair come out, and public opinion turns against him. In the blink of an eye he’s a murdering, philandering, dirty rotten cheating basket. It’s gotta be him, right? Unless…

I won’t spoil it with details. Suffice to say this is the story of the wronged wife who gets her revenge by shredding her husband’s life, instead of his ties. But Flynn works in twists and turns right up to the last page. The whole story is presented in his and hers chapters, so we get two points of view about everything that happens. The writing style is modern, lively and fresh. You won’t be bored; just don’t expect to feel too much sympathy for either the cheating husband or the wronged wife.

A few cautions:

1) Seriously profane language (again not a criticism…).  Characters spatter their speech when under stress with words beginning with F and C that are never uttered in my house or anywhere by me, but which I hear routinely on the street, in film, on the TV and at work. They are part of modern life now, and they are used appropriately in Gone Girl, adding to the realism, by characters who very likely would use such words in real life. Just be prepared.

2) It’s quite long. The author has clearly done detailed research and has every aspect of the police investigation, for example, nailed down. The story could have been told more briefly (as could any story; again not a criticism) but then something would have been left out and some self-appointed expert would have delighted in pointing out the omission. The detail is what makes this story authentic.

A good read. Definitely give it a try (subject to the cautions mentioned above).