Friday, October 10, 2014

A memory

I've been over at the Toads again. Today's prompt is a video of a country music singer. It triggered this piece of doggerel.

I remember a night in a bar, far away
A stop on a road-trip in East USA.
A group of musicians arrayed to one side -
an eclectic group my companion decried.
A piano, a drum kit, guitar with a slide:
Their music was homely, a country-based thing.
But the lyrics familiar meant I too could sing,
so I had a great evening (my friend went to bed
and spent her time reading a novel instead)
I formed a fun memory, where sometimes I stray
 in my mind to that night in a bar, far away.
And when I hear bluegrass with twanging guitars,
see a real country singer with rhinestones like stars,
I'm immediately back to that music-filled place -
totally happy with a smile on my face!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


"I just don't understand the attraction. Why would you travel half way around the world, to a beautiful country, then spend your time underground?" It was clear that my opinion depressed her.

"Because it's beautiful underground too," she said, with a hint of wistfulness and her eyes not quite focussed, as though she was already there. "Besides, it's the largest known cave in the world."

"But underground is just rocks. Nothing but rocks."

"It has the tallest known stalagmites in the world too."

"So they're big rocks."

She huffed at me and brought her focus back to give me a hard stare. "I suppose there's no point in telling you there's an underground river as well?"

I shook my head. I was never going to feel her attraction to caves and caving. It's not that I don't like rocks and rivers. I'm actually fond of limestone country. But I think it's much better in sunshine.


This has been written in response to a challenge at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads
It reminded me of a conversation I had several years ago with a college friend who spent a lot of spare time potholing.  Of course, she was only planning to go to Derbyshire, not Vietnam, but the idea is the same.

I'm not sure whether I was supposed to write poetry. But this is what the Muse brought.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

National Poetry Day

They want us all to remember a poem that we learned as children.  I realised that Pooh was probably one of my earliest 'poets' and I can still recite this by heart now.

In which Tigger is unbounced...............

If Rabbit
Was bigger
And fatter
And stronger,
Or bigger
Than Tigger,
If Tigger was smaller,
Then Tigger's bad habit
Of bouncing at Rabbit
Would matter
No longer,
If Rabbit
Was taller.

A A Milne

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Thursday extracts: a little grammar lesson

Abe picked up the yoghurt container and peered at the label.
"Non-fat shouldn't taste this good. You're sure it's non-fat?"
"That's what it says. And less calories too."
"Fewer calories."
"Less." Jack pointed to the bright yellow flag on the container. "Says so right there."
"I should accept a yoghurt label as my authority on grammar? Trust me, Jack, it's 'fewer'. Less fat - okay. But fewer calories."

F Paul Wilson
Conspiracies (A Repairman Jack novel)

Gotta love a thriller writer who makes space for an English lesson!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

More Repairman Jack

Looking back, volume two of the Repairman Jack series (Legacies) was relatively normal. True, there was a hefty chunk of science fiction mixed in with the mystery thriller - a kind of Mickey Spillane meets Isaac Asimov - but after the surprises of volume one it was relatively straightforward, particularly since the chosen bit of science fiction is thought by some to be real. Conspiracy theorists would have you believe that it actually happened, but was hushed up for political reasons. (And that's the only clue you're getting. Read it yourself!) So the theme of book two might just be what inspired volume three - Conspiracies - because that same idea turns up again, alongside UFOs, secret military societies, satanist plots, and a host of other half-baked theories.

This time Jack's called in to track down one of the leaders of a group of conspiracy nuts, who has gone missing before a conference where she is scheduled to reveal her version of the truth behind many odd happenings. The group is called Society for the Exposure of Secret Organizations and Unacknowledged Phenomena, or SESOUP, pronounced 'sea-soup',  The name gives F Paul Wilson the opportunity to make lots of jokes along the lines of 'bouillabaisse' and 'fish stew'. One of the recurring characters in the series is Abe, Jack's gun supplier, who hides his true trade behind the counter of a sports shop. Abe is the 'voice of reason' who Jack consults whenever his customers become troublesome, or he needs a new weapon. It is Abe, who also doubles as the comedy relief, who is familiar with more versions of sea soup than anyone has a right to be.

Once again it's difficult to tell you much about the book without giving away too much of the plot, but suffice to say the cast of weird characters in Conspiracies is even more creative than in volume one, and almost nobody is what they first appear to be. There are plenty of opportunities for Jack to demonstrate his skills as a righter-of-wrongs, not least in the side story of a domestic violence case. Wilson weaves so many threads and cross-plots into this tale that I admit I'm still not exactly sure who murdered one of the bodies. In fact, given that Jack was the only person who saw the corpse, she might not actually be dead, and could well turn up again in volume four. That's the level of weirdness I'm starting to expect from this series.

Friday, June 27, 2014

An exercise

Sometimes my life seems to take a sudden, sharp turn left. My conscious mind, knowing it should be following a sensible, forward path, tries hard to overcome it, but the demon inside my skull has other plans. The world takes on odd colours; lights are brighter; and objects develop hardened edges. Suddenly I am scared. Everything is too close: traffic, walls, people. And I need to push them away.

69 words
I used to take part in regular writing challenges, but somehow I have diverted from them. I must try harder to keep my creative juices flowing.  This is just as the words came out of my head. I might edit later.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thriller with a difference

In Jobbing Writer bookworld you can't really beat a decent thriller: detective/private eye potboiler with a cast of miscreants and thugs, and a shining, but flawed, hero will do it for me every time. So when I came across The Tomb by F Paul Wilson I assumed I was in for 400-plus pages of shoot-'em-up hokum. But I was completely unprepared for the plot that followed.

It's a corker of a story and unlike anything I've read before. Repairman Jack puts things right, but he's no fixer of domestic appliances. He's an off-the-grid and off-the-wall soldier of fortune who fights dirty, but somehow manages to make his punishments fit the crime.

When his mother was killed in a pile-up caused by a hooligan's 'fun' idea of throwing a lump of concrete off a flyover and onto a passing car, he sets out to find the person responsible and pays him back by suspending him by the feet off the same flyover, then waiting till a few trucks have gone by.

But that's not the plot, that's just Jack's backstory.

He's a bit like a one-man A-Team: if you can find him, maybe you can hire him. He's expensive, but worth every cent. (The book's set in and around what appears to be New York.) Of course his sometime girlfriend Gia knows how to find him, so when her Aunt goes missing she knows just who to call.

Meanwhile Jack's been hired by a one-armed Indian diplomat to find a necklace stolen from an old lady in a mugging. The customer (they aren't clients - lawyers have clients) insists that the necklace has to be returned by midnight because the original owner, his grandmother, is dying.  Of course Jack succeeds, and is later thanked in a very personal way by the diplomat's sister, who happens to be wearing an identical necklace. (OK. At this point you'd need to be asleep to miss the connection, which would be a shame, because that's the first real hint that this novel is not your usual thriller!)

As the story continues it becomes clear that there's more than a little mysticism going on, including flashbacks to a 19th century raid on a temple of Kali by a renegade member of Queen Victoria's forces, who just happens to be an ancestor of the missing Aunt. That's how the family became fabulously rich, but it's also the time when a young acolyte of the temple lost an arm in a failed battle to stop the looting.

(You still with me here? Should I also point out that the diplomat wears an identical necklace with two large, orange stones that look like eyes?)

That's about as much as I'm going to tell you of the story because I'd hate to ruin such a cracking tale. Suffice to say that Jack finds himself embroiled in a fight with some very unusual opponents, not all of them human.

Since I finished The Tomb at the weekend I've also read Repairman Jack #2 - Legacies, and I've started onto #3 - Conspiracies. There are 15 in all, and I plan to make my way through the lot. Yes, they are that good.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Stranger on a (Tube) train

When you find a book lying around in an underground station with a huge label that says the equivalent of 'take me home and read me' it's hard to resist. Not that the book I found was anything I'd have chosen for myself. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I didn't expect to.

Scott Mariani's The Alchemist's Secret bills itself as "a lightning-paced treasure hunt thriller which will ensnare fans of Dan Brown, Kate Mosse and the Bourne series". True, it's a bit formulaic, with its retired SAS fighter who has a guilty secret and emotional stunting. Then there's the mysterious multi-millionaire who hires him. The attractive female scientist who is scorned by her peers. And the ancient elixir that could save a young girl's life.

Ben Hope earns his living as a soldier of fortune who rescues kidnapped children. He's trying to make amends for the fact that his little sister was snatched while he was supposed to be looking after her many years earlier. Personally I blame the parents who left a child in the care of a 16-year-old boy while they were staying in Morocco, but that would spoil the plot.

He is employed by a very rich man to track down an ancient secret of how to make an alchemical potion that might just save the life of the man's grand-daughter, who is dying of a rare form of cancer. Hope is reluctant to take the job until he learns that the girl is called Ruth, which just happens to be his missing sister's name.

Within a very short time, in true thriller fashion, he finds he is being shot at, attacked in dark alleys, trapped in a locked car on a level crossing with a high-speed train approaching, and various other risky situations. In between all that he meets modern-day alchemist Dr Roberta Ryder who has her own reasons for tracking down the secret of immortality.

It's a complex trail that leads across France and Italy and teaches you a lot about alchemy and the history of the Cathars, a 12th century religious group who fell foul of Pope Innocent III and were all but wiped out in the vicious persecution that followed. Victims were flayed, blinded, dragged behind horses, mutilated, burned alive and otherwise executed for their beliefs. In one attack a monk asked how to tell the difference between Cathars and Catholics, and was told "kill them all, the Lord will recognise his own". 

The violence of the period is echoed in the book by the presence of a character who revels in the nick-name of The Inquisitor, and goes beyond even the tortures inflicted on the original Cathars. The book has an impressive body count on all sides of the treasure hunt, and killed in some impressive ways. It's a bit gory, but doesn't actually stray into the realms of gross. (Unless you have a very vivid imagination.)

I can't tell you how it ends without spoiling some great plot twists. I did see a couple of them coming, but it didn't spoil things too much. Apparently Ben Hope also features in a follow-up novel The Nemesis Program, and I'm considering tracking it down. So that says a lot.

The only problem I have is that booksontheunderground expects me to return this to the tube for someone else to read. I'm not sure when I'll be back in London, so I now have my own mystery to solve. How can I get it there?

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Almost as long as the war

The Pillars of the Earth is set in a time of great turmoil - the first English Civil War, between Stephen and Maud, who both fought for the crown after the death of Henry I. This is the time of the Cadfael books, but Pillars is no police procedural hidden under the gentle mantle of a Benedictine monk.

There are monks, and one of the main characters is in fact a Welshman who has taken the vows of the cloth, but Brother Philip was adopted by the church after his parents were killed by English marauders. The book follows his rise from humble brother through the ranks of increasingly important monastic churches.

Running alongside that is the tale of Tom Builder, a master mason who dreams of one day building his own cathedral, rather than working on the plans of others. Tom's and Philip's ambitions coincide, and the story is based around the ways that the two men's ideas sometimes support each other and sometimes clash.

It's a long book. At just short of 900 pages it does go on a bit, passing through four generations of families in the fictitious town of Kingsbridge. Woven into the lives of all those involved is the Lady Aliena, daughter of the local earl, who falls from grace when her father is imprisoned for treason. She is raped by William, the monstrous son of the man who takes over the manor, and that's where the story really takes off, because she vows to take revenge and restore her brother to the earldom.

It's hard going. Not just for her. Sometimes the book feels as if Follett is labouring to tell the whole history of the period as well as cramming in all of the beastliness and butchery of the era. There are just a few too many hangings, and beatings, and murders, and rapes and thefts, all to show how tough times are and how awful young Lord William is, compared with the old earl. But we know he was no saint either, being one of three powers who allowed an innocent man to hang for the sake of politics.

So it is slightly surprising to discover just a few pages from the end where the whole plot has been leading. Two of the main characters are present at a key event in  history (there's no evidence for this in reality - it's a plot device) and once Follett manages to wangle that, it's as if he loses heart. The last half dozen pages seem rushed after the laborious climb to reach that point. A bit like a roller coaster. Suddenly it's all over.

Now all that might sound like I didn't actually enjoy the read, but that isn't true. I did like getting to know the main characters and the three generations who came after them. And seeing how the various lives intertwined with each other. But I feel as if I was left to drop at the end, rather than having a gentle rounding-up. Yes, I know what happened to everyone, but after the long, involved descriptions of their lives that went before, I wanted more than a couple of sentences each to see them off. I was left feeling cheated, which is a shame.

The Pillars of the Earth
Ken Follett

Thursday, May 29, 2014


The King's Breakfast
 A A Milne

     The King asked
     The Queen, and
     The Queen asked
     The Dairymaid:
     “Could we have some butter for
     The Royal slice of bread?”
     The Queen asked
     The Dairymaid,
     The Dairymaid
     Said, “Certainly,
     I’ll go and tell
     The cow
     Before she goes to bed.”
     The Dairymaid
     She curtsied,
     And went and told
     The Alderney:
     “Don’t forget the butter for
     The Royal slice of bread.”
     The Alderney
     Said sleepily:
     “You’d better tell
     His Majesty
     That many people nowadays
     Like marmalade
     The Dairymaid
     Said, “Fancy!”
     And went to
     Her Majesty.
     She curtsied to the Queen, and
     She turned a little red:
     “Excuse me,
     Your Majesty,
     For taking of
     The liberty,
     But marmalade is tasty, if
     It’s very
     The Queen said
     And went to
     His Majesty:
     “Talking of the butter for
     The Royal slice of bread,
     Many people
     Think that
     Is nicer.
     Would you like to try a little

     The King said,
     And then he said,
     “Oh, dear me!”
     The King sobbed, “Oh, deary me!”
     And went back to bed.
     He whimpered,
     “Could call me
     A fussy man;
     I only want
     A little bit
     Of butter for
     My bread!”

     The Queen said,
     “There, there!”
     And went to
     The Dairymaid.
     The Dairymaid
     Said, “There, there!”
     And went to the shed.
     The cow said,
     “There, there!
     I didn’t really
     Mean it;
     Here’s milk for his porringer
     And butter for his bread.”
     The Queen took
     The butter
     And brought it to
     His Majesty;
     The King said,
     “Butter, eh?”
     And bounced out of bed.
     “Nobody,” he said,
     As he kissed her
     “Nobody,” he said,
     As he slid down
     The banisters,
     My darling,
     Could call me
     A fussy man—
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!

Monday, May 19, 2014

And the award for best actress goes to......

Oh, I can't believe it.
Wide eyes. Look around room. Smile.
I don't.....
I just........
I'm so happy.
Blink tears away. Keep eyes wide.
I mean.......
Look around room again. Make eye contact with any casting directors.
Thank you so much. Thank you thank you thankyou thankyou thankyouthankyouthankyou. Everybody thank you.
To choose me from such a talented list of contenders.
Look at each one in turn. Make eye contact and smile so they have to smile back at you.
Oh I have to ........ I mean......
Glance down. Raise eyes slowly through next line.
I'd like to thank everyone who was involved in this. Raise award. I couldn't have done it without you. Everyone has been kind and helpful and generous.
Bring award back to rostrum level. Big smile. Blink. Blink. Dab under eye with spare hand.
I'd like to thank my producer, my director, who was such a help in getting me to fulfil the role, and the writers for creating such a wonderful part for a woman, and the casting director for believing in me and my ability to bring the character to life.
The costume department who made me feel beautiful every time I walked on set, and the make-up artists as well, of course.
And the catering team who made excellent salads so that I could fit in those costumes! Smile. Pause. Sideways look to camera. The camera can be very cruel, you know. Small laugh. Give audience time to respond.
I'd like to thank my parents for allowing me to live my dream of becoming an actress. Thank you to Mummy for taking me along to dancing lessons and encouraging me and thank you to Daddy for paying for my singing tuition and my elocution lessons and being such a rock through it all. And begrudging every penny. See Daddy - it paid off! Smile.
Thank you to my wonderful partner Loving look. who has been such an inspiration. Even though his own acting career never made it past small town rep. This is for both of us Baby! Like hell it is.
Have I forgotten anyone?
Start building tears.
There are so many ......
Arms wide.
The camera crew. The lighting techs. The sound engineers. The editors. The stunt team. The fight scene choreographers.
My teacher in junior school who first noticed that I had talent.
All my directors during my stage career.
My fellow actors who were such fantastic examples to follow.
My friends who have all stood by me.
The critics who have written such great things about me.
The talent scout who first suggested I should aim for movies.
The coffee barista who made my morning espresso every day.
Kissing gestures. My fans.
My dog.
My hairdresser.
The guy at the corner store.............


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More Shakespeare than you know

Think you don't know any Shakespeare?  You'd be surprised.  Happy Shakespeare's birthday. 

- "For goodness sake" - Henry VIII

- "Neither here not there" - Othello

- "Mum's the word" - Henry VI, Part II

- "Eaten out of house and home" - Henry IV, Part II

- "Knock knock! Who's there?" - Macbeth

- "All's well that ends well" - All's Well That Ends Well

- "With bated breath" - The Merchant of Venice

- "A wild goose chase" - Romeo and Juliet

- "Too much of a good thing" - As You Like It

- "A heart of gold" - Henry V

- "What the dickens" - The Merry Wives of Windsor

- "Puking" - As You Like It

- "Lie low" - Much Ado About Nothing

- "Dead as a doornail" - Henry VI, Part II

- "Not slept one wink" - Cymbeline

- "Foregone conclusion" - Othello

- "The world's mine oyster" - The Merry Wives of Windsor

- "In stitches" - Twelfth Night

- "Naked truth" - Love's Labour's Lost

- "Faint-hearted" - Henry VI, Part I

- "Send him packing" - Henry IV

- "Vanish into thin air" - Othello

- "Own flesh and blood" - Hamlet

- "Truth will out" - The Merchant of Venice

- "Give the devil his due" - Henry IV, Part I

- "There's method in my madness" - Hamlet

- "Salad days" - Antony and Cleopatra

- "Wear your heart on your sleeve" - Othello

- "Spotless reputation" - Richard II

- "Full circle" - King Lear

- "There's the rub" - Hamlet

- "All of a sudden" - The Taming of the Shrew

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Thursday extracts: fossil hunting

At the bottom of the cliff path we turned left and began to pick our way across the pebbles until I found a place that I thought was a potentially rich seam for my search. I looked around and found several larger pebbles that appeared to be weathered clumps of limestone. I knew they could contain fossils and explained to Dad why I had chosen them and what to look for. For once I felt that I knew more than him about a topic and it filled me with a thrill that I was delighted to experience. He was impressed with what I knew and wanted to learn from me, for once, rather than our usual roles. I hammered each stone, tapping gently until it broke open. Some revealed ancient shell forms and ocean animals from millions of years ago. Most were simply lumps of limestone. As I collected my first few specimens I dropped them into a canvas shoulder bag that was slung across my body. We continued to work our way slowly along the cliff foot and my collection started to grow. From time to time Dad would find a likely piece of stone and he would hand it to me, silently, or with a slight, questioning sound that implied that he was asking my opinion.

After a while we stopped and sat on two suitable boulders while we ate our sandwiches and drank our tea. The day was fine and the sun shone brightly, just over the edge of the cliff, so we were warm but out of the direct rays. It was a perfect place to be. The sea was calm and made very little sound as its waves lapped gently back and forth over the rocks. And all the time we could hear above the sea’s hum, the crash and boom of the gannets as they fished just offshore. I felt like I could have stayed there forever and Dad obviously felt the same way. With lunch finished, we packed away our flask and sandwich bags and continued our hunt along the cliff until finally Dad looked at his watch and said, “We ought to be getting back to the car if you have enough fossils for your project.” I assured him that I had made a great haul and agreed that we should go. We turned to head back along the cliff foot and suddenly realised our mistake. While we had been ambling along the beach the tide had turned and was headed back at an alarming rate. What was more, we had not noticed as we fossil-hunted that we had gone past a small promontory and we could not reach the seaward point of it before the tide did. We were going to be cut off very quickly.

The Wise Child
Anne Jeffery
Download it from

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: The Glassblower of Murano

The Glassblower of Murano is a tale of intrigue, betrayal, love and politics. It tells of Leonora (Nora) Manin, whose failed marriage drives her to return to her native Venice and to a new career as a maestra of glassmaking. She is echoing the life of her famous ancestor Corradino Manin, who was once acknowledged as the finest glassmaker in the world, famed for creating the biggest, brightest, clearest mirrors and the most delicate candelabri. She has one direct link to the man in the form of a glass heart, made for his illegitimate daughter - also called Leonora - and handed down to her across 400 years..

The story spans those four centuries as Nora, now calling herself by her full Venetian name, lives and works in the same squares, alleys and factories as her ancestor, and suffers from the same schemes and jealousies that he faced. Throughout the intertwined stories the true heroine is Venice herself, La Serenissima: beautiful, compelling, and treacherous for the unwary.

The stories twist and turn in a pattern as complex as the island city's streets, with as many promising routes for its characters that lead only to blind alleys, forcing them to retrace their steps and find an alternate way to tackle life's challenges. Both have to deal with the officials of their times, although the consequences of error for Leonora are only disappointment and heartbreak, while Corradino risks an assassin's knife. Both have troubled love lives, and both are threatened by the jealousy of those close to them.

My knowledge of 17th century Italian history is insufficient to comment on Marina Fiorata's accuracy, although her descriptions are convincing. Her details of early glass making methods also seem well researched. But it is her evocation of the glorious city that is the most entrancing.

The book will leave you wanting to visit Venice - or at least to eat a bowl of pasta and drink a cold beer.

The Glassblower of Murano
Marina Fiorato
Beautiful Books, London

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thursday Extracts: Maureen Johnson, on not taking drastic measures

"What you don't realise at the time is that you're not seeing the full picture," Peter went on. "You don't think about the fact that things will change. Things always change."

The Boy in the Smoke
Maureen Johnson
Hot Key Books, London

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: The Boy in the Smoke

Stephen suspects his parents dislike him, and his fears are confirmed when they fail to pick him up from boarding school at the end of term. He contacts his elder sister Gina, who whisks him off to London for a self indulgent spree of spending and over-eating that reveals her own severe problems as a troubled teen. When their parents finally arrive, Gina is banished from the house, and Stephen is packed off to Eton, where he has already earned a place through his academic ability.

Some time later, the only bright spot in Stephen's life is extinguished when his sister dies from a drugs overdose, leaving him to lead an increasingly successful but depressed existence at school. At an open day in his final year Stephen tries to discuss his sister's death with his parents but they are unsympathetic and even try to blame him for the tragedy.

That removes his last trace of hope, and he goes off to the boathouse where he slings a rope over a beam and tries to hang himself. He immediately regrets it, and is surprised to find that someone is there in time to rescue him, take the noose from his neck and look after him. And so begins a series of strange events in Stephen's life.

It would be wrong to reveal more of the plot. This is a ghost story with a twist and telling too much would spoil the tale. Whether it is because Maureen Johnson's The Boy in the Smoke was written for young adults, or because of the narrative itself, is hard to say, but it is an uplifting book. It would certainly be a great recommendation for anyone who is feeling depressed.

It was released for just £1 a copy in time for World Book Day last week, or you can download it as an ebook here:

It's only 86 pages, but easily worth a pound of anyone's money. 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day. Unlike its counterpart World Book Night, which will be held in April, this event seems mainly aimed at encouraging children and young people to read. Schools allow their pupils to turn up dressed as a book character. And Asda had books for sale at £1 each. So I picked up one called The Boy in the Smoke, by Maureen Johnson, which turns out to be a teen-aimed ghost story.

I'm still reading it so I can't tell you much yet, but I'm pleased to say that, while it covers young adult themes, it is well written and engaging enough for this grown-up to be enjoying it.I'll let you know more when I finish it.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin

Poignant. That's the best way to describe Maybe the Moon. I guess with a title like that, and Armistead Maupin for an author, I should have expected nothing less.

It's a vivid tale about the seamier side of Hollywood and the movie business back in the late 20th century. And it's important to remember that it was published in 1992. Things have changed since then, or at least it is to be hoped they have.

Thirty one inch tall Cadence (Cady) Roth is an actress, or is trying to be, but her one big role was 10 years ago, in the second biggest movie of all time, where she was the legs beneath a rubber and animatronic elf. The character, Mr Woods, turns up in the back yard of a young boy's home, at a time when he needs a friend, and helps the kid through troubled times. Everyone loves the elf, but nobody knows Cady's face. In fact she has been forbidden to discuss her part because the director believes it would spoil the 'magic' of the story. It appears that, far from her talents as an actress, it was her size as the second smallest person in the world that earned her the part. The studio just needed someone small to fit inside the suit.

If you have spotted similarities with 'ET' here that is no surprise. The book was rumoured to be an homage to Tamara de Treaux, a female dwarf who brought that character to life, from inside a heavy and uncomfortable latex-coated contraption. Indeed, Cady spends much of the novel resenting how everyone is unaware that it was a woman inside the Mr Woods costume. As if she didn't have enough emotional problems from dealing with her height, she is also plagued by the constant use of the pronoun 'he' in association with her career. You might also have noticed a recurring theme of 'second best' here too. In fact the book is filled with 'almosts' and 'not quites'. As I said: poignant.

Being Armistead Maupin in the Nineties it is also filled with several politically correct causes. Beyond the central question of acceptance of Cady as a person, rather than a dwarf, there is also the topic of mixed race relationships, when Cady finds herself a tall, good-looking, black boyfriend. And there's a homosexual friend who happens to meet Cady's young boy co-star, now grown-up and cruising in a well-known gay pick-up spot. The child star is making a come-back in an action movie and of course the studio wants to keep his sexual preferences a secret.

The book explores what a bottom-line, image-is-everything place Hollywood can be, or at least was in the 1990s. It's a product of its time, but it's still worth tracking down

Monday, February 24, 2014

Just five words

There's a writing contest on Radio 2 at the moment for under 13s. It's called 500 words - but it closes at 7pm on Wednesday. However, during one of the announcements about it on the radio this morning the stand-in DJ (Chris Evans is away) said: "But for the over 13s here's challenge. Give us a story in five words."

So I had a go in the car, as I was driving along.

Best I came up with was:
Never wrestle with a gorilla.

And there was:
Then he smiled at me.

I'm sure I can come up with more, but the best I heard on the radio was:
Getting a new prosthetic leg.

Beat that!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thursday extracts: Keeping a diary

The diary was Renee's idea. She ran across it last week and decided on the spot that it was time for me to start writing things down. That evening over dinner she made such a solemn ceremony out of giving it to me that I felt like Moses on Mount Sinai. Since then so help me she hasn't stopped peeping at me sideways, watching my every move, waiting breathlessly for the muse to strike.

I probably shouldn't start until my period is over, just to keep the pissing and moaning to a minimum, but Renee says that's exactly the time I should be writing. Some journal expert she saw on Oprah says all the important stuff happens while you're feeling like a piece of shit; you just don't realise it until later.

Maybe the Moon
Armistead Maupin

Monday, February 03, 2014

Reading, more reading and stuff

After I posted the review yesterday I realised that I used to be much more prolific on this blog. To be fair, I used to be more prolific on all my blogs (I have a few) so I guess it's not out of the ordinary. It's just that, I used to find time to do much more reading than I currently do. I also used to write more often. Poems, short stories, doggerel, whatever. I am being creative in the 'art' sense, but I seem to have abandoned my wordcraft at the moment.
5 out of 10. Must try harder.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Cricket in Times Square

A Connecticut cricket called Chester is accidentally trapped in a picnic basket and finds himself transported by train to the metropolis of New York City. In Times Square subway station he meets Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse, and the three begin a series of adventures.

Written in 1960, The Cricket in Times Square is very much a product of its era, but the tales it tells and the lessons it teaches are timeless: reasons to learn about other cultures; the importance of keeping a level head in a crisis; and perhaps most important of all, that fame and fortune do not always bring happiness. Aimed at children, it is still charming enough to delight adults.

Chester is adopted as a pet by young Mario Bellini, whose parents run a not especially successful news stand at the station. But he and the three animals, through innocence and good intentions, help to change its fortunes.

George Sedden's book sometimes turns up in second-hand shops (and can be downloaded for e-readers). If you find one, snap it up, if only for Garth Williams's wonderful illustrations. You won't regret it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A typical work exchange

Boss: "I've had an email from China"

Me: "It's spam. We get them regularly"

Boss: "But I was thinking, do we need a Chinese domain name? How important is the Chinese market going to be to us in the future?"

Me: "It will be important. They're changing various laws at the moment in response to events in the west."

Boss: "So do we need a Chinese domain name?"

Me: "I think our priority should be to sort out our UK site for now."

Me thinking "Your priority ought to be sorting out those figures that I need so I can finish the annual report. Why are you pi&&ing about with Chinese spam?"

Boss: "But wouldn't it be more impressive."

Me: "They are being influenced by what goes on in the west. If we had a working website here we could always add a couple of Chinese pages to it in the future."

Me thinking: "Which bit of that didn't you get in the first place... influenced by the west....."

Boss: "So we don't need one."

Me: "Maybe if we had an office in China it would be different."

Boss: silly laugh

Me: "If we ever need something in China we can ask our academic partner if we can hitch some pages onto their site. They have a Chinese office."

Boss: "Oh yes. Good idea.

Me: "And the first thing we could ask them is whether to put it in Mandarin or Cantonese."

Boss: "Interesting. It's good to have your perspective on the importance of overseas domain names."

Me: (Thinking) "Just shut up and go away."
Based on an actual event

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thursday extracts: Haggis time!

Saturday (January 25) is Burns Night, when tradition (in Scotland at least) demands you should eat haggis and drink whisky. And to do things properly the haggis should be carried into the room to the sound of bagpipes and somebody has to address it with a poem by Robert Burns.

To save you having to look it up:

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Driving to work in January

Skeletal trees loom through morning fog: sinews of mist entwine their bones, intangible yet impenetrable by the starveling dawn light. Rows of headlights make Death's head grins. And we crawl towards our destinations.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Thursday extracts: 2014 from 50 years ago

Extracts from an article written by science fiction author Isaac Asimov, describing his dream of 2014 from the 1964 World's Fair.

Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica (shown in chill splendor as part of the '64 General Motors exhibit).

As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible. In fact, one popular exhibit at the 2014 World's Fair will be such a 3-D TV, built life-size, in which ballet performances will be seen. The cube will slowly revolve for viewing from all angles.

Although technology will still keep up with population through 2014, it will be only through a supreme effort and with but partial success. Not all the world's population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today will be deprived and although they may be better off, materially, than today, they will be further behind when compared with the advanced portions of the world. They will have moved backward, relatively.

Ordinary agriculture will keep up with great difficulty and there will be "farms" turning to the more efficient micro-organisms. Processed yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavors. The 2014 fair will feature an Algae Bar at which "mock-turkey" and "pseudosteak" will be served. It won't be bad at all (if you can dig up those premium prices), but there will be considerable psychological resistance to such an innovation.


For the full text click here.