What Comes After Sunday?

What comes after Sunday?  When you’ve had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and all the rest and come round to Sunday again – what comes next?  Another Monday?  Impossible.  These may be the feelings of one having to go to a loathed job for yet another week in order to pay a few bills (‘out of proportion,’ as Philip Larkin so sagely observed) – they are also the reactions of one having read the entire Frieda Klein series from ‘Blue Monday’ right through to ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ and wondering, what next?  Where can we possibly go now?

https://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/frieda-klein-books-in-order/

‘Day of the Dead’ is the answer to this.  I said, having finished the ‘Sunday’ volume, that it was impossible for them to leave it that way, and so it was: ‘Day of the Dead’ was announced last month (at least to me it was; I expect insiders knew this was coming months ago) and I immediately put my name down for a library copy, knowing that I would otherwise have to wait for the paperback to come out as I’d ascertained from Waterstones that the hardback would cost upwards of £16.

I was already fifth on the list and so expected September to have largely passed before I got my hands on it, but lo! ‘Day of the Dead’ was waiting for me on Monday (I got the email on Sunday and spent an impatient 24 hours before the library opened) and as I’d predicted, within another 24 hours I’d read the damned thing.  Fortunately Nicci French’s books stand more than one reading, in fact I’ve read most of them several times; once breathlessly to reveal the plot and then to think about such things as character and description and to savour the world which the novelists evoke.  This world is I think the best thing about the books; all but one are set in London, and at the centre of this world is Frieda’s house, her haven.  But this haven is destroyed when the body of a murdered policeman is found under the floorboards and so the dance of death which began on Monday, continues.  As I wrote in my review of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’:

(https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/11/16/sunday-morning-coming-down-review/)

Frieda is propelled into exile by these events; not only the policeman’s murder but by attacks on all her friends which are designed to distress her to the utmost, since Frieda is a fundamentally unselfish person.  Behind the attacks is the shadowy figure of Dean Reeve, a man whom police believe to be dead but who Frieda finally convinces them is alive, having murdered his twin brother and taken his identity.  At last the police are on the case – but can they or someone else solve it before Frieda herself is discovered and murdered?  The dance can only end in death – but whose death will it be?

You’ll have to read the book to find out.  I don’t do spoilers – at least, not till a book’s been out a while.

Kirk out

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Are We Diverse? And If Not, Why Not?

From time to time white, middle-class organisations (like Quakers) ask themselves why they are white and middle-class.  They bemoan the lack of BME and working-class members (though they are perhaps not so keen on attracting the aristocracy).  It seems to be the sole preserve of the middle-classes to deprecate themselves: I never went to a majority working-class event where people were wringing their hands and saying ‘we’re so working-class!’

But in the world of publishing it’s worse, because a row has blown up over Penguin Random House’s diversity statement which commits the organisation to ‘reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.’  It all sounds highly laudable, particularly in an industry that is presumably dominated by white middle-class males.  But is it?  Should publishers try to ‘reflect’ society or should they just publish the best, regardless of where it comes from?

There’s an issue here, which is that of unconscious bias.  An editor may think they are unbiassed but research has shown that women get published more easily if they use either a male pseudonym or initials.  You are probably more likely to be published if you have a Western name rather than an African or Asian name: Hanif Kureishi (who as I never cease to remind you started me off with this blog) was told that ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ would have had no problem being produced if the characters had been white.  Surely it’s a laudable thing to try to address all these unconscious prejudices?

Well, yes.  But the danger is that you get involved in quotas and box-ticking, which as a short-term measure can perhaps have some value but only as a stepping-stone to genuine open-mindedness and lack of bias.  And this is a hard goal to achieve.  Much easier to get some quotas and issue a press release telling everyone how diverse you are.

Enter Lionel Shriver who, in an article for the Spectator lambasts this policy of Penguin/Random in several hundred sneering words.  Shriver may have a point – that excellence is found with an open mind, not with tick-boxes – but the tone of the piece is snide and sarcastic and the argument lost in rhetoric:

‘We can safely infer… that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling.’

Surely she can do better than this?  I would put it another way; that talent should be recognised and acknowledged no matter where it comes from; that we all have unconscious biases in terms of which groups we are likely to regard as talented, and that we all need to open our minds and keep them open.  I know it’s the Spectator but she could have done the job so much better.

Here’s the article anyway:

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/when-diversity-means-uniformity/

and here’s the Penguin statement:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/creative-responsibility/inclusion/

Kirk out

Goliath? What? David What? Lord Who?

Sometimes I begin a blog post when I’m in a rush in order to get some ideas down, then I scribble off a title which seems to encompass it all.  Later I go back and write the post which often doesn’t go the way I envisaged and may end up not being expressed by the title at all.  So this morning’s thought was that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories should be not so much read as contemplated, like a gentle walk through a forest; and yesterday’s thought was – well, god knows.  Because like the mathematician Karl Weierstrasse, when I wrote the title only God and I knew what it was about – and now, only God knows.

https://hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/5394/what-was-karl-weierstrass-referring-to

Clearly I had some thought about David and Goliath in my mind when I wrote that blog title.  But what was it?  I suspect it may have had something to do with the need to defeat global capitalism, but I’m really not sure.  It was probably because along with the latest Nicci French I want to read Naomi Klein’s ‘No is Not Enough.’  If ‘This Changes Everything’ is indicative of her output, she has many useful things to say about problems and, more importantly, about solutions.  I often think we are too problem-orientated in our thinking: people spend a long time trying to convince others that such-and-such is a problem to which we should be giving our attention, and if those others are anything like me, they feel burdened and depressed as a result.  What’s better is, having flagged up the problem, to propose some solutions.

For example, we spend a lot of time (both as a nation and as a species) thinking about war.  We plan for war, we prepare for war, we study war, we arm for war.  Yet what might be the result if we adopted a solution-oriented approach to this and studied peace instead?  What do we know about peace at the moment?  Precious little, it seems – many of us can’t even stay out of trouble on social media, let alone steer our nation in the right direction.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t defend ourselves when attacked, but how many wars we’ve been involved in have been the direct result of attack?  Whilst the Second World War could not have been avoided in 1939 might it have been avoided, say, in 1921?  Or 1933?  Had the Allies adopted a less punitive approach to Germany after the First World War, might Hitler never have come to power?  But leaving the Second World War aside, as far as I can see no other war apart from the 1939-45 conflict has been the direct result of attack on our nation.  Syria certainly doesn’t qualify; neither did Afghanistan and absolutely not Iraq.  There were no weapons of mass destruction.  And don’t get me started on the bloody Falklands.

While I’m waiting to get hold of Naomi Klein’s book I may get some ideas from the forthcoming series of Reith Lectures, which this year are on war.  I have yet to listen to the first episode, but it is available here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b7f390

and I’ll let you know if it inspires further thoughts.  In the meantime I’m thankful we don’t have to listen to the nauseatingly toadyish tones of Sue Lawley.  I can’t stand that woman…

Kirk out

PS: as you will have spotted, Winnie-the-Pooh didn’t even make it into the title…

 

David and Goliath and Nicci French

I blogged about the previous (and last?) novel a few months back when I jumped up and down and shouted ‘you can’t!  You can’t!  You can’t!’ about the ending.  Here’s the post:

‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’

Once I’d finished reading I wanted to beard the authors in their house and beat their breasts, sobbing that they must, must, must write another novel: though I resisted that temptation my thoughts must have reached them because they have – ‘Day of the Dead’ is out now and I must, must, must have it!  I wonder if it’s in the library yet?  (Scrabbles at keyboard) yes – it’s in the library.  Unfortunately the library is in Oakham.  Still I can reserve it.

And now I have!  The joy of technology.

I said I wouldn’t reveal the ending of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ but I think it’s OK now as it’s been out a while.  I wonder how long it’ll be before somebody makes a box set of the series?  I wouldn’t be surprised if negotiations were going on at this very moment – anyway, to summarise the series, Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist living alone in London.  She helps others and gets involved with police cases, causing hackles to rise and making enemies along the way, but she has many fiercely loyal friends who rally to her aid when she’s in trouble – which is always.  Her nemesis, Dean Reeve, is a serial killer who faked his own death by murdering his long-lost twin brother and assuming his identity before vanishing off the radar.  For most of the series police believed Dean Reeve to be dead, though Frieda knew differently, and finally when her old lover Sandy is found floating in the Thames with his throat cut, they start to believe her.  But Reeve is never caught and at the start of ‘Sunday’ he has murdered a policeman who was on his trail and buried the body under Frieda’s floorboards.  This is hard enough to deal with, but when he begins capturing and torturing each of her friends in turn she can only find one solution: she goes to a man called Levin who has mysterious connections (probably MI5) and says, ‘Make me disappear.’

And that is the end of the book.  Was it the end?  They had to write another, surely?

They did.

Here’s the series: 

https://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/frieda-klein-books-in-order/

In other news, the website is progressing.  If you have seen me perform would you please consider sending me a short testimonial?  Just a sentence would do – add it to comments below.  Thanks.

Kirk out

Have You Eyes?

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that in yesterday’s sign-off I said it was Tuesday when it was in fact Monday.  All day.  For some reason yesterday seemed like a long day.  Maybe it was because I felt tired – the close, thundery weather that never seems to break can be quite oppressive – or maybe it was because of the sheer Bank-holidayness of it all, but whatever the reason I became a day ahead of myself.

I also wondered if I’d get comments about the title.  Why Jason?  Then again maybe you’re all far more educated than I give you credit for and had sussed straight away the connection between Argos and the story of Jason and the Argonauts:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=opera&q=jason+and+the+argonauts&sourceid=opera&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Argos (the store) is of course named after the hundred-eyed monster of Greek myth:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=opera&q=argos+greek+mythology&sourceid=opera&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Eyes also feature strongly (and disturbingly) in King Lear, the latest production of which was broadcast last night.  More on this later as I have yet to catch up with it since we were catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale having watched A Very English Scandal on Sunday night:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-44259959/jeremy-thorpe-the-true-story-of-a-very-english-scandal

It’s all go.

Happy Tuesday.

Kirk out

Sex and Profanity and Nuclear War? It’s Christie, Spock, But Not as we Know It

Christie is everywhere on the BBC at the moment and I’ve been watching ‘Ordeal by Innocence,’ one of three novels recently adapted by Sally Phelps.  The production has done away with the cliches that so often dog Christie’s work but kept the central point: the murder of an unpleasant character for which each of the other characters has a motive.

SPOILER ALERT

Bill Nighy plays a villain for once, wealthy landowner Leo Argyll, while his wife Rachel, whose murder begins the story, has Anna Chancellor ramping up the cold haughtiness of her previous roles in Pride and Prejudice and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The couple have adopted several children from widely differing backgrounds and subjected them to an abusive childhood.  We find out the history in a series of swooping back-and-forth scenes, and sometimes it’s hard to know what’s happening when, let alone why.  But it makes for exciting action, especially when the maid Kirsten enters the mix (this is the fifties) along with a strange young man who claims he can give one of the now-adult children an alibi for the time of the murder.

So much is updated in this version that I feel like coining a new word: adupdation or updatation, perhaps.  First, there’s the sex and, whereas in the original this would have been subtly suggested, here it’s well and truly out in the open.  Then there’s the language: people effing and blinding and calling each other all sorts of names; and I have to say that while the sex seemed in keeping, the swearing jarred.  People just didn’t talk to each other like that in the ‘fifties.  I know – I was there.

Since this is the fifties the Cold War is never far away, and Leo has built a nuclear shelter in the cellar of the large house.  This bunker, like cellars in all murder mysteries, is a repository for secrets including the birth of an illegitimate child; and in a blinding twist of irony Leo ends up being locked in there by the maid whom he raped years before.   This ending is not in the book, and Christie purists have complained, but I found it deeply satisfying.

Here’s the series:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09yswj5/ordeal-by-innocence-series-1-episode-1

here, just to prove a point I made earlier about TV/book crossovers, is the novel:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/909932.Ordeal_by_Innocence

and here, just in case you’re interested, is a discussion of the differences between them:

http://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2018-04-15/how-is-that-ordeal-by-innocence-ending-different-from-the-agatha-christie-novel/

And finally – the other day I came across a prize for a mystery novel NOT featuring the murder of a woman.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  A propos of which I’m writing a short story called The Boy on the Bus….

Kirk out

PS  Oh, and you will have spotted there’s a new theme.  I’m having a bit of a revamp – of which more anon.

Death of the Novel: Reports Greatly Exaggerated?

There has been a furore of late about comments by Will Self on the death of the novel: or, to be precise, on the death of literary fiction.  As anyone can see, certain types of novel are flourishing: fantasy (Philip Pullman, J K Rowling), Sci-Fi (can I mention ‘Replicas’ and the Hugo Prize once more here?https://amzn.to/2IygeeB) crime (‘Girl on Something Somewhere’) and soft porn (you know which) are clearly selling well.  But there’s an argument that TV box sets have replaced narrative; and whilst it’s true that we are living in a golden age of TV drama (I’m glued to ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ right now) some of those same box sets are based on novels and sales of said novels go up when the series are aired.  Examples include Vera, Game of Thrones, Poldark and of course Sherlock, which caused me to take out and re-read some of Conan Doyle’s stories and relate them to the TV ‘updates’.  That’s not to mention all the literary classics which get box-setted * every few years, such as The Forsyte Saga and anything by Dickens or Austen.  * OMG what a terrible compound verb!

Will Self may have a point, though I suspect pundits have been predicting the novel’s demise ever since it was born.  Like a sickly baby – like Stephen Hawking as soon as he was diagnosed – people have been expecting LitFic to pop its clogs for ever, yet valiantly it carries on, like a bee who doesn’t know that it can’t fly.  Or like Snoopy who doesn’t know that the world is too miserable for him to be dancing:

https://bit.ly/2GFYnlh

The most recent argument for the demise of the novel is the decrease in our attention spans.  It’s a fair point; we have so many distractions now that to sit for several hours with a novel is much more difficult than it used to be.  Then there’s online publishing and self-publishing, plus the recession – all leading to the decline in traditional outlets.

I have a dream (oo!  Did you hear about Martin Luther King’s granddaughter saying she had a dream that ‘enough is enough’ for guns?  Terrific:

https://www.cbsnews.com/video/yolanda-renee-king-mlks-granddaughter-enough-is-enough/

Anyway – I have a dream.  It’s not the same order of dream but it’s a dream nevertheless, that somehow the future lies in the oral tradition.  I am convinced that we have to go back to our oral roots: spoken word is already massively popular, especially with young people, because it’s the antidote to an automated, virtual world.  It is direct and personal, it is up-front and face to face.  It’s healthy too, as Michael Rosen says in this article:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/09/performance-poetry-turner-prize-judges-spoken-word

So now we need to do for prose what performance has done for poetry.  I don’t mean endless readings; of course a novel can’t be performed in the way that a poem can.  But if Dickens did it, so can we; and in my mind there is a stage where I will perform parts of novels along with poetry.

Anyway, here are some of Will Self’s musings:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/02/will-self-novel-dead-literary-fiction

and here are some counter-arguments:

http://theconversation.com/will-self-why-his-report-on-the-death-of-the-novel-is-still-premature-94050

Happy reading!

Kirk out