Once

We escaped gloomy cages

Breathed new air outside the musty pages

Of the books we’d sheltered in

For so long

We were bewitching birds brought back for a single song

Dried butterflies,

Wings untied,

Briefly swelling with life

Drunk on sun & scented promises

The sweet sound of stolen kisses

For a little while, we were allowed

To fly once more – high, above the clouds

It didn’t last

It never does

Alas everything must die

Go back to ashes and dust

But,

I’ll always remember

How once we emerged

From the cocoon of past winters

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Notre-Dame

I watched Notre-Dame burn yesterday, I cried and I had to turn away from it – I couldn’t bear it. I read this by the always excellent Douglas Murray, it encapsulates everything I feel and think – he is much more eloquent that I could ever be. This is Douglas for The Spectator: link to the original article is here: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/04/notre-dames-loss-is-too-much-to-bear/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

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Civilisation only ever hangs by a thread. Today one of those threads seems to have frayed, perhaps snapped. It is impossible to watch the footage coming out of Paris. Like videos of pornographic violence, all that can be done is to groan and turn away. It is not possible to watch the spire of Notre Dame collapse. It is not possible to watch the great cathedral consumed by fire.

Evelyn Waugh once said that in the event of a fire in his house, if he was able only to save his children or his library, he would save his library because books were irreplaceable. Only at a moment such as this is it possible to concede the slightest truth in that remark. Almost anything could be borne rather than the loss of this building.

There will be recriminations, of course. There will be disputes about budgets, and overtime and safety standards and much more. It is worth reading this piece from two years ago about the funding problems that existed around the cathedral’s restoration. But if Notre Dame can burn then all this is as nothing, because it tells us something too deep to bear. As I said a couple of years ago in a book, in some way the future of civilisation in Europe will be decided on what our attitude is towards the great churches and other cultural buildings of our heritage standing in our midst. Do we contend with them, hate them, ignore them, engage with them or continue to revere them? Do we preserve them?

Though politicians may imagine that ages are judged on the minutiae of government policy, they are not. They are judged on what they leave behind: most of all on how they treat what the past has handed into their care. Even if today’s disaster was simply the most freakish of accidents, ours would still be the era that lost Notre Dame.

We would have to tell future generations what it was like, this treasure that we lost. At the start of this decade I was living part of each week in Paris, commuting back and forth to a little flat on the edge of Le Marais. Each time I headed out to the earliest Eurostar on a Monday morning I would see the great cathedral first as I turned into the street. One winter morning heavy snow was falling and as I headed to the station I stopped dead, alone in the street with the cathedral and just drinking in the sight of a building I had seen a hundred times before. When I got into London a friend could see I was just beaming still, radiating far too much joy for such a time of the week. He asked how I was and I remember simply saying, ‘This morning I saw Notre Dame in the snow’. It was like that.

Publication Day for Unfinished Business

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It’s Publication Day for Unfinished Business – how exciting! – so here’s (another) pic of me holding the book a bit earlier today, because that’s definitely what the internet needs.

If you missed my (looong) post about the novel the other day, here it is again: Being a Bookworm and a Beta Reader is Beautiful

You can order Unfinished Business here: Unfinished Business on Amazon

A couple of pics that didn’t make it in the last post: yes, I know, I’m shameless – but this book is soooo good I’m quite happy inundating you all with photos.

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Walk the plank

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Don’t ever be intimidated by groupthink, don’t fall for identity politics, keep resisting the bullshit…

…but if all your attempts to re-establish sanity fail, leave them to it, desert the sinking ship – and do it with honour and dignity. 

Be an authentic Corsair – walk the plank backwards while looking them in the face, so they are fully aware you’re jumping because you want to, not because they are making you.

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Being a Bookworm and a Beta Reader is beautiful

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Last Friday – I had *just* got my copy!

It’s not news that I’m a bookworm, I’ve been reading avidly and collecting books since I was 6. Books always represented escapism and knowledge…but escapism first and foremost.

I’m also in love with language, the way words can be weaved and put together. I studied English, German and Spanish at a high level and taught myself some Italian. Words have always fascinated me, there is something…magical about what I call a “tight line.” In fact I’ve been known to read tight lines several times in a row when I encounter them – I savour them. Yes, I’m one of those people.

Whilst I’ve always been a bookworm, I became a beta reader only (kind of) recently. But I must say it’s been the most amazing experience. To be able to read a chapter or even just a few paragraphs only minutes after they’ve escaped from the writer’s mind and imagination is…well, it’s everything. 

I started reading Unfinished Business by Thomas Hocknell back in 2017 and I was gripped from the start. I can be an impatient type – especially when it comes to books I’m enjoying, I’ll read something I really like in one sitting sometimes – but in this particular case I had no choice but to wait as the novel was far from finished when I first got my hands on it. I must have been a bit of a nightmare because there were numerous occasions when I asked Tom if he’d written anything new, (anything at all, even just a few lines?!) because I was dying to know what happened next. I was urging him to write, poor man – as if he didn’t have a life and other things to do! 

I won’t even pretend I was an ideal beta reader. For all the: “your characters are well fleshed out, this is a gorgeous line, that scene was breathtaking…etc…” there was also: “this situation doesn’t make sense, you’ve got to add some scenes so the connection between those 2 is more believable because right now I’m not buying it, and what was that? he/she wouldn’t say that…etc”

Actually, that is an ideal beta reader – what I meant was that Tom probably wished at times that I was just a little less demanding. 

In any case I’ve been with the novel for quite a while now, all the way to the editing stages and finally publication. It’s coming out in about 10 days and I’ve lost count of the number of times I read it. Which is why it was such an emotional moment when I finally got an actual copy of it last Friday. It might not have been as defining a moment for me as it was for Tom – because, you know, he actually wrote it – but I did feel a little bit like a godparent when a baby comes into the world. It might not be my baby, but I love it all the same and somehow feel responsible for it. 

So I read the novel again – in book form for the first time! – this weekend in my garden. I admit without any shame whatsoever that I cried when I turned the last page. I felt very proud to have played even a small tiny part in the creative process. 

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What kind of a novel is Unfinished Business? I’m fearful to say very much because if I start I will go on and on, and there will inevitably be spoilers (this isn’t meant to be a review as I can’t write them – I invariably say too much)

Let’s refer to the back cover to give you an idea: 

“The Life Assistance Agency finds itself at a loss after returning from Europe.

Ben is determined to stay away from anything involving Angels, when the phone rings to invite him to write the biography of a self-deluded singer from defunct rave group Elev-8.

At his mansion in Sussex they meet the singer’s right-hand man, Billy `blind’ Fury, a retired wrestler, and his beautiful secretary Amber. Both of whom have plans for the Life Assistance Agency far beyond writing down half-recalled anecdotes from the early 90s pop charts…”

If I absolutely had to, I would describe it as a thriller…a thriller which involves the hopeless but v. funny duo Ben and Scott whom we last saw in The Life Assistance Agency – let’s note though that Unfinished Business is a stand alone novel, there really is no requirement to have read the first one to enjoy its sequel. 

So Unfinished Business is a thriller…with a little bit of fantasy, wit and humour, with a love story and deep observations about life, a thriller that’s also incredibly well-written with enough tight lines to satisfy the most demanding literature lovers. Tom consistently blows my mind – and my mind is not at all easily blown – because of his fluency with language, the ease with which he writes perfectly gorgeous sentences that are scattered throughout his manuscript like sparkling stars in an already stunning purple summer sky. 

Oh, look at that, I’m so in awe of his talent I’m getting lyrical myself! 

In all seriousness, what I love about his writing is how he switches between…let’s say self-deprecatory wit and…poetic prose…seemingly effortlessly. I’ll be sitting there smiling at a humorous line when suddenly a little jewel of a sentence comes along to take my breath away. Or there’s a tense scene with guns and immediately afterwards a magnificent description of a pier…or something. 

It’s like: just when you thought you were reading a book that’s actually really funny,  and rather exciting too, the author hits you with the reminder that he can actually write, and write bloody well too. 

Did I digress? I probably did a little…so, revenons à nos moutons as the French say…

To conclude, Unfinished Business is very much along the lines of what P. G. Wodehouse might have written if he was around today – Unfinished Business is P. G. Wodehouse with guns and car chases.

Ultimately, Unfinished Business is a bloody good story – it’s pure blissful escapism…which is the main reason I started reading in the first place. 

You can preorder Unfinished Business here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1912666251/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=&sr=

PS: I loved The Life Assistance Agency – Tom’s first book – but I can confidently say that he’s managed to write a second novel that’s better than his first. And yes, it’s ok for me to write this as I’ve already told him…several times – he can’t have minded because he still thanked me in the acknowledgements. 

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Thwart Democracy at your peril

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This is going to be one of those posts: an unpopular one on WordPress. I don’t care, I’m hungover but I have a few jumbled thoughts I want to put on my blog – because I’ve had enough. I’ve had it up to here with the insults, the slurs, the bullying – I’ve had it up to here with the utter contempt for democracy.

A lot of people still seem to be unable to differentiate between Europe and the European Union.

Those same people decided more than two and a half years ago that Leave voters were racists and bigots and they haven’t at all tried in all that time to listen to the actual reasons why some wanted to leave the EU. The short, easy and simple answer – by the way – is sovereignty. But nobody wants to hear that. 

Leave voters have been abused, demonised, they’ve been threatened, they’ve been bullied – yes, bullied – and dismissed as the scum of the earth. 

It has also been made abundantly clear they are crude, uneducated, stupid. 

For two and a half years, the enlightened middle classes, artists, creatives, academia, politicians, the media have looked down on the people who could get it so wrong. 

I saw this yesterday: “You can’t be an art lover and be pro-Brexit!”

It might as well be set in stone.

Well, I’m an art lover, (and most of the Leavers I know are too) and I find it astonishing I should have to explain why I love art and culture in many shapes and forms and why I’m also opposed to a centralised power and homogenised society—it’s incredible I should have to explain I can’t & won’t subscribe to a fabricated identity.

And why should I explain it? Because the ‘enlightened’ don’t believe it. They can’t, they refuse to see further than: pro-Brexit means ignorant, stupid and evil. 

Remainers hate nationalism so much they make a point of constantly stating they are ashamed of their own country. Which is quite something when you think about it. There is nothing wrong with patriotism. I love France, I also love England, my adoptive country – I am proud of their collective heritage and yes, I want to protect that. There is nothing wrong with any of this. What is wrong is not having any pride in your own country, what is wrong is looking back on its history and finding fault with every bit of it, what is wrong is attempting to re-write history, what is wrong is embracing some made-up identity which makes no sense whatsoever. 

Someone said yesterday: “Remainers who are EU devotees don’t realise that, draped in their flags and their insignia and blind faith to a political structure, they’re showing all the hallmarks of extreme nationalists. Just because it is supranational it doesn’t make it any different.”

I couldn’t have put it better. This devotion to the EU is also akin to religious fanaticism. 

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But the worse of it all is this self-righteousness: they will do everything to overturn the result of a democratic vote because they believe they are on the right side, and the good side of things. Apparently, leaving the EU would plunge the UK into chaos. We’ve had ‘project fear’ where nothing less than the apocalypse has been predicted if the UK actually leaves the EU. Of course there isn’t one shred of evidence this will happen but the propaganda has been relentless. The truth is: nobody knows for sure what the economic and political consequences of leaving the EU will be, how could they? Speculation is just that, but there is no actual reason to believe leaving will bring about Armageddon.

There is also the fact that leaving the EU apparently means turning your back on Europe – utter rot, of course. I don’t even want to keep addressing this “little Englanders” thing, the racism, etc… they keep talking about – it’s just too ridiculous. 

This self-righteousness which I find repellent has made people turn on their friends, sometimes even on their family. How does one even get to that point? To feel so utterly right, to be so incredibly sure you -are- and -know- better that you accuse and demonise and preach tolerance whilst displaying anything but?

Meanwhile, a government composed mainly of Remainers has sung to the EU’s tune and deliberately done everything it could to delay and stop the inevitable. 

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A petition to stop Brexit has just reached 5 million signatures – let’s be clear: this is a petition to cancel the result of a democratic vote – and Remainers rejoiced as if this was a success…in any way. I suggest they get back to us once they’ve reached 17 million…which they won’t, because rabid Remainers are part of the elite. And the elite by definition is small. Ah, but where the elite is, you find the power, obviously. Remainers are a small but very vocal minority because they are the academia, they are the media, they are the politicians. They are not the people and they despise the people – the great unwashed cannot be allowed to make decisions since they can’t be relied upon to know anything. How deliciously ironic that those who actually understand what the EU is, how it works and operates are ordinary people – they are also able to comprehend you can love Europe and loathe the EU. 

To be clear, I was a Remainer before the referendum, but I was of course also a believer in democracy. You lose a vote, you don’t get to vote again – that’s not how democracy works. I am convinced another vote would see Leave win by an even bigger margin but, I will erect barricades before I let this second vote happen as it would make a joke of the democratic process. People say: we need to stop Brexit because the government has made a total mess of negotiations and clearly can’t implement it. Well, that’s true, but only because it doesn’t want to implement it. Well, that’s tough because it has to. The consequences of not respecting a democratic vote will be much more dire for the UK than Brexit could ever be. 

Everything has been done to overturn a democratic vote and, yes, Democracy itself is at stake. You should never attempt to thwart democracy, there is no telling what chaos will ensue if you undermine it. I’m afraid this is something the ruling classes will learn the (very) hard way. 

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Because we were teenagers

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It’s many years ago – sometime at the end of the 80’s – and I’m listening to that song. The one with the mournful synths, the one with the words seemingly plucked from deep inside me – the words I would share with you if only I could be sure you’d understand what they all mean. In my living room it’s a bit cold, we just welcomed autumn, a shiver runs down my back and the cat gives me one of his contemptuous looks for no reason at all. I start the record again, the needle trembles, settles, the record cracks a little, just like firewood in the old chimney – I sit back down on the floor, I could listen to this record a hundred times and more.

The phone rings, a strident siren, nobody in 2019 would ever be able to stand it but back then, as with all the other big, clunky, loud 80’s machines, we were used to it. It’s still ringing – I swear it could wake up the dead – I answer it because I have a feeling it’s you. Yes, it’s your voice, I was right – it’s a sign.

“Don’t speak for a bit, listen to this.”

The phone is plugged into the wall, I pull the cord as far as it will go, and hold the receiver next to the speaker.

“Are you there? Now, listen.”

It’s an order. it’s a prayer.

The shiver returns though I don’t feel the cold anymore, I’m nervously twisting the phone cord around my fingers – halfway through I stage whisper: “this bit coming up, you gotta love it.” I don’t know if you can hear me over the record player.

There – the song is over. I let the silence stretch for a number of seconds so I can pull myself together, I’m hoping you fell in love and need time to recover.

“Well?…”

An agonising beat

Wow…yes…wow.”

I hear hushed wonder, the tone is right, you got it – my gift wasn’t wasted.

The next day there is a kiss, and we’ve got many more phone calls ahead of us. But it was the music, the synths, the words – it was the record player that did the trick, that really started things.

Forget Spotify and the über modern hi-fis, forget instant sharing, forget digital and iPhones – none of it has ever been as intense – as real – as the old record player and the ugly clunky grey phone stuck to the wall.

And it wasn’t just because we were teenagers.

The cover for Unfinished Business. Is here.

The release of a new book is almost as exciting for the beta reader as it is for the writer. Please go and like the original post – thank you 🙂

Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Never judge a book by its cover – What you should think.

Always judge a book by its cover – What people really think.

This is one of those blogs on which I upload the picture before I’ve written anything. I’m probably too delighted to put words together or something, but after a few years of tapping away like a mice doing home improvements the new book is ready. Not only that but it has a cover. Unfinished Business, the stand-alone sequel to the Life Assistance Agency, to provide its full title, is ready for the world that is not necessarily ready for it.

The cover is amazing, which I can comfortably claim because I had nothing to do with it. It is courtesy of http://www.nicandlou.com whom also did the first one, so there’s that all important continuity familiar to dog breeders and Star Wars fanatics.

I’m so…

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How useful are Writing Prompts?

This, by Tom, is brilliant and v. funny – please, *please* visit his blog and like the original post, thanks 😊

Idle blogs of an idle fellow

“True life is elsewhere. We are not in the world.”Arthur Rimbaud

#Writingprompts, if their 20,000 Instagram usage suggests, are very popular, although some way off #cutekitteninbucket.  I’ve never been a fan of writing prompts. They sound too deliberate, like intending to do shots before you’ve left the house instead of spontaneously deciding eight tequilas is a good idea from the moment you reach the pub.  To be fair life is a writing prompt, as anyone who’s written a To-do list with testify. However, I was recently exposed to the most fantastic inspiration for writing at my local B&Q. No, I wasn’t lost, nor was I asking directions to the nearest record shop.

These days there are hash tags for everything, although there’s an odd sweet sense of fresh territory when coining a new one on Instagram and #DIYWritingPrompts was a new one.  At least it was yesterday. Imagine being…

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