Series Three of Beck’s Game – Coming Soon.

25 September 2022

The Series Three of Beck’s Game is Due. It’s slightly later than I wanted, but trying to be tactful, for a number of reasons, I think this was the better course. However I just have some last bits to do and we’re ready. I should have a date very soon (I have a goal but just want to make certain before I say anything).

Picking up directly where Series Two left off, amidst the chaos caused by some pretty big events, Series Three is where Rhys, Neil and others, are really pushed to their limits. It’s a lot darker than I had first expected it to be but as I wrote, drafted and edited it, it started to descend to depths that surprised me (and maybe should have worried me a little as it was coming from me!). I tried my best to walk a line and as I go about final checks I feel I’ve achieved that.

Series Three of Beck’s Game is, and always was planned to be, the final series; so answers are coming, events take on a life of their own and maybe you won’t quite see London in the same way again.

In the meantime if you are yet to wonder: Who is a Player? Who is a Guardian? What would you do if you found a token? And what really is happening on the London Underground? You can download each part of Series One and Two, FREE of charge, here.

It’s not the money, it’s the GAME.

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To Barcelona, As It Were

Catalonia From The Past In The Present

Always one from a bit of exploration I decided that having never been to Andorra that I simply must visit. A few weeks ago the time had come and I disappeared off to the Iberian peninsular for the second time this year. To get to Andorra your options are a little limited and so the best solution for me was to fly to Barcelona and get the bus to Andorra-La-Vella. This is not a problem, I love Barcelona, and I quite like long journeys. Of course when planning a trip careful consideration needs to be taken to which books I would be taking with me and it suddenly struck me that for this venture there was one obvious choice. I’ve read all of George Orwell’s novels/ books (although not his essays) with the exception of one, Homage To Catalonia. What better reading material to have as I potter La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter?

I like Orwell as a writer (Eric Arthur Blair – second blog in a row about a literary Arthur, it wasn’t planned). He knows how to develop a concept and get you thinking. His lesser know novels have a real sense of frustration and melancholy. However, I try to keep out of politics as best as possible even if Orwell himself does have strong views on the matter. I state this as I don’t want people assuming I take similar views simply because I read the literature of a certain writer be it Orwell or anyone else.

It’s easy to understand why it wasn’t that popular, I know that sounds harsh, but it is very dry and opinion led. Orwell does his best to separate what he sees as the “facts” from his opinions by putting them in different chapters, but when even he says he gets confused by all the acronyms you wonder how you are supposed not to, although again to be fair he does explain most things as simply as possible. He also humbly admits he misunderstood things at the time.

Homage to Catalonia was published in 1938, a good while before his two really big hitters, and at the time it didn’t do that well. Rather like, at the time the already published, Down And Out In Paris And London and The Road To Wigan Pier, this is not a story but an account of events in the Orwell’s life, with a message. It was published shortly after he and his wife returned from Spain having been involved in the Spanish Civil War. Homage To Catalonia is his version of events, from his observations of serving on the front line to his account of the politics happening within the subsections involved in the conflict as well as the bigger picture.

Hotel Continental

It’s a interesting thing to read a passage of something in the location of which it is it set, especially when it really happened. Off the top of my head I can’t think of an occasion where I have done this before, although I’m sure I must have done. There are sections of the text referring to battles taking place on La Rambla, which I read on La Rambla. Hotel and cafe names are stated, for example Hotel Continental is there at the top of La Rambla with Cafe Moka further down the road. There are walls around the city still showing the results of gunfire or bombs.

Set in the Gothic Quarter is Plaça George Orwell. This square was created in the early 1980s and it was only in 1996 that it got a name, that of the English author. I came here for breakfast one morning, and sat at a cafe drinking tea I read more of Orwell’s book, obvious and cheesy (not my breakfast) but it had to be done. A man working at the cafe was outside watching the square and I got chatting to him about general things, and of course I asked if many people came here looking for a connection with the writer and he didn’t seem to think many did, he said the locals only really knew the square as the “Trip” due to all the drugs that the area was known for. Hmmm… Regardless I made a fuss of photographing my aged copy of Homage To Catalonia with the sign, and annoyingly a woman’s legs who just wouldn’t get them out of shot.

Reading this book was an interesting experience as I became uncomfortable with some of the ideas and statements in the text which as a writer Orwell obviously seem to think were acceptable for print back then. The world has vastly changed, and yes Fascism is still a terrible thing, but I still found it hard to read how openly Orwell said he had wanted to kill at least one person during his time on the front line; in Chapter Five for example: “When I joined the militia I had promised myself to kill one Fascist—after all, if each of us killed one they would soon be extinct—and I had killed nobody yet, had hardly had the chance to do so.” On several other occasions he feels that his need for cigarettes is worth risking his and other people’s lives for; as an example there was a situation where, he lightly says he wanted some to which a friend does bring them to him at a very high risk and he thinks this is great. Elsewhere, at times of severe food shortages leading to the guests at his hotel eating only one sardine each, Orwell comments they were having to drink “older and older wines a higher and higher prices”, and sill complains the lack of cigarettes, priorities seem to have changed a little.

This is a book that has troubled me. Orwell has strong opinions and in his other books, yet they are a record of what some of the world thinking was like back then, and at least nobody was getting hurt. In Down And Out In Paris And London he comes across as someone really willing to put himself in other people’s shoes to understand them, and I respect him for that. However I don’t agree with cruelty regardless of the political colour (no one in their right mind does) but I guess my problem was I was expecting Orwell to be more of an onlooker wishing for, and understanding there needed to be a better way for all sides involved to improve conditions, rather than him becoming a part of the violence itself.

This was the last full book I had to read by Orwell and I’m kind of glad it was the last it meant I read the others with a sense of naivety I’ve lost now. It’s still worth reading this book and I’m pleased I did, it puts in context a writer who would adjust his views to degrees over time and go on to create Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four, but in the horror that was going on around him in Barcelona it’s just a shame he couldn’t see a better way.

Buy Homage To Catalonia – by George Orwell

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It Will Always Be Sherlock

From One Arthur To Another

On my return to this fair isle, after having lived abroad for a while, I discovered the rather bizarre past time of visiting the final resting places of people who I have in some way admired. It’s a strange connection. I’ve blogged about finding where Agatha Christie is buried and even though our lives missed out on overlapping by just a few years to be able to still visit and pay my respects to such a brilliant person (not that I believe in any way life continues) is a fascinating temporal quirk. Of course if you can do it for someone who passed a few years before your birth, if you know where they are, you can go right back in time! (See also Jerome K Jerome)

Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930). The author of the much adored Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes was many things, but mainly he was brilliant, and of course if you create and write for a character who is a genius you have to have have a large level of intelligence yourself, not as much as your creation as you already know the answers and you put the clues there, but even working from the other side, it takes a lot of the little grey cells, no sorry that’s another other.

Due to the Benedict Cumberbatch series, Sherlock Holmes is once again enjoying and gaining a large degree of fans, and yes I know it’s been over a decade since the first episodes and more than five years since the last episode went out; still it’s very popular and that is mainly due to the fact the the base text is extraordinary. But imagine that, as a writer your works continue to be loved and interpreted in ways by each successive generation across the media, frankly I’d be happy with just one generation.

To go back to the beginning, the first Sherlock Holmes story to be published was in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. It was the novel A Study In Scarlet and it seems it didn’t quite take off. However it was then published in other formats, including book form, the Victorians seemed to think that you needed to have the story in a newspaper or magazine in parts before it was actually put into a book. There then followed three other full novels and the fifty six short stories which were published in The Strand magazine (and now available in five collections), it became, as we’ve said, a considerable success.

If you’ve not read any of the books or short stories you may be a little overwhelmed as to where to start. Unlike other writers with big cannons this isn’t actually that confusing. There are only really nine actual books you would need to buy and you can get them all in one volume as a Complete Works, it’s what I have and I just dipped into it to start off with before I began at the beginning with A Study In Scarlet and just carried on. This worked for me.

“It’s quite exciting,” said Sherlock Holmes, with a yawn.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet, A Study in Scarlet

Although it’s the first one A Study In Scarlet would become atypical of how to read Sherlock Holmes stories. I found a website that listed the word count for each of the anthologies, added them together and the divided by 56; the average word count for a Sherlock Holmes short story is 8,138 words. A Study In Scarlet is 43, 625 words. It’s also odd in that the format of the novel is in two halves and I don’t want to spoil it by explaining what I mean by that; it’s trick Conan Doyle pulls again elsewhere. Of course read this, but if you are looking to start with the typical short story go for the anthologies.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was first published in 1892 and contains fourteen cases of intrigue. As with any collection the quality varies, but this is a good read and you start with the well known A Scandal In Bohemia, which I would suggest is the perfect place to begin, from then on you will have hours of happy reading.

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.
― Arthur Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia

Conan Doyle did write other things, including The Lost World, but his name will always be tied to the Detective of Baker Street, and that happened even whilst he was alive. Here is the writer’s dilemma: of course you want success, to dream of the levels Conan Doyle had would lead to disappointment, but imagine then having achieved it with one book and all people are interested in is for you to keep writing sequels. The other ideas you have are ‘yeah ok, sounds good, but when’s the next X book coming out?’; it must get frustrating and I believe it did for Doyle, hey he even killed Holmes off and it wasn’t enough.

We may think, just be grateful, like a singer when the crowd only want to hear one song, because at least they want you and you’ve made enough money you can then do the other things even if it’s for a smaller audience. But even just imagining I can understand the frustration, no wonder the writers of books and songs get sick of their most famous works when the public never do.

On a sunny day a few years ago I found myself in the New Forest and I decided to drop by the village of Minstead where little horses roam freely and occasionally come and ask you for food. In the graveyard is the final resting place of Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife Jean, and at the time, dotted about were a small pipe and other memorabilia connected with the beloved Detective. I guess when you’ve written something so brilliant it will never leave you… and at the end of the day it’s no bad thing, not really.

Buy The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes – by Arthur Conan Doyle
Buy A Study In Scarlet – by Arthur Conan Doyle
Buy The Complete Sherlock Holmes – by Arthur Conan Doyle

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So, How Was The Heatwave?

When Fiction Got There First

Heat. It has been hot. I love it, or I would if it wasn’t a sign of the damage done to our planet. But the 40C we experienced in my part of England recently… I could happily bask in it; what is it they say about mad dogs and Englishmen? The sad fact though is that, according the those in the know, this shouldn’t be happening. Predictions of a future of environmental calamity aren’t the just stuff of fiction. Regardless, many a story has been told whilst set in a world experiencing the consequences of the harm done to our planet, or in some cases other worlds.

It’s always been a tool writers use to highlight present issues, that is exaggerating the situation to clearly identify it and then setting it either in the future or off world, ‘This is what it could be like.’ It also allows the author to change the rules to tell a better story and let the imagination flow rather than be stuck trying to keep it as believable as possible. You want to highlight how the ecosystem itself is being damaged? Whilst we have reports of foreign species appearing in Britain and native ones on the decline, at the moment it’s not something the average person tends to worry about. Speed forward in time and tell of a world were all the bees have gone and the waters around our coast are patrolled by thousands of man eating sharks.

It’s hard to accurately predict how the food we grow will be affected, but go one hundred years in the future and you don’t need to worry about being accurate to reports of scientists, readers will be less inclined to disregard your words as being unrealistic.

Probably, to me, one of the most obvious novels dealing with climate change is The Drought by JG Ballard. In fact this was first published in 1964 under the title ‘The Burning World’ and then expanded in 1965 as The Drought. Ballard is brilliant at creating worlds, most of them are depressingly dystopian and this is no exception, but it is also stark. It’s the future and water is scarce, as in it’s all really messed up. Humans are just about surviving and even then it’s an effort. The problem is that the oceans have have been so badly polluted the water cycle is just not working properly. Of course the regular worries of green house gasses that we know all to well were not so strong in the 1960s, despite this the results and warnings of his scenario are the same as we could be fearing.

As a reader you feel the arid nature of the landscape, you can see yourself in the situations the characters, don’t just endure, but take as what life is. Ballard is clever here, it’s not so alien that you can’t imagine yourself doing the things that need to be done. We’ve all seen stagnate water in rivers that should be flowing. We can all imagine what happens to a zoo when the water runs out. The solution is to move to the coast, although even that is not so easy; however we start inland where the rivers have run to trickles if they have survived at all. This isn’t a novel about conspiracy or fighting for the survival of the planet; despite uprisings happening on the on the edge of the story, all that is already lost. This is a character working out how to live in the world, his world.

“Ransom walked across the central promenade of the zoo. Some twenty pink flamingos huddled together in a shallow trough at one end of the rock pool, the water sunk to a pallid slush between their feet. Sheets of matting covered the wire mesh over the pool but the birds fretted nervously, opening their beaks at Ransom.”
― J G Ballard, The Drought

Even though I’ve previously spoken about the other book I think of immediately when it comes to feeling the heat described in the text, I feel I just need to once more mention The Power And The Glory by Graham Greene. Set in Tabasco, Mexico (even if the geography is a little suspect) in the 1930s it’s hard to not fully embrace the dryness of the opening chapter which then leads into the humid swaps of the interior; you can almost see the sweat of the characters.

The fact this is set in the past, and in a landscape where the reader already expected things to be hot, humid and uncomfortable, at the time they probably dint’ see such temperatures coming to British shores. But it’s an interesting contrast to The Drought, because it also shows that in some parts of the world The Drought isn’t the future. Greene probably hadn’t thought of worldwide environmental damage when he penned his story, it was just this was what Mexico was like and he wanted to set his tale there. But how long until the heat in our part of the world is just as common place as the locals in Tabasco experience? How long until, like the people of The Drought, although knowing something is wrong, we just have to find a way to survive it?

“Mr Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust. A few vultures looked down from the roof with shabby indifference: he wasn’t carrion yet.”
― Graham Greene, The Power And The Glory

Personally I do like the heat, and to bask with a good novel is a good way to enjoy it, but maybe it shouldn’t be quite this hot?

Buy The Drought – by J G Ballard
Buy The Power And The Glory – by Graham Greene

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Summer Time Reading

I Wonder If Anyone Else Will Go To Portugal With The Same Selection As Me

Last week I went to Portugal! I blogged about a previous trip I made to Albania and that was in January 2020, the last before travel became difficult; if I had only known… However Portugal was full of heat, sun, port and reading. Faro is a lovely place, although it’s small. The local towns are also well regarded and I’m sure to explore them would have been nice; but I had only booked a few days and to do it all it wasn’t enough.

The result was once I had discovered the main part of the town, I was able to just bask in the heat. I’m not by nature a sit on a beach type person, I always need to know what’s around that corner or over the horizon wherever I am. However due to a long story that results in me hurting my feet (I actually did write it but deleted it as I realised no one was going to be interested – oh the importance of being able to cut things from your work!) I ended up not being able to explore as much as I wanted to. Fine, I had books, and cafes and beaches and cheap beer!

I normally just take hand luggage, hey I’m an impoverished writer, and so with the even tighter sizes allowed I realised I had to take smaller books, which rather limited my choice (no I do not like to read e-books if I can help it). First up was a 1973 copy of Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

This is one of those stories within stories. Starting on a boat ready to leave the Thames the crew are waiting for the time to depart. The narrator tells us that one of his colleagues decides to entertain them with a story of his trip to Africa. The novel has a reputation of being a bit grim, I would say I’ve read worse and then I realise most things that happen in the fiction probably mirror the way things were in the real world back then. First published in 1899 as a serial (that’s a good idea) this deals with issues of colonialism and as such reading from the perspective of 2022 it raises probably more questions than the author intended. Although not directly stated Conrad uses the Belgian colony of Congo as his backdrop and it becomes clear that the title of the book isn’t so much to do with the dark heart or the interior of the continent, but that of the men that reigned misery upon it. It’s interesting that as a novel it rarely makes a judgement as explicitly as might be done these days, instead it records opinions and attitudes that at time of writing would have opened the eyes of the reader and these days which we already know about and find unacceptable; even the “good” guys use words within the text that are uncomfortable reading. It occurred to me that whilst my paperback came from the 1970s it’s strange to realise even not so long ago attitudes to such expressions of even concepts weren’t as they are now.

This isn’t in anyway a blame on just the other European nation’s attempts at Empire, it’s clear that although using a foreign power Conrad has the same ideas over what Britain was doing at the time. There is a very interesting correlation in the way that people of his days viewed Africa and how the Romans viewed Britain. To make the comparison between now and Conrad’s time, in many ways we are more enlightened and educated today, it’s just a shame that doesn’t go for everybody. I do wonder if holiday reading should be quite so… dark?

“Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you, smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, “Come and find out”.”
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Heart Of Darkness is actually a short book (although in my copy the text had been formatted in such as way to make the pages dense with print) and so I moved on to my second smaller sized novel.

I’ve talked about Target novelisations of Doctor Who stories before and I will probably blog about them specifically at some point, but being the perfect size I grabbed one I hadn’t read before and packed it.

The Ark by Paul Erickson was first published by Target in 1986 in hardback and 1987 in paperback and is based on a televised story from 1996 (I had the 1993 reprint). I have seen the TV serial many times and the novel expands on a lot of the story but I’m glad it retains the classic line ‘take these strangers to the Security Kitchen’. Basically set way way into the future with Earth about to be destroyed the entire population create an Ark and travel to a new planet, unfortunately when the TARDIS turns up one of the companions has a cold for which the humans this far into the future are unconditioned and it becomes a major pandemic – hmm.

As I sat in a cafe reading this it struck me I was probably the only person in the Iberian peninsula reading a Target novelisation at that moment in time, a thought that amused me. I’m sure as summer continues Faro will see many many books being read by locals and tourist alike. Holidays are great for reading.

Buy Heart Of Darkness – by Joseph Conrad

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Welcome To The CITY Of Milton Keynes

It’s Finally Happened!

I no longer live in Milton Keynes but woe betide anyone who mocks it in front of me. I grew up there, it’s one of two places I consider important to enough to call home, where I feel substantially I became me, the other is Dublin. (The only reason I can’t say I was born there is because at the time the hospital was elsewhere).

Delivery Robot

Last week Milton Keynes became a City. I mean officially; we, the people who knew better, always accepted it as a city, and not just because of the local vocabulary. If you are going to the area designated as Central Milton Keynes, locals have always said ‘I’m going up the city.’ In the past the council had tried several times to get city status whenever the bidding was open, but had be denied. This was confusing when we saw what places had won out, but still we carried on. Milton Keynes functions as a city, we wanted the title but even without it we knew.

There are many innovations that make this place special, to name just a few we have robots deliver our food to our doors, yes we really do, we have balancing lakes (look it up), all those roundabouts do serve a purpose (no it doesn’t all look the same) and I am very fond of the Concrete Cows; that’s on top of all the history (yes there is so don’t argue), as I said, woe betide…

Of course that doesn’t stop people who don’t “get” the city from making fun of it, but it doesn’t matter, if they spent any decent time there they would change their minds…

For as much as it is a city, it feels like the country easily, woodland, parks, waterways and just greenery everywhere, I still find it odd that this is in the minority compared to other places. It’s a wonderful place to live. If I hadn’t grown up there and moved on I’d be happy to be living there, but for me progression and geography are closely linked.

This is a literary blog. I’ve often considered writing a novel set in my home city. I’ve written one set in my other home, Dublin, and I’m very proud of Framed Of Rathgar, but I’ve not got round to the place where I grew up yet. I’m working on it, but I have many locations I want to set a novel so it’s just which idea bubbles up to the surface at the right time and then works! The thing is if you set a novel in Milton Keynes, because it is a unique place, it can’t just be any story that would work anywhere, there is so much you should be able to do with this landscape.

So if I’ve not done it, have others written a book set there? The answer is “yes”. I’ve only read two of them and there is a reason for that. One is dreadful and I don’t think the author had actually been to the place he was writing about, I guess as it was a “wacky” kind of book he did it as a joke. But the book was bad and this is about promoting books I like so we shall speak no more of it.

The other is a factual history book based on one of the city’s greatest assets, Bletchley Park. Here is where the famous Codebreakers and Colossus machines worked in secret during the Second World War, one more event coinciding with so much history (see my previous post, and I will stop writing about World War Two soon, just a coincidence).

Bletchley Park, and Alan Turning are prime candidates to be written about; there is so much to say, so there is a wealth of books about the subject. Here is a confession: I grew up very close to Bletchley Park, I went to school even closer and yet I have never set foot inside the grounds. I want to, but it wasn’t until I moved away that I really understood the significance and when you’re living in Dublin brief trips back fill up quickly. Then I moved back to England and although Milton Keynes is not too far from where I now live, because it’s close it’s one of those things I’ll get round to. My solution? Read a book about it.

The one I chose was called Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park by Michael Smith. I went with this book as it proudly states it is a “No 1 Sunday Times Bestseller” on the cover and I wanted something that had the history and the facts, but no fiction or opinion, this ticked the boxes. Clearly written in chronological order and including first hand accounts from the people who worked there, it’s is perfectly pitched so as not to overwhelm the reader or feel too basic. I read it years ago in Dublin, I’d take it to work and it started many an interesting conversation.

“Imagine my surprise when several weeks later, I received a letter marked ‘Confidential’ inviting me, as a consequence of taking part in ‘the Daily Telegraph Crossword Time Test’, to make an appointment to see Colonel Nicholas of the General Staff who ‘would very much like to see you on a matter of national importance.'” – Stanley Sedgewick.
― Michael Smith, Station X

Of course when you have something like Bletchley Park that is what writers are going focus on, so finding books not connected is hard. I’ve had a search, there are some fantasy novels, but these are not my thing. This is shame, as I said above there are many things I sure a writer could do with Milton Keynes, but then again I haven’t, and I’m from there.

I could be wrong, there may be a plethora of books that the local bookshops advertise, I just can’t find them on a Google search and because I moved away a long time ago I don’t go to the local bookshops where they would know.

Writing this blog has made me determined to do three things. 1) Visit Bletchley Park. 2) Write a book set in my home city. 3) Search harder for books by others who have. Feel free to leave suggestions of ones I’ve missed below.

But over all I’m just very pleased we did it and all those signs that for years have said “The Borough And New City Of Milton Keynes” have finally been accepted for their statement.

Buy Station X – by Michael Smith

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To Be Young In The 1930/40s

How Much Have Things Changed?

Over the grey of winter I decided to have ago at reading something uplifting, and then I spotted my copy of Angela’s Ashes in the To Be Read pile and felt it was now so long that I hadn’t got to this yet I’d better get cracking. Well it’s not called a misery memoir for no reason.

The author, Frank McCourt, tells us the story of his childhood. Born in 1930 in New York to Irish parents the family soon decided to return to their native land to make a life for themselves. As his mother, Angela (her of the title of the book; with reference to either her crumbling hopes for her family or the ends of her cigarettes or possibly something else) is from Limerick, this is the chosen location and the rest of the book takes place within the streets of poverty in 1930s/40s Limerick City.

When the family first arrive they spend some short time in Dublin, I lived there for many years and was surprised when the father and Frank McCourt take a trip to the area I lived in (although it would have been about seventy years earlier).

It’s a gripping read, their fortunes are not good by any means, but the writer manages to convey the closeness of the family with a sense of joy. There are quite a few laugh out loud moments, specifically the account of his Grandmother’s horror at him vomiting his Communion in the back garden, and the subsequent events.

This level of poverty and ways to survive seem to be accepted by the characters and yet they keep fighting to make it to another day, despite the roller-coaster they are on, albeit one where the highs are only highs when compared to the depths it is possible to sink to. In these days of the “tough cost of living” it’s an interesting comparison of how much western society has changed, although I’m in no doubt these conditions are still the norm (or even “good”) for many in the West and for a shockingly high percentage of the rest of the world.

“There’s no use saying anything in the schoolyard because there’s always someone with an answer and there’s nothing you can do but punch them in the nose and if you were to punch everyone who has an answer you’d be punching morning noon and night.”
― Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

There is some debate as to the accuracy of the tales told. This is something that as a reader we can do nothing about, but if McCourt did not quite experience this then there are people who definitely did. Having said that for the tag of “Misery Memoir” it’s still a good read.

Then I had a revelation. As I went to find a place to put my now read paperback on the bookshelf (a “TBR” book lives in a box until I have read it) I saw my copy of Anne Frank’s The Diary Of A Young Girl. I stopped. When was she born? After a quick check I realised she was born just over one year before Frank McCourt and whilst his family were living in squalid conditions in Limerick during the exact same moments the Frank family were living in fear, hiding in their Secret Annexe in Amsterdam. The two real human stories were simultaneously happening.

For some reason this fascinated me. The Frank family were different in a lot of ways, for a start they were quite reasonably well off and the limits on their lives were due to the obvious external evils, rather then the problems within society. If you’ve not read this, I highly recommend you do. We’re so used to the dark Nazi era of Europe from the perceptive of historians, or of the bigger picture of horror. This is the real world through the eyes of a normal young woman. How scary is it that whilst we see this time period with fear, she had got used to living in the Secret Annex? And that the things that chiefly worried her were the usual issues between families? You could argue that she was too young to fully “get” all that was going on, but I don’t believe that; Anne Frank shows an intelligence and alertness to current events, it’s just sadly when terrible conditions present themselves eventually they have to become the norm – how as a society do we let this happen? That families such as these endure terrible conditions for so long that it stops being a shock? Or is just that what ever good there is will win out?
It’s interesting the title of the book is The Diary Of A Young Girl, all rather generic, but all we need is the name of the author, Anne Frank, and we know…

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas and principles, and although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child, I feel quite independent of anyone.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

Of course tragically Anne Frank would never get to meet her fellow writer; and whilst she wrote her account contemporaneous to events, McCourt’s story was retold after. I calculated the distance between Limerick and Amsterdam, it’s about 570 miles as the crow flies. That’s not too far really. Not too far when you consider that about 80 years ago a young boy and a young girl were living their lives overcoming obstacles and facing adversity together and yet they didn’t know.

Buy Angela’s Ashes – by Frank McCourt
Buy The Diary Of A Young Girl – by Anne Frank

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Now over 19,000 downloads of Beck’s Game.

11 May 2022

I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has downloaded and helped with promoting this. I never imagined I’d get to these kind of numbers.

There are still six more episodes to come before the story is complete, but I’m going to have to keep you waiting a bit longer. It’s all written and ready to go… but, well, anticipation can be good, (and I’ve load of other stuff I need to do first).

In the meantime if you are yet to wonder who is a Player? Who is a Guardian? What would you do if you found a token? And what really is happening on the London Underground? You can download each part yourself here.

It’s not the money, it’s the GAME.

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Written From Experience

Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt.

Wow in a blink of an eye it’s the end of April! Whilst the plan for this blog is to be about literature, as I am not qualified enough for anyone to be interested in my opinion on politics and the like, I think it’s not controversial to say that war is bad. In no way do I want to make light of the horrors that happen around us, in many locations around the globe, as every year many people end up damaged in countless terrible ways by conflict. But I do feel literature is an important part of helping us learn. Conflicts are something that writers are moved to tell us about. Some have had first hand experience in war and find the way to help them deal with it is to write, either that or they feel we, the readers, should know what it is really like as far to often in fiction fighting can be glamourised.

The phrase “catch 22” has become ingrained in our language, meaning an impossible and or ridiculous choice. Joseph Heller, the writer observed, “Everyone in my book accuses everyone else of being crazy. Frankly, I think the whole society is nuts – and the question is: What does a sane man do in an insane society?”

The novel itself is an interesting piece as it is not presented in chronological order and whilst sections of the first parts are grim in places it’s not until the end the full horror of the events, which are set in the Second World War, are realised and that lighter tone at the beginning becomes far more sinister. Not for no reason do we use the expression Catch 22 still over sixty years after first publication.

“’They’re trying to kill me,’ Yossarian told him calmly.
‘No one’s trying to kill you,’ Clevinger cried.
‘Then why are they shooting at me?’ Yossarian asked.
‘They’re shooting at everyone,’ Clevinger answered. ‘They’re trying to kill everyone.’
‘And what difference does that make?'”
― Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Slaughterhouse 5 is strange book. The writer, Kurt Vonnegut, uses the first chapter to tell us directly he is writing about events he experienced in Dresden, that many of the things that happened to his characters were real and were taken from his or people he came across’ time in the Second World War. Published in 1969 the full title of the book is Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Vonnegut is at pains to make out that the soldiers were just young lads, not the experienced men we often see in films.

Then it all goes surreal. Once again this is not presented in chronological order, but this time there is a reason for it. It’s a Sc-Fi book, yes you read that correctly. I don’t like spoilers so I’ll try and not give too much away but early on the main character, Billy Pilgrim, is kidnapped by aliens and taken to live on their home world. As I said I don’t like spoilers so knew very little about this book before I read it and when I got to that event I was somewhat surprised, I just wasn’t expecting it. However it’s written in such away that we only have the one man’s word for it, could it be that this is a result of the PTSD he is trying to suppress?

Having taken such a left field turn the book then allows for a philosophising that would be difficult to include in other stories. For example the aliens see the whole of time all at once; this means that to them no one is really dead, there are just parts that they are not in. When bad things happen, they sit next to good things so the bad can be put in perspective better, or as becomes a mantra within the text “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”. Of course that’s not true, but it’s an ideal. When trauma happens any good we have experienced or will experience does not make it any better. But is this a way of blanking out the bad? To refuse to accept it? I’m not a psychologist, but maybe whilst Billy Pilgrim is trying to do exactly that Kurt Vonnegut certainly isn’t. He wants us to know what happened.

“It is just an illusion here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Writing can be powerful, no wonder it is used to educate us of the horrors of war. We live in a world where it is happening, but wouldn’t it be nice one day to be able to say “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”?

Buy Catch 22 – by Joseph Heller
Buy Slaughterhouse-Five – by Kurt Vonnegut

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Beck’s Game: Wrapping Up Series Two

Just Some More Stuff I Wanted To Say

It’s been a while since I uploaded the final part of Series Two of Beck’s Game. I didn’t know whether to write a blog about the second series like I did the first and as I was pondering this time went by quickly. But there are a few things I want to say and then it’s back to normal service on this blog, i.e. other people’s books.

Series Two was intended to be a bigger canvas than the first. When I originally had the idea of Beck’s Game it revolved around Rhys, Neil, Sophie and Alex. Of course as I wrote it things changed and I’m happier that more characters took on a life of their own.

Once again I hid Beck’s Game Cards through out London

I knew I couldn’t tell the full story in just six parts and so I’d planned out two more series, in some ways it was all very detailed, in others I waited to see what inspired me as I went along, although I did know all the essentials. I had worked out all the ideas and events that would fit into each one as well as what answers would be given and what further questions would be raised. (I knew all of these before I started Oxford Circus). There was also a list of what places in London I wanted to “visit”. All of this I had assigned to their Parts.

When writing it in the first draft however I discovered I could tie things up in ways you can’t figure out when they are just notes. For example the two Sergeants (yes you are correct on where they get their names from) were only supposed to be in North Greenwich and it was just the Detective (yes correct again) who would carry on through the rest of the series as I didn’t want it to become a ‘police thing’, but as it went on it was clear they needed to play more of a role. The result is what eventually happens to the Sergeants was suppose to be the fate of someone else, although I hadn’t worked out who. By expanding their role I solved a lot of problems and it helped in the cause and effect for the events of Series Three.

Likewise it was only after I’d finished writing Mornington Crescent that I realised I should do a lot more with the character of Boudicca. I was going to leave the Piccadill Tribe in the background but here was someone who I realised should take on a regular role and so I redrafted things at the end of Series One to allow this, which then also then made Miriam’s journey more interesting, although she has the same fate I had always planned.

Woodside Park, a station I’d never been to until I wrote about it.

These second set of episodes feels less claustrophobic than the first, both I’m happy with; it feels like a new story and things have moved on. I was concerned that to come at Series Two without having read the first would not make sense, but seeing as Series One was so accessible I decided not to be too concerned about that, why do you always need to worry and possibly hold a story back?

It was only when I was thinking about the cause and effects of Series One that I realised how much the following episodes build on it, I was really pleased with the way it turned out.

The plan was always to release this one over the winter and even now it’s still being downloaded. The overall download figure goes up so much I haven’t had the chance to calculate it and I kind of like not knowing for a period of time, as already it’s far exceeded what I thought possible. Which comes to the main reason of finally deciding to write this blog. I worried I’ve been banging on about Beck’s Game too much, but I do have to advertise it (and apologies for any annoyance, especially to anyone on twitter), but I did need to say “Thank You” to everyone who supported this, be it coming to the blog, downloading it and liking it. It means a lot to me. Thank you.

With regards to Series Three, I have a bit of an issue. The whole thing was written and completed by late spring 2021 based on ideas I had over the summer of 2020 and taken from concepts I’ve been trying to find a home for since as far back as I can remember. The world has changed a lot since then, even since uploading the Kennington. I worry as Series Three is dark, I mean it’s the darkest thing I’ve ever written. When answers come they are not easy, you may be able to tell by the discoveries of Frank so far. When I wrote Kennington’s first draft it was December 2020, in June of 2021 the climax of the whole series happened for real in near enough the same way in almost the same location as I’d described, coincidences like this happen but this shocked me. Fortunately the outcome was very different and I felt enough time had passed to release Kennington. Then a few days after it’s release war broke out in Ukraine and I was hearing on the news events that I’d written into Series Three happening for real only this time the results were more tragic. I can’t really change anything as this is where the whole of Beck’s Game has been leading since Rhys first bumped into Alex.

The plan was to release Series Three over the summer this year. I may wait a bit longer. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so it’s harder to explain. Maybe peace will come; for far more important reasons than my silly story I hope it does. I think the best plan is to wait until the autumn and take stock then. I don’t want in bad taste to release Series Three when it is inappropriate to do so. Maybe I’m worrying over nothing, maybe I’m seeing connections where there are none, I’m just too close to it all. I am aware that this won’t make sense even to those who have read the already issued twelve parts.

There are far more important things than Beck’s Game happening at the moment, so apologies but the final instalment may have to wait a little longer.

Until then, thank you so much for you support.

#becksgame

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