London is not just one place. There are stories and truths and lies all merged together to make the city. Different worlds. Some are on view, some are hidden, worlds going on around you that you only catch out of the corner of your eye, but you don’t know what it means so you ignore it, forget it. But some of them are worth discovering. Do you want a way out of your problems?’
Since last summer I’ve been working on a new project, it wasn’t planned it was just an idea that came to mind and then merged with others that had been percolating for many years.
The result is Beck’s Game, and I’m doing something different with it.
The story is based on and around the London Underground and there might just be a whole lot more going on down there than you may have suspected.
Previously I’ve put my novels, complete, on Amazon as paperback and Kindle and left them to it, but the shape of this story meant I could be more flexible; and so I have split the story into three “Series” and each “Series” into six “Parts”, with a new one to be released each week on this very blog as a PDF of about 20 A4 pages (with a gap between each Series, although I have written the whole thing at this point). I wanted to build a part by part adventure, hey I’m a Doctor Who fan it’s in my DNA, and so we have smaller stories a developing alongside a much much bigger canvass; to say more might just drift into spoiler territory.
I’m not going to charge for downloading each part but if you want to make a donation for them I would be very grateful and that will be set up when Part One goes live (it was just easier to do it that way).
Series One, Part One: Oxford Circus will be released soon!
I did ask TFL what imagery I was allowed to use without breaking copyright and they have yet to get back to me, I guess they are busy running a transport network, so everything from the picture and sounds are not actually from the London Underground network so copyright is not an issue. The pictures are by by Johannes Plenio and Dil (www.instagram.com/thevisualiza), many thanks, and the design is my own.
When I started writing the blog about foxing it ended up being a lot longer than I’d anticipated so I decided to split it in two parts. You can find Part One here and it discusses how I’d noticed that some of my books, which I aim to keep in as pristine condition as possible, had started to fox, that is have brown spots appear on the pages, and this was very nearly the end of the world for me.
The other weekend I was in the Yorkshire Dales. I’d gone because I needed to get away but decided I wanted to go where there were few people and also because I love James Herriot’s books. I also wanted to visit The Stid (nothing to do with writing but it’s interesting as it’s said to be the world’s most dangerous stretch of water – yes in Yorkshire! Google it and don’t fall in.)
Just as I was on my way back to the car park by Bolton Abbey I noticed an antique bookshop, Grove Rare Books. It occurred to me that they might have some literature they could sell me that would answer my questions of what to do, and they would have a clear authority on the subject of how to look after books. It turned out they didn’t sell literature about the actual upkeep of books, but the man who worked there was very helpful. He, of course, had his own collection of texts on how to look after his products and so spent some time helping me look up what I could do. To be honest I think he knew it anyway, he seemed the kind of person who knew very useful things, but he wanted to show the authority from the books – he obviously understood his customers well. We found the below in an older text book:
The book the man showed me was written a long time ago, I forget exactly when but many decades; it was in impressive condition and suggested a few options. Chloramine T seems to be a thing, I have no idea what it is, if it works, or even if it’s legal in the UK or other places so I’m not recommending it, I did discover it has a use for fish though. The other option was The Antifox Company in Guildford in Surrey as they had a liquid called Antifox (do not drink this! the book clearly warns) and a powder with which to treat the pages. “£5.00 + £1.00 for shipping by surface only”. Not that I was going to purchase it, but on googling the company it seems it no longer exists so maybe it doesn’t work, all you get is websites about actual foxes in Surrey, and from searching the address there is nothing of note there.
The man who worked there did reassure me that foxing doesn’t spread from book to book but is just a reaction to impurities in the paper, it’s not like mould. This is what the British Library’s guide said just without the fungal word (I almost just used the first letter but then thought better of it when I reread it), and to be fair the British Library guide is about mould and just happens to mention foxing as an aside so it’s not saying it is fungal.
As someone who looks after a lot more books than I do, and which are worth far far more, I believe the man in the shop. He reassured me that it wasn’t a threat to the rest of my collection but I just have to live with it. A damp environment might contribute to the foxing. I had moved recently so my mind started panicking, was my current home damper than my previous ones? I don’t think so but it’s made me more careful to ensure in future I don’t store them in damp rooms.
I was also advised that if my collection was expensive there were services that I could investigate that would restore each page, but I have have a load of paperbacks not Gutenberg Bibles or Shakespeare First Folios (which are probably not the versions Radio 4 will give you on the desert island either).
I’m a lot more confident now and I’m beginning to return my foxed books to the their shelves. I’m far more aware of foxing and have noticed since January I carefully examine the book I’m reading, and any in detail before I buy them for marks, but I have to accept the fact that both myself and my books are getting older.
Oh and if you are ever near Bolton Abbey pop in to Grove Rare Books, they are good people.
Those dark spots on the page or across the fore edge (the opposite to the book’s spine) might make the book looked aged and interesting, but I hate them. I like my books to remain as close to a pristine condition as I can possibly keep them, and for the most part I succeed. A cracked spine will have me worrying for days and you should never fold the page corners. However if you have a collection of books it’s inevitable that you will come across foxing. The British Library describe foxing this way:
“Foxing is the term used for the brown spots and stains seen on affected paper which may be fungal in origin but may also be caused by chemical impurities in the paper.”
The word fungal is alarming!
Over the winter I started to read a novel (Doctor Who: Festival Of Death by Jonathan Morris if you’re interested) which, just because of the way of things, took a longer while to read than it normally should. I’d take it to and from work and read in my lunch break; one day I noticed it had started foxing.
This really worried me. I have never seen this before on the other BBC novels I have, and I own nearly all of them (and every Virgin!), so I hastily went and checked the rest of my collection. All but two of the BBC Doctor Who novels were clear, neither as bad as this one, and to my immense relief it was on none of the Virgin books, which are really important to me (there’s an entire blog coming folks). I immediately isolated the the affected ones and searched the rest of my other books. There were some that had marks on them but most seemed fine.
What worried me the most was Festival Of Death was only published recently, well in my head. It has since been republished in different editions because it’s a very good novel, but I’d been collecting from first release and as I had first editions of all the others when I started to look to fill in the gaps, of which this was one, I had to keep to the same format; look it up it’s not that cheap these days. Oh and it turns out that the “recent” publishing of the first edition of this novel was actually in the year 2000, longer ago than I remembered but I have books way older which are still pristine.
I tried to think back to when it had arrived in the post probably about a year previously. I would have noticed if it had been marked back then surely? I can only think that as it had been over the cold part of the year and as I’d sometimes leave it in the car during the working day this is what must have cause the foxing to happen, but I’d done that before to other books and I’d never seen this. Quite what caused this, specifically to this book, I needed to find out. But my main fear was to stop it from spreading.
To be honest I’d never really gave it much thought before. I assumed that if I looked after them, all neat and tidy on a bookshelf in dry conditions, then they would not begin to show signs of damage like this. After having had a book collection for nearly all my life though as I get older so will the books.
The night I noticed it I did a search on the internet and there is some fairly confusing information out there, the British Library seemed to be the most qualified to advise, but that word “fungal” made me very uncomfortable.
I can be a bit dramatic at times, hey I’m a writer ok?, so I had visions of all my books turning to mould over night, a life time’s collection gone! What could I do? In moments of not so clear thinking I continued to search the internet for any solution. One place suggested I microwave the book to kill anything, stupidly I did this.
How long you cook the books for was not instructed so I decided I’d try a minute and see what happened. When I opened the door the book was damp and letting off an alarming amount of steam, the glue binding the pages together had melted and it looked sorrier than before I started, but just to be safe I put in back in for another thirty seconds.
I let it cool down, wafting the steam out of it and left it dry. Nearly half a year later no further foxing has occurred but I STRONGLY DO NOT recommend this as an option. I think it can probably cause more damage that way. It turned out it would be a while before I found out exactly what was happening to resolve the issue; in Part Two of this blog, coming later, you can see what happened next.
Incidentally the novel Festival Of Death is about a decaying spaceship, sort of, so it was kind of appropriate and it’s also well worth reading.
The Beautiful Death is the ultimate theme-park ride: a sightseeing tour of the afterlife. But something has gone wrong, and when the Fourth Doctor arrives in the aftermath of the disaster, he is congratulated for saving the population from destruction – something he hasn’t actually done yet. He has no choice but to travel back in time and discover how he became a hero. And then he finds out. He did it by sacrificing his life. ― Jonathan Morris, Doctor Who Festival Of Death
I’ve been meaning on sorting out the News and Information part of this blog for a while. So some older items have been re-posted and some now no longer current have gone.
I’ve also once more made made three novels available on Amazon KDP (so free if you are signed up for it) -For the moment they will be there until 11th September 2021. I will decided if to extend it nearer to that date.
In various blogs I’ve extolled the works of authors who write about the very different worlds they grew up with. Both Patrick Kavanagh’s The Green Fool and Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie tell of almost idyllic rustic childhoods of yesteryear, in a world so different from our own. There is a fascinating bit in The Green Fool where, in his Irish village in the early 1900s the author speaks about his family having “the only clock in the townland” and that “all the neighbours passing our house called in to inquire the time.”
Likewise Lee’s England, even though probably somewhat enhanced, is more of a foreign land to me than some of the places abroad that I have visited in the 21st century. I’ve been to the Cotsworlds a good few times, it’s lovely, but I still see the other visitors at Stow-on-the-Wold more than I know what it would have been like to live there now, let alone a hundred years ago.
This is the wonderful ability of books. I love travel, being in lock down has meant I’ve not left the country since my expedition to Albania in January 2020, mentioned on here at the time. Whilst that might not seem a big deal I have a very strong sense of wanderlust, and whilst I have adventured to some amazing places in England, the urge to see foreign locations, whilst always strong, is getting stronger.
The thing is, travel guides and tour guides aside what does the traveller really experience? Most of the time it’s a tourist view of that land, not the real lives. I lived in Dublin for a long time and know it extremely well (well I would do if it didn’t keep on changing). However speaking to people who visited it, even many times, the places I know, the experiences I had actually absorbed in to the the day to day living of the city is far more than just sitting outside a bar in Temple Bar, a visit to the Guinness factory and walk along the Liffey. Even then my experience compared to a born and bred Dubliner pales. Which is why, if you really want to know a place you should speak to a local. Which in turn is why autobiographies can open up a country or a culture far more than a visit (although do both if you can).
I spoke on here a while ago about the books from people who lived in North Korea, it’s not a place I will ever get the chance to visit; and, politics aside, even if everything changed and it became possible, it would be a different world to the ones that exists now. The same can be said of the past, so put those things together…
I was trying to think of a book that lets us see not only a culture we would find so different from our own, but also in a time which pushes it further from our understanding. The book Wild Swans by Jung Chang was quite popular in the early 2000s amongst my friends; having read it I can agree.
Starting in 1924 in Yixian, Manchuria it follows the life of Jung Chang’s grandmother, then her mother and then herself, all the way through the changes happening within China. History books can tell us of events, it’s books like these that tell us of the real lives, the real people who lived with them.
“As a child, my idea of the West was that it was a miasma of poverty and misery, like that of the homeless ‘Little Match Girl’in the Hans Christian Andersen story. When I was in the boarding nursery and did not want to finish my food, the teacher would say:’Think of all the starving children in the capitalist world!” ― Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
China today is not the China of 1924, or a lot of the other periods in which the action happens, so if we were to visit and even get to properly talk to a local it would still be different (and most likely just as worthwhile) as reading what happened from a local perspective. For how we speak and think can never really be picked up in a brief visit or a short chat, it works both ways.
There are many many more works that let us into worlds we could never dream of, maybe we can’t travel physically as much as we’d like to at the moment, but we can let our minds wander.
Everyone Should Read This, But No You Can’t See It…
Writing is personal, whether consciously or subconsciously parts of yourself, your inner-self, will bleed into your work; which is one of the reasons I hide behind a nom de plume, sorry Trevor. But there is more to it than that. The amount of work that goes into writing something, especially a novel, can make it very strange when it’s released into the wild to fend for itself. It’s all too easy to start worrying about what people will think about it, but then isn’t that the reason why it was made available? Either by traditional or self publishing.
The first book I self published via Amazon was my second novel Framed Of Rathgar and when my paperback copy came I was delighted I had a physical product of my own work. It led to me publish my first novel, Humanity, and start work on my third.
Indoldrum was published about a year ago and at that point I had social media set up to promote it and all of that. But as much I was so proud of it, I was also worried that people might read it. I’ve heard it said elsewhere, and I wholeheartedly agree, writers are a funny lot. We swing from shear shameless arrogance (this work of mine is so good strangers will give up hours of their life to read it) to being full of self doubt (everything I’ve ever done is utterly terrible), within seconds and often at the same time.
Yet that is the problem, we’ve done the work, the book exists and now we have to step into that role of actually telling people it’s good enough they should spend money and time on it when simultaneously not believing a word we are saying is true, and thinking we’re due an award.
Because of the time and soul I have put into my work, knowingly and unwittingly, I have this fear that other people won’t see it in the way I do; which is stupid, because of course they won’t, it’s impossible. No book that I have ever read means the same to me as it does to another person, let alone the author. I’ve had reviews of Framed Of Rathgar where people have not remotely understood the concept of the novel, despite the fact it’s clearly written on the back (yes call me a hypocrite if you’ve read my blogs, I have said I never read the backs of novels – I’m happy to be a hypocrite it means I get to negatively judge people for doing things I do, you should try it sometime, it’s liberating). The result then is that I start to think maybe people shouldn’t read it. The fact that it exists is good enough and it only complicates things if others have a say or an opinion. I understand it’s amazing and no one should say a bad word about it, and that it’s so bad nobody should bother with it, which leads me to the same conclusion each time.
In 1987 there was a rather good Doctor Who story called Paradise Towers by the writer Stephen Wyatt. I say “rather good”, in fact I’m very fond of it. “SPOILERS” are coming to misquote a later character from the same programme. The concept of Paradise Towers was based on the novel High-Rise by JG Ballard. Ballard’s book is about a self contained block of flats where society collapses leading to all sorts of terrible things, it’s worth a read.
In Paradise Towers the incredibly designed eponymous Towers start out as Paradise but soon these too fall apart, but this time it’s because the Great Architect, Kroagnon, loves his building so much he doesn’t want people moving in and messing it up, therefore he’d set traps for them in the hope they will all be destroyed and he can have the his work back the way it was, without people.
Kroagnon is obviously the baddie of the piece, but I can kind of see where he is coming from, of course I’d never send cleaning machines to drag people down their own waste disposal system- that would be unethical, but was it the fear of a different way of understanding and use of his work that made him not want the very ones he’d designed the block for to have it?
‘Like everyone else in Paradise Towers,’ he began, ‘you seem terrified you seem terrified to face up to the reality of of what’s happening here. I mean, killing me won’t help you find out who is sending those robotic cleaners out to kill people… Unless, of course, you’re giving all those orders yourself.’ ― Stephen Wyatt, Doctor Who: Paradise Towers
“A new social type was being created by the apartment building, a cool, unemotional personality impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life, with minimal needs for privacy, who thrived like an advanced species of machine in the neutral atmosphere. This was the sort of resident who was content to do nothing but sit in his over-priced apartment, watch television with the sound turned down, and wait for his neighbours to make a mistake.” ― J.G. Ballard, High-Rise
I’m getting close to the end of my next project, Beck’s Game, and I’m there again. I want everyone to read it, it’s that good… but what if people do read it? What will they think? Will they like it? Will they understand it? Will they realise it’s all a mistake and I should never have been allowed near a word processor? Will they discover I’m a fraud? I need to publish it after all the work I’ve put into it, but maybe I don’t want others to actually read it.
As my last blog was a bizarre shout at the planet to both slow down and get better I thought I would need to make the next one more upbeat… So I’m going to tell you about two of the most depressing books I’ve read. Be warned there are SPOILERS coming, I’ll try and keep them at a minimum but when blogging about a book’s tone you may need to refer to the end… just saying. If you want to know no more turn back now… otherwise “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
To be honest I’m not a misery and of course it’s not true that drama is tragedy; but try telling a compelling story where bad things don’t happen. It is so much harder to write anything with soul and heart that is upbeat. I don’t mean it’s impossible, I’m sure I’ll blog about my favourite upbeat books later (there is no real plan to what I do here), but it’s just harder. I guess this is why most people at the start of their writing experience, when charged with writing a story, go for tragedy over comedy.
Again I’m not saying that I think any less of the two books which follow, in fact they are both top quality writing, that’s not just my opinion, both writers have highly prodigious awards to prove it. My point is, although tragedy and depressive things aren’t necessary for a good story, we are kind of drawn to them and done well they will effect your soul.
I’ve waxed lyrical about my love for Les Misérables elsewhere (the book; I’ve not, and refuse to, access any other format of the story at this point), and my goodness it deserves the title. That nice lady with nice hair and teeth! But even then I wasn’t rendered stunned reading that as I was by the time I’d got to end of The Grapes Of Wrath.
Taking it’s name from the book of Revelation, John Steinbeck’s novel about a family trying to survive in the American Depression is what made me love this author. It was the second of his books I’d read and I am now on a mission to read them all, but sparingly. I really can’t say too much as the concept of what happens as we follow the Joads is the whole point of the plot and you really need to discover that as you read it. The Joads are a family who move from their farm in Oklahoma, which is no longer viable for them to survive, to California as they believe a better life awaits them. The book follows their journey, incorporating others who are doing the same. It’s not just them, these events happen to most of the characters. The fact is it’s not just a story. Whilst the events are fiction real people, real human beings like you and me, were making this journey as the book was being written in the 1930s and very similar challenges to the ones the Joads were facing were the life experiences of many many people who were around at the time of publication. When you know that it takes on a far more bitter taste.
So why read it? Why put yourself through the harrowing events? I could state it’s about greed and and how it’s a scream at the injustice happening back then which is still happening today, but we all know about that at this point, we’re not going to learn anything new. Instead the book is a master class in how to write tragedy to a very high standard, to invoke pathos without going too far. It’s human, it’s real, it’s gritty without needing any of those terms in the way that films bandy them about to make them look like they have depth. I said writing tragedy is easier, but to do it on this level is a gold standard I’ll try and aim for, but will fail at each time..
“I seen fellas like you before. You ain’t askin’ nothin’; you’re jus’ singin’ a kinda song. ‘What we comin’ to?’ You don’ wanta know. Country’s movin’ aroun’, goin’ places. They’s folks dyin’ all aroun’. Maybe you’ll die pretty soon, but you won’t know nothin’. I seen too many fellas like you. You don’t want to know nothin’. Just sing yourself to sleep with a song—‘What we comin’ to?” ― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
The other reason you should read it is because it’s a great book. Ok when I finished it, pushing on through the last pages to see how it ends, desperate to know, I did actually go into a decline for a few days after. The images at the end, the implications, the meaning of it all ghosted me for a good while after. I couldn’t get them out of my head which no other book has done. I still say this is one of the best books I’ve read just because of what it did to me.
The other book I want to recommend is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Set in India in the 1970s and 1980s this is the story of a small group of people who, through events, form a community just to be able to continue to exist. Everything is against these people. They each have a story of their own and they are constantly fighting their own worst outcomes. Then they find each other. It doesn’t matter how the book ends, I don’t need to refer to anything in the second half of the book, to say it’s grim. This could very well pick up and work out well, it could not or it could be somewhere in the middle, discover that yourself, but as you reflect on what pushed the characters to get into the plot, to become part of the community in the first place, even that is enough to make anyone lose hope in any kind of reliability of the stability of their own life. Then you have the stories of the fringe characters… I will say no more, read the book, then we’ll talk.
I read this novel on a short break to the paradise of Placencia in Belize. Whilst I was sat on the beach looking out at the glorious Caribbean Sea I was slowly sinking into despondency… yeah I should have chosen another book to take with me. As the bars were alive with music and fun I was sat weeping into my cocktails and hot wings… well not quite.
“But nobody ever forgot anything, not really, though sometimes they pretended, when it suited them. Memories were permanent. Sorrowful ones remained sad even with the passing of time, yet happy ones could never be recreated – not with the same joy. Remembering bred its own peculiar sorrow. It seemed so unfair: that time should render both sadness and happiness into a source of pain.” ― Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance
I did really enjoy reading the book though. When I say that it feels like I’m taking pleasure in other’s misfortune, even if they are fictional. Don’t judge me you’ve done the same. I guess being inside the mind of people who aren’t real but are feeling things we’ve felt and thinking things we’ve thought somehow helps us process we’re normal? Or at least that there is someone out there who understands.
Tragedy done well can do more than change a reader’s emotions, it can make them think without preaching, this is a skill I wish I had. Upbeat books are harder to write than misery… but writing quality misery is a skill that should be prized because life is neither totally comedy nor tragedy and it won’t ring true unless it’s done well.