Monday, December 17, 2012

JD’s Review of ‘Hot Flash’ by Eden Baylee


‘Desire’ is a six-letter word, not a four-letter word.

When deployed as a noun it is a feeling, not an act. Furthermore, desire is multi-faceted; it touches many dimensions of the human experience. And the feeling concerned is not always sexual.


Eden Baylee knows this well. Although in this collection of flash fiction and short poems her writing usually deals with the erotic and occasionally comic aspects of sexuality, there is a feeling of deeper longing that insinuates itself in the words.

As an author of ‘erotic’ writings, Ms Baylee’s work occupies a particular niche in a genre which is not overly-endowed (pardon the pun) with literary aspirations. Her writing is different. It has an elegance and simplicity of expression, and a little of Anaïs Nin’s style about it. If you’re looking for something with anatomical details and sweaty descriptions of making the beast with two backs, you’ve come to the wrong place.

For sure, there is a susurrus of doffed undergarments, noisy climaxes and the odd expletive, but that is not really what these fragments are about. They are about the heartbeat of emotion: some have a pang of loss, some the thrill of the unexpected encounter. But what the pieces all share to a degree is the experience of being a creature whose wits are permanently immersed in a bath of chemical illogicality.

It is impossible to do a specific review of the contents of flash fiction pieces without straying into spoiler territory, so I will here merely record that I most enjoyed ‘Doing it With the King’ and ‘A Second Chance with Death’; and while I found Ms Baylee’s short-line style in her poems gelled exceedingly well with their subject matter, for me the addition of rhyme in ‘Love Bites’ was a stretch too far.

This is the first time I have explored Eden Baylee’s writing, and I look forward to reading her novella-collections ‘Spring into Summer’ and ‘Fall into Winter’. Moreover I will be interested to see how her compact, polished style adapts to the format of the full length novel when her (as-yet-untitled) book hits the shelves in 2013.


'Hot Flash' is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

You can learn more about Eden Baylee by visiting her website www.edenbaylee.com or by following her on Twitter @edenbaylee



Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Galericulate Get A Head Awards 2012


As 2012 drags its sorry ginger ass towards a messy and well-deserved extinction, it's time to reflect on those pieces of penmanship that caught our eye this year.

This year, with the world economy continuing to show Titanic-like tendencies, we will not be holding the awards at the Albert Hall with free champagne, caviar and sports-car giveaways. Instead, we will be hosting our own little celebration on these homely virtual pages.

Monetary considerations aside, we couldn't let the year go by without recognising some of the best in independent writing. So without more ado, here are our awards for 2012 under our own unique categories.

THE GALERICULATE GET A HEAD AWARDS 2012


Galericulate Awards 2012

BEST OPENING SCENE AWARD
"The Beginning (Whispering Pines Series Book 1)" by Charles Wells

GRITTIEST READ AWARD
"Mama's Madness" by Billy Ray Chitwood

MOST AUTHENTIC SHORTS AWARD
"A Life Unpredicted and Other Stories" by Joanne Phillips

SNARKIEST SCI-FI HEROINE AWARD
"And the Stars Will Sing" by Michelle Browne

MOST AROUSING BLOOD-LOSS THROUGH BITING AWARD
"The Nightlife: New York (Book 1 of the Nightlife Series)" by Travis Luedke

BEST EXPLORATION OF DESIRE IN FLASH FICTION AWARD
"Hot Flash" by Eden Baylee

WRITING LIKE NOBODY ELSE DOES IT AWARD
"The Kommandant's Mistress"  and "Love in the Time of Dinosaurs" by Alexandra Constantinova Szeman

THE LAUGH OUT LOUD WET PANTS AWARD
Seumas Gallacher's Blog

BEST NOVELLA WITH FEATHERED ANIMALS IN IT AWARD
"Messages from Henry" by Rebecca Scarberry

MOST THRILLING STORY INVOLVING PERVERTS AND RUNNING SHOES AWARD
"Falcon Point" by Diane Strong


The above links are to Amazon.com (other than Seumas' obviously - that link is to Planet Nutcase) but these books are also available on all other Amazon sites.

Visit their Amazon author pages and connect with them on Twitter. Feel free to Post a Comment below if you need any further information or links. I do this sort of stuff for free. Amazing, isn't it?


Blog Scratchers Corner

Check the hashtag #TBSU on Twitter and grab yourself a handful of fine bloggers.



Friday, December 14, 2012

JD's Review of 'And the Stars Will Sing' by Michelle Browne


I don’t read much science fiction these days. I find a lot of the books in the genre too derivative, sitting on the shoulders of the great science fiction writers of yore. I particularly get frustrated with the lack of attention to basic psychology, and hence to my mind a lot of character motivations and actions have no credibility or depth to them.

Sci-fi novels written in the first person have an additional challenge inasmuch as the technologies and worlds described by the narrator would be familiar to them while being unfamiliar to us. This presents the writer with a technical difficulty of conveying to the reader what is different to them without undermining the narrator’s credibility. Imagine the situation of a current-day narrator describing a journey by train. Exactly HOW fascinated would that person be with how the carriage was laid out or the technology of railway tracks? The answer is not very, particularly if they’d already travelled by train hundreds of times before.

I am pleased to say that Michelle Browne handles these structural issues with apparent ease while engaging her readers in a compelling narrative along the way. The descriptions of the future are handled almost as asides (which is as it should be) without getting in the way of the story.

Ms Browne’s narrator, Crystal Weiss – a copper-haired Martian - is a delightfully snarky creation. “Glass” as she is known to her workmates is difficult, argumentative and with an offbeat sense of humour. By way of a diary, Weiss records her experiences as a mapper on a deep space project to create a wormhole for interstellar travel.

Without getting into spoiler territory, I will say there is plenty going on to engage the reader’s attention. The only nit-pick I had with the storyline was a credibility issue as to why internal transporters would be left operational in a particular circumstance (I’m not going into detail on this, as it would give too much away).

The writing style is sparse and spiky, as befits the storyteller herself.

Well done, Michelle Browne. “And the Stars Will Sing” gets my vote for novella of the year, regardless of genre.


You can learn more about Michelle Browne by visiting her blog http://scifimagpie.blogspot.com/ or catch her on Twitter @SciFiMagpie

"And the Stars Will Sing" is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk 


Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Liebster-ish Award Part III: Attack of the Clones




THE NEXT BIG THING

You know this game, but you may never have played it this way: Tag! You’re the author who’s “It” so you have to play the game by sharing information on your current Work in Progress (WIP) otherwise someone is sent round to your house with an electric cattle prod. Sandy Appleyard and Alexandria Constantinova Szeman (both of whom should know better) have tagged me, which goes to show you can't trust anybody these days. Actually it's not so bad. Makes me nostalgic for my time in reform school.

I'm digressing, as usual. Here are the rules:

Give credit (including the URL/link) to the person or blog that caught you before you could change your name and move to Panama.
Play by the rules – fortunately they're not complicated as writers tend to suffer from an IQ-deficiency – which includes posting the rules.
Answer 9 questions about your current WIP (NOTE: Looks like lying is OK, thank goodness).
List five other authors or bloggers, with their relevant URL/links, so that the ignominy can cling to them wherever they are on the planet.


1. What is the title (or working title) of your WIP book?

"Hungry Ghosts"


2. What genre(s) does your book fall under (or brush up against)?

Psychological thriller/mystery/crime/detective. Tempted to put "chick lit" on this list, as it would get me a wider audience, but I'd get complaints that there wasn't enough in the book about shoes and makeup.


3. Which actors would you choose to play the characters in the film version of your book?

Clive Owen would make a good David Braddock (the central anti-hero) - he has that haggardly-handsome lived-a-bit look to him. Definitely needs to be a Brit: I wouldn't want some guy called Cage with a wig on his head doing the part. Not unless the royalty money is really good of course.

Most of the other main characters are Thai, so any names I mention wouldn't mean much to my readers here. They'd also be very long names.

For some of the smaller parts I'd use tried-and-trusted British actors and actresses, and the hottest Thai girls available.

OK, so Hollywood's not exactly going to jump at these recommendations, but sod 'em. There is such a thing as artistic integrity (unless the royalty money is really good of course).


4. What is the one-sentence pitch for your book?

While searching for a missing girl in the underworld of Bangkok, ethically-dubious private eye David Braddock finds himself hunted.


5. Will your book be Indie published, self-published, or represented by an agency and sold to a traditional publisher?

Self-published in 2013. I've already turned down a offer from a small publisher for the first book in the "Time, Blood and Karma" series ("Everyone Burns"), so this is the route I'm committed to.

I suspect I might be a control freak.


6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I'm expecting a year. I'm only part-way through it now.


7. What other books in this genre would you compare yours to? 

I wouldn't. Or can't rather. While each book in "Time, Blood and Karma" will have elements of psychology, mystery and crime in them, the series also traces a family history over a period of seventy years as a 'karmic arc'. The books will also jump backwards and forwards in time. I guess the content of  three of the books (including "Hungry Ghosts") is a bit of a mixture of John Burdett's "Bangkok 8" series with various stuff half-inched from Graham Greene and Albert Camus. OK, that's horribly pretentious, I know. I'm not even sure how the dark humour that informs my stories fits into any of this. Generally speaking I don't read thrillers and mysteries (yep, that's right!) and I'm more usually to be found with my head in a psychology or history book, so I don't even know who my 'compatriots' are.


8. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I've already said, "Hungry Ghosts" is number #2 in a series. Where the overall idea for the series came from - and I have all the books already mapped out - I have no idea. It's probably something to do with the places I've been to, my love of good inter-related plots, psychology and Buddhist philosophy; and an interest in the nature of time and its effects on relationships. How my creative subconscious does stuff I really don't have a clue. I recently re-read "Everyone Burns" and it felt like someone else had written it. Weird.


9. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Exotic locations, twists and turns in the plot and a central character who can't make his mind up about which of the various females in his life is the 'right' one for him (assuming any of them are). The storyline(s) also unfold from the points of view of different characters - unlike in the first book - which I hope might give added interest for the reader by keeping him guessing as to true motives.


Phew! That's me done. Now I'm handing over the baton (or poisoned chalice, according to your point of view). My "tags" are:-

Travis Luedke

Angella Graff

Charles Wells

Tina Traverse

Rebecca Scarberry


If any of you folks don't want to "pollute" your own blog/website with this, you're welcome to "guest" on mine.


For more blogging phuquerie, find out what the members of the Blog Scratchers Union are up to on Twitter by using the hashtag #TBSU


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Talk to the Hat: Billy Ray Chitwood



JD  My guest today in the Dubai Dungeon is Billy Ray Chitwood, author of several books, the most recent of which is ‘What Happens Next? A Life's True Tale’. Welcome!

BR  Where am I? How did I get here?

JD  You’re in Dubai, BR. You’re here through a process that’s known as ‘Rendition’, I believe. It involves the use of secrecy, incapacitating drugs and a private aircraft.

BR   Why am I hung up by chains in a damn Arabic basement?

JD  Technically this is not a basement, it’s a dungeon. Anyway, I’m working on a budget. The electric chair has broken down so this is the best I can do at short notice. Ha! That was a pun. “Short”.

BR  Yeah, yeah, very funny.

JD  Digby, get the cattle prod.

(Sounds of electricity arcing)

BR  Holy crap.

JD  Nice to see something still works in this damn place. OK, BR, I want to talk to you about your life. Particularly as there may not necessarily be much of it left. But first I’m going to read you some of my poems.

BR  Couldn’t I just have the cattle prod instead?

(Sounds of electricity arcing)

BR  Thank you.

JD  According to my secret dossier you’re from the Appalachians, East Tennessee. Which makes you another damn American. What’s that place like? They got indoor toilets and shoes there yet?

BR Well, yeah, now they do! When I was In Oswego Bottom, we had an old unpainted clapboard house, kerosene lamps and an outhouse ... sure hated to make the ‘number two’ trip in the dark of night. The Sears catalog pages were not too functional … Must have had shoes but damned if I can remember them. Went barefoot a lot on the old country roads and cut my toes on discarded fruit jars - the old timers used fruit jars for their moonshine, or ‘white lightning.’

JD  Sounds ghastly. I’ve always thought the difference between Tennessee and yoghurt is that yoghurt is a living culture. But, hey, what do I know? I’m only an educated Englishman after all.

BR  Can I disagree with that last statement?

JD  Of course.

(Sounds of electricity arcing)

JD  I’m interested to know how you started off in life with no shoes and ended up as a writer.

BR  I never said I had no shoes as a kid! Just don’t remember them …

JD  Shut up. I’m trying to make you sound interesting here. Tell Dr John about your life.

BR Lots of mobility, divorced parents who fought a lot, literally. Lived for a time with my paternal grandparents (Oswego Bottom – AKA Wooldridge). Lived for a time in state-run institutions - we were poor and Mom had a rough time keeping my sister and me with her.  Life became somewhat normal for me during junior and senior high school. Mom worked as a boarding house cook for some time but her real love was the Bell Telephone company, where she retired. The Southern Baptist influence was heavy. There was a ton of emotional stuff to get through. At Seventeen, I joined the US Navy to get away from it all. That’s when a misdirected kid came ‘not very well’ of age. The adult world collided with my emotions and I sort of went crazy: married too soon, had kids, divorced, hit the gin mills and met some very pretty ladies. Managed somehow to get a college degree, worked with some major textbook publishers, owned a business, and was even able to do some acting on stage, film, and television … To sum it up for you: I ate some emotional soup in my youth and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to digest it. Shall I sing a chorus from "All The Girls I’ve Loved?"

JD  Not unless you want Digby to use the prod again. OK. Tell me about your Bailey Crane mystery books. And don’t be boring about it.

BR  Five books in the series, three inspired by actually crimes. The first book, “An Arizona Tragedy – A Bailey Crane Mystery,” is about the brutal murder of a young actress and mother. In real life this lovely lady happened to be a friend of mine, actually got me into acting, was also a secretary to a couple of my attorney friends in Phoenix … Sorry, I’m rambling, trying to get my mind off these infernal chains …

JD  It’s alright. I’m only half-listening anyway.

BR  Anyway, Bailey Crane is a transplanted southern fellow and mirrors a bit of my own life. Bailey tells the stories with his simple plot lines, fuses and muses about his own life experiences. Book 2, “Satan’s Song -ABCM”, deals with a decapitation murder in Phoenix, again inspired by a true crime.  (Put the prod down! I’m getting boring.) Suffice, the five books deal with Bailey Crane’s life as he chases the bad guys. The books can be read independently of each other, but each book does show the natural progression through the years of Bailey Crane. Book 4 in the series, “Murder In Pueblo Del Mar – ABCM”, was inspired by an actual murder of a mother in Mexico while on family holiday. The story involves the husband/father and his relationship with a transsexual lover. The book is a fictional account but with some truth and author embellishment. Books 3 and 5 in the Bailey Crane Series (“The Brutus Gate – ABCM” and “A Soul Defiled – ABCM” respectively) have no basis in true crime, but good reads if I do say so. Sorry to be so boring –

JD  As well you should be. (Yawns, and thinks about electricity)

BR  - but the Bailey Crane books gave me the chance to explore some dimensions of myself. I call my writing therapy for the soul.

JD  I want to talk about "Mama’s Madness", a book of yours I read and reviewed recently. But this is serious talk, so I don’t want you dangling from chains. Digby! Lower Mr Chitwood down and sit him on a crate.

BR  Thank you. You can be a really difficult person to ‘hang around’.

JD  You’re welcome. I feel a little more dignity and decorum is required at this point. Oh, and Digby bring the bucket of maggots for Mr Chitwood’s feet.

BR  Is that necessary?

JD  My lawyers insist.

BR  Ugh. They’re warm. They’re alive!

JD  Of course they are. You think I’d use dead maggots? What sort of a host do you think I am?

BR  A psychotic one, actually. No wonder you liked "Mama’s Madness".

JD  Great book! And a brave one for an Indie writer. Tough and unsentimental. Well, more ‘mental’ than ‘sentimental’. For those who haven’t read it, it’s a tale of southern lowlifes, and a central character Tamatha Preen who is basically a no-holds-barred psychopath that tortures and murders her own children.

BR Your type of woman, I’d guess.

JD  I’m going to let that one go. It’s based on some real-life events which I believe happened in Northern California?

BR  Yes, “Mama’s Madness” deals with an evil mother’s hold on her children. It deals with dark closet punishments, beatings, forced prostitution, unbelievable acts, and three murders. It was a book difficult to write because most of us are unwilling to accept the fact that people like Tamatha Preen (a fictional name), that this kind of evil does indeed exist. Although “Mama’s Madness” has its sordid disbelief it is one of my favorite writing accomplishments.

JD  Tell me, BR, what is your favourite book of all time?

BR That would likely be, “You Can’t Go Home Again” by Thomas Wolfe.

(JD nods at Digby. Sounds of electricity arcing)

BR “The General’s Daughter” by Nelson DeMille.

(JD nods at Digby. Sounds of electricity arcing)

BR OUCH! Okay, okay, my true favorite is, “Everyone Burns” by John Dolan?

JD  Now you’re getting it. Tell me about your latest book. And be quick about it, I’m getting hungry.

BR “What Happens Next? A Life’s True Tale” is non-fiction, about me, about my memories of east Tennessee, about my wanderlust, about a marriage that happened too fast, about the kids I cherish, about some of the loves of my life, about the neon lights and gin mills of California and Arizona, piano bars, pretty ladies, and about my faith. The book is an honest look at my mistakes, about my joys and triumphs, and about the remarkable wife, Julie Anne, with whom I get to spend the rest of my life. This non-fiction book is a ‘brother’ to my first book, “The Cracked Mirror – Reflections of an Appalachian Son”, a fictional memoir which is ninety per cent true and covers some of the same ground. I even explore a family murder and a family suicide.

JD  Had enough of the maggots yet?

BR  I sure have.

JD  Good, because I think they’ve had enough of you.



THE GREAT GALERICULATE DISCOUNT!!!


Billy Ray is discounting by 50% copies of his book "An Arizona Tragedy - A Bailey Crane Mystery" exclusively through Galericulate. During the period 6-11 December click HERE  This will take you to Smashwords.com where you 'buy' the book. At checkout enter coupon code ZV49H and it's only $1.50! Choose your preferred e-book format, download and get reading.

You can learn more than you'd probably like to know about Billy Ray Chitwood by clicking on the links below:

Latest Book on Amazon "What Happens Next? A Life's True Tale"  USA  UK

Amazon Author Page  http://www.amazon.com/Billy-Ray-Chitwood/e/B00502520Q/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Goodreads Author Page    http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4832225.Billy_Ray_Chitwood

Billy Ray's Website  http://billyraychitwood.weebly.com/

Twitter                     @brchitwood    https://twitter.com/brchitwood



BLOG-SCRATCHERS CORNER - Other Blogs You Might Want To Check Out

Jan Berghoef. "The Berghoef Daily" - get your diurnal fix of all that's new in science and much more besides http://paper.li/JanBerghoef/1351352786

Eden Baylee. Poetic writer of exotic, erotic stories and cartographer of desire http://edenbaylee.wordpress.com/



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Liebster Award Part II: The Empire Strikes Back

My very good friend and former room-mate at the asylum, Seumas Gallacher has finally come up with a sensible idea after several decades of trying.

It's a kind of Bloggers-Supporting-Bloggers sort of thing. Like Live Aid but without music or bands or a stage or any kind of charitable intent whatsoever.

He calls this dubious child of his reptilian brain "Blog Scratching" (Copyright Seumas Gallacher 2012), and it comprises a complex system of listing favourite bloggers on your blog posts to try and whip up interest in this moribund craft the way one might apply a leather strap to an equine creature in its last throes of life.

That's it really.

So here's five of my faves to get this futile concept started (and probably finished):-

Seumas Gallacher (Self-appointed President of the Blog-Scratchers Union). Kilted Scottish Manic's comedic rants and senile burblings on any subject you care to name, excluding the Battle of Culloden [Scotland 0-5 England]. Warning: this blog contains ludicrous underhand marketing of his best-selling thrillers http://seumasgallacher.com/author/seumasgallacher/

Pamela Sutherland. Brave and touching real-life diary of what it is like to live with MS. http://living-in-a-limited-world.blog.co.uk/

Soraya Bakhbakhi. Enfant terrible, provocateur, poet and abuser of red lipstick, Soraya's posts are not for the faint-hearted: she says it like it is! http://hellisafourletterword.wordpress.com/

Meredith Lorimar. Sometime phantasmagoric exploration of the human imagination; and a homage in prose to the creative process. http://the-educated-imaginary.blogspot.ca/

Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. The grande dame (at least to me) of writing and poetry produces wonderful articles - "The Alexandria Papers" - on life, art and the writer's craft. And she is lovely too! http://www.alexandriaconstantinovaszeman.com/Blog.php






Friday, November 30, 2012

The Liebster Award


Oh, that's just great!

I've been nominated for the Liebster Award by Seumas Gallacher. Thanks Seumas, just what I needed when I'm trying to get some damn writing done!

Here are the rules:
When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
Pass the award onto 11 other blogs (while making sure you notify the blogger that you nominated them!)
You write up 11 NEW questions directed towards YOUR nominees.
You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated your own blog!
You paste the award picture into your blog. (You can Google the image, there are plenty of them!)

11 random facts about John Dolan:

1. I was born at a very young age and have increased considerably in size since then. My mother is relieved it's worked this way round.
2. I am a qualified hypnotherapist, so you shouldn't look into my eyes for too long if you are an attractive young woman. If you're an ugly bloke you have nothing to worry about.
3. I was (briefly) the warm-up act for a local rock band in the UK.
4. My wife is a saint, or near enough.
5. I once performed live on BBC Radio. I never got asked back.
6. I am not a member of the mile-high club, although I continue to live in hope.
7. I have a brother who is nowhere near as handsome as I am, in spite of being 8 years younger.
8. I have played the part of Hamlet on stage. Badly. (I was always better in pantomime)
9.  I used to be a karate instructor but gave it up because this 9-year-old kid used to kick the crap out of me.
10. Football-wise I support Sunderland. This have given me a great ability to withstand life's disappointments, since with my team every season is a disappointment (except for 1972-3 when we won the FA Cup).
11. My nickname at school was "Donut".

Questions from Seumas:

What's your earliest recollection of anything?
Falling down a railway embankment.

How old were you when you were informed that Mister Claus may not be for real ? and how did you take it?
What? You are telling me that Father Christmas isn't real? Wait there while I jump off this high ledge.

What was the first book that you absolutely hated?
101 Reasons Why Sex Before Marriage Is A Bad Idea.

Money or Love?
Love. Preferably with an 88-year-old billionairess with no heirs and a heart condition.

Fantasy holiday destination?
Megan Fox's bedroom.

First kiss?
Oh God, I can't remember. It was definitely with a girl though.

Favourite funny person?
Whichever politician is giving a speech at the time. You have to laugh, right?

What kind of music, if any, makes you cry?
Some of the songs of Tracey Chapman and Joan Armatrading.

If you could remove any three letters from the alphabet what would they be, and why?
HIV - it should be obvious why.

Favourite animal/pet?
Elephant. I forget why.

If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to ?
"Scoundrel" has a ring to it, I think. "Cad" is a bit short.


Here are my 11 questions for my nominees:

1. What is the worst present you have ever received?
2. If you were going to throw someone out of an aeroplane who would it be?
3. What is the most embarrassing thing you've ever worn?
4. If you could have been the writer of any song, which song would it be?
5. If you weren't doing what you are doing, what would you be doing?
6. How long can you hold your breath for?
7. If you had to have a tattoo what would it be and where would it be on your body?
8. Apple or Microsoft?
9. If you could remove one country from the planet which one would it be?
10. Which extinct animal would you like to see not-extinct?
11. Which movie is most likely to make you blub?

My nominees are Joanne Phillips, Marny Copal, Soraya Bakhbakhi, Dionne Lister, Jan Berghoef, Pamela Sutherland, Eden Baylee, Billy Ray Chitwood, Charity Parkerson, Michelle Browne, Meredith Lorimar.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

London


No sun, no smiles, November.

It’s either November in London or I’m on the set of ‘The Walking Dead’.

Most people I encounter look so damn miserable. However, being a Brit, I understand the cause. It is on account of The Weather.

The Weather is the eponymous British topic. People may be killing each other in Syria, we may be on a countdown to Armageddon, but The Weather will always take top billing. It is the reason why British marriages are unhappy, why we lost the Empire and why our teenage children are a nightmare. We forget that without The Weather the Spanish Armada would probably have succeeded in its goal and the British Isles would now be living on a staple diet of paella and sangria.

Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad now I come to think of it.

Well, London hasn’t really changed that much since my last visit here in 1666 when the bubonic plague victims were piled high in the streets. True, there weren’t any Starbucks outlets in those days, but there were people emptying chamber-pots out of upstairs windows which, metaphorically speaking, is the modern equivalent.

Sometimes it’s tough being an immortal. You always seem to remember the bad times.

Anyway.

The Christmas bulbs are all a-twinkling along Oxford Street. Bizarrely, there are huge golden MARMITE advertisements strung across the thoroughfare (as if life wasn’t bad enough). Regents Street is hung with the Twelve Days of Christmas lights, and there are a few True Loves wandering its length gazing moodily into each other’s eyes. Just wait until the smelly nappies arrive, that’s all I can say.

The statue of Eros is surrounded by some as-yet-to-be-determined hoardings.

Soho is as depressing as ever.

Christmas? Bah, humbug.

(I think Scrooge got a bad press. And I always had the desire to kick away Tiny Tim’s crutches. He used to irritate the crap out of me)

Nevertheless the posh shops still have tourists in them. They look Russian to me. After squeezing the economic life out of American visitors for the last few decades, we are now hosting Russians. They promise to be a tougher proposition. Some of them may even carry guns. And after a lifetime of Siberian winters I don’t suppose they are going to be intimidated by The Weather. They’re not Spanish after all.

Yet in spite of my best efforts at grumpiness, the architecture of the old Capital still exercises a pull; still brings an ache to the heart. I have the feeling that at some level this is still “home” despite my terrestrial wanderings and my fondness for the warmth and exoticism of South East Asia.

I stand upon Westminster Bridge. It is dark. A chilled memory of history climbs noiselessly over the parapet and fixes itself in my mind; inculcates itself beneath my protective layers. Below me, the Thames flows sluggishly and reluctantly towards the sea.

Perhaps Wordsworth was right. I've never thought so before, but perhaps he was. Perhaps Earth indeed has not anything to show more fair.

I turn away from the river and look up at a night sky heavy with cloud.

I adjust my scarf and put my hands back in my pockets.

It is time to leave.



Thursday, November 22, 2012

JD's Review of 'Mama's Madness' by Billy Ray Chitwood


"COMPELLING AND DISTURBING"

Billy Ray Chitwood’s novel ‘Mama’s Madness’ is a real find.

While many Indie authors follow well-trodden paths of ‘popular genres’, Chitwood’s work cuts its own route through the underclass wilderness of modern America. Based on real-life events – but fictionalised in the telling – Chitwood’s story is by turns compelling and disturbing.

The central character, Tamatha Preen, is a monster for our time. Inhabiting her own self-centred and embittered world she inflicts psychological and physical damage on her daughters while keeping her sons cowed by alternating violence with affection.

Chitwood has an authentic voice articulating the world of the grifter and petty criminal hovering at the margins of society. The writing is gritty, laying bare the animal beneath the thin veneer of civilisation. Child abuse, theft, deception and murder all feature in a heady cocktail of corrupted morality – yet these topics are handled without sensationalism, and at times the novel has an almost journalistic feel to it.

This is a brave book, swimming against the tide of literary popcorn, and it deserves a wide readership.


You can find out more about Billy Ray Chitwood at http://billyraychitwood.weebly.com/


Thursday, November 15, 2012

JD's Review of 'A Life Unpredicted' by Joanne Phillips


This is an elegantly-written collection of short stories by Joanne Phillips, best-selling author of 'Can’t Live Without’.

The stories pull at the emotions but without undue sentimentality. Ms Phillips engages her reader without the angst-ridden accretions which cluster around so much of today’s writing on matters of the heart. Instead she leaves her reader to draw their own conclusions. Her characters are quickly and deftly drawn, and she proceeds without ado straight to the nub of matters.

I detected a unifying theme around the tales: one of loss. Whether it is the loss of a loved one (‘A Life Unpredicted’ and ‘A Careful Man’), loss of perspective (‘Joy’ and ‘So Many Children’), loss of a relationship (‘No Matter What’, ’One to Keep’and ‘Dear Jean’), the writer mines deep feelings while herself maintaining a sense of detachment. It is interesting to note that her full-length novel – the first three chapters of which are included with this collection – begins with the main protagonist losing her home in a fire. The tales are not, however, morose. Far from it.

Ms Phillips’ writing is spare and direct, with scarcely a word wasted. This is just how short pieces should be written, in my not-so-humble opinion.

I enjoyed ‘A Life Unpredicted’. The only question for me now is: Can a guy raised in the North East of England bring himself to read Ms Phillips’ chick lit novel? Hmmn. I did enjoy the first three chapters ...


A Life Unpredicted and other stories
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009LI9AW6



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Talk to the Hat: Charles Wells


JD  My guest today sitting in the chair is Charles Wells, author of the ‘Whispering Pines’ mystery series. Hi, Charles, and welcome to the Dubai dungeon.

The Guest's Chair
CW  “Welcome”? I get off the plane and this weird-looking thing hog ties me and tosses me into the back of an unmarked van. And have you noticed that nobody around here speaks English?

JD  I have. And the van, that’s part of our security procedures. Along with the chloroform.

CW  And what IS that thing, anyway?

JD  Oh, don’t mind Digby. That's the lab experiment with the mongoose brain that Travis Luedke met while he was here.

CW  That’s Digby? I thought it was Travis Luedke after being exposed to your interview.

JD  No, it's Digby although he doesn’t have the mongoose brain at the moment. Travis took that.

CW  Whose brain does Digby have then? ... Travis’ brain?

JD  He didn’t seem to be using it, so yes.

CW  How’s that working out?

JD  Digby keeps biting things and trying to hump the furniture, but otherwise OK.

CW  Yeah, my brother-in-law gets drunk and does that a lot.

JD  How was your flight over from Atlanta?

CW  It wasn't too bad. As we were taking off I thought I saw several parts of the plane falling away but we were airborne and all seemed okay, so I went to sleep. About a half hour later, the flight attendant woke me up and said, "The pilot and crew are the last ones to leave the plane." I asked, "Why are you waking me up to tell me this?"  She said, "Because they jumped ten minutes ago."

JD  Interesting, Charles. Unbelievable of course, but interesting. Now let’s move on to more literary topics. Like your writing, for example. By the way, do you find your deafness is a handicap in being a writer?

CW  Huh? What?

JD  I said ... oh, yes, very funny, Charles. Hilarious. Laugh at this.

CW  Hey! This dang chair just shocked the crap out of me! That really hurts.

JD  It’s meant to. It’s an electric chair. God, you Americans are slow sometimes. Tell me about your deafness.

CW  I'm deaf?  Oh my God, when did this happen?

(electricity arcing sounds)

CW  Okay, uh, let me think a second. (extended silence)

(electricity arcing sounds)

Charles looking his best
CW  The one misconception about being deaf is that all deaf people hear nothing but silence, which is hog wash. I'm nerve deaf which means I hear fingernails raking down a chalkboard 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In the days before I received this Cochlear Implant unit, my writing distracted me from all that commotion in my head, probably saved my life because many people with this problem can't sleep for days at a time.

JD  I'm sure Digby could let you have his ears if you like.

CW  Uh, no, that's okay. Actually, I'm no longer considered totally deaf thanks to a group of Australian doctors working over the last 50 plus years to make deafness a thing of the past. They designed the "Cochlear Implant" I just mentioned and then started looking for human guinea pigs to test it. When the Aussies backed off, they turned to the folks in the USA. So in 1987 the FDA (Food and Drug association in the United States) cleared them to do the first 22 channel implants and ensuing clinical trials on 500 deaf patients. I was number 105 at the time. Today, I'm told that I could be the longest running 22 channel Cochlear implant unit on earth.

JD  It's amazing actually that ears as large as yours don't work.

CW  Oh they work great for holding my glasses on my face and in a jam, they make good pencil holders.

JD  You spent most of your career in journalism, I believe, Charles. So did you spend a lot of time hanging around outside bedroom windows trying to take incriminating photographs?

CW  That's where you and I first met, I believe. Wasn't that you next to me outside the Watergate Hotel in DC back in 1972?

JD  Of course not, I wasn't even born in 1972.

CW  Then you’ve got a twin. Maybe even two.

JD  What’s your favourite vegetable?

CW  (Awkward and silent pause)

JD  Okay, I was thinking about bedrooms and then vegetables just suddenly popped into my mind.

CW  Let's keep this rated PG if possible. What did Digby say was his favourite vegetable?

JD  A pumpkin.

CW  Pumpkin’s a fruit, not a vegetable.

JD  Did I mention that Travis and Digby switched brains?

Book 1 of the series
CW  (Long pause) If you must know, I like purple hull peas. I grew up planting, picking, and eating them. They are tough to beat for taste and are good for you. I also like apples.

JD  Apples are a fruit, not a vegetable.

CW  Let's not haggle over moot issues.

JD  Fair enough. What was your most memorable experience as a journalist?

CW  We gone back to that now? You jump about a bit.

JD  Yeah, and you’ll be jumping about a bit if you don’t answer the question.

CW  I think if one were to put a highlight on my career in news then 9/11 would be the worst day of my life and yet the best as well.  I was on duty in the MSNBC/ Don Imus internet chat rooms when the first plane hit the towers. At the time I was in charge of both Imus chat and MSNBC News chat as well.  Fortunately, one of the people in the chat was a regular visitor and retired Navy Fighter Pilot. (F4 off Navy Carriers) I sent him a private message asking if he thought the first crash was an accident. I mean, clear day, no reason for a giant airplane to run into the building by accident. His response was, "Oh hell no. That can't be an accident." I called my boss who lived 4 blocks away from the World Trade Center and asked for additional help running the chats because I was sure that all hell was about to break loose. When the second plane struck, it did break loose and I found myself in charge of 2500 chatters (and growing fast). Many months after that nightmare, I was given several awards and citations for my work that day and the article I wrote about it was nominated for several prestigious awards as well. I was proud of how the visitors to those chats stayed cool enough to be dealt with by one set of eyes and computer. Soon enough my co-workers arrived and the rest is history for NBC.

JD  Tell me about the ‘Whispering Pines’ thriller/mystery series. You’ve now written ... nine books, is that right?

CW  Nine published and book ten is in edit mode as we speak.

 JD  Where did the idea for the series come from?

CW  The initial Book 1 idea came from my experience trying to save a 140-year-old family cemetery from destruction from a land greedy rich family. (This is no joke) While writing Book 1 I realized there were too many sub plots involved so I ripped those out and they became Book 2. Same thing happened with that book and the spill over became Book 3 ... right on down the line to 10. Book 11 is in first draft and yes, it's an assortment of plots from Books 9 and 10 that made those books too large.

JD  I really enjoyed the first book in the series. The opening chapter was a real belter. After that I was hooked. I’m not going to do a spoiler here, but it was pretty gripping.

CW  Thanks. You said that exactly as I wrote it.

JD  That will be $25.

CW  Well worth it.

Coming January 2013
JD  Alternatively, you can just send me the second book. I will work my way through the series in time, as I know lots of your fans are doing. Are any of the characters based on real people? (Whispers) Well, I know we’re not supposed to say that, but say it anyway.

CW  Every character has a real person behind it. A few of them have several characters melded into one person. The two brothers, Matt and Chuck Veal, are based on me and my three brothers and friends. All are high moral good ole' southern folks.

JD  “Catfish” was my favourite character. I’m guessing he turns up again?

CW  Catfish is more well liked than Festus in the old US TV western series, "Gunsmoke." He's in Book 1 and he is in the draft of Book 11 as we speak.

JD  I know you also do cartoons, don’t you, you sly old dog. What’s that about?

CW  I love to make people smile and laugh. On Twitter I'm considered the village idiot of sorts as you well know. I worked a few years with a small TV station here in my home town and Talk Show Cartoons is a spin off from that experience. I give them away because I enjoy making folks laugh.

 JD  Now is there any more outrageous self-promotion you’d like to do while you’re here?

CW  Naw, I think I’m done.

JD  OK, I’ll get Digby to unstrap you. Where is he? Digby! Digby! Stop doing that to the furniture!

CW  Ugh. That’s gonna leave a stain.

JD  Yeah. Tell you what, you can take Travis’ brain back to the US with you. I’ve got a jiffy bag somewhere. I think I prefer Digby with the mongoose brain.

CW  I know the mongoose would appreciate getting the higher IQ back.



You can learn more about Charles Wells and his writing by clicking on the links below.

Book One in Charles' suspense/thriller series ('The Beginning') is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk ... and it's currently FREE on Smashwords!


If you've read 'The Beginning' (and if not, WHY NOT? Go get it now!), how would you like a FREE copy of Book Two, 'The Revenge'? Then go to Smashwords any time on 9-12 November by clicking HERE  When you BUY, enter Coupon code XG25G and IT'S FREE! Choose your preferred file format, download and start reading.

Book Ten in the 'Whispering Pines' series - 'Demon and the Dog' - will be published by Wellston Publishing in January 2013.

Amazon US    http://www.amazon.com/Charles-Wells/e/B003U4XOOC/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Goodreads     http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4100418.Charles_E_Wells
Smashwords   https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/ChasW
Website & Blog    http://www.wellstonpublishing.com/
Twitter            https://twitter.com/Charles_E_Wells  or  @Charles_E_Wells


Friday, November 2, 2012

Talk to the Hat: Travis Luedke


JD  Our guest today is Travis Luedke, author of ‘The Nightlife: New York’. Hi Travis, welcome to our Dubai dungeon.

TL  Thanks, John. Can I ask is it strictly necessary for me to be strapped to this chair?

JD  Yes, sorry Travis, health and safety and all that.

TL  It’s not really connected to the mains electricity though, is it?

JD  Well, let’s test it. Let me press this button.

TL  Ouch!

JD  Yes, it is. Don’t worry, I’ve got the voltage turned down low. At least for the moment.

TL  That’s comforting.

JD  I think this is your first trip to Dubai. So, what do you think of our dungeon?

TL  It’s a bit dank.

JD  I thought you would appreciate that. Your being a creature of the night and so forth.

TL  I’m not a vampire.

JD  No?

TL  No, I just write about them.

JD  You look a bit like a vampire.

TL  No I don’t. I have a Texas tan. Ouch! That hurt!

JD  I turned it up a tad. We’ll get along a lot better if you don’t disagree with me. So, Travis, you’re a vampire?

TL  (Pause) Yes.

JD  Glad we got that cleared up. Now, your first book in ‘The Nightlife’ series was set in New York. What was the reason for that?

TL  When I began this series, I envisioned vampires traveling from one metropolitan area to another, seasonal nomads.  They weave in and out of all those shady elements of the nightlife, feeding off the masses in nightclubs, playing the ‘prostitute’ role at times.  These creatures thrive off their anonymity among the masses.  The New York nightlife corruption is the perfect feeding ground.  And it would’ve been hard to pull off these things in a small town.

JD  I enjoyed the book, as you’ll know from my review. But I’m curious as to why you decided to make the female vampire, Michelle, French. The French eat a lot of garlic, right? A bit dodgy for a vampire, I’d have thought.

TL  I was originally inspired by two novels by Stephen Clarke, ‘A Year in the Merde’, and ‘Merde Actually’.  Both were riotously funny.  Clarke speaks of his personal experiences as an Englishman trying to function in the corporate maze of Paris.  He dates several Parisian ladies while bumbling through an attempt to launch a British tea parlour business.  His discovery of French culture and women inspired me to create ‘Michelle’.  I also happen to love that particular song by the Beatles, ‘Michelle, ma belle …’ (I feel a film soundtrack coming on).
And so began my research into French language, lifestyle, culture, thought processes.  Michelle, on occasion, has been known to cuss like a sailor, in French.  I must confess, I thoroughly enjoyed learning those phrases.  I find it’s enlightening and even useful to cuss fluently in multiple languages, especially if you’re in jail, or a dungeon in Dubai.  Perhaps I’ll pick up a few more choice phrases down here.

JD  That’s highly probable. Now, your concept of vampires is not about reanimated dead people.  Why didn’t you go with the coffins and graveyard stuff?

TL  Undead, fundead, redead, all that’s been done to death, and it kinda bores me to death.  I thought a more realistic take on this scenario was something viral, and yet not documented or understood by modern medicine.
What we discover is that Michelle feeds her blood to Aaron, and in doing so, passes on the blood-borne pathogen making him what she is, a vampire.  A whole mess of unintended consequences follows her act of compassion.  There’s a deeply intimate psychic bonding between them creating a Master/Slave kind of relationship.  She can literally order him to act involuntarily.  She enjoys that a little too much.
The ‘undead’ thing is a common mistaken assumption made back in the day because of certain unique characteristics of their physiologies.  These creatures are very much alive.  Strength, speed of movement, the five senses, all greatly enhanced.  They regenerate rapidly from injury.  The downside?  Extreme photosensitivity.  They sleep like the dead all day, comatose, hence the ‘undead’ rumours and propaganda.

JD  OK, I get it. And Book Two in the series is set in Las Vegas. That’s just coming out now, right? I presume it continues the adventures of Aaron and Michelle, the paranormal romance at the heart of the first book?

TL  Yes and no.  Did I mention this is a paranormal romance, urban fantasy, suspense, thriller with a splash of erotica?  A little cross-genre zig-zag.

JD  You didn’t, but you have now.

TL  Vegas is a fairly wild romp compared to New York.  Our odd couple are together, happy, still very much in love, but there’s a third element introduced, as Michelle calls it, ‘un ménage a trois’.  They decide to bring the food home with them, adopting a pet.  Their pet, Anastasia, has a laundry list of personal issues.  This is partly her story, how she sees and interacts with Aaron and Michelle in their love-triangle thing.
Without divulging too much of a spoiler, here’s a quick rundown:  strippers, gambling, drugs, mafia, Columbian Cartels, Jell-O wrestling, death, murder, mutilation, mayhem and sex aplenty.  The Nightlife Las Vegas begs the question:  What happens when vampires use heroin?

JD   And where else in the world is the series going?

TL  After Vegas we move on to Paris, to learn the truth of Michelle’s dark past, and to face further consequences of their actions in Vegas.  They were followed by a private investigator as they fled the US.  Paris brings a drastic change to Aaron and Michelle’s relationship.  A new power player comes along, this fallen angel sinks her fangs into Aaron and won’t let go.
Next we move on to London, where Aaron and Michelle are forced into an unlikely union with a pair of not-quite-human Interpol agents.  They must work together to track down another vampire who’s been extra naughty, robbing banks and stuff.  The group doesn’t mesh well, but they team up in the final face-off.  Our fallen angel from Paris begins to show her true colours as she pulls strings, manipulating Aaron and events to suit her own agenda.
And from there I have plans for Moscow and Hong Kong.  We all know how wild the nightlife can be in those places.
I have two standalone novels coming soon as well.  They are not exactly in ‘the Nightlife Series’.  The first, coming out in January, is called ‘Bloodslave’ and another one planned for mid to late 2013, ‘The Nightlife San Antonio’.  These novels have no connection to Aaron or Michelle, but the underlying premise and vampiric lifestyle is more or less the same.  I am building off the unique mythology created in ‘The Nightlife’ series.

JD  I’d describe some of your writing as hovering on the edge of erotica, but without actually tipping over into it.  Is that fair?

TL  Are you going to electrocute me again if I disagree?

JD  Depends how much you disagree.

TL  My diplomacy is put to the test.  Okay, here we go. In 'New York', I skated the edge of erotica.  From Vegas on, it’s debatable whether or not I’m writing erotica.  My thoughts on the subject:  “Write it dirty, edit out the anatomical references, and call it romance.”

JD  But there IS some shagging in ‘The Nightlife: Las Vegas’, right?

TL  Shagging galore.  They shag till they can’t walk.  Seriously.

JD  Great. Sounds like my kind of book. And it will be available as an ebook soon, where exactly?

TL  Amazon and Smashwords initially.  As soon as Smashwords gets off their duff to do their job, it should be available in Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Diesel etc.

JD  OK, I think we’re done. Digby, you can unstrap Mr Luedke.

TL  (Looking at Digby) Is this thing human?

JD  Most of him is. I’m experimenting with different brains. He currently has the brain of a mongoose.

TL  Sounds like this girl I once dated.  Where’s his original brain?

JD  In a jar on my desk.

TL  Nice.

JD  Let me show you Dubai. I’m afraid the beer is rather expensive here, but I’m not worried about that because you’re buying.

TL  Gee, thanks.  I was hoping your henchman with the mongoose brain might foot the bill.
Hey, while we’re at it, you think we can check out some of the local cathouses?  Do some hands-on research for ‘The Nightlife: Dubai’?

JD  Don’t see why not. Although I think they’re called ‘camelhouses’ here. That’s probably indicative of the quality of services offered. And in the interests of accuracy – because our wives will probably be reading this – we’re only going there for research purposes, right?

TL  Yeah, right.

JD  Why are you smiling?

TL  For the same reason you’re crossing your fingers.

JD  I love mendacity.

TL  Me too. I’ll get my jacket.

JD  And you’re sure you’ll be alright in the sunlight?


You can learn more about Travis Luedke and his writings by clicking on the links below. Note the first book in 'The Nightlife' series, 'New York', is currently available FREE at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

Amazon US     http://www.amazon.com/Travis-Luedke/e/B00911L5PS/
Amazon UK      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Travis-Luedke/e/B00911L5PS/
Blog     http://thenightlifeseries.blogspot.com/
Website     http://www.twluedke.com/
Twitter             https://twitter.com/TWLuedke or @TWLuedke
Facebook     http://www.facebook.com/TWLuedke
Wattpad     http://www.wattpad.com/user/TWLuedke
Goodreads     http://www.goodreads.com/TWLuedke
Email             twluedke@gmail.com

Sunday, October 28, 2012

JD's Review of 'The Kommandant's Mistress' by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman


Human, Frighteningly Human

Many books have been written about the Holocaust and there is a danger that at some point desensitisation sets in. But not with this work.

The structure of the novel is unconventional and the narrative flows back and forward over time without any break in the stream of consciousness of the two central characters.

The writing has a ‘European’ feel to it, and stylistically the book read to me like a concatenation of Sartre’s Roads to Freedom and Camus’ The Fall.

At the heart of The Kommandant’s Mistress is the relationship between Maximilian Ernst von Walther, the officer in charge of a World War II extermination camp and Rachel, a young Jewish woman selected by the German to gratify his baser instincts. Along the way Alexandria Szeman explores the hysteria of Nazism and peels back the layers of the phenomenon that turned ordinary people into murderous and inhuman fanatics.

The writing is brutal and unsentimental. Rachel’s humiliations and abuses are described with forensic objectivity, but so is the Kommandant’s moral disintegration and self-delusion. Even the most evil acts are balanced with an underlying sense of human anguish. Scenes of domesticity are set alongside horrific portrayals of degeneracy. In places, Szeman’s detachment is both terrifying and moving at the same time.

A sense of moral ambiguity permeates the book so thoroughly that even the ending is ambivalent, and the reader is left with choosing for himself what is ‘true’ from the different viewpoints presented. Von Walther is monstrous, certainly, but he is not an alien monster, and it says much for Szeman’s skill that there are times when one feels genuine sympathy for him.

The Kommandant’s Mistress is not an easy book, but it most certainly a worthwhile one. For this reason, it gets my vote as the best work of fiction I have read this year.



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Madrid


Madrid in mid-October.

The first thing I notice is not the landscape or the architecture. The first thing I notice is that I’m shivering.

I’ve not spent much time in Europe during autumn and winter in recent years, and I think my blood must have thinned. It can’t be that I’m getting older; that just can’t be the explanation.

However, like all of life’s drawbacks, cold weather has its consolations. In this case, the consolation comes in the form of women’s boots. Having spent almost five years seeing females clad almost exclusively in flip-flops, the sight of fashionable ladies in black knee-length boots evokes feelings not unlike those of listening to the music that so enthralled me as a teenager.

I digress.

Old and Impressive
Despite the Euro crisis and Spain’s unenviable position at the cliff edge of socio-economic disaster, Madrid still feels (at least to the short-term visitor) like a city that’s still got it. And by it, I mean style. By the bucketload. The city yet throngs with fashionistas, the buildings – old or modern – still look cool – and the parks remain immaculately groomed. The ambience of good food and expensive wine and the tactile atmosphere of the pavement cafes feel intact.

I have recently read alarmist reports on the internet of rising crime in the Spanish capital. I can’t say I felt particularly threatened or apprehensive during my time there. No more so than anytime I’m in any large Western city, anyway.

Modern and Surreal
Although Madrid is a major city it is also, in some ways, a small one. It is entirely feasible to walk to many of its major attractions without the need to resort to expensive taxis. So grab yourself a tourist map and see the magnificence of the Royal Palace, the Sabatini Gardens and the bustling Plaza de Cibeles overlooked by the colossal Palacio de Comunicaciones (Communications Palace). Take in the enormous Puerta de Alcalá, an ancient city gateway sculpted from granite. And of course you must catch the Prado Museum and the botanical gardens next door.

Just don’t catch what I did.

A cold.

If you’re going this time of the year, wrap up warm. And ladies, wear boots. If you don’t mind.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Some Life Epigrams


There must be something to reincarnation. I can’t have got this depraved in a single lifetime.

Most people are so concerned about life after death that they don’t notice they have no life before death.

I have a picture in the attic like Dorian Gray. The only difference is my portrait gets younger while I get older.

One of the hallmarks of a wasted life is excessive virginity.

Sadness is happiness without the good bits.

If I live to be a hundred will I know it?

I think I will still want women when I’m eighty, but I’ll have forgotten why.

Death is Nature’s way of saying, “I’ve had enough of you.”

One of the consolations of being older is that people mistake you for a grown-up.



Sunday, October 14, 2012

Portrait of an OCD Sufferer


If you want to know how I feel, most of the time I just feel irritated.

Like time is being wasted, like things are not happening quickly enough. The minute hand on my watch drives me, not the hour hand, certainly not the day of the week or the month. I count seconds in my head in the lift, going up staircases, on walking journeys from one building to another. I want people to be more brief, to get to the point. I just want them to shut up, stop elaborating, give me a 'yes' or a 'no'. I want to finish their sentences for them. I have urges to answer my own questions, then say to them, “Is that right? Just nod or shake your head. No need to open your mouth.”

If I drank instant coffee, or took sugar I would, like Prufrock, measure out my life in coffee spoons.

When I read a book, I take note of the page numbers and compute the percentage I have covered. My brain is a jumble of geometry and mathematics, angles, perspectives, decimals. Equations and chaotic fractals bubble up constantly into my consciousness. Nothing is ever still. Everything erodes, cascades, reforms, reinvents itself under the ceaseless assaults of mutating arithmetic forms. My world comprises circles, arcs, lines, squares, arrows, Mandelbrot sets and intersections. I see the structure below the surface, the skull beneath the skin. My fingernails and surrounding epidermis are chewed down, ceaselessly ripped by computing teeth. My fingertips tap out multiples of even numbers, countdowns, primes. People appear to me as transparent ciphers, puppets of passions and beliefs – and in consequence I cannot take anyone seriously, not even myself.

I am plagued by many 'whys', but no longer with the big whys. These days I am more interested in the questions that philosophers would find trivial. Put simply, philosophy no longer interests me, seems to me no more than an exercise in self-indulgence. In truth, some residues of ideas and attitude remain, but these ruined, decayed pillars can no longer support a superstructure of positive belief.

I am like the driver of a runaway train who realises he has lost control, but no longer cares. I observe the screaming passengers impassively, feel the rushing air on my face and raise my arms to the sky. The event horizon approaches, the ultimate quadratic equation, and the numbers finally resolve themselves into an oblivion of zero; substituting life for death.

At last, it will all make sense.


JD's Review of 'Perfection Unleashed' (The Double Helix Series) by Jade Kerrion


Frankenstein Meets Richard Dawkins, With Guns

Jade Kerrion’s dystopian Science Fiction series ‘Double Helix’ gets off to a cracking start with ‘Perfection Unleashed’. The book fizzes with ideas and reads like the draft of a movie script (which I guess is what Kerrion is aiming for).

Set in the not-too-distant future – and quite when is not made clear – the author portrays an Earth where both natural and man-made mutations compete for supremacy with humans. Humans don’t necessarily come out of this terribly well, and realizing they are about to lose their perch at the top of the food chain, some of them organize the Purest Humanity cult whose first goal is to destroy the artificially-created ‘perfect being’, known as Galahad.

Without getting into spoiler territory here, there are interconnections of family and friendship which straddle the human-mutant-clone-invitrio fault lines of hatred and prejudice.

Kerrion has crammed a whole host of assorted characters into her novel, creating multiple story-lines and setting up the appropriate hooks for future books in the series. The practical effect of this is that the characters are of necessity somewhat sketchily drawn, with a couple hovering on the edge of caricature, defined solely by a single emotion or intention. But putting this aside – along with a couple of slightly dodgy bits of motivating psychology – this is a compelling broth of action and science, lightly flavoured with some cross-species love interests.

‘Perfection Unleashed’ is a pacey read, with chase scenes, battles, Mexican stand-offs, and a fair amount of death, destruction and chaos along the way. Kerrion doesn’t waste much time on descriptive passages, and in the midst of the rapidly-unfolding plot(s), some of the dialogue sections felt a bit forced and overly-reflective to this reader.

I suspect, however, the author is only just getting into her stride.

I’ll be interested to see where Ms Kerrion takes things in her next books, two of which are scheduled for release in December 2012.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dubai

The Road Less Travelled does not go through Dubai.

Dubai? Do buy.

This is a place for making money and for spending it excessively. Go into a shop in one of the gigantic air-conditioned malls and the first thing the Filipina assistant will ask you is, "Which brand are you looking for, sir?"

"Well, actually I was looking for a good quality linen shirt. Preferably one that doesn't have some damn logo on the front."

Blank look.

"But which brand, sir?"

If you're like me and retail therapy does nothing for you, don't expect your jaded spirit to be revived here. This is a city for consumers.

As it is now
It is also a city with a huge immigrant workforce. Ninety per cent of the people who live here are ex pats, and over seventy per cent of those are from the Indian sub-continent - mainly working in the construction industry or driving taxis. For the Western ex pats, life is generally good, with high income-tax-free salaries. But there is a definite racial pecking-order. Remuneration policies reflect this, and if you have dark skin you might have trouble getting into some of the more upmarket nightclubs.

Conditions for some workers here are grim. Over the last few years the statistics show around 900 Indians a year die on construction sites building the Dubai Dream. It has been estimated recently that perhaps 20% of the world's cranes are in Dubai: in spite of the hiccup in 2007-8, the building madness has hardly paused. The epitome of this is the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest man-made structure on the planet. This place fosters excess and the flouting of achievement.

Coming soon to a shopping mall near you
Glass, concrete and steel dominate the landscape. Huge SUVs and sports cars cruise the busy highways. On the vacant lots and at the city's perimeters the desert encroaches stealthily; but saving its main assault for the day when the economics of energy and globalisation move their focus away from the Middle East.

When that time comes, the non-indigenous population will evaporate like oil fumes in a cracking tower. The huge skyscapers will empty, the malls will assume a less imposing and more post-apocalyptic look; and carried by the heated desert winds the sand will finally reclaim its own.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Talk to the Hat

Watch this space. Over the coming months I'll be conducting a series of interviews with some of the planet's finest Indie writers and seeing how much embarrassing personal stuff I can get out of them.

Scheduled victims already include:-

George Angus, author of Talkeetna Trouble

Charles E Wells, author of the Whispering Pines series

Travis Luedke, author of The Nightlife: New York


I am hoping to add some lady authors to this list shortly. I don't want to be spending my whole time talking to ugly blokes. That wouldn't be much fun.

STOP PRESS: Diane Strong, author of The Running Suspense series, has agreed to drop by for a chat. Better get some wine in. Maybe even some scented candles.