The Victorian Detective, by Alan Moss and Keith Skinner

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Another off the Christmas book pile, this time diving into non-fiction for a look at the Victorian Detective.

Sherlocks3

No, not that one.

Instead The Victorian Detective is a slim non-fiction volume looking at the rise of the police detective in Victorian Britain. There’s no doubt Alan Moss and Keith Skinner’s book is well-researched and fully sourced. The problem comes in if you’ve already read The Suspicion of Mr Whicher, which covers the same ground through the prism of a single case.

In attempting to avoid the grisly “true crime” style, this book skims over the cases themselves in favour of, well, HR updates on which station a detective is based in. Overall, it felt rather too dry.

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Longbourn, by Jo Baker

Thursday, 16 January 2014

My Christmas pile always brings much reading. Here it is:
Bookpile

First off the pile, so fast I’d read three chapters by Christmas lunchtime, was Longbourn by Jo Baker. This tells the story of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of Sarah, the head housemaid.

Except, wonderfully, it doesn’t. This tells the story of Sarah, and of her romances and follies, and the mistakes others make around her. That she happens to be a maid at Longbourn and subject to the whims and fancies of the Bennett girls is merely her lot in life.

Baker doesn’t attempt to copy Austen’s style, which made me instantly delighted. Her protagonists are different people, with a different way of speaking and thinking, so Sarah’s voice is – as it should be – totally different. The novel reminded me of both Wide Sargasso Sea, with its inversion of authorial focus, and the work of Sarah Waters, in the voice the author takes.

Of course, it helps if you know Pride and Prejudice. Unlike Death Comes to Pemberley, none of Austen’s characters are twisted to fit the narrative. Instead we get a different side to them. Mr Bennett loses some of the sympathy he normally gets, and Mrs Bennett gains some. Darcy becomes a force of nature and Wickham, well, none of the servants trust him.

Structurally, it’s split into three volumes, echoing the structure of early novels. I did feel the third volume, which goes into flashbacks by multiple characters, started rather more weakly than the other two but the narrative drive returns when we return to Sarah’s perspective.

This is a novel about choices, or lack of them. About making the best of your lot in life, or of throwing aside the rules. Of risking everything for romantic ideas rather or securing your future. It’s the perfect reflection of Austen’s novel and I recommend it.

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Let’s all meet up in the year 2000

Sunday, 5 January 2014

At the turn of the century, I used to make – and make was the word – a Tav’zine. Gratuitous Torso Moments (GTM) was billed as “for the fangrrl on the run” and contained many things that would only make sense to other regulars at the Fitzroy Tavern. I just found the originals for the Autumn 2000 edition. Here’s a photo of it.

GTM - autumn 2000

The I-Spy DW numberswiki.com

Authors on TV (a cut-out-and-keep guide) just made me laugh. Look at the inner pages in detail.

I-Spy

My suggestions include:

  • Russell T Davies… Doctor Who producer credit
  • Mark Gatiss…acting in other telefantasy/Bond
  • Stephen Moffat (sic)… any writer credit

I also rather mysteriously credit Matt Jones as a future Doctor Who producer. Given my RTD prediction (and Mark Gatiss’s Mycroft surely counts as both telefantasy and Bond?), maybe I should get down the bookies?

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Kitchener isn’t just a kitsch image

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Lord Kitchener, the soldier not the calypso star, is on the new £2 coin to mark the start of five years commemorating the First World War. You’ll recognise the image: a well-moustachioed man pointing out at you with the exhortation “Britain needs YOU”.

I do not want to use coins with Kitchener on, so I’ll be donating any I get to the Royal British Legion which is a charity set up to support the people whose lives were ruined by Kitchener’s call to action. Other people I know plan to give them to the Peace Union.

Why am I complaining about the use of Kitchener?
When war was declared in 1914, Kitchener was made Secretary of State for War and tasked with recruiting a volunteer army. In August and September 1914, 750,000 men volunteered. Eventually, over 8 million people fought for Britain from across the Empire, and over 995,000 of them died, in the First World War. Only 53 English villages, out of over 10,000 parishes, didn’t lose young men. Every village in Wales or Scotland lost at least one person. Over 1,663,000 people were wounded: maimed, gassed, or traumatised so badly the new term “shell shock” was created for them.

The image of Kitchener, now on our coins, first appeared on a magazine cover at the start of September 1914, in the peak of that initial recruitment. Kitchener supported the formation of “pals” units, where all the recruits from a village, factory or social organisation, were kept together. This led to horrors such as the fate of the Accrington Pals. Around 700 men from the Accrington (or neighbouring parishes) went into action act the first day of the Somme. Within half an hour 235 were killed and 350 were wounded.

Kitchener’s recruitment drive, as symbolised by that iconic image, fed over a million people into the killing machines.

Except the coin, when it rattles into your change at the supermarket or at the pub, won’t be in context. It’ll just be an image, divorced of meaning. Unless you read up on him, he’ll just be winner of the best ‘tashe contest. Unless your family’s oral history includes not only the trauma people went through on the front but the consequences when they came home, he’s just a bloke in a hat. So you may not see how utterly inappropriate it is to put that image – the image that beckoned a million men to vile deaths – on a coin to commemorate the dead.

Kitchener isn’t just a kitschy image. The campaign he led was what Wilfred Own called “the old lie”:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Kitchener also continued the use of concentration camps during the Boer War. He led the Battle of Omdurman where 10,000 Sudanese were killed compared to 47 British. He was, at least, a realist in that he predicted a long war in 1914. But he is not someone we should be celebrating.

Why donate to charity?

Initially, I planned to refuse the coins. Then I thought about the practicalities of that. Aside from holding up queues by demanding only £1 coins in my change, what would I do if an automatic till gave me one? I like £2 coins, too, because they are reassuringly chunky. So how could I rid myself of any Kitchener ones I get without spending them?

As a teen, I knew someone who had served in the Falklands. I saw the impact of shell shock on him, and on his family. The Legion was there to support them, as they have been there to support so many others over the decades. So this, then, is my response: to donate every Kitchener coin I get to them so they can provide support for current veterans of current wars.

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Warring States e-book now available with bonus material

Thursday, 5 September 2013

I may have come around to the idea of ebooks, due to getting an iPad. So when Lars Pearson of Mad Norwegian Press floated the idea of republishing my steampunk novel, Warring States, as an e-book, I agreed.

In fact, I agreed so much that I sent him some additional material to go in it. This includes:

  • eight pages of notes on where ideas came from, historical snippets, and some of the pop culture gags
  • a two page explanation of the jade casket and the paradox, which was written during the pitching process
  • a preview originally published in the back of Lance Parkin’s Warlords of Utopia
  • a short story originally published in the Mythmakers fanzine and set after the novel

I’d lost my original file of the last of those, and just had a scan from Philip Pursar-Hallard. The story is set in Phil’s City of the Saved. Lars has typed it back up so it can appear as an extra. It shows its age, as the Sherlock Holmes that appears in it is a TV version from before Sherlock started.

One of the benefits of e-books is that you can have links, so the eight pages of notes are filled with links to more information. So they form a slight insight into the sheer squirrelly way I work, grabbing mountains of information and creating links.

Faction Paradox: Warring States is available from today. I hope you enjoy it.


I understand it’ll appear on iBooks too at some point.

Mad Norwegian are also publishing the latest volumes of the About Time series on Doctor Who today. These are some of the most in-depth works on Doctor Who it is possible to find, and are written by someone I used to go drinking with. Recommended for any Who fan.

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Exe Libris Square

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Exeter Central Library, one of my favourite buildings, is going through a rebuild. As part of that, a scrubby bit of land in front of it is getting renamed as a Square.

Reflected Skies

Given the main public square is named after a bloke from the landed gentry who owned a lot of Exeter, I think this new square should be named after a woman of achievement connected to the city. Ideally one involved in improving literacy or advancing science. Doing that:
a) celebrates libraries as gateways to knowledge
b) celebrates knowledge as something that changes lives
c) highlights to girls and women that learning brings achievement and fame.

So, here are my top three candidates, in no specific order.

  • Rowling Square
    JK Rowling studied at Exeter University, and based Diagon Alley on Gandy Street (right next to the new Square). Whilst I’m not a fan of her writing, she has undoubtedly had an impact on children’s literacy. Her books also celebrate learning and libraries, so it’s a good fit.
     
  • Coade Square
    Eleanor Coade was a designer and industrial businesswoman in the 18th century. She successfully developed the type of artificial stone that is named after her, and successfully ran a business for 50 years. She was born in Exeter and lived here for her first 30 years.
     
  • Carpenter Square
    Mary Carpenter was a 19th century social reformer who campaigned for education, literacy and women’s suffrage and against slavery. She was born in Exeter, before moving to Bristol at about 10. Amongst other things, she founded a ragged school for the education of the poor.

Those are my preferred options. However, if we’re looking for any person of achievement who has connections to libraries and knowledge then there is also:

  • Babbage Square
    Charles Babbage is widely regarded as the father of computing. His work with his difference engine in the 19th century paved the way for Turing, Jobs and Berners-Lee. Given libraries are about access to knowledge, and now act as a means for people to access the internet, a connection to computers makes sense. His connection to Exeter is slight, having gone to a school in Alphington.
     
  • Bodley Square
    Thomas Bodley was an Elizabethan diplomat who founded the Bodleian Library in Oxford. He was born in Exeter.
     

This list came about in part from discussions on twitter, and how often I found myself citing these names as an alternative to Prince George Square.

Does the naming of a public space matter? Yes, undoubtedly. The name tells us what we value as a society. So we should pick a name that is aspirational and about the power of learning to transform lives. A name that shows what learning can achieve.

Have I missed anyone off the list?

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