Happy Family: bloggers’ reviews

Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 18.07.26Happy Family has completed its blog tour and the results are in. Huge thanks to all of the book bloggers, and to Anne Cater who arranged the tour.

Blog tour reviews:

You can read other reviews of Happy Family on Goodreads and Amazon – and if you have read the book, please leave a review too. They all help.

Happy reading.

 

Facebook school friends: let’s move on

Version 3I am in contact with only two of my schoolfriends. By contact, I mean we actually meet face to face – until the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown, that is. Now we Zoom/Houseparty/WhatsApp or whatever other App has become a verb.

Anyway, two out of about a hundred isn’t exactly a good social record, and I can’t say I haven’t sometimes wondered what happened to everyone else. Having more past than future can make one twitchy, like being the last one at a party and wondering where everyone else has gone.

And then, while I was swiping through newsfeeds and TikTok videos and articles on why I shouldn’t stare at my phone, I stumbled upon a Facebook group dedicated to my school’s alumni – and there they all were (well, most of them), my classmates: the good, the bad and the extremely naughty; all grown-up.

Judging by their posts, they haven’t aged at all – but the Facebook photographs suggest otherwise. We look like our parents and some of us look like our grandparents. Especially me. Gravity takes its toll and the weight of years has led to dodgy knees and bald heads – or is that just me again?

DEQIE7754I found myself reflecting on what life may have thrown at these once young, hopeful, excited people, some of whom I knew when I was five. Joining the dots between then and now is a sobering exercise in existentialism. Too sobering for a Friday evening. Hence the Gargle Blaster.

Not everyone in my year has joined the group and most of those who have, dip in and out. I didn’t join and I can’t explain why. Perhaps it’s the same reason we lost contact in the first place: the bonds aren’t strong enough. Or perhaps I’m just plain antisocial – which seems more likely. Interestingly, those with whom I have kept in touch don’t appear in the group either. I’m not sure what that says but I think it says something. Perhaps we died and no-one told us.

There are, however, a few who post comments all the time, feeding discussions of school memories with an enthusiastic regularity. The irony is I remember these people as being the keenest to leave school. I have a sneaking suspicion that a few might prefer who they once were to who they are now – or perhaps it’s vice-versa, they see a chance to rewrite history by replacing their old self with a modern version. Time, the great leveler. Be nice now and people might forget what an awful shit you once were. Top tip: that doesn’t work.

That’s a bit mean, but certainly friends I remember being pushed to the fringes of playground society are now in cheerful discourse with those who pushed them there. That’s good and long may it continue, but I wonder if this social re-balancing would last were we all to be physically reunited for more than a day or two. It’s hard to imagine Piggy sharing rose-tinted memories with Roger and Jack on their post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies Friends’ page. ‘Do you remember that lovely time you stole my glasses and then dropped a boulder on my head?’

Talking of Piggy, I was hoping to find some posts about me but disappointingly my name seldom crops up. I am so absent I had to check I actually went to that school. It seems I left little or no impression on anybody which is odd because I have a clear recollection of being extraordinarily popular. Too bad that’s a memory nobody else shares. Not even my friends.

However, other, darker, memories are posted. Complaints of casual racism, chronic bullying and punitive abuse by teachers. But just as casually, any attempt to discuss these traumas are closed down with comments such as ‘that was then and this is now’ and ‘it’s best to move on.’ Best for whom, one wonders? And move on to what? Voices unheard all those years ago remain unheard; the idyll is not to be broken. I am reminded that it is dangerous to be different. That is true now and it certainly was then.Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 12.24.37

And so the posts return to safer ground with questions such as ‘who was your favourite teacher’ and ‘what music did you dance to’. I liked to head-bang to progressive rock but that’s not something I’d want to share with the group. Or should. We all have our murky secrets.

I have a platonic relationship with the past. I don’t want to forget it but I also don’t want to relive it. I would jump at the chance to be sixteen again (knees permitting), but only if I could take my current mind with me. I suppose like most people I am trying to walk up Time’s down escalator.

And being social media migrants means we should be careful about getting too carried away in an online world. We might forget this jaunt down memory lane is in reality a public and open forum. Feelings can be hurt, confidences broken, libel laws breached. Worse still, we might encourage each other to wear cheesecloth again.

One day we will all know everything about everyone. There will be no secrets and the past will sit side-by-side with the present. Only the future will remain unknown and unknowable, as COVID-19 has demonstrated. But that’s how it should be. ‘That was then and this is now’ is indisputably true, but it’s tomorrow that interests me. Especially as I hope to be in it.

A few comments on your response to my complaint

From: James Ellis
To: <Customer Care>
Subject: Re:
Complaint – unused deposit taken [ref:_99DFT6200_gtDDS529:ref]
Date: 10 Mar 2020, at 08:27

Dear <Customer Care> – a few comments on your response to my complaint. From one writer to another.

Best,
James.
—————————–

From: <Customer Care>
To: James Ellis
Subject: Re:
Complaint – unused deposit taken [ref:_99DFT6200_gtDDS529:ref]

On 9 Mar 2020, at 15:03, <Customer Care>  wrote:

Hello James Ellis !

JE – An exclamation mark! Did you just leap out from somewhere? It does make it look as if my name has been automatically inserted, though. And seriously, neither of us are that excited. Go for a comma, or a full stop (period). Or even (heaven help us) a semicolon. Anything but an !

Thank you for contacting <Customer Care>.

JE – Well, that’s okay. But I would have preferred not to have had to. This is where you need to insert your apology.

The inconveniences you experienced are not acceptable to our standards.

JE – Nor mine. This is going really well. But it would have been better if you actually referred to my complaint here. Can you automate that in some way?

I want you to know that the comments and suggestions we receive are taken seriously.

JE – And I want you to know I expect nothing less. But strictly speaking, it’s neither a comment nor a suggestion. It’s a complaint because you have taken my money unnecessarily. And, in my opinion, the ‘I want you to know’ is too intense.

They tell us what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong and how we can improve.

JE – Yes, but it’s not all about you. It should also tell you I am dissatisfied. See above comment. This is now revealing itself as a generic response and the initial goodwill I had is receding. No mention of my specific complaint yet.

Your willingness to share your recent experience is genuinely appreciated.

JE – If you’re trying to mollify me, it’s coming across as me being patronised.

Please accept my sincere apologies.

JE – Hey, there it is. But it’s buried. This should be at the top of the email.

Be assured that any and all of the issues you’ve raised will be addressed, and that appropriate action will be taken. I have opened a Customer Service file, to document your comments, which will be reviewed by the department in charge to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.

JE – Great. This is what we want – some action. Please can I see your Customer Service File after it’s been reviewed so I can see how you will ensure this doesn’t happen again. That is, taking my money unnecessarily and the 5-10 working days to repay it. If I can’t see it, then you need to rethink the purpose of this paragraph. And I’d be careful using the word ‘ensure’. Someone might hold you to that.

If you should need any further assistance, please feel free to reach out to us again by replying to this email.

JE – See comments above. Hope they are of some help.

Kind regards,
eye

Cartoons

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s of the last century (oh that feels bad) I had a brief but rewarding period drawing cartoons for a magazine called the Freelance Informer. Sadly, that fine magazine for the IT contracting industry has long since published its final issue but it remains a treasured memory.

I drew six panel cartoons and five strip cartoons. They are dated – this was a time when desk top publishing (DTP) was a new thing, and ‘cutting and pasting’ still meant just that (I have kept my scalpel) – and, to be honest, they’re not that funny or even that good. This was never going to be a career because I can’t draw. But I was young and immortal and knew no better. And I liked them.

Looking at them now I’m struck by their innocent air and clean finish. I remember taking great pains to remove all the working lines. and simplify the outlines as much as possible. That minimalistic approach, the polishing to hide the hard work, rears its deceptive head in almost everything I do these days. Blame the 60’s and the cartoons of Hergé and Schulz and Mad magazine. I do.

Foolishly, I didn’t keep copies of the entire magazines, only the pages on which my work appeared – again, my youthful vanity – but I do know the volume and issue numbers, so if anybody is out there that knows the dates please do share them with me. Specifically, they are:

  • Volume 5 numbers 8, 11, 12, 14 and 15
  • Volume 6 numbers 18, 23 and 24
  • Volume 7 numbers 8 and 13

#AmBroadcasting

IMG_8374I had a great day today. Helen Ottaway, Karen Stewart and Sheila Hedges invited me to their On-Air Book Group and gave me the platform to discuss An Other’s Look and crowdfunding in general – and they gave a big shout-out for where to pledge. It was so enjoyable and I will definitely be listening to their book group next month.  Thanks to everyone at Frome FM for making me very welcome.

FromeFM is a Frome based non-profit community radio station run by Frome Community Productions CIC. Produced by over 100 members, it broadcasts new programmes every month online and on 96.6FM. FromeFM provides niche music programmes; Frome focussed debates and reportage; sustained support for and coverage of the work of community groups; and radio for children.

It’s just great.

Frome FM (96.6FM)

If you fancy some lunchtime conversation, tune into the Frome FM Book Club (96.6FM or online) on Friday, 27th April, at 1pm. I will be talking about An Other’s Look and how I came to write it.

I’m doubly excited about this because we’ll also be discussing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. My book in such exalted company!

The Wrong Story Blog Book Tour

The Wrong Story, is going on a blog book tour. Here’s the poster with its itinerary. I’ve asked it to send postcards. Do you think I should have a tour T-shirt made up?

The Wrong Story Blog Tour Poster

By the way, if you want to help its sibling to get out there and join it, there’s still time to pledge for An Other’s Look at https://unbound.com/books/an-others-look/

The Limehouse Golem review – a big helmet with lots of makeup – 3/5

The Limehouse Golem is a Ripperesque throat-slasher stuffed full of London fog, grubby horse-drawn coaches, grimy cockney characters and naïve prostitutes with dirt smeared on their faces. Was it ever clean in London?

It stars Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth, ably supported by a bald Eddie Marsan who steals scenes and Daniel Mays who wears a big helmet.

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina , based on the book by Peter Ackroyd, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and with a screenplay by Jane Goldman, the film is a convergence of two storylines: a series of explicitly gory and unsolved murders in olde London-town and the trial of a musical hall comedienne Lizzie Cree (Cooke) who is accused of murdering her failed playwright husband. Drawing these strands together is Inspector John Kildare (Nighy) and his sidekick, Constable George Flood (Mays).

Plot-wise, the requisite twists, turns and red herrings of any self-respecting whodunit are all in place, along with the bold device of the audience seeing each suspect in situ as the murderer, but what really keeps us guessing is how much was the makeup bill? Most of it is slapped on the musical hall mentor and star turn, Dan Leno (Booth), but there’s plenty left over for everybody else. My tip for any school-leaver is to forget university, get into the makeup supply business and win a contract for films based in Victorian London. You’ll be on velvet for the rest of your life.

For me, despite the calibre of the cast and crew, it’s the plot-driven narrative that is the film’s weakness (unless you like people being cut up with knives in which case it’s all great). Yes, it keeps us guessing but is that enough? I think it’s reasonable to expect more of the character-driven strands to be developed, such as Kildare’s past victimisation (just say he’s gay and be done with it) and his relationship with his sidekick Flood (just say he’s gay and be done with it), or the way in which the claustrophobic dynamics within the theatre’s ‘family’ worked. Otherwise, why mention them?

The characters are, with the notable exceptions of Lizzie Cree and Dan Leno, thinly drawn. I doubt Flood is meant to be a Watson to Kildare’s Holmes but even so, Daniel Mays must be wondering what is the point of his character other than to take the weight of his considerable headgear. Remove Constable Flood from the film and nothing changes. But it’s Inspector John Kildare who gets most of my sympathy. No DNA sampling, no crime scene forensics, no computers – and he’s being played by Bill Nighy.

Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are fascinating to watch on screen because they bring something of the human condition to their characters – but with Bill Nighy the acting is in what he doesn’t do – which is act. With Bill it’s all about the twitches, stares, stiff movements and The Face. The joy is watching Bill Nighy ‘be’. He is a character in his own right who simply has lots of different jobs: louche academic, resurgent pop singer, ageing lover and now a Victorian policeman, Inspector Bill Nighy.

As the credits rolled I was left with a feeling that the likes of TV’s Sherlock and Ripper Street have done this sort of thing to death, and done it well, and that this film needed to be something really special to justify its big screen status, something more than just a neat tale. Sadly, it’s not. I think more bald men and smaller helmets might be called for. And makeup. Lots more makeup.

Reviews and comments

Version 2One of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) is that once a book has been published, genuine reviews on book sites such as Amazon and Goodreads are like gold. If anyone has read The Wrong Story and liked it, a review on either of those sites would be hugely appreciated. Thank you! And to those that have already written reviews, huge thanks too. You can find out more about The Wrong Story and how to get hold of a copy by clicking here. And you can find it on Goodreads by  clicking here.