Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cant is my wont

This piece of nonsense first appeared in Column 8, a column that featured in the Dunedin Midweeker, and for which I wrote for five and half years in the 1990s. In spite of this piece's age, the problem of the apostrophe hasn't yet gone away.

In the latter days of the last World War, Lancelot Hogben published a series of books, Primers for the Age of Plenty: a fairly optimistic title considering that rationing still had a ways to go. Hogben and his writers looked towards a new world order in the basics of education. Mathematics for the Millions, Science for the Citizen, The Loom of Language, and History of the Homeland, would educate the masses. More than that, they aimed to simplify complex matters for the man in the street, (as he still was).

In The Loom of Language, author Frederick Bodmer writes about a matter that, fifty years later, still concerns letter writers to the Listener, and often concerns the Otago Daily Times' Prester John, that is, the misuse of the apostrophe. Bodmer's solution to the problem was radical. 'As much as I think the English language is the greatest, I wonder if it isn't time to take up the proposals made by language reformers such as Bishop Wilkins, George Dalgarno, H G Wells, G B Shaw' - and Bodner - 'and rid ourselves of something that is, after all, only a visual aspect of English.'

English as she is spoke doesn't contain a single apostrophe.

Apostrophes are completely silent partners when English flows from our mouths. Can you imagine the difficulty we'd have if we had to speak any of the apostrophised words I've already written?
Let(apostrophe)s face it, the apostrophe is atrophied, and it(apostrophe)s only because we are used to it(no-apostrophe)s appearance on the page that we consider it at all. If we've changed our laws to accommodate adultery, de facto relationships, illegitimacy and abortion, why are we still fussing about whether apostrophes have any validity?

It's plain that the majority of schoolteachers have either given up the battle to get apostrophes in their right places - or don't know the difference themselves. Consider the endless examples appearing in every sphere: "it's" when "its" is meant; shop's for two shops; CD's; tomatoe's (good grief).

The first example is the notorious one - I have a computer manual of some hundred pages of "it's" when they mean "its." (We could blame the spellchecker, except that it should recognize both forms.)

Is this battle worth fighting? Couldnt we read English perfectly well without apostrophes? Wouldnt we get used to their absence soon enough? (Did you?)

Banning the apostrophe entirely would ensure our eyes would at least cease to be offended by apostrophes in the wrong places. (These potatoe's wer'ent old, its obvious.)

And since we understand spoken language without apostrophes, how often would we get caught out by the written version? "My cant is my wont," would be acceptable with or without apostrophes, although it's a phrase we'd be fairly unlikely to find.

The possessive use of the apostrophe - "Jenny's department's dealings," or "Ruth's budget's bites," or "Winston's brother's voters' choice," - is an antique visual convention. None of these phrases, if we were to use them in speech, would lose their sense. (Since these phrases have political overtones, however, I'd prefer not to use them at all.)

If apostrophes are invisible in conversation, what do they add to the printed page? Without them, what would we lose except a certain "look" that we know to be English?

Agreeing to changes in the language doesn't always happen by word of mouth: legislation is an alternative. China revolutionized its language by decree; France tries constantly to keep its language "pure," and prior to WWII, Norway's Government changed the nation's spelling and grammar three times in forty years.

However, since our Government will be having such a time tackling consensus, couldnt we show them how its done? We could start by agreeing to delete the apostrophe.


Some notes: The Otago Daily Times is one of New Zealand's oldest newspapers, and still independent. It took over The Evening Star at one point, and kept its name on for a period in the Star Midweeker, the freebie I wrote for. Various local writers have been 'Prester John' in the ODT's opinion pages over many years, including Gordon Parry and George Griffiths.
Jenny, Ruth and Winston were all politicians; Winston Peters, now in his seventies, still is. 

Giving Column 8 a new lease of life

Back in the 90s I wrote five and a half years of weekly columns (apart from the holiday period each year) about all manner of subjects under the title Column 8. (You can find a few of the columns reprinted online, here, and one, Nobody Birds, on this blog. ) It was great having a free hand like that - the sort of benefit few writers probably have just to let their hair down and go for it. Sometimes having such a wide range is inhibiting, strangely, but in general something got written each week that was worth reading, and, in a few cases, worth forgetting.

The column began when the previous columnist announced, rather out of the blue, that he was quitting. I rang up and - amazingly - got the job on the strength of a couple of hastily-written pieces that were eventually among the first published columns. It ended even more abruptly when I received a letter from the editor (a change from sending him one, I suppose) telling me that due to 'restructuring' (that wonderfully abstract word) my services were no longer required. I had one more column to write and in it told the readers that I'd been summarily dismissed - and amazingly, got away with it. I don't know the real reason for my dismissal, though I suspect it might have had something to do with the column I wrote (one of my occasional religion-focused ones) in which I said that in spite of their claims, the Mormons were not part of the wider Christian church.

It may have had nothing to do with that. It may have been that the editor felt the columns were getting tired. (Sometimes they were.) It may have been that I was employed by one editor and fired by his replacement. It may have been that they preferred to save $50 a week (or was it $30?) and use the space for advertising.

Certainly they did restructure the paper, quite some time later. Columns were no longer included - at one point there were several writers going on about their favourite subject week after week (like fishing), though gradually they've been re-introduced over the years, and we now have policemen/women writing, or politicians. The paper has survived, which is extraordinary in itself, and it's actually one of the best freebies I've come across.

I have plans to post some of the old columns on this blog, randomly, in keeping with both this blog's title, and the nature of the original column. Column 8 wasn't my choice of a name, by the way. It was decided by the editor: all it meant was that the column began in the eighth column of the newspaper, which was conveniently placed inside the first page. It actually occupied columns 8 and 9, in part, but we won't quibble about that. Suffice to say it that it was a prime spot in which to blog...I mean write.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review Tales reviews The Disenchanted Wizard

Another review of The Disenchanted Wizard, this time by Jeyran Main, on her blog Review Tales.  Here's an extract from it:

This children’s book has everything suitable to engage and intrigue the young mind. It is full of action, thrills, educational and positive messages, as well as the fun and exciting adventure one normally looks for in a tale.
The plot and the characters were very well aligned together, eliminating any loopholes or questionable events. The paragraphs and the layout of the work were in good standing and the pace of the story was not fast or slow enough to challenge the young mind. I believe this book will be a great addition to the series and I look forward to reading more from this author.
I'm pleased to see that the we'd eliminated loopholes with this book: that was one of the reasons it took so long to write. Every time we'd fix something, something else would fall over!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review of Disenchanted Wizard

Just a quick note: a friend of mine read The Disenchanted Wizard and put a review on Facebook. Since it'll vanish from there quickly, I'm adding it here as well. (She's going to put it on Goodreads when she gets back from out of town, I believe.)

Just read 'The Disenchanted Wizard' by my friend Mike Crowl. Simply amazing what an author with a vivid imagination can do with the love of soccer, the discovery of a map, a long ago act of revenge and two youngsters - oh, and lots of extras in between. 
A fabulous read for children (I would say 8 - 14yrs) and also for adult children like myself.
Seriously, it really had me captivated. 
This is an exciting, fast-paced, and at times 'on the edge of the chair' read, with beautiful use of language particularly in the descriptive passages.

Affordably available on Kindle

Sunday, May 07, 2017

New review of Grimhilda!

Very pleased to get such a positive review of my first children's fantasy, Grimhilda!, from Rosie Malezer of Readers' Favorite

Grimhilda! is the first fantasy children’s book in the Grimhilderness series, written by Mike Crowl and Cherianne Parks. Eight-year-old Toby Ashton-Batchelor barely remembers the days when his parents had paid him some attention. Over the past few years, George and Sylvia Ashton-Batchelor had always been too busy with their own hobbies and social lives to continue any interaction with their son. One by one, each babysitter had been asked never to return, due to their mollycoddling of young Toby. George and Sylvia are surprised, however, when Miss Pimplay appears on their doorstep, eager to see Toby’s parents out the door, on their way to another night of socializing. When Toby and his toys realize what Miss Pimplay’s real motives had been, they each devise a plan to rescue Toby’s parents while, at the same time, hoping to put a stop to Grimhilda’s dastardly deeds once and for all.

I gained tremendous enjoyment in reading Grimhilda!, while laughing along at Mike Crowl and Cherianne Parks’ clever usage of humour. Toby’s parents seemed to have quite the knack of mispronouncing Miss Pimplay’s name as Miss Pimple at every turn, causing much amusement and enjoyment as I read on. The fear and confusion of Toby being left with such a strict and scary woman immediately raised red flags in my mind, causing me to question the babysitter’s true motives. The blend of comedy and suspense was perfectly timed, and my home was filled with laughter as I continued to read on. Grimhilda claimed ‘ownership’ of all parents who had seriously neglected their children, initially leading me to believe she was somebody good, such as Nanny McPhee or even Mary Poppins, but when it became clear that she was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the suspense in the story fully took hold, as I was left on the edge of my seat, rooting for young Toby, and praying for his parents' safe return. I thoroughly enjoyed Grimhilda! and recommend it to young readers aged 7-14, who enjoy fun, adventure, magic ... and who are not afraid to let themselves believe.

P.S. Yesterday we went to a benefit concert, and the two boys who'd played Toby in the original production of the musical version of Grimhilda!, Max Beal and Kelland O'Neil, were both performing. Nice coincidence!

Guest post from Laura Libricz

Today I'm presenting a guest post from Laura Libricz. 

Welcome to Day 3 of my #RRBC “SPOTLIGHT” Author Blog Tour. I would like to thank the RRBC and my host for this great opportunity. Today I’d like to talk about the inspiration behind my first novel The Master and the Maid.
Tales of masters involved with their maids have as much allure today as they did in history. In the news, we read sordid tales of Hollywood stars romantically involved with their personnel and the scandal reports of shameless household help preying on vulnerable celebrities. But what makes these relationships so intriguingly immoral? Is it the element of adultery because many of the employers are married? Or is having a relationship in the workplace what makes this arrangement taboo?
Laura Libricz
Analyses of the behavioral patterns between employers and employees fill volumes of psychology books. A certain power imbalance arises when two people enter into a vocational relationship. The employer has the upper hand, holding not only the threat of termination over the employee’s head but also holding the purse strings. One could say, the employer holds an employee’s very existence in his hands. As with any power imbalance, there is a risk that this power could be abused. Or a more commonplace risk could arise: a romantic relationship could develop in the workplace. These risks compound the intrigue, especially when the employees are working in private homes.
Let’s concentrate on the recipe for a good master and maid tale: a household hires a housekeeper. The household does not fit into the modern concept of the nuclear family in a loving marriage. Maybe this is a marriage arranged for business and social reasons. For some reason the husband and wife live together but separate. The husband may travel frequently. The wife may be preoccupied with childbearing. The housekeeper has daily and intimate contact with the master. A kind word, a smile, a wink, a touch, a kiss…The master feels he has the right to take his maid, however he desires, with her consent or against her will. Maybe some gratuity changes hands.
These tales often concentrate on male employers and their use and misuse of their female help. Surely, male household employees are misused as well, but the majority of these cases involves women. The proof of female employees caught in unsavory circumstances is often obvious in the form of an unwanted pregnancy and the subsequent fall from grace forever.
In his book The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany, Joel Harrington reports the case of a young maid and her descent into disrepute by bearing a child, the result of an unwanted pregnancy caused by her employer. During Harrington’s research, he notices that the legal records were crammed full of reports of maids involved in fornication, abortion, abandonment and infanticide cases. He reasons that “domestic service entailed geographic and thus social displacement. Most young women…served fairly near their homes but far enough away to require a new social network.” Considering the stage in their development, that being late teens and early twenties, the young women were exposed to a multitude of “voluntary and involuntary sexual relations.”
They were almost completely dependent on their employers for food and board and leaving even abusive circumstances would result in forfeiting pay and termination of the contract, as well as shame to their families. “A maid impregnated by her employer was in fact the most common adultery scenario among married men throughout the early modern era.”
As with many historic vocational relationships, payment would only ensue at the end of the employment contract, be that a year or two years, and termination could mean forfeiting all the wages due. Historically, the best-paid women employees, like cooks and nannies, were maybe paid as well as their worse-paid male counterparts. But there were ways maids could better their positions. The master may have hinted that there were extra jobs to do and money would change hands. Maybe even a promise of marriage would precede a sexual encounter. Although, in his book, Joel Harrington says, “…marriage was at best a cruel delusion.”
To be fair, there are reports in historical records of genuine love and affection between masters and maids, even if the relationships between them did not end in marriage. A famous example of a master involved with his maid(s) is that of the Dutch painter, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Born in 1609 in Leiden, Holland, and educated there too, he soon made himself a name and moved to Amsterdam in 1631, a promising career budding. There he met his art dealer’s cousin, Saskia van Uylenburgh, and in 1634, he married her. The couple lived in better circumstances even though a dark cloud shrouded their affluence. Saskia bore three children and none of the three infants survived. Then in 1641, Sakia gave birth to their son, Titus. Saskia sadly died a year later. During the time of Saskia’s illness, Rembrandt hired a governess, Geertje Dircx, to help him raise Titus. Around that time, he also hired a housemaid, Hendrickje Stoffels.
Rembrandt’s relationship with Geertje was an intimate one, to the point that he gave her a silver marriage medal, a symbol of engagement, although not engraved. At this time, he painted his most sexually explicit works like The French Bed and The Monk in the Cornfield, considered pornographic for the 1640’s. He also gave Geertje some of Saskia’s jewels. Although Rembrandt and Geertje were betrothed, even though he later disputed this, they never married. He would have lost Titus’ trust fund, money set up in Saskia’s will, had he remarried and he could not afford to do that. Even though Rembrandt was a successful portrait painter, he was known to live above his means and had money problems.
When did the relationship between Rembrandt and Geertje sour? When did Geertje notice that Rembrandt preferred the young maid, Hendrickje? Maybe when Geertje noticed that Rembrandt looked “…at the young woman (Hendrickje) an instant longer than was quite necessary between a master and a maid,” as reported in the book Rembrandt’s Eyes by Simon Schama. Maybe when Geertje began to hint that a Christian marriage was what she really wanted. Maybe the problem escalated when Geertje noticed that Rembrandt took Hendrickje into his bed and no longer wanted her.
In 1649, Geertje was ousted, out of the relationship and out of the house. Rembrandt demanded that Geertje make a will leaving the jewelry he gave her to his son, Titus, should Geertje die. Geertje could ‘use’ the jewels, promising never to sell or pawn them, and he would pay her a yearly stipend, as long as she made no further demands on the artist. Hendrickje was even summoned in front of commissioners to testify that Geertje had agreed to this arrangement in front of witnesses and had no further claim on Rembrandt. The situation escalated further when Geertje pawned the jewels and continued to escalate until Rembrandt testified that Geertje was of “unsound mind.” Her detention ensued. In 1651, Geertje was confined to the Gouda Spinhuis, a correctional spinning house for wayward women. Even after her release in 1655, she continued to pester him.
In the meantime, Hendrickje proved to be a valued companion for Rembrandt, although he never married her, either. The immoral relationship did not go unnoticed by the Dutch Reformed Church. Hendrickje was summoned by the Church Council in 1654 when the swellings of her pregnancy were noticeable. She was “informed of the full depths of her depravity and wickedness…and formally banned from the Lord’s Supper, the Calvinist communion.”
Rembrandt painted what was considered the most beautiful of his nudes, the last nude painting of his career, in 1654, Bathsheba at her Bath, supposedly modeled by Hendrickje. They had a daughter, Cornelia, in 1654. Hendrickje remained with Rembrandt as his companion and business administrator until she died in 1663.  Rembrandt died in 1669.

Where do you get the inspiration for your stories? As a reader, what sort of story would you like to see put into a novel?

* * *


She’s lost her work, her home and her freedom. Now, harboring a mysterious newborn, she could lose her life.

In 17th Century Germany on the brink of the Thirty Years War, 24-year-old Katarina is traded to the patrician Sebald Tucher by her fiancĂ© Willi Prutt in order to pay his debts. En route to her forced relocation to the Tucher country estate, Katarina is met by a crazed archer, Hans-Wolfgang, carrying a baby under his cloak. He tells her an incredible story of how his beloved was executed by a Jesuit priest for witchcraft right after the birth and makes Katarina—at sword point—swear on her life to protect the child. But protecting the child puts Katarina at risk. She could fall in disfavour with her master. She could be hunted by the zealots who killed his beloved. She could be executed for witchcraft herself. Can Katarina's love for the baby and Sebald Tucher's desire for her keep the wrath of the zealots at bay?

Set in Franconia, The Master and the Maid is an accurate, authentic account of a young woman's life in Germany in the 1600's, her struggle for freedom and her fight for those she loves.

* * *


Laura Libricz was born and raised in Bethlehem PA and moved to Upstate New York when she was 22. After working a few years building Steinberger guitars, she received a scholarship to go to college. She tried to ‘do the right thing’ and study something useful, but spent all her time reading German literature.

She earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where she resides today. When she isn’t writing, she can be found sifting through city archives, picking through castle ruins or aiding the steady flood of musical instruments into the world market.

Her first novel, The Master and the Maid, is the first book of the Heaven's Pond Trilogy. The Soldier’s Return and Ash and Rubble are the second and third books in the series.

Twitter - @lauralibricz
Facebook - @LauraLibriczAuthoress

Saturday, May 06, 2017

RRBC and The Computer Heist

As part of marketing my latest book, I've got involved in an online reviewing and support group, Rave Reviews Book Club, (or RRBC for short) in the last two or three weeks. Certainly it's a busy and energetic group, with plenty going on. At the moment I'm keeping up with the pace!

They select three books from their members for review each month and you can choose which book you'd like to review. You're only required to do four reviews a year - no biggie - and these can be from other books as well as the chosen few.

Anyway, my first review, which also appears on Amazon and Goodreads, is of Michael P King's The Computer Heist. 

This book whips along at a great pace, with multiple viewpoints and innumerable twists and turns. There doesn't seem to be a character in sight who's not out to do all the others down, and money is a considerable motive for everything that happens here. There are one or two improbable things: the idea that there would beno backup to a new computer program - as at first appears to be the case - seems unlikely. And Joe and Tess, the husband and wife team who are the mainstays of this series of books, have a knack of not only being right 99% of the time, but also always capable of coming up with a new idea when caught in a corner. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable and not overly violent noir novel. 

Friday, May 05, 2017

How to lose your reader and/or your viewer

My wife and I watched the first half of a movie the other night: Small Crimes, which is streaming on Netflix. It's based on a book by Dave Zeltserman which gets mostly rave reviews on Goodreads. (Usually with Goodreads, I find, you have to ignore half the positive reviews in order to get a real balance of views on a book, but that's by the by.) 

So it sounds like the book is worth reading, if you're into noir, and unreliable narrators, and subtle characterisation. The movie has a reasonable amount of noir, but beyond that - and you have to bear in mind I only watched half of it - it treats its viewer very badly. How so? By giving him or her so few clues as to what's going on that the viewer can barely keep up. 

An ex-cop, Joe Denton, who's just leaving gaol at the start, seems a bit hard done by. In the opening scene a prison chaplain empathises with him, and you think: Okay, let's hope it goes well out there for him. But then there's a scene with a detective who abuses him verbally, before some other guy (a D.A, we eventually figure out) walks in and seems to be on Joe's side. Except that in the next scene it's the cop who's on his side - though with some provisos - and in a later scene the DA not only turns out to be one of his victims from the past, but is definitely not on his side. 

And then there's a scene where the main character goes to visit an old Mafia guy who's on his deathbed. After some pleasantries, Joe tries to suffocate him - as you do - until interrupted by the old man's nurse. And then not long after he's chatting with the nurse in a coffee bar - until some stranger comes along and spits in his food. No explanations are given for any of this, or why he gets beaten up outside the old man's house, or why a young girl picks him up and traps him into yet another beating. 

What's this got to do with an author losing his reader? I'm guessing that Zeltserman made a better fist of explaining things in his book. I hope so. Although many authors currently take the line that not introducing anyone in a story is a great idea (movies do it too), and that the reader should expect the book to be like a cryptic crossword, where nothing makes sense until twenty pages in. If you're lucky. 

I enjoy cryptic crosswords, frustrating as they can be. I don't mind books where I have to figure some things out. But I do get a bit peeved when the author is so concerned to hide information that you have to read and read...and read...before you understand who's doing what, when and why.

Last year I read I'm Thinking of Ending Things. By the time I had finished it (which was an achievement in itself), I was wishing the author had thought of ending the book long before he published it. I wrote on Goodreads at the time: 

I thought at first maybe I'd been a bit dense about the thriller aspect of this book, until I had a look at the reviews on Goodreads to see what other people thought. The majority thought it was rubbish...not even well-written rubbish. The story has long sagging bits where nothing is really happening. It attempts to make us feel scared and creeped out but pretty much fails because what the main character does is so stupid you can't believe she'd do it. The other character isn't any better. There are odd bit-players floating in and out giving strange warnings, and probably if I went back and re-read it some of these might make sense. Worse, by 3/4 of the way through you've guessed what's going on, pretty much (at least as far as it's possible to tell what the heck is going on), and from then on it's a matter of the author trying to maintain a scary story that hasn't really ever been scary in the first place. 

It was fine that the author in this case hid a major plot point from us; that was meant to be the surprise. But pages with someone else's voice on them tossed in at random and chapters in which the woman narrator rambles on about stuff we're not even sure happened or is happening just makes the reader tired. Especially when you have to keep asking Why, Why, Why?

I understand perfectly that an author has to reveal the secrets behind the story bit by bit, and that this gives the readers surprises and a reason for wanting to read on. This is a major part of structuring a story. But making everything incomprehensible is testing your reader's endurance and patience to no good end, as far as I can see. 

I review quite a few books in a year, and increasingly I'm refusing to read past a certain point in the book if I have no idea what's going on and if the author doesn't seem to want to tell me. I don't mean after a chapter, but after fifty or a hundred pages. Basically by that time he or she has had their chance. If they want to keep making it difficult for me, it's very probable I won't be reading any more of their books. Which could be a pity. 

So, in summary: if you want to grip your reader's attention - and keep on gripping it - let them have enough information early on to know who's who, and where and when things are set and something of what this story is going to be about. This doesn't mean going back to the old approach of laying everything out as though the reader was some dolt - exposition is best scattered throughout the story - but it does mean offering your reader a chance to get involved, because they have some idea of what's at stake in the story.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Downbeat Mamet

A few days ago I wrote about the possibility of listing the movies I watch. I'm not sure that my enthusiasm at that point has continued. I may just carry on writing up movies in my journal and on here, in the blog. At least then those that hit the spot in either a negative or positive fashion will get remembered a bit better.

I watched House of Games last night. It turned up on Maori TV, which was a bit odd, although they do have a reputation for showing offbeat movies - more often foreign than English. My feeling about House of Games, which dates back to 1987 and was written and directed by David Mamet, is that this is a movie best-forgotten. Roger Ebert, who can be relied upon in general to come up with good commonsense and taste in regard to movies praises it highly. In fact there are two reviews of it by him online. He revisited it in 1999, and saw it as one of the great movies.

Um. I have to say, Mr Ebert, that in this case I'm puzzled. It's a typical Mamet movie; amoral characters, lots of nifty dialogue and a storyline that has potential. However, Mamet's direction is very stagey, the actors are often placed is quite unrealistic poses, and the star of the piece, Lindsay Crouse, exhibits almost no expression from beginning to end. Well, not quite. She smiles once, in one of the last scenes, because she's got away with murder, literally, and now also has the idea that stealing from other people is some kind of triumph. She's supposed to be a psychiatrist, but doesn't appear to have much idea what that job is actually about. And apart from the last-minute smile, Crouse goes through the role as though she's dead behind the eyes. Perhaps this was intentional. Maybe Mamet asked her to be like that.

The men in the cast are all good, particularly Joe Mantegna, and play their confidence trickster roles with ease and subtlety. Which makes it all the more odd that Crouse is so deadpan. If the story is meant to be about a woman who's really venal underneath but has been hiding it, then it makes little sense in terms of the role she plays early in the piece. If she thinks that being a confidence trickster is an acceptable job, even though she's reminded on a number of occasions that it's a criminal's job, she pays not attention. In the end you don't have much idea what goes on in her head. With the result that the scene where she murders the main male character makes little sense. Yes, she's been conned by him, but she knew who these guys were, and allowed herself to be taken in. She's no dupe, after all, and stands up to people without difficulty, most of the time, including a young patient threatening to kill himself with a gun, in her office.

Mamet seems to delight in unpleasant characters, ones we find it hard to sympathise with. (I had to switch off Glengarry Glen Ross because the Alec Baldwin character was so foul-mouthed and bullying, and because the world the salesmen inhabited was so utterly bleak.) It's as if his view of the world is focused so much on the dark side of things that he can't see the light. Incidentally, in spite of the black and white, film noir look of the poster, the film is in colour, though many scenes take place at night, with gloomy interiors. Crouse wears some of the most awful 80s costumes I've seen in a while, and her hairstyle is more masculine, somehow, than feminine. Maybe this also was intentional.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Google side alleys and back corners

Years ago I wrote a piece about the way in which many people spell the word crawl (as in a baby learning to crawl) as crowl, which of course is my surname - it was while I was searching Google that I discovered this fairly common error. Unfortunately I can't find that article anymore: it may be on my computer somewhere but a search doesn't bring it up readily, or else I no longer recognise the title of the piece.

My search above started because I was looking up my own name on Google. Self-indulgent, you might say, but I'm the sort of person who quite often sits down to check what's turns up on Google when I put my name in. I also like to check out the results when I look up my books. I'm sure there are other things to do in life, but sometimes this turns up some interesting stuff, the sorts of things you'd never otherwise discover.

For instance, I put the words Disenchanted Wizard in the search box today, because that's the name of my latest book, and I wanted to see where it was appearing on the Net. One of the things I discovered is that Kobo has a list of books with the word disenchanted in their titles, and my book is among them. Thanks, Kobo! (I've only just noticed that another book, Reviving Old Scratch, which I read last year, and which I lent to a friend just yesterday, is also on this list, because its subtitle is Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted.)

I also discovered that a writer named Keith Timson, who, coincidentally was born in the same year as me - 1945 - had written a short story called The Disenchanted Wizard that appeared in a magazine called Dark Horizons, in 1991. Nice that he chose to give my book some advertising over 25 years before it was written!

And of course I found that The Disenchanted Wizard turns up on some rather suspect sites, where they're trying to give my book away for free when they don't have any right to do so. When I clocked on on of those sites, the response was 'refusing to answer Google's inquiry.'  LOL

There's also a list of all my books on a site called Medical Books. Okay. Not sure of the connection there, although admittedly the non-fiction title, Diary of a Prostate Wimp, is somewhat medical. Each of the books, which all appear twice in this list, have blio beside them. Presumably blio.com is one of the distributors of the books. But that still doesn't explain the Medical Books aspect of things. Still it's nice to be turning up in all sorts of places!

One of Kobo's Asian sites is advertising TDW. Wow! I'm world famous!!

But perhaps the oddest search result came up as 'PDF Read [Southern Book] - Diary of a Prostate Wimp - Kitchens R Us. When I clicked on the link it said that the page wasn't found but it brought up the Kitchens R Us page anyway, on which there is nothing about either Prostate Wimp or Disenchanted Wizard, rather to my disappointment. I'd love to know how the two were connected, and why my latest book brought them together.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Obsessed by lists?

Long before I started posting on Goodreads I was keeping track of the books I read each year. Unfortunately the earlier lists are a bit thin on some information, but gradually I improved this so that at least I can go back and check out both the title and the author. With the advent of my increasing immersement in the Goodreads world, things improved even further and I now have reviews of all the books I read these days, as well as notes about some of those I read further back. (Isn't 'read' a confusing word on the printed page? It's easy to misunderstand last sentence in print, though if it was spoken it would be perfectly sensible.)

It takes a bit of doing at times, but overall it's useful to me.

On another tack, I've been thinking for the last few weeks that it would be good to keep a better track of the movies and TV series I've watched. It's very easy to forget them - and maybe that doesn't matter - but every so often you think: I wish I could remember what that movie was that made such an impression on me. Thankfully, most of them can be found with a bit of effort on IMDB; occasionally some can't.

IMDB is a wonderful resource. I can remember when it was in its early stages, and a lot of information was missing about individual movies, and a lot of movies were missing completely. Now, of course, as anyone who uses it knows, practically everything ever filmed seems to be on there. Which is an extraordinary achievement. There must be an army of data inputters working on the thing day and night.

If I was to set up a record of the movies and series I've watched, at the end of the year I'd remember that I'd seen Broadchurch mark 3, and I could make a note that I found it more dour than the other two series (I think), that there seemed to be a great deal of emphasis on pornography, and that some of the scenes were brilliantly written, including the one where Miller and Beth Latimer chuckle about the naughty things they used to say as kids, or Beth's impassioned speech to the Vicar in regard to husband having nearly committed suicide. The acting was brilliant throughout, especially Julie Hesmondhalgh as the initial rape victim, an ambiguous character who received a great deal of sympathy, but also had some odd goings-on in her life.

I'd remember that we'd begun to watch 13 Reasons Why, and decided it wasn't for us. And then an Icelandic series called Case which again had an emphasis of pornography that we felt we couldn't cope with any more of it.

I'd quickly be able to find the name of another series we watched in which a young girl was murdered at the beginning and then proved still to be very visible and very real to half a dozen people she knew. It was a series from Belgium. It was Hotel Beau Sejour - thanks, Google. This was a marvellously engrossing series which, even though it didn't explain how the premise could have come about, kept us on tenterhooks for a number of episodes. As did Fauda (Chaos), an Israeli series we watched and which was intense. I did write about this one.

Most of these have been watched on Netflix, which - in New Zealand at least - is a mixed bag: some very good shows, a few very good films, and lots of stuff that is trying to get a second life by being included in the Netflix catalogue. When Netflix first arrived here a year or two ago, you could watch anything from the US catalogue, which was vast. Then, for some reason, Netflix NZ was whittled down to some top quality shows and films and a lot of debris. Sometimes it's hard to decide which is which, though it has to be admitted there are some very good TV series being produced these days, almost none of which (Broadchurch is an exception) appear here on free to air TV.

But you can see how easy it is to forget what you've seen, how many hours you've spent watching True Story, and the other I don't feel at home in this world anymore. The first starred James Franco and Jonah Hill, and was a curious piece based on a (yup!) true story about a man who'd murdered his wife and children and then tried to claim he hadn't. And a reporter who seemed to get sucked in by the murderer's supposed protestations of innocence.
gripping stories. And how easy it is to forget titles, such as the two we watched over the last few days, both movies. One was

The second starred New Zealander Melanie Lynskey, and someone with a considerable connection to NZ, Elijah Wood - although he was so well-disguised, somehow, that it wasn't until near the end that I realised who he was. This was a very quirky, sometimes funny, movie, that became increasingly violent as it went on. There was blood everywhere. Not sure that it was all necessary. But it held together, even though it was quite slow in places, and the ending was satisfying.

So. Plainly I need to make a list, and quickly. Otherwise all these movies are going to drift out of the consciousness. Does anyone besides me care? Maybe...

Monday, April 24, 2017

Nate Wilson

I've only just started reading Nate Wilson's fantasy novels for children (he also writes books for adults), so it was sad to hear - via a tweet from his father, Douglas Wilson (an even more prolific writer of all manner of things) - that, as this page describes it:  'Nate is preparing to undergo extensive brain surgery to remove a “farm egg” sized tumor near his brain stem.'  

Nate and his family, and his father's family, are all Christians, so the perspective on this relatively sudden sideswipe to his life is being handled in a manner that might be different to those without a faith. I say 'might' because no doubt there are people without faith who can face such a trial with humour, bravery, integrity and the like. As Nate seems to be doing. 

Still, if I was in his shoes, even though I'm a Christian too, I'd be struggling with this situation. I don't regard myself as a brave person, and anyone who's read my book Diary of a Prostate Wimp will know that I found even that relatively minor interruption to my otherwise healthy life quite a challenge. (This wasn't intended to be a opportunity to mention my book, by the way. It just came to mind...!)

So those of you out there who are praying people, pray for this fellow-writer, that the operation required will be successful and he will come through it safely. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hemmed in by geography

I'm reading a very interesting book at the moment called Prisoners of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics, by Tim Marshall. I think the subtitle is slightly overstated. 'Everything' isn't true, because some countries aren't included: Australia gets three brief mentions, and New Zealand one. Plainly our politics aren't global enough.

But what the book does tell you is fascinating. It brings a whole new light to so much world news, and some breadth to just who holds power in the world. And who doesn't.

For instance, Russia, which is a vast nation in terms of real estate, is in reality only a relatively small country, because so much of the area it covers isn't much good for human beings to live in (as anyone sent to Siberia will tell you). The Russia we mostly think of is a smallish area to the West.

Furthermore, there are considerable problems with Russia's location: it's far more landlocked than it would like to be. And that's what Marshall is discussing: countries are bound far more strongly by where they're physically placed on the earth than by many other considerations. If there's no real access to waterways, then that can be extremely inhibiting. A number of countries are completely landlocked. If there are mountain ranges on your borders, then this may be helpful in terms of stopping invaders, but it's also a nuisance when it comes to trying to get over the mountains yourself.

And it helps to have good neighbours. Many countries don't, and spend a great deal of time fighting those next door.

Marshall also points out how the 'countries' we know in the world at present are, in some cases, relatively new on the world map. They didn't exist in this form a couple of hundred years ago. The British are to blame for some of these changes (along with the French and other empire-building nations). For example, the Brits, once they'd done with their Empires, tended to make hasty decisions about who would live where after the Brits themselves had gone. India and Pakistan's problems stem in part from this. Pakistan is one of the youngest 'nations' in the world, because basically it didn't exist less than a hundred years ago. Bangladesh is ever younger.

The Brits also drew lines across vast swathes of the Arab world, causing some of the problems we know today - though not all of them. The Arab tribes have been at war with each other for centuries, in one way or another. But a somewhat laissez-faire approach to map-making has had some huge consequences for those living in the region. You wouldn't expect maps to change the way nations see themselves; maps, after all, are only pieces of paper. (Unless of course they're magic, as the map in my latest children's fantasy is.)

Marshall manages to get to the nub of different countries' problems in succinct ways, and leaves you with a clearer understanding of what's going on around you. While his thesis is that geography itself is partly to blame for much of the world's infighting, he also shows how the movement of peoples around that geography can have beneficial or disastrous effects on other people, ones who were there first, as it were.

Marshall's point about geography, of course, affects us all even at a micro level. I live on a hill, which affects how I get to the city retail areas which are mostly on the flat. But it does mean I have great views of the Harbour and sea. I'm unlikely to be flooded, because water runs off our property easily, unlike some of my fellow citizens in areas that have been reclaimed.

New Zealanders, for the most part, live on two relatively equally-sized islands (imaginatively-named by our forebears as North and South). The gap between these two islands is a nuisance for travellers. Either we have to fly from the South to the North or vice versa, or we have to spend a considerable time going over the Cook Strait, a choppy bit of water that isn't always kind to travellers.

The North Island is warmer, as you'd expect, and has more population in its bigger cities. But in spite of what North Islanders think, the South isn't that cold: Scotland is much colder in the winter; many cities in the USA have snow for months at a time. We here in Dunedin, for instance, are lucky to get it once a year.

So geography and weather make a difference, as Napoleon found to his cost when he lost thousands of his French soldiers to the Russian weather - as Hitler also did with his German troops. For all our sense that we live in a world of vast choice, the reality is that we're hemmed in considerably by geography...

Marshall's book is fairly up to date, but the world keeps changing. He extends his book's range on his website The What and the Why.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Football on the rise for both sexes in NZ

The national game in New Zealand, as you probably know, is rugby. And it's a blokes' game. Or rather it used to be. In fact there are plenty of women throughout the country playing rugby just as fiercely and energetically as their male counterparts.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Saturday morning game one of my grandsons was playing in. His position is hooker, that guy who dangles between two props in the scrum. And this fellow really does dangle because he's small for his age. Some of my friends won't believe this, but I actually played hooker myself way back when I actually played rugby. But unlike my grandson, who's in there boots and all, I wasn't cut out for the game. Half the time the players from the opposite team would wind up covered in blood when we went down in a scrum: my blood, because my nose would bleed at the drop of a hat. Even if my nose hadn't bled, I still preferred indoor sports, with the less physical contact the better.

It was interesting that the visiting team in this particular game had one girl player in it. And she was very good: she had speed, and she was excellent at kicking goals. She could have been easily hurt by some of the bigger boys in either team, but she seemed to manage to keep out of their way - or perhaps they avoided her, because I think even in boys of that age there's an inbuilt sense that girls won't take the impacts a boy might.

Courtesy NZ Football
I said at the beginning that rugby is our national game, but soccer, it appears, is rapidly catching up. And of course there are girls in soccer too, and plenty of them. (The National women's team is called the Football Ferns; the men's is the All Whites, in contrast to the internationally-known men's rugby team, the All Blacks.)

One of my other grandsons used to play in a team when he was younger that had girls as well as boys in it. Now that the boys are bigger I think the sexes are separated off into their own teams. But girls' teams are catching on fast. There was a photo in the sports pages of the newspaper a couple of days ago promoting girls' soccer, in fact.

Which was part of the reason that I decided that the main character in my latest children's fantasy, The Disenchanted Wizard, would be a girl who plays soccer - with a passion. And also idolises Xanadu Whitworth, the top player in the city. At the beginning of the story, Della, the soccer player, is putting up an enormous poster of Xanadu in her bedroom. Her younger cousin Harold thinks Xanadu's smile is probably photoshopped. Della scoffs at the idea, and it turns out, in due course, that she's right to scoff. But she's wrong about some of the other things Harold has to say...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Making your books more discoverable

I've been reading another article on marketing my books, something I do with enthusiasm about every two or three days, and this one basically suggests looking at your books and working out what niche markets different areas of the book(s) might appeal to. I haven't got my teeth into my earlier three books as yet, although I did do something similar with Diary of a Prostate Wimp, a couple of years ago, putting myself on various Facebook and Twitter pages in relation to prostate cancer and such. But to focus on my latest book, The Disenchanted Wizardthe first focus is that the main character is a girl who plays soccer. Okay...there a thousands of girls who play soccer, some in teams with boys, some in all girls teams. The secondary main character is a boy who's intensely nterested in maps. Off the top of my head I can't think of a marketing area that consists of boys who are interested in maps, but no doubt there is one. For instance, I just discovered a whole page of images on Pinterest that looks at ways you can decorate your boy's room with map themes. (Even if the marketing research doesn't open up the doors you're interested in, the things you turn up on the Net in the process are themselves interesting!) It seems to me that a problem with marketing children's books is that it's difficult to market directly to children. Even with print publications, the marketing is almost always via the parents, or the grandparents - or uncles, aunts and sundry cousins. But these adults aren't the first readers of children's books (although many adults, including me, do read children's books - I've just read two books by Nate Wilson, for instance.). It's the children we want to encourage to read the things, but it's finding ways to do that that's not so obvious. It's a whole different ballgame with adult books: it's adults who are online at all the obvious social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and so on. (Carmen Amato, the author of the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post, writes mysteries, for adults.) On the other hand, I always find it curious that TV ads for some children's products play at night, when the children they're aimed at are in bed. The ads in general are cringe-making, and yet there they are, in the middle of some program about some specifically adult interest. Are they actually aimed at the parents? I guess they must be, otherwise they wouldn't be on at such an hour. Yet if that's the case why are the ads so kiddiefied, with goo-goo kids all raving about some new product that looks for all the world like something no adult in their right mind would take to. (And the kids often seem to be too old for the product they're endorsing.) So maybe, to advertise to kids, you do have to advertise to their parents. (Yes, I know there are kids ads during kids programs as well - that's another issue.) The question becomes: How to get the parents' attention about something that doesn't focus on them? Some further thinking required...

High hats

I've quite often written about music and instruments in this blog, but it only struck me today that there's hardly any mention of music in any of the four books I've written. Odd, since I'm a musician as much as a writer. (And so, it turns out, was Robert Louis Stevenson: he wrote over a 100 pieces of music, as well as playing the piano and flageolet - a kind of recorder.)

Anyway, here I am writing about music yet again in this blog. 

High hats, (or hi-hats, or even hihats) are the common names for a couple of cymbals set in opposition to each other on a stand, with a pedal operated by the drummer's foot. Why they're called high hats I haven't been able to find out so far, but no doubt if I left the question open someone would be able to tell me. 

They haven't always been called high hats. Wikipedia explains: Initial versions of the hi-hat were called clangers, which were small cymbals mounted onto a bass drum rim and struck with an arm on the bass drum pedal. Then came shoes, which were two hinged boards with cymbals on the ends that were clashed together. Next was the low-sock, low-boy or low-hat, pedal-activated cymbals employing an ankle-high apparatus similar to a modern hi-hat stand. A standard size was 10", some with heavy bells up to 5" wide.

It doesn't look as though they were ever on the ground, in spite of their being called shoes or low-sock, low-boy, or low-hat. Plainly the drummer wanted to keep them at a reasonable eye-level. But these earlier names are as delightful as high hat (which is another name for a snobbish person, based, presumably on the idea of the snob wearing a top hat). My favourite is low-sock. There's something evocative about this: did drummers wear short, short socks at some point, as a part of their uniform? Perhaps not. Maybe their socks slid down with all the effort of using nearly every limb to play their varied instruments? Who knows. 

The interesting thing is the way the names rise up the scale, as it were, from shoes to low-sock to low-boy (the mind boggles) to low-hat to high-hat. As though these double cymbals were gradually going from being some lower-class symbol (ho, ho) to joining the upper cut. 

Whatever the source of the name you can find more than one high hat at guitarcenter.com.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Catching up on Classics

Just finished reading Treasure Island, for the first time ever. I knew the outline of the story, so I may have seen the Disney movie way back in the fifties (but don't really remember it) and I may have read a Classics Illustrated comic version of it when I was a child, but as for the book, I've never opened it before. The only reason I've read it now is that someone wrote about it in an article I read - an article I can't put my finger on again now - and it struck me that Treasure Island would do nicely as something to read, even more so as there was a free version of it on Kindle.

The book is surprisingly grim and violent. Deaths abound from beginning to end as the various pirates associated with the treasure are disposed of one by one by other pirates intent on being the last man standing, so it seems. It's much worse than one of those TV series in which a bunch of seemingly random people are killed off in order to make it more difficult for the detective to figure out whodunnit.

And even Jim Hawkins, the young hero (Stevenson isn't particular about his age, though he's often called a 'boy') kills at least one of the pirates. Hawkins tells most of the story, and this aspect of the book is very well done...until Stevenson, out of the blue, interrupts his narration with one by Doctor Livesey. Naughty Stevenson, I can hear all those contemporary writing gurus saying. It does come as a bit of a shock, and only lasts for a few chapters before Hawkins takes up the tale again. Was it necessary? I suppose so, since Livesey gives us information Jim can't possibly know.

Stevenson's writing is superbly stylish. There's a great deal of atmosphere, the discussions of ships' tackle is convincing, and the Island is vividly drawn. The characters are nicely delineated, especially the more well-to-do ones such as Squire Trelawney and the Doctor, and Captain Smollett. Long John Silver is of course a character who's larger than the book, almost, and some of the other pirates have their peculiarities both of mannerism and speech.

And the names are great: apart from those mentioned above, the names stick in the mind. In fact, as each one appeared, I thought, Yes, I remember this one. Remember it from what? Classics Illustrated? Blind Pew and Israel Hands and Ben Gun and the like.

Well, this year so far I've managed to catch up on The Three Musketeers as well as Treasure Island. I'm onto Peter Pan next, another one I've never read. Must be a year for classics...not necessarily illustrated.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Slow writers

A longer review of The Disenchanted Wizard - from Lorraine Orman - is now on KidsWordsNZ. She finishes the review by noting: Non-stop action and a strong focus on the child protagonists are combined to create a satisfying fantasy for readers (probably girls) of about 9 to 12. I was pleased to tell her that I know of two very enthusiastic boys who've also read the book, so we can take 'probably girls' with a grain of salt. It didn't seem to bother either of the boys that the main protagonist is a girl; anyway there are plenty of males in the book as well!

I've begun writing a fourth book, but it's in the extremely early stages so far, finding its way with some difficulty. And if the last book is anything to go by, what I've written so far is just as likely to be ditched by the time the book reaches its final form. 

I was pleased to read a long blog post by Anne Allen today called Slow Writers: Are they Doomed to Failure in the Digital Age? Having taken some two years to complete The Disenchanted Wizard, which by any standards is a relatively short book, I think I would call myself a slow writer. And yet two other books that appeared in 2014: Diary of a Prostate Wimp and The Mumbersons and the Blood Secret were each written in a few months. So maybe it depends on the book as to whether slowness is an element or not. 

Still, a book of 30,000 words should, you'd think, take a good deal less time than some of the books running to 600 pages or more that I've been asked to review in the last two or three years. But when a book requires constant rewriting and revision and rethinking, then any book of any length will take time. And a dose of procrastination doesn't go amiss either, when it comes to dragging out the time involved. 

I'm currently reading through an old journal I kept. At the moment I'm in the section written during 1990, when I was really finding my feet as a writer. Again and again I write of the struggles of trying to write with so many other calls on my time (I was working full-time and had five children), but also dealing with procrastination and with the difficulties of revising. So nothing much has changed it seems!