November to December 2014

27 December 2014 ~ Review of The Bible

 

I recently posted this review on Amazon for a King James Version of The Bible.

 

It takes skill to bring out a book in instalments and maintain consistency. The number of different styles, themes and even contradictions in The Bible lead me to suspect this was not entirely the work of the supposed author. This seems confirmed in the latter section, the New Testament, were several chapters are named after individuals. But even in the earlier parts it would appear that several ghost writers with different levels of skill and approaches to narrative were used.

That is bad enough, but some of the content appears to have been plagiarized. For example, the story of Noah and the flood bears a striking resemblance to parts of a Sumerian blockbuster called Gilgamesh. And the hero of the latter part of the book, Jesus, having a virgin mother and divine father is hardly unique when older Greek stories claimed both Hercules and Dionysus had such origins.

The hack responsible for the section that consists of who begat whom has little idea of what makes for a good story. Other parts are spoiled by excessive smiting and some of the violence has distinctly kinky overtones, such as thirteen mentions of foreskins including, ‘The king does not desire any dowry but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” Philistines were subsequently slain and cropped. Or take Yahweh helping Elisha by sending two bears to kill 42 children who make fun of the prophet’s baldness. If Yahweh had sympathy for the slap-head, why not just send him a wig?

Fact checking is not a strong point. Surely someone on the editorial team must have known that rabbits and hares do not chew the cud or that genes are not changed by what animals see. And someone should have spotted that the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel include Dan in one chapter only to find him dropped and replaced by Manasseh in another.

The mishmash of stories might be accepted were The Bible a post-modern novel as almost any literary excess can be justified by invoking these three words, but it claims to be an ancient work. And while there are often problems with translated fiction and poetry, the centuries of scholarship dedicated to The Bible should have ironed out any linguistic crinkles by now.

Where The Bible can shine is as poetry and a collection of myths. But not even the genius of Wycliffe, Tyndale and the scholars who put together the King James Version can alleviate the boredom of certain passages or render acceptable the jealous violence, signs of obsessive compulsive disorder and sexual excesses.

Given all the issues, The Bible barely rates one star when the proposition is a cover-to-cover read. I suggest waiting for Reader’s Digest abridged version and making do in the meanwhile with selected poems and biblical myths when they appear alongside fairy stories and legends from other cultures.

 


23 December 2014 ~ Some New Paton Saints

 

The Catholic Church has a staggering number of patron saints. While of late a few have been deleted from the General Calendar many others have been admitted since the reforms that followed the Vatican Council held between 1962 and 1965.

 

Saints are not allowed to rest in heaven. They are tasked with being patrons for all manner of afflictions, organizations and causes. Thus St Dymphna champions the insane, St Hubert looks after mad dogs and St Dominic Savio pleads for juvenile delinquents.

 

I have spotted a few gaps and suggest some new saints to fill them. This item has been added under Ephemera.

 


14 December 2014 ~War of the Worlds: The Musical  and Jack in the Beanstalk by BACCES

 

We received an invitation to see War of the Worlds from a corporate box at the O2, formerly known as The Millennial Tent. WotW is based on a 1970’s concept album. As one person recommended the show and others had posted positive reviews, we took a punt. Neither of us is keen on musicals for the most part and those reading further should also keep in mind that most concept albums of 1970s did little for us then and even less now.  

 

By far the best part of the experience was the private box and its warm food, especially given the temperature of the auditorium. Unlike our only their experience of corporate hospitality at the theatre, which was at the Royal Albert Hall, the 02 VIP seats are wide and comfortable and there is ample space behind them for the catering, bar and for people to mingle or keep their distance.

 

For the record, I query the tax emption for companies that pay for such facilities as if they were a genuine business need rather than the thin end of the schmoozing wedge that allows the frost of corruption to enter.

 

The O2 Arena is huge. Forget any notions of intimate theatre or unamplified voices being heard even half way from the stage. The balconies of this 20,000 capacity auditorium are festooned with logos and flashing displays with yet more advertising. The space has all the charm of an abattoir bedecked with strobe lights and the show appears to have been designed for such a large and hideous venue.

 

Most of the stage is given to musicians; rock plus a harp on the left and a classical ensemble to the right with the conductor / composer Jeff Wayne on a podium between them.  He appeared to be daddy-dancing most of the time. There’s something to be said for orchestras and conductors hidden from sight in pits.

 

Liam Neeson had a starring role as narrator However, he was recorded and even with my lip reading I couldn’t make out much of what he said due to distortion and the volume of the music. To compensate for the distances most watch the show from, video was also used for some of the actors. I couldn’t see any cameras so I assume the images on screen were also pre-recorded.

 

The stage is dominated by a long thin screen which uses mostly animation that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1990’s video game. Old cinema footage attempts to set the scene as the New Year of 1900. However, many of the people are dressed in summer clothes.  There are a few other props, including a Martian vehicle, but the producers seem to be under the illusion that the music is so stellar that not much more is needed other than those standbys of rock concerts, flashing lights and flames. I found the music repetitive and uninspired.

 

The acting was also lackluster. Jason Donovan staggered about holding up a cross as if he was expecting to meet a vampire. I reckoned he was the hammiest of the cast yet he got the largest applause. I doubt this would have happened but for his zelebrity status.

 

Clearly some, perhaps the majority, of the audience thought the experience was worth paying for. I am reminded of P.T. Barnum saying “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”

 

The previous Saturday we attended a pantomime put on by BACCES (British Airways Cabin Crew Entertainment Society) in Hayes. The Beck Theatre holds 600 and has no need of video recordings. Despite the show being dominated by singing and dancing, we couldn’t help but enjoy ourselves. The production values were high; for example several costume changes and outfits that would have graced a West End  production. And there was much talent, enthusiasm, laughter, all the delight of seeing children caught up in the story and money raised for charities (over a £1 million in the relatively short history of BACCES). Many seats at the Beck were provided free for older people and children and the most expensive paid-for ticket was £19.  You could splash out more than three as time as much to see WotW and, if your  tastes are like mine, regret the experience.

 

BACCES are putting on their next pantomime in Watford in December 2015. 

 


8 December 2014 - The Last Hangman by Shashi Warrier

 

Shashi Warrier is a former CEO turned writer in India. Penguin  suggested a book loosely based on the life of a hangman, an occupation that still exists in India as the death penalty is retained  for serious offences. The book, also and more accurately known The Hangman's Journal, first appeared in 2000. More recently, UK and USA editions have appeared.

 

Three things helped make this book very appealing to me. Firstly, it describes humble lives in rural India before and after independence. Too often the poor are sideshows rather than central to novels. Secondly, the author does this without patronising the characters. And thirdly, the book has something to day about the process of writing and how this can impact the writer and her or his relationships.


The author shows great humanity and skill in a complex book that covers many decades. There are no ready judgments, no easy scapegoats and a wealth of fascinating detail. The writing will appeal far more to those who enjoy literary fiction than to those attracted by the main character's unfortunate occupation.   

 


2 December 2014 - Institute of Sexology Exhibition Review in Cliterati

 

Cliterati, an online magazine, has published my review of The Wellcome Collection's exhibition, The Institute of Sexology. The exhibition includes many items relating to the study of sexuality over the last 150 years.

 

 I was curious about the age and origins of cliterati as a word. It does not yet appear in the online OED. I noticed there that the first recorded use of clitoral comes from 1946 whereas for penile it is 1860.

 

Wikionary has the most useful information of any dictionary that came up during my online search and it provides a quote using cliterati from 1996. The two definitions are "significant figures in the feminism movements" and "influential women".  

 

Wikionary also cites the American Dialect Society endorsing cliterati as the most outrageous word of 2003. The ADS define it as "feminist writers or leaders". No explanation for the outrage is given.

 

My favourite discussion of cliterati comes from an excerpt taken from a journal, American Speech. It includes Francis Dickenson writing in The Independent in 2002.  

"Let's get the name-calling out of the way first. It's an act of liberation to grab hold of the verbal sticks and stones that have been hurled at you and toss and twirl them like parade batons. Which is partly why I enjoy being called a lesbian or a dyke and why I revel in collective puns such as The Cliterati and Ladies Who Munch."

 

 The excerpt closes with the following.

"Finally, Sidelines would like to wish a happy third birthday to Cliterati, the text-based sex website for women, boasting some 1,500 stories of an erotic nature. You can find Cliterati at www.cliterati.co.uk. Yes, right there. No, no, left a bit, down a bit."

 


26 November 2014 - 80th Writer Shortlist and Entry

 

The human and civil rights organization Liberty held a writing competition earlier this year. Seventy-nine established authors wrote about liberty and others were invited to submit up to 500 words for the 80th place.

 

The shortlist entries are now on line. Congratulations to Peter Jackson (not the director), Kate Matthews, Simon Tonkin and Chris Keeling.

 

My entry  was informed by working with asylum seekers and those granted refugee status in the UK.

 

         I Didn’t Choose  

I didn’t choose my country of birth

or a family constantly in fear of eavesdropping,

jealous acquaintances and callous officials.

I didn’t choose a one-party state with rigged elections

and where every media outlet is a government mouthpiece.

I didn’t choose a school with teachers who taught us slogans

and to chant the praises of our chief oppressor.

I didn’t choose that our courts and police are agents of injustice

and our prisons barbaric.

I didn’t choose that even routine interrogation is punctuated with assaults.

I didn’t choose that my government uses agony, sexual violence

and harm to children to force political confessions.

I didn’t choose that doctors and psychologists assist sadists

and psychiatrists classify dissidents as mad.

I didn’t choose the alliance with the superpower

that backs the regime despite its atrocities.

I didn’t choose for my country to favour the military

over health, education and development

and pay kickbacks to those who helped procure weapons.

I didn’t choose a university where academic freedom

is limited to whispered conversations.

I didn’t choose to encounter a dictator’s portrait a hundred times a day.

I didn’t choose the exploitation of ethnic and religious tensions

to reinforce the powers that be.

I didn’t choose the siphoning of my country’s wealth to

Swiss bank accounts and to fund palatial homes.

I didn’t choose the corporations awarded contracts and concessions

or sanction the bribes paid to ignore national interests,

the needs of working people and our environment.

I didn’t choose the PR companies that seek to distract from

my country’s mismanagement, malfeasance, maiming and murders.

I didn’t choose to be detained, tortured and exiled.

I didn’t choose to be in a country with people who speak another language

And where many are so used to choice that they are blasé about voting.

 


25 November 2014 ~ Unreported World

 

Unreported World has appeared on Channel 4 since 2000 and each brief season (4 to 11 programmes) has given prime television time to a host of issues around the world. Often the viewing is uncomfortable; brutal violence, abject poverty, marginalized people, rampant injustice, eco-disasters and gross corruption that have largely or totally escaped media attention at least in the UK.

 

I watched last Friday's programme last night while using several tissues to dab my eyes. Reporter Kiki King examined the education of deaf children in Uganda. Many there with profound hearing loss do not go to school and their lives are blighted by isolation, prejudice and even violence from those who despise their disability or regard it as a divine curse.

 

The cruelty and despair was touching, but I also had tears to see how quickly young deaf Ugandans could learn to sign, make friends, develop aspirations and feel part of a community that many preferred to the unkindness to family and neighbours.

 

I was reminded of a play seen in London perhaps thirty years ago, Children of a Lesser God. This was also powerful emotionally and first prompted me to think about deafness and accept that signing was a language as valid and vibrant as anything spoken.

 

About ten years later, Sue worked for what was then the RNID and is now Action on Hearing Loss. (It's refreshing to find a charity that has dropped "royal" from its name. However, there are still royal patrons.) I also learnt much from Sue's contact with the deaf community and her study of sign language. And one of her oldest friends has gone on to become a professional signer.

 

 I have used a hearing aid in some situations for almost ten years and have done a course in lip reading. I have no problem with a person who speaks up in a noise free environment. My hearing aid is most useful for someone who speaks softly, but of limited use when there is background noise. Listening in pubs and parties can be very tiring.

 

I suspect I have myself to blame for some of the hearing loss. I worked for three months with jack hammers on a railway construction project between school and university. No ear protection was made available. Then for three summers I worked at Wellington Airport loading and unloading freight and baggage. Ear muffs were provided but as no one else wore them, I too left them hanging up in the room we rested in between jobs.

 

My level of hearing loss is modest, but more significantly, it has come late in life and didn't impede my acquisition of language, education or limit my career path. And while I accept signing as language, it is still very much a minority language.

 


18 November 2014 ~ Azazeel  by Youssef Ziedan

 

A review in The Observer alerted me to this novel and that it had won the 2009 prize for Arabic fiction. Over two years later, the book appeared in my local library where I often find that requests for literary prize winners written in English have come from the libraries of other local authorities. I grabbed with both hands and am glad that I did.

 

The story is set in the fifth century eastern Roman Empire, by which time Christianity has become the state religion and some of its followers are quick to turn from victim to persecutor. Pagans and Jews do not provide enough outlets for intolerance and violence; rival Christian sects and teachings are also targets.


Azazeel / Azazel depicted in the 1826  Dictionnaire Infernal

A monk takes the name Hypa after witnessing Christians stirred up by a preacher brutally murder Hypatia, a female pagan philosopher, in Alexandria. The slaughter evokes memories of another mob of zealots who had killed his father in Lower Egypt. Hypa is all the more upset as he had attended a lecture by Hypatia and was struck by her intellect and graciousness.

 

Hypa flees Egypt and finds sanctuary first in Jerusalem and then in a monastery a day’s donkey ride from Aleppo. Internecine Christian conflict intrudes through his friendship with Nestor, whose theology falls out of favour with the Emperor.

 

Hypa has two affairs; one with a pagan shortly after his arrival in Alexandria and one with a singer he trains to feature in music for the monastery’s church. A source of tension in the book comes from Hypa’s sexual and romantic arousal and the appeal that asceticism has for him. The tension plays a part in getting him to write an account of his life, which is the novel.

 

At intervals, he has brief inky dialogues with Azazeel, which is another name of Satan. The words of Azazeel tend to be calm and solicitous, qualities that Hypa needs as he is in crisis. Is Satan caring or merely cunning? (I was especially interested in these on-page dialogues as I used something similar, if less sulphurous, in Mr Vitriol.)

 

There is a fair bit of early Christian theology, particularly in the first pages. The sometimes labyrinth-like approach and level of scholarship reminded me of Borges. A riveting story emerges and along the way the narration reveals many insights into cultures and history that for me were very much new territory.

 

I was left with a strong suspicion that the novel is in part a warning to the warring factions of Islam about intolerance and the human propensity to dispute theology. The author is an Egyptian and a Muslim and from what I have read about him I don’t see the book as an attack on Copts, despite the Christian excesses related being attributed largely to the early Christians of Egypt.

However, I wonder if the attention he pays to the concepts of the trinity and divinity of Jesus and arguments against them might have something to do with Islamic dogma, which sees the trinity as lapsing into polytheism and, while honouring Jesus as a prophet and his mother as a virgin, refutes any attribution of divinity.



 
14 November 2014 ~ NZSA Vienna Conference & Pushcart Nomination

Despite Ian Conrich now being based in Adelaide, he has organized yet another New Zealand Studies Association Conference in Europe, this time in Vienna.  Full details from NZSA




My thanks to the Labello Press for nominating Beholden, along with four other stories, for the 2016 Pushcart Prize.

The Labello-nominated stories all appeared in Gem Street; The Collector's Edition, published earlier this year.

Beholden also appears in The Fetish Collection.

I have read several of the Pushcart anthologies and their standards and roll-call of writers are formidable. Just being nominated is a great honour.


13 November 2014 ~ Courage Day on November 15

Courage Day is the name used in New Zealand for
The Day of the Imprisoned Writer



The day is supported by Pen International and its member organizations, which exist in most countries where authors and journalists enjoy a modicum of freedom of expression. Please take a look at some of the cases of literary and journalistic repression highlighted by PEN.

The Fetish Collection contains the following dedication.

This book honours the memory of Sarah and James Courage, whose last name is celebrated on Courage Day, and praises the bravery of all authors who risk persecution, imprisonment and death to oppose the censorship of ideas and creativity.

Sarah Amelia Courage, 1845 – 1901, became New Zealand’s first censored author after writing Lights and Shadows of Colonial Life; Twenty-Six Years in Canterbury, New Zealand. When this was first published in 1896, a number of copies were burned by neighbours who recognized themselves as characters depicted.

James Francis Courage, Sarah’s grandson, lived from 1903 to 1963. His 1959 novel, A Way of Love, was banned in New Zealand because it dealt with
homosexuality.

The Fetish Collection could not have been published legally in the UK or New Zealand fifty years ago. I am grateful to those who helped change public attitudes to the point where MPs in both countries felt obliged to reform censorship laws.

There is a great deal of material, not least on the web, that I would prefer had never seen the light of day. And I understand the concerns of those, especially parents,  who have likened broadband to a sewer outlet. But the line between moral and political censorship is thin and the freedoms of adults should not be constrained unless the rights of others are infringed.
 
12 November 2014 ~ Story to Appear in Headland

Sue was away from Thursday to Monday and I used much of the time contacting independent book reviewers and blogs about The Fetish Collection. Others have kindly collected and posted on the web lists of bloggers and reviewers.

Some entries are very helpful as people make clear what genres they want to review or rule out sexual content. Other times you have to trawl through several pages to find the review policy or deduce it from titles reviewed.  A fair few sites had messages saying they were already overloaded with books to review and not many confirm receipt, which also suggests they are too busy reading or deluged by requests.

While bogged/blogged down in sending what amount to begging emails, despite the offer of free copies of my book, my spirits were lifted by an incoming message; one of my stories, To Mahia, has been accepted by a new digital journal, Headland. Any publication is gratifying, but I am particularly keen to have work published in New Zealand media and especially when the story is set entirely in that country.

To Mahia, could be summarised as the thoughts and recollections of a woman leaving Wellington and her husband in the hope of bringing him to his senses.


7 November 2014 ~ The Fetish Collection Kobo Link and Synopses

The Kobo link is now working. For some reason they have classified the book as romance. I have emailed to say this is not what I requested.

One of the people I sent a copy to has suggested listing here synopses for each story. I have created a new page for The Fetish Collection and have put a short description of each story there plus the information that is on the book's contents page.


2 November 2014 ~ The Fetish Collection Published

Over the weekend I converted The Fetish Collection to ebook formats and uploaded to Amazon and Payhip. Kobo gremlins have stopped me uploading there, but I expect their helpdesk to sort this out in the next few days. Links for purchasing are below.



Amazon UK £5.15

Amazon.com $8.24

Payhip £4.00 for epub, mobi or pdf format files. (Payhip take 5% of the price compared to Amazon's 35%).

Instructions for loading a mobi file onto Kindle.

About The Fetish Collection

The fourteen short stories are very varied other than each including at least one unusual sexual preference. These range from ablutophilia (bathing) to zonaphilia (girdles) by way of balloons, dolls, food play, painted toenails, shoulders and yachts. 

 

They are written as literary fiction rather than pornography and have characters who deal with crises or at least major decisions at different stages of life including old age and dying.

 

The geographic spread of the stories is wide and the period covered stretches from WWII to the present day. While some stories feature explicit sexual scenes, others are coyer. Surprises

 abound.

 

 

Book preview available on Amazon.