27 December 2014 ~ Review of
I recently posted this review on
Amazon for a King James Version of The
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
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
14 December 2014 ~War of the
Worlds: The Musical
and Jack in the Beanstalk
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
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
BACCES are putting on their next pantomime in Watford in
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
choose my country of birth
family constantly in fear of eavesdropping,
acquaintances and callous officials.
choose a one-party state with rigged elections
where every media outlet is a government mouthpiece.
choose a school with teachers who taught us slogans
chant the praises of our chief oppressor.
choose that our courts and police are agents of injustice
choose that even routine interrogation is punctuated with assaults.
choose that my government uses agony, sexual violence
to children to force political confessions.
choose that doctors and psychologists assist sadists
psychiatrists classify dissidents as mad.
choose the alliance with the superpower
backs the regime despite its atrocities.
choose for my country to favour the military
health, education and development
kickbacks to those who helped procure weapons.
choose a university where academic freedom
limited to whispered conversations.
choose to encounter a dictator’s portrait a hundred times a day.
choose the exploitation of ethnic and religious tensions
reinforce the powers that be.
choose the siphoning of my country’s wealth to
bank accounts and to fund palatial homes.
choose the corporations awarded contracts and concessions
sanction the bribes paid to ignore national interests,
needs of working people and our environment.
choose the PR companies that seek to distract from
country’s mismanagement, malfeasance, maiming and murders.
choose to be detained, tortured and exiled.
choose to be in a country with people who speak another language
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
7 November 2014 ~ The Fetish Collection Kobo Link and Synopses
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
Payhip £4.00 for epub, mobi or pdf format
files. (Payhip take 5% of the price compared to Amazon's 35%).
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
Book preview available on