The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Chapter III.
One Hundred Pounds Reward.

V.R. MURDER. 100 POUNDS REWARD.

“Whereas, on Friday, the 27th day of July, the body of a man, name unknown, was found in a hansom cab. AND WHEREAS, at an inquest held at St. Kilda, on the 30th day of July, a verdict of wilful murder, against some person unknown, was brought in by the jury. The deceased is of medium height, with a dark complexion, dark hair, clean shaved, has a mole on the left temple, and was dressed in evening dress. Notice is hereby given that a reward of 100 pounds will be paid by the Government for such information as will lead to the conviction of the murderer, who is presumed to be a man who entered the hansom cab with the deceased at the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, on the morning of the 27th day of July.”

HansomCab

Coming up on ABC1 next Sunday.

Simon Caterson’s “Introduction” to the Text Classics edition of The Mystery of the Hansom Cab:

THE bestselling crime novel of the nineteenth century was not written by Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins. That distinction belongs to Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, which appeared in the year before Sherlock Holmes made what was, by comparison, a rather unspectacular debut in A Study in Scarlet.

The Hansom Cab was an overnight sensation when published in Melbourne in 1886, and it rapidly found readers around the world, especially in Britain. As many as 750,000 copies were sold during Hume’s lifetime, nearly half that number within the first six months of publication in London in 1887.

Advertised in its first English edition as “a startling and realistic story of Melbourne social life,” The Hansom Cab was a first novel which had been written almost by accident and was self-published. Despite these modest beginnings the book became a huge international success and was translated into eleven languages. In its obituary for Hume in 1932, the Times was to note that “everybody read it eagerly and in fact it went all over the world.”…

You can get a free eBook from the University of Adelaide.

humeMrs. Hableton’s particular grievance was want of money. Not by any means an uncommon one, you might remind her; but she snappishly would tell you that “she knowd that, but some people weren’t like other people.” In time one came to learn what she meant by this. She had come to the Colonies in the early days — days when the making of money in appreciable quantity was an easier matter than it is now. Owing to a bad husband, she had failed to save any. The late Mr. Hableton — for he had long since departed this life — had been addicted to alcohol, and at those times when he should have been earning, he was usually to be found in a drinking shanty spending his wife’s earnings in “shouting” for himself and his friends. The constant drinking, and the hot Victorian climate, soon carried him off, and when Mrs. Hableton had seen him safely under the ground in the Melbourne Cemetery, she returned home to survey her position, and see how it could be bettered. She gathered together a little money from the wreck of her fortune, and land being cheap, purchased a small “section” at St. Kilda, and built a house on it. She supported herself by going out charing, taking in sewing, and acting as a sick nurse, So, among this multiplicity of occupations, she managed to exist fairly well.

And in truth it was somewhat hard upon Mrs. Hableton. For at the time when she should have been resting and reaping the fruit of her early industry, she was obliged to toil more assiduously than ever. It was little consolation to her that she was but a type of many women, who, hardworking and thrifty themselves, are married to men who are nothing but an incubus to their wives and to their families. Small wonder, then, that Mrs. Hableton should condense all her knowledge of the male sex into the one bitter aphorism, “Men is brutes.”

Possum Villa was an unpretentious-looking place, with one, bow-window and a narrow verandah in front. It was surrounded by a small garden in which were a few sparse flowers — the especial delight of Mrs. Hableton. It was, her way to tie an old handkerchief round her head and to go out into the garden and dig and water her beloved flowers until, from sheer desperation at the overwhelming odds, they gave up all attempt to grow. She was engaged in this favourite occupation about a week after her lodger had gone. She wondered where he was.

“Lyin’ drunk in a public-’ouse, I’ll be bound,” she said, viciously pulling up a weed, “a-spendin’ ’is, rent and a-spilin’ ’is inside with beer — ah, men is brutes, drat ’em!”

Just as she said this, a shadow fell across the garden, and on looking up, she saw a man leaning over the fence, staring at her.

“Git out,” she said, sharply, rising from her knees and shaking her trowel at the intruder. “I don’t want no apples to-day, an’ I don’t care how cheap you sells ’em.”

Mrs. Hableton evidently laboured under the delusion that the man was a hawker, but seeing no hand-cart with him, she changed her mind.

“You’re takin’ a plan of the ’ouse to rob it, are you?” she said. “Well, you needn’t, ’cause there ain’t nothin’ to rob, the silver spoons as belonged to my father’s mother ’avin’ gone down my ’usband’s, throat long ago, an’ I ain’t ’ad money to buy more. I’m a lone pusson as is put on by brutes like you, an’ I’ll thank you to leave the fence I bought with my own ’ard earned money alone, and git out.”

Mrs. Hableton stopped short for want of breath, and stood shaking her trowel, and gasping like a fish out of water.

“My dear lady,” said the man at the fence, mildly, “are you — ”

“No, I ain’t,” retorted Mrs. Hableton, fiercely, “I ain’t neither a member of the ‘Ouse, nor a school teacher, to answer your questions. I’m a woman as pays my rates an’ taxes, and don’t gossip nor read yer rubbishin’ newspapers, nor care for the Russings, no how, so git out.”

“Don’t read the papers?” repeated the man, in a satisfied tone, “ah! that accounts for it.”

Mrs. Hableton stared suspiciously at the intruder. He was a burly-looking man, with a jovial red face, clean shaven, and his sharp, shrewd-looking grey eyes twinkled like two stars. He was, well-dressed in a suit of light clothes, and wore a stiffly-starched white waistcoat, with a massive gold chain stretched across it. Altogether he gave Mrs. Hableton finally the impression of being a well-to-do tradesman, and she mentally wondered what he wanted.

“What d’y want?” she asked, abruptly.

“Does Mr. Oliver Whyte live here?” asked the stranger.

“He do, an’ he don’t,” answered Mrs. Hableton, epigrammatically. “I ain’t seen ’im for over a week, so I s’pose ’e’s gone on the drink, like the rest of ’em, but I’ve put sumthin’ in the paper as ’ill pull him up pretty sharp, and let ’im know I ain’t a carpet to be trod on, an’ if you’re a friend of ’im, you can tell ’im from me ’e’s a brute, an’ it’s no more but what I expected of ’im, ’e bein’ a male.”…

I’ll leave you to your own judgement of that, but why did I inadvertently find myself thinking “Gillard” for some reason? You may ignore that if you like.

So I am rereading my eBook version. Can’t say it is the world’s greatest book, but it is interesting. I am sure the adaptation on Sunday will be well worth a look.

See also Hume, Fergusson Wright (Fergus) (1859–1932) and The Case of the "Growler" and the Handsome Hansom which is not directly relevant but introduces a nice blog from a Tasmanian historian.


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Miss Odgerny and other contemporary figures

Annabel Crabb is spot on today.

If we learnt anything at all about misogyny in this grubby old week, it’s that as a nation, our ability to spell the word is in precisely inverse proportion to our eagerness to fling it about online.

If we wipe the week down for a minute and examine where it all started, we find a text message from the former speaker, Peter Slipper, in which he likens an intimate female body part to a brined mussel.

It’s easy to see why this sort of observation, once published, might be inconsistent with the continued exertion of distinguished and unimpeachable authority over the federal House of Representatives.

And the text certainly established Mr Slipper’s status permanently, in the minds of anyone who might have been wondering, as ”bivalve-curious”.

But … misogyny? That’s a big call.

The Oxford definition of the word is ”hatred of women”.

Is it misogyny when Tony Abbott refers to the ”housewives of Australia … doing their ironing”?

Is it misogyny when some buffoon at a union dinner makes a cheap and speculative (and defamatory, which by the way is why you haven’t read it, and not very funny either) joke about the Opposition Leader and his female chief of staff?…

Sexism is everywhere in politics – you just have to count the examples that have cropped up this week once everyone suddenly started to care about it.

Mr Abbott’s response to the speech, understandably, was very different; he couldn’t believe he’d been called a misogynist, and that – in my personal opinion – is fair enough.

Mr Abbott has been guilty of sexism, and at times extreme dopiness, with respect to women. But a deep and unswerving hatred of women, ”every day, and in every way”? It’s not a case I’d prosecute.

Thursday, the day on which Christopher Pyne was arguing to the Speaker that the word ”bloke” was sexist and unparliamentary, and everybody else was going through the roll-call of the guilty, otherwise known as the guest-list for the CFMEU dinner, was the first International Day of the Girl.

One in three girls around the world do not get an education, the charity Plan International reports. One in seven is married before the age of 15. One in four is sexually abused by the time she’s 18. On Tuesday, as Australia’s gender debate revved up, 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban; punishment for her insistence that she has the right to be educated.

The definitional squabble over the term ”misogyny”, in other words, is rather a clear-cut affair, in certain less blessed parts of the globe…

One of the most sensible things I have read so far.

You want to see misogyny? Look no further than the Taliban. Comparatively you won’t find much of it in any Australian parliament, though sexism and dopiness are not so hard to find.

Then there is a tradition, quite venerable really, as any fan of the 17th century poet and libertine the Earl of Rochester knows:

Love a Woman! y’are an Ass,
‘Tis a most insipid Passion,
To Chuse out for Happiness
The idlest part of God’s Creation.

Let the Porter and the Groom,
Things design’d for Dirty Slaves,
Drudge in Fair Aurelia‘s Womb,
To get Supplies for Age and Graves.

Farewel Woman, I intend
Henceforth ev’ry Night to sit
With my Lewd Well-natur’d Friend,
Drinking, to engender Wit.

Then give me Health, Wealth, Mirth, and Wine,
And if busie Love intrenches,
There’s a sweet soft Page of mine,
Do’s the Trick worth Forty Wenches.

Now that could be called misogyny, even if it is not entirely clear how serious Rochester is…

Leaving that and the Punch and Judy show of 2012 politics aside, I go back a bit – but not before commending a couple of other articles.

Charles Waterstreet in today’s Sun-HeraldGillard brought down the House.

…Abbott likes women around him, so do I. They are smarter. Like Ramjan, they are more generous, kinder and emotionally honest. Ramjan built houses of bricks in her career, Abbott a house of sticks.

In law, good character means, among other things, that what such a person says about a matter is more likely to be believed. If Ramjan says she was intimidated, surrounded by fists, then I believe her. If Abbott could not recall it, then I would have believed that, too. When he changed his mind and said it did not happen, I believe Barbara.

The Prime Minister nailed Abbott to the wall this week. We have all done stupid things. Men of character apologise and move on. They don’t hide from the fog of the past and suddenly remember. I have been accused of living in a glass house of misogyny and sexism myself. When I appeared with Penny Wong on Q&A, I whispered to her that we had something in common. She turned to me quickly – ”We both love beautiful women”. She laughed, I think.

Abbott could not laugh when Gillard stripped him of all his emperor penguin’s clothes in the chamber. One thing he could do is get dressed, get on his bicycle and cycle down to Barbara Ramjan’s house and apologise.

Michelle Grattan: Misogyny war has no winner.

Now to go back, as promised, and to THE SHIRE!!!  Yes, I watched Puberty Blues last night – the 1981 movie, not the recent much praised Channel 10 miniseries.

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Now those are more the Cronulla I remember, as distinct from the over-developed version I saw when I revisited this time last year. Even so, my time teaching at Cronulla predates the period Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey wrote about by a good decade or more. By the 1970s I was in Wollongong rather than Cronulla, and the drug issues that form part of the story in Puberty Blues I associate with Wollongong, therefore, rather than Cronulla. (The ethnic mix in that second North Cronulla still above is interesting too for 1981.)

Sadly, I don’t think the 1981 movie is all that good. Having 20-somethings (it seems) playing the school-aged surfie guys didn’t work for me, and the parodic elements in the story clashed with the serious rather too much. But I really don’t think the book is all that great either.

Nonetheless I enjoyed the nostalgia trip, even if it was to a place that wasn’t really quite like that at the time. But see Kate Hunter, Puberty Blues: boys were really like that in the 70s.

It’s so sad the boys in Puberty Blues do little to make life better – more fun, more interesting, more memorable for the girls.

Whenever a panel van pulls up, or a wave packed with surfers rolls in, the girls’ relationship shifts. The mood gets darker, loaded … dangerous. I wanted to yell at the boys, ‘Rack off, you dickheads, those girls were having a perfectly nice time until you showed up.’

Maybe that’s just me. Could be because now I’m a mother of daughters. I’m not a girl anymore. Thank God.

Spring

Spring

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

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West Wollongong this morning.

E-books and editing–opportunity and hazard

Way back in the last century when word processing was hot new technology I knew nothing about I became a footnote in Australian literature – but I did learn a thing or two about publishing and editing. As I wrote back then:

AFTERWORD TO NEOS 1

If you have enjoyed this first issue of Neos as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you, then our aims are achieved. We have had to select from material at hand; we hope you, our readers, will become contributors, widening the range on which we can draw. Yet we have been able to give you, in this initial sample, work in whose quality we believe…

We do not have rigid preconceptions concerning what and how you should write. But if we were to offer advice, it might be that of Ezra Pound*:

Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something. Go in fear of abstractions… Use either no ornament or good ornament… If you are using a symmetrical form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remaining vacuums with slush… the proper and perfect symbol is the natural object, … if a man use “symbols” he must so use them that their symbolic function does not obtrude; so that a sense, and the poetic quality of the passage, is not lost to those who do not understand the symbol as such, to whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk.

Advice we aim at; we do not always succeed.

Second, expect to discover things as you write: that is the joy of writing, as Australian poet Robert Gray observed in Island Magazine (June 7 1981):

All those details [in the poem "Telling the Beads"] which sound as if they’re the record of an experience I’ve had of walking into a garden in the morning are things that actually I never knew I’d observed, and when I sat down with a white sheet of paper those things came into my mind like a new experience. They’d obviously been things I’d encountered somewhere, in some form, but then I really saw them for the first time on the white page as I wrote, which is one of the reasons one enjoys writing so much.

Third, revise what you’ve written. Of this Robert Gray said:

I keep the drafts, and I just trust to my response to know if and where I’ve overworked it, but usually I haven’t. To me, to write well is to have the exact word. It’s absolutely essential to choose only the words that are appropriate and nothing else… I just try to always work for the feeling of clarity… I think if you’re going to say something, if you’re going to open your mouth at all, you have to be prepared to really examine and define and refine what you’re talking about until you get it right.

If then we decide to use your work, you may get from us some suggestions for further revision. This is not meant to discourage you. Rather, see us not as “experts” (which we’re not) but as your writing partners, dedicated to bringing out as well as possible what you want to say.

* Charles Norman (ed), Poets on Poetry, NY, Collier 1962, pp 320-333. John Hawke reminded me of Pound’s important statement. Robert Gray became a regular reader, I might add, and a keen supporter.

And later on I found myself editing – at his request, mind – Frank Moorhouse and then Rob and I found ourselves editing – virtually rewriting a sentence or two – Les Murray. Why? Because even truly accomplished writers — if in a hurry as were both, I suspect, doing guest pieces for us – can nod off. “Les Murray is Australia’s leading poet and one of the greatest contemporary poets writing in English. His work has been published in ten languages.”

So what happens with eBooks?  One prompt for this post was The Diary in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

WITH THE E-BOOK PHENOMENON

MAINSTREAM publishing houses are colonising new territory in the next stage of an e-book revolution that is changing not only how we read, but what we read, forever, The Guardian reports. After the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as an e-book series posted on a fan site by its author E L James, and which has become the world’s fastest-selling book, publishers are circling the thriving online platforms serving unpublished writers. Last week Pearson, the owner of Penguin Books, bought one of the biggest grassroots publishers, the American company Author Solutions, for £74 million ($111 million). The idea is that Pearson will no longer have to rely on spotting e-book successes early on; instead, they will own a new author’s work from the first moment it appears online. Last week the Glaswegian crime writer Denise Mina said she believed e-books would soon radically alter the publishing industry. After receiving a British crime novel of the year award for The End of the Wasp Season, she said: ”Nobody knows what sells. More so now because the market’s changing so fundamentally because of Kindle and electronic publishing … It’s going to change the sorts of stories that we hear, which is amazing.”

So we all know the potential even if we really have no idea yet where this will all end up. And of course the opportunities for young – and not-so-young—writers are just mind-blowing. What would Neos look like today? Well, go to Smashwords and you will find out: there are quite a few journals, some of them excellent, available there free! And some of them are edited – by which I mean the copy has passed before human eyes and informed brains before you get to see it. Sadly, however, there are plenty of cases where this doesn’t happen.

Writing isn’t easy and no writer, bloggers excepted perhaps, inflicts first drafts on his or her readers. Most writers would rather no-one except themselves and their editors ever saw their first drafts, let alone publish them. And yes, this is a first draft though it will get edited if I spot something really wrong with it. But then this is a blog, not a properly published piece of writing.

Sometimes the lack of editing leads to absurdities like these, from a book I am now reading.

“This belonged to my granddad” said George, “your great-grandfather. He was fighting the Japanese over in the Pacific during the war. When he died he passed the medal over to his son, my Father passed it down to me on my eightieth birthday. I was saving it for your eightieth. But being that you’re already on the way to become a man, I’ve decided to give it to you now. I hope you like it. This became a lucky charm for me. It helped me through many hard times, I can tell you. I hope that it will help you in the same way it helped me”

Context makes clear that should be “eighteenth” and a good editor and/or proof reader would have spotted this in a trice. And one more:

Ross’ room was jam-packed with cupboard boxes.

Oh the curse of the spell-checker! I will let you work that out.

If such things were infrequent I wouldn’t really complain, as I am not all that much of a pedant. Trouble is some published eBooks are so littered with such solecisms and worse – mangled sentences are worse—that one really does start to choke on what one is reading.

Now my two examples are from a good young writer from England – potentially a very good writer indeed. So apologies, really, to Nathan Davey (b. 1993).

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Nathan Davey

He has two books out there: Dust in the Wind and Aaron Connor.   Of these Aaron Connor is far and away the better. On Dust in the Wind I agree with a very thoughtful review on Amazon:

Ok… the good, the bad, the confusing…

The good: Ross and his friend Beth are truly nice kids. Their dialogue and interaction in the beginning of the book is very realistic and rather heartwarming… you can actually relive the nervousness of your first date and your first kiss.

Ross’s feelings for his family – especially his little sister. The emotional trauma and feelings that Ross goes through while trying to rescue his family, his reactions to what he sees "above" and his memories of better times before the nuclear bomb hit LA.

The secondary characters: General Gardner, Nick Beat, and how they meet Ross and Beth and the ties that are formed.

The bad: Maybe "bad" is a harsh word – instead, let’s call it "breaking out our inner child and suspending all belief" that the government could actually build an entire underground city and more importantly, would have enough moving vans and "helpers" to load everyone’s entire household on the same day and then convoy it down to their identical houses (and streets) below…

In my opinion, the author is truly talented – I just think he needs to pick a target age group and write consistently for that age. And, based on what I read, he would be successful at whatever that targeted age group would be.

I would still recommend this book and look forward to reading more from the author as I feel he is truly talented!

I think he is truly talented too, and Aaron Connor shows this, though even there I just don’t buy the ending… The nearer Davey writes to his experience and his genuine concerns, the better he is.

I have a little secret to tell you about Teachers. They don’t care about you. The only reason they want your grades to be high is to make the school look good. They don’t give a toss about your well being or about your future. To them it’s just a job, which is a bugger as their job should be helping you get a job. Of course, like everything these days, money always comes first doesn’t it? When will we all learn that it’s just paper? Life’s too short to be worrying about little pieces of green paper!

I mean, Teachers are dicks aren’t they? I can’t imagine why these people, who are meant to determine our future, could be such horrible people. Every Teacher I’ve ever come across has been a patronising, horrid, vile, smoke stinking, whiskey swilling, pompous, stuck up and arrogant old psychopath! They find joy in making you feel insignificant.

If you’re bullied, they don’t do anything useful to stop it. All they do is “have a word with them” which makes the bullies beat you up even harder for snitching. I bet there are good Teachers out there somewhere, it’s just a shame that I had all the nutters.

I and Teachers have never gotten along. Do you really want to know why? Because they blamed me for everything! If anything anti-social happened at the school, it always seemed that the finger was pointed at me, whether I was involved in the event or not. I never did stuff like that, but that didn’t stop the Teachers from assuming that I was the guilty one.

Just because of how you look or act they make assumptions about you. It’s so contradictory, as they spend entire assemblies going on and on about treating everyone as equals, when they themselves are the most judgemental sods I’ve ever known! If they smell cigarette smoke on the playground, they search for the first bloke in a hoodie they can find and punish them accordingly. No evidence, no jury, no plead for innocence just straight forward punishment. It was like being stuck in a George Orwell book!

Mr Bertgill was the worst of those judgemental horrors. I wasn’t particularly smart. That’s all there was to it. It wasn’t that I didn’t pay attention in class because I bloody well did. I took notes and asked questions and everything. The information just didn’t go into my little brain box. It went into one ear and then buggered off out the other.

That didn’t matter though. Mr Bertgill uses my dress code and background to create his own story in his head. In his head I’m a delinquent who disturbs classes, talks back to Teachers and plays games on his phone during lessons. He believes that I’m not even bothering to learn but that’s not true! I want a future as much as anybody!

There are some great chapters set in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. Given that the Youth Theatre Group Davey has been associated with was there in a production not a million miles from the one described – well, one hopes there is a strong dash of poetic licence happening…

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From an actual Youth Theatre production in Edinburgh in 2009

based on this

The children were dressed in striped uniforms. Their hair was completely shaven, the hair they had before must have been wigs of some sort. They were marching in a lined procession up the street, led by several boys dressed as Nazis. The boys dressed as Nazis were goose-stepping and had their hands rose in a Hitler salute. At the back of the procession were two people, who were holding up large banners brandishing the swastika. Joe was at the back as well, holding an amplifier which was plugged into his MP3 player. From the MP3 player, Joe was playing Adolf Hitler’s Rally Speeches at full blast. The man with the monk haircut was whipping the young actors with a fake rubber whip, while singing the German national anthem.

The one thing that Joe hadn’t counted on, was a large group of German students and tourists being on the Royal Mile that day. If they had done this on a day in which the street was occupied by British people alone, all they would have got was a fair amount of tutting. Instead they got a massive backlash of hatred from the crowd.

One German man with a grey beard came out of the crowd, grabbed the amplifier from Joe’s hands and smashed it over his head. Joe went tumbling to the ground, as bits of broken plastic fell all over the cobblestone street. There was a massive cheer from the crowd.

Even though I shouldn’t have done, I smiled at the sight of it. Serves you right I thought, you insensitive bastard!

Interesting to see what Davey has been reading. (Amazing thing, this Internet!) There is something there I may follow up on myself.  Russell Brand.

So what of eBooks then?  I am rather glad to have had the opportunity to read a very promising writer fifty years younger than myself who lives on the other side of the planet. Not before eBooks would this have happened so readily. Still, I do wonder where editors, proof-readers and publishers will end up – and whether there may be a considerable loss there in the world of writing, or quality writing.

Freebies again–and pretty good they are too

No relation. Well, given that the Whitfields I spring from seem to have left England in the 17th century…

Handsome chap though.

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See the reviews.

Here is my new-found English cousin on The Sexist, Racist & Homophobic Comedian:

Have you heard the one about the non-heterosexual gentleman from Pakistan and his mixed race, differently-abled mother-in-law?”

I haven’t used the same vernacular as the old school comedian would have done, but I think you can do the reverse translation yourself. These comedians offered a brand of comedy drenched in misogyny and xenophobia, which to their less than educated minds were two small Greek Islands frequented by the holidaying Princess Margaret and her ‘gardener’, Roddy Llewellyn.

The late Bernard Manning was a good case in point. Here was a comic with brilliant timing and delivery, a natural funny man, but whose material was mined from the depths of prejudice and small mindedness. If he had used his undoubted talents to turn the comedy back on to himself, who knows, he might have been a national treasure. Well, maybe not a national treasure, more a national three-penny bit found on Southport beach by a geek with a metal detector, but he wouldn’t have been as reviled as he became.

To be fair, it’s easy to sit in judgement by taking current socially accepted values and applying them retrospectively to a time when there was less tolerance and understanding. Indeed, in the era when this brand of humour was at its peak, homosexuality had not long been legalised, sexual discrimination was not unlawful, and racial bigotry was endemic. It was little wonder that the humorous machinations of a few bawdy comedians were not judged to be overstepping the mark.

But as the generations replenished one another, and society became more open-minded and inclusive, these comedians found themselves out of step with large swathes of public opinion. Unable to change with the times, their material became polarised and more extreme as a consequence. Misinterpreting the new mood as ‘political correctness gone mad’, their place in the mainstream was taken by the new breed of alternative comedian, and the old racist, sexist and homophobic comic was relegated to the sidelines forever, retreating back to the social clubs and out of the public consciousness.

We now live in an age where we don’t laugh at someone’s sexual orientation, race or gender; we look at the differences and laugh at them, so that we are all laughing together. Even so, humour will always have the power to offend and that’s probably a healthy thing. I’ve certainly lived a life where I’ve put that strategy into everyday practice with a metronomic regularity.

There are plenty of boring people in the world, carrying a permanent visage as if somebody has just stuck a wasp up their arse, and these individuals need to be occasionally shaken from their miserable dispositions. Hopefully, if you have inadvertently used a wasp’s nest as a cushion, this book will have helped.

Even if you’ve remained po-faced as you’ve read these pages, I will take some literal consolation from your inferred opinion that this book is one big joke.

He has also written Balls: “An irreverent and informative look at the history of the sixteen football teams that played at the 2012 Euros. It is a journey across Europe and the World that takes in the sights of glory, humiliation, politics, war, visionaries, parochialism, corruption, gamesmanship and pies. If you like football, you will love this book. It is complete and utter Balls!”

In both I become aware at times that I am after all NOT English, but there is enough left over in both books – more than most of both in fact – that I can relate to here in Oz, and time and again I laughed out loud.

Now to Canada and Lenny Everson, poet and novelist. Mount Moriah had me in stitches at times.

The few who listened to Copeman were too young to influence the seniors who chummed with politicians and who had one eye on their pensions. These guys lived in the certainty that if anything like a bombing happened, they could fire some of the young agents (or Copeman, who wasn’t young but should have been) for not warning the administrators more clearly and forcefully.

There had been agents who had predicted acts of terror and who had been clear and forceful. But then, if the act hadn’t happened, even if because the police had headed it off after a hint or two, the agent who had done the prediction was forever a wolf-crier who would be the subject of derision and chuckling sarcasm at department meetings ever afterwards.

Which described the fix Copeman had got himself into. He’d connected a Saudi of middle-class heritage with a group of mad mullahs, and had followed the lead right to a pile of dynamite and a backpack. But the connection wasn’t provable in court, it turned out, and although the police had moved in a day before the backpack was to generate a bus station full of shredded Canadian flesh, that saved a few lives, but it didn’t get anybody convicted. A few people had taken a hint and decamped for their mideast homelands, and Copeman became a guy who predicted a bombing that didn’t happen.

Which is why he was in a small, windowless room, which he shared with the department’s Gestetner machine. Only the fact that nobody used the Gestetner any more kept Copeman’s sanity. And the fact that he had a cheerful apartment overlooking the Rideau Canal to go home to. That and his collection of leaves.

Copeman collected leaves and conifer needles as a hobby, and it had kept him from going round the bend when his girlfriend had become a friend of a politician in Ottawa, spending more bed time in the back of the parliamentary block than in Copeman’s place. Maybe she had a fondness for guys with two legs.

So he spent his days now chasing down bad leads and bugging every mosque in Ontario. Which was a topic of endless meetings and updates for his bosses, this being a sensitive project politically.

He also handled information and payments to five different people who were willing to keep track on their Muslim brethren for a weekly payment. Or at least they said they were trying to keep crazy people from tarnishing the name of Islam. He suspected that at least one wasn’t delivering, but it was hard to be sure of which one. They all gave reports that sounded the same: a few annoyed people but no one about to blow things up.

Copeman knew that was possible, but the Americans were sure that someone, somewhere, was planning to teach Canada a lesson. A loud lesson. And humoring the Americans was essential.

Anybody with half a brain could figure that the security service had undercover contacts all over the place and had microphones anywhere two people might gather to bow towards Mecca.

He’d got onto the Dayton Block only because Haski, the tailor from Yemen, had attracted the attention of the CIA and military intelligence. With the destruction of Haski’s cousin by the CIA (via the drone aircraft), the CIA either had to admit someone had made a mistake, or they had to make sure Haski’s cousin was covered with suspicion. Option B seemed the best bet, and had become as standard with the CIA as it had with the NKVD in the old Soviet Union.

Knowing, as they did, that Haski’s cousin had just borrowed the wrong car to drive into town, they weren’t really concerned about Haski, but procedures had to be followed. So, for the first time, they followed procedures, asking CSIS to investigate Haski.

Copeman’s bosses knew about CIA cover-your-ass operations, so they assigned the investigation to Copeman. He was wise enough to see through that, but he’d just learned from a contact that Aklif, the owner of Corner Convenience, was from Afghanistan and might be an object of suspicion. Actually, Aklif had nothing more explosive in his shop than a dropped Pepsi can, but two Muslims in one building constituted an item to be investigated.

He knew nothing about the two brothers upstairs from Aklif, nothing about the alien in the back apartment, and nothing yet about Poe the poet or Agnew the agnostic. He had much to learn.

He set off for Waterloo on the 15th of March, to see if he could make up a report that would keep him employed for a few months more.

Finally, an Australian writer: Colin Falconer.

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Full of really interesting items, but my Kobo Reader gives up on it after page 48 for some reason. No problem with Calibre on the computer though.

Everything you’ve ever heard about Mexico City is true. The city contains roughly the same population as the whole of Australia and twice as many cars as people. They say that one day walking in the streets of El DF is equivalent to smoking a pack of forty cigarettes.

I was there for a week a few years back to promote a book I had written about the conquest of Mexico. I had not read the book myself on anything except my laptop and the Australian edition was still in editing. So it was slightly surreal to fly halfway across the world and discover it has been a bestseller in another country for weeks.

The central figure of my story was a Mayan princess called Malinali (better known in the west as Malinche), Hernan Cortes’ lover during his ‘entrada’ in the early sixteenth century. My book speculated about her life, her motives, her role in the defeat of the Aztecs and most especially, the precise nature of her relationship with the great conquistador.

Well. You wouldn’t think the Mexicans would care anymore, would you? The woman has been dead for half a millennium and her name is almost unknown outside of Mexico.

But they do care; they care a lot. It was why almost every newspaper and magazine in the city wanted to talk to me.

They care so much, in fact, that at times I was being interviewed by three journalists at a time because there was not enough time to schedule everyone. Not all of the journalists liked the book; halfway through one interview a journalist threw his manbag at me and said he was offended by my interpretation of Malinche, a woman he and many Mexicans regard as a traitor of the first rank. She is responsible for selling out Mexico and consigning her nation to catastrophe and slavery, he said. Well, perhaps. But there’s two sides to every story.

Finally he stormed out of the office.

I didn’t read the review but I got the impression that I wouldn’t be able to use any quotes on the cover of the reprint.

A Damaged Boy

Three years of original thoughts, worlds and characters crammed into a single ebook. An egg-eating snake made to feel unwelcome, a promise “never to love anyone ever again” tested to the extreme, a Welsh village where everyone is knighted, and goose with a very fat head. To name but a few.

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Outstanding for imagination and variety, a dazzling display of voices and a genre-bender: Alex Burrett, A Damaged Boy.

An egg-eating snake slithered into a greasy spoon café after a tough morning bending reinforcement bars. A fellow labourer opened the door for him, saving him the ignominy of having to shove it open with his nose then slide quickly in before his tail got trapped. Locating a workman’s café near a construction site isn’t always easy, so there’s no point holding out for one with an electric sliding door.

For the snake, finding a place where he was made welcome was more important than the access/egress method anyway. Not everyone warms to egg-eaters. Occasionally pernickety individuals kick up a fuss at his eating habits. As far as he was concerned, that was their issue. An egg-eating snake can no more adjust his unique method of devouring raw eggs than a leopard can change its spots. And after all, it wasn’t so long ago that knife and fork users were contemptuous of chopstick users and vice versa….

Or:

Jesus is a mean wrestler. Not ‘mean’ as in nasty, but in its more modern sense of being damned effective at winning physical contests. Jesus could never be nasty. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.

Greco-Roman is his style, unsurprising considering his upbringing. But he happily competes in all the other disciplines – some of which exist in just one corner of one district of one country in the world. Despite the variety of rules and regulations he conforms to, he generally wins gold medals in all competitions. And he’s competing all the time. There is no let-up in his wrestling schedule – it’s like the modern professional tennis season. One day he’s grappling on hard-baked mud in the centre of an African market town, the next he’s pinning someone down on the tough grasses of the Mongolian Steppe. He loves the sport. In his opinion it demonstrates the ultimate expression of admirable masculine values: strength, courage, quickness of mind and body, and guile. Wrestling, he told me, is the only sport capable of unifying all men. He believes that if every male on the planet competed in some form of unarmed sporting combat or other, there’d be no appetite left for waging wars.

I did judo for a few years. I enjoyed the experience of fighting one to one with another man without worrying that he’d to reach for a knife or gun if I won. I was no Brian Jacks though. I was more of an enthusiastic fighter than an effective one. Groundwork was my strength. Once I was struggling on the mats with an opponent, my strength and courage made up for my lack of skill. On my feet, I was far more vulnerable. I lacked the speed of body and mind that allows good practitioners of judo to outwit and outmanoeuvre the person they are fighting. Because of my lumbering attacks, I never progressed through the grades. I would sometimes do well in competitions, defeating brown belts who also lacked striking speed and relied on being physically obstinate on the floor. I’d eventually get knocked out when I came up against someone who could attack much more quickly than I could react or defend. I never imagined during those fruitless years on the dojo, that I’d end up regularly manhandling Christ. But I did…

Or:

Every hundred years or so, someone on this planet doesn’t die when they should. They get to a certain age, then stop aging. Our immortal is one of them. He lives under the remains of the cottage in the North Field. That ruin is distinctively, noticeably, different from all the rest. It stands out. There is a lot more left of it than the cottages in the East Field, the West Field, or among the trees beyond. When we lived on the farm, his cottage still had four impressive walls, three of which were almost complete along their lengths, standing their full height of seven feet. The dwellings in the other two fields, once equal in stature, had shriveled to buried stumps—grass-covered mounds indicating where proud walls once stood. They looked liked elongated grave mounds concealing a past they were ashamed of.

The cottage in the North Field had been the Immortal’s home before he retreated to subterranean security. If he’d lived a normal lifespan, it would be in the same state of disrepair as the rest of the relics. For a while, he thought that if he kept himself to himself, he’d be able to carry on residing there. He did so, living in it well into his hundred and thirties. Up to the point he abandoned it, he’d spent those thirteen decades (except for periods during the occasional foreign war or two) sheltering between its four walls. But he was deluded thinking that the simple country folk would let him carry on forever, and local prejudice eventually drove him underground. Resist the aging process for a decade or two, and people think you’re lucky. Resist it for a generation longer, and they start to think you’re evil incarnate. As The Immortal refused to grow old, spooked, jealous mortals grew first restless, then aggressive. Under assault from all sides, like a First World War shell dodger, or a Vietcong fighter with an aversion to napalm, he dug in…

That last one being from Alex Burrett’s wildly inventive debut collection, My Goat Ate Its Own Legs.

Not sure how old he is, as he reveals little about himself, except that he was born near Tintern Abbey, so famous thanks to the Wordsworth poem which features in one of the stories.  He does say this:

The works that have most inspired my writing are:

  • The complete works of Franz Kafka
  • The Outsider, Albert Camus
  • Animal Farm, George Orwell
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  • Candide, Voltaire
  • Lucifer, Mike Carey (graphic novel series)
  • Preacher, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (graphic novel series)
  • Sandman, Neil Gaiman (graphic novel series)
  • Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
  • The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Poetry, multiple authors…

Sam wrote: I would be very interested to know how you honed your writing style as it is very different from anything I have read before. ‘Goat’ was a book I couldn’t stop reading and desparately didn’t want to end.

I replied with this, realising afterwards that I’d had a bit of a rant:

Your question about my style is astute. It’s a question not many ask – preferring to presume something is lacking rather than imagining intent. I could write an essay in reply, but that would take me months and several rewrites before I was happy – and, to be honest, I’m better at using fiction to display my thinking rather than describing it. So I’ll give it a go in email shorthand…

In any age, there are established ways of doing anything – from styles of writing, through ways of making war to philosophical processes. The vast majority of our well-received human output in any era will fall into these trends. There are countless examples. I’m sure there were celebrated Ancient Egyptian artists whose aesthetics are lost to us now, whose once heralded genius blends into the rest of the writing on the wall. To modern men and women.

I’m not interested in keeping up with the Literati Joneses. And, to be honest, lots about modern storytelling bores me witless. Much modern writing is about escapism – about creating characters who never were and who never will be. It’s a time of impotent literature. Many narrative forms have blended into one – the film plot narrative where a hero overcomes all to save the day. It’s how we can create film franchises from rollercoaster rides or shoot-em-up computer games. That is the tide. Swim with it and a writer increases their chances of making a living from what they do. But I’m in the writing game to engage, to challenge, to provoke. Not to make a living at all costs. Perhaps that’s why you like my writing. Perhaps not? Let me know what it is about my writing you like. All that matters to me is that you find something in it that works for you. I enjoy writing – and find it immensely satisfying to know that there are people out there (you and others) who enjoy reading it.

I was hooked after the first story and will no doubt reread before long!

One down side, not only in this ebook: the need for a really good publisher’s editor/proofreader, as really distracting homophone woes are left untouched, or created, by some spellcheck program or other – “reign”/”rein”/”rain” is just one confusion that occurs more than once. Annoying, especially as the author’s style is so spot on so often!

See Rob Around Books.

I first discovered Alex Burrett way back in 2009 when one of his stories featured on Harper Perennial’s Fifty-Two Stories website (you can read my 4.5/5 review of that story HERE). Then, in 2010, Alex’s first collection featured in my ‘Flash Clash’ challenge, when I pitted him against the works of four other short fiction authors (Nik Perring, David Gaffney, Etgar Keret and Dan Rhodes). Although I’m yet to publish the final results from that challenge (talk about long overdue, I know :) ), I fondly remember just how satisfyingly original Alex’s stories were (just like the one I read on Fifty-Two Stories). I’d say that those who have read and enjoyed the stories of Etgar Keret (or Nik Perring for that matter), will ADORE Alex Burrett.

Fascinated by Tyndale…

Political or what? From his Prologue/Translation of Jonah (1531):

tyndale1¶ And in lyke maner sens the world beganne / where soeuer repentaunce was offered and not receaued / there God toke cruell vengeaunce immediatly: as ye se in ye floud of Noe / in the ouerthrowēge of Sodō & Gomor & all the contre aboute: & as ye se of Egipte / of the Amorites / Cananites & afterwarde of the very Israelites / & then at the last of the Iewes to / ād of the Assyriens and Babyloniens and so thorout all the imperes of the world.

¶ Gyldas preached repētaunce vn to ye olde Britaynes that inhabited englōd: they repented not / & therfore God sent in theyr enimies vppō thē on euery side & destroyed thē vpp & gaue the lōd vn to other naciōs. And greate vengeaunce hath bene takē in that lande for synne sens that tyme.

¶ Wicleffe preached repētaunce vn to oure fathers not longe sens: they repēted not for their hertes were indurat & theyr eyes blinded with their awne Pope holy rightwesnesse wherwith they had made theyr soules gaye agenst the receauinge agayne of ye weked spirite that bringeth .vii. worse then hym selfe with him & maketh ye later ende worse then the beginninge: for in open sinnes there is hope of repentaunce / but in holy ypocrisie none at all. But what folowed? they slew their true & right kinge ād sett vpp .iii. wrōge kīges arow / vnder which all the noble bloud was slayne vpp ād halfe the comēs therto / what in fraunce & what with their awne swerde / in fightīge amonge thē selues for ye crowne / & ye cities and townes decayed and the land brought halfe in to a wyldernesse in respecte of that it was before.

¶ And now Christ to preach repētaunce / is resen yet ōce agayne out of his sepulchre in which the pope had buried him and kepte him downe with his pilars and polaxes and all disgysinges of ypocrisie / with gyle / wiles and falshed / ād with the swerd of al princes which he had blynded with his false marchaundice. And as I dowte not of ye ensamples that are past / so am I sure that greate wrath will folow / excepte repētaunce turne it backe agayne and cease it.

See also English Bible History: William Tyndale.

… The printing of this English New Testament in quarto was begun at Cologne in the summer of 1525, and completed at Worms, and that there was likewise printed an octavo edition, both before the end of that year. William Tyndale’s Biblical translations appeared in the following order: New Testament, 1525-26; Pentateuch, 1530; Jonah, 1531.

His literary activity during that interval was extraordinary. When he left England, his knowledge of Hebrew, if he had any, was of the most rudimentary nature; and yet he mastered that difficult tongue so as to produce from the original an admirable translation of the entire Pentateuch, the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First Chronicles, contained in Matthew’s Bible of 1537, and of the Book of Jonah, so excellent, indeed, that his work is not only the basis of those portions of the Authorized King James Version of 1611, but constitutes nine-tenths of that translation, and very largely that of the English Revised Version of 1885…

The Betrayal and Death of William Tyndale

Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, Philips, the agent either of Henry or of English ecclesiastics, or possibly of both. Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Vilvoorden for over 500 days of horrible conditions. He was tried for heresy and treason in a ridiculously unfair trial, and convicted. Tyndale was then strangled and burnt at the stake in the prison yard, Oct. 6, 1536. His last words were, "Lord, open the king of England’s eyes." This prayer was answered three years later, in the publication of King Henry VIII’s 1539 English “Great Bible”.

Tyndale’s place in history has not yet been sufficiently recognized as a translator of the Scriptures, as an apostle of liberty, and as a chief promoter of the Reformation in England. In all these respects his influence has been singularly under-valued. The sweeping statement found in almost all histories, that Tyndale translated from the Vulgate and Luther, is most damaging to the reputation of the writers who make it; for, as a matter of fact, it is contrary to truth, since his translations are made directly from the originals, with the aid of the Erasmus 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament, and the best available Hebrew texts. The Prolegomena in Mombert’s William Tyndale’s Five Books of Moses show conclusively that Tyndale’s Pentateuch is a translation of the Hebrew original.

How did you go with the Tudor English?

And, even allowing for the points made by that enthusiastic historian, just what that Tyndale actually believed has a place in the 21st century? One shudders at so much that followed him, on all sides in Britain, Europe,  and America eventually.

For example, can we still really admire the 18th century Calvinist Jonathan Edwards, “widely acknowledged to be America’s most important and original philosophical theologian”? Or should  we just recoil from the fact that once it was more than OK to attribute such obscene psychopathology to the Creator of the Universe? (And still is among quite a few in the Islamic and Christian worlds…)

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The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.

Thus are all you that never passed under a great change of heart by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin to a state of new and before altogether unexperienced light and life, (however you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, and may be strict in it), you are thus in the hands of an angry God; ’tis nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction.

However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things that they depended on for peace and safety were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes, as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince: and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. ’Tis ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world after you closed your eyes to sleep; and there is no other reason to be given why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you han’t gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don’t this very moment drop down into hell.