Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Coming to a mall or town near you???

Heard a fascinating discussion on NPR the other day on the way home from the 'Y.'

Apparently, over in England, many town councils and shopkeepers are installing a 'mosquito' device that emits a high-pitched sound that only people under twenty can hear. The annoying buzz sound quickly scatters groups of loitering teenagers who find it irritating and uncomfortable and thus move away to another spot in town where they can socialize or whatever it is teenagers do these days.

There are now calls to have it banned. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole business--especially since babies (the next generation of teenagers) can hear it as well and may become immune to its sound.

Living now in the US, I've become very aware of the concept of individual freedom--something that admittedly is being eroded currently--so my gut-feel is it isn't right and should be banned. England does seem to have changed through the years because they have CCTVs everywhere, a carryover from the years of IRA campaigns on the mainland that got extended until it got out of control, I'd imagine--which wouldn't be tolerated over here. On the other hand, teenagers can be a pesky lot (pun absolutely intended). They gather in my local town center and shop-owners complain as well.

Maybe the solution is to provide things for kids to do and for parents to act like parents and exert control of their charges in the waning years of their offspring's adolescence.

Anyway, there are calls to ban the Mosquito and I'm sure court challenges will ensue.

Friday, February 22, 2008

American Zeitgeist

Watching and trying to interpret the American Zeitgeist as we wend our way to the Presidential election is hugely exciting. I was here during the election of Bill Clinton and can remember the sense of unrestrained optimism that eddied around the dinner tables and parlors of my friends. No British or Irish election had ever generated such a sense of expectation times squared, no make that tripled.

It must be acknowledged Bill Clinton did deliver and I have often wondered why Ronald Regan is lauded still by many as the president who swept America to a new prosperity. They forget the heartless policies behind this trickle down economic "success" and forget conveniently that Bill Clinton left this country with a surplus when his time finished. The current administration, conservative it proudly heralds, has spent more than any Democratic administration in memory. Why is this not being shouted from the roof tops? Why are conservative Republicans with a small 'c' not being more vociferous and still leery of Democrats as being the party of 'Big Government?' I can't understand.

But back to the current primaries. It's certain now that John McCain will be the Republican nominee and Huckabee (and Chuck Norris) are now only in the running in order to secure their name on the ticket as Vice President.

I could not vote for him because he is 'out to pasture' on the war, but one thing I truly admire about McCain is his stance on earmarks--favorite wish lists that senators try to slip into legislation no matter how unrelated to their project; in other words pork barrel politics. McCain is right to want to end their use and, to be fair to him, he has not sought any while Clinton and Obama have made use of the practice. Clinton and Obama are silent about that. This must be noted. (It will be interesting to see how the 'affair' with a lobbyist that's been reported by The New York Times plays out, because there's no smoke without fire.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's race is of a very different color. I find myself swinging back and forth, torn between Obama's call for change and Clinton's cry that she has the experience. My gut feel is that an amalgam of the two would be superb. But that we can't have.

Who to choose?
Zeitgeist suggests that Barack Obama has a decided edge and this is conformed by the fact that ex-pats eligible to vote in the primaries have also given him the edge. Americans are angry with the current administration and are clamoring for real change. They don't want talk. They want it to occur. He's a visionary leader--in other words he presents what he believes America wants like say Roosevelt and 'The New Deal', seeking consensus among the competing interests, leaving it for the 'managers' to implement the policies and hold them utterly accountable. Hillary, on the other hand, managers from the 'top down' and gets involved in every aspect. I don't think that works because we've tried that and it didn't work.

Can Obama deliver? This is the elephant in the room. His handling of the nuclear power issue in his own back yard would not seem to suggest he can wield the sort of change Americans are seeking. his bill got diluted and he accepted it; worrying when one considers it was on an issue of health and safety.

Given this, is the question of experience then not more important than the change the direction of this country. Is it experience that is necessary to navigate the ship of state through the shark-infested waters in order to achieve some achievable change.

I don't know the answer. The reservations I have are: Hillary Clinton is NOT talking about change in the way Barack Obama is talking about it and she is not talking about reigning in corporate greed; And Barack Obama, contrary to what he says, may not be able to get sensible Republicans to work with him as is vitally needed for the good of this country in order to achieve the change the country wants desperately. He didn't seem to pass the challenge in Illinois and that worries me. Washington is a meaner, tougher game, one where he could easily be sidelined for four years.

I am also annoyed at her juvenile attempt to accuse Obama of plagiarism because he borrows from the speeches of others. Come on!!! All politicians do that. It is unfitting for a woman of Clinton's caliber and education to resort to such silliness, and the fact she is angering the voters here suggests she is insulting their intelligence. It highlights that she is threatened by his oratory and suggests her campaign is in crisis.

Drop it and move on to discuss your vision, Hilary. Let the people do their job and decide which is the better of the two.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Disraeli Avenue

Here's an email I received from British novelist Caroline Smailes, author of In Search of Adam, which is published by The Friday Project and I reviewed in this blog when it released last year because I liked it a lot. (TFP is the same publisher who will publish A Son Called Gabriel in the UK.)

She has now written a novella entitled Disraeli Avenue that deals with the background characters of her debut novel and it's published and downloadable for FREE on the net from today. However, she wants to assist a charity for sexually abused kids--her work deals with this theme--and asks that you consider making a donation if you decide to download the work.

Here's her email:

I'm taking a moment to tell you about my new project, a novella - Disraeli Avenue.

Disraeli Avenue has been developed from my debut novel In Search of Adam. This novella provides the reader with an unusual insight into both the incidental and essential characters from the novel, giving a deeper understanding of the part that each plays in the book. Readers new to Disraeli Avenue may find the snapshots of individual lives lived on an average street moving, and compelling. Readers familiar with In Search of Adam may find pleasure in learning more about those involved in Jude Williams' life and will find a redemption of sorts in the final entry from Bill Williams where he reflects on the death of his wife and daughter.

This download is provided entirely free, but we would ask that you consider making a donation to One in Four.

One in Four offers a voice to and support for people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence. Research has consistently shown that one in four children will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Society has thus far been unwilling to face up to the deep rooted nature of this problem or the sheer scale of the long term damage it leaves in its wake. Their determined aim is to change this. One in Four UK is a Registered Charity (Charity Number 1081726).

I may add that all of the contributions to the development of the novel (the writing, editing, typesetting, design, cover design, proofing) have all been contributed free of charge. All contributors are acknowledged within the work.

I’m trying to make a difference, to give something back.

All details can be found at The Friday Project

Friday, February 15, 2008

Approaching the finishing post

This week has been a productive week, both from a writing and strategy perspective with regard to my new novel.

The finishing post of the new novel now entitled Tangles in the City is in sight and I'm very excited. Hopefully that will occur in the next few weeks. What was once thought to be a rewrite when it was taken by The Friday Project has become an entirely new novel that will spawn three or more sequels and I have enjoyed most of the time spent writing it. Some characters that were minor, existing only to move the plot forward, have taken on their own lives and the book is richer, I feel, as a result.

The novel, set now in 2001, spans two cities, namely London and New York City.

Some last minute research is ongoing. I needed to speak to someone in the UK's Special Branch (MI5) as one of the plot points revolves around an arrest of a character suspected of terrorist affiliation. That hasn't happened as yet, but I've now made contact with a TV director over there who writes about police and organized crime and that has been very helpful. There are also a couple of excellent books I've ordered from my local library dealing with the issue.

And, as it will go on submission to houses in the United States, I chatted to my agent in NYC this week and he wants to read it as soon as possible and give me his take. I've promised him a copy sometime in March, so that will be my incentive to get it done.

So all systems go.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Blue or Brown

Recently I learned something really interesting about people with blue eyes. Extensive research has been done and it turns out that all people with blue eyes can trace their ancestry back to one person--that's ONE person--who lived 8000 t0 10,000 years ago near the Black sea.

Because it's caused by a mutation and is recessive, it turns out that there are less and less people being born with blue eyes, at least in the US. In the United States, the number of people with blue eyes has dropped from one in two to one in six because the brown eyed gene is dominant.

Europe is where 95% of people with blue eyes are born and Europeans are a great anomaly because, on all other continents, everyone has darker skin and brown eyes. Once, all humans were born with brown eyes. Indeed Europe is a great mystery in this respect because of our African ancestry, though the theory is that our skin changed due to the harsher weather and need to absorb Vitamin D, easier with fair skin.

Another theory states that the European differences have resulted from inter-breading with Neanderthals--though there is no evidence of large scale breeding taking place between homosapiens and them.

Not sure where that puts me and others with hazel eyes, though.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday Ahoy

I think this is one of the most exciting primaries I've ever witnessed, at least on the Democratic side. I can't wait, simply can't wait, until tomorrow night to see the results coming in. However, I am not euphoric because, let's face it, we've been down this road before when President Clinton came to power and everyone was euphoric and the earth didn't move. Lots of good things happened and we were euphoric but the earth did not move.

The truth is only true change will come when responsible Republicans and Democrats work together for the benefit of American society, when we stop seeing people we disagree with us as foes and un-American.

Regardless of who wins between Clinton or Obama or whether no front runner emerges until Pennsylvania, etc , I feel strongly we're all winners because this is what happens when democracy is working. We're hearing real bread and butter issues being discussed, real visions as to how universal (or near enough) health care can be implemented, how the economy can be improved and, most clearly from Obama, how the excesses of large corporations must be reigned in and corporate welfare terminated.

From John McCain, all I'm hearing is the tired old rhetoric that America is under threat and we're going to be annihilated by the Islam extremists and we must stay in Iraq because our vital interests are involved. Hey, a Democratic administration owill be as capable of looking after our security as a Republican one so stop this tired 'trying to scare us witless' nonsense.

Mitt Romney--still horrified by his financing his bid for the presidency and parading he's a true conservative.

Mike Huckabee--the chap needs to leave when he can still do so with a bit of grace.

Really did enjoy seeing Maria Shriver wiggle out of Arnold's grip to endorse Obama. Republican Governor and Democratic California First Lady. Great to see.
Not that sure the country is as swayed by a Kennedy endorsement as they were in say, seventies or eighties. People have moved on and become a lot more knowledgeable, a lot more sophisticated. Era's over, I think.
Oprah on the other hand--will be interesting


Friday, February 01, 2008

A page a day

I heard John Grisham on the telly the other day. he was being interviewed about his new novel, The Appeal, his first return to the legal thriller genre in four years.

One of the questions he was asked from an unpublished writer was "Any advice for a writer?"

He looked deadpan at the camera and said "Write a page a day." That's 365 pages in a year and a book. One book a year. It's the only way someone will get published. Writing a page a day.

Many people want to write but they feel overwhelmed. They begin a novel but eventually lose momentum and it languishes and then gets forgotten about. So Mr. Grisham gave excellent advice.

He was also asked if he starts a book and just lets things flow. He doesn't. He spends ages writing a detailed outline, knowing where every chapter begins and ends, and only begins when that's done.

That works for some writers. Myself, I don't write an outline. I've done it, but deviated from it so much that I'm not at all convinced it's the only strategy. I do character portraits so I know my characters very deeply before I begin, but that's about it. I allow them to breathe and talk as I write, let them take me to places they want to go in the story. But always I bear in mind that they cannot be allowed to control the story. Only I can do that, and they must be subordinate to the needs of the plot.

And I realize that subconsciously I have an outline in my head. I know where I want to begin and where I want it to end, but in between is open season so to speak.

Grisham's interview made me think about his books. I like them. He is a plot master, though I would not consider him a tremendous writer. I don't think that's his objective though. His goal is to tell excellent stories and he uses the prose that gets that done. Ergo, he is successful and I'm not just talking commercially.

When I compare his style to say McEwan, it is clear McEwan is a master of language. Some of his descriptions in Atonement are literally breathtaking, evoke a joyful "Yes, I've seen moss and colors like that on an old fountain and it does look like that" or "Wow, that's perfect." And yet, I have picked up Atonement twice now and cannot seem to get through it. I don't know if it's because the life of an upper-class English family no longer interests me or the plot is slow and, at times, a little unbelievable.

Either way, when you pick up a Grisham, you know you're going to finish it. So in conclusion, I guess the two writers have different objectives which they meet and are thus successful in their own distinct ways.