Thursday, 1 December 2011

Christmas Books

Two friends in my writing group in North Lancashire have books out on Amazon Kindle. They are both debut books and well worth a read.

Lynne Freeman's book is Out In The Sticks.

Sara is a young girl straight from High School with a passion for animals. She goes to work at a boarding kennels in Cumbria with a menagerie of creatures in her care.

This funny, sometimes moving book is full of lively anecdotes about country life among the animals, some sad, some surprising and some just plain silly. All of them are true.

Buy It Here

Lynne Whelon's book is The Chicken Run.

Kate Potter has kept her secrets from the past but they keep coming back to haunt her. She is now living on an estate in East London with her husband Alfie and son Jimmy.

The kids and the adults on the estate lead almost separate lives. But then the colourful imagination of the kids clashes with the monotonous reality of adulthood in post-war London and events begin to take a sinister turn.


Buy It Here

Times are hard and both of these books would make ideal, affordable and highly entertaining stocking fillers for friends, family and colleagues. As well you will be supporting new writers who are driven by their love of writing.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Shortworks at the Contact Theatre, Manchester

Contact's partner writing group Scriptworks will host a mix of performance and script in hand readings by four inspiring new playwrights. Shortworks is a showcase of 10 minute extracts of new pieces created by Matthew Duffy, Lee Thompson, Lily Dong and Sarah Speak.

Each performance will be followed by Q&A sessions with the writers, directors and cast

Suitable for 18+.

Full details about this event and other events visit the Contact Theatre website.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

For The Fallen-Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Twitter Poem

Gordon Brown is finished
That does sound good
Might have to try that for breakfast this week
Back from the launderette, still raining
Read about the demise of the UK
Political tribes
Set your goals high, and don't stop till you get there
Good morning world
Still raining in Lancashire
Why does it always rain on bank holidays?
Is the UK dying?
Eric Cantona-Genius!
History never looks like history when you are living through it
London is great but good to be back in Carnforth
Back from London
Sister married, great time
The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation
It's raining again!
Sister's wedding tomorrow
They've only been together 30 years. A bit rash!
Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure

Saturday, 24 September 2011

A Book To Plug-The Man Who Turned Down The Beatles!

Yesterday I was working with a fella who had me in stitches. Hilarious jokes and we spent lots of time reminiscing about old clubs and curry houses in Manchester. I'm well into my music but Pete is a mine of information about music from the 1960s onwards and was the founder member of The Dakotas. So, unlike me, he was actually in the music scene and was in the first Manchester band to play the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

Pete's now written a book with some fantastic photos of bands, albums and memorabilia. It's a fascinating trip down memory lane from somebody who was part of the music scene of the '60s not just a bystander. What I particularly like about the book is that it is written in verse, highly entertaining as well as beautifully written.

The book is a must for anybody interested in the 1960s and can be purchased by clicking on this link. Or you can buy it if you go to see Pete's band Pete Maclaine and The Clan at the Nursey Inn, Heaton Norris, Stockport on the first Sunday night of each month.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Jeffrey Bernard-Low Life

Last night I finished the excellent Inspector van Veeteren novel The Return by Hakan Nesser, reviewed here. An excellent book so I went on the hunt downstairs, looking for something other than a detective book. I'm a recent convert to this genre, tempted into it by Henning Mankell's Wallander books about five or six years ago, and now have to pull myself away sometimes and read other things.

So while searching through our shelves of books I was absolutely overjoyed to find Jeffrey Bernard's Low Life. It is the collected Low Life columns that Bernard wrote for The Spectatator magazine. For years Bernard was the overwehelming reason I subscribed to The Spectator. His style and humour, not to mention his acceptance of his addictions and resultant disabilities made his columns hilarious without ever being mawkish or self-pitying, and his put downs of helpers and lefties alike were legend.

I thought I'd either lost or loaned this book out years ago, and was never to see it again. I was overjoyed to find it again and it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning.

A quote on the back of the book from a Times review sums him up:
'Bernard's unswerving dedication to booze, fags, the horses, unsuitable women, overspending and the law courts, have made him the archetypal Terrible Object Lesson, a Knight in Shining Black Armour who spends his life tilting at Windmill Girls on soft going, missing and landing up in bed with the Inland Revenue and a shoe full of Chinese takeaway.'
Treat yourself, it's the perfect book to dip into and, unless political correctness has deprived you of every last drop of your sense of humour, you will love Bernard and his Low Life as much as I and millions of others have over the years.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Second Coming-WB Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Holiday Reading

I never read quite as much as I plan too when away on holiday, usually distracted by the interesting places we try and visit, often vineyards and restaurants. But this year I especially enjoyed the books I did read while touring around France from Saint Valery Sur Somme to Limoges to Carcassonne and on to Burgundy. Three weeks of sun (mainly) great sites and good food and wine. Although as usual, I did end up desperately craving an English breakfast and a Chicken Madras.

Heading south to Folkestone I was reading my second Dalziel and Pascoe book by Reginald Hill, Exit Lines. Good, solid, old fashioned no-nonsense police stories set in the mythical Mid-Yorkshire Constabulary. None of your tough policewomen balancing bringing up ten kids, while looking after a waster husband who resents her success, while solving crimes her male colleagues are too stupid to even recognise. Neither are they smooth, politically correct metrosexuals mincing around chasing nasty criminals guilty of smoking in public, homophobia, sexism or any other 'ism'. No, the characters are flawed but warm and the settings are down to earth and gritty. Indeed, if read in the middle of a long holiday in foreign parts their Englishness could bring on a serious bout of homesickness.

My next book was the first Howard Jacobsen I have read, The Making of Henry. My big regret on reading this book was that I had left it so long to read a Howard Jacobson book. Another northern lad Jacobson mixes his northern bluntness with his soul searching Jewish angst. The book is everything I enjoy in the works of Jewish writers, not to mention the films of Woody Allen. "Am I the only one who feels like this?". "Why do they all appear comfortable in their environments, unlike me?".

A highly evocative, sometimes highly amusing, often semi-biographical examination of the human psyche that Jewish writers seem especially adept at, maybe because of their frequent feeling of being 'outsiders'. I often get the feeling that they often have to study themselves, their families and their communities in order to make their way in an often hostile world. Likewise to beat the all too frequent prejudice of non-Jewish society, writers such as Jacobson are extremely sharp in their study and observation of society generally in order to assimilate.  All this comes together to produce a novel full of wry observation of human nature through characters that even now, I would love to jump from the pages of the book so that I could have a chat and a coffee with them.

For somebody with an abiding passion for European history I couldn't go away without a Bernie Gunther novel, wonderfully written by Philip Kerr. The One From The Other is the fourth in the Bernie Gunther series and finds our German detective in Munich in 1949. In this book the character has come of age. Kerr seems much more at ease with Bernie than in the first three, which I also enjoyed immensely, and the novel flows nicely with factual characters and events adding real depth to the colours in the book.

The novel twists and turns and ends, as ever, in a quite unexpected, but highly entertaining way. Where next for Bernie Gunther? I don't know but I can't wait to find out when I start the next episode. But that will have to wait until I've finished, and reviewed, the book I started on the way back to Blighty.

That's all for now. Enjoy the rest of summer!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Let's Drink to Patrick Hamilton

It's not often I can bring myself to read the Grauniad, let alone quote a chunk of it, but the following piece is a must, even if it is from 2007. Patrick Hamilton is one of our most wonderful and original writers and playwrights and if you haven't yet, you really must give him a try.

I'm off on holiday soon and at least a couple of Mr Hamilton's novels will be accompanying me. I can also recommend the wonderful BBC adaptation of 20,000 Streets Under the Sky if you want to watch some excellent drama set in 1930's London. Here we go:
The long-neglected author of some of mid-century English fiction's most striking fiction, is finally coming back into favour - and print.
I've been trying to banish the cheesy image of Nigel Havers from my head since being given a preview copy of the soon-to-be-reissued Gorse trilogy by Patrick Hamilton.
The first two of the three books - West Pier (1952), Mr Stimson and Mr Gorse (1953) and Unknown Assailant (1955) - were screened by ITV in 1987 as The Charmer, which many may remember Havers in full "Alan of all trades" sports casual mode cast as the villainous seducer of wealthy spinsters sent to the gallows (Havers seems to follow bad literary adaptations around - see what he did to Henry Miller's Quiet Days in Clichy).


Yet we cannot afford to scoff too much. Graham Greene, who we can all agree might be considered something of an expert on the seaside resort's underbelly, hailed West Pier as "the best book written about Brighton" (if only he'd lived to read Sugar Rush). The Black Spring Press edition brings the three books together in one volume and the cover image of the choppy waters on the seafront and the peeling paint of iron railings more than hints at the malevolence, perversion and avarice contained within.


The reissue of the Gorse trilogy - the last set of novels from Hamilton's estimable pen before his drink-induced death in 1962 - marks the completion of the recently rediscovered author's back catalogue in print. Secondhand copies of the Penguin 20th Century Classics edition of Slaves of Solitude still sell on Amazon for upwards of £100, even though it was only published in 1999 (there's probably several in Oxfam shops around the country whose staff are unaware of its worth), before Constable and Robinson put those without wads of cash to spare out of their misery last year by reissuing it.


The Hamilton back catalogue forms an odd assortment, with Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky (recently adapted for BBC4) out in Vintage Classics and Hangover Square still doing well as a Penguin Modern Classic, while Impromptu in Moribundia, his most explicitly political work as a declared Marxist, can also be found on a small press.


Ignore Nick Hornby's banal comment about Hamilton being the missing piece of motorway between Dickens and Martin Amis, Hamilton's worth is proven by the devoted legions of fans among younger authors such as Dan Rhodes and Niven Govinden and those who pack out rooms above pubs in Soho at nights organised by the Sohemian Society.


While the Gorse trilogy is not exactly Hamilton's magnum opus (especially the drink-soaked Unknown Assailant), it does demonstrate his handy knack for both literature and drama and we can all raise a glass to its reissue, something I fear the man "who needed whisky like a car needed petrol" and died of multiple organ failure would approve no doubt.
The original article on the Guardian's Books Blog.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Book Review: Red to Black by Alex Dryden

If you like your spy stories a la James Bond, with lots of martinis, gizmos and explosions from the off then you will have to be patient with Red to Black, it's much more le Carre than Fleming. It is a slow build up but all the better for it, this is a real must read.

The Soviet Union is gone, Putin is in power and Russian oligarchs are seemingly buying up the world in a capitalist orgy of conspicuous consumption. But is all as it seems? Has Russia embraced the freedom and democracy that people fought to replace the totalitarian terror of the USSR with?

The book is set today with Europe obsessing about itself as it slowly stews within the incompetenc and complacency of the European Union. But Europe can't see what is so plain to the rest of the of the world, it is blinded to reality by its self-obsession. Is the Cold War really over, or is it just by-passing Europe now?

Anna and Finn are spies from opposite sides who come together in a thoroughly realistic and credible working and personal relationship around which the terrifying tale unfolds. Throughout the 501 pages Alex Dryden entertains, teases and at times terrifies with a style that sometimes resembles a historical account of the Putin years. Many times I had to remind myself that the book is a powerful tale of fiction and not a warning. Or is it?

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

War Poetry

Poetry from those taking part in conflicts has always seemed to me to be much more poignant and meaningful than that of a pacifist writing from the comfort of a nice cosy office, study or drawing room. The messages are much more hard hitting, and the images so much scarier from someone actually experiencing life in Afghanistan in 2009 or the Somme in 1916.

The following is a poem written by a soldier serving in Helmand:

Author's introduction-
This poem concerns the current operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. My intention was to draw parallels between military operations using the poppy which is grown extensively for opium and ironically is also the symbol we use for Remembrance Day.

Helmand


Night on the cold plain,
invisible sands lift,
peripheral shadows stir,


space between light and dark
shrouding secrets;
old trades draped grey.


Here too poppies fall,
petals blown on broken ground,
seeds scattered on stone


and this bright bloom,
newly cropped,
leaves pale remains,


fresh lines cut;
the old sickle wind
sharp as yesterday.


John Hawkhead
2009

This poem and many others appear on the War Poetry Website .

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Book Review: Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr

Maybe it's because I love travel, history and the darker side of life that I enjoyed reading this trilogy so much. Berlin Noir is the first three in a series of books written by Philip Kerr about Berlin detective Bernie Gunther. These three, March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem are set in pre-war Berlin and post-war Vienna.

The books superbly create the atmosphere of the times and to someboy interested in history, especially German history in the first half of the twentieth century, the books are especially evocative. I have read few books about day to day life in Nazi Germany and these books added an extra depth to my understanding of life under the Nazis. The mood of the time is portrayed every bit as vividly as the great Patrick Hamilton writing about Britain in the same era.

Gunther is a fairly typical detective, highly moral, down to earth and slightly down at heel. His life is as battered by the events of the time as everybody else's was, which is the special attraction of these books. Issues of the time are confronted and the totalitarianism and anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany is confronted head on, with Gunther often being turned to for help by Jewish clients. But this isn't done in a mawkish or sermonising way, which makes the underlying message all the more powerful.

The plots are intricate but not confusing and the characters in the stories, from Gunther to post-war American intelligence operatives, are believable and real.  Personal lives and problems make these stories stand apart from many novels of the same genre, but again Kerr doesn't overplay or sentimentalise these aspects of his characters so the book never veers too far away from the crime/political thrillers that they so wonderfully are.

In fact my wife is considering starting one of my many Scandinavian crime novels by way of an introduction to the world of the foreign detective novel, maybe Bernie Gunther would be a fine introduction as she shares my love of European history. I would happily recommend Philip Kerr's books to her and to anybody else looking for crime stories that are not your run of the mill affairs. I look forward to starting on Kerr's fourth Gunther novel in the not too distant.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Book Recommendation: Jenni Thornley, 'Trust in Matt'

I've previously posted about Jenni's first book, The Sail Turns, and am pleased to recommend her second, Trust in Matt.

Matt Stevens, having completed his history degree, undertakes the investigation of the Tindall family and the history of Netherby Hall, their home since 1458. He discovers how their lives affected those around them and makes a sinister discovery, with the help of his young friend Christopher. The story also follows the ups and downs of the personal relationships of people in Matt's life.

Jenni has a nice relaxed style and it's a pleasure to read her work. She is currently working on her third book which will complete this trilogy.

Her books are available online at Smashwords.




Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Book Review: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Not for the squeamish this one by one of Scandinavia's finest. Indeed, on current form Jo Nesbo is seriously challenging Henning Mankell for the title of Scandinavia's king of crime.

Harry Hole is still battling addiction to alcohol and his addiction to the love of his life Rakel, who can't live with Harry but can't live without him. The book is a subtle shocker that does send shivers down the spine. Nesbo has mastered the wonderful art of shocking without being gory or overtly sensationalist. A great skill which adds to the dark atmosphere of a Norwegian autumn/winter.

There are more twists and turns in The Snowman than there are on a mountain pass, but they never seem contrived and keep you wanting to read just one more page before you go to bed, work, out for the night or whatever you have to do. The glue that holds Nesbo's books together, taking them to a level beyond mere crime stories, is the close observation and portrayal of human emotions and the destruction that can come from the deepest emotions of love.

I was never a great lover of crime books, until I started on Mankell a few years ago. Nesbo has merely taken my addiction to another level. I am desperate to read his newest novel (The Leopard), but don't want to run out of Harry Hole books just yet. Do yourself a favour and read The Snowman, but prepare to be chilled.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Book Recommendation: Jenni Thornley, 'The Sail Turns'

One of the great things about the internet is the doors it has opened. Frustrated journalists can start emagazines or blogging, entrepeneurs can find new markets and so on. Publishing has also opened up so that people who have suddenly discovered they can write, or have always secretly dreamt of being published, can get on and do it.
 
One such writer is a friend of mine Jenni Thornley. Jenni has just e-published two books, the first of which is The Sails Turn. Following is a description of her book and at the end is a link to the website where you can purchase it, which I think you should:
 
Professor Paul Cork buys the derelict Gatesby Windmill intending to restore it and open it to the public as a working windmill and museum of the past life of the village. With the help of his neighbours the Stephens (Jim, Alice, Matt and David) and the Drabbles (Ted, Sandra and Beth) and a group of students (Tony, Joe and Pat) from his university history class, the story takes place in modern Lincolnshire over a two year period.

During the restoration process, documents; letters, bills and photographs from the 1850’s are discovered and lead Matt and Beth to investigate the lives of the family (Colledge) who once lived at the windmill and their neighbours in the village.
Mr Lawson, an elderly farmer whose ancestors knew the Colledge’s, provides more letters and diary entries to help with the historical research.

As work on the windmill gradually progresses with explanations about the repairs and how the windmill works, the social life of the present day village is explored as relationships between the main characters develop.

During the course of restoring a garden around the windmill, a child’s skeleton is discovered and having been told it is probably from the 1850’s, the investigation moves to finding out whether or not it is one of the children from the windmill. When they discover it is not, the search widens.

Pat secretly knows who the child buried in the grounds is, how he died and why he is buried there; his ancestor witnessed an accident and blackmailed Colledge, profiting for more than fifteen years from his fear of disgrace and loss of social standing.

Meanwhile, Paul looks into Alice’s own family history as their relationship develops. She reads diaries left by Sally Colledge and becomes emotionally close to her and her family. Paul realises Alice is related to the Colledges as well as another family in the modern village (Clarkes).

Certain aspects of Victorian society are explored, questioned and contrasted with modern life. The theme that life repeats itself – the sails turn – is discussed.
 Other villagers look for documents which may prove useful to the investigation and discover other secrets going on in the village – an illegitimate child of a major figure.

The penultimate chapter is set in 1854 from Sally Colledge’s point of view, giving an insight into a day in her life and the sort of social interaction she may have encountered.

I'm looking forward to reading the full book which will eventually become part of a trilogy.

You can get the book here at Smashwords.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Episodes

Last night saw the seventh and final episode of Episodes, and it was a very strange experience watching it all the way through each of the seven weeks.

It was the tale of Bev and Sean, a husband and wife writing team invited to Hollywood to script an American version of their hit UK comedy series. The star in their pilot episode is Matt LeBlanc, playing himself. Bev was played by Tamsin Greig, of Black Books and Green Wing and Stephen Mangan, of Green Wing and Dirk Gently played Sean.

The series constantly teetered on the brink of smugness, with Tamsin Greig massively overplaying her middle class 'what is happening to me?' persona. Her habit of stretching every other sentence to emphasise seemingly uncalled for exasperation became annoying after episode one. At one point last night she even did a bizarre female version of the Frank Spencer oohhh what have I done Betty body twist and face pull. Very odd.

Stephen Mangan became equally annoying very early on with his constant expression of little boy lost in a great big world he doesn't really understand or belong in. How does somebody so disconnected from the real world manage to write anything with any credibility?

Matt le Blanc saved the day in just about every episode with an understated parody of himself as a Hollywood star, looking for his first vehicle after the hit series Friends. His performance was warm and highly amusing, not to say ironic.

As ever the writers seem to be to blame. It was a typical bland Islington tale of two middle class writers going to the States to find highly caricatured actors and studio executives. The humour was juvenile in the extreme, including jokes about the size of Matt LeBlanc's private parts. If the writers thought it was risque it wasn't, it brought an unnecessary element of sleaze in reality.

It was so caricatured and lazily stereotypical that if it had been set in Bolly rather than Hollywood it would have been condemned as racist. The writers have apparently never seen witty and intelligent US sitcoms such as Frazier, Rosanne or Cheers to name but three, and instead chose to lazily portray US TV as aimed at the educationally subnormal.

It was actually quite enjoyable you might be surprised to hear. A bit like a Chinese meal, the anticipation was there, it was quite pleasant during, then afterwards you wondered why? Typically smug BBC television I suppose.

The end showed the dumbed down pilot episode a great success, leaving the door open for another series, which I think I'll be giving a miss.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Common Cold: Poetry by Ogden Nash

It's that time of year when many people are suffering from sniffles and colds. So here's a particularly relevant poem by American poet Ogden Nash:

Common Cold

Go hang yourself, you old M.D,!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
In not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.

By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever's hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!

Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
The Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
The Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The F├╝hrer of the Streptococcracy.

Bacilli swarm within my portals
Such as were ne'er conceived by mortals,
But bred by scientists wise and hoary
In some Olympic laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
Who never interrupt for slumber
Their stamping elephantine rumba.

A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
And Shakespeare's plays show signs of talent;
The Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
And your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
For the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Film Review: The Lives Of Others

This is primarily my blog about books and writing, but occasionally a film pops up that deserves a mention. After all, literature and film aren't a million miles apart. The Lives of Others is such a film.

Written and directed by Floran Henckel von Donnersmarck this film is a must for anybody with the remotest interest in European history and politics, especially the history of the Cold War era. It is set in the 1980s, just before Gorbachev came to power and started the process that would lead to the liberation of Eastern Europe.

If you are planning to visit Berlin I would urge you to visit the Stasi Museum. That museum and this film, chillingly illustrate the terrifying consequnces for the populace when the state takes control of every aspect of peoples' lives. Both should be compulsory for anybody who takes personal freedom for granted.

The Lives of Others tells the story of Stasi officer Wiesel who is tasked with eavesdropping on the daily life of writer Dreyman, thought by the authorities to be loyal to the DDR. Wiesler's experience mirrors the dawning realisation of millions of people behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, that maybe something is lacking in their Workers Utopia.

The film is chilling in the extreme and the last line, uttered by Wiesler, has to be one of the simplest but most pignant last lines in any film I've ever seen. You will be heartened, appalled and sickened at various times during it, but you really must see this film.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Book Review: The Understudy by David Nicholls

Ok it's official, David Nicholls is brilliant and I will brook no contradiction. If you dare to contradict me I will have to give you a metaphorical slap. I was enjoying this book so much I missed most of last night's Shameless I was so engrossed, and what I saw of Shameless was superb. That's how good David Nicholls is.

I love the Scandinavian crime writers but, as I blogged below, I 've found Camilla Lackberg a bit of a struggle. In fact so much of a struggle that I needed a break, and have put her Ice Princess on ice. Yes, I know. Instead I turned for some light relief to David Nicholls' The Understudy. Brilliant, go out and buy it, now!

Stephen McQueen, with a P.H., is a struggling actor desperate for his big break and trying to get closer to his daughter following his divorce. He is currently playing understudy to the World's 12th Sexiest Man, actor Josh Harper.

Stuck in his tiny dressing room at the top of the West End theatre life seems tough and depressing to Stephen. Then Josh invites him to his birthday party. The party is in Josh's home, full of beautiful people, the trinkets associated with world stardom and lots of coke and other chemicals. A limpse of the world that Stephen aspires to.

But the party, and Stephen's presence there isn't quite what he expected, neither is the outcome. Stephen goes into chemical and alcohol overdrive and ends up falling in love with Norah, wife of Josh. What ensues is classic modern comedy of which David Nicholls is the true master. Virtually every page has a laugh-out-loud moment and the charcters, even the vain Josh, are warm and become aquaintances of the reader if not friends.

Superb.

Go here to read an excerpt.