Friday, December 16, 2011

2011: review of my completed reading

I’ve fallen behind the number of books I read last year. With only a couple of weeks of 2011 I doubt I’ll match the 63 from 2010.
I intended to mention my favourite books of the year, but looking back at my reading list I find so few that REALLY excited me. So instead of a top 10 or a top three books of the year that I intended to write – all I can do is mention the books that kept my interest and made me reluctant to put them down.

• The year started with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Despite its length I was caught up in the story and enjoyed it enough to be interested in the promised sequel.
• I always find Mike Gayle very easy to read. With all of his books I’ve been reluctant to put them aside when I’ve started them. I’ve now read them all.
• Jasper Ffforde, one of last year’s favourites had only one book on this year’s list. I really love his writing but I think I needed a break. I have several unread Fforde’s on my shelves waiting for next year.
• Richard Harland’s Liberator also needs a mention. A great sequel to Worldshaker from last year’s reading list. I really wanted to revisit the world he created in the first book and I would certainly be interested in a third instalment should he write one.
Neverwhere was the first Neil Gaiman book I’ve read. Very inventive but at times verged on being overly grotesque for my liking. Fantasy with some very dark aspects.
The Power of Six was another sequel, related to a book from last year’s list. This one is the follow up to I Am Number Four, while it kept me reading I found it less rounded than the first book. It was clearly part of a series rather than a stand-alone book, like pulling a collection of chapters out of a longer piece of fiction.
Duma Key was the first Stephen King book I’ve read in over ten years. I enjoyed most of it. I’ve written about some of my concerns about the book in an earlier post. I recently came in for some questioning on a Christian forum – why would I want to read such things? I can understand the concern. King’s reputation perhaps gets in the way. People have preconceptions about the type of thing her writes, and I may write something about that issue at another time.
Divergent by Veronica Roth, another first episode of a series. I am very interested in the next instalment due sometime next year.

All of the above are works of fiction. What about non-fiction?

• David Hick’s Guantanamo: My Journey will only reinforce whatever people already believe about his imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay and what led him there. While the book answers a lot of questions, at times he seems to avoid telling us what really happened. I feel he was not as innocent as he tries to make out – but neither was he as guilty as the political powers insisted. I think he was an idealist but foolish young man in the wrong place at the wrong time who continually fell into the hands of the wrong people.
Unzipped, Suzi Quatro and Haunted Heart by Lisa Rogak. I’d like to write a separate article incorporating these two books. One clearly about Suzi Quatro, the other about Stephen King – famous people I’ve had some kind of attachment to in the past. Very interesting to find out what went on behind the scenes.
• Several food books – the stand out perhaps being In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. His views of food are essential reading for anyone who has real concern about what they are eating.

After this listing and commentary of “readable” and “interesting” books – there is one book from 2011 that I have to single out as my book of the year. If I can only recommend one book out of all of those I’ve read this year it would be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Why the recommendation? I suggest you read it for yourself and find out.

I loved it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Gratuitous Excess of Stephen King.

I've probably read more about Stephen King and more about his books than I've read of his fiction. And I’ve probably read more biographies about Stephen King than I’ve read about any other individual.

He is one of the most successful authors ever, so it’s not surprising that I was interested in the man and his work. I saw I could learn something, or at least be inspired by his example.

My interest in King started around the same time I started a creative writing course at University in the early 1990s. One of my first stories written for the course had horror elements and immediately someone made a Stephen King comparison. I don’t know whether that comment influenced me in any way, but it seemed that most of my story writing from that point took on elements of “dark fantasy”.

For one Uni assignment I wrote a review of one of King’s books – Cycle of the Werewolf, a short novel illustrated by comic book artist Bernie Wrightson. The one thing I recall about my review is that I saw Wrighton’s artwork as a metaphor for King’s work in general. Wrightson had provided both coloured, graphically bloody illustrations and more subtle black and white sketches. I found the subtler drawings much more effective. Likewise with King’s writing, there was a mixture of “gross-out” and more nuanced incidents –again I found the subtler approach more interesting, more imaginative and overall much more effective in capturing my attention.

It had been over decade since I last read anything by King, but reading Lisa Rogak's Haunted Heart, a recent biography, made me curious enough to read another of King’s books. I chose Duma Key because its main character takes up art near the beginning of the book – as I have done this year.
I’m now approaching page 90 out of almost 700 pages. It is still a long way to go, but enough to give me an idea of what I like and don’t like about King’s writing. At this stage there is one major issue that in my opinion mars what he writes, and that is his occasional habit of resorting to extreme crudity. In the context of Duma Key it has seemed entirely gratuitous.

I admit that my opinion on this is strongly influenced by my Christian commitment, but that is not the whole of the matter. I understand that the use of expletives can effectively create realistic dialogue and give colour to character. Used in the appropriate context it doesn’t bother me so much.

In Duma Key so far, there have been two instances of excessive crudity. Both were unnecessary and neither added to the story, or the characters. Were they used to serve the story (in my opinion no) or to serve the reputation of King’s ability to shock?

I get the sense that it is the author himself rather than his characters that are the focus of the extreme use of language. As if King is trying to show that he’s still able to shock his reader rather than adding a realistic edge.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reading Progress 2011.

October and so far I’ve completed 33 books for the year. I look at last year’s final total and see I read 63 books in 2010. I seem to be a long way behind at this stage of 2011.

But then I look where I was up to in October last year and see I was at the same place as now, in the mid-thirties, so my progress is not as different as I thought.

Time will tell whether I’ll match the 30 books read in the last 2-3 months of last year.

Only 3 or 4 weeks before this blog's second anniversary. Like last year I'll create a list of my year's favourites.

Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady by Carol Baxter

Frederick Ward is perhaps better known as Captain Thunderbolt, one time convicted and imprisoned horse thief, escapee and most famously bushranger. A contemporary of Ben Hall whose NSW territory stretched from the central west to the Riverina; Thunderbolt based himself around the Hunter Valley and northwards.

Carol Baxter’s book Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady is a detailed and enthralling biography of Thunderbolt and his “wife” Mary Ann Bugg. Baxter takes what is known of the two from historical sources and gives her account the pace and intimacy of a novel.

Baxter starts with family histories of both Ward and Bugg, exploring the cultural background of their path to crime. The story is one of both racial and class prejudice. Being native born (whether black or white, to aboriginal or convict parents) was a distinct disadvantage in a society ruled from the motherland by British born aristocracy and law enforcers.

Harsh and inflexible punishments, rather than deter crime could ironically entrench it, making capture and imprisonment a less desired outcome than death. Giving wanted men the incentive to resist arrest at all costs, even their own lives and the lives of others.

Ward experienced this harshness, but by accounts didn’t allow himself to turn to outright brutality and ruthlessness, despite resorting to crime. Instead he tried to foster an impression of himself as a gentleman; as far as that would be possible while threatening victims with guns.

Baxter describes her writing style as “allow[ing] the participants to live their own stories, wherever possible, by having the narrator step into their shoes and experience what they experienced as recounted in their own statements. This offers the immediacy of fiction without fictionalising the narrative”.

It is a very effective way of keeping the reader’s involvement but could have the disadvantage of being suspected of being fictional. To counteract this suspicion Baxter provides her research details on a website cited in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. The notes were considered too extensive to include as end notes in the book.

I love history but find many history texts fail to keep my interest. I had no trouble with this one. Baxter has written a lively and compelling combination of biography and social history.

Thanks to Allen and Unwin for providing a review copy of thebook.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Bushrangers: Australia's Greatest Self-made Heroes by Evan McHugh

Probably the best overview of Australia's relationship with the Bushranger I've read.

While the more well-known and better documented Bushrangers are given a little more coverage than others in this book, they don't necessarily dominate. Instead they are placed within the greater historical context of the bushranger phenonomenon.

From escaped convicts through to the Kelly Gang, this book gives the topic far more than the "boys own adventure" depiction so common in other treatments of the topic.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thyla by Kate Gordon

Tessa, an injured amnesiac teenage girl, is found in the bush near Hobart and Thyla is the story of the difficulties she experiences as she slowly discovers the truth of her background and identity.

Overall the book is more an introduction to a larger story. As a stand alone book it disappointed me. Parts showed a lot of promise and kept me wanting to know what happened next - but in the end I was left with the anouncement that another book is coming soon. Thyla was clearly setting the reader up for what is coming next rather than giving us a self contained story. It finished with a lot of loose ends awaiting resolution in the promised sequel. Hopefully that sequel will fulfil what is only promised in this first book.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A & R, What on earth are you doing?

I've already written about the problems of Angus and Robertson and pointed to their practice of overpricing books. This is a practice that I'm sure has had a significant part in their financial troubles.

Why would anyone order or buy a book from them when their price is far higher than other book sellers?

I've just come across a very clear example. I recently ordered a book about New Zealand artist Colin McCahon. My order was with the book depository who are selling the book for $43.00 (post free). I have since seen the same book being sold on for $37.69 (reduced from $66.99).

And what is Angus & Robertson's online price?


Need I say more?

Friday, June 24, 2011


Many stories reach a satisfactory conclusion. The hero overcomes the odds and defeats the villain. Cinderella is found by her Prince Charming and rescued from a life of drudgery: and they all live happily ever after.

At least that is the impression given by a neat and satisfying conclusion.

Richard Harland’s Worldshaker would fit into that "satisfying conclusion" category, but the follow-up novel, Liberator shows us what happens AFTER the initial euphoria of a “happy” ending. It shows that such endings are only temporary and one problem solved will merely lead to another.

Liberator begins not long after the concluding events of the earlier novel and things have deteriorated very quickly. The Leviathan WorldShaker has been renamed Liberator to reflect the freedom gained by the lower class “Filthies” – but that freedom could now have severe consequences for the “swanks” who choose to stay on after the Liberation, even those who played a significant part in overturning the former oppressive, elitist regime.
It soon comes clear that elitism and oppression are not the exclusive traits of those born into privilege.

This book was just as enjoyable as the first in the series. Again I was compelled to read it at every opportunity I could make. Both are very near to the top of my favourites of recent years.

I liked Worldshaker enough to buy a second copy – the American Hardcover edition. I’ll be doing the same when Liberator is also (hopefully) released in Hardcover.*

Another installment please Richard?


*With both books, written by an Australian author and published by an Australian company, I bought the locally available product first. I prefer to support local writing and publishing when possible.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Liberator by Richard Harland

Richard Harland, author of Worldshaker , has just notified me that its sequel, Liberator is now on the book shelves.

Worldshaker is definitely one of the best books I’ve read since I started this blog. I am very keen to read the next one.

I'll be ordering my copy as soon as I've posted this.

More information here at the publisher's website:

Liberator by Richard Harland

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bye Bye Borders

I read today that Borders will closing their remaining Australian stores.

I remember feeling overwhelmed when I walked into Borders at the Macquarie Centre, North Ryde soon after it opened. So many books. So much variety.

They also had an extensive music collection with a large number of listening posts where I could sample new music. Gloria and I spent a lot of time there in its first months.

In recent years we've only been able to visit their store in the Canberra Centre, but we rarely bothered. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we found too many books were over-priced. Why should a huge company like Borders charge more than the publishers RRP for their books when smaller stores were even giving discounts on the very same books?

Sadly people will be losing their jobs and for a while shopping centres will have a lot of empty floor space to fill with new tenants. But on the whole Borders will not be missed by my household.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Hand That Signed the Paper: and literary awards.

Today is apparently the anniversary of The Hand that Signed the Paper winning the Miles Franklin award. Previously it had won the Australian/Vogel Literary Award. These are two of Australia’s most prestigious writing awards.

However, a few years later it was revealed that the author Helen Demidenko was not from the Ukrainian background she had claimed. Instead she came from a British family and her real name was Darville.

There was uproar in the literary world resulting in the once lauded book now being panned and labelled a hoax.

I found this turn around to be a symptom of snobbish hypocrisy. Does the author’s life and background have any bearing on the literary quality of a book? Even if the author lied about her identity – does it make the book itself and the quality of the writing any less award-worthy?

Surely the book should have been given the awards solely on the quality of the book itself and NOT be conditional upon the character and identity of its author. If the book wasn’t considered worthy afterwards, it should never have been considered worthy before Demidenko/Darville’s true identity was discovered.

Maybe this case gives a glimpse into the world of award giving – that awards given (supposedly) for the merit of a work, are very much influenced by “celebrity”, that the IMAGE and personality of the author has as much influence over awards as the quality of their work.

If they ARE being swayed by such influences we have reason to question the integrity of these kinds of awards.

Or maybe, just maybe the book DID have merit and the storm afterwards was an attempt to save face, being embarrassed over swallowing the author's OTHER fiction regarding her own identity. No one like to be exposed as one of those suckers born every minute.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Man of Diverse Obsessions: the evidence in books.

My reading has been very inconsistent this year. I’ve been picking up new books before I’ve finished others so it’s been taking me a long time to finish each one.

My interests have been changeable and few books have really grabbed my interest. Only two or three have made me reluctant to put them down until they've been read.

That’s not to say the other books aren’t worth reading. Some have been interesting even though they lacked what it takes to keep my constant attention They just took longer to read than I intended.

Even now I look at my book cases (or the cupboards in the garage where most of my library is stored) and see things I’d like to start reading NOW. But I resist the temptation because I don’t need the congestion of more semi-read books around the house.

Because of my current reading situation, I haven’t written on this blog for a long time. I’ve wanted to write, but without the inspiration of a specific book I haven’t known what to say.

Then the other day I was thinking about the TYPES of books I own and saw they come under several different categories which may highlight the truth of my blog profile: “A man of diverse obsessions”.

What are these types?

Well, in no particular order, as they come to mind:

1) Autographed books

I’m not sure how many I own, but I have a good collection of books signed by their authors. Some I’ve obtained in person through attending book signings, or through knowing the author. Others I’ve bought ready signed after a shop has held a book signing. I have also written to authors requesting their signature on a book plate which has later been stuck in the front of a book. The latter approach has also given me a small collection of letters from authors – often handwritten.
Sadly, not all authors have replied to my request, not even using the self addressed, stamped envelope to return the blank bookplates (which aren’t easy to get).

2) History books.

Most of my history books seem to be royal biographies, mostly concentrating on the Tudor era. For some reason I’m fascinated by the period between the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War which takes history from the origins of the Tudors through to the downfall of the Stuarts.

3) Gardening Books.

There are several “How to” books, but my preference is for those detailing other gardener’s experiences in creating a garden. The downside of those books is the gulf between their resources and mine. I don’t have several acres and I don’t have a limitless bank account.

4) Food books

While Gloria has a large collection of cook books, my interest leans more towards food production, food quality and diet. However it is more the social side of these topics that interest me, not scientific detail. What kinds of things influence our diet and how are we influenced by our diet. Why do we eat what we eat? Why do we eat how we eat? What effect do these things have on society?

5) Christian Books

This is perhaps one of the more frustrating categories in my collection and covers the kind of books that mostly disappoint and frustrate me. So often the term “Christian” is totally inappropriate. Whether non-fiction or fiction, so many have little in common with biblical Christianity.

6) Books about Israel/Jewish history.

This category includes many holocaust diaries, histories of the Jewish return to Israel and books about Messianic Judaism. Despite two thousand years of denial by the church, Israel and the Jewish people retain an important place in God’s plan for mankind. It is mainly during the last couple of years that I’ve begun to see that importance.

7) Space Race

How could I not be interested in the space race? I grew up during its exciting early years when men travelled into earth orbit and then to the moon, basically “sitting in a tin can” (as I think David Bowie described it).
My collection includes autobiographies (one autographed by a genuine moonwalker), a book of art prints and several histories. Most of them concentrate on the Apollo moon missions and their predecessors. My interest in space travel was so strong that I would have jumped on a space shuttle the day after the Challenger disaster if given the opportunity.

8) Fiction

Such a varied category, but the most represented authors in my collection are Tim Winton, Nick Hornby, Jasper Fforde, Mike Gayle.
Jasper Fforde is a recent discovery and I write about him elsewhere on this blog.
Mike Gayle is a recent REdiscovery and he also appears in a few posts somewhere around here. All of these except for Gayle are represented in my autographed book section. I’ll have to do something about adding him to my autographed books too. I corresponded with him through email last year so hopefully getting a signature won’t be too hard.
Jasper Fforde sells autographed copies of his books through his website (see link in side bar).

9) Fortean Books

The title of this section may have some people asking “WHAT?”
These books deal with mysteries and the unknown, the unusual and strange. The name relates to Charles Fort, a writer and researcher who took an interest in the strange stories sometimes appearing in newspapers.
Along with the Christian section, this one provides some of the most frustrating titles in my collection. I have come across few reliable and readable books dealing with these “Fortean” topics. Most are highly questionable accounts based on dodgy evidence written in a manipulative style. Many of these books had me sucked in for years, until my gullibility was slowly eroded away by a few excellent books by Jim Schnabel, David Clarke and Andy Roberts, and most recently Steve Dewey and John Ries.

And at that point I’ll bring this entry to a close without saying too much about my books on birds and birdwatching, or those about wine, or the children’s titles, books about Derbyshire (where I spent my childhood), or well represented, individual categories of fiction such as Victorian classic, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Irish literature…

Monday, March 7, 2011

Angus and Robertson, Borders and online shopping

Angus & Robertson and Borders bookshops are going through difficult times. I don’t understand the legal terminology describing their financial situation, but I do understand that their future may not be too bright. Many employees seem certain to lose their jobs and some stores are likely to close.

One of the reasons given for their precarious position is the increase of on-line book buying. People now prefer to shop on-line rather than in person in a shop.
I have to confess that I have become one of those people. But ironically it was Angus & Robertson that got me into the habit.

I’d been looking for details about a book and one of the references supplied by google was for A&R. After I found the details I wanted, it seemed much easier to click the “buy” icon than it would have been to take the details to my local bookshop and order it from them.

Then A&R started to offer free postage and almost monthly discounts to make on-line shopping even more appealing. Another attractive feature was the possibility of buying hardcovers instead of paperbacks. With the discount the cost wasn’t much more than the paperback price and I’ve always prefered the (apparent) permanency of the hard cover. I also found that I now had access to books I’d never see in a local bookshop.

My A&R deliveries all seemed to come from an overseas source, so available books were not limited to locally released editions. Books not released in Australia became accessible, in particular hardcover editions of books that were only released locally as paperbacks. My on-line book buying increased. I could even look for books I’d not known about. I could select a topic and see what books were available about that topic.

I was becoming a regular A&R online customer.

And then I discovered The Book Depository – an online book seller based in Britain. I’d seen the name mentioned a while ago in someone’s blog, but for many months I didn’t give them a thought – but when I decided to visit their website I was amazed by what they offered. They supply books at around half of the local price. Of course the highly favourable current exchange rates have been a big help. But considering A&R were sourcing their books overseas anyway, the exchange rate could not be the reason for the difference in price. Not only were the books so cheap, they have no-cost delivery to many countries including Australia. Since discovering The Book Depository most of my book purchases have been through them. I’ve even been able to pre-order unreleased books to ensure I receive a copy as soon after release as possible (one I ordered a couple of months ago arrived today).

But back to the situation with A&R and Borders – can they really blame online shopping? As I mentioned, my online shopping started with A&R and I only changed my supplier when I found a much cheaper alternative. Are there other reasons for their difficulties? I think there are, and I can suggest one.
I have seen both Borders and Angus & Robertson stores selling books at prices above the RRP. One book I had wanted to buy was being sold by both of them (in their Canberra stores) at $5.00 more than the RRP, and well above the price being charged by other shops who were offering discounts.
I really can’t see why large chains such as Borders/A&R should do that. In the mid 90s I worked for a publisher. Wholesale prices for their books were based on the RRP with booksellers being given a negotiated discount off the RRP. These discounts started at 35%. The book seller would therefore make up to 35% of the RRP profit on each sale.*
However, the larger chains like A&R, Borders, Dymocks, BigW, K Mart, Target etc. received more generous discounts. That is why places like Big W can sell their books with a 35% discount and still make money from the sales.

So here is the question. Why should A&R/Borders prices need to exceed the RRP? And why should they be surprised if their sales were affected and their profitability compromised?


* My employer also sold books mainly on a Sale or Return basis – the book seller could stock books for a short period and if they didn’t sell they could be returned to the publisher for a refund. Therefore they did not need to gamble on stocking books that wouldn’t sell.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The UFO Diaries, Martin Plowman

I should have reviewed this book weeks ago, but it’s been a difficult one to process. My interest in the book was directed towards the “UFO” part of the title, while the author wrote a book more focused on the “Diaries” side.

Martin Plowman set out to study those who study UFOs. This was the focus of a postgraduate degree. As part of course work he travelled to the Americas (North, South and Central) to meet with people with some kind of attachment to the UFO phenomenon. After some disappointment with Roswell and its claimed crashed flying saucer, he set his sights on Latin America and most of his book tells about his experiences there.

I did learn a few new things about the people with UFO claims. I hadn’t known that (in)famous contactee George Adamski was a theosophist and I was kept interested by his Roswell interview with Walter Haut . But those UFO related insights were rare. Most of the book was a kind of travelogue which sometimes touched on UFO-related regions such as those publicised decades ago in Erich Von Daniken's popular but mostly discredited Chariots of the Gods?.

Even though his travel experiences are interesting enough in themselves, it wasn’t really the kind of book I was looking forward to reading,

I feel part of the problem for me is that Plowman had no real interest in what lies behind UFO reports and he makes that clear all along. UFOs therefore become incidental to his personal quest – the goal of which was never really made clear. Maybe there was no aim in mind beyond completing his course, or maybe he didn’t figure out what his own motives were, why at times he seemed driven to continue the goalless journey he had started.

I was kindly provided with a review copy by the publisher, Allen & Unwin.

Friday, February 4, 2011


What a month.

A severe case of apathy.
Very little motivation to read the several books I’ve started.

I enjoy them when I do get around to reading, but picking one up to make the effort…

I also have a review to write for the last book I have finished: UFO Diaries.
I was sent a review copy from the publishers Allen & Unwin and I feel more than a twinge of guilt for not writing my review as soon as I finished the book.

If my apathy increases anymore I probably won't even fini

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nightmare. Ghosts and Christians.

Is it possible to present an intriguing, convincing and entertaining story about ghosts while staying within an acceptable Christian framework? Can a genre usually associated with fear and horror, dealing with unknowns about life after death, be compatible with a faith that is supposed to have strong, established certainties regarding the “afterlife”?

I had a strong interest in the “ghost story”. I read a lot of them in the past. I also tried adding to the genre by writing my own stories. My interest wasn’t restricted to fictional ghosts, I read a lot of “true life” accounts and I participated on an internet mailing list of a group called “Ghostwatch.
This wasn’t merely for entertainment or academic reasons; I had some personal ghostly experiences: seeing an apparition in my Sydney home (seen by my wife as well) and also seeing shadowy human figures in a motel room two nights in a row.

A successful Christian ghost story would need to maintain the recognised conventions of the genre without compromising biblical theology. One of the major obstacles would be finding a plausible reason for the existence of ghosts. Does biblical truth allow for the continuing presence of the dead on earth? If not, then what kind of apparent force or intelligence is behind a haunting?

Not only do we have to address the major problem mentioned above, there is also the matter of intent. What reason is there behind the story? Traditionally the ghost story has been associated with fear – giving the reader a scare. Is that kind of aim compatible with a Christian outlook? Should the Christian writer intentionally set out with the primary aim of creating fear in the reader?

Robin Parish’s Nightmare did nothing to change my suspicion that the two are incompatible. While most of the book deals adequately with the “ghostly” side of the equation, the “Christian” side fails: presenting a mixture of superstition, and vague pop-theology in place of a biblically supportable view of life after death and the spiritual conflict between good and evil.

College student Maia Peters is the daughter of famous paranormal investigators (ghost hunters). Despite her desire to be free from the effects of her parents’ celebrity status, she is offered significant financial rewards to help wealthy fellow student Jordin Cole to have a genuine paranormal experience. Maia takes Jordin on a tour of several haunted sites around America and they witness an extraordinarily high level of strange events.

Jordin later goes missing and her fiancée Derek suspects Jordin’s paranormal dabbling with Maia is to blame. When the two try to find out what happened to Jordin they stumble across an occult conspiracy which seems to have Maia herself in its sights.

Parish maintains interest in the parts of the book devoted to the investigations, but when it comes to bringing it all together the story flounders. The climax brings in elements of Science fiction that didn’t really work for me personally, and its depiction of the demonic owed more to fantasy fiction than anything gleaned from scripture.

As a ghost story I found Nightmare was adequately entertaining but as a “Christian” influenced ghost story I thought it failed to deliver biblical consistency, a feature which surely MUST be the foundation of anything published with a Christian world view in mind.


Since I mentioned my own ghost experiences some might want to know what I think I saw.

I believe that ghosts are a distraction – or a diversion. They are a deception, offering a false alternative to the truth of the “after life” as revealed through the bible.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Visiting Lady Jane Grey and the Tudor period

While the calendar was moving another year ahead, I headed the other direction, visiting the past through a collection of historical fiction and non-fiction, in both book and film

I spent two or three weeks in Tudor England, with Lady Jane Grey and her family. Her most famous relatives were the Tudor Kings and Queens and her life ended violently like so many royal Tudor women.

Jane’s story is tragic. At only 15 she was manoeuvred onto the English throne to replace her recently deceased cousin Edward. She was quickly deposed by Mary, Edward’s older sister, and was eventually executed.

Viewing her story through various formats has shown me how difficult it must be to get an accurate understanding of history. There are many variables caused by gaps in evidence. If we want our history to be more than lists of facts and dates, we’ll have to recognise how much imagination and speculation play in its recording and reporting.

All of my books about Jane Grey presented more or less the same basic outline, but diverged slightly depending on the author’s own point of interest. For example Faith Cook’s book Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen (non fiction) focused on Jane’s faith and how her protestant beliefs contributed to her death.

Alison Plowden in Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk took a broader view and placed Jane within the context of her family, where they came from and the tragedies that continued after Jane’s death due to their proximity to the throne and the potential threat they could play to the reigning monarch. While Jane suffered at the hands of Mary, her surviving sisters suffered at the hands of Mary’s successor, Elizabeth, probably because they were next in line to the throne when Elizabeth had no children of her own.

Alison Weir’s book Innocent Traitor was fiction, but Weir is a respected historian and I found her story didn’t stray from what I learned from the other “factual” accounts. Her familiarity with Tudor times helped to flesh out Jane Grey’s world, giving depth to her cultural and physical environments. This is the only kind of historical fiction I’m interested in reading – where the known facts are not discarded, and nothing blatantly wrong is added merely for the sake of the story.

The 1980s film Lady Jane is a clear example of the latter. While half of the film does stay with the basic historical record, the other half is a sentimentalised romance where Jane becomes an impulsive, giggling girl far different from every other account of her story. The change comes after her forced marriage to Guilford Dudley, by all historical accounts not a happy relationship and one that rarely saw them together. Yet the film turns them into doting and inseparable partners who even manage to share a cell in the Tower of London after their arrest by Mary.

Another work of historical fictional that I read was Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a winner of the Mann Booker Prize. While I enjoyed the book, which encouraged me to read further in the period depicted (I’m currently reading a biography of William Tyndale), it also made me wonder about the judging standards of one the most prestigious literary prizes. What made this book stand above others? Personally I found some of the writing was clumsy – often I didn’t know who was being written about. The main character Thomas Cromwell was mostly referred to as “he”, which was often confusing when the “he” in a sentence could also be one of the other characters. Mantel seemed to realise this herself in parts of the book and she made it clear by saying “he, Cromwell...” but that clarification was sporadic and inconsistent.

Also at times I felt that Mantel used inappropriately modern language – one example I recall was a reference to something being “stuffed up” when it was done wrong. Maybe that quibble is merely a sign of my own ignorance of Tudor idioms; perhaps the term does date back that far.

A graphic understanding of the period came through a miniseries Elizabeth I starring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth. This film is not recommended for the squeamish, holding little back from its portrayal of beheadings and other executions, including drawing and quartering.

If nothing else, all of these accounts of the Tudor period show how tenuous the lives of those close to royalty could be. How easy it was to fall from favour and fall victim to the headsman’s axe (or worse).

I have a few more books about Lady Jane and Tudor times to read, so I'm sure I'll be returning to this subject beofre long.