Investigation into Shenanigans and Skulduggery in the Secret Service
(Firstly, I’d just like to apologise to everyone for the delay in getting the Mueller Report out. Unfortunately, it was decided the FF Report should take priority so Mr Barr has been very busy with his coloured pencils. I shall be holding a Press Conference three hours before you get to read this.)
So many aspiring authors now feel it’s essential to take a degree in Creative Writing and unfortunately many of them then come out mistaking flowery “innovative” prose for good storytelling. Plus they often end up with massive student debts. So out of the goodness of my heart, I’ve decided to provide an alternative… and it’s completely free, more or less!
(The laws have developed as a result of specific books which either annoyed me by breaking them, or pleased me by avoiding them, but as you will see they can be applied universally. So I’ve decided in most cases not to name the book, but for those who really, really need to know, clicking on the law title will take you to the review where I first used it.)
😉 😉 😉 😉 😉
So have your pencil and notebook ready – here goes…
Blurbs should accurately reflect the contents of the book to ensure they attract the right readers.
If your blurb claims your book is a thriller, then it should thrill. If it claims to be history, then it should not be polemics. If it claims kinship with Jane Austen, then it shouldn’t read like Jilly Cooper.
Describing the sudden deaths of thousands of fictional characters the reader has never been introduced to doesn’t have the same emotional impact as would fear for one character the reader had grown to care about.
Unnamed narrators should never be used by authors who would like people to review their books.
Otherwise (some) reviewers might decide to name all your women Brutus and all your men Ethel, and frankly Rebecca wouldn’t be the same if the second Mrs de Winter was called Brutus. (I may be being a little selfish with this one.)
Swearing never attracts readers who wouldn’t otherwise read the book, but frequently puts off readers who otherwise would.
Especially restrain yourself from swearing in the first line, or in the hashtag you use for advertising. What seems to you like authentic down-with-da-kids street-talk may seem to many readers like functional illiteracy.
Having the narrator constantly refer to ‘what happened that day’ without informing the reader of what actually did happen that day is far more likely to create book-hurling levels of irritation than a feeling of suspense.
Lawsuits from people who have broken their Kindles and/or their walls can prove to be expensive.
😉 😉 😉 😉 😉
Once you have mastered and can apply these laws, congratulations! Send a cheque for £50,000 made out to FF’s School of Scamming Creative Writing and you will receive by return a hand-made Diploma which you can show to agents, publishers and booksellers, or simply use as an attractive decoration for your writing nook!
You will also receive a 10% discount for the Advanced Course, currently being prepared. Here’s a taster of the goodies to come…
FF’s Eleventh Law:
WRITING BLURBS IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM MORE EXCITING!!!
It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. So, let’s begin!
The 2018 Results
1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.
The Target: Accept no more than 48 for review, and read at least 48, so my backlog at the end of the year should be no more (and hopefully less) than it was at the end of 2017 – i.e., 32.
The Result: Oh! 48! Oh dear, I must have misread that! I seem to have accepted 98! Well, it’s only one number different, right? On the upside, I read (or abandoned) 100, meaning that the outstanding total at the end of the year is now 30.
2) Reducing the TBR
a) Read at least 72 books that were on the TBR at the end of 2017.
b) Buy no more than 36 books during the year.
c) The TBR target for the end of the year to be 170. And the target for the overall figure, TBR plus wishlist, standing at a ridiculous 415 at the end of 2017, to be 360.
a) I fear I only managed to read 49 books that were on my TBR at the end of 2017.
b) Even I thought this this one was hilarious! However, I was as strict as possible and managed to keep the number down to a mere 58. So less than double the target – impressive!
c) The TBR total (that is, books I own) stands at a horrific 225! BUT… the overall figure, including wishlist, is down to 364! The mathematicians among you will realise this is because I acquired lots of books that were on my wishlist. I’ve been brutal at controlling additions to my wishlist this year, and it’s paid off!
The Result: I did indeed finish this challenge in the early summer and loved doing it. One day I might do a similar challenge. Maybe the Spanish Civil War. Or Europe between the wars…
b)Great American Novel Quest – I planned to restart this once the Russian challenge finished, with a low target of just 4 books in 2018.
The Result: I’ve not been enjoying the American books I put on my Classics Club list on the whole, so have allowed the GAN Quest to lapse. I might revive it from time to time if I read a book that I think meets the criteria – loads of my original list of contenders are still sitting on my TBR.
c)Classics Club – To stay on track with this, I planned to read 24 books in 2018 (and start tackling at least some of the longer ones).
The Result: I nearly made it, but not quite. I read 20 over the year, but I did tackle a few of the longer ones. Overall, that means I’ve caught up a little, but am still a few books behind schedule. However, I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back to some classics reading after years of concentrating on new releases.
d)Around the World in 80 Books – I was about halfway through this one at the end of 2017 and averaging 20 books a year, so that was the target for 2018 too.
The Result: Again, nearly but not quite – I read 16 this year. I’m loving this challenge, though, and have lots of great books lined up for it next year.
e)Murder, Mystery, Mayhem – Targeted 20 books for 2018, on the grounds that this would make this a five year challenge.
The Result: Not even close! I read just 12 of these, mainly because I started receiving lots of other vintage crime novels for review. But I’m enjoying this challenge too, so I don’t mind if it takes longer than I initially planned.
4) Other stuff
I didn’t set targets for anything else, but hoped to fit in some more re-reads and do a bit more catching up with authors and series I’ve enjoyed.
The Result: I re-read 15 books over the year, and 25 that count as “catch-ups”, so I’m quite happy with those figures.
Overall then, while I failed on almost every single count, I somehow feel as if I did pretty well! I’m sure the psychologists would have fun with that…
* * * * *
Resolutions for 2019
I’ve done something I’ve never tried before and I’m not at all sure how I’ll feel about it or if I’ll stick to it. Basically, I’ve planned my whole year’s reading in advance, leaving just 30 spaces for new releases, re-reads and random temptations. The idea is this will stop me adding gazillions of books I’ll never find time to read, and ensure I’m reading loads of the books I already own. It should also mean I’ll make progress on my challenges. So my resolutions this year are strictly a numbers game and there’s lots of crossover among the categories…
1) Reading Resolutions
I plan to read:
a) 88 books that I already own as at today. Since I read roughly 125 books a year, that gives me around 40 spaces to fill with books I either buy or receive for review this year.
b) 25 books for the Around the World challenge. This should complete it this year. I’ve selected all the remaining books now and have already acquired most of them.
c) 25 books from my Classics Club list. Ambitious, but doable, and would bring me up to schedule and even a tiny bit ahead. I already have all of these.
d) 10 books from my sadly neglected 5 x 5 challenge. Again, I already own most of these and anticipate loving them, so why do I keep putting them off for other books?
e) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge, again all ones I already have. I’m going for a lowish figure this year since I’m hoping I’ll still be getting lots of other vintage crime for review.
f) 24 books first published in 2019 (minimum). The downside of my challenges is that I’m reading far less new crime and literary fiction and am beginning to seriously miss it, so I’m going to ensure I read at least two a month.
2) Reduce the TBR
I’m going for an overall reduction of 40 books this year. So…
Target for TBR: 185
Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 324.
If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy…
I saw this tag over on Rosepoint Publishing and her answers proved what we all already knew – that she’s very nice indeed! I’m a bit worried about what Santa will think of my behaviour, though, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to tell me if I’ve been nice enough or if I need to make some quick amends…
So here are the questions – have you…
1. Received an ARC and not reviewed it?
Oh yes! For some reason I got put on a publisher’s list for what can only be described as women’s fiction and suddenly started receiving zillions of them. I struggled through one or two, but not my thing! Eventually they stopped sending them – phew! And then there are all the NetGalley ARCs I’ve abandoned for being badly written or badly formatted – I do send feedback (usually polite 😇, but not always 😡) but don’t review.
2. Got less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley?
I don’t remember ever being under 90%! I’m currently on 93%. 😇
3. Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?
No, I never put a rating on Goodreads until I’m posting the review. 😇 The exception is abandoned books where I have no intention of ever reviewing, but which I think require a 1-star rating. 😡
4. Folded down the page of a book?
Not intentionally, but I have done it accidentally while attempting to read, eat cake and fend off paper-chewing cats simultaneously. Annoyingly I managed to crease the cover of my current read… grrr! 😡
5. Accidentally spilled on a book?
Well… OK, I’ve never admitted to this before, but… well, OK, it was I who dropped the bread and marmalade face down on my sister’s treasured copy of The Hobbit. I’ve lived with the guilt for around half a century… 😞
6. DNF a book this year?
Oh, good heavens, yes!! Thousands!! But is that naughty?? Believe me, if I had finished and reviewed them, I wouldn’t have been nice… 🤬
7. Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?
That’s not naughty, it’s crazy! No! 😇
8. Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework)?
Well, that all depends on one’s perspective. I prefer to think of things like housework as impinging on my reading time rather than the other way round. 😜
9. Skim read a book?
Guilty as charged. But only when they deserve it, and I reckon it makes me nice, because I could have fed them through the shredder instead, and didn’t… 😡
10. Completely missed your Goodreads goal?
I’m going to fail dismally this year. 😪 And I don’t care because I’m a rebel!! 😎 (Though I might sneakily read a few novellas to take me over the line… ) 😇
11. Borrowed a book and not returned it to the library?
Not this year, 😇 but only because I don’t use the library. And the reason I don’t is because I’m so hopeless at returning books and can’t face the guilt. 🤬
12. Broken a book buying ban?
What’s a book buying ban? 🎅
13. Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?
Tragically, this happens all the time, though I find reading reviews on Goodreads is usually enough to remind me. But I left my review of Heart of Darkness for so long that I’m going to have to read it again… 🤬
14. Written in a book you were reading?
What?? Do you think I’m some kind of savage?? 😡 Of course not! I live in a society with ready access to notebooks… *shudders*
15. Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?
I add them before I read them, as I put them on TBR Thursday posts. 😇 I have however removed them on finishing, if they were so bad I couldn’t even bring myself to give one star… 😡
16. Borrowed a book and not returned it to a friend?
In the distant past, I have been both villain and victim of this heinous crime. 😇😡 Nowadays I don’t borrow books…
17. Dodged someone asking if they can borrow a book?
No, though due to my own tendency to accidentally steal books, I’d much rather give a book than lend it… 🎅
18. Broken the spine of someone else’s book?
No, but thanks for the suggestion! I’ll bear it in mind for the next time someone annoys me… 😡😡
19. Taken the jacket off a book to protect it and ended up making it more damaged?
I’m baffled – I thought jackets were there to protect the book. From accidental chocolate fingerprints, for example, or to give the cats something to chew. Have I been doing it wrong?? 😲
The Case of the Mutton-Bone by Sir Arthur Donan Coyle
(So many of us were disappointed to discover that the weapon in The Mystery of the Yellow Room wasn’t a real mutton-bone that I felt the matter ought to be rectified. Fortunately I was able to track down this tale from our old friend Sir Arthur Donan Coyle…)
It was an early spring morning as I made my way to Baker Street in response to an urgent telegram from my old friend, Sherlock Holmes. The last wisps of fog were burning off in the pale sunshine and I felt a renewed strength of vigour as I inhaled the clean air that returns to the great city each year when winter recedes. My medical practice was also receding, however, as the annual round of winter coughs and wheezes gave way to simple summer sneezes. I was ready for an adventure and hoped that Holmes was about to provide one. Little did I know that I was soon to be plunged into a horror blacker than the darkest nightmare.
….“Ah, Watson, you’re here at last!” Holmes cried, as I was ushered into his room by the small maidservant employed by the landlady of the house, Mrs Hudson. This little scrap of humanity answered to the name of Agnes. Mrs Hudson had taken her from the orphanage where she had spent her first years. Her story was the age-old one – her mother, little more than a child herself, tempted into error by a worldly man and then abandoned when he proved unwilling to pay the price of his pleasure. Shunned by family and friends, the woman’s grasp on life became ever more tenuous until she gave her last remaining strength to this, her daughter, and died without revealing the name of the child’s only living relation, the cruel and unfeeling father. God forgive her, and all other simple, loving women who fall from grace under the blandishments of a careless seducer.
….“You have a case, Holmes?” I inquired.
….“On our very doorstep, Watson! Come! Inspector Gregory is below!”
….I followed in some astonishment as Holmes led the way down the back stairs of the house to the private quarters of Mrs Hudson. Passing swiftly through the kitchen, we proceeded through the rear door into the small backyard. There, Gregory awaited us with a pair of rather bored looking constables. As Gregory moved to one side, I suddenly saw, at the entrance to the coal bunker, a man lying sprawled on the ground, clearly dead!
….“My word, Holmes!” I cried. “What can this mean? Do you know this man?”
….“There is a certain familiarity about his features, but I do not think I have met him. Have you found anything to tell us his name, Gregory?”
….“Yes, Mr Holmes, there is a letter in his pocket, an old one from the looks of it, addressed to Mr Alfred Smith, in Fremantle in Western Australia. The contents are of little interest – here, see for yourself.”
….Holmes took the worn and yellowed leaf from his hand and passed it to me, requesting I read it aloud.
….“Dearest Alfie,” the letter began. “I have had no reply from you to my last letter, so am writing one last time in the hope that you will have a change of heart and not be so cold to the one you were once pleased to call your little coo-pigeon. If you were to send me the price of the crossing, I could join you and I know we would be happy. A little family to call your own, Alfie. Is not that what you told me you desired, when you took from me the most precious gift a woman has to offer – her innocence? Please, for the love we have shared and the sake of your soul, do this thing that I ask of you.” It was signed, “Your loving friend, and more than friend, Ada.”
….I wiped a surreptitious tear from my eye. “Why, the fellow is obviously a complete reprobate! One can’t but feel that his sordid end is a just reward!”….
Holmes was thoughtful over lunch – soup followed by pork chops. I was a little disappointed that the soup, though delicious, was vegetable: in the years when Holmes and I roomed together here, Mrs Hudson had always given us a hearty mutton broth on Thursdays. As we drank our coffee, Holmes lighted his pipe and lay back in his old wing-chair, eyes closed and fingertips pressed together. I knew better than to disturb him so caught up on the news in The Daily Telegraph – Moriarty’s Madam had won the 3.30 at Epsom, giving my bank balance a much-needed boost.
….Suddenly, “Come, Watson!” Holmes cried, striding purposefully from the room. I followed after him, rather wishing I had brought my trusty service revolver along. Down to the kitchen we went, and entered to find Mrs Hudson and young Agnes just sitting down to their own lunch. I sniffed – mutton broth? I was somewhat annoyed, but reminded myself we had serious business on hand.
….Holmes, taking in the scene in an instant, took two long strides to the table, dashed from her hand the spoon Agnes was raising to her lips, lifted her soup-plate and emptied it into the kitchen sink! Poor Agnes began to sob and I rushed over in case she should swoon. But then I noticed that Mrs Hudson had paled to a dull grayish colour and her whole body was trembling like one of her own blancmanges.
….“Oh, Mrs Hudson, no,” Holmes said, shaking his head sorrowfully. “The first was excusable but this latter is unworthy of you. Send the girl to her room so we may talk freely.”
….Baffled, I waited till the girl had left the room and then demanded to know what Holmes had meant by it.
….“Shall I tell the story, Mrs Hudson? You must set me right if I err in any particular.” He led the old lady kindly to her accustomed chair and waited until she was settled. “A little brandy for Mrs Hudson, I think, Watson, and perhaps for us too. I fear the tale I have to tell may shock you.” I complied and finally, the three of us settled, Holmes began…
….“When I examined the dead man’s wound, I noticed small flecks of raw meat had attached themselves to his hair. A closer examination by dint of my keen olfactory sense allowed me to determine the type of meat: mutton. The wound itself could only have been caused by a blow from a heavy but blunt instrument – you know I have written a short monograph on the subject of head injuries caused by various implements and the signs were clear. I had already begun to suspect that the murderer – or perhaps I should say killer, since I believe her actions were fully justified – was none other than our own dear Mrs Hudson. And when today – Thursday, you note – we were served with vegetable soup rather than the usual mutton broth, my suspicions became a certainty.”
….I gasped and took a quick drink of brandy to steady my nerves. “But Holmes, how? And in God’s name, man, why?” Mrs Hudson had buried her head in her hands and was sobbing piteously. Holmes gently patted her knee. “Hush, Mrs Hudson, leave it to me and all will yet be well,” he said kindly.
….Turning to me, he continued. “You see, Watson, some years ago as we shared a Christmas sherry, Mrs Hudson told me that she was not a widow as we had always believed. In fact, she never married. This – reprobate, I think you called him, and a fine word it is to describe him – once told her he loved her, and with the innocence of youth Mrs Hudson – Ada – gave him all a woman has to give: her love and her trust. Having ruined her, this heartless brute then deserted her and went off to Australia. Poor Ada gave birth to their child, but it was a sickly little thing, and soon left this world for a better one.
….“Now I shall speculate as to what happened late last night. Smith had returned to England, and heard from some mutual acquaintance that Ada had got on in the world, earning back her respectability among people who knew nothing of her tragic story. To a man like him, her little property and the small wealth she has accumulated were enough of a temptation. He turned up here and demanded that Mrs Hudson give him her little all or he would reveal her past to the world, thrusting her back into shame. She refused, and he took violent hold of her, threatening to beat the money out of her if necessary. In the extreme fear and turmoil of emotions he had aroused in her, Mrs Hudson for one instant lost herself and, snatching up the nearest object – the mutton-bone for today’s broth – struck him as hard as she could on the temple. A lucky blow for her, though not for him. It killed him instantly with less pain than he deserved. And so Mrs Hudson dragged his corpse out to the yard, hoping that no-one would discover her connection to him.”
….“That’s just how it was, Mr Holmes,” Mrs Hudson said through her tears. “It’s as if you had been there and seen the whole thing! Do what you must, sir – the law can never punish me more harshly than my own conscience.”
….“Pshaw, Mrs Hudson! We shall find some way to send Inspector Gregory off on a wild goose chase, never fear. The man was a scoundrel and a blackmailer – neither the law nor your conscience should waste another moment on him. He will now face judgement from a higher power than we. But you must promise me to look after the child, Agnes. Her poor mother did not have your strength.”
….“And my poor daughter did not have hers. It shall be as you say, sir – she will be well looked after while I live and provided for on my death. God bless you, Mr Holmes, sir!”
….“But, Holmes,” I asked rather plaintively, once we were again alone in his study. “Why did you throw out young Agnes’ broth?”
….“My dear fellow, it’s elementary! Mrs Hudson had to get rid of the mutton-bone; it was the only evidence against her. Making broth with it was clever enough. But I cannot feel it was right to allow the young girl to eat it.”
….I shuddered, and felt thankful after all that we had been served the vegetable soup. “As always, Holmes, you have tempered justice with mercy.” As I raised my brandy to him in salute, I contemplated my good fortune at being able to call this great man my friend.
I was looking for a tag to do, but couldn’t find one which tickled my fancy. This is because I’m bored with my own answers – my favourite book, favourite character, favourite cake etc. Plus I’m feeling incredibly lazy…
So then I had an inspired thought! YOU DO THE WORK!! Brilliant, isn’t it? I don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago!
Set five (easy) tasks for your readers.
Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy their responses.
Possibly drink a margarita.
Definitely eat some chocolate.
Tag some other people, if you have the energy, or have a nap instead…
HERE ARE YOUR TASKS – answers in the comments below please:
1. Recommend ONE book you think I’d enjoy and tell me why. (Disclaimer: I DO NOT promise to read it!) If you’ve reviewed it, please feel free to add a link to your review.
2. Cover wars: vote for the cover you like best out of these. Tell me in the comments which one you voted for.
3. Option A: What book does this make you think of and why?
Option B: For creative types with too much time on your hands, use it as a prompt for a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a limerick, a haiku, etc. – no more than 100 words, please.
There once was a girl called Amanda
Who dozed off on her sunny verandah
Along came a witch
Her nose she did twitch
And Amanda awoke as a panda.
4. What three words would appear in the blurb for your ideal book that hasn’t yet been written? And who do you want to write it?
5. Tell me a factletabout yourself you’ve never before revealed in the blogosphere.
(Last year I created a story – if it could be dignified by that name – using the titles of all the books I’d reviewed in the year… in the order I reviewed them! I couldn’t resist seeing if I could do it again this year. My twin obsessions of the year – the Russian Revolution and vintage crime – meant there could only really be one theme…)
“Shhh!” FFskova hissed, glancing round to make sure no members of the White Guard were within earshot. The dry tone of her voice admonished him. “You’ll find out soon enough – I’ll let the dead speak for themselves.”
And so at last they retired from assassining, leaving a string of crimes unsolved. Soon the assassin training program was unplayable. Lies were told to explain the foreign bodies, and the police, being mere fools and mortals, were left baffled, although FFskova ever afterwards found it hard to look a police officer in the eye. “Of Osiris,” she reminded Harriet, “we must never speak – that code name for the mistletoe murder and other stories of horrific deaths must remain forever secret, known only to us and my secret lover, the man they call the Catcher.” In the rye bottle, Harriet found a welcome oblivion in the years to come, but no alcohol was ever strong enough to dull FFskova’s mental anguish. Only chocolate could do that…
Months ago, in preparation for the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge, I bought a copy of the Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Doctor Zhivago from Amazon. But, for reasons best known to themselves, they sent me a copy of the Max Hayward/Manya Harari translation instead. I’d probably not have been too fussed about this, except that I had also bought a copy of the audiobook to do a combined read/listen, so obviously it was important to have the same translation in each. So I acquired the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation too. (A sad footnote to this episode was when I discovered that the Audible audiobook, also listed as Pevear, is in fact the Hayward! It appears Amazon and Audible don’t really understand that different translations matter. They should be clearer now they’ve read my e-mails on the subject… 😉 )
So at the weekend I finally settled down to read. The Pevear/Volokhonsky is the most recent translation and my initial sketchy research had suggested they’re the go-to people for Russian translation at the moment. The Hayward/Harari is, I believe, the translation most people will be familiar with who read the book before 2010. I decided to read the first chapter of each and decide which I preferred. And that’s when it began to get complicated…
The Hayward/Harari seems to be generally recognised as a good but liberal translation, where they’ve kept the meaning but made changes to word order and vocabulary to make it read more naturally in English. Apparently they’ve also omitted the occasional bit and, from my own reading, have sometimes added a little extra to clarify something which might not be immediately obvious to a non-Russian. Pevear/Volokhonsky, however, is claimed to be a more literal translation, keeping not just the words but often the order, and striving to emulate the rhythms in the original. Here are some comparisons…
H/H – “There was a certain amount of unpleasantness, and there are certain consequences. For instance, I am banned from the civil service for quite a long time and I am forbidden to go to Moscow or Petersburg. But these are trifles.”
P/V – “There was some unpleasantness; it had its consequences. For instance, I can’t hold a government job for a long time. They won’t allow me in the capitals. But that’s all rubbish.”
In this one, H/H have clarified that the “capitals” are Moscow and St Petersburg. P/V have used “capitals” and then footnoted the explanation. On the one hand, this kind of thing makes H/H easier to read and simpler to understand on a superficial level. But on the other hand, it means that the reader is left unaware that the Russia of the time considered itself to have two capitals, an old (Moscow) and a new (St Petersburg), which, all my history reading of the last few months has led me to believe, is quite important to understanding the country and the revolution. P/V’s footnote clarifies this quite well. I’ve also never come across the term “civil service” in connection with government jobs in Russia – it’s a very British expression, I think.
P/V – A rain of clods drummed down as four shovels hastily filled the grave. Over it a small mound rose. A ten-year-old boy climbed onto it.
Only in the state of torpor and insensibility that usually comes at the end of a big funeral could it have seemed that the boy wanted to speak over his mother’s grave.
H/H – Clods of earth drummed on the lid like rain as the grave was filled hurriedly by four spades. A mound grew up on it and a ten-year-old boy climbed on top.
Only the numb and unfeeling condition which comes to people at the end of a big funeral could account for some of the mourners’ thinking that he wished to make an address over his mother’s grave.
Here, H/H have changed the structure of the sentences making them read more naturally and perhaps simplistically. P/V’s more literal translation follows the Russian structure, I assume, making it seem rather stilted and convoluted at points. On the other hand, I think P/V create a clearer image overall, and I prefer “torpor and insensibility” to “numb and unfeeling”.
H/H – During the night the boy, Yura, was woken up by a knocking at the window. The dark cell was mysteriously lit up by a flickering whiteness. With nothing on but his shirt, he ran to the window and pressed his face against the cold glass.
Outside there was no trace of the road, the graveyard or the kitchen garden, nothing but the blizzard, the air smoking with snow. It was almost as if the snowstorm had caught sight of Yura and, conscious of its power to terrify, roared, howled and did everything possible to attract his attention, revelling in the effect it had on him. Turning over and over in the sky, length after length of whiteness unwound over the earth and shrouded it. The blizzard was alone on earth and knew no rival.
P/V – During the night, Yura was awakened by a tapping at the window. The dark cell was supernaturally lit up by a fluttering white light. In just his nightshirt, Yura ran to the window and pressed his face to the cold glass.
Beyond the window there was no road, no cemetery, no kitchen garden. A blizzard was raging outside; the air was smoky with snow. One might have thought the storm noticed Yura and, knowing how frightening it was, revelled in the impression it made on him. It whistled and howled and tried in every way possible to attract Yura’s attention. From the sky endless skeins of white cloth, turn after turn, fell on the earth, covering it in a winding sheet. The blizzard was alone in the world; nothing rivalled it.
This third example is a little more bothersome to me. I like both these passages and think both translations convey a vivid picture of the snowstorm – my preference is for P/V. But ‘mysterious’ and ‘supernatural’ have distinctly different definitions and I am left wondering which translation catches Pasternak’s meaning. I suspect ‘supernatural’ might be closer, since even this first chapter shows me that religious belief or lack of it is going to be something of a theme in the book. But, when I started looking for other opinions on the two translations, Ann Pasternak Slater (Boris’s niece) points out in this interesting Guardian article, that, when describing the moon in a later passage, P/V have chosen “blackish purple”, while H/H have gone for “crimson” which Slater, herself a Russian speaker, thinks is closer to the meaning in the original. So P/V’s literal translation may not always convey the author’s intention better than H/H’s liberal one. (Or, of course, Slater could be wrong – being a relative of the author doesn’t necessarily confer greater depth of understanding. And I can’t help feeling crimson moons are a little banal while blackish purple ones are dramatically poetic…)
My final example is the one that I find most discombobulating…
P/V – As they passed by the Gordons’ compartment, wrapping the corners of their shoulders in shawls and turning the narrowness of the corridor into a source of fresh coquetry, it seemed to Misha that they hissed, or, judging by their compressed lips, meant to hiss: “Ah, just imagine, such sensitivity! We’re special! We’re intelligentsia! We simply can’t!”
H/H – When, with a coquettish wriggle of their shoulders for which the narrow passage offered an excuse, they passed the Gordons’ compartment, it seemed to Misha that through their pursed lips they must be hissing: “Gracious, what sensitive plants! They think they’re a special creation! They’re intellectuals! All this is too much for them!”
It seems to me that, on the surface, these two translations mean entirely different things, though I think P/V’s translation actually leaves the meaning quite unclear (“we simply can’t” what?). H/H suggest fairly strongly that the women were being rather dismissively anti-Semitic towards the Jewish Gordons (or at least that Misha thought they were), while P/V reads as if they were boasting instead about their own superior aristocratic sensitivity. Either works, but what was Pasternak’s intention? Having read the H/H version, I can now see that the P/V version could also be read as a snide comment on the Gordons, but I don’t think it’s at all clear. I studied Russian a little at school and while I’m entirely unable to understand the text in its original form, I can just about tell the difference between “they” and “we”. When I look at the text in Russian it undoubtedly uses “we”. But I suspect H/H may have caught the actual meaning better, perhaps by interpreting some nuance of language or punctuation that P/V have too literally translated. But in truth I have no idea…
I’ve decided to go with Pevear/Volokhonsky, because of that “capitals” thing, because overall I prefer their vocabulary choices, because the footnotes are good, and because they haven’t anglicised the Russian names quite so annoyingly as H/H (who use Nicky instead of Nika, for example). However, I’ll keep H/H to hand to help on those occasions that P/V leave the meaning unclear. But what do you think? Have you read either, or both, and if so what did you think of them? And if not, which do you think looks more enjoyable based on the examples?
I considered simply blushing and waiting to see if anyone voted for me – highly unlikely since I’m up against some phenomenal competition, not least my own choice – the lovely Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books.
But then I remembered that sometimes the least likely person can win elections, even against the most qualified candidates who have ever stood! It all depends on making sure the offer appeals enough to the electorate, and boiling those messages down to some easily remembered slogans. So here is my manifesto…
BUILD THE WALL!
If you vote for me, I will build a giant circular wall, 20 feet high, and I will have it lined with bookshelves! Inside the wall will be a new country where we will all live in a yuge palace, complete with loads of comfy chairs, reading lamps and coffee tables.
BAN THE BOOK HATERS!
All people with a TBR greater than 181 will be automatic citizens of FFLand (as I propose to modestly call this new country) and library cards will be issued instead of identity papers. However Book Haters with a TBR of 181 or less will be left on the outside – we don’t want them coming into our country and spreading their horrible ideas about TBR reduction plans and reading what they already have before acquiring more. Unnatural!
There will be an immigration plan but potential immigrants will be extremely vetted before being allowed to enter. They must swear the following oath of allegiance…
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign library of which I have heretofore been a member; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of FFLand against all Book Haters, foreign and domestic; that I will bear books on behalf of FFLand when required by the law; that I will read for a minimum of 8 hours per day and blog at least three times a week; that I will never return library books on time nor allow my TBR to drop below 182; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. I swear this oath on the latest block-buster novel.”
LOCK HER UP!
Wikileaks have just released the following shock news! They’ve received details, via Russians who have hacked into her blog, of the latest state of Crooked Cleo’s TBR and I have to tell you that, although she pretends to be a book lover, horrifically she has allowed her TBR to drop to 181! Click here if you want to see the evidence for yourself! Proof positive that she’s a secret Book Hater!! If I win, I shall instruct the FFBI to investigate her instantly, find her guilty of something, and Lock Her Up! Lock Her Up!!LOCK HER UP!!!
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I suspect you’re all longing to vote for me now, understandably. But just in case, by some odd freak of nature, Crooked Cleo wins the popular vote, then obviously this could only be because she has bussed in three billion illegal Book Haters from the Lands Beyond The Wall to rig the vote! (Lock Her Up!) So to encourage you all to turn out and vote the right way – i.e., FOR ME! – there will be free chocolate at my inauguration rally!!
The lovely Anne at I’ve Read This nominated me for the Unique Blogger Award and set me some questions aaaaages ago, so first of all many thanks and many, many apologies for taking so long to reply! I feel totally honoured!
The rules of the award are as follows:
• Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
• Answer the questions.
• In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.
• Ask them three questions.
Just to be different, Anne asked me four questions – what a rebel! But then, she’s Canadian…
So here goes!
1. How many hours per week do you spend on your blog?
Approximately 168. My daily schedule is as follows:
3 hours reading
1 hour writing and drafting posts
4 hours looking for suitable pictures
2 hours updating my TBR spreadsheet
6 hours poring over everyone else’s posts and sobbing about how easy you all make it look
8 hours having horrific nightmares about the exponential growth of my TBR…
2. Can you read more than one book at a time?
Well, it depends on what you mean. I usually have three books on the go – a hefty factual tome which I read in the afternoon when my brain is theoretically at its most alert; a “serious” fiction which I read in the early evening when I’m ready to relax but still awake enough to concentrate; and something light – usually crime, or occasionally sci-fi, for late at night when my braincells have declared an all-out strike and gone off up the dancing without me. But if you mean one book for each eye plus an audiobook, all simultaneously, then I have only one thing to say to you – what a great idea!! I’m going to practice that…
3. How much do you hate finding copy errors (spelling mistakes, etc.) in a published book on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being I don’t mind at all, and 10 being you hate it with a fiery rage?
Personally, I think that’s a crime so heinous that a special punishment should be devised for the perpetrators. I’ve had some thoughts on the subject and come up with a few options…
Being forced to read Moby Dick. Twice.
Being taken to visit a chocolate factory but not being allowed to try any of the samples.
Being made to spring-clean the houses of everyone who has spotted the errors.
Being made to listen to re-runs of Comrade Trump’s “greatest” speeches.
And for really serious repeat offenders…
Being forbidden to watch Pride and Prejudice for five whole years.
4. Why are cats so awesome?
I was going to say “because they’re fluffy and cuddly”, but Tuppence wasn’t at all pleased with that answer – she feels it undermines her status. So she’s decided to answer this question herself by pointing out what she feels are the main feline contributions to human happiness. Over to you, Tuppence!
1) Philosophy – we have discovered the true road to happiness and are only sad that humans are, frankly, too stupid to have worked it out for themselves. Twenty hours sleep per day, an hour cumulative of eating time, and three hours of pestering people just when they’re trying to relax. It’s so simple, really, but then, so are humans.
2) Art – some fools humans think we’re just messy when we scatter cat litter all over the floor, but if they had any true discernment, they’d realise we’re actually creating wonderful abstract mosaics for their pleasure and intellectual (and olfactory) stimulation.
3)Healthcare – we routinely check the circulation of our pet humans by opening a vein and ensuring the blood flow is strong. Plus, by making sure we do this just after creating one of our abstracts, we ensure our humans are motivated to keep their tetanus shots up to date.
Go on, tickle my tummy! I dare you…
4) Sport – we worry that our humans don’t seem to be very agile nor have very good reaction times, so we help to keep them supple by ensuring they fall over us on a regular basis, preferably when they’re half-way down a flight of stairs. This is great for improving their balance, and for helping them build up a tolerance for pain.
5) Wealth – by treating our human servants as the utterly inferior and, frankly, stupid species they are, we help to keep them meek. And, as we all know, the meek shall inherit the earth. Which, you must agree, is a pretty good return for the small investment we ask them to make on cat treats and toys…
Oh, excuse me, I’d go on, but I see it’s my nap time, and anyway, my servant has to go and admire my latest artwork now…
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Thank you, Tuppence – it’s so good of you to take time out of your busy schedule to give us the benefit of your superior wisdom. And talking of healthcare has reminded me – time for your worming tablet, I think!
Aaaarghhh! No!! I’m sorry! Please!! Not the laser eyes!!!
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Thanks again, Anne – Tuppence and I had a lot of fun doing this!
I nominate everyone who leaves a comment, and here are my three questions…
Everything you ever wanted to know about me, but were too afraid to ask…
The lovely Jessica over at The Bookworm Chronicles has kindly nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award – thanks, Jessica! 😀
Here are the rules…
Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to them.
Share 7-15 facts about yourself.
Nominate 9-15 bloggers you admire and contact them.
The first one is easy – thank you, Jessica! Much appreciated. 😀
The second one is harder – obviously I can’t tell you about my career as a Russian spy, nor reveal that secretly I’m Donald Trump’s hairdresser. You already know about my legendary iron willpower and my favourite hobby – chocolate-guzzling. But I think I’ve found a few facts that are quite revealing – perhaps TOO revealing! I shall let you decide…
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1. My cat Tommy once won an award for being the Bravest Cat in Scotland, but he refused to attend the ceremony, so I had to accept it on his behalf in front of a bunch of newspaper photographers. Fifteen minutes of fame… except they all printed the picture of the Bravest Dog instead, because he showed up. There’s a life lesson there…
2. When I was four, I had my first boyfriend. His dad worked for Coca-Cola as a delivery driver, so he would bring me a free bottle of Coke every day. Then his dad changed jobs, so I chucked him.
3. I once had a picnic with a bunch of armed policemen beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. At 3 a.m. With wine.
4. My second boyfriend had a rocking horse. I’d always wanted a rocking horse…
5. During a sports day at the school I worked at, I got caught on video teaching some of the boys how to make water bombs to splat the teachers.
6. I once spent an evening in the kitchen hunting a mouse the cats had brought in and released… while the cats sat on the sofa in the living room watching a DVD of David Attenborough’s Life of Birds.
7. I once worked for 3 weeks as a chalet maid at Butlins Holiday Camp in Clacton-on-Sea, before getting a major promotion to the hot-dog stand.
8. My third boyfriend lasted from about age 9 to 11, then we went to different schools. The next time we met, we were sixteen. I had just been to the dentist and my mouth was so numb I couldn’t speak clearly and was kinda dribbling. One could see he felt he’d had a lucky escape…
9. When my mother collapsed during a holiday in France and was taken to hospital, my French wasn’t good enough and the doctor couldn’t speak English, so I had to mime her medical history. The angina was fine, but the prolapsed uterus stretched my acting abilities to their limit…**
10. When I fell madly in love aged 12, I graffitied “I Love Ronnie” all over my pencil case and school bag. Then a couple of weeks later I fell out of love with Ronnie and in love with Ian – my mother refused to replace the bag and case. This is why I don’t have tattoos…
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There! I think it’s safe to say you know everything about me now! As usual, I’m not going to nominate specific blogs, since you’re all lovely! So, to be fair, I think you really ought to reveal something about yourself in the comments below…
*For non-Brits and young people, this is not me! It’s Su Pollard, who played a chalet maid in an old sitcom called Hi-de-Hi… **She was fine!
Not every great love is romantic in nature, so today I thought I’d send my Valentines to people, real or fictional, whose varied kinds of love have entertained and moved me over the years.
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Matthew and Anne Anne of Green Gables
When shy Matthew Cuthbert goes to pick up a boy from the orphanage only to discover they’ve sent a skinny, red-haired little girl instead, he decides to leave it up to his sister Marilla to break the news to the child that she’ll have to go back. But during the drive home, little Anne chats brightly about her past and her imaginative impressions of this new place she’s found herself in, and by the time they reach Green Gables, Matthew has discovered he kinda likes having her around…
Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it.
Matthew soon becomes one of the pivotal people in Anne’s life, offering her support and admiration such as she has never known in her lonely life, and under his kind treatment she blossoms. Although Matthew doesn’t speak often, he has one of the most sob-worthy lines in the book…
“Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,’ said Matthew patting her hand. ‘Just mind you that – rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl – my girl – my girl that I’m proud of.”
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Holmes and Watson The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot
Watson wears his deep love for his friend on his sleeve, but it’s not often Holmes shows his feelings. So it’s all the more affecting when he does…
…I broke through that cloud of despair and had a glimpse of Holmes’s face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror – the very look which I had seen upon the features of the dead. It was that vision which gave me an instant of sanity and of strength. I dashed from my chair, threw my arms round Holmes, and together we lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side, conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in.
“Upon my word, Watson!” said Holmes at last with an unsteady voice, “I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one’s self, and doubly so for a friend. I am really very sorry.”
“You know,” I answered with some emotion, for I have never seen so much of Holmes’s heart before, “that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you.”
* * * * *
Alexander the Great and Bucephalus
When the great horse Bucephalus was offered for sale to Philip of Macedonia, the price seemed too high for a beast that no one had been able to tame. But Philip’s young son Alexander greatly admired the massive, black horse with a white star on his forehead. He made a wager with the owner that if he could ride the horse, the price would be waived. Alexander guessed that the horse was spooked by his own shadow, so turned Bucephalus’s face to the sun, and the horse allowed him to mount. From that moment they were inseparable companions until Bucephalus died many years later at the Battle of the Hydaspes. As a tribute to his great and loyal friend, Alexander founded a town and named it Bucephala.
(I was so in love with this story as a child that, when I finally persuaded my parents to let me have a puppy, I wanted to call him Bucephalus. My brother wanted to call him Hercules. My dad put his foot down, and the puppy became Sandy. He was a miniature poodle. Perhaps Dad was right… 😉 )
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Scarlett O’Hara and Tara Gone with the Wind
Husbands may come and go in Scarlett’s life, but her father taught her early to love their land – Tara…
Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.
She learns her lesson well…
I can’t let Tara go. I won’t let it go while there’s a breath left in my body.
Even Rhett comes second…
Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day…
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Lizzie and Jane Pride and Prejudice
Long before Lizzie meets Darcy, she has another love in her life – her beloved sister Jane, whom she admires even while laughing at her just a little…
“But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”
“Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.”
“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”
“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough — one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design — to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad — belongs to you alone.”
Goodness! Who knew when I started the blog that I’d actually stick it out for four years! I certainly didn’t! I almost feel like I should apologise to those of you who’ve been around since the earliest days – you have read roughly 600 reviews, over 100 TBR posts, several nonsense posts, a couple of heartfelt political posts, and the occasional pastiche! You deserve a huge thank you…And thanks too to all the newer people who’ve joined me along the way – you should know I appreciate every view, every like, every comment. If it weren’t for all of you, I’d never have kept going this long. (So, in a sense, it’s your own fault… 😉 )
So, while I meander on about a few statistics, put your feet up and have a bit of cake…
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In 2016 I read 118 books – a total of 37770 pages, or an average of 103 pages per day. Down a good bit on 2015 (110) and even more on 2014 (117). I abandoned six books at too early a stage to justify a review. I went through a big reading slump last year, what with the world falling apart with Brexit, Trump and all. But even so, there’s no doubt blogging eats into my reading time more and more. Which isn’t a problem yet, but might become so if I end up with no books to review!
The breakdown of ratings for the year was…
5 stars (I love it) 55
4 stars (I like it) 36
3 stars (It’s OK) 16
2 stars (I don’t like it) 7
1 star (I hate it) 4
A similar pattern to 2015 overall, which I’m pleased about because there were points when I felt I might be rating more harshly than usual because of my slump. Any year where over three-quarters of books fall into either the “I like it” or “I love it” category has to be a good year!
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The split of genres…
Crime continues to fall as my distaste for the current trend of misery-fests continues, though I’ve been reading far more vintage crime this year to make up for it. Genre fiction has collapsed! However I should read more SF this year, since I’ve included several in my Classics Club list. Pleased to see a bit of a rise again in fiction – I was surprised when it dropped off last year.
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The divide continues between what you, my valued regulars, like, and what the rest of the great anonymous world out there pops in to view.
Here are the top 5 posts based on views: –
Thrawn Janet – a Tuesday Terror! post from March 2014. This story written in archaic Scots has been in the leading spot for the last two years. I’m convinced it must be on the curriculum of some massive online literature course. Rarely a day goes by when it doesn’t get a few visits. Very odd!
The Tell-Tale Heart – posted in October 2015, and like Thrawn Janet attracts visitors more or less daily. The Tuesday Terror! posts in general attract far more random visits from searches than any other kind of post on the blog.
Butchering Books – The Wind in the Willows – posted in October 2015, this one had stopped getting lots of views until a couple of months ago a visitor posted a link on her Facebook page, resulting in a big surge of visits over the next few weeks.
The Apple Tree – Tuesday Terror! again, from March 2014. This one has never really surged but picks up a steady stream of a few visits a week – no idea why. It’s a great story though!
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But you, my dear regular visitors, are rather surprising in your tastes too! Here are the 5 reviews you most ‘liked’ last year…
I know many of you already follow Cathy, but if you haven’t met her yet, she writes great reviews and is the host of a couple of annual challenges that loads of us look forward to every year – the Reading Ireland Challenge in March and the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. She also cheers me up greatly in another way – her blog is called 746 Books because that’s how many books were on her TBR when she started blogging. Makes me chuckle every time…
Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Meantime, for your delight and delectation…
(OK, so I was bored. And it occurred to me it might be fun to see if I could make a story out of the titles of all the books I’ve reviewed this year… in the order I reviewed them! I really need to get a proper hobby… The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot one film in there – couldn’t resist – it just seemed to fit. 😉 )
At that moment, they heard the noise of time as Big Ben struck the hour. Turning into Euston Station, they hurried swiftly through the massive building, dark and echoing at this hour, like caves of steel. In a corner, an old flower seller had tried to fend off the cold by setting the heather blazing, but she still had a little left. “Buy some lucky heather, pretty lady,” she crooned as Mrs Dalloway sailed past. Nightblind, Mrs Dalloway heard only the echo of the words, which seemed to her disordered mind like a spectral voice rising from the cold, cold ground.
Finally they arrived at the Theatre Royal where that evening a performance of Henry IV was to be staged. A woman in blue stood by the entrance, with a large dog on a leash by her side. The previous evening’s storm had uprooted an old tree which now lay across the road. In the gaslight, the shadow cast on the ground by its twigs looked so like a mysterious old map that Martin found himself unconsciously looking for the traditional marking: Here Be Dragons. But then, as he looked more closely, he saw to his horror a reflection of the moon in a dead eye!
Runner Churchill gazed at the open wounds on the victim, whose name he had now learned was Absalom Hudson. At that moment, the widow turned up, just as the organ grinder on the corner began to play the Rat Stone Serenade. Mrs Hudson, and the Malabar rose she wore in her lapel (a rare bloom), presented a tragic but charming picture as she begged Runner Churchill for a sight of her husband’s corpse.
At the hospital, Mrs Hudson was joined by a friend who was staying with them for a while, the visitor being a French citizen, Kane by name. Bending over the body, Nurse Oliver twisted round to confirm the corpse was dead – though most people felt the missing heart was a good indicator of that status. But it’s always best to have these things confirmed by a professional. “His pulse rate is zero, ‘K? That means he’s dead.” Mrs Dalloway’s eyes skittered around, for one moment making her look truly, madly, guilty. “Eureka!” cried Doctor LaRose. “I’ve always wondered how to tell! It’s always been an enigma to me!” The girls in nurses’ uniforms in the corridor giggled, especially Nurse Jane Steele, who secretly was rather in love with the doctor.
“Lend me your moby, Dick,” said Mrs Hudson. “I’d like to call my lawyer.”
Suddenly it all fell into place. “Mobile phones haven’t been invented yet!” Churchill cried, cuffing her. He had realised she was none other than the Black Widow, a time traveller from the future who had come back to Victorian London to escape justice for the crimes she would commit in 2001 – three dead husbands and the murder of a lady! Locking her temporarily in the hospital’s Slaughterhouse-Five (a name they were soon to change to Intensive Care Unit), he set off to hail a cab to take them to the police station. And so we leave them, as the cabhorse pulls off onto the road to justice, and the wheel spins. We must pray that time will bring the balm of Gilead to those shattered witnesses of this horrific crime…
I’ve gone and missed the last posting date for my Christmas pressies, so I’m hoping you and Rudolph could help me by dropping off some gifts while you’re doing your rounds tomorrow night. Here’s the list…
For Lizzie Bennet…
…a set of noise cancelling headphones for when her mother’s trying to persuade her to marry the oleaginous Mr Collins.
* * * * * * * * *
For Sherlock Holmes…
… a nice vaping pipe. Three of these should solve any problem…
* * * * * * * * *
For Hercule Poirot…
…a Flick Knife Moustache Comb – useful should he ever have to defend his moustache from an evil villain.
* * * * * * * * *
For Mr Rochester…
…one or other of these self-help books should be useful, I think…
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For Miss Marple…
…a handy tote bag, and something to help her with that difficult gift for Hercule…
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For Bertie Wooster…
…to help deal with those occasional pesky infestations…
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… a nice t-shirt will keep him warm and provide a handy reminder for when he hears those chains start to clank…
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Ahh, Darcy! The man who has everything! What could I give him but…
Well, why should he be denied the opportunity to admire his own magnificence?
Tap-thump! Tap-thump! Tap-thump! FF heard the unmistakeable sound of the captain crossing the deck.
“Ahoy, FF, thou lazy dog! Whyest dost thou lyeth there on that… thing… whilst Ahab practiceth his best cod Shakespearian?? Whatest is that thing, anyway, in the name of the gods above in Heaven, or perhaps the devils beneath in Hell! Or vice-versa. If Gods exist. Eth.”
FF raised her sunglasses and perched them on her golden curls. “It’s a sun-lounger, sir. Don’t you like it? I ordered it from Amazon and they had a drone drop it off an hour ago. It’s very comfortable.”
Ahab stuck his bone leg in the socket he had had specially made for it and, swivelling madly like Zebedee on his spring, cried out, “Thou liest here in the sun imbibing the devil’s grog…”
“It’s a margarita,” murmured FF, sipping.
“… when there is work to be (or not to be) done! Hast thou seen the great white whale?”
“No, and I’m at 92% now. Strange, isn’t it?”
Ahab ceased to swivel and fixed her with his mad eye. “Eh? 92%? Thou speakest in strange riddles as of one who has seen things not of nature!”
“Well, the book’s called Moby-Dick: or, the White Whale so you’d kinda think the whale would actually be in it, wouldn’t you?” FF waved her Kindle at the infuriated captain. “But no. We’ve sailed every sea in the entire world and not a blessed sign of him yet. A cheat, I call it! Plenty of other whales though – big ones, little ones, lots and lots of dead ones. And as for gory! Well, let’s just say I know more than I ever wanted to about how to skin them and squeeze the oil out of their blubber.” She shuddered, and sipped her margarita. “Sir.”
Ahab shook his fist at the cloudless sky. “Thou wasteth time reading stupid books on thy infernal device when thou shouldst be aloft the main mast searching for the monster whom thou hast sworn a great oath to destroyeth!”
“To be fair, though, sir, that was during the first night party and you’d been pretty generous with the old gin before you asked. I’m not sure that really counts as a proper oath.”
“Thy honour grovels on its lowly belly acrost the mud in the deeps where lie littered the bodies of great heroes and the monsters they pursued to their doom! Queequeg the cannibal shalt not fail me, he with his skin tattooed with marks that would scare the devils themselves. Nor even the poor, crazed savage, Pip, whose little black hand is nearly as soft as that of a decent white boy!”
“That reminds me, sir, an e-mail came in from Head Office. They want you to confirm you’ve completed the online training course in cultural sensitivity.”
“Aarghh! Get thee up to the lookout afore I call on the Heavens to strike thee with the unnatural fire of the corpusants!”
“No can do, I’m afraid, sir. Health and safety. You’ll just have to rely on the sonar equipment.”
“Gah! Art thou a yellow-bellied poltroon?? Thou wilt know real danger when Ahab sends thee in the little boat to stick harpoons in the monstrous Leviathan!”
FF shuddered. “I fear that won’t be possible, sir. Whaling has been outlawed by international convention. These days we use electricity to light our lamps.”
Ahab leapt up and down so hard his bone leg began to splinter. “Outlawed?! Never! For here, on the great ocean, Ahab is all – the captain, the King, the God! And the great white whale shall die, die horribly, because Ahab sayeth so! Look! What ist that strange vessel that approacheth?”
“It’s Greenpeace, sir. They’re here to protect the whale. I Skyped them when I realised you were insane, sir.”
Ahab turned purple with rage, and shook both fists at FF. “Thou hast ruined my revenge! Truly, verily, and yea, ’tis true what they say! To allow a woman aboardeth a ship is folly, for they are cursed, and curseth those who saileth with them!” Tap-thump! Tap-thump! Tap-thump!
“Silly old misogynist!” murmured FF, as she lay back on her lounger and opened the new Ian Rankin.
I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by the lovely Brontë at Brontë’s Page Turners! Thanks, Brontë!
Acknowledge the person who nominated you and display the award.
Answer eleven questions that the blogger gives you.
Give eleven random facts about yourself.
Nominate 11 blogs who you think deserve it.
Let the bloggers know you’ve nominated them.
Give your eleven questions to the nominees.
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What made you start blogging?
I was looking for a new hobby and someone suggested jogging. Fortunately I misheard…
I have to purchase every book I read. Do you?
No, not at all. Unlike the rest of my family who are notorious book hoarders, I really try to keep the number of books in the house down to a reasonable level. It doesn’t always work – I end up with piles of books all over the place, until I take a mad fit and cull them drastically. The only books I want to keep are books I firmly expect to re-read, and that’s a tiny sub-set of the overall number of books I read. I do keep some books for sentimental reasons, though – if they were given as a special gift, for example.
I have a spreadsheet of all of my books to guard against theft (aka borrowers not returning items) and other calamities. Do you?
Oddly, no, that’s never occurred to me, despite my profound love for spreadsheets. I don’t often lend or borrow books – I’m a hopeless returner myself, so I expect other people to be too. I do keep a spreadsheet of the TBR, but most of that is on Kindle.
I run yearly maintenance on my books, giving them a good airing and checking for damp. What lengths do you go to to care for your books?
Umm… I toss them in the bookshelves if there’s space (organised purely by heavy ones at the bottom, light at the top, for health and safety reasons) or build a pile on an available surface. And then I forget about them till I want to find one, or until I decide it’s time for a cull. (You all hate me now, don’t you?)
To paraphrase the poet Barry Manilow…Questions 2-4 show How Deep Is My Love for books. Can you tell me something that demonstrates How Deep Is Your Love for books?
Erm… *wriggles uncomfortably*… I read them? Nope, don’t sniff them, stroke them, sing to them or water them daily. They don’t have pet names or go to luxury bookeries when I go on holiday. If the cats chew the corners while I’m reading, that’s OK, because I love the cats more than the books.
Ooh…ooh…wait! I don’t write in them and think people who do should be put in the stocks and pelted with rotten tomatoes! Phew! That sounds a bit better! Can I still be a member of the bookosphere now?
Do you have a favourite song based on a book?
Oh dear! I’m sorry! I can’t think of a single song based on a book! Are there any? *rubs forehead frantically* Oooh, no… I mean, yes!! I do! How could I have forgotten?? Loads of them in fact. The entire The War of the Worlds concept album!!
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Give eleven random facts about yourself
(Goodness! I’ve totally failed to do the Versatile Blogger Award because it demands seven interesting things about myself, so what are the chance of me thinking up eleven! Hmm… *scratches head*)
I’m rotten at thinking up interesting facts about myself.
My first pet was a hamster called Jerry. I used to take him for walks.
I used to love John McEnroe because he was so rude, and now I disapprove of Nick Kyrgios because he’s so rude. Who says we don’t change as we age?
During a heated argument over the ridiculous claim that parallel lines meet in infinity, my irate maths teacher told me I’d either just have to accept it or create an entirely new system of maths. I’m still considering the latter option.
I love the marzipan you get on Christmas cakes and hate the marzipan you get in chocolates. Why is that?
Sometimes I baffle myself.
I can read upside down. The book upside down, that is, not me.
I can only tell left from right by checking which arm my vaccination mark is on.
I have no sense of direction (see random fact 8) so when I used to take my mother out for a run in the car, I would tell her it was a mystery tour, and then wherever we ended up I pretended that’s where I had been heading.
I used to be able to touch the tip of my nose with the tip of my tongue, but I can’t anymore. The question is – which got shorter? And how? (See random fact 6.)
I once put my real name into an anagram generator and it came up with two options – firstly, with my middle name: Banal Hive Earthling; and then without my middle name: Arabel La Thigh. I prefer the latter.
That was awful! That was great fun – thanks so much for nominating me, Brontë! 😀
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As always, I am nominating anyone who wishes to participate because you all deserve an award!
Here are your questions should you choose to accept… (or answer in the comments)
What is an anagram of your name?
If you were only allowed one chocolate in the box, which would you take? (DON’T take the coffee cream!)
Cats are better than dogs. Discuss.
Complete this sentence – “I love…”
Do you think of dawn as late or early?
If you were a book, what book would you be?
Complete this sentence – “I hate…”
When you look out of your bedroom window, what do you see?
Which bookish/filmish/TV-ish character would you desert your spouse/partner/singleton-ness for without a moment’s hesitation?
What would you most like someone to invent?
Complete this sentence – “I’m so glad she didn’t ask about…”
For Hallowe’en, here’s a true witch story to harrow your soul, set in Pollok where I grew up , which at the time of this tale was just outside Glasgow…
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‘Twas in the year 1676 that Sir George Maxwell, Laird of Nether Pollok, always zealous in pursuit of witches, took part in a witch trial in the town of Gourock.
Soon after, he was struck down with a mysterious sickness, a “hot and fiery distemper”, that caused the doctors to fear for his life. While he lay in his agony, a dumb girl who lived on his estate in Pollok was suddenly granted the power of speech. Janet Douglas was her name, and she was possessed of mysterious powers, as Sir George’s son, Sir John, later recounted…
For instance, when a chapter in the Greek New Testament was read, she made us understand by signs what the purposes were (for at that time she was dumb, whether really or counterfeitly it is hard to determine) and did exactly give an account to myself what we did at two miles distant from the place where she was, without any information given to her…
Now, this Janet declared that Sir George was under a witch’s curse and named the woman who had cursed him, one Janet Mathie, a widow-woman whose son had been accused of stealing fruit from Sir George’s orchard. Perhaps she feared Sir George would punish him harshly. Or perhaps the Devil was angry about Sir George’s actions against witches. When the widow’s house was searched, a wax doll was found with pins stuck in it sides, hidden in a wee hole behind the fireplace, and it had an awful resemblance to Sir George. The widow was held and the doll was destroyed, and Sir George seemed to recover.
But a few weeks later he fell stricken again. This time Janet Douglas named a man, John Stewart, eldest son of the Widow Mathie. A search was carried out and, sure enough, another effigy was found hidden beneath his pillow, this time made of clay, and with pins in it. He was arrested along with his little sister, Annabil, aged fourteen at the time, and three other women of the village. The child Annabil confessed to…
“…being present in her brother’s house the 4th of January, while the clay picture was formed, the black gentleman being present (which was the name she gave the devil) together with Bessie Weir, Margery Craig, Margaret Jackson, and her brother John.”
On the pins being removed from the clay, Sir George again recovered.
John Stewart and the others maintained their innocence until they were checked for devil’s marks, and were each found to have them.
So their guilt being certain, they confessed. Taken for trial, the first to give evidence was young Annabil Stewart, who…
“declared, that in harvest last, the devil, in the shape of a black man, came to her mother’s house and required the declarant [Annabil] to give herself up to him; and that the devil promised her that she should not want [for] anything that was good. Declares, that she, being enticed by her mother Janet Mathie, and Bessie Weir, who was officer to their several meetings, she put her hand to the crown of her head, and the other to the sole of her foot, and did give herself up to the devil.”
Only Janet Mathie refused to confess, despite the pleas of her children, and remained obdurate to the end, insisting that her accuser, Janet Douglas, had put the dolls there herself. But to no avail. Annabil was granted mercy for being no more than a child, but the others were sentenced to die.
The burning took place soon after, in Paisley. It was a fine sight with the tar barrels and the flames and the screaming and all, and people came from near and far to see justice carried out.
But was it all in vain? Barely a twelvemonth later Sir George was laid low for a third time, this time never to rise again as a living man. Was it God calling him home? Or was it the Devil having his revenge…?
Janet Douglas, the dumb girl who spoke, later left Scotland for the New World. Some say she made her home in Massachusetts, in the town of Salem…
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Actually, nobody says she went to Salem except the playwright Anne Downie in her play based on the story, The Witches of Pollok, but it’s too lovely an idea to have left out. However, as far as is known, Janet Douglas made a habit of accusing people of witchcraft and later did indeed go to America, so it’s possible…
Downie has apparently also written a fictional account of the case in her book of the same name.
My version is based largely on the account of the trial given in A History of the Witches of Renfrewshire, from where all the quotes are taken. It’s available to read online at this link. I have somewhat modernised the language and spelling in the quotes.
This tag has been doing the rounds recently since it was created by The Library Lizard, and has inspired some great posts, so I was delighted when Jessica at The Bookworm Chronicles tagged me. Thanks, Jessica! So, here goes…
What is your favourite historical setting for a book?
I’m tempted to say the Tudors because that’s probably the period of history I know most about. But actually part of the attraction for me is visiting a period and place I don’t know much about. I’ve been on an Empire kick for the last couple of years, so have been loving anything about India or other far-flung corners of the Empire, like Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, set in Calcutta under the Raj, or Rebecca Burns’ fine collection of stories about early immigrants to New Zealand, The Settling Earth. And I like books with a Scottish historical setting, such as crime novels like Lexie Conyngham’s Murray of Letho series, or more serious fiction like William McIlvanney’s excellent Docherty. And then there are the spy books set in WW2 or during the Cold War – Exposure by Helen Dunmore or Robert Harris’ great Enigma…
What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
I’d rather meet the fictional characters than the authors in truth. I’m sure it would be lovely to have a cup of tea with Ms Austen, but I’d much rather spend the time dancing the cotillion with Darcy. I’d love to spend some time with Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair – she’s so wicked, but great fun! I’d like to get hold of Sidney Carton and just whisper “she’s not worth it!” before he steps into the tumbril. However, I would love to meet Charles Dickens – well, more specifically, I’d like to attend one of his readings. Simon Callow gives a good flavour of them in The Mystery of Charles Dickens, but I’d love to see Dickens own interpretation of his wonderfully caricatured characters.
(Me, in my dancing outfit…)
What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
Having recently discovered and loved Anthony Horowitz‘s books for adults, I’d give his books for children to my childish self. I will one day read them anyway, but I’m sure I’d have enjoyed them more when I was a kid, since I’m not an enthusiastic reader of kids’ books as an adult.
What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
This one is hard, because when I want a book I want it NOW! So I think I’d give my older self some large-print versions of lifelong favourites – and cheerful ones, like Wodehouse and Three Men in a Boat. And Austen. And Dickens…
‘It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.’
What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?
Mars! I still haven’t given up hope that there’s life there – perhaps intelligent enough to be shielding itself from prying Earthling eyes. So many great books with Mars as a setting – Ken Kalfus’ brilliant Equilateral, Ray Bradbury’s fantastic The Martian Chronicles, HG Wells of course, and his War of the Worlds, Andy Weir’s hugely enjoyable The Martian, and no list would be complete without a mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books – great fun!
A bit of me wishes we could stop exploring Mars in real life, so it can remain as a glowing red source of inspiration to generations of future writers…
“…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.
“Mars,” he says.”
Ken Kalfus, Equilateral
What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
Just one? Oh, this is almost impossible! But if I must…
The entire Shardlake series of CJ Sansom is brilliant – each book huge and immersive, and building up a totally credible picture of life under Henry VIII. Shardlake himself has become a real person to me, and I’m hoping he’ll still be there to take us through the disruption that follows Henry’s death. The most recent book, Lamentation, won my Book of the Year award last year.
And I must be allowed to choose one more – Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set in revolutionary France. Tighter and angrier than many of his books, the descriptions of the Terror and particularly of the mob show him at his excoriating best. A frightening depiction of how inequality and injustice can allow leaders to emerge who will use the mob violently and unscrupulously to achieve their own ends – as relevant today as it was when it was written, or in the period in which it’s set.
Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.
Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back to what they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall be seen to be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles, the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my father’s house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants.
Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Never! There should be a law against it and when I become the Empress of Bookworld (pushed reluctantly into the job by popular acclaim, obviously, and adored by all my subjects) there will be! The punishment will be that the last nine pages will be removed from every book the perpetrator reads for a period of 25 years.
If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
Hmm… I’ve already mentioned dancing with Darcy, haven’t I? Well then, I would go to Sherwood Forest and get Robin to teach me archery. That could take a while, so the Time Turner would come in very handy. And I might lend it to Robin so he can rescue Marian from the wicked Sheriff, while Friar Tuck and I do a bit of feasting…
Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov tells of how people from the future have developed a method of time travel which they use to make subtle alterations in the timeline to minimise human suffering. However, those pesky time paradoxes mean they affect humanity in unintended ways…
In truth, though, my favourite take on time travel isn’t bookish at all – it’s the two Star Trek series, The Next Generation and Voyager, which return to the vexed subject of time paradoxes again and again. Not only does this give them a chance to visit the present day or recent past quite often, but it allows for the occasional appearance of characters like Mark Twain in the future.
Some of the episodes dealing with time-travel are light-hearted fun, like the one that suggests the sudden advances in computing and technology in the ’80s and ’90s were as a result of a crashed time ship from the 27th century falling into the wrong hands. But some are dark indeed, like the timeship whose captain made a calculation error, accidentally wiping out the colony in which the woman he loved was living, and now spends eternity making changes to the timeline to try to correct his mistake, causing chaos to all the worlds in that sector of space.
It may be just a sci-fi show with unbelievable aliens and no technical problem that can’t be solved by setting up a tachyon burst, but Star Trek at its best examines the ethics and morality of science as deeply as the best written science fiction. And, delightfully, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize surely means I can also expand the meaning of literature to include script-writers…
What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
Without doubt, The Great Gatsby. The first time I read it I was totally blown away. I was about twenty at the time and working in the office of a hospital. They used to have a little fund-raising thing where everyone brought in books and you could rent them for tuppence (shows how long ago it was!). I rented Gatsby one lunchtime, started reading and absolutely couldn’t stop! I took it back to the office in the afternoon and kept reading. My boss came in at one point to ask me something about work, and I fear I told him he’d have to wait till I finished my book. Fortunately, he was a reader too, took a look and said “Ah! Gatsby! OK, I’ll catch you later…”
(Dear government, I promise I made the time up later… 😉 )
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Thanks again to Jessica for tagging me on this one – I thoroughly enjoyed reminding myself of some of the great historical, and futuristic, fiction I’ve read over the years!