CORONAVIRUS: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR?

Social distancing? Self-isolation? I’m a writer, so what has changed? Though to be honest, when I worked as a consultant after taking early retirement from an office job, I often worked from home and did business by phone and email. ‘Pete, this renewal strategy, can you get it done in two weeks? OK? Email it to me with your invoice.’ Sometimes I never even met the client.
The only change now really is getting supplies in and walking/climbing outside to keep fit mentally & physically (all the climbing walls are closed and it looks like even local bouldering might be banned). I’m in the vulnerable group by age and pre-existing condition so strict handwashing and keeping 2 meters from people is required – I’m a grumpy old git anyway so that isn’t hard. Not going to the pub/out for a bite to eat or not going for a quiet weekend at our cottage is difficult but we can manage.
I’m making notes for my next novel – so how will this malarkey affect things?
– Many of the social/business interactions in my books take place in pubs and restaurants – maybe now they’ll have to be in the open air (which my characters do anyway if they think they are under surveillance)
– Some of my characters are old and have serious health conditions. Some are prone to believing conspiracy theories. Seen quack remedies like taking bleach pills, and predictable stuff about CIA/Chinese germ warfare
– Kids are off school – they’re going to get bored out of their little heads
– Obsession with masks, wipes, gloves, hand-washing. Where does cleanliness stop and anal repression start? What effect would toilet roll shortage have?
– Panic-buying in supermarkets. Trolley rage. Obsession with hoarding toilet rolls, pasta and rice. The first priority for Daniel Defoe when the plague struck was buying in huge quantities of malt and barrels to ensure supplies of beer. I sympathise.
– Money laundering. Businesses with lots of cash transactions – eg bars, restaurants – have closed down. Not so good if you work for an OCG (Organised Crime Group) and need to launder large quantities of cash. Maybe moving into hijacking lorryloads of toilet rolls and hand sanitizer? So what do you do with the cash you make from selling the robbed stuff? Can money laundering go contactless?
– Air travel ceased. Travel outside the local area discouraged. Move into online fraud? Crime goes paperless?
Just some initial thoughts. Maybe this is an opportunity rather than a threat. I’m halfway through Daniel Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year and just discovered my wife’s copy of Albert Camus’ The Plague (must find The Rebel and The Outsider – loved them. When I first went to university I was somewhat ignorant about literature and had the bookshop staff rolling in the aisles when I asked for ‘The Outsider by Albert Kaymuss’ – you have to say that in a Middlesbrough accent to get the full effect). From her school days, looks like. Will keep you posted.

House of the Rising Sun: A song that changed everything

Back in 1964 I was fifteen. It was not long after the end of the Lady Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP, when sexual intercourse began according to Philip Larkin. Before Kenneth Tynan uttered the first four letter word on TV. Pop songs were still bright, chirpy and devoid of any seriousness. As John Lennon said: ‘we were just writing songs a la the Everley Brothers and Buddy Holly with no more thought than that – to create a sound. The words were almost irrelevant.’ Then this came on Top of the Pops: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=house+of+the+rising+sun%3a+the+animals&view=detail&mid=D89135E3B486449DA38ED89135E3B486449DA38E&FORM=VIRE0&ru=%2fsearch%3fq%3dhouse%2bof%2bthe%2brising%2bsun%253A%2bthe%2banimals%26form%3dEDGEAR%26qs%3dPF%26cvid%3ddbd76bcbfe7d4e45b81d047b3dd3d118%26cc%3dGB%26setlang%3den-GB%26plvar%3d0%26PC%3dHCTS
It was as if someone had put jump leads on your feet and connected them to a battery, giving you an electric shock that shot up your legs, up your spinal chord and into your brain. Serious funky music but more important, dark, intense lyrics. Was Eric Burdon singing about a whorehouse? On the BBC? I read an article shortly after that explained that the Animals had ripped the song off Bob Dylan and that Bob, on hearing their version while driving his car, had to stop and listen to it in shock, giving him the idea to go electrical. Well for me it was the opposite way round. I saw Dylan’s first album going in a junk shop for something daft like ten bob (it obviously hadn’t been to someone’s taste) and then heard the original acoustic version. I’ve been a Dylan fan ever since. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=bob+dylan+house+of+the+rising+sun&qs=AS&cvid=91919831ed07429fbde789a20c0f2b94&cc=GB&setlang=en-GB&plvar=0&PC=HCTS&ru=%2fsearch%3fq%3dbob%2bdylan%2bhouse%2bof%2bthe%2brising%2bsun%26form%3dEDGEAR%26qs%3dAS%26cvid%3d91919831ed07429fbde789a20c0f2b94%26cc%3dGB%26setlang%3den-GB%26plvar%3d0%26PC%3dHCTS&view=detail&mmscn=vwrc&mid=882A8EBB7A8C97F5FF43882A8EBB7A8C97F5FF43&FORM=WRVORC

 

 

First review of Pool of Life

Just received the first review (ARC – advanced review copy ie pre-publication – the idea is to get a juicy quote that you can put on the cover) of Pool of Life from a rated reviewer. It’s a good one and that is a huge relief!

Review of Pool of Life

Ex-cop Jack Gordon is struggling to keep his PI business in Liverpool afloat, with his staff playing hooky and a surveillance suspect deciding to head-butt him when his stake-out is blown. With bills mounting along with his troubles, he suddenly has two cases dumped into his lap. A member of the local aristocracy hires him to find out why a local group of anarchists are targeting her family, and the NCA wants him to infiltrate a shadowy terrorist organization that is threatening to poison Liverpool’s water supply. As Jack’s injuries heal, he finds himself caught between his two agents, Roy, a fellow ex-cop with liver disease and a drinking problem, and Mel, a woman with trust issues, who can’t stand each other. With all his problems, his trouble is just getting started. The two seemingly unrelated cases seem to be related after all, and the subjects aren’t happy at all about his prying.
Pool of Life by Pete Trewin is as tightly wound as an antique grandfather clock caked with rust. It moves in a staccato beat through the seamy underside and scaly upper crust of Liverpool, with the stakes rising higher with each explosive encounter. Trewin does a masterful job of teasing the reader with clues—useful and otherwise—as Jack finds that not only are his two new cases related, but a decades-old suspicious disappearance of a young woman is rearing its ugly head as well. The pressing question, though, is whether or not Jack can survive long enough to solve the puzzles. Reading this book is like eating fish and chips; while the big chunks of fish are the main course, you’ll find that occasional snippet of chip that, with a dollop of tomato sauce, makes the meal even better.
This is a book that you can’t put down. Just when you think you might want to take a break from reading, Trewin drops another morsel on your plate, and you just have to keep eating.
A definite five-star read.

Baked Beans and Brexit

My wife has started an emergency food store in case there’s a no-deal Brexit. I’ve told her I’m not that bothered. We only do 40% of our trade with the EU so it could be worse. OK, every pack of fruit you pick up in Sainsburys is from Spain or Holland but what’s wrong with a nice English Worcester or even a nice shiny red Gala from New Zealand?
When it all kicked off in 2016, I made the prediction that we wouldn’t leave because of the economic dislocation involved in leaving a club that we had spent the last 40 years developing a close trade relationship with. And even if we left it would be some sort of ‘half in, half out’ arrangement like what Norway and Switzerland have now with the EU – but with no say. Looks like, on the face of it, I could be proved wrong but then there’s the strong likelihood that, following a no deal Brexit and the inevitable economic decline, we might be forced to go back and negotiate a new trade deal. What else could you do with your biggest trading partner?
We studied what was then the common market in my economic geography course at uni many years ago. I still recall learning about the European Coal and Steel Community (which evolved into the common market) set up by French and German politicians after the war to so interweave their strategic industries that there could never be another war in Europe. And then there were the economic difficulties the UK faced after we lost the Empire and found that trade with the Commonwealth wasn’t enough to get us by. The country was in economic decline. So we joined the Common Market. And later, as a regeneration professional, I was there when we heard that Merseyside had gained EU Objective One status and we had almost unlimited funds to set things right – not based on political whim but objective criteria such as unemployment. And then there was the trip around the aeroplane factory at Broughton where we marvelled at how wings, fuselages and all the other bits were brought from all over Europe to be put together. Just in time. And I’ll make another prediction – that all this talk of closer trade links with the USA won’t amount to much in the end.
Not that everything is rosy with the EU – I am definitely a skeptic when it comes to political unification and joining the Euro. If you take the trouble to check the facts you discover that we always had the power to stop immigration from countries such as Poland if we wanted to. That fishing is a hard nut to crack, in or out. That, contrary to what someone emphatically told me in a pub, the European Court of Human Rights has nothing to do with the EU. In my opinion, it is better to be in with a say and a veto. Be awkward sods if needs be.
But it looks like the views of me and many who think like me will be overruled and that we need to prepare for a no deal Brexit. Though in the end I rather think my prediction about not leaving will come true in one form or another. You can hold me to that. If I’m wrong I’ll show my arse on the town hall steps (I knew a council officer who made that boast – and was held to it when he lost).
I knew there was something bothering me about that emergency food cache. It needs baked beans. Lots of tins of baked beans.

Natural Causes? Book Review of The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri

When news came through recently that Andrea Camilleri had died at the age of 93 from natural causes – ie a heart attack, I wondered. Had the police checked the hospital CCTV for a suspicious-looking nurse hanging around, just waiting to slip into the room to deliver a syringeful of poison that would make it look like a heart attack? That’s what would have happened to an enemy of the mafia in one of his books.
I have developed the habit of watching ‘Inspector Montalbano’, the TV detective series set in Sicily, on Sunday evenings. To be honest, I prefer shows such as Spiral, Fargo or the Scandinavian stuff, which have just a little bit more bite. When Cateralla barges through the door yet again, it’s just a bit too much slapstick. What will happen next? Will he be pouring custard down the inspector’s trousers?
But I realised that I’d not read any of the books so I decided to try The Potter’s Field, reckoned to be one of Camilleri’s best in the series. I’d seen the TV episode some time ago and couldn’t remember all the details of the plot so it was reasonably fresh. And the book was good. I whupped through it in a couple of days, and I’ve not done that with a book for a long time. It starts with a dream in which Montalbano’s boss hammers on the door in a storm at night; he is a fugitive from the new Italian government led by prime minister, Toto Riina. Toto was the mafioisi who ordered the assassination of the anti-mafia prosecutors Falcone and Borsellino. Good start.
The mafia is a key player in the complex plot of this book. A corpse is found cut up into thirty pieces. Thirty pieces, geddit? From the thirty pieces of silver Judas was paid in the bible for betraying Christ. And the body is buried in a potter’s field – Judas’ resting place. So the victim is obviously the victim of a mafia vendetta on a traitor. Or is he? Betrayal is a theme running through the book – Mimi, the inspector’s long standing and trusted sidekick, is acting strangely, and the inspector suspects that he is mixed up in the murder. Similarly, Montalbano betrays his partner Livia with a female colleague.
A flawed hero? Love it. And there is a femme fatale, the delicious Dolores Alfano, who has a pivotal role in the complex plot. And then there are the cheeky bits. For instance, the inspector refers to a Camilleri novel he has read with its ‘quite far-fetched plot’.
Any quibbles? Well there is the slapstick with Catarella. And Camilleri reproduces local Sicilian dialect in Cateralla’s speech directly. Here he introduces the tasty femme fatale: ‘Right ‘ere, Chief. Inna waitin’ room. Says ‘er name’s Dolorosa. I say it ought to be Amorosa! Says she wants a talk t’yiz poissonally in poisson.’ Maybe a bit at the start and then the odd expression or word to suggest the dialect would have been better? I was surprised that there weren’t more lingering Dickensian descriptions of food, just the use of a few deft brushstrokes to tickle your taste buds, as with setting, scenery and character. Deft. Good word, that. As with Jay Rayner, the best meal descriptions are for the bad experiences:
‘He realised his grave mistake at once. How could they call arancini these rice balls fried in hundred-year-old oil and cooked by a chef suffering from violent hallucinations? And how acidic the meat sauce was! He spat the rest of the arancini he had in his mouth into the sea, and the remaining whole and half arancini met the same watery end.’
The complex plot resolves itself with a surprising twist and, like one of Montalbano’s (good) meals, leaves you with a feeling of replete satisfaction. Note to myself: must try more Italian food. Tumazzo and ‘ncascatia. Sounds half decent, that. Though I might give the arancini on the Vigata-Messina ferry a miss.

‘ISHIGURO? A RATHER DULL READ WHICH I DITCHED HALFWAY THROUGH’

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/jan/07/the-remains-of-the-day-by-kazuo-ishiguro-book-to-share

This is a response by a reader to the above article in The Guardian praising Kazuo Ishiguro’s book The Remains of the Day. Which just goes to prove that you can’t even satisfy some of of the people some of the time.
I’ll come to that book shortly but, first, apologies for appearing inactive of late. I’m nearing my 70th birthday and I’m slowing down a bit. ‘Aw, bless, start the violin machines…’ And I’m also just putting the finishing touches to the first draft of my latest novel Pool of Life. Yes, it’s set in Liverpool and draws inspiration from Carl Jung’s famous remark that ‘Liverpool is the pool of life’. A nice standalone quote but if you research it you discover that there are deep waters underlying the comment. Deep waters, ha ha. My previous novel Not Without Risk was published by a small Australian outfit and royalties occasionally appear in my bank statement – £5.15 here, £2.78 there – but I’m afraid that I won’t be picking up restaurant tabs just yet. The book did garner some excellent reviews from rated reviewers across the world and that to me is success.
I write in the ‘crime/mystery’ genre but I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between a ‘genre’ novel (eg crime, thriller, romance) and a ‘literary’ novel. The standard definition is that, in a genre novel, action and plot are the key – things happen – while in a literary novel emotions and internal changes to characters are more important. My problem is that, on the one hand, I can’t be doing with action based thrillers in which the author has taken the current advice from the publishing world to ‘go darker’. I can only take so many burnt and bleeding bodies. But on the other hand I get bored with some prize-winning literary books in which nothing happens either action-wise or emotionally – despite claims on the cover such as ‘this amazing book will make your nipples tingle with excitement’.
Well, recently, I realised – to my shame as an avid reader – that I’d not read Ishiguro. He’s only won the bleeding Nobel prize. So I started with Remains of the Day (see the Guardian article for what it’s about) and I’m working my way through the list. An Artist of the Floating World, A Pale View of Hills – and The Unconsoled for Crimbo. The Remains of the Day is perhaps the most accessible – it was made into a film, of course. In Ishiguro’s work nothing much happens on the outside; a chance meeting maybe that reawakens old memories and regrets. There is usually a big theme that is only mentioned obliquely – the appeasement of the Nazis or the atomic bombing of Japan (Ishiguro is actually from Nagasaki but moved to Britain at the age of five with his family) – but it is all about a character’s reflections on wasted opportunities or regrets for an opportunity taken which turned out bad. The amazing thing for me as an author is that Ishiguro’s writing is so good – maybe it’s a second language thing. You never get a superfluous adverb or think ‘that character wouldn’t say that’. Never. And, although ‘unreliable narrators’ are the current trend in fiction, Ishiguro, instead, gives us ‘unwitting narrators’: speakers who remain trapped in self-preserving fictions, mysteries even to themselves. This to my mind, is what makes Ishiguro so readable and so profound. A role model for any writer.
So, in conclusion? Rather than ‘dull reads to be ditched halfway through’ I find Ishiguro’s books wonderful. But maybe that’s just me.

Shakespeare in the North

 

I have closely followed the development of the Shakespeare in the North proposal to the point where construction is about to start on a site opposite to Prescot’s historic parish church (The photos show the proposed theatre and one of Prescot’s listed buildings. Link here to article in The Stage https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2018/birth-of-merseysides-shakespeare-north-playhouse/).

Back in the 70s, I was a young graduate in one of my first jobs, charged with preparing a plan for Prescot town centre. This was shortly after local government reorganisation in 1974 when Prescot – hitherto under Lancashire County Council – was incorporated into the new Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council which only came into being, it was rumoured, because Harold Wilson, prime minister at the time wanted his Huyton constituency to be separate from Liverpool. In fact, the reorganisation saved Prescot; the County Council had been working its way through its historic town centres, demolishing historic buildings and constructing modern concrete shopping centres. Huyton was ‘improved’ in this way just before the deadline. Prescot was next on the list and then Ormskirk.

Prescot town centre was in the terminal stages of ‘planning blight’. If you put in a search for a property you were buying, up would come an ‘earmarked for development’ card and the property would be condemned to neglect and decay. It has to be said that there was considerable opposition at the time to any idea of saving Prescot’s heritage even though Prescot was at one time the most important town in south Lancashire: in the 18th century Liverpool’s postal address was ‘Liverpool near Prescot’. At this time Prescot was renowned as a centre for the watchmaking industry and became very prosperous – it was reported that the town’s vicar rode around on a horse shod with silver. By the 70s, although many listed buildings had survived, a lot were in a poor condition. I was assured by a veteran senior Council official, putting great emphasis into each word, that saving Prescot’s heritage would be ‘a waste of public money’. You have to say that in a woolly-back accent to get the full effect.

Nevertheless, being an awkward sod, my starting point for the plan was to designate the town centre as a conservation area thus removing the blight. A town scheme, funded by the Borough Council, Merseyside County Council and the government, was set up via which grants were given to owners to improve their properties. The main shopping street was  pedestrianised and landscaped. A major store was constructed on a large derelict site, but with access from the main street (Not so sure about this now – big stores on the edge of town centres often kill off local shops, but hey-ho). Derelict historic buildings in Council ownership were refurbished by Community Industry who trained local unemployed young people in building skills. A museum of watchmaking in a prominent listed building was set up. An archaeological survey of the town was carried out by Peter Davey of the Merseyside Archaeological Society, which showed that Prescot’s medieval street pattern, centred on the circular churchyard on a hilltop site indicative of Celtic settlement – had survived intact. Interestingly the remains of medieval buildings survived inside property rebuilt in the 18th century boom period. And the site of the first Elizabethan theatre outside London was identified…

Looking back, I now realise that I was extremely lucky to have a job that I loved: a job where you face a problem, work out a solution and then make it happen. All these years later, it is heart-warming to see something like Shakespeare in the North about to reach fruition.

I have seen some curmudgeon-ish comments in the local media about the cost of the new  theatre in the light of Knowsley’s deprivation and poverty. But in a later career in regeneration I grasped the truth that you’ve got to identify your assets and make the most of what you’ve got. The new theatre will create jobs for local people and bring in visitors who will spend cash in local pubs and restaurants. It will assist the regeneration of the town and the area generally. I might even go and watch some of the plays they put on. Being a miserable, as well as an awkward, sod, I like the tragedies.