Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Books I Read In November

'The Chinese Gold Murders' by Robert Van Gulik
This is the fourth book in the series of novels published in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the Dutch diplomat and scholar, Robert Van Gulik which featured the 8th century Chinese judge/detective, Judge Dee.  Van Gulik had translated an actual 18th century book of Chinese detective stories set during the 7th-8th centuries, during the Tang dynasty.  He then used this style to write a series of novels himself featuring a historical character engaging in fictional crimes but often based on those of the 18th century or even incidents of the Tang dynasty.  As I have found myself, it can be a challenge to use a historical style in modern fiction as many readers do not 'get it' and feel the constraints of the style simply show poor writing.  It is a fine line to walk.  At times van Gulik's work feels to have a simple tone.  However, each of the novels features three inter-twined stories being investigated simultaneously, something many contemporary crime novels are unable to engage with.  Van Gulik is good at both conjuring up the time period and whilst it is very alien to us, you soon find yourself comfortable in it, just the way Ellis Peters made readers feel 'at home' in 12th century Shrewsbury.  This particular novel features Dee's first cases as a judge when he assigned to a port on the Shandong Peninsula and becomes involved with the assassination of his predecessor, smuggling, the Korean population of the town and a local Buddhist monastery.  Whilst Dee is the hero, he is a man of his time and culture and it is interesting when he expresses prejudices, for example, as an ardent Confucianist against Buddhism. As a rational man it is also interesting when he is faced by things that appear supernatural and certainly that many around him believe are so; reminiscent of Ichabod Crane. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it is a shame you only seem to find them in increasingly rare second hand editions.  If you like historical crime fiction, I certainly recommend seeking these out.

'Against the Day' by Michael Cronin
Michael Cronin is renowned to my generation as an actor for many years in the school-based series 'Grange Hill'.  He seems to have made a modest transition to writing.  This is a 'what if?' novel, the first of a trilogy, set in Sussex following a successful German invasion in 1940.  It is aimed at a children's audience, but there are only a few occasions when you feel as an adult reader that it is for children.  Cronin's focus on the perceptions of a small group of individuals in a small village which has a local headquarters for the Gestapo comes off very well, as in their own ways they seek to process what they have witnessed.  Different strands inter-twine as the hero, Frank Tate, tries to find out the fate of his father; preparations are made for the celebration of Hitler's birthday in 1941 and actions by the local 'stay behind' resistance begin. 

Cronin is very successful in character portrayal.  While there are characters we like and dislike and even heroes, all have flaws which influence how they respond to the (changing) circumstances.  This means that their reactions can be vacillating and ambiguous and certainly they evolve.  This is an aspect often missing in stories focused on a 'what if?' and I find it a good lesson for my own writing.  The action and the threats are appropriate for a children's audience but the development of the different characters and how they react to circumstances is handled very well and as an adult reader I found that facet engaging and will certainly look out for the following books.

Some commentators have noted that you do not find out a great deal about how history ran differently.  We witness scenes of the Germans coming ashore on the beaches of a fictional seaside resort close to Brighton and there are stories of a prolonged series of tank battles in the Midlands.  However, these aspects are less important than exploring how the occupation is imposed on Britain.  At times I think Cronin could have emphasised more the benefits of living in the country as it jarred occasionally how much cheese everyone was eating, even with the war having ended the previous year.  However, that is a tiny issue.  This may not appeal to some adult readers of alternate history but certainly is far better than some of the bombastic Hitler-won fiction.

'The Rachel Papers' by Martin Amis
It had been a good month up until this stage.  Having read many of the larger books I have owned on the practical basis of needing to reduce the amount of storage space I use, I am now onto shorter works.  This is one of those books that I regret buying and am glad I got it from a charity shop.  I saw part of the movie of the book and maybe was inspired to buy it as a result of that or maybe I was curious about Amis's work.  I have read his father's alternate history books.  I had found them interesting but irritating.  Amis (born 1949) exceeds his father in terms of irritation.  I accept that 'The Rachel Papers' (1973) was one of his earlier books, published when he was 24 and featuring a man in 1970 who is turning 20.  Even if I had not known that this would have struck me as being at least a semi-autobiographical book.

Perhaps one problem is that post-'Life on Mars' and 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy', the 1970s look incredibly seedy to us no matter what the focus of the story set then.  With the lack of technology, notably having to phone the neighbour of a friend to fetch them to answer the phone, it seems much further in the past than it is chronologically, more akin to the 1940s than the 1990s, for example.  However, the morality also seems very dated.  There is the racism, misogyny and class bigotry of the 1940s but then added to with what now seems a sordid attitude to sexual behaviour.  It is as if the period combined the worst of the uptight 1950s with the unpleasant aspects of the permissiveness of the late 1960s.  There are few books that I have read that have left me feeling 'soiled' but this is one of them. 

The book features a self-centred young man, Charles Highway, who rather than going to university has opted to attend a crammer school over the summer of his 19th year in order to gain 'O' Level Latin and to sit the Oxford University entrance examinations.  There seem to be flaws in this, why someone clearly capable of university entrance, has to take an 'O' Level aimed at 16 year olds and why he is doing this while 19 rising 20 rather than 18 rising 19 is not clear, though there is reference to his ill-health and he spits almost constantly through the book apparently due to bronchial problems.  I think Amis's own experiences have butted in here to blind him to the practicalities and so he feels no need to explain them.  While staying with his married sister in London he seeks to seduce Rachel who he sees as the necessary 'older woman' he must sleep with before ceasing to be a teenager.  Rachel is only a few months older than him.  Charles has casual sex with Gloria whose name seems anachronistic even in 1970 for a teenager who gives him a venereal disease.  He tries to get a girl to sleep with him though just through writing letters. Charles records his exploits and his strategems in a series of 'papers': books and pads with his self-reflections.  He is pretentious especially in regard to literature and despite all his introspection cannot appreciate the feelings of anyone around him despite the meltdown of his parents' marriage and the challenges his unsympathetic sister and brother-in-law face dealing with her pregnancy.

The story does not run chronologically.  The jumping back and forth in time is engineered pretty well; the approach of the papers makes this appear rational.  Amis is clearly fascinated by how time works especially in fiction and this is probably the only positive aspect of this book.  There are reasonable sex scenes that were probably had a greater frisson at the time, but today are generally refreshing in the ordinariness.  However, they are irritating due to Charles's constant inner monologue indeed dialogue while carrying them out.

Why do I dislike this book so much?  It shows up all the nasty things that Amis is accused of.  Anti-Semitism breaks in at an early stage and is complemented by general racism.  The attitude to women is appalling.  They are presented not just by the character but by the author himself as disposable.  Having slept with Rachel and uncertain whether he has made her pregnant, Charles simply gets rid of her in a very callous manner.  The author seems to think that young women should be grateful for the fact that a man has given them an orgasm and not expect anything else.  To anticipate any emotional engagement or even manners, is apparently, in Amis's view to be too 'clingy'.  This is certainly a pre-Feminist novel but exposes the nastiness of the author that many other far better commentators than myself have noted.  I will certainly read nothing else by Martin Amis and recommend that you do not waste your time if you have any self-respect.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Your Car Has Broken Down? Then You Are An Idiot Who Must Be Lectured By Me

There are certain topics that British men, and indeed probably men across Europe and even further afield will not let anyone gainsay them on.  Football is one of them.  Immigration issues is another as is the treatment of convicted criminals.  Do-it-yourself is another topic.  These are things that the bulk of men will not be permitted to contradict them on, often even when there is clear evidence to the contrary.  The last resort is 'that doesn't sound right', 'that can't be right', and 'you must have heard it wrong'.  It is the equivalent of the 'does not compute' from a robot.  A man's dignity is so dependent on him being right in these issues that he cannot mentally cope with any challenges to this perception. Perhaps the largest area for such a mindset is in terms of cars and driving. 

The comedian Harry Enfield portrayed a character who would interrupt conversations in pubs with 'you don't want to do it like that' and would totally dismiss the individual's approach and lecture them on the correct way to do it.  He could not accept that anyone could trump his view.  Another set of characters in a similar vein were the Self-Righteous Brothers portrayed again by Enfield this time in collaboration with comedian Paul Whitehouse.  They tended to take particular celebrities and praise their attributes before drawing a particular line over which they would not let them cross.  These characters were played for comedy, but they are very well observed. As a blogger I get indignant and tell people what to think but the advantage of a blog is one click and you are away from it.  I am not pestering you any longer than you wish.  Unfortunately there are far too many people like this in Britain today who do it to your face and they make any troubles you face harder to deal with.

As I mentioned, the biggest focus for such intrusive souls is connected to cars.  I have had a lot of bad luck with cars, two in a row completely died, though fortunately I had not paid much for them.  In one case I was conned by people who appeared to be friends but clearly more wanted to offload a poor vehicle than they wanted to remain my friends.  I tend not to publicise these problems as immediately it reduces my standing in the eyes of any British man I meet.  They, of course, have perfect knowledge which means they are never conned and always get the best prices.  For them it is simple to achieve this, so I must be a real idiot not to be able to do so.

My last car was 15-year old Mitsubishi people carrier which had done 200,000 Km (125,000 miles).  It was still running but despite all the tweaking and services, it kept on losing revs at slow speeds, making it difficult to keep from stalling in the stop-start traffic that I now drive through.  I thought it had had a good run so started looking for a replacement before it died completely.  I lighted on a Kia people carrier, 8 years old and having done 115,000 Km (71,000 miles) for £3,500, about £1000 more than I could afford.  However, it was in good condition and was large enough to accommodate stock for the business I sometimes help out.  It has a diesel engine which these days means that it is less economical than it would have been about 15-20 years ago.  It has a fuel tank which is 40% larger than the Mitsubishi but the distance per litre is about 15% less than the Mitsubishi.  Apparently the advantage of diesel engines is only apparently if you cover more than 25,000 Km per year and I only do half that.  Having run for two weeks without problem, it suddenly would not start.

Since leaving London in December for a better job, having struggled to find anyone who would rent me a room in a shared house in a city for less than £650 per month, I ended up renting part of a very large house which unfortunately is in rural West Midlands. Before you write in to say that you can rent cheaper rooms, try doing it when you are a man, over 30 and working in my industry, all of these things put off potential landlords/ladies.  I have made another mistake about diesel cars.  Yes, once I saw that I might buy a diesel car, I should have run off and read everything I could about them, but when you are at the dealership you do not have such time and with this tendency for all car dealers to treat you like an imbecile if you make one mistake about the car you are looking at, you do not ask questions.  The woman accompanying me asked about the jack, something largely redundant in cars these days and it led to the dealer simply laughing out loud at here.  They do not care and you have no choice, a private seller would be even harsher.  It is all about them loving the boost to their insecure egos that such humiliation brings.  The mistake I made is that diesel engines start poorly in cold weather.  This seems ridiculous given that tractors, lorries and I imagine snowploughs use diesel engines.  However, it is to do with the fact that it runs on compressing the fuel until it ignites, rather than a spark from a spark plug igniting it.  I found I actually remembered quite a bit about diesel engines from my O Level Physics classes.  Thus, living in a rural area, on top of a hill, with few houses around put me into not an ideal position to start the car.

The day came almost two weeks ago now when it would not start.  I waited until the day warmed a little, then called Green Flag and still it would not start.  The size of it meant a larger tow truck was needed and this dragged it to the nearest mechanics I could find who had a space, the sixth I had telephoned as all the others were busy, being the time of year.  They had it for three days and could not work out what the problem was.  There seemed to be a range of problems, the heater which warms the fuel before it enters the compression process had loose wires and the battery needed replacing.  One problem with the car is almost everything in the engine is invisible, hidden below large metal boxes, a characteristic of a Kia, I have found I do not like.  It also turned out that one of the tyres was below the legal limit despite the car apparently passing its MOT just a fortnight earlier.  I had noticed this due to skidding on the road and was happy to have it replaced.  The mechanics managed to get the car running long enough to get it back to where I am living, 6.5 Km away where it proceeded to die once more.  I then discovered that the battery in the key fob was run down.  Having walked back 9.5 Km to a branch of Asda which had sold out of just that sort of battery and a further 3 Km to a pound shop that had them at half the price of Asda and got a taxi at £10 back.  I managed to start the car.  It was apparent the low battery simply kept triggering the immobiliser.  However, by now I was blocked in by the other lodger's car and satisfied that I had started it four times thought I would start again the next morning.  Of course then it would not work.  I have now had to wait seven days for the Kia specialists 25 Km away to fit me in and have to get it towed there once more.

In the meantime I have clearly been on to the people who sold me the car.  Given that they have treated me so poorly I will do something I do not often do and tell you that they are BMC Autonation based in Bournemouth in Dorset.  They are not huge but have a number of locations around the town.  They seemed to be reliable and the car came with a 12-month warranty on parts - an important qualification.  I telephoned them about the fact that they had sold me a car that had stopped working within two weeks of me buying it from them and that despite the MOT certificate had a tyre below the legal limit in terms of tread.  They simply denied vigorously that it had anything to do with them.  I had driven the car off the forecourt (though not very far given how little diesel there was in the tank) and as far as they were concerned that ended their responsibility for the car.  I guess I should have realised from the lack of diesel that much more would need replenishing from the key fob battery to the car battery to the tyres.  Basically the car was not fit to drive and I am sure thousands of men would shout at me for my inability to simply smell that these things were wrong with the car the moment I looked at it.  That has been the attitude of many men and indeed a woman, since I bought it.

For £3500 I have been left with a car which cannot move after two weeks with problems that after 3 days, an experienced mechanic could not resolve.  Being in a rural area with buses stopping in the village every 80 minutes during the rush hours, when they turn up, has meant great difficulty getting to work.  It costs £3.30 to cover the first 6 Km and then £1.70 for the next 16 Km.  The second stage is from town to town so is faster and far more regular.  A return journey costs exactly £10 or £50 per week, 20% more than the diesel I was having to buy for the journey.  If the bus does not come then it is £10 for the taxi over the first 6 Km, each way.  So not only have I wasted thousands of pounds on a car I am now paying even more for the privilege of not having a car.  If this goes on the choice is to move into the town and see my rent rise from £475 per month for a room to £650.  Of course taxi drivers will swear that you can rent a 2-bedroomed flat for that much, but it actually turns out to be impossible to find any of these places they keep telling you that you are an idiot not to be renting.

I guess this takes me to the root of the problem.  Men largely have an unshakeable perception of the world.  They will not be challenged in that viewpoint.  To be challenged somehow twists their brains so much that it is painful.  Thus, they keep pumping out the same perceptions no matter how much someone contests them.  Their own explanation for the difference between their world view and what the person is saying is that that person is an idiot, no matter how many admirable traits or how much knowledge they have demonstrated up to that point.  Throughout this car saga I have had to put up with such lecturing, very difficult as a lot of it has come from my landlord and whilst I want him to stop banging on about this stuff I do not want to upset him so he feels that I am too much of a pain and chucks me out.  Of course, when the car first broke down the landlord insisted that he got in and tried to start it, he did this repeatedly with no more success than I had had.  The other male lodger similarly insisted that he must try and did exactly the same as myself and the landlord had done with exactly the same result.  By now the engine was flooded and the battery run down anyway.  However, there was nothing that could be done to stop them turning the engine over and over again.  The landlady was determined to do the same and was only prevented by me taking the dying battery out of the spare key fob.

The landlord then insisted that being a diesel engine it must need the glow bulbs replaced.  These were the old method of warming diesel before it was compressed.  He is still insisting on this even though I have told him at least ten times that the car has no glow bulbs but a more up-to-date, though possibly less reliable, heater system.  Even when the car came back from the mechanics he has continued to say it simply needs the glow bulbs replaced.  This shows the strength of his world view, that he believes even professional mechanics who had the car for three days would not have replaced the glow bulbs if that was all that was wrong.  My refusal to accept that this reason is the correct one is now angering him.  However, there is nothing I can do about it.  Even if I get the Haines manual and show him the lack of glow bulbs it will simply stoke his anger, he would rather be angry and wrong than be corrected and so feel humiliated in this subject matter which clearly shapes a large chunk of his masculinity.  The car has been sitting passive outside the house while awaiting the tow to the Kia dealers.  I have tried to start it on the off chance but have simply ended up running the battery down again.  Yet, even today the landlord suggested I try some more and went on about if I just got new glow bulbs it would be fine.  His knowledge is clearly greater than that of the manufacturers.

Having proved myself very poor at buying cars, he has now insisted that if I get another one, which seems quite feasibly will have to be the case, he must accompany me.  He apparently can sniff out faulty cars even when they work perfectly on the test drive (and as you can imagine given my past experience I tried absolutely everything in the car to see if it worked or not before I bought it).  He along with a number of colleagues from my job have this ability and all want to come along next time, because clearly I am incapable of buying a car.  I will need quite a large vehicle to fit them all in.  Of course, they will spend the time correcting each other and pointing out how not only I am wrong, but their fellow 'advisors' are too.

Being lectured repeatedly as a man of 46 is hard.  Being told that you are an idiot unsuited to drive, is humiliating.  Having people insist that a part which does not exist is faulty, is hard to tackle politely.  This is on top of the missed trips and visits to friends and the burden on my wallet to cope with.  I feel once more as I did when living with my parents last year.  All my achievements, the fact that I have survived all the bullying and losses without going mad are nothing simply because my car has broken down.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Unacceptable Corporate Blackmail

Imagine the following scenario:  The British government and other political leaders receive threats from a small group of wealthy men that unless they keep allowing them to squeeze money from the general population for the foreseeable future, these men will cut off the power supply to the UK.  It sounds like a plot from a spy novel of the 1970s, but is in fact the situation that the UK is in today.  It is not SPECTRE but the six main power companies who are making such threats.  Back in September leader of the Labour Party said at the party conference that if Labour won the next general election, which will not be held until 7th May 2015, they would impose a 20-month price freeze on the charges for gas and electricity supply to consumers.  Now, at the time it was still 19 months until the election and there is no guarantee that Labour will win.  However, just making this policy statement was sufficient for the leaders of the the 'Big Six' : British Gas, EDF, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power and SSE to say such a policy would lead to blackouts. 

Given that four of these companies are foreign owned; they said that they would withdraw from the UK market place. EDF belongs to the French government; Scottish Power is owned by Spanish company, Iberdrola; E.ON is German and npower is owned by RWE of Germany.  They blame the wholesale prices, even when these are falling; they blame the taxation raised to try to promote sustainable energy initiatives, they blame everything except their own greed.  These six companies have made made more than £2 billion (€2.4 billion; US$3.22 billion) every year for the past four years, rising to £3.74 billion in 2012.  This year prices to consumers on both gas and electricity are rising by an average of 9% whereas wholesale prices have risen between 1-2%, so it is likely that they will exceed last year's profits this year.  They claim they only make 5% profit on what they sell.  When this is generating billions of pounds of profit, year after year, you could fall to 1% profit and still be incredibly wealthy.

The complaint from the power companies, is that they lack capital for investment.  However, it is clear that if rather than paying their chief executives and their shareholders big sums they actually invested in the business this would be not an issue.  Phil Bentley, CEO of British Gas, led got a salary of £1.3 illionm in 2010, plus share options worth £2.7 million at the time.  Ian Marchant  of SSE got £1.2 million, plus £126,000 bonus in shares and 330,000 shares worth £4 million at the moment; his pension in 2011 was worth £6.1 million.  Johannes Teyssen, CEO of E.ON, has salary of £860,000 in 2010 but including bonuses and share options raised this to £3.6 million.  These are just the men at the very top, not the numerous executives and managers beneath them who all receive generous payments which could pay for all the power going into a small town for a year.

Once again, today, as reported on BBC Radio 2, npower has spoken out saying blackouts are inevitable unless Britain has a 'more stable' political context.  Now, this to me, sounds very like a company trying to dictate Britain's government, it can be taken as suggestion that democracy is too troublesome for the power companies and something like a dictatorship which panders to their greed and lets them keep ramping up prices for consumers, year after year, unchallenged would be better.  If a foreign politician said something similar you can imagine the outrage.  A few weeks ago the wife of an executive from an energy company said that there needed to be a 'serious conversation' about investment and more money coming to companies for it.  I said that her husband should simply be arrested for threatening the British state.  Why can someone tweet a joke about terrorism and be arrested and yet, these company executives can come on the television and radio week-after-week and continue to threaten damage to the UK economy without even being challenged let alone arrested?  It is clear that there is one rule for the hyper-rich and one for the rest of us.  The cockiness after the first assault following Miliband's speech in September is apparent that now the power companies feel they can begin to try to shape the political context too.

Yes, there are major problems with generating electricity in the UK.  There are two key sources of this.  Both the Labour governments 1997-2010 and the current coalition have failed to drive ahead with developing new power stations of any kind.  They vacilated because they are torn between making sure enough electricity is generated and their obligations to sustainable energy.  Surprisingly, unlike our European neighbours, especially in Germany and Denmark, Britons are largely hostile to sustainable energy approaches.  The campaigns against wind farms are far more extensive and successful than any campaigns against nuclear, gas or coal power stations being built.  Greed does have an impact as EDF held out for its set price for the electricity it will generate from the nuclear power station it is building.  The price will be £89.50 per megawatt hour once the station is complete, twice the current level.  Of course, this is blackmail.  The cost to the consumer can do nothing but rise, but there is nothing that government let alone the consumer can do to resist this.  We can switch suppliers, but it is a cartel.  Some smaller companies are appearing but as yet they cannot challenge the marketplace the way was possibly fantasised about when private companies were allowed this oligopoly. 

We have to commend Miliband for his bravery in standing up to the companies.  It is certainly a vote winner.  However, with the corporations now making political points and in fact trying to threaten any future government both in terms of what policies they will permit it to adopt and indeed the entire 'political scene', we can argue that democracy is being eroded before our eyes.  I was concerned during the Blair regime especially with the attacks on human rights in the UK, that this process was happening or that it would be driven by the Murdoch empire.  However, I had overlooked that other big corporate players were happy to follow in the footsteps of News International and try to shift the political patterns more to their liking, and, indeed being pretty successful about it.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

From Conception To Retail In 3 Days: My Fastest e-Book

As regular readers have known, around two years ago I got into producing e-books. Not only did I self-publish the novels I had been writing over the past thirty years but I also made use of blog postings to create essay collections on alternate history.  These latter were very popular, especially those concerning the Second World War.  However, as time passed they began to be criticised, as is typical for many e-books, on the basis of minute points and people simply disagreeing with the content or the style and labelling it with a one-star review.  The worst being a review that complained that a 1940s pastiche novel was a 1940s pastiche novel and as the review said 'no-one wants that', so the critic felt it was down to him to remove it from circulation.  A one-star review means the book is no longer picked up by search engines and basically sales cease.  I have kept the book on sale for want of knowing what else to do with it.

Self-published e-books have brought other trends beyond the absolute power of a single reviewer to destroy a book.  One that is discussed in 'The Guardian' newspaper last weekend by Philip Hensher:  as if it had suddenly just appeared, is that such an approach allows the publication and sale of short stories in a way that has probably not been feasible for a century, maybe even longer.  I think Hensher would be pushed to sell a short story at £2.29 on Amazon as he suggests, but maybe someone like Zadie Smith who he focuses on, has sufficient standing to achieve that price.

Hensher seems to be oblivious to the fact that this trend has been going on for five years or so.  I guess he still reads books he buys in WH Smiths rather than traipsing through the online Kindle listings on Amazon on a Friday afternoon or clicking through from a blog to an author's stories sold on Smashwords.  Certainly he should have been aware of 'Shetl Days' by Harry Turtledove, an established if no literary author, published only online as a short e-book for 99p back in April 2011.  Hensher is write to praise the ability to produce and get out to the public books of very varied lengths.  Ironically, or perhaps logically, on Amazon the best-selling genre of short-story seem to be 4,000-word erotic e-books; I guess because people are not looking for much character or plot development in such stories!

This year with my books being torn apart for representing Finland in the 1940s in a way which people disapproved of, apparently using too many online as opposed to paper sources and having 'too much history' in my alternate history e-books, I took many of them down.  They were not making any money and it was soul-destroying just to be sitting there being slagged off in a whole host of ways.  These days, one minor typographical error is enough to have the entire book condemned as useless.  I guess that is a characteristic of our indignant societies; people are angry that their authors can actually be human and cannot afford to employ editors, even though most publishing houses do not bother with them these days anyway.  Conversely, people I meet want to see my books, but if they even read them, they never bother to include a review, leading me to think I indeed must be so bad and they are simply too embarrassed to say.

Some constructive criticism is what all authors need, such as suggestions on style or level of detail.  In this world it is all or nothing, either the reviewer condemns your work as needing to be removed for causing offence due to minor errors or the person is too embarrassed to say anything about what they did not like in the book.  The former simply want you gone out of the way of the 'proper' authors they admire so much more.  The latter, well, I do not know what they want, perhaps simply proof that when you say you are an author you actually are, maybe they hope to catch you out in confessing you are lying and the evidence simply ruins that game so they have nothing else to say.

Anyway, you get the picture.  However, these set-backs have not doused the ideas that I have bubbling away in my head.  Sometimes I have to simply write a story to get it out of my head otherwise it bubbles around in there getting in the way of other thoughts and indeed preventing me from sleeping.  One reason why the 10th-12th of the Braucher stories were written so fast was that they had been planned some years before but never written and reflecting on them kept me awake, I simply had to get them out and finished to get enough sleep and maintain my health.  This brings me to 'Against the Devil's Men' which is an e-book just under 9,000 words in length that I started writing on the evening of Saturday, 2nd November 2013, as a result of the weather meaning the wireless reception where I am staying was too poor to allow me to continue my game of  'Rome II Total War'.  I wrote the remaining 7,300 words of the book throughout 3rd November.  I edited it after work on 4th November, having created most of the front cover and the synopsis over my lunch break.  I put it up for sale that evening and by the morning of 4th November, had sold one copy. 

Of course, the ideas had been around for a long time.  The book is set in western Normandy in 1272 in an alternate world in which rather than retreating from Europe in the 1240s the Mongols have remained to continue their conquests and destruction.  The ideas go back to me reading 'The Devil's Horsemen' by James Chambers (1979) in 2007, playing 'Medieval II Total War' and subsequently producing a chapter on this blog and then in my e-book of alternate histories of the Middle Ages 'On Other Fields' (2012).  The story is told from the perspective of a cardinal charged with inspecting the frontline in the bocage country of Normandy.  I worry that it is too dense because the cardinal engages in religious thoughts and controversies.  I was also conscious of avoiding anachronisms, so he refers to the Mongols as 'Tartars' a mix up with the Tatars another steppe people; for centuries 'Mongol' meant a group of nomads rather than their ethnicity.  In addition, being seen as coming from the Devil, this was a reference to Tartarus, a hellish region of the underworld in Ancient Greek mythology.  He also refers to the Folban, the German term at the time for the people we now call the Cumans, another nomadic steppe tribe but one which fled in front of the Mongols and converted to Christianity in the 1220s.

My short stories have never sold as well as my longer books.  However, I have enjoyed being able to produce and sell a book within three days.  In the 1930s books on political events were often overtaken by a change in the global situation before they had been published.  In these days not only can you blog about such events but you can get a book out while events are still running; indeed with an e-book you can update as they change.  Perhaps Philip Hensher should catch up with the rest of the world and reflect on that new slant on writing and publishing.

P.P. 01/01/2016
I realised that I should have updated this posting in June 2014.  That month I stopped selling 'Against the Devil's Men' in large part because it was criticised as juvenile for taking the French rather than the Mongol perspective on the Mongol invasion of Europe.  Given how inhumane and brutal the Mongol invaders were to Christians and Muslims alike, destroying many aspects of civilisation where they attacked and killing people in particularly cruel ways, I would be very worried if I could write from the Mongol perspective on these things.  I did include the story in 'Déviation: What If? Stories of the French' (2014) where it seems to have attracted less attention.