Author Archives: quercuscommunity

Book Review – The Mazaroff Mystery

I read this directly after The Windsor Knot. They are very different books.

The Windsor Knot is a modern whodunnit with a good helping of originality, a novelty detective and an undercurrent of humour.

The Mazaroff Mystery by [J.S. Fletcher]

The Mazaroff Mystery is a Golden Age detective novel, published in 1928. There is nothing original about it, the detective is not unusual (a young man looking for amusement after serving as an officer in the Great War) and there is no humour. It lacks depth, including themes you would expect in a modern novel – class, race and sex, – and the protagonist has suffered no mental or physical problems as a result of his war service. The world of the Golden Age detective novel was largely white, middle class and not given to introspection. Peter Wimsey suffered from shell shock, but the rest of that generation seem remarkably unscathed.

The authors are both fine writers, the characterisation is good, and the plots both have the odd weak spot. The pacing of the older book is superior, as is the quality of the red herrings and the supporting characters.

I would say that if you want a book for entertainment, get The Windsor Knot. If you want a good detective novel, The Mazaroff Mystery is the one to go for. Unless you are looking for historical detective fiction.

I notice one or two people in the reviews, seem to think it  is historical fiction, some liking its authenticity, and at least one complaining that it is old-fashioned. Well, it would be. it’s 93 years old. The author was born in 1863, just four years after Conan Doyle and two years before Kipling. I always think of those two as Victorians. The surprise isn’t that the book is old-fashioned, the surprise is that it is quite fresh and contemporary rather than being rooted in Victorian days. He was, by the way, the favourite mystery writer of Woodrow Wilson

It’s well worth a read if you like Golden Age whodunnits, and is currently available on Kindle for £0.77.

Writing, but more importantly, Reading

Just before falling asleep in the early hours of the morning I had an idea. This time I had my pad and pen ready and I wrote a quick note to myself.

This morning I felt like a proper writer. I so far as I am a person who puts words down on paper so that others can read them, I suppose I can call myself a writer. IN the sense of someone who makes marks on paper with a writing instrument so that I can read them later, the situation is not so clear cut. I’d definitely done something that approximated to writing on my pad. The marks were there. But it lacked the important element of me being able to read it later

It’s a bit like Mallory’s (possible) conquest of Everest. If you don’t get back down have you really conquered the mountain?

I stared at the riot of loops and whirls, done with a scratchy and slightly dry fibre tip pen and began to panic.  Is this, I asked myself, what dementia feels like?

Anyway, as my eyes recalibrated themselves for the grey morning light (I find that they no longer lap into action these days but take a while to get going, much like the rest of me) a few words started to show .  Even then, in the absence of memory, no meaning emerged. This isn’t surprising as a number of the words I seem to have used have escaped the notice of the OED.  There were 28 words in the note, for several minutes, and several readings, I couldn’t read a single word. It took another few minutes to extract half a dozen words, then it all fell into place.

Our the lent fen gus I line swiss by cuckolded winter. Blog beige abunt layings and precurstractor has benignly bun the wounded layet hucid hut for my new carver.

When I say “all fell into place” I may be exaggerating slightly. It took another effort before my synapses fired up.

Over the last few years I have seriously considered becoming a content writer. Blog being about laziness and procrastination has basically been the longest suicide note for my new career.

In other words, if you want to use a blog to get writing jobs, don’t blog about being lazy and unreliable.

As it turns out, while I was considering the new career the market was flooded with students offering to write for next to nothing, so I didn’t actually lose anything.

 

Book Review – The Windsor Knot

I have a dozen subjects in mind but some require research or other effort and others are simply not suitable. Sorry about that.

I finished a book last night, which is why this is a book review.  Book Reviews are worthy subjects for blogging but don’t require much work or research, just reading a book and remembering a bit about it.

That, I find, is one of the difficult things about a book review. Someone has just spent a year or so sweating over this but after a few hours reading and half  an hour typing, I feel qualified to pass judgement on it. That’s one of the reasons I don’t write many reviews, because I find it hard to offer criticism of somebody who has just done something I can’t do. On the other hand, as I normally only review books I enjoyed, I don’t do much criticising.

The Windsor Knot: The Queen investigates a murder in this delightfully clever my

In a world where books need a gimmick, and there are plenty of novelty sleuths about, it must be difficult to com up with another variation.  That’s all taken care of with this book – the investigator is Queen Elizabeth II,  This is handled well, with plenty of great characterisation, a lot of detail and the feeling that S J Bennett (a) knows and loves the subject and (b) could write first class fiction in an y genre.

So – writing – good. Characterisation – excellent. Atmosphere – brilliant.

The pacing is acceptable, but it does seem to slow a little in places as the book progresses. This around the time when we seem to be bombarded with a few too many characters, who aren’t always well differentiated.

What about the plot? . It could do with being tightened up and I was left with a feeling that if I examined it too closely the whole thing would fall apart. There were just a couple of places where it seemed weak.

The ending – which is important in most mystery novels, has a fault that can’t be fully overcome. The Queen must remain in the background at all times and part of the tension in the book is that she is constrained taher than assisted by her position as monarch. That means the credit for solving the crime goes to another person, who explains it to the Queen. This is unsatisfactory, but it’s a logical part of the way the book works and would be hard to work round. Foe this reason, I’ll accept this fault.

I don’t feel quite as forgiving about the patchy pacing, the slight excess of slightly samey characters and my reservations over the plot. I will read the next one in the series, and am sure I will enjoy it, but it’s only four stars.

If there was no crime in the book I would still enjoy this as a comic novel featuring the Royal Family, which tends to indicate that the crime element needs a bit of a boost. It’s a great read but it’s not, unfortunately, a great whodunnit.

The Daily Struggle

It’s hard to dislike any day as I’m approaching the age at which FDR, U S Grant, General Lee, Alfred Nobel and Audrey Hepburn all died.  The are are others, but that is enough for now. If you are of a similar morbid turn of mind you can look things up here.

However, of all the days of the week, Friday is probably the one when I am least pleased to wake up and realise I have survived another day. It’s the only day of the week when I have to go to work, so it’s tainted with the “back to work” feeling that I remember from the days I had a job I ‘didn’t like.

It started off badly when I couldn’t find some of the things I needed for parcels and ended badly when I got into a queue at the Post Office and found I was behind someone with a rudimentary grasp of parcels. He ended up having to repack it at the counter as he was returning some mail order clothing and thought it was OK to bundle it up in a plastic bag and leave the return address inside. It’s possible that postmen in his country have X-Ray vision, or just open parcels as a matter of course, because it took a lot of explaining before he grasped the idea that the return label should be on the outside.

Meanwhile, a man has just started a complaint against us on eBay as he hasn’t had an item he ordered. He ordered it last Friday, so at best it’s only been a week. A week is a bit soon to start complaining, even at the best of times. In times of COVID it’s definitely a bit too soon. He ordered after we closed on Friday, we posted it on Monday, the next day we were open and it has, since then, been in the hands of the Post Office. Words do not fail me, it’s just that they aren’t suitable for polite company.

That sums up my day. Fortunately, better weather is on the waya nd Spring is just around the corner. Six more weeks and I might try smiling again.

The night sky is a shot from January last year, when I actually used to go out and take photographs.

A Treat from the Back of the Cupboard

Yesterday, as part of my efforts at self-improvement, I researched ways of improving my writing. I will, as a result, not be using the phrase “doom and gloom” but will say that the morning is gloomy, and so is my mood.

Still no car. Still no news of the car. No news of my prescription either. This is a worry as I have run out of some things. The new system means that I don’t have a clue if my prescription has been processed. The screen says it is in progress but it is a day late already and that is not a good sign. Fortunately I am not short of anything essential. Apart from good humour, I am running short of good humour because the system takes several days longer and seems to produce more errors.

It seems to be a common feature of these “new and improved” systems that they are actually just “new”. The “improved” part involves cost-cutting and is no improvement to me at all. I am worried that this may be the case with my writing too – it may produce a crisper and more concise style, but is that going to be an improvement. I am a poet and raconteur rather than a business consultant or a copywriter.

Things will get better, as I always tell myself. I told myself that when boundary and building issues threatened to bury me six months ago. They didn’t really get better, they just faded. The main one was sorted out but we are waiting for a second planning application from the neighbours on the right and the builder still hasn’t come to repair the chimney stack. problems do that – what seems the end of the world at one point is almost forgotten six months later.

I just looked up and noticed that the drizzle has increased in intensity and has lumps in it. It is now a wintry shower.

I just checked that up.

Wintry is the preferred form and is used approximately 20 times to every one use of wintery. However, as the article points out, many people pronounce wintry as wintery. I do, and I feel wintery is a more logical development from the word winter. On the other hand, this is English, so logic has little to do with it.

Time for Late Breakfast now, one of my favourites among my recent new words. I like stewp too, but it excludes bacon sandwiches, which late Breakfast does not. I will be having chilli jam with my bacon. I found it in the back of a cupboard recently. We bought it when we went to The Lakes for our 25th wedding anniversary (yes, six years ago) and the Best Before Date is in 2016, but it was unopened and it still tastes good.

That is the problem with Best Before dates – people mistake them for Use By dates.  Best Before dates can safely be ignored (according to me, though not to Julia). Use By dates indicate that the product can kill you if you leave it too long.

The picture is a Late Breakfast from happier days.

 

Rejection, Superstition, Vaccination

Editors seem to be busy at the moment. I have now had replies to all four of my January submissions. One, as you know, resulted in an acceptance, and one in a rejection with helpful editorial comments. The third is in limbo until the end of january, when the submission period ends, and the fourth has just come back with “helpful editorial comments”. I’ve put that in quotes as I am thinking of adopting it as an alternative to saying I’ve had a rejection.

I may, in future grade levels of response as “rejection”, “helpful editorial comment” and “acceptance”. This means that instead of being split equally between positive and negative results I can now claim that 66.6% of the results are positive, so call me an optimist and change my name to Pollyanna.

For any superstitious numerologists who may be reading, I admit that 66.6 might not be a good number to use. However, 66.6 isn’t actually the Number of the Beast, but 10% of it. Bearing in mind my retail background I can’t help thinking of it as the Discount of the Beast.

(Yes, before somebody corrects me, I do realise that other commentators believe the number is actually 616, but I’m traditional in matters of theology and superstition.)

In line with my new positive outlook I won’t even tell you what the situation is with the car. Let’s just say it’s hard to find anything upbeat or cheerful to say.

Some good news is that Julia has been given a projected vaccination date – early February. By March she should be reasonably well protected against COVID. This will be good. Meanwhile, I will stay at home, unvaccinated, and enjoy my holiday, which is also good.

Book Review – Out of Time – Great Library Series Volume 3 – Laurie Graves

Out of Time (The Great Library Series Book 3) by [Laurie Graves]According to the Amazon details the book has 276 pages. It didn’t seem like it. Time flew,and although I spread it over two nights, it finished too soon. If there was another in the series I would definitely buy it right away. Unfortunately, there isn’t.

That’s really all you need to know. It’s less than £3 on Kindle, so what are you waiting for?

Of course, book reviews are supposed to be slightly longer than that so I’ll just add a bit of waffle. The action takes place in a magic county called Elferterre (somebody is showing their French roots again!) , which is a convincing place, and has an excellent talking cat. There are very few books that can’t be improved by the addition of a talking cat, so this is good to see.. Even  a talking cat couldn’t improve  Don Quixote, but I won’t go into that.

I always get off to a slow start as I pick up the threads from the last book, but it is handled well, with enough prompts to get the reader up to speed, and enough information to help a first-time reader get into the story. After that it goes along at a decent pace and, as I say, is over all too soon.

There’s a bit of teenage romance going on, which I suppose you have to accept in these modern times, plus some comment on equality, ecology and vegetarianism, though it’s all done lightly and it isn’t laboured. This is handled much better than C S Lewis manages it  in Narnia. (Cut that out as a quote Laurie “much better than C S Lewis”).

The only fault I can find in the book – the ending seems a little rushed. I felt there was room within the pacing for a little more action but the book seemed to pick up speed towards the end, as if a word limit was looming. Apart from that – pacing, character, action, context – all brilliant.

All that remains is for me to recommend the purchase of a copy, as I said, at £3 on Kindle it’s an absolute bargain.

 

 

 

Thoughts on Poetry and Bacon

That’s Bacon the foodstuff, not the artist or the pioneer of frozen food.

I suppose, after all the events of the day, I should have spent the evening juggling with casseroles and torturing myself with self-doubt. However, I didn’t.

What’s hit is history, what’s missed is mystery, as the old ornithologists used to say. That’s a saying from the days when they used to shoot birds as a prelude to identifying them. Th same goes for submissions – what’s accepted is gone and what is rejected needs work. Or, possibly, a bin.

In some ways I’m more like a mechanic than a poet. The one that was returned yesterday, with comments,  is going to retain the original engine and chassis, but will be getting new bodywork and a respray. It will start out as an observational haibun and, probably, end up as a piece of fiction. It will still be a true piece about man and nature, but it will have fictional elements added for effect.

A second is in for a total rewrite. I’m going to keep the haiku and the original idea. All else will be new. The third of that batch will be completely dismantled. I will re-use several of the images to write haiku and park the rest in the file marked “Multiple Rejections”. It has, to be fair, been rejected three times, so the editors obviously agree. One day I might find a use for the carcase.

Nothing is ever wasted, it just isn’t used as originally intended.

Moving on to casseroles – the panhaggerty was a funny colour and the bacon had no flavour. I will be having it again as it’s easy to make, and because there’s enough left over for lunch. It was not as good as the normal vegetable stew we do, but it was quicker to prepare. Part of the problem may come from the fact that I over-browned the bacon. I think it also needs bacon bits rather than rashers. Not sure if you can still get bacon bits, I suspect they all go off to be cubed and sold as a premium product..

There’s another recipe I want to make, which I haven’t made for years. Instead of boiling for twenty minutes you cook it in the oven for 2 hours. That fact has always made me wonder if it’s worth it.

I will check online. Then I am off to write a book review…

The Day Declines and I Quote Kipling

It was all going too well. I made lunch (which included Ryvita crispbreads instead of ordinary bread), I washed up and I cooked the evening mal ready for when Julia returns. It’s panhaggerty, though I’m not going to melt the cheese on top – too much fat, too many calories….

This proved to be the high point of the day.

First, as I opened the fridge door a pyrex plate slid out and smashed on the floor. There were two cold sausages on it, so I invoked the ten second rule and threw them into a pan of hot fat to kill any bacteria from the floor. That meant I had to have  a sausage sandwich. So, smashed plate, glass all over the place and my diet gone for a Burton.

As I made the sausage sandwich  I looked down on the work surface and realised that I’d left the second layer of bacon out of the panhaggerty. I had to prod it down without disturbing the layers too much. Then, forgetting that I was only wearing socks, I walked across the badly swept area where the plate had smashed. Fortunately the bits I found were only small and they didn’t do any damage, just gave me a bit of a surprise.

Next, it was over to check emails as I ate the sandwich. Part of the sausage fell out o0nto the carpet. I really have been pushing the ten second rule to its limit.

I had two replies from editors. I always think that a quick reply indicates a rejection so I ate the sandwich first. No point in spoiling a good sandwich. The first on was an acceptance, though I sent off ten haiku and three haibun and only had one haiku accepted. It’s not great, but as I spent two years trying to get into the magazine, I’m happy to have had anything accepted at all.

The second one was from my nemesis, the editor who has never accepted anything I’ve ever sent him at either of the magazines he’s been editing when I’ve tried. In a way it’s a comfort to know that in a n ever changing Covid epidemic he still won’t accept any of my work. He did send a few pointers, which is always useful, and always a good sign when an editor takes the time to do it.

The only problem is that I left room for the reader to interpret, as we are advised to do, and he seems to have interpreted it in a way that I didn’t intend. Not quite sure what this means, but I’m left with the impression that my lack of clarity means I’m an even worse writer than mere rejection suggests. I spent several downcast minutes wondering whether to laugh or cry. Then I started laughing and made a cup of tea.

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

Kipling might be old-fashioned and politically suspect, but he can still hit the nail on the head when it counts.

 

 

2,222 Posts

Yesterday, I see, brought up the number 2,222 in my stats. It is totally meaningless, but allows me to produce an easy title and gives me a quick start to the post. I don’t know about you, but if I can get the first sentence down, the rest follow. This works even with the most trivial of sentences.

It doesn’t work with “Tonight we are eating salad” or anything starting with “The Government assures me…”. There’s just no coming back from an opening like that. Anything else, though, tends to unlock the gates of blethering, if not actual creativity.

Today, I thought about going to the shop for bread, but thoughts of death and red crosses on the door persuaded me otherwise. While the new variety of Covid is on the rise it pays to be more careful. ASDA was unable to deliver sourdough last week but I’m not prepared to die in the attempt to buy one from Lidl.

This has the added benefit of stopping me buying chocolate brownies, pain au chocolat and croissants, which all tend to appear in my basket as I drift past the bread counter. However, the main benefit is in stopping me coming into contact with a shop full of people who don’t wear masks. Julia will be using public transport for the next few days while the car is in for repair, and I’m hoping that nothing bad happens as a result. It’s very noticeable that the younger, less “at risk” staff at MENCAP have all run for the hills and are “working from home”. Julia wasn’t given the option, she was just told she would be required to go in to work.

I’m not even sure they should be working in groups. Most of the clients live with family or in homes, and the rest have carers going to visit. As they have at least four times the death rate of the average population (possibly six depending on how you look at the figures) it would seem to be a good idea for them to isolate rather than mix.

So there you go. I started with 2,222, moved on to creativity, bread, Covid and differential mortality rates. That’s enough for now.

IIncluding checking on eBay, looking up a couple of things on the internet and adding a few groceries to the order (mention of ASDA reminded me) an hour has now gone and it’s time to move on to another activity.

In fact it’s time to move. I need to move round more and do some exercise.