Thursday, 22 December 2011

2011 Travels and Legal Thrillers

Looking back over 2011, my trip of the year has to be the USA Deep South.

The original reason for taking the flydrive there, to head from Nashville to New Orleans via Memphis and sample US music history of all kinds - jazz, blues, Elvis, country & western - was well satisfied. Especially with the hidden bonuses such as Elvis' birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, a side trip just as worthy as Graceland.

But there was so much more to it. A wealth of US civil war history in places such as Franklin and Vicksburg. To say nothing of the classic period houses in Natchez and on the drive from Lafayette to New Orleans which made it worthwhile to have sat through the whole of Gone With The Wind (!) in anticipation. Not forgetting the lifestyle of the "Swamp People" in the Louisiana marshes, and the Al Capone trail and architectural history of Chicago on the way back.

Interestingly too, having been inspired to finalise Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt on returning to the UK after reading about the e-publishing boom and John Locke's success on the day before the outbound flight, there was something of a John Grisham trail about this journey too. Leaving aside the setting of Memphis for The Firm (with Mitch fleeing De Vasher's goons through the Peabody Hotel - good job he didn't tread on a duck) and New Orleans and the marshlands for The Pelican Brief, one small town side trip stood out. Just before Vicksburg, there was a signpost to Historic Canton. Where the town square and indeed many areas of the town generally were used for the filming of A Time To Kill.

Now, I'm sure that in the real world it's far more likely that if scenes for a legal thriller were to be shot in Birmingham, we'd be talking of Alabama and not the West Midlands. After all, Alabama is virtually John Grisham's backyard. But there's no harm in a touch of wishful thinking once in a while, especially not at this time of year.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Litigators: new John Grisham legal thriller review

I almost wondered if the undoubted master of the legal thriller genre had made a conscious decision, via The Litigators, to move into slapstick and parody when, quite early on in the book, I reached the scene where two US street lawyers and their prospective new associate heard the unmistakeable sound of a traffic accident and went charging out of their office to the crash scene. And joined a near pitched battle with other like minded souls from the local legal profession who were equally desperate to sign up the victims. (Perhaps this really happens…)

But it’s not all like that. The central plot – a battle against Big Pharma involving the keen new associate who has not long abandoned the world of corporate finance law in bizarre circumstances, and the reprobate partner who may have picked too big an ambulance to chase as he battles his personal demons – works very well. As long as you’re not hoping for the same murder and skulduggery episodes as appear throughout The Firm and other vintage Grisham, you’ll like this one. I certainly did, so it’s five stars from me.

Which only leaves me to ask this light hearted question. Pound for pound, or dollar for dollar, is The Litigators really four times better than Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt? Of course not. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Euro Crash? Bring It On

Bruce Springsteen's version of "Bring 'Em Home" came up on the iPod a few days ago. Interesting to think that the original dates back to the Vietnam era and that the original composer - Pete Seeger, a definite NMFT by all accounts - still had the ingenuity to make it clear in the lyrics that he was no pacifist and that he would be on the front line if ever the USA was invaded.

The sentiment of the song and its title, of course, is a perfect illustration of how the political classes are so often out of touch with reason and common sense. Notably shown here and now by UK orthodoxy on the Euro, where official policy - regardless of the praise heaped upon David Cameron simply for refraining from doing wrong at the recent EU summit - is that the stricken single currency must be kept alive at all cost. Which leads me to my own tribute to Seeger and Springsteen: -

If the Euro's doomed to crash
Bring it on, bring it on
Let's waste no more bailout cash
Bring it on, bring it on

It'll make Merkozy mad, we know
Bring it on, bring it on
They treat the British as their foe
Bring it on, bring it on

They wanna test their grand theories
Bring it on, bring it on
With the wealth of you and me
Bring it on, bring it on

So let's stop blighting British lives
Bring it on, bring it on
For the gleam in Brussels' eyes
Bring it on, bring it on

The men will cheer, the boys will shout
Bring it on, bring it on
The rally call - it's Better Off Out
Bring it on, bring it on

We will lift their voice and sound
Bring it on, bring it on
When that star ring hits the ground
Bring it on, bring it on

We'll shrug off the short term pain
Bring it on, bring it on
For the greater long term gain
Bring it on, bring it on

Westminster bells will ring with glee
Bring it on, bring it on
From the EU - gladly free
Bring it on, bring it on.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Smoking Gun by Nigel Hastilow

A couple of years ago I had some passing involvement in and first hand knowledge of a selection process for a safe Tory seat where the vacancy unexpectedly arose barely six months before the last General Election. Indeed I wrote about it on Conservative Home. Two thoughts that ran through my mind at various stages were "you couldn't make this up" and "if only I'd had a chance to go behind the scenes".

Someone else wrote about this process too. He was an approved Prospective Parliamentary Candidate whom the locals knew and wanted to shortlist. The hierarchy evidently did not concur with the locals' wishes. The enforced outcome was a contest between six individuals whom none of the locals would have known from Adam (or Eve) otherwise.

I therefore had little doubt that the PPC's new political satire The Smoking Gun - for it was indeed Nigel Hastilow whom those locals wished to shortlist - was going to be a thoroughly worthy read, given its central plot of an unexpected by-election and the lengths to which the party machine would go to ensure that their preferred candidate won through. And I was not disappointed. The book is excellent. Let's just invoke two further reasons from the plot.

The first, the suggestion that a notionally right of centre government - you know, the kind who profess themselves to favour low tax and personal freedom when seeking votes - would ban a previously legal activity (smoking), drastically raise taxation on another (flying) to compensate for the lost revenue, and then propose a further shock tax on another (sorry, no spoilers) for reasons not entirely unconnected with the by-election. We can only hope that today's satire is not tomorrow's reality.

The second, the NMFT principles of the central character, Acton Trussell MP, when assessing the browbeating, bullying and betrayal that evidently left him with no alternative other than to resign his seat. Does he take it lying down? You must, of course, read the book to find out. But let's just say that he wouldn't have been out of place as a character in Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt.

The Smoking Gun. 5 out of 5 from me.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Pigs, Dogs and Sheep

John Redwood, an eminent NMFT, has coined the acronym DOGS - democratic overspending government sovereigns - to describe another regrettable feature of how we are governed today, by political classes who have traditionally believed that borrowing will always cover the gap between revenue and expenditure. Or, may I suggest, will cover that gap long enough to see their time out.

Thus we see the second element of a potential common thread, the first being the PIGS as comprise the overspending and effectively bankrupt governments of Portugal, Italy Greece and Spain.

Now, for the third element, let us look to "Animals" by Pink Floyd, noting in passing that the lyrics of "Dogs" are remarkably cogent: "Then after a while/You can work on points for style/Like a club tie, a firm handshake/A certain look in the eye and an easy smile/You've got to be trusted/By the people that you lie to/So that when they turn their back on you/You'll get the chance to put the knife in..."

Which leads us to the Subservient Helpless European Electorate Populations - the SHEEP, who are roundly ignored by the political classes whose lifestyles they support and subsidise. But looking at the Eurozone crisis, we may well ask: for how much longer? And isn't there a triumphant passage in "Animals" where the sheep finally rise up, fall on their oppressors' necks with a scream, and celebrate the overthrow of the dogs? Food for thought...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Musical Eccentricities 1

OK, as anticipated in my NMFT tab, let’s start. I aim to pick songs with particularly special (however unusual) memories, or songs that would not necessarily be the first the come to mind from established artists’ repertoires, or songs that suit the NMFT theme in other ways. Or possibly with elements of all three. Here goes.

Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight. The first song played at our wedding reception. Need I say more? Layla would have made quite a spectacle for the guests, but then again perhaps not.

Bruce Springsteen – My City Of Ruins. From what was widely described as the classic post 9/11 album, we find a gospel inspired rallying call chorus of “Come On, Rise Up”. Even if the song might have actually been a tribute to the blighted Asbury Park, NJ, it could so easily become an anthem for EU member state democracies as the insane policies of the Eurocrats take us to breaking point. We can but dream!

Elton John – Porch Swing In Tupelo. What on earth? All those classic instantly memorable hits from a musical legend, and you pick an obscure album track from a recent release? Yes, with good reason. Just take the second verse: “His Mama must have loved him/That truck drivin' boy/With the grease monkey look and the rock and roll voice/Well I was just thinkin' about him/'Cause I guess he sat here/Singing all praise to God through poverty's tears.” Then add a first ever trip to the Deep South of the USA, and a side trip to an obscure small town in Mississippi, to a place just as symbolic in musical history as the connected city in Tennessee not long left behind. The birthplace and childhood home of the rock and roll icon who later put Graceland on the map. Yes, it is Elton’s tribute to Elvis. Masterful.

America – Ventura Highway. Bringing back memories of another road trip, this time in California and the coastal highway drive after a visit to Ozzy Osbourne’s house in Beverley Hills (let’s not mention the wig, the cross and the round purple tinted sunglasses). Rather a lot of traffic on that northbound stretch of the freeway. Enough to make me wonder if the chorus had originally run: “Ventura Highway/In the sunshine/Where the queues are longer/The language stronger than moonshine…”

Jethro Tull – Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll, Too Young To Die. Let’s defer, symbolically in the context of Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt, to Ian Anderson’s inimitable introduction to the song on “Live Bursting Out”: “This is a song which got us into some small degree of trouble back home in Blighty, where the music critics decided that it was a song of an autobiographical nature. Indeed, that I was singing about myself! Haha. Silly sods. Of course not, I was singing about some other [bleep]! It’s called Too Old to Rock ‘N’ Roll, Too Young To Die.” What a showman. Another of rock/folk’s great survivors.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Forget Moves Like Jagger, why not Moves Like Richards?

How fair is it, then, that the other half of one of rock music’s most successful songwriting and live performance partnership is never going to have a No 1 song written about him? For Keith Richards, is it the lack of a distinctive surname enabling immediate identification, or might it be the fact that he has never set out to be a technical virtuoso guitarist?

Let’s step back into the sixties. Legend has it that the Rolling Stones were the London bad boys compared to the goody-goody moptop image of the early Beatles. And yet as time went by, and the Stones rolled on after the Beatles had taken the long and winding road to breakup, Mick Jagger developed into something of an establishment figure, his knighthood being the icing on the cake alongside his love of cricket and his fitness fanaticism.

When considering Keith Richards, on the other hand, it might be most unfair for this ultra maverick to spark off thoughts of copious ingestion of mind altering substances, or accidental falls from coconut palms, rather than for the riffs and solos on Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Start Me Up. Or, indeed, thoughts of how his most notable moves would probably only comprise the deft extraction of the burning fag from the top of his guitar neck when a suitable break in a stage show permitted.

But that’s life. And would this great survivor of the modern rock era care? Hardly.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Nonconformity Of Chris Evans

Listening to the Breakfast Show in the car this morning. As a song finishes, the DJ comments “The Germans are at it again”, then leaves the point to linger before an announcement and the next song, which by some bizarre coincidence is today’s Big Screen Belter – Liza Minnelli and “Cabaret”.

When the last echo of “Come To The Cabaret” fades away, Chris Evans – for it is he – picks up the thread and mentions to his co-presenter that Germany and France are due to have another meeting today “about us”, thinking out loud that it will be all about “forcing us to join up”, and moves quickly to the next song via what sounded to be a passing gloat about how no one had been interested in the bonds that the Germans had just put up for sale.

More power to your elbow, we may all have thought. But what makes him such a nonconformist in all of this? Simple, really. If there’s one national institution that has been slavishly, shamelessly and indeed institutionally Europhile for longer than we would all care to remember, it’s the BBC. And here was one of its most high profile presenters very obviously declining to toe the line.

If I had had any need for a DJ character in Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt, how tempting it would have been to choose Chris Evans as a role model.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sycophant: A Joyful Verbal Memory

Picture the scene – a small town market, where dealers are trying (as they would have it) to make a reasonably honest living, only to be plagued by a snooper from the council, professing to be on the hunt for contraband but probably hell bent on a mission to make their lives a misery. Along comes a trader from a far flung outpost, offering unique items to one of the locals but only in return for something equally rare and special. The quick thinking local comes up with an idea – what could be more rare and special than a council snooper? Amid scenes of high farce, the outraged snooper is seized, packed in straw and carried off home by the outside trader, and everyone goes off for a celebration.

No, it’s not a new Peter Kay spoof or Ricky Gervais satire. It’s a subplot from “The Acharnians”, a play by the Greek comedian Aristophanes written in 425 BC, the winner of first prize at the Lenaia festival. Well, fancy that.

So what sparked off memories of ancient Greek comedies? The Eurozone farce? No, that’s another piece of Aristophanes, namely Nephelococcygia (or Cloud Cuckoo Land, in plain English). The explanation lies in the Ancient Greek term for the snooper, or informer, in the original – namely, “sucophantes”, the singular noun that gave us our modern day term “sycophant”, which has transformed from its original derivation to mean an ingratiating creep, a boot licker, a servile flatterer.

So when the editing round for Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt led my wife to suggest that the description “all singing, all dancing” in a late section could effectively be completed with the word “sycophants”, I was only too pleased to concur. Not only for the classical memories, but also because, in marked contrast with the free thinkers and mavericks, it neatly embraced both the ancient and modern meanings. How? That would be telling…

Friday, 18 November 2011

Rhydian Roberts: Different Stages

There’s no reason to be ashamed of liking The X Factor. It’s only a game show, nothing serious, just entertainment. Forget the stage managed rows and the occasional episode of unutterable ghastliness, and there might just be a class act worthy of attention. And on this show there is a world of difference between a good maverick and a bad one.

OK, let’s think back to 2007. To a contestant whose choice of an operatic audition song led Simon Cowell to ask out loud what the programme could do with him, if it was Abba week and he had been asked to perform Dancing Queen – a challenge that he promptly and triumphantly threw back in the panel’s faces. Who progressed to the live final, despite hardly fitting the conventional image of a modern singer. And who enjoyed subsequent success of which his victorious opponent – who was it, now? – could have only dreamed.

And yet when my wife and I saw him in We Will Rock You, Rhydian Roberts was content in a lesser role that barely called for frontline solo singing. He just blended into the show without seeking to outshine his fellow performers. Proving that there is far more to his repertoire than the conventional pattern of albums and tours that he could have chosen to follow instead. It’s unlikely to be long before he secures top billing.

So it may be unwise to bet against this particular nonconformist still being prominent in the world of entertainment long after many of his fellow contestants have reluctantly resumed their day jobs. Just as unwise as betting against e-publishing, today’s unorthodox route, eventually coming out on top in its contest with the idea of having to make a debut in print.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Literary Inspiration: Not Quite As Expected?

As a writer of a legal thriller, which author would I most proclaim to be an inspiration?

It might be thought that one man stands out head and shoulders above all others when it comes to this genre. The one and only John Grisham, who has recently made his usual impact with his latest work “The Litigators”.

I first discovered John Grisham’s work nearly 20 years ago. “The Firm” nicely took care of a flight to the west coast of the USA. Had Mitch McDeere not decided on the path of virtue – or, arguably, a dangerous venture of playing the Bendini firm at their own game – we could just have pictured the scene when the senior partner, with De Vasher standing at the boardroom door just in case, breaks the news to Mitch that the firm’s best client is the Chicago Mafia and that, armed with this news, he can choose to leave the firm either very rich or very dead. A thoroughly entertaining read in any event.

But my choice would in fact go to an English author of mysteries, often in historical settings, where his clever plot twists are far from predictable. His readership will be able to start one of his works in the clear knowledge that they will rarely or never guess the ending until they have reached it, often identifying and sympathising with a downtrodden central character - such as his trilogy star Harry Barnett - in the process. Twenty two books published so far, and evidently more to come.

Thank you for the writing, Robert Goddard.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Conservative Home v The Daily Telegraph

I was somewhat surprised to set eyes on a Tory Diary link on Conservative Home - a paragon of online free thinking - on 19 October that bore the title "Tim Montgomerie: Why the Telegraph is 'sh*tbagging' me". An eye catching turn of phrase, indeed. The conclusion, drawn in the face of a number of rather spiteful Mandrake comments, was that this might be revenge for a tweeted criticism over an exaggerated Liam Fox article, or for suggesting Paul Dacre of the Mail was the most influential centre right journalist in Britain.

The comment thread touched upon some possible further explanations. But they may have missed quite a fundamental one. In days gone by, when the dead tree press was king, anyone asked where the best place was to find news about the Conservative Party would immediately reply: "The Daily Telegraph". Indeed some described the DT as the party's in-house magazine.

If the same question is asked today, however, the immediate response is far more likely to be: "Conservative Home". And of course ConHome would never in a thousand years want to be described as the party's in-house magazine, but that makes its daily content all the more appealing.

From my own perspective, having just e-published Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt, and being mindful of how Amazon are reporting on the growing success of Kindle books in comparison with their traditional paper rivals, I sense that there might just be one or two parallels with the battle for the Conservative news audience. And I sense it is one that ConHome is winning hands down.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt: Published Today

I am pleased to be able to announce that Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt has today gone live on Amazon's Kindle Direct sites. For a preview, see the Prologue page above.

I would like to thank three people for their help and inspiration. First and foremost, my wife Nicola for her invaluable assistance in editing and suggesting numerous textual improvements. Had it not also been for the serendipity factor of our labrador Tara accidentally hurting Nicola's eye and leaving her in need of rest and relaxation, this whole project might have drifted.

Secondly, my cover designer Anthony Puttee of Book Cover Cafe for a great job. It's astonishing how the internet can shrink the world of commerce - the distance between the UK and Australia was barely relevant here.

Finally, the US author John Locke - not the Lost character, however much of an individualist he was too - for his ground breaking guide to e-publishing.

More in due course. In the meantime, please read and enjoy.