Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Zdravstvuite, Russian Visitors

How interesting to note from Blogger stats that a number of site visits appear to have originated in Russia. Excuse lack of Cyrillic script, to say nothing of the fact that Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt is not yet available in Russian, but a warm welcome anyway.

It’s a real sign of the changing world. Who would have thought that a former sworn enemy of the West, and follower of a backward discredited political and economic system, would transform into an emerging market and treasure house of valuable resources in such a short space of time, thanks to Gorbachev, Yeltsin and (credit where credit’s due) Putin? It might once have been considered about as likely as German hard rockers The Scorpions securing their greatest worldwide hit with “Wind of Change”, a rock ballad all about their own experience of Russia after the Iron Curtain had rusted away. Or Russian billionaires buying English football clubs. Or heavyweight boxing being dominated by the Klitschko brothers from the Ukraine.

Almost as unlikely, all considered, as print books being challenged for market domination by electronic reading devices.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Frankie Ballard, Country Artist, Rock Artist: What's In A Label?

Last June my wife and I went to the Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville, as the concierge at the Hermitage Hotel had recommended. Great evening. A variety of musical acts ranging from Wee Jimmy Dicken – still telling Viagra jokes and performing on stage at the age of 90 – to a new up and coming guitarist. A singer/songwriter by the name of Frankie Ballard.

He may only have had time to play a couple of songs, but even in that brief performance there was something that stood out. The confident swagger of a young man not remotely overawed by the venue? The refreshing change of upbeat guitar driven songs rather than talent show clones and thudding disco beats? Whatever the case, we left the show wondering whether it was too far fetched to think that we might have had our first experience of a new Bruce Springsteen. And eagerly awaiting his debut album.

It finally reached iTunes in October. It was well worth the wait. Only 8 songs, but shades of Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, even Bon Jovi. Not forgetting Springsteen, of course. And this was a debut album. Talk about future promise.

But he was performing in Nashville, you may say, at the home of country music. Doesn’t that make him a country artist? Well, he is labelled that way in the US. And there is no denying the occasional country twang on the album, even if banjos, fiddles and cries of Yee-Ha are pretty much conspicuous only by their absence. But if you put him on stage at a UK event such as V-Festival, lining up alongside rock bands, no one would be any the wiser – and many would be all the happier for having heard him.

So what’s in a label? Perhaps just this. If Frankie Ballard is tagged as a country artist for the UK music buying and concert attending public, he may struggle for recognition. But a subtle change of label to rock could ensure that when guitar driven music comes back into favour in the UK, there is a ready made audience for him.

I am mindful of a parallel with the theme and subject matter of Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt and its central character Alex Harris. In the UK his proper professional label is solicitor, not lawyer or attorney. But the label might not be immediately familiar to US readers. Indeed, as I recall from seeing the notice “No Solicitors Allowed” on the door of a Las Vegas casino many years ago, the term can be quite properly used there to describe a hawker or a beggar. So my cover description refers to his “law firm” and avoids what could be a misleading label.

And in the meantime let’s hope for the first UK tour of the new US rock
artist Frankie Ballard.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt: The Plaintiff Is Cross-Examined

Former star footballer turned charity organiser Jonjo Donnelly is in the witness box, undergoing cross-examination from Thomas Campbell QC on behalf of the Black Country Herald...

Once more Campbell let Donnelly’s uncomfortable silence answer the question before moving onto the details of the visit scheduled for the following day.

“So you only found out on the previous evening that the Suba-Mocanu Institute was in fact some form of isolation facility that could not receive visitors?”

“Yes, that's right.”

“What made you select this institute for a charity drop in the first place?” Campbell knew that he could not anticipate the answer to such a question, but was thinking well ahead in asking it. Donnelly paused for a little longer than usual.

“I'd asked for details of orphanages in need of aid supplies, within reasonable striking distance of Bucharest, so that I could draw up a shortlist. Er... The Romanian embassy in London gave me all the details.”

“Did it not occur to you to make sure that the intended recipients of your gifts were in a position to welcome their distributors in the normal way?”

“I assumed that if the embassy had given me the right information, everything would be in order. With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have been making a drop there.”

“You assumed again. You didn't make sure?”

Once more, only silence in reply. Behind counsels’ row, Holroyd leaned over in Alex's direction and made a whispered comment to the effect that he was not surprised that Donnelly had been reluctant to defend the mission’s organisation.

“So you decided, after hearing this news about Suba-Mocanu, that you would look after that delivery alone?”

“Yes, just me and my two personal assistants.”

“Was it not unusual, in the circumstances, to have made that journey without any of your drivers?” Campbell had thought a great deal about this aspect of the story in his preparation. While the underlying anomalies would provide scope for pointed questions upon the implications of finding this out, there was still something that did not add up about the entire account of that leg of the mission. However, he knew that there was no advantage in leading the judge and jury too far down the road of mere speculation.

“I thought about it. It was all on main roads, so I knew that I could keep the number of visitors to an absolute minimum without any real difficulty.”

“Could the Institute not have arranged to collect the supplies from the hotel, if they were that concerned about visitors?”

“Well, maybe they could, but they agreed to what I proposed.”

“And yet you did not tell the driver that you were going to go off with his lorry, in the small hours of the following morning?”

“We left him a note. By the time we found out about the problems with the Institute, it was too late to break the news.”

“Too late?” This even appeared to take Campbell by surprise for a moment, but he found a telling response. “You just told us that you had to call off a social evening for the group because of what you had found out. If that really was the case, surely you could have told the driver much earlier?”

Donnelly seemed to bite back the response that he had been about to make. Nervously, he flicked through the pages of his statement. From his vantage point, the judge seemed to be giving Donnelly a hard look. Campbell tried another prompt.

“Which way do you want it?”

After a period of silence more prolonged than any so far, Donnelly put the bundle of statements aside.

“I suppose I must have made a mistake.”

“A mistake. And what about the fact that the overland party were left at the hostel all morning, without any information as to what was going on?”

“I'm sure that I left a message explaining what would be happening that morning.”

“With whom did you leave the message?”

“Er... I can’t remember. As I’ve said, hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but we wouldn’t have arranged to go there if I’d known.”

Campbell took his point to have been adequately made and moved on...

So what was going on in Romania? And what made Donnelly take such offence at what was published in the newspaper? To find out, click here...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Van Halen, A Different Kind Of Truth - and the Salvation Army?

The debates about a rock band's best singer are unending. We can think of Ozzy vs Dio, Gillan vs Coverdale, Gabriel vs Collins - and let's not forget David Lee Roth vs Sammy Hagar, as Van Halen produce their first studio release for 14 years. For my own part, given that I would just as readily listen to 5150 and OU812 (Hagar) as VH1 and 1984 (Roth), I'm content to sidestep the comparisons. Here and now, any hesitancy as to whether this reunion was just a ploy from another set of past their best 70s/80s rockers was soon dispelled. A Different Kind Of Truth is a really good album.

So why the title? Well, it triggered a long forgotten memory from ancient RE lessons. "Blood and Fire", the fifth song on the album, is the motto of the Salvation Army. Well, fancy that. What scope might this provide for EVH to play Onward Christian Soldiers as an introduction to the song in similar fashion to Eruption, by fingertapping eight notes to each single note of the hymn?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

O Canada - Where Are Your Legal Thrillers?

A thought struck me last weekend. If Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt is available via the Kindle Direct pages on Amazon UK, USA, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, what about Amazon Canada? A quick search on amazon.ca revealed no sign of Kindle Direct whatsoever, and a general search for explanations on the KDP forums produced nothing easily understandable. Well, it could be just as easy to use the USA site, but I would not be at all surprised if this was rather annoying to the average Canadian e-book reader.

It left me with another mystery to solve. Are there any Canadian writers of legal thrillers? Another search today, and I had unearthed the name of Robert Rotenberg. This looked all the more promising when I had found out that his books “The Guilty Plea” and “Old City Hall” were based in Toronto, a city that I have never visited but certainly intend to see one day. Any self respecting Rush fan of over 30 years’ standing would surely want to do so.

One quick flick through the opening chapter of The Guilty Plea (thanks to the link on A Bookworm’s World) and I was convinced. It’s now on my Kindle ready for the next holiday in 5 weeks’ time. And the question comprising the theme of my thread had been answered.

What better way, in conclusion, to link the e-publishing boom and the ever expanding information superhighway that made it all possible for e-book authors - and indeed bloggers - than to invoke a Neil Peart lyrical excerpt from Virtuality, from Rush's 1996 Test For Echo album: -

Net boy, net girl
Send your signal round the world
Let your fingers walk and talk
And set you free
Net boy, net girl
Send your impulse round the world
Put your message in a modem
And throw it in the Cyber Sea

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt Now In Print: The Publishing Revolution

Here is the link to my Lulu Books print version. I am left in near amazement at how quickly Lulu managed to produce and despatch the initial proof copy after I had finally been given the green light on their website for the compatible upload of my typescript and cover.

Thinking back to a similar media revolution, the triumph of the CD over the vinyl album, this was something of a bloodless coup at the time. The greater expense of the CD brought with it a more reliable and less vulnerable product. The only notable downside was the greater inconvenience in reading lyrics and sleeve notes from the much smaller CD insert. OK, the record collection also found itself neglected, save where the bullet was duly bitten and the favourites upgraded to CD, but the later emergence of DIY CD conversion software - such as the subtly named RIP Vinyl - helped revive them.

Now we are looking at music downloads from the likes of iTunes as a challenge in their own right to the CD. With a virtual cover for the iPod, of course, even if we have to go online to read lyrics. Another drawback to progress.

Which leads me back to the reading revolution. Whereas CDs rendered vinyl albums obsolete despite being a more expensive product, ebooks have the scope to do the same to print books less expensively. Is the traditional comforting feel of a print book ever going to disappear altogether in favour of a Kindle version? I expect it will, but probably over a longer period than it took for the CD to kill off the vinyl album.

It would be interesting to extend this debate into VHS videos versus DVD, or even coins and banknotes versus debit cards. For the moment, let's just recognise that choice remains. Especially so far as books are concerned.