Saturday, 27 February 2021

Sargon

Artwork from Legend of Monsters

 

It's surprisingly hard to find decent artwork of long-dead ancient Akkadian kings, so this'll do. 

Well... things are happening. I've just hit 70k on Akkad, after removing the prologue and renaming the entire manuscript after Sargon rather than Enheduanna. 

This is me accepting that it will definitely be two books.

At the moment, Sargon's just turned twenty, already King of Kish and married to Lugal Zage-Si's niece. He's on his way north to assist the Eblites against the Mari, after they helped him gain his throne. He's not yet the wizened old one-eyed bust below, but a young man making a name for himself in the world, driven by grief and rage.

 


So, things are going well.

I wasn't that into Sargon when I started out, he was only supposed to be the first couple of chapters, but I've really fallen for him since. There's no way I could have written him and his daughter in the same book whilst doing them both justice. I'm looking forward to Enheduanna, but I'm not in a rush. I want to finish what I've started here.

My friend Leif at the The University of Göttingen has been utterly invaluable. I'm so lucky to have someone who is completely immersed in the history of ancient Sumer to help me out, offer up resources and check my mistakes. It's very hard to piece together that time period because so few records remain intact. I've taken a massive dose of artistic license, but the bits that are known need to remain so, and there needs to be a thread of authenticity throughout this adventure. 

It's tough. Sargon was larger than life. The first man ever to found an empire. Although, the more I read, the more I kind of feel like his predecessor, Zage-Si, probably should hold that title. He started out a lowly orphan - if you believe his version - to become ruler of the known world, and father to the first known author in history. 

There's a lot to get in there.  

Meanwhile, here's an entertaining musical interlude based on The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first great work of literature, from the same region and close to the same era.


Friday, 26 February 2021

Polari


For some reason, you can only watch this video directly on YouTube.

 

I said I'd make a separate post on Polari after reading Elton John's biography. I find secret languages fascinating, such as Nushu, which is a Chinese language only for women. Polari is a language for gay men. You can find more information here and there's even an app to help you learn it.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Blood on Satan's Claw


 

Picked this up as I liked the cover.

Gold Winner for Best Drama Special at the 2018 New York Festivals® International Radio Awards.

Seventeenth-century England, and a plough uncovers a grisly skull in the furrows of a farmer's field. The skull disappears, but its malefic influence begins to work in insidious ways upon the nearby village of Hexbridge. First, the cows stop milking and the fruit turns rotten on the trees. Then, an insolent ungodliness takes hold of the local children, mysterious fur patches appear on limbs and people start disappearing....

Something evil is stirring in the woods. Something that is corrupting the village youth, who retreat to the woodland deeps to play their pernicious games. Hysteria spreads as it becomes clear that the devil has come to Hexbridge, to incarnate himself on earth. Can the villagers, led by the Squire Middleton and Reverend Fallowfield, prevent the devil gaining human form?

Hmm.

Not that much to say about this one.

Apparently, it was originally a British horror film from 1971. Linda Hayden played Angel in the original cast, and also has a part in this version. You can find the full film online here.

As an audio adaptation, it started out well, but kind of ended up as a load of people trudging through the woods screaming. There was a lot of screaming. It kind of took the suspense out of it. What you'd expect a 1970s horror film to sound like if it was an audiobook. 

So, yeah. 

Very nice cover, though.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Happy Birthday To Me

 

I had a lovely day yesterday. 

Turned 40.

My mum colluded with my friends in Kigali to arrange a special treat. I was only planning to have a quiet day with my friend Jo, sitting in her garden, drinking wine. She said she'd pick me up at 11 a.m. to go to hers, and grab lunch on the way. Only, we ended up at a beauty parlor for manis and pedis instead, joined by close friends, all drinking coffee and eating cupcakes.

Lovely friends, Chantal, Solvejg, Jo & Zuba
Also organised by Maia, who is in Spain at the moment.


Then it was home to Jo's place for lots of bubbly and a yummy take-out from one of my faovurite restaurants.

It was such a lovely day.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Me

 

The last read of my 30s. Going out in style:

In his first and only official autobiography, music icon Elton John reveals the truth about his extraordinary life, from his rollercoaster lifestyle as shown in the film Rocketman, to becoming a living legend.

Christened Reginald Dwight, he was a shy boy with Buddy Holly glasses who grew up in the London suburb of Pinner and dreamed of becoming a pop star. By the age of twenty-three he was performing his first gig in America, facing an astonished audience in his bright yellow dungarees, a star-spangled T-shirt, and boots with wings. Elton John had arrived and the music world would never be the same again.

His life has been full of drama, from the early rejection of his work with song-writing partner Bernie Taupin to spinning out of control as a chart-topping superstar; from half-heartedly trying to drown himself in his LA swimming pool to disco-dancing with Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth; from friendships with John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, and George Michael to setting up his AIDS Foundation to conquering Broadway with Aida, The Lion King, and Billy Elliot the Musical. All the while Elton was hiding a drug addiction that would grip him for over a decade.

In Me, Elton also writes powerfully about getting clean and changing his life, about finding love with David Furnish and becoming a father. In a voice that is warm, humble, and open, this is Elton on his music and his relationships, his passions and his mistakes. This is a story that will stay with you by a living legend.

This was just brilliant. Loved it.

I recently watched Rocketman. It was directed by Dexter Fletcher (anyone who knows my love of Press Gang will appreciate that one), and starred Taron Egerton, who I loved in Eddie the Eagle (also directed by Dexter Fletcher). I thought it was good. Taron was amazing as Elton, and it's always nice to see Richard Madden. I think it's probably one of those films that's better seen on a big screen. The flamboyance didn't really transfer to Netflix and my little laptop. 

But this biography managed to be far larger than life and kind of down-to-earth all at the same time. It managed to fit in everything the film couldn't, all the people you were curious about (Lennon, Diana, David), as well as a history lesson in music. I always go and look up things I don't know about in books, and I managed to Google:  Lady Samantha, Plastic Penny, Delaney & Bonnie, Leon Russell, The Band, Honeybee, I'll Always Love My Mama, and Slattery's Mounted Fut (the Queen Mother's favourite song!). I also went to look up Polari, which fascinated me so much I'll do a separate post on that. 

Taron Egerton also reads the audiobook, with Elton John reading the beginning and the end. They do it really well.

There was a lot of humour in there:

While plenty of musicians will tell you that Buddy Holly had a massive impact on their lives, I am probably the only musician who can say that he inadvertently stopped me wanking. 

*

I couldn't imagine why Dick thought this was a good idea, unless he'd secretly taken out a life insurance policy on Bernie and was hoping to make a swift financial return by getting him killed on stage. American rock audiences in the early seventies were many things, but prepared to listen to a man read poems about his Lincolnshire boyhood for forty-five minutes wasn't one of them, however wonderful said poems were. 


And plenty of poignancy:

Sometimes you have to look at the hand you've been dealt and throw in the cards.

*

I go from nought to nuclear in seconds, and then always calm down just as quickly. My temper was obviously inherited from my mum and dad, but I honestly think that somewhere within them, every creative artist, whether they're a painter, a theatre director, an actor or musician, has the ability to behave in a completely unreasonable way. It's like the dark side of being creative. Certainly, virtually every other artist I had become friends with seemed to have that aspect to their character, too.

*

Even so, I still think a world in which artists are coached not to say anything that might upset anyone and are presented as perfect figures is boring. Furthermore, it's a lie. Artists aren't perfect. No one is perfect. That's why I hate whitewashed documentaries about rock stars where everyone's telling you what a wonderful person they are. Most rock stars can be horrible sometimes.


I admired his way of thinking about trying to build bridges with people he disagrees with rather than cut them off. I'm not sure I could be quite as generous. He played for Rush Limbaugh's wedding in 2010 and received a lot of criticism. But, he went on to say, 'I can assure you, as a wedding singer, I don't come cheap,' and handed all of the money over to his charity, thus turning a right-wing wedding into a fundraiser for HIV/AIDs. 

I couldn't help wondering what would happen if you put Elton John's mum and Alan Cummings's dad in a room together. I have a horrible feeling they would have got on.

It was just a really good book. 

I'm off to watch Rocketman again. I think it will mean more after reading his autobiography.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Gypsy Boy on the Run

 


I bought this immediately after finishing his first autobiography, Gypsy Boy

GYPSY BOY: ON THE RUN picks up from where GYPSY BOY left off, and tells the gripping, page-turning story of Mikey's battle to escape the Romany gypsy camp he grew up on.

After centuries of persecution Gypsies are wary of outsiders and if you choose to leave, you can never come back. Torn between his family and his heart, Mikey struggles to come to terms with his ancient inheritance and dreams of finding a place where he can really belong.

He eventually finds the courage to run away from the camp and from all he knows, and quickly discovers life on the outside world isn't all he expected. After learning his father had put a contract out on his life and that he was now being hunted down by gangs of gypsy thugs determined to claim their reward, Mikey realises that his life will never be the same again.

ON THE RUN is a coming-of-age story that sees Mikey come to terms with his sexuality and his past and start to build a new life for himself and find a place to finally call home.

The first book was absolutely brilliant, which is why I picked this up straight after.

It wasn't bad, but there was a huge amount of repetition from the first book. At times it felt like it was just the first book but watered down. There were sections that were new, going into more depth about his relationship with the guy he ran away with, and getting into drama school. I can see why a follow-up was necessary, because none of that fitted into the first book, but having to recap previous stories for anyone who hadn't read the first book slowed it down a lot. 

There was one particular scene at a department store in Leeds where he was horrendously treated by both the department store and the police - falsely accused of shoplifting. He described the feeling and I wholly felt for him as I was falsely accused of shoplifting once, too. I was backpacking with a friend around Australia. We'd been into Target the day before and I'd bought a hat. I went back the next day to look at the clothes again but decided there wasn't anything I liked enough to buy. Not thinking about it at all, I went to leave the shop and they stopped me because I was wearing the hat from yesterday. I hadn't got the receipt on me but I told them to check their CCTV - I hadn't touched anything in the shop. I'd been a foot away from everything, just looking. I think they heard my English accent and decided it wasn't worth arguing, but told me not to come back to the store! No worries - I did not, and never will, spend another penny in Target as long as I live. I was only about 23 at the time, with no idea of my rights or what to do. It was humiliating and uncalled for. So, I knew exactly how he felt. But the way they treated him - strip searched, held even when they found nothing - it was disgusting.   

Still, there's a little humour in there:

Around once an hour, you heard the tumble of pins, confirmation that there was actually someone in the building doing something. In the diner, we had a few mocked-up 50s-style booths and a wide open space of ripped carpet where a play centre for toddlers used to stand before it became more of a danger zone than a play area.

Glad I read the sequel, but if you haven't read the first one, definitely start there.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

The Dark

 

I was so in the mood for this:

A blackness leaves its lair, and begins slowly to spread.

It came like a malignant shadow with seductive promises of power. Somewhere in the night, a small girl smiled as her mother burned, asylum inmates slaughtered their attendants, and in slimy tunnels once-human creatures gathered. Madness raged as the lights began to fade, and humanity was attacked by an ancient, unstoppable evil.

Every now an then, some old school 80s horror is exactly what you crave.

When I was in my teens, I used to travel from Northants to London every other weekend to go see my dad. It involved an underground change between Euston and Victoria. There was a magazine shop at Euston where I'd pick up a copy of Fortean Times, and I'd always have a book with me. 

I first tried to read It when I was visiting mum's friend in Germany as a kid, but it was a bit lost on me and I never made it far beyond the first chapter. In high school, me and all my female friends were into Point Horror, which we swapped between us each week. By my early teens I'd worked my way back up to adult horror, and me and dad bonded over gruesome classics. We used to go to Blockbuster and he'd let me choose. I think Pet Sematary was the first book-to-film adaptation I ever saw. 

The only book I think I never finished was Nemesis by Shaun Hutson. I got to the part where someone electrocutes themselves on the central rail of the underground - whilst I was standing in Euston Station underground, staring at the central rail. I think I pressed on, but not much further. 

My parents knew author Ian Watson  through the Labour party, and at a BBQ at his place one day he told us how he'd been at a writer's conference with Sean Hutson once and how, instead of hitting the booze, he'd ordered a weak cup of tea. Sort of amusing for a legend of horror.

Anyway, I developed a bit of an obsession with James Herbert's Haunted. I just absolutely loved that book so much. One of the best haunted house stories ever. 

They made a film out of it in 1995 with Kate Beckinsale as Christina and Aidan Quinn playing David Ash. It felt like an interminable wait for it to come out on VHS. Aiden Quinn did a good job, and Kate Beckinsale is great in everything she does (especially Shooting Fish), but the book just didn't really translate to the screen very well. 

It's very hard to please horror fans. Netflix keeps trying and falling flat. It's really hard to spook people out more than their own imaginations can. I remember watching Midnight Meat Train with dad and both just sitting there with appreciative nods as that commuter's eye pops out of his head. Very decent blend of special effects and CGI. But mostly it's hard to get that psychological thrill from film. Every now and then it works, but not often. 

I hadn't read proper old school horror in a really long time and I just fancied it. 

Herbert just has a lovely mixture of poignant and humour:

"Okay, I shouldn't be flippant. I agree, a man cutting his sleeping wife's throat with an electric hedge trimmer, then cutting the legs off his dog, isn't a joke. Running out of cable before he could attack the two policemen outside is mildly funny, though."

*

That's one of the nice things about old age. You have less of a future to worry about.

*

He had discovered his own original sin and decided it wasn't as evil as the Church had always taught him. Satan has now become a source of ridicule, or entertainment, even, a comical myth, a bogeyman, and evil came from man alone. 

*

[He] was an astonishing man, you see. His very wickedness made him attractive. Do you understand that, Chris? How a malignant thing can be attractive?... I found him fascinating. At first I didn't see the deepness of his corruption, the depravity that was not just part of him, but was him. His very being.


As with most of the best horror, this plays on a really simple, primal concept: fear of the dark. That sense that the dark is alive, sentient and malevolent.

The genius of this is, Herbert simply hops from house to house, describing every conceivable manor of gruesome execution. The context is simply: everyone's gone mad. There is an absolute bloodbath of a mass suicide at the beginning. I think the most graphic image is one of a woman straddling a shotgun that goes off. Then there's Animal, who manages to electrocute 600 people at a football stadium, and the obligatory scene in a mental hospital where all the inmates escape and the place burns down.

It is so old school. Every trope in the book.

I loved it.

And I also lamented, as I was listening, that horror like that has maybe seen its day?

Accepting the masters: King, Hutson, Herbert... could a newcomer find a publisher for that nowadays? 

The thing that struck me was that it doesn't work in today's world - not the same as it did when I was a kid. I was checking my phone during the story, I put it down to answer a text message, I took a break to play online scrabble. 

Horror works best when you're alone. When it's just you and a book. These kind of stories held such clout back in the pre-internet, pre-mobile phone age. They feel less scary now that we're never alone. Now that there's always a distraction. How can darkness compete with the blue glow of a phone screen?

Or maybe it's just that I'm older, and very little scares me anymore, because I've watched it all, and read it all, before?

I definitely felt like I was reading it in the wrong time period. Almost like a classic work feels as though it's transporting you to the time in which it should have been read.

I don't know. I wonder what the future of horror will be.

Anyway, it was a lovely, nostalgic experience.