Tuesday 27 April 2021

Mansfield Park


Amazon were giving this away, so I took a copy. It's still in my library, but when I click on it to copy the blurb, I now get, 'We're really sorry, this product isn't available.' So, I'm not really sure what happened there. Here's the blurb from another copy:

Taken from the poverty of her parents' home in Portsmouth, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with her cousin Edmund as her sole ally. During her uncle's absence in Antigua, the Crawford's arrive in the neighbourhood bringing with them the glamour of London life and a reckless taste for flirtation. Mansfield Park is considered Jane Austen's first mature work and, with its quiet heroine and subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, one of her most profound.

I am not a massive Jane Austen aficionado. Like everybody, I do like Pride & Prejudice. Like many, I prefer the screen adaptation more than the book. Unlike many, I actually prefer the 2005 film to the 1995 TV series. I was 14 when the TV series came out and vividly remember my mum telling me to hush as I came into the living room just as the pond scene was about to take place. I did not understand it at the time, but came to in later life.

Other than that, I really don't know much Austen, which is shown by the fact I chose this one because I got it confused with Northanger Abbey. I really loved The Jane Austen Book Club, I mean, hugely so, and that made me want to read Northanger - but it quickly became apparent, this wasn't it.

And, on that total tangent, it was because Grigg read The Mysteries of Udolpho in The Jane Austen Book Club that I fell down the rabbit hole of Ann Radcliffe and picked up a copy of The Romance of the Forest. So, y'know, stuff leads to other stuff. 

Anyway, back to Mansfield Park.

Oh, no.

This one really wasn't for me.

Fanny Price and Edmund Bertrum just didn't seem to have anything about them that was interesting. I'm wondering whether the copy I received is an adaptation or unabridged, but either way - just no. A friend said it was a comedy, but I didn't laugh once. 

It didn't feel entirely developed. Henry Crawford seemed to go from being just a bit of a gadabout to being the worst kind of man in a couple of pages, doing a Wickham and running off with a married woman. Yet, I couldn't help thinking it was actually Crawford who dodged the bullet there. Fanny was just so boring.  Meanwhile, there's no reciprocal spark of romance from Edmund until five pages from the end when he suddenly declares his undying love. I mean, what now?

Bit of a snooze fest, sorry Austen. 

I loved P&P, the chemistry just sizzled through it, but this was a bit of a wet fish in comparison, and came right on the coat tails of the former's success. 

It's kind of put me off reading any more Austen.

[UPDATE: I feel slightly vindicated on this one, since apparently Austen's own mother called Fanny Price 'insipid'.]

Saturday 24 April 2021

Levenshulme Little Free Library

When COVID took over the world, my lovely friends Paul and Jeremy decided to set up a free library in their garden, in the  Mancunian suburb of Levenshulme. Paul is a writer and artist, who you might remember from booQfest, where Percy met Art Critic Panda.

In his own words (and art) this is how the library came about. Click on each image to enlarge:

We started it because we feel that books need to keep moving, in circulation, passed from hand to hand. I say this even as the world's worst hoarder and from inside a house heaving with books. But... in the summer last year we visited a new, local Free Library in Burnage - and just a few moments browsing some shelves that weren't mine - so deep into the pandemic and lockdown - well, it felt like bliss. I knew we had to help out creating a string of these LFL's across South Manchester. People need to be given books and they need to spend time with books. Just the act of rummaging and browsing and deciding what to read next feels very restorative and cheering, I think. And we love having the bookcase and the boxes outside our house. People stop by and they talk. Real people. I really do think books bring people together. - Paul Magrs
It's such a lovely idea and I would encourage anyone reading to consider starting a little local library of their own.

Monday 19 April 2021

Where to Find Cover Art for your Book


Here's a little bit of information on my favourite place to find cover art for your books.

Check out The Book Cover Designer and Ghostwood's article on how they made the cover for Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran.

Saturday 17 April 2021

Electronic Dreams



From the ancient world to the modern, I picked up a copy of Electronic Dreams: How 1980s Britain Learned to Love the Computer:

Remember the ZX Spectrum? Ever have a go at programming with its stretchy rubber keys? Did you marvel at the immense galaxies of Elite on the BBC Micro or lose yourself in the surreal caverns of Manic Miner on the ZX Spectrum? For anyone who was a kid in the 1980s, these iconic computer brands are the stuff of legend.

In Electronic Dreams, Tom Lean tells the story of how computers invaded British homes for the first time, as people set aside their worries of electronic brains and Big Brother and embraced the wonder technology of the 1980s. This book charts the history of the rise and fall of the home computer, the family of futuristic and quirky machines that took computing from the realm of science and science fiction to being a user-friendly domestic technology. It is a tale of unexpected consequences, when the machines that parents bought to help their kids with homework ended up giving birth to the video games industry, and of unrealized ambitions, like the ahead-of-its-time Prestel network that first put the British home online but failed to change the world. Ultimately, it's the story of the people who made the boom happen, the inventors and entrepreneurs, like Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar, seeking new markets, bedroom programmers and computer hackers and the millions of everyday folk who bought in to the electronic dream and let the computer into their lives. 

Really entertaining read and highly nostalgic. I spent many happy - and exhausting - hours wandering around Olympia with my dad as a kid, visiting the huge tech Expo they used to have there each year. I think one of my strongest memories was being captivated by the graphics on Kings Quest Seven and thrilled to go home with a copy.

Computers were such a huge part of my childhood. My dad was an early enthusiast, so I played Paddington Bear, Paperboy and other games on the ZX Spectrum - he still has a working one. My Uncle Clive was big into computers and had an early Mac. I remember spending hours playing Shufflepuck Café on that and being so disappointed that there wasn't a version for PC.

Before all that were the text-based games like Escape from Titanic, The Hobbit and that one where you played Denis Thatcher, trying to find a drink in 10 Downing Street without getting caught by Margaret. That game was actually mentioned in this book. Then, in my teens, discovering MUDs and losing myself in those for hours.

There were a couple of things I felt it missed out, which played a huge part in my experience of computers growing up. The first was the switch from CGA to VGA monitors. That had a massive impact on gaming. I remember playing Lemmings in magenta and cyan, then seeing it in full colour on a VGA. That was quite something. 

The other thing I was surprised didn't even get a mention was Fidonet. I ran up huge phone bills dialling international BBSs, such as Demon's Domain and Carnac, searching for the esoteric.

Just reading the book brought back so many memories of random games like Pipe Dreams, one where you used the mouse to shoot targets, and one with a cat called Niko who went from window to window. So many I remember playing but don't entirely remember the names of.

I bought dad a copy of this, and he loved the nostalgia too:

Just started but really well researched/written. Remember the Speccy (still have it) n was saving up for a Dragon when Amstrad hit the market 😊Also brought back memories of early Leicester making a bit of extra cash punching data cards to input into early academic puters. Loved the bit about the role of early Dr Who in demonising computers 👿😄

I've always credited a love of RPG games, such as Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, and early involvement in MUDs as being a key driving force in my own desire to write and create stories. Whereas I completely understand parental concerns over kids playing computer games for hours on end, I was like that, and I think I turned out okay. RPGs were great for teaching you problem-solving skills and introducing the entire concept of worldbuilding. MUDs were just amazing for that. When you saw people walking around and interacting with a room you'd built, it made you want to write better, and to imagine bigger things. 

I'm sort of bummed that I missed the really early days of BASIC and learning to code. I recently tried to find a decent Python course online, but it was dreadful. They basically took a programmer and sat him in front of a screen, explaining what he knew. There was no awareness of where beginners are starting from or how people learn. Apparently, it's rare to find a programmer - or a programming course designer - with experience of teaching. I've always had a passing interest in coding, but always felt I was too far behind to catch up. If a better course presents itself, I might give it a go, so please do drop suggested links below.

Anyway, really enjoyed this book. If you're British and grew up in the 80s and early 90s, you'll recognise a lot of what's in here, and hopefully it'll bring a smile to your face.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Akkad at 80k


The Great Ziggurat of Ur by Tony Caruana


Haven't done much writing lately because of work, but finally found some time to push Akkad over the 80k mark yesterday. Another 10k and it can respectably be called a novel, but I reckon it's going to be quite a bit longer than that. 

Anyway, here's a real roughshod excerpt. Apsu (baby Sargon), learns to fight in the Ebla-Mari conflict. Already King of Kish by 22, but a late bloomer on the battlefield. Good practise for the forthcoming showdown with Lugalzagesi.

Further upcountry, the fighting was fierce. Ibrium took the brunt of the Mari forces. Scores of his men were felled as they attempted to cross the Euphrates. Arrows and rocks rained down, and the Mari filled clay pots with burning tar and launched them with slingshots. Eblaites ran screaming and flailing, trying to put themselves out.

To the east, Apsu and Aba rode abreast with the mighty Astabil. He was quite a sight to behold. Whereas Ibrium was in the prime of life, skin taut over thick muscle, Astabil was what Ibrium might someday become. He was grizzled and broad shouldered, lips hidden beneath a beard of brittle grey. His face and arms were covered in scars, several of his teeth were missing, and he wore a bearskin over his armour that made him look twice his natural size. He wore a pointed helmet of red leather, trimmed with leopard skin and hawk feathers.

“One feather for every kill,” he said.

“That is a lot of feathers,” Aba observed.

“Aye, and this is my fifth hat.”

The first day, they marched to a village not far from the Mari border. The place was completely deserted, nothing more than a forgotten huddle of houses on a windy plain.

“The people here were tired of war,” Astabil explained. “First, they were Eblaites, then they were Mariotes, then Eblaites again, and so on. They changed direction so many times they forgot which way to walk. They got lost out there on those phantom-haunted steppes, and now this is a ghost village. Some nights, the wind rips through so strong you can still hear the screams of babes on the birthing bed. You stop and you listen, because you know those babes long-since grew to be men, and went to war, and never came home again. Yet here it was they first opened their eyes to the world. It is here they return to in death.”

They camped in that village for four days, allowing Ibrium to complete his journey north so that the assault could begin at the same time. During those four days, Astabil and his men tried to teach the newcomers about warfare. It began good-naturedly, in a teasing, cajoling sort of way.

“Hey, Kish boy,” one of them addressed Apsu, knowing full well he was a king. “How’d you get a throne without ever learning to fight?”

Apsu smiled and joked in return. The training had been light, almost a game. Then their faces hardened, and the blows grew heavy, and he understood that these were lessons that would keep them alive.

“Don’t you dare go playing the hero,” Astabil warned. “If I see you ahead of me in the charge, or if I tell you to stay put and turn to find you’ve moved, I will haul you out of there and kill you myself. A battle is never about one man. It may look like it’s every man for himself, but battle is about brotherhood. You fight for the man beside you,” he glanced from Apsu to Aba, “because you can be damned sure that he is fighting for you, so that you both get to go home to your wives and your lovers. You are not a single person out there, though you will never have felt more alone. Each action, each reaction, each breath that you take is on behalf of the whole. We move as one ferocious beast and we do not stop until we have devoured our prey. And I am the head of that beast. You take your orders from me, King of Kish. You do as I say, and we live. But should you be stupid enough to think for yourself, I will not slow down to save you. I have all of these men, all six thousand of them, to think of, and you are only one tooth in my jaw. Do you understand me?”

“I understand,” Apsu replied.

And he did understand. 

Saturday 10 April 2021

Gilgamesh Rolling Pin



Oh, this is delightful! You can now roll the Epic of Gilgamesh into your pastry in its original cuneiform. Shamelessly shared from this blog here. There's even a recipe for a gingerbread tablet.

Friday 9 April 2021



Shout out to my very cool cousin, Sali Bracewell (<---even her website is amazing).

Her album Kismet is out. You can find it on Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music and Bandcamp, as well as following her on Facebook and Instagram.

I was a bit fascinated with the track Mickey Plum, and she explained it's an old Lancashire poem her paternal grandmother, Olive, used to recite. She managed to record her before she passed and added her to the album in remembrance. I just thought it was so unusual and good.

Show some love and support artists through lockdown x

Monday 5 April 2021

Go Go Disco Janet!


Thanks to Netflix, I finally got to see the final series of The Good Place last night. Like most people, I was crawling on the floor by the end. Kudos to a series that knows when to end, and went out in incredible style. That really was quite a ride.

There's been a few series lately that have appeared deceptively funny then turned out to be forking profound. My top three have been:


Hotel Del Luna

This is similar to The Good Place, in that there are moments of extreme silliness and it's deceptively comical at times. However, it's much darker and the episodes, at around an hour and a half, are much longer. 

It's all about a hotel where souls go when they die, to recover from life before heading on to reincarnation. It's run by a woman who cannot die because she's got a few issues to work through before she can let go of her former life.

As with TGP, you really get to know and care about the characters, which leads up to a hell of a finale. Make sure you have a cupboard full of tissues and a generous quantity of gin.

More about Korean soaps here.


The Good Place

Just brilliant. A very silly, very light-hearted look at mortality and morality in short, bite-sized episodes. Extremely easy to binge watch. Having said that, it poses some great philosophical dilemmas and leads up to a final series that is both heartbreaking and wonderfully fulfilling. As someone online put it, 'one of the most wholesome series out there.' 

It's about a group of people who wake up dead in the afterlife and think they're in heaven, or 'the good place.' But that's not entirely true, and they have some entertaining adventures working that out. 

It's easy to dismiss it at first because it is so glossy and upbeat, but that's how it pulls you in. It's best to watch it in one go. I found, with long gaps between releases, that it was hard to remember what had happened in the previous season by the time the next one came out.

As mentioned above, it had a really satisfying ending. It didn't do a Dexter or anything silly like that. Which is my only criticism with Hotel Del Luna, which also had an excellent finale, but then couldn't resist adding a little teaser trailer on the end for a potential next series that, thankfully, hasn't materialised. When a series is so good, you should leave it there. Immortalise it - which is a funny thing to say about a series dealing entirely with mortality.

TGP did a great job all round. We love you Disco Janet!

 After Life

This one is a slightly different fish to the other two, in that it's written and acted by a comedian, Ricky Gervais, but isn't all that funny. Or, rather, it's funny in a British way, which is my native humour, so I appreciate it, but I can see how it might come across as a bit bleak to other cultures. It's more of a serious drama with moments of comedy, rather than the other way around.

Still, it's absolutely excellent. Again, dealing with death and morality. Whereas Hotel Del Luna is about reincarnation, and The Good Place is a bit more Judeo-Christian in its outlook, in terms of heaven and hell, this one is from the atheist perspective. 

It's about a guy who's just lost the love of his life to cancer, and how he copes (or doesn't) with life after her death. It's very well done. It's the calm to TGP's crazy.

So, there you go. My top picks on the theme of life, death and in between.

Saturday 3 April 2021

Andy Mwag


This is the latest video by my lovely friend Andy Mwag. He's a really talented musician, and used to play each week here in Kigali. Seriously, the best live music in the city, often with guest appearances from amazing DRC and Burundian musicians. Me and my friend Harris had some brilliant nights out with the Viva Beats crew. 


Sadly, when COVID hit, it completely wiped out the live music scene in Kigali. As a gigging musician, Andy couldn't make enough to support his wife and two young kids, so they had to move back to their home country of Burundi, which required special permission from their embassy as all the borders were closed. It was a really sad day to see them go, and my friend Emmy drove them to the checkpoint.

At the Border between Rwanda and Burundi