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JE SUIS TOUJOURS CHARLIE

JE SUIS TOUJOURS CHARLIE
date: 04 September 2016 at 10:52:32 - 0 comments

There’s a revolt going on in Italy.

Nobody likes the latest target of Charlie Hebdo.

Italians are outraged by cartoons which focus on last week’s earthquake victims.

The cartoons are nasty. There’s no kinder word for them. Almost three hundred people died when an earthquake struck small towns and villages in central Italy on 24th August at 3.30 in the morning. Many people were crushed and died as buildings collapsed on their heads. Charlie Hebdo described the blood as ‘tomato sauce,’ the compacted buildings dangling arms, heads and legs as ‘lasagne.’

While this may appeal to the French sense of humour (earthquakes are almost unknown in France), it did not go down well in Italy, which is earthquake-prone from the alps in the north to Sicily in the south. Even the French must appreciate that the destruction of Pompeii was no laughing matter, and similar things happen in Italy every ten or twenty years.

Summing up, Charlie Hebdo would do well to admit that it made a mistake by targeting the victims...

That was why we all stood by Charlie Hebdo.

Whether we liked the French or not, whether we read or didn’t read Charlie Hebdo, whether we thought the cartoon attack on Muslims and their beliefs was justified or not in the name of free speech, we all stood up and said: Je suis Charlie!

The key words is victims...

The staff of Charlie Hebdo were victims of terrorism.

The people of central Italy are victims of a natural disaster.

Charlie Hebdo provoked the terrorists, but the Italian victims provoked no-one.

And yet – Charlie Hebdo, the people of Paris, Nice, Munich, and the people who died in the earthquake are all victims...       

In a second cartoon published on the Charlie Hebdo website, they explained that the real object of the attack was the ‘Mafia’ – Charlie Hebdo didn’t make the buildings collapse, they said, the Mafia did...

While there may be an element of truth in this – money had been provided for the reinforcing of vulnerable buildings, and public utilities, such as the schools and hospitals, and it had either not been spent well, or it had been channelled into other projects – the fact remains that the victims were victims (of corruption, bureaucracy, the Mafia, call it by whichever name  you like), and it is cruel to laugh at the plight of the victim.

Nobody laughed when the staff of Charlie Hebdo were massacred.

Except the terrorists, of course...

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THE GOOD SIDE OF BAD REVIEWS ON GOODREADS

THE GOOD SIDE OF BAD REVIEWS ON GOODREADS
date: 18 August 2016 at 12:04:44 - 0 comments

Are you a writer?

If you are, you probably have a sensitive soul.

And sooner or later, you’ll come across a Goodreads review.

Some of them are good, though most of them are bad. Not just negative, but bad. That’s true in our case, anyway. It’s best to stay away from Goodreads until you’ve published three or five, or more books. At that point, the nasty comments don’t sting so much, and you may even feel like laughing. 

But let’s get down to what it means to get a bad review on Goodreads.

Evidently, it means very little, as people continue to read your books for a million other reasons – curiosity about the story, the setting, or the characters. The fact that some Goodreads reporter feels the need to pour vitriol on the poor writer probably amounts to little more than this: they bought (or worse, they borrowed) your book, they didn’t like it, and they resent the waste of their time and/or money.

I often feel that way myself after finishing, or not finishing, a novel I have bought. But I don’t rush off to Goodreads with my unhappiness or lack of satisfaction. A crueller punishment is to set the book aside and forget about it. Sometimes, I even give the author a second chance. He or she may have written other books which are worth reading.

So who are the nasty reviewers on Goodreads?

I can only speak for myself, of course, and I only make this point because I found it instructive. This morning, while looking for something else, I came across a Goodreads reference to our first novel, Critique of Criminal Reason, which was published ten years ago in 2006. I have been a signed-up member of Goodreads for years, but I never post on the site, and simply cancel all the notifications which regularly drop into my mailbox. Critique of Criminal Reason has now amassed 97 reviews and 674 views...

Here’s the comment I read:

One star

I have become increasingly skeptical towards books that have famous people from the past as characters, but I thought I could give this one a chance: what a waste of money...

Fair enough, I say. If you are only interested in ‘famous people from the past,’ then this novel may not have been what you were looking for. The ‘famous person’ who appeared in our first historical crime novel was the Prussian philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Maybe the reader wasn’t prepared for a Prussian philosopher. In any case, Kant dies in the first book of a series of four, and while there are fleeting references to Kant in the three later novels, he is not a major character.

Thanks for ‘giving us a chance...’

However, one chance was not enough, it seems. One of the things I like about Goodreads is that it encourages people to read. One of the things I dislike about the website is that it encourages people to judge what they have read (and, perhaps, not understood) and to make sweeping statements based on their own prejudices, i.e., ‘I have become increasingly skeptical (sic)...’ Well, I mean to say, why punish me because you have lost faith in something?  

The fatal ‘One Star...’

To be honest, if I hate a book, I give it no stars. That is, I don’t even mention to my real friends that I have read it. And what are the five stars for, in any case? One for the prose, another for the story, a third for the characters, another one for snappy dialogue, and number five to say, hey, wow, I really loved that one?

The fact that an editor published the book suggests that the writing is passable, that the story is engaging, the characters are intriguing, and that, overall, the publisher was happy to lay out his hard-earned cash and invest in the novel. 

If someone slags your novel, don’t get worked up about it.

The truth is, they are jealous that your publisher gave you five stars.

‘What a waste of money...’

This comment makes me chuckle. All the way to the bank, as Liberace is reputed to have said. More humbly, I wonder what the Goodreads reader would have wasted his money on, if he hadn’t wasted it on me.

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THE JOYS OF THE MID-LIST AUTHOR

THE JOYS OF THE MID-LIST AUTHOR
date: 12 August 2016 at 10:16:07 - 0 comments

This blog was prompted by a question from someone I hadn’t seen in many years: are you still writing? 

The answer, of course, is yes.

I mean to say, once you become a full-time writer there’s no going back.

But there is a deeper question lurking there. What my old pal really meant was this: are you still being published?

It set me thinking about where I am, and where I want to be, and, as a result, I decided to extol the joys of being a mid-list author. Extol means to praise, as everyone knows, but I also like the idea that it might mean to be free of tolls.

A mid-list writer is a bit like one of those nags that make up a horse race. It always manages to cross the finishing-line, but it never quite makes it into the first three. The mid-list writer’s name always appears on a publisher’s list, but never at the top...

So, here are the joys:

  1. Happy memories: you have once been at the top, you’ve had your five minutes of fame, which means that you have a name which still means something to your publisher, and to enough readers with long enough memories, or a passion for the sort of book that you once happened to have written.
  2. Time to relax: having been ‘at the top’ you know what pressure means. Writing a first-rate, top-class, well-researched historical crime novel every twelve months is not for the weak hearted. We did four in a successful series in five years, and that, honestly, was more than enough. We loved them, we enjoyed the thrill of banging them out, but by the time you get to number five, you start to ask yourself (ourselves, in our case, as my wife, Daniela, and I write together as Michael Gregorio): Is this what I/you/we want to do for the rest of my/your/our lives? Can you imagine being Dan Brown, Ms Rowling (what’s her first name?), James Patterson (is that the correct spelling?), or Stephen King, unable to sit down comfortably on the loo without a pen and a notebook in hand in case they missing a fleeting idea for a blockbuster novel?
  3. Time to have fun: you’ve written the ‘heavy’ stuff, so now you can write whatever the hell you feel like writing, and somebody somewhere will buy it, thus enabling you to sit down and write some more of the same. It’s a wonderful feeling! You can experiment, move into areas of language, plot and characterisation that are not restricted by the awful necessity to be Dan Brown, Ms Rowling, Jimmy Patterson, Stephen King, or Michael Gregorio. We are busy writing the third of a series of novels featuring the ’ndrangheta, the ferocious mafia from Calabria in southern Italy which supplies the coke that’s killing kids in Kidlington (and every other town in Europe, for that matter).   
  4. You get invited/commissioned to write things. This may sound like a drag, but I love it. An editor gets in touch, and says, “I want to do a collection of stories about....,” and asks if you would like to participate. It’s a bit like being invited to tea by HRH, the Queen. You say yes immediately, and then you set about inventing the story. We have been lucky enough to write about Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, an Italian female serial killer named Leonarda Cianculli, the Amazon rain forest, an Italian Renaissance painter, and much, much more. They are subjects that I would never have dared to touch. They aren’t long enough for a novel, but as one-off, short term, fun projects, such invitations have provided me/us with immense satisfaction. Dan Brown, Ms Rowling, James Patterson, and Stephen King don’t get invited to take part in such editorial enterprises – they are too busy making money for the mega-publishers.
  5. You find yourself in unknown territory... Now, doesn’t that sound intriguing? Talk about an adventure! It happened to us quite recently. I can’t go into all the details, but this is the gist of it. You meet a talented artist and illustrator. Surprise, surprise, he has read one of your books! All of them, in fact, and he loves them. He now has a burning desire to turn them into graphic novels. Would you be interested? Of course you would! Would you be happy to collaborate on the storyline, and write new stories? Happier than happy! And, yippee, he has a publisher who is interested...

Do you want to be a bestselling author? (Answer yes/no within 10 seconds)

Would you prefer to be a mid-list author? (Take your time, you can answer the question tomorrow, or maybe not at all).

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THE POMEGRANATE

THE POMEGRANATE
date: 06 July 2016 at 09:49:00 - 0 comments

Let me tell you a story that didn’t happen.

I repeat: this story did not happen.

Maybe it’s all for the best that it didn’t happen, but it could have happened...

 

Perugia has a population of 150, 000 people.

It has two universities, one of which caters specifically for foreigners.

Ten years ago, there were 35,000 students in Perugia, though the number has been falling steadily to the present 20,000 estimate. 

It’s a pleasant town with a lively cultural scene. There’s plenty to do, lots of trendy places to meet. Everywhere you hear foreign voices, which strikes a strange note in a region like Umbria which is so essentially Italian. The main drag, Corso Vannucci, is crowded with young people. They sit in the bars and cafes, and on the stone steps of the cathedral, or Palazzo dei Priori which houses a fine collection of Umbrian and Renaissance art, keeping an eye on the talent. Perugia makes you think of every university town you’ve ever been to – students study some, and socialize some more. Life is one long party, and sometimes they drink. Or get high. Getting high is higher on the agenda these days, but having a drink or three helps.

Let’s just say there are a lot of pushers in Perugia.

And where there are pushers, there are customers.

So, one day – and this is a story that really did happen – an Italian boy, an American girl, an adopted boy who came originally from the Ivory Coast, and an English girl were thrown together in Perugia by the forces of fate, and the outcome was that the English girl was raped and murdered. The other three students were imprisoned and tried, and, after ‘great trials and tribulations,’ two of them were eventually found not guilty and they were released.

The boy from the Ivory Coast, Rudy Guede, remained in prison because he confessed to being present (and DNA evidence tied him to the scene of the crime). He was high that night, he said, his memory of events was uncertain. He may have been advised to confess by his lawyers. By doing so, he was given a shortened sentence. Last month, nine years into his sixteen-year sentence, Rudy was granted a 36-hour parole from prison, where his behaviour has been described as exemplary. On the 26th June, he walked out of prison, intending to buy, as I read this morning, a ‘chessboard, a bottle of perfume and a pomegranate’ before he goes back to serve the remainder of his sentence.

 

Rudy’s statement was odd – a pomegranate?

His sentence was even odder. He was found guilty of murder and sexual violence in ‘the company of others.’ Who the ‘others’ may be has never been determined, but that’s the Italian justice system. Rudy is serving time for a crime committed in his presence by others who have never been identified...

 

By a strange coincidence, the other boy in the case, the Italian who was declared innocent after five trials (having been found guilty the first time), was spotted in the centre of Perugia the other day. He was in Corso Vannucci, mingling with the students, Italian and foreign, in the company of The Pills, a group of comedians who run a Facebook page. The Pills wanted to take a ‘selfie’ with Raffaele Sollecito in the town where he was convicted, and then absolved, of the murder of an English girl named Meredith Kercher.

 

I imagined Rudy Guede walking out of jail to buy that pomegranate, and meeting Raffaele Sollecito...

What would have happened in this story that didn’t happen?

 

In dreams, the pomegranate symbolizes a rift between rationality and imprudent behaviour.

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“If you’re young and angry about the EU referendum, you’re right to be.”

“If you’re young and angry about the EU referendum, you’re right to be.”
date: 25 June 2016 at 10:31:44 - 0 comments

 The Guardian is well known for its daft ‘analyses’ of political events, but Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (24th June) takes the idiocy one step further.

“Older voters got their way,” she complains after the Brexit vote. Then she quotes a naïve comment from the Financial Times website: “The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 countries. We will never know the full extent of lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away (?) by our parents, uncles and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of its predecessors.”

This is sentimental claptrap.

There is no generational conspiracy to deprive the young of anything.

Indeed, rather than belittling the democratic lessons that might be learnt from the results of the Brexit referendum, Ms. Cosslett, siding with the deluded “us,” as she identifies herself and others, preaches a bland moral: take no notice, kids, you were right.

The truth is that the older generation have been contributing to European funding for 40 years. EC money comes out of the taxpayers’ pocket. The older generation has been paying for the Erasmus programmes, the foreign research and study exchange programmes, the costs of university tuition, the travel, lodging and accommodation expenses. That money could have been spent on the poor, the underprivileged, the unemployed. Instead, we’ve been financing a redundant European parliament in Brussels and its monthly weekend break in Strasburg (at a cost of only €7 million per trip) for far too long. That money could have been used to combat social injustice, instead of being frittered away by a band of complacent Eurocrats.  

“There’s no point going into my own feelings,” Ms. Cosslett says. “I made that mistake after the general election and was mocked by right-wingers... If you are young and experiencing feelings of fury and heartbreak about the result, you are justified in doing so... This is one of those momentous turning points in our personal timelines; if you’re pissed off, you are right to be.”

This is riding the bucking bronco of rampant populism.

Why were Cosslett, the Guardian and the young not ‘pissed off’ before?

If the young want to influence policy, change the future, alter the balance, they can do one of two things: a) work within the political framework to change and improve it, or b) they can write silly blog articles for The Guardian.

 

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