Thursday, 30 April 2009

Doctor Syn and Russell Thorndike

As you walk up Mill Road in Dymchurch, Kent and just before you reach Doctor Syn's Guesthouse you come across a pair of semi-detached cottages the first of which is the house where Russell Thorndike lived.
Arthur Russell Thorndike was born in Rochester, Kent in 1885 and became a British actor and novellist. He was the brother of Dame Sybil Thorndike with whom he appeared on stage several times.
1915 was to see the publication of his first novel 'Doctor Syn'. The novel centred around the mild mannered Vicar of Dymchurch, Christopher Syn - a Doctor of Divinity - who is concerned with the sudden arrival of the Excise men hunting the 'Marsh Men' a bunch of smugglers that ply their trade on Romney Marshes. With them they bring a mulatto, a man who can identify a former notorious pirate known as Captain Clegg who, it was thought, had been hanged at Hythe just years earlier.
It is not long before the reader discovers that the vicar is that very pirate and that he is also the notorious Scarecrow the leader of the smugglers. The Scarecrow rides a black horse named Gehenna that is kept in an underground stable on the Marshes.
During the first world war Russell Thorndike was wounded at Gallipoli and discharged from the Army. Despite his spinal injuries he returned to the stage where he rejoined his sister at the Old Vic. In 1922 he was praised in the first professional performance in Henrik Ibsen's ' Peer Gynt' and for the silent film version of 'MacBeth' with Dame Sybil as Lady MacBeth.
He, also, played the part of his creation Doctor Syn in a stage production of the book.
Writing, it seems, gave him a lot of pleasure for in 1924 he wrote a play called 'The Tragedy of Mister Punch: A Fantastic Play In Prologue And One Act'.
In 1927 Russell Thorndyke returned to writing books amongst which were six prequals to the original Doctor Syn novel. These were:
Doctor Syn On The High Seas (1935) a swash buckling adventure that recounts how Christopher Syn became the notorious pirate, Captain Clegg.
Doctor Syn Returns (1936) an account of how Christopher Syn returned to Dymchurch during the great storm of 1776.
The Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936)
Courageous Adventures of Doctor Syn (1938)
The Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn (1939) - an unusual tale where Dr. Syn goes to the aid of smugglers in South Wales.
The Shadow Of Doctor Syn (1944) which leads the reader back to the original 'Doctor Syn' novel.
Between 1927 and 1949 he produced nine other novels but none are as well known as the Dymchurch novels of Doctor Syn.
The 1940s saw Russell Thorndike return to the screen playing minor roles in the Laurence Olivier productions of 'Henry V', 'Richard The Third' and 'Hamlet'.
Three movies were made featuring Doctor Syn.
The first was 'Doctor Syn' (1937) where the title role was taken by George Arliss. It was that actor's last film.
In 1962 there was the Disney version with Patrick McGhoohan in 'Doctor Syn, Alias The Scarecrow'.
The same year Peter Cushing took the role in the Hammer production 'Captain Clegg' - but a legal wrangle with Disney forced Hammer to change the name from Syn to Blyss. This movie was also known as 'Night Creatures'.
Russell Thorndike died in 1972 - but it is the author that I remember and his style of writing made the stories of Doctor Syn so real.
So real that upon entering the church in Dymchurch and you look down the list of Vicars there is a gap between 1776 and 1793 the years covered by the books. 1776 the year of a great storm that tossed a boat over the sea wall demolishing part of the Ship Inn. A storm that cost the life of Dr Syn's predecessor who tried to save survivors of the shipwreck.
The village of Dymchurch has a 'Day Of Syn' every two years (the next being in 2010) to celebrate the connection with the books - and 'The Scarecrow' is always there.
But walk along the beach on a moonlit night is that really the lapping of the waves you hear - or is it The Scarecrow pounding through the waves urging his black steed with a cry of 'On - on, Gehenna'.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A Memory of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'

It just happens to be the 80th anniversary of the publication in Florence, Italy of D.H.Lawrence's novel 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'.
Also, it's the 49th anniversary of it's publication in England by Penguin Books. Of course, almost as soon as it hit the bookshelves it was banned - but not before I got my hands on a book that 'you would not want your children or servants to read.'
Talking of anniversaries it is interesting to note that Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister 30 years ago.
And what has that got to do with 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'?
Well, Margaret Thatcher was elected as the MP for Finchley in 1959 by which time I had moved from there to Orpington, Kent. About the same time that I became a butcher's delivery boy for Mr. Evans in his shop in Lock's Bottom. Right up the road was an area known as the Farnborough Park Estate - a sort of millionaire's row - and the choicest place for deliveries.
It was also where Margaret Thatcher lived - and I was her butcher boy.
Much has been written about Margaret Thatcher - but the woman I knew took time to talk to me. She asked me, once, what I intended to do when I left school and when I told her that I was thinking of going into the legal profession she offered me encouragement.
The publication of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' did disturb her and one day, out of the blue, she asked me if I had read it - or, realising that I was a schoolboy, just some of the pages. I told her, politely, that I had read the whole book. The result was that she found the book morally corrupting and I didn't but she did say that I had the makings of a good lawyer.
So when I saw a TV programme called 'The Long Walk To Finchley' and heard the character playing Margaret Thatcher come out with four letter words - I turned over because I knew that Margaret Thatcher would never have come out with expletives like that. Besides 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' had not been published at the time the playwright would have the viewer believe she said them. In 1959 those words had not entered the vocabulary.
My view of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' has not changed.
I have no recall of the Thatcher years so I cannot judge - but I just remember a housewife and mother who made an impact on my young life.

Monday, 27 April 2009


With their black beehive hairstyle and thick black eyeliner The Ronettes changed the face of the girl groups.
Their appearence in the UK on the 1964 tour with The Rolling Stones produced what was close to hysteria - something that had never happened before. Headlines, at the time, reported ' Girls screamed at The Stones - boys screamed at The Ronettes.'
The Ronettes were worlds apart from the girl groups of the time like The Chiffons and The Shirelles - they were raunchy and sexy and their style was their own.
So who were The Ronettes - they were sisters Veronica (Ronnie) and Estelle Bennett and their cousin, Nedra Talley from Spanish Harlem, New York who had, in 1959, won an amateur talent contest at the Apollo Theatre as The Darling Sisters. But it was in 1961 when their career took off and that was because they were mistaken, while standing in a queue at Joey Dee's Peppermint Lounge, for a girl group that was supposed to appear there that night. After wowing the audience with their rendition of the Ray Charles hit 'What'd I Say' they were rewarded with a regular spot at the club and a recoding contract with Colpix.
Besides providing vocal back up to the likes of Bobby Rydell, Del Shannon and Joey Dee they cut two singles 'I Want That Boy'(as Ronnie and the Relatives) and 'I'm On The Wagon' (as The Ronettes) as well as an album's worth of other tracks that did not see the light of day for many years.
But it was their association with Phil Spector that was to make their name with the release, in 1963, of 'Be My Baby' which reached no4 in the UK charts. While their follow up 'Baby, I Love You' only charted at No 11 it was a big recording in another way. The backing was provided by Darlene Love, Cher and Ronnie with their voices over-dubbed so that it sounded almost like a choir and coupled to this was a pure wall of sound that took it to a loud rocking ballad. The kind that made you want to turn the volume up - and up.
While on tour in the UK they released 'The Best Part Of Breaking Up' and finished the year with 'Do I Love You' - but the time of the girl groups were beginning to fade.
Almost anticipating this Ronnie Spector went solo with 'I'm So Young' and 'Why Don't They Let Us Fall In Love' but both were pulled. Instead, Spector released The Ronettes singles 'Walking In The Rain' that won Spector's only Grammy - for the sound effects.
1965 saw the release of 'Born To Be Together' and 'Is This What I Get For Loving You' while in between they provided backing for the Righteous Brothers hit 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling'.
Their last recordings were made in 1966 with 'I Can Hear Music' which became a later hit for The Beach Boys and 'You Came You Saw You Conquered' - in the UK they were released as the A and B side of the same disc. The group disbanded following the marriages of Estelle and Nedra.
In 1968 Ronnie married Phil Spector who tried to keep her career going - but that ended in divorce in 1973. However, she stills records.
The one thing is that despite the low chart positions for songs that deserved to do a lot better than they did - The Ronettes still remain remembered as the best girl group of their time and are still played, frequently, on the radio.
They made it into the Music Hall Of Fame in 2007.
Sadly, Estelle Bennett died on the 13th ebruary 2009.
For more info on The Ronnettes - then read 'Be My Baby' by Ronnie Spector.
Recommended CDs: The Ronettes featuring Veronica - these are the Colpix recordings
The Best Of The Ronettes - which includes Ronnie Spector's two solo recordings and the independent 'I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine' together with all their hits.
A Christmas Gift For You - which includes The Ronettes singing 'Sleigh Ride', 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa' and 'Frosty The Snowman' recorded in 1964

Sunday, 26 April 2009


Sudoku is a fiendish number puzzle that has taken the world by storm. Puzzles are solved by logic and reasoning and it is both challenging and very addictive. And this is why my husband lies dead beside me. His snoring disturbed my concentration.

Author's note: The wife loves sudoku puzzles but she liked the above.

Another BEAT TO A PULP Winner

The latest offering at Beat To A Pulp is a debut short story by Scott D. Parker titled 'You Don't Get Three Mistakes'. This is a western story that tells the aftermath of a train robbery and told in a cleverly conceived way. This is not to be missed.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Writers From The Legal Profession

When I read about western writer Walt Masterson studying law I began to think about others who had a background in British law who wrote fiction.
One of the best when I was young was Michael Gilbert. He wrote crime fiction an area that is favoured by most solicitor/writers. He is, probably, remembered for his novel 'Death In Captivity' a murder mystery set in an Italian P.O.W camp where the British prisoners are planning an escape. This was filmed with Richard Todd as 'Danger Within'.
Michael Gilbert used to write his stories in long hand while commuting on the train to London.
One of his 'big' clients was the writer Raymond Chandler who's will he drafted.

It is not just solicitors who write fiction - a High Court judge by the name of Henry Leon made his name writing fiction about the British legal system with great humour and unpredictable twists in the plot. Using his second christian name as a surname Henry Cecil wrote many books amongst which was the 1955 novel 'Brothers In Law' which was filmed in 1957 and, later, turned into a TV and radio series with Richard Briers.

In modern times one successful solicitor/author is the creator of the Helen West and Sarah Fortune series of novels, Frances Fyfield. Although born in Derbyshire she practises law in London. To date she has been awarded the Duncan Lawrie Dagger in 2008 for her novel 'Blood From Stone' and a Silver Dagger for 'Deep Sleep'. Her Helen West story 'Trial By Fire' has been filmed for TV and this was followed by a series of Helen West stories.
She also writes psychological thrillers under the name of Frances Hegarty.

It should not be assumed that all solicitor/writers ply their trade in London for there is a writer up North who is ranked by the Legal Profession as one of the best Employment Law practioners.
He has a handful of Legal books to his name but he is also a writer of crime fiction.
Martin Edwards' creation Harry Devlin is a solicitor who can't help but get involved when murder is committed on Liverpool's streets. These books have titles that are so rooted in the sixties like 'Waterloo Sunset', 'The Devil In Disguise' and 'Eve Of Destruction'.

So coming full circle and back to westerns - even Jack Giles had his grounding in the English Legal Profession specialising in Conveyancing and Land Law.

These are just the writers that I have read and enjoyed and one I met in a professional capacity. My one regret is that faced with one of my favourite crime writers I never asked him about his books but I was young back then and a little in awe of the writer - but not Michael Gilbert the solicitor.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

I J PARNHAM - Black Horse Western writer

I J Parnham
A Black Horse Western
Publication: 31st July 2009
Jeff Steed rode into Carmon looking for work, but when he got caught up in a bank raid he found himself running from both Cassidy Yates and the bank raider Blake Kelly. To escape from the net that was inexorably closing in on him he assumed the identity of a dead man. But as that man was the leader of a supply convoy he had to undertake the hazardous journey across the Barren Plains to the silver miners at Bleak Point. With the convoy escorted by the lawman who was trying to catch him and the bandit he double-crossed hiding out in the Barren Plains, can Jeff ever hope to survive?

I J Parnham was one of the first four Black Horse Western authors that I read following my stroke and that novel was his first 'THE OUTLAWED DEPUTY'. It was, also, the first book to feature the lawman Cassidy Yates a character that has returned several times since. I found the style and storytelling easy on the eye so when, a few years later, a copy turned up on Ebay I bought the book. Much to my surprise it was signed and came from the author himself.

Just recently I had read 'DEVINE'S LAW' - in fact a review of this book was posted at The Tainted Archive. Quite a coincidence that the two of us should be reading the same book at the same time.

Jake T. Devine is not the nicest of lawmen. As soon as the reader meets him he guns down the unarmed family of Seth Randell - but it is the eldest son Max who he is really after. Jake T. Devine has been hired by former sheriff, Roy Cowie, now Mayor of Carmon to sort out the problem that Max Randell poses. Into this mix comes a lawyer from San Francisco who turns out to be Roy's estranged son, Gabe. Gabe's older brother, Frank, is the law and with a sense for justice Gabe becomes his deputy and joins Devine on the hunt for Max Randell who holds a key to secrets and blackmail that no one wants him to use - you think.

In the character of Marshal Jake T. Devine the author has built not only his best character but a man who is a law unto himself. He kills to survive after all as he says 'not many lawmen live to get old'. He contrasts so well with the younger well-meaning Gabe Cowie who the reader sees as the 'hero'. Again, Devine points out an arguement that Cowie has no 'experience'. This raises the issue of age and experience and the cynicism that comes with it vs youth and a lack of knowledge of life.

Again, this is one of those books that keep you guessing and all the motives, ulterior and otherwise, of the characters are revealed at the end. Whichever way you look at it 'DEVINE'S LAW' is one good read.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Helen Shapiro

Imagine this a gang of boys on their way home from school belting out 'Don't Treat Me Like A Child' like it's an act of defiance.
Then imagine the shock that followed in the wake of discovering that the singer wasn't a twenty-something but a kid like us.
That number 3 hit in 1961 was recorded by a 14 year old schoolgirl from the Clapton area of Hackney, North London - and boy could she sing.
Even Norrie Paramour (who had signed the likes of Cliff Richard and The Shadows) couldn't believe that she was so young when he heard her tapes.
If we doubted that she was a schoolgirl well there she was, in black and white moving pictures, standing outside her school gates looking a bit awkward and shy as the newsreels interviewed her - and almost dismissive about her sudden success.
Helen Shapiro was born in 1946 in Bethnal Green in London's East End and was still wearing her Clapton Park Compreshive school uniform, with her satchel slung over her shoulder, when she went to Norrie Paramour's office to sign the contract.
From 1961 to 1963 she was set to dominate the charts with two number ones - 'You Don't Know' and 'Walking Back To Happiness' and a number two entry with 'Tell Me What He Said'.
Despite two film appearences in 'It's Trad, Dad' and the Billy Fury movie 'Play It Cool' Helen Shapiro's career went on the wane.
On one tour where she headlined the show her support act was an up coming little foursome known as The Beatles. They got on so well together that The Beatles penned 'Misery' for her. Instead of seizing the opportunity EMI decided not to let Helen Shapiro record it - thus denying her the opportunity to be the first artist to cover a Beatles song.
Another lost opportunity was when Helen Shapiro recorded an album in Nashville. One of the tracks was 'It's My Party' which EMI sat on until it was released by the unknown Lesley Gore who took it to number one.
Looking back though there were a number of ways that Helen Shapiro could have gone in her career. Even now when I listen to her sing jazz with 'The Birth Of The Blues' or 'Basin Street Blues' or the very blues inspired 'A Teenager In Love' - hell, that teenager could sing the blues.
Whichever way you look at it Helen Shapiro could sing with an unbelievable maturity.
The featured CD is a double album with 40 of her best tracks including her chart hits and is a nice mix of styles.
Helen Shapiro continued to sing around the cabaret circuits until she retired in 2000 -but then you don't forget the greats.

BEAT TO A PULP No 17 - First of a double bill by Frank Bill

At Beat To A Pulp this week is 'Tweakers' by Frank Bill.
A real rampage of words that pumps up the action faster than the reloading a 12 Guage. The clipped style has been well mastered and a joy to read.
A second story by Frank Bill will appear later in the week.
Right, off you go and enjoy.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book - Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Rafael Sabatini was born in Jesi, Italy in 1875 and died in 1950
Captain Blood was first published in 1922 and quite by luck was able to find the cover of the original novel.
Peter Blood is an Irish doctor who gets caught attending to a wounded soldier by the notorous Kirke's Dragoons in the aftermath of the Monmouth Rebellion. Despite his protests he is arrested and dragged off to Bridgewater where he faces 'The Bloody Assizes' at the court of Hanging Judge Jefferys.
When found guilty Peter Blood escapes the noose but ends up being transported to the West Indies.
Blood is sold into slavery but is spared through the efforts of Arabella Bishop, the niece of Colonel Bishop the Governor's second in command. As a doctor, Peter Blood, is allowed to treat the sick while attending the needs of the wealthy.
With a certain amount of freedom Peter Blood begins to make plans about attempting an escape but this gets scuppered when one of the principle parties gets whipped almost to death. However, the Spanish fleet turn up to raid the British Colony and Peter Blood and some of the other slaves get together and capture the pride of the Spanish navy the 'Cinco Llagas'.
From this moment on Captain Peter Blood takes command, renames the ship the 'Arabella' and becomes the scourge of the high seas.
Books about pirates are few and far between and despite its age 'Captain Blood' must rank as THE best. The very character of Peter Blood could only be written for Errol Flynn to play though the book was published when he would have been about 13 years of age. But Flynn did play the part in the 1935 movie.
Rafael Sabatini wrote two more books - 'Captain Blood Returns' and 'The Fortunes Of Captain Blood' - that shed more light on incidents and other adventures within the framework of the original book.
Some historical notes: The Monmouth Rebellion took place in 1685 when James, 1st Duke of Monmouth (an illegitimate son of King Charles the Second of England) attempted to overthrow King James the Second. The attempt was crushed at the Battle of Sedgemoor.
In the aftermath Colonel Kirke and his dragoons were charged with rounding up the rebels and executing as many as they could.
Judge George Jeffreys, Baron of Wems, known as the Hanging Judge was the Lord Chief Justice and had charge of what was to become known as the 'Bloody Assizes'. It is said that as many rebels were hanged as those who were 'indentured' into labour by transportation.
Judge Jeffreys died in 1689 of kidney failure after going into hiding after James the Second fled the country. In the book 'Captain Blood' Peter Blood diagnoses the kidney problem from the dock in an attempt to prove that he is a doctor.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

FEAR OF THE DARK by Ray Foster

Darkness creates it's own fears. A fear of the dark in daylight familiar places.
Where monsters hide in the shadows. Lurking predators with their own agendas.
Night is my time and I have no fear.
Emptying city streets. Only the passing trade as clubs and pubs empty, spilling out loud talking, staggering drunks needing to find their way home.
They are nothing to me.
A car passes by and a girl on the corner sticks out her chest hopefully. A seductive pose that goes unnoticed. A drunk makes a lewd remark and she laughs him off.
I walk on determined to make my mark.
A side alley. I lose myself in the blind darkness. Trash flits around my feet blown on a swirling eddy of breeze. A dustbin lid crashes onto the ground. A cat yowls.
Nothing disturbs me as I ditch my raincoat.
I emerge from the alley into a damp world where the street is etched with neon colours.
I smile.
Night is my time.
And right on cue a kerb crawler pulls up alongside me.
I slide into the passenger seat.
I direct him to the back of a deserted, derelict warehouse.
The mark parks up and I get to work.
He leans back, breathing heavy. His eyes close. His skin is stretched taut across his throat. A throat that opens bleeding red from a smiling wound. His shocked eyes open briefly then close as he chokes up blood. Blood that smears the windscreen and drips from the steering wheel into the gap of his open flies.
I snap shut the cut-throat razor and slip it back into my stocking top.
Night, I tell the corpse, is a time to die.
I am a predator of the night.
A predator who feeds on those predators like the one that killed my sister.
Yes, night is my domain.
I am that fear in the dark.
And my hunger is unabated.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Butch Cassidy and My Wife

Couldn't happen to a nicer person. It just happens to be the wife's birthday today and just for fun she checked out who she shared her birthdate with. Butch Cassidy amongst others.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Francoise Hardy

Bonjour - and that's all the French you are getting out of me.
Francoise Hardy was born in France in 1944.
A friend of my sister had a whole bunch of records that she had bought in France while on holiday. As I was the only one with a record player they had to play them in my room. There were singers like Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan but what stood out was one voice and that was the one that belonged to Francoise Hardy.
Her singing career began in 1963 with a recording of 'Oh Oh Cheri' but it was the flipside 'Tous les garcons et le filles' that became the first hit for her.
The same year she starred in a Roger Vadim movie called 'Chateau en Suede'.
She went on to appear in several other movies: 'Une Belle au coeur' (1965), What's New Pussycat' (1966), 'Masculin Feminin' (1966) and 'Grand Prix' (1967)
The featured CD is a 2 CD set titled 'The Vogue Years' and includes the song that took her to 5th place in the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest 'L'Amour s'en va' along with the 1965 hit 'Et Meme' and 'All Over The World'.
Back in the Sixties one of the cheap labels brought out a double LP titled 'Francoise Hardy en Anglais' which had all her good songs sung in English. I discovered from that 'Je veux qu'il revienne' translated simply to 'Only you can do it' - this was odd because that was the chorus that I sang along to it.
What has always attracted me to Francoise Hardy, besides her looks, is that husky, innocent sounding voice that makes the French language musical.
Although she went into semi-retirement in the early nineties she returned in 2000 with a new album 'Clair Obscur'. And over the last few years has dueted with the likes of Carla Bruni and Iggy Pop - with the latter there is a brilliant recording of 'I'll Be Seeing You'.
Just recently I heard her singing 'La Mer' on the radio and I thought to myself that her voice was timeless - it is as good today as when she first sang 40 odd years ago.

Saturday, 11 April 2009


Beat To A Pulp's latest short story is called "Maker's And Coke" by Jake Hinkson.
I have never read any of Jake Hinkson's short stories before but I will be looking out for his work.
I liked the style of writing which comes with the narrator's voice - this came in stereo from the opening word. It is truly one of those 'must read' stories. So stop reading this and get on over to Beat To A Pulp instead.

Is This Misfit Lil?

I just couldn't resist this photo.
Is this Chap O'Keefe's creation Misfit Lil?
No, this French singing star Francoise Hardy.

I will be doing a piece on Francoise soon.

Maurice Jarre 1924 - 2009

Just discovered that Maurice Jarre, the film composer, died recently at the end of March.
Maurice Jarre became well known for his themes to Lawrence Of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago amongst many others like Grand Prix, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Is Paris Burning? and Jesus Of Nazareth.
Like many others it is that single piece from the film 'Witness' titled the Building Of The Barn that I remember him for.
There is a brilliant tribute to Maurice Jarre at Scott D Parker's blog.
Maurice Jarre was the father of the composer Jean Michel Jarre and the scriptwriter of 'Tombstone' Kevin Jarre.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Wild West Monday is next June

Well if you've visited The Tainted Archive recently you know that it has been suggested that we all - readers and writers alike - start e-mailing publishers about putting more westerns on the shelves.
Seems like the idea has gained an interest with a young gun who is wondering why Penguin Books publish westerns in the US but not in the UK. Is he asking that question of The Tainted Archive? No - he's gone to Penguin Books with his question.
Not only that but he's gunning for Transworld Publishers' brands Corgi and Bantam with the self-same question - and in doing so has pointed out something that should have been obvious (well, to me at least).
Well, Gary at The Tainted Archive has written off to Penguin and so will I and I'll also follow the young gun and give him some back up with the Corgi/Bantam lot. Then I'll hit some of the other publishers.
It occurs to me though that there are some American western authors out there who have their books published by Bantam. Have they never wondered why their books are not available in the UK? Seems to me that this is a question that they should be asking.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Friday's Short Story: Uncle Ernest by Alan Sillitoe

This short story comes from Alan Sillitoe's 'The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner'.
Uncle Ernest is a lonely man who makes a living as a freelance upholsterer. His wife has long deserted him and his only family have moved away.
Ernest Brown had seen most of his friends die amongst the wire of the First World War and the advent of the Second World War brings back reminders that he should not have survived the first war.
Every day he visits the local cafe for his dinner. It is part of his routine - a routine that is disrupted by the arrival of two young girls of 12 and below. The youngest is seated at Ernest's table while the eldest goes to the counter to purchase two teas.
When she returns an arguement ensues as the youngest girl demands cake. The eldest responds by saying that if she bought a cake then they would not have their bus fare home. Ernest finds himself drawn into the arguement and goes off to buy them some cake - and gives them sixpence for their bus fares home.
After this encounter the girls turn up from time to time and Ernest treats them to dinner and buys them presents. To Ernest they are the daughters that he never had and they bring life and light into his empty life.
But this relationship does not go unnoticed and it is not long before he is spoken to and warned off. This destroys Ernest who turns to drink to drown his sorrow and blot out the anger that consumes him.
Uncle Ernest is a sad and tragic story and that is the way that I read it at the age of fifteen. These two girls just filled a void in an old man's life - but here I am many years older and I can see the hole that Ernest was digging for himself. As a result I see the story with a darker hue and an understanding for the intervention by the authorities - mistaken though it is.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books - Up The Junction by Nell Dunn

Nell Dunn was born in London in 1936 and her novel UP THE JUNCTION was published in 1963.
The book is not so much a novel but a series of sketches or short stories that link together to tell the story of two sisters, Rube and Sylvie, who work in McCrindles Sweet Factory up London's Clapham Junction.
It is also about Lily - a rich girl from Chelsea - who seems to be unpretentious as she fits in with the girls that she befriends.
Each section of the book is raw and real with the coarse colloquial speach of the time.
These are people who live for the day getting by on their wits as they work all day, buy on HP and avoid the tally men and their debts. Against this background are stories of petty theiving, cheating wives and the after effects of an illegal back street abortion. Even so there is genuine humour tucked away in there - some of which is dark. And tragedy - for this is a book about life and just, as there is in real life, not all endings are happy.
At the time it was written Up The Junction was considered controversial as did The Play For Today adaptation in 1965. The 1967 movie fared better but then there was a lot of the insight of the novel missing.
Nell Dunn was married to Jeremy Sandford who wrote the controversial 'Cathy Come Home' and 'Edna, The Inebriate Woman'.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Paul Brazill - Short Story Writer

I don't know if this has been done before - and I haven't read every blog in the universe to find out. So I'm going to do it anyway.
The short story is an art form and a rare thing in this day and age. I have one small bookshelf that holds the short stories by the likes of O.Henry, Somerset Maugham and H.E.Bates amongst others.
The Internet is full of short stories (found at sites like Beat To A Pulp and Twist of Noir) by interesting writers and readers leave comments but no one goes further to say more.

Take a story like 'Sins Of The Father' by Paul Brazill.
This is a short story within a short story and very neatly done it is too with the other part of the story acting as 'bookends'. I liked the double standards of the priest who listens to the confession while preferring to be at home watching 'Antiques Roadshow' and plays a game of Snake on his mobile phone to pass the time.
Paul Brazill's characters are human and speak so naturally that the reader 'knows' them or someone like them.

'Sins Of The Father' as well as 'The Man Behind The Curtain' and 'The Magic Hour' are the March offerings in Twist Of Noir.

Paul Brazill is a very observational writer who's style is reminiscent of Alan Sillitoe but a lot darker and grittier. But there is humour within his stories- and that's dark as well. If you haven't read any of his work then now is the time to look him up.
Personally, I would like an anthology of his short stories sitting on my shelf.