Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Dr Who Books Read and Heard, Part 22! TOM BAKER SPECIAL!




 As promised, here comes a lot of Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor.  He was my Doctor growing up, with a bit of Pertwee, and I feel, in the modern world, we could do a lot worse than look to Tom Baker’s sort of Doctor for inspiration in life: intelligent, urbane, only sometimes shouty or violent – much more often full of casual wit and peace-making skills, poise, confidence.  Astonishing dress sense.  *Such presence*.  Anyway – I haven’t cherry picked these next stories – they are the Targets that were next to read, in order for him, and whichever of the Virgin Missing Adventures or the BBC Past Doctor Adventures that I was reading , happenstance, when I decided this whole post would be Just Tom.  And I realised I was never going to get to the Big Finish Tom audios unless I stopped in my tracks and went specifically to his series’s, as those monthlies do go on forever (and I will resume next time I can have a listen). 
But for this one…it’s a nice sea of Nothing But Tom Baker.  Man of All Moments!

AS ALWAYS -  INSANE LEVELS OF SPOILERING AHEAD...

1.    Doctor Who and the Android Invasion, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
(
4th Doctor.  Hmmmmmm.  This is a patchy story on TV, with some incredibly good, archetypal moments: the banter of Tom and Liz; the deserted town, the strangely brand new money; the falling off of Sarah’s robot face; the robot UNIT staff…and, the book of this story was even patchier.  I’ve never thought this story much good once Styggron appears, and unlike many others I don’t think Milton Johns saved the thing as Crayford either.  
 

The one thing that I really noticed about the book vs. the TV, was the complete absence of the wonderful banter between Tom and Liz Sladen that makes so much of all their scenes together so wonderful.  I went ranting to Stanley about it, as he knows much about how the classic era worked, as he was present during bits and pieces of it.  He explained to me, as I was in full mid rant about how Terrance Dicks really should have kept that banter in and not edited it out, that I had it all backward.  Here’s the interesting thing:  apparently, by this time, Dicks was no longer working directly on the show, he was gone, and working full time on other projects [Stanley did tell me exactly what but I forget and it’s not relevant: what’s relevant is that he was no longer on set, or on staff of the actual TV show – he was only writing those books for the Target series as asked.]  So what would happen is he would be sent scripts, and he would write the books *from* the scripts, alone.  These are not the days of the DVD and the video…he was full time busy on other paid work, and he would not have had access or time to go and watch a screening of the stories he was writing the books for.  Stanley told me that Tom and Liz in particular, had a brill relationship in terms of enjoying each other as actors – they adlibbed a lot of that wonderful banter; it was unscripted, and often changed between takes. 

So there I was blaming Terrance Dicks for removing some of what is best about the entire Tom and Liz era, and I had no idea it wasn’t actually his fault – he never saw it till long after the fact, after the books were written and published.  So, though no doubt I’ll be mentioning again that the lovely banter is gone, I – and us, readers, the previously ignorant ones like me – must remember it wasn’t Terrance Dick’s fault.  It was Tom and Liz’s fault for being very funny and such a good team, y’know, if we’re determined to apportion blame!

That’s really all I have to say about this story: patchy and banter-less in book form – despite having some truly creepy and classic moments in it.  It’s one of those plots too, that doesn’t stand up after a bit of looking…but I shan’t go there.  There’s enough joy in the falling off of Sarah’s robot face to see me through!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.   Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
(I find this one of the hardest TV serials to watch – I just don’t like it, it feels hugely melodramatic, and not in a ‘so bad its good’ way!  It’s odd as I love most of the Hinchcliffe era, but this one…nope.  I’m happy to report I found the book easier going, with Philip Madoc’s Solon overly effusive and intense Dr Frankenstein knock off villain simply OTT to read, instead of unbearable! In the book he was almost a pantomime villain, with some of the intensity removed.

I usually really enjoy books that collage others, with the Frankenstein elements, the folkoric overlay of the Sisters of Karn’s siren effect, the Grail-ish borrowing of the Elixir etc.  As a read, this was definitely better for me than to watch, with these disparate elements seeming to blend more instead of fight one another as I had felt they did while watching.  I enjoyed the outright sci-fi elements, the ambition of the brain transplant; the scary idea of the Mindbending competition, imagining someone backward until they go before conception and die.  The use of static electricity to blow Morbius’ dome, as the Doctor was hoping.  It all flowed as a good yarn, when reading.  The idea of the Elixir itself, formed as the flame hits rocks, causing condensation and oxidisation…it’s a marvellous bit of poetic cod-science, as it totally fails to explain why that reaction would create a life extending liquid, but it sounds good when read!

I particularly like Condo’s character [who reminds me of a later incarnation of the loyal but dim 174, the cloned character in new Who’s Sleep No More that I saw the other day].  I felt quite sorry when he died, specially after all the lying about where his arm had been all this time.  The unusual thing I always remember about Condo’s death was that Tom baker’s era of Who was relatively bloodless, and yet Condo’s shooting was complete with blood squib under the shirt and spreading stain.  Of course, this emphasis was not repeated in the book, so didn’t have the same visual impact, though I was still sad to see him go.

I always feel the most interesting people in the whole thing are The Sisters of Karn, and their stagnation, pointed out by the Doctor, in the cruel but accurate summary that “death is the price of progress”.  By the end Maren has realised he was right, and her sacrifice is quiet, but important – when she gives the Doctor the only few remaining drops of elixir, before and too late for more to form so she can have some before dying.  The need for a next generation for new ides is quietly explored here.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   Doctor Who: Destination Nerva, by Nicholas Briggs (Big Finish 4th Doctor Adventures, Series 1, Story 1)
(Hmmmmm! This picks up exactly at the close of Weng Chiang – which is a little risky, placing itself so entirely right next to a classic original Who.  And makes remarkable immediately, any change in tone and feel from the Hinchcliffe era it has placed itself in.  And there is a change in tone – it’s not 1977ish as it has advertised itself.  I’m, not sure what year I’d date it, and it’s not too far off, but it’s not quite right.  Perhaps it would have been better to not situate it so exactly, and allow for some room in tone. 

Also, to have the story partly set on the Nerva Beacon, yet it not entirely being relevant to the plot, is a bit like when Halloween 3 called itself Halloween 3, but had no Michael Myers or any of the requisite characters or setting whatsoever and was simply set at Halloween and was therefore cashing in on the franchise and not standing on its own two [perfectly good] feet.  So I felt that they needed to have been more careful with that, as it could have been any space station, it didn’t specifically need to be Nerva, and remind us all of Ark in Space. 

Glad to hear Louise Jamieson sounding so true to character as Leela, it was just as it used to sound. Though Tom's voice has changed immeasureably with age; it’s almost hard to identify him as the Doctor in some parts of it.  Both tone, pitch and register - as well as delivery of lines, all sound so much less rambunctious and full-spirited than before.  Which is a bit sad.  But there's echoes of his former self in some lines.  And it did get me wondering how the Doctor would be if he did stay in one form for ages and didn't regenerate.  [Which then also made me wonder why no one has jumped on the bandwagon of Young Hartnell, or Young Troughton type stories - the way there is a book range for Young Bond of James Bond...I'm sure it will occur to someone at some point. If it hasn’t already and I’ve missed it…]

The main thing here, apart from Leela being very Leela and one of my favourite companions – and the Doctor treating her slightly less patronisingly than he did in some of the original stories – was the very lovely music.  The composer, Jamie Robertson, went to some trouble to do a very in keeping Dudley Simpson-esque soundtrack: it had a very percussion led orchestral feel, I felt that was marvellously in keeping.

This ‘in keeping’ thing though, that I keep referring to here.  Is this going to be the absolute bugbear and killer for Big Finish, for some of us fans?  Stanley for example tells me I’m silly to want more of the same, more of the past – what’s done is done and there, the rest is lost, and now it’s all different.  To keep trying to remake stories and re-vision them *as though it were still 1977* - is that even doable?  [I won’t say wishable, cos clearly I wish it.] 

The same thing is true in horror circles if you’re into horror films.  For a long while now, there’s been a steady stream of 1970s homage films – either set in the 70s and looking spectacularly beautiful and accurate in terms of set dressing, camerawork, lighting and casting; or else made as now, but with the mores, tropes and ticks of the 1970s horror subgenres: the possession film, the slasher, the vicious backwoods etc.  I am always on the look out for a perfect one: where I could slot it on the shelf with my other 1970s horrors and say: ‘I can’t tell this one was made in 2015/16/17’.  Because I really think they did it better then, in many ways.  I have never yet found one, but several have come pretty close – and even then, there’s still an intriguing layer of NOW over their past-ness, which adds to things, oddly.

Now, as a lover of old classic Who, I love that they are trying to add to the classic era at Big Finish…and I’m puzzled that they aren’t so far able to capture more of the tone, in various adventures I’ve reviewed.  Partly I think its confusion over what we want, as fans – do we want 1977 [or whichever year we like], as if it went on forever?  Or do we want more, similar, but also with an added element of: ‘it could also have been like THIS?’ – which is definitely true for the treatment of Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, who we all know, didn’t get much of a chance originally to get a varied or even consistent flavour.  There was so much original Tom Baker, and in noticeable delineated eras…should the latter Big Finish’s be considered simply an extra era, in a sort of alternative dimension, an alternative timeline, almost?  But can they, when they, like this story, stubbornly squeeze themselves between 2 highly rated classics, and then sound noticeably different?  Hmmmm, like I said at the beginning.  Stanley is shaking his head at my overthinking!  But hey, it’s what I do.  On to the next!  ON DOWNLOAD.)
4.   Doctor Who: The Renaissance Man, by Justin Richards (Big Finish, Fourth Doctor Adventures, Series 1, Story 2)
(Ahh – this is a lot more like it!  I’m not busy worrying about whether it’s in keeping, simply following along with a good story, feeling secure in the voicing and characterisations of Leela and The Doctor.  If the two main characters are sounding and acting as we imagine they would, the rest falls into place.  I don’t know why Tom Baker’s voice characterisation was so much better in this second story, but he thoroughly sounds like his younger self again, with all the nuances and humour, all his whimsical touches restored.

This had rather a complicated plot, seeming at first to be one thing [a stealing of knowledge of people’s], and then becoming another [which I won’t spoiler], and I would describe it as cracking, a cracking good story, rippling along, full of life and verve [and the odd Messerschmidt].  The atmosphere of the countryside is well produced, and the poor archetypal people are well-voiced and plausible.  Ian McNeice does well as the fiendish Harcourt, pitted against the Doctor, another Renaissance Man in his way, who only defeats Harcourt by feeding him misinformation, and providing another plot twist as he does so.  This story did trot along very well, was funny, used Leela very well indeed, and had the Doctor sounding so much himself, I was mentally watching on TV as I listened.  Enjoyable!  Also – I’m liking this shorter 2 episode format for this run of stories – I haven’t felt some of the longer Big Finish stories have made the best use of the longer run time; keeping the stories shorter, as here, prevents padding and keeps the pace buoyant. ON DOWNLOAD.)
5.   Doctor Who: The Wrath of the Iceni, by John Dorney (Big Finish, Fourth Doctor Adventures, Series 1, Story 3)
(I really enjoyed this.  There was a lot of beef to the moral discussions going on between Leela and the Doctor about Boudicca and her mental state [insanely bent on revenge], the rightness or wrongness of attempting to change history [Leela thinks Boudicca’s cause is just even though she’s gone mad, why can’t we help her?], and whether keeping it the same is cowardice or strength.  There was a lot of atmosphere in the sound palette too. I won’t spoiler this, I was just very impressed – everyone in this was on top form, I felt for all the characters and understood their motives, and it kept me involved and wondering what would happen next.  Good!  ON DOWNLOAD.)
6.   Doctor Who: Seeds of Doom, by Philip Hinchcliffe (Target Original)
(I have disappointingly little to say about this one!  It’s one of my favourite Dr Who stories ever on TV; and the book did not let me down either.  It’s pacey, the two sections of the icy wastes and research lab, contrasted with the reclusive home of Harrison Chase, with Scorby to link the two. There’s the wonderful line about everything coming to end, “even your pension!” showing Tom Baker at his wonderful righteous best.  There’s poor Sarah Jane getting threatened with becoming a Krynoid.  There’s the Krynoids!  Which I personally think are one of the most believable Who creatures ever – possibly because of the sound effects used with them during the TV show. 

In a way, my love of this story on TV is a problem, because I can’t separate it when reading the book; I am seeing and hearing one of my best known and loved stories as an overlay – I’m not really using my imagination to re-envision according to how Philip Hinchcliffe has written.  But the thing there is that there are hardly any notable changes; a bit of dialogue reshuffle, but mostly it’s all as it was – a stomping, running, shouty excellent story. 

The other thing here is, Harrison Chase is almost my favourite villain EVER in Who…because I partly agree with him.  Give the world back to the plants!  Let the trees run wild!  Weeds are not weeds, they’re just in the wrong place!  If I were a SuperVillain, I think I’d be a bit like Tony Beckley’s Chase.  I just LOVE this story and always have.  The balance between Doctor, companion, villains and any urgency is just right, and I was genuinely frightened of the Krynoids and fascinated by the idea of them at the same time.  If you were to start watching Dr Who around about here; or start reading – there are many worse places you could begin!!  10/10!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
7.   Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora, by Philip Hinchcliffe (Target Original)
(Ahhh.  I find it really hard to review the ones I really like!  I am always tempted to simply say:  this is one of my favourites, er…and I really enjoyed reading it too!  The End.  So I’m simply going to say that the usual praise heaped on the BBC for doing well with historically set Who’s is here deserved just as much in the book as in the TV episodes [placed so nicely in Portmerrion, as was The Prisoner]; it all comes across just as lushly and believably.  The stilted and melodiously overdramatic ways of the Italian characters talking are just as much a joy to read as they were to hear and watch.  The characters are as well delineated.  The Doctor is his usual inventive self, doing science with what’s to hand e.g. the use of wire and a soldier’s breastplate to protect against and earth electrical charge coming at him.  Some elements greatly surpass the TV show’s ability to render at the time e.g. the battle at the end, where the Demnos cultees unmask themselves and start to electrically fry all and sundry at the masque – in the episode  this was understandably a small room with not many people in it, it was a little bit lame, but you got the idea!  In the book of course, this scene is at it should have been, a large ballroom with hundreds of people and chaos and crowd panic when the frying begins.  It’s on the scale that it was meant to be on, when reading – that was nice.

It’s also worth a note that this was the first story where the Doctor bothers to explain to Sarah how she can understand someone speaking in Italian [or indeed any of the other languages that they hear in their travels], and how the people she is with can in turn understand her when they are clearly speaking different languages.  It's explained this is due to a telepathic link, a sort of Babel-fish by another name – that Sarah is sharing with the Doctor whilst with him.  It’s not till later, much later, that you get the explanations that also involve the TARDIS; at this stage, it’s just Tom and Sarah, or other companions who feel the effect of this.  It does beg the continuity question of whether the link just works for language alone, as in a previous Pertwee adventure, The Ambassadors of Death, the creatures were communicating through radioactive electronic impulses and not always being understood; and in a later Tom story, The Creature From The Pit, the Doctor himself cannot communicate with the thing – though there’s lots of amusement watching him try – without the disc it needs you to hold to stimulate the telepathic linkage for communication.  And in that case it also seemed to control minds via it, not just communicate…Stanley would be irritated with my nit-picking, as those were not days of excessive concern with continuity and universe building with coherence, so I just mention it as interesting without criticism.

It’s also another story where the Doctor is the direct cause of the problem, as he brings the energy with him.  And there’s the worry that if he fights it here and succeeds, it may just knock back the future development of Earth by several hundred years, by causing the Dark Ages to last a lot longer than they otherwise would have.  Imperilling the entire start of the Renaissance.  A properly history changing worry, which makes the story bigger than it otherwise would have been.

The Mandragora energy, the helix energy, is worth a note itself.  It’s one of those threats that has no particular character or voice, even [as I noted with Fury From the Deep; that creature just wanted to survive].  The energy does inhabit people and cause them to do things – but it seems as if they merely get to be larger more uncontrollably egomaniacal versions of their selves already, playing out their own fantasies of control.  It didn’t seem to be the desire of the Mandragora energy itself, in any particular way.  It was just an unfortunate effect.  Interesting in that – and I always feel threats are more believable when they don’t talk too much, just do what they do.   I do love this story; it’s up there as one of my favourites!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
8.   Doctor Who: A Device of Death, by Christopher Bulis (Virgin Past Doctors Adventures)
( - With Harry and Sarah.  This was one of the best of this series I’ve read.  The plot centres on a war between Landor and Averon that is being dragged out forever, dishonestly, by some people who want to make some money.  I’m afraid I’ve just spoilered you utterly, because you spend the entire book getting to this revelation, but I did start to see it coming from about halfway through, the clues were there.  The journey is still very much worth taking, regardless of whether you’re aware of the situation.  There’s a lot of debate about the morality of war, of weapons and arms-trading, of whether robots can be alive and have consciousness. 

The Doctor and his companions are separated early in this book and remain so for some time – so you get to see them acclimatising to their new surroundings: Harry caught up with some soldiers who begin to understand the dodgy truth of the endless war they are engaged in; Sarah getting enslaved for a bit and escaping with the help of one of the loveliest characters I’ve read, the robot Max, who is essential to the peace by the end; and the Doctor, who unravels the mystery and is righteously judgemental about it.  It’s all a magnificent journey and I encourage you to take it.  It also contains the amusing line: “are we heading for anywhere in particular, or just running away in general?”, from Harry, at a particularly crucial moment; which is fun.  There’s also a much later model TARDIS sent by the Timelords to help the Doctor at one point.  His annoyance at it is very funny; when it works it irritates the hell out of him.  Apart from that one garguantuan spoiler, I won’t say anything else – the range of characters, the range of views and arguments rehearsed here as to how you can convince moral and clever people to become traitors to their own nations [pp.158-9 for example], and the emotional hit of the book is just beautiful.  Please read!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
9.   Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear (Target original), by Terrance Dicks
(Have very little to say.  Enjoyed.  Sad to see Sarah Jane go… Yes, hilariously, after the far too much detail I’ve already gone into with all the others, I’m now going to end with none…I enjoyed that last and flowed along with it…and the sense of that era it gave me was so well demonstrated by Sarah Janes Andy Pandy outfit that I am gobsmacked with love every time I see it.  It also reminds me I am the wrong size to even think of jokingly wearing such an outfit.  I feel I should say much about Eldrad, but all I have is: you were great as a hand, better as an odd female, and not believable as a big slabby thing at the end.  Basically – a great and silly story.  ACTUAL BOOK.)




It seemed right to finish the blog with Sarah Jane’s going, the real end of an era.  The whole tone of Tom’s stories began to change after this point.  I don’t feel analytic just this minute, so I’m not going to decide if things were better or worse after this cut off point – I’m just going to carry on reading. ‘Cos it’s fun.  Regular Who reading and listening resumed shortly.

And yes, I’m back.  It’s been a long while.  Bit of a head reshuffle; may be another on the way – I’d be alarmed if there weren’t.  But I’m back for now – and who can say anything more than that?

Except – not all my posts will be this bleedin’ long…promise.
See you soon...




Sunday, 13 November 2016

Poem Interlude. Listen. 'Let There Be Peace'.

I went to the Buddhists yesterday, and heard this.  It made me cry.  I'm crying a lot at the moment as I always do when I move things around in the boxes and rooms in my head.  I think for all my ruthlessness with throwing things away and recycling, I'm also a hoarder.  Of ideas and concepts and notions.  Maybe they can all stay in the room marked 'Good Dreams'.  And dreams are only a door away.

This by Lemn Sissay - and you can find it here
Lemn Sissay
Lemn Sissay


Let There be Peace

Let there be peace
So frowns fly away like albatross
And skeletons foxtrot from cupboards:
So war correspondants become travel show presenters
And magpies bring back lost property
Children, engagement rings, broken things.

Let there be peace
So storms can go out to sea to be
angry and return to me calm:
So the broken can rise and dance in the hospitals.
Let the aged Ethiopian man in the grey block of flats
Peer through his window and see Addis before him
Let his thrilled outstretched arms become frames
For his dreams.

Let there be peace.
Let tears evaporate to form clouds, cleanse themselves
And fall into reservoirs of drinking water.
Let harsh memories burst into fireworks that melt,
in the dark pupils of a child’s eyes
And disappear like shoals of darting silver fish.
And let the waves reach the shore with a
Shhhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhhhh.
***
Hystery - take strength, my friend.


Let There Be Peace
By Lemn Sissay
Let there be peace
So frowns fly away like albatross
And skeletons foxtrot from cupboards,
So war correspondants become travel show presenters
And magpies bring back lost property,
Children, engagement rings, broken things.
Let there be peace
So storms can go out to sea to be
Angry and return to me calm,
So the broken can rise up and dance in the hospitals.
Let the aged Ethiopian man in the grey block of flats
Peer through his window and see Addis before him,
So his thrilled outstretched arms become frames
For his dreams.
Let there be peace
Let tears evaporate to form clouds, cleanse themselves
And fall into reservoirs of drinking water.
Let harsh memories burst into fireworks that melt
In the dark pupils of a child’s eyes
And disappear like shoals of silver darting fish,
And let the waves reach the shore with a
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
- See more at: http://blog.lemnsissay.com/2012/03/23/let-there-be-peace/#sthash.uekTSlsP.dpuf

Let There Be Peace

Let There Be Peace
By Lemn Sissay
Let there be peace
So frowns fly away like albatross
And skeletons foxtrot from cupboards,
So war correspondants become travel show presenters
And magpies bring back lost property,
Children, engagement rings, broken things.
Let there be peace
So storms can go out to sea to be
Angry and return to me calm,
So the broken can rise up and dance in the hospitals.
Let the aged Ethiopian man in the grey block of flats
Peer through his window and see Addis before him,
So his thrilled outstretched arms become frames
For his dreams.
Let there be peace
Let tears evaporate to form clouds, cleanse themselves
And fall into reservoirs of drinking water.
Let harsh memories burst into fireworks that melt
In the dark pupils of a child’s eyes
And disappear like shoals of silver darting fish,
And let the waves reach the shore with a
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
- See more at: http://blog.lemnsissay.com/2012/03/23/let-there-be-peace/#sthash.uekTSlsP.dpuf

Let There Be Peace

Let There Be Peace
By Lemn Sissay
Let there be peace
So frowns fly away like albatross
And skeletons foxtrot from cupboards,
So war correspondants become travel show presenters
And magpies bring back lost property,
Children, engagement rings, broken things.
Let there be peace
So storms can go out to sea to be
Angry and return to me calm,
So the broken can rise up and dance in the hospitals.
Let the aged Ethiopian man in the grey block of flats
Peer through his window and see Addis before him,
So his thrilled outstretched arms become frames
For his dreams.
Let there be peace
Let tears evaporate to form clouds, cleanse themselves
And fall into reservoirs of drinking water.
Let harsh memories burst into fireworks that melt
In the dark pupils of a child’s eyes
And disappear like shoals of silver darting fish,
And let the waves reach the shore with a
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
- See more at: http://blog.lemnsissay.com/2012/03/23/let-there-be-peace/#sthash.uekTSlsP.dpuf

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Autumn Nature Altar, loving the colours


I made an autumn altar on my desk today.  Red and yellow leaves fetched from the garden, the last of the lavender in flower tied with a thin red ribbon, lots of little crystals, and pictures of autumnal and cooler night animals: raven, owl; and brambles in the middle. 

Fluffhead made the little wreath at the top at Quaker Childrens Meeting last week.  I was very pleased with how it looked, altogether.  I also borrowed another Childrens's Meeting creation of his - the little jar stuck with tissue papers of different colours, with a tea light inside.  It was supposed to remind us of 'the light within', and how you can always call on it, no matter how stressful or utterly wrong any situation felt.  He does lovely things there.

I used to have an altar up to meditate (attempt to meditate!) with all the time till Fluffhead was born, constantly changing for festivals and seasons - I used to love changing it about and seeing how beautiful it could be.  It helped me mark time, and not get stuck in my thinking, in my head, to observe and feel and interact with seasons passing and moving through.  Either with expectations or contrary to (a delayed summer, not on cue; a wet and mild winter lasting far too long - either way, I'd be THERE keeping note).

Then he came and tried to eat everything, and nearly burned his small fingers, so I realised I had to stop doing it, and had no where higher up that was safe to move it to.  Only today did it occur to me that he now understands candles and burning, and may even not mess up the lovely arrangments of shiny and pleasing objects I have put there, following my instincts and my eye.  We'll see.

All day he's been wandering up to it and asking me to light the candles again and he waves his hands high above them, amazed at how far the heat can rise.  He seems very pleased I've incorporated his artworks for the season.

Also, it started out a bit more Halloweeney/Samhain-ey -- as in, I had lots of slightly scarier looking images on the cards, and pictures of dead family members etc, and a rotting plant....it was supposed to be about accepting that death and life are both with us, and honouring the loved who are dead, and the spirit of darkness and growth even when rot is all you can see.  Then I realised the symbolism is all very well for me, but this is at head height for a 6 year old and it looked weird and possibly terrifying.  Plus mum is very Christian and she freaks out enough every time she sees my statue of Herne [horns, you see, even though they're actually antlers], so I didn't want her worrying about me worshipping skeletons or death or something even the Goth in me feels a bit too light and sunny for, just this minute.

So I simplified it, and made it just Autumn, Autumn animals, the turn to dark...the owl sees in the night, and holds those thoughts within quiet; eyes reflect inwardly, luminous and secretive.  The raven watches the garden and misses nothing.  As I cut the remaining lavender, the brambles said hello by cutting me back. Which was quite fair enough, I thought.

Our world is so beautiful. I love that Fluffhead can see it too.  I shall do more of this, if he's able to not nab all the crystals and use them as obstructions for his railway in the living room...

And seasonal cooking too.  I shall remind myself just how many years its been since I properly tried to incorporate the whole Wheel of the Year, and some of the moon cycles too.  I always found it so fun, and colourful, and inspiring - feeling the different vibes, the different textures to times of day and of the year; the way the garden shifts and yet remains exactly the same.  I used to love cooking foods for a mini feast for full moons, or new moons, or any old festival I wanted to mark (always being eclectic, I borrowed anyone's I liked the look of as well as the more usual modern Celtic Wheel).  Doing all that is a lovely way to be mindful too, every special extra in the present thing helps all the other moments that feel so mistakenly mundane.  Nothing is mundane.  Things feeling 'ordinary' is just when you feel tired inside.  (Or if you choose it: camouflage.)

Off to finish Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players (2006).  Set just around about now in the year.  Love when I become absorbed in something only to discover its walking right next to me, holding my hand and pacing with me; rather creepily in this case, from it's dimension in paper story world through to mine here.  I shall probably finish it tonight.


Monday, 19 September 2016

Things I've Read that Aren't Who, Recently



Possibly this whole idea of 'Things That I’ve Read That Aren’t Doctor Who' will become its own series?!  Which should also read - '...And Aren't Romances', since they are so calming and easy to read I gobble those whole in my anxious moments.  Which are still numbered frequently.

This is just a few of the things I’ve been reading the last 5ish months or so.  They are the things I wrote more than 1 line about for whatever reason.  Sometimes I just write – ‘excellent!’ or ‘What?!’ or some other unhelpful reminder of what I thought.    But anyway – here are those I cared enough to blither about:

1.    Moriarty, by Anthony Horowitz
(I’m not sure why I bought his – possibly because I had been so wowed by Penny Dreadful recently, and wanted to feel that late Victorian time period again.  Possibly because I’ve never really read Conan Doyle; always meant to but never got there, so that this Horowitz re-imagining felt more accessible, and possibly a good place to stimulate my interest in the books from.  As it happens I remembered as I went along reading this, that I had read some Conan Doyle before; not much but some, and I remembered why I stopped and why I hadn’t read more!  There’s something very sweet about all the over exposition, the constant explaining and stopping to rethink and explain again… I’m not one who minds being told things if the narratorial voice is good and engaging…but I found the strange pacing on top of all the thinking out loud a bit tiresome.

Saying that I did sort of enjoy the book.  I felt it dragged quite a bit in the middle after a quick beginning and a speedy end, but that’s the nature of that narratorial beast being copied.  Some of the subsidiary characters were memorable: Perry of course, dressing up in his bright blue jacket to go slitting the throats of unsuspecting grown ups; and of course Moriarty himself, quite the major twister there at the end.  As effective as the sudden hijacking of the narrative in The Woman In White – which I’ve always thought is the height of doing that kind of thing.  Yep, the twist got me and I didn’t see it coming.  I kept wondering why the book was called Moriarty and when he was going to appear, but did not expect what happened!  So that was satisfying.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

2.   Those Girls, by Chevy Stevens
(This was so arrestingly readable I did not fall asleep on the bus on the way to work and almost missed my stop entirely at Kingston.  It was a very vivid thriller, and I really sympathised with all the characters.  A very good immediate read. I actually can’t say a word more without spoilering it, so you have to go off and try it if you want a good female centred thriller. ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   Ink Exchange, by Melissa Marr

(This is the second in a series.  It has the usual immersive quality of a well written YA fantasy – and the vision of faeries is rarely done better than by this sort of author [see Holly Black, for example, for another excellent one].  This was a beautifully creative world and I enjoyed seeing Niall and Irial both be so close to Leslie, but the end having neither of them win her – both letting her go for different kinds of twisted love.  This was a very inventive and beautifully imaged read – the swirling dog tattoos on Gabriel’s arms, the vines and feathers stretching between Irial and Leslie; the way she lost time when under his power.  All very believable; and with a lot to say about addiction without one word of preaching or judgement. Enjoyed a lot. ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.   You Are Here, by Thich Nhat Hanh

(Possibly THE BOOK of all books.  So much in here that is actively helping me. “Dear One, I am here for you.”  Compassionate listening: understanding that nasty said things and actions come out of pain.

“My friend, if you have some cows, you have to identify them.  You think they are essential to your happiness, but if you practice looking deeply, you will understand that it is these very cows that have brought about your unhappiness.  The secret of happiness is being able to let go of your cows.  You should call your cows by their true names.”    Did he mean this to be both so true AND SO FUNNY????

“Dear one, I am here for you. 
Dear one, I know that you are here, alive, and that makes me very happy. 
Dear one, I know that you are suffering.  That’s why I am here for you. 
Dear one, I know that you are suffering a lot.  I know this, and I am here for you, just as the trees are here for you and the flowers are here for you. 
Dear one, I am suffering, I need your help.  I need you to explain why you did this thing to me.”
Impermanence, interbeing.  10/10.
ACTUAL BOOK.)

5.   No-Nonsense Guide to Green Politics, by Derek Wall


(Excellent book.  Filled with ideas that people think are radical for some reason I don’t really understand.  Just because things have been done a certain way for 200 years or so, doesn’t mean they must always be that way??  The way of doing just about everything, described in this book makes a thousand times more sensible and kindly common sense than anything else I have read.  It also isn’t stupid – what with all the malarkey [hate that word, but it’s true in this case] about compromise vs. purity in left politics with the election ‘contest’ going on in Labour at the moment, it’s just so relevant.  Yes, compromises would have to be made.  Obviously.  But SOME good would be done.  Will read more and be inspired further.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
6.   Tell It To The Skies, by Erica James


(I had this book a long time ago but it never called to me to be read and so I gave it away.  Erica James used to be one of my regular reads, but I noticed a shallowness to those books of hers I had rest last [can’t remember which they were].  But I re-bought this one from a charity shop a short while ago, whilst thinking how great Erica James used to be.  And this one called straightaway.  I think I ate it in 3 days flat.  It was brilliant.  It was one of those books that masquerades as sort of chick lit but really isn't, and is very serious indeed.

I was a bit worried that there would be lots of middle class annoyingness at the beginning, when I found the heroine having peskily sprained her ankle in Venice; but then…the whole flashback part of the novel started, in late 60s-early 70s Yorkshire.  The heroine was definitely NOT middle class and I experienced her every travail with a worried face.  I also worried this was going to become one of those abused childhood books that I find hard to read; but it wasn’t.  It was a very hard childhood book, but simply littered with some amazing characters that jump right off the page.  It was one of the most immersive books I’ve read in a very long time.  The ice cream salesman; Uncle Leonard [evil man], Donna, Chiara, Fabio, the sadist grandfather [I felt his presence, it was oddly physical to read him]; the sick grandmother, the sister perverted into religion – all of which is dealt with baldly.  Especially the religion angle.  Criticised though the mouths of the characters purely.  And reasonably. 

Noah was a lovely creation, as was Uncle Brad, with his stick legs and velvet trousers, grooving on the kitchen table.  The whole book was immensely vivid. And while it told a very everyday story – even the murder didn’t seem overly given the context, I felt that it was a true story, from somewhere real.  It felt as real as any other universe I might step into.  Lullingly vivid, and truthful.  It was a place I looked forward to visiting between working days.

Books like this are why Erica James can be great.  I believed it all, I lived it all with Lydia.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

7.   Always Watching, by Chevy Stevens


( Not as good as Those Girls, but a pageturner which I nonetheless finished in 2 days; and which I specifically selected to cheer me up and addictively keep me occupied during an anxious patch.  Despite this book’s darkness, it tended toward hope and did the magic deed.  I do always enjoy a book about a cult, and the one was no exception.  Aaron, Joseph, poor Willow dead in a barrel, Heather committing suicide by stuffing rags down her throat after drinking cleaner [God it’s hard to successfully kill yourself], Lisa, Keven, Robbie and the heroine, Nadine – all great characters.  Though there was a slight melodramatic turn near the end, it was a good read.  I especially liked Nadine as the psychiatrist, always explaining biologically and psychologically the mechanism of the emotional reactions and cult behaviour.  I liked her cool and calm in the face of odd behaviour.  To explain it does help master it.  Gives hope.  ON KINDLE.)
8.   The Paradise Room, by Belinda Jones
(I remember reading 3 of her books ages ago and liking them, so I picked up this one in a charity shop.  It’s a very odd mix of highly educated posh and chick lit situationing.  Yet it was slightly difficult to see which class the protagonist came from what with attending Oxford, being an art historian, having jailbird parents and a boyfriend called Hugh who was a jeweller.  [I found him horribly annoying.]  It was a good read in terms of descriptions of place – Tahiti is very BLUE; she described it most vividly, as well as a thorough lesson on Gauguin and his involvement with the islands, plus more about black pearls than I ever previously knew [they aren’t black, for a start].  I do like when books teach me things.  This was a good book, though it felt slightly…unlikely?!  The tapdancing showman of Tezz and Amber’s final pairing is beautiful and unseeable in real life – unless you really believe.  I caught myself thinking how wonderful it was that they had such a great connection, much lust but not all lust – but I wondered what would happen… on election day?  They had no idea of each other’s political views or any such actual real life thing.  It’s one thing that chick lit always strives to leave out entirely: politics, and to a slightly lesser degree, religion.  And that’s annoying, because it’s relevant.  The book has left me completely puzzled as to what tone I want to read next.  I’m a bit…still with the fish under the coffee table section of the book, and the singing and dancing in the rain, which was this vision of inner yearning.  I’ll definitely read more of Belinda Jones again because her voice and vision are oddly unsettling, as well as visually uplifting.  I do feel like I’ve actually travelled. ACTUAL BOOK.)
9.   The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, by Dinah Jeffries


(This was not quite as epically amazing as The Tea Planter’s Wife, or as emotionally lovely as The Separation.  Nonetheless, though this story felt smaller scale – it taught me an amazing amount about the period – it was still very educational and affecting.  Nicole was a strong character.  Her simple observations about war and how almost anyone can become cruel as a result are chastening.  Mark was an interesting and enigmatic character, whose background was not really examined.  Sylvie was…very depressed?  In a way, the issue of Sylvie [and also, to an extent, their father], was dealt with very quietly – almost more realistically.  There was no ultra drama involved.  I have not known much about Hanoi and Vietnam before the famous American incursion, so this period directly before was fascinating to learn about.  The violence and bad behaviour on all sides was not gloried or over luridly described.  It was what it was.  The periods where Nicole travelled starving through the country and also her time in prison, were vivid and sad, but not enough to make you wretch with the hellishness.  Which was good – JG Ballard has forever ruined me with descriptions of smells and the hell humans can make for each other.  This was easier to ingest because it was more calmly done.  Possibly most things are entirely better if calmly done.  O-Lan – also a great character, and Tran.  Yes, I definitely learned about this period J  ACTUAL BOOK.  .)
10.                The House We Grew Up in, by Lisa Jewell


(Wow. How one person’s trauma gave an entire family trauma, till they were all separate and all bouncing away from each other, all so messed up in different ways.  And with the death of that person, they come back together.  Not sure if I entirely believed the end, but the rest – how the decay happened. Masterful.  So many great characters.  I am slightly afeared that I am the Lorelei character – “Ooooooo, it’s the most amazing shade of green!!” – that is her, and that is me.  The emotional immaturity thing.  The fact my room is getting smaller and smaller due the boxes of books???!!!  I need another clear out, rather urgently.  Also….I really understood the description of wanting to keep all the memories of things, as if they were forgotten they were dead and useless and it’s as if they never were – so physical reminders became paramount.  Every moment was preserved as the present.  And I am stubbornly rather childlike.  As was dad…another hoarder of stuff.  Including his weird habit of going through things I had thrown away and bringing them back for his room…oh dear, I only just remembered that. Errrrr…

So there was mad thin Lorelei of ‘save the foils’.  Control freak and sanest – Megan.  Bethan who became so blank she nearly disappeared – that was most interesting, her attempts to be a person.  Not sure how she finally made it – that was glossed.  Surely not just motherhood? 

Bit of a glorification of family in this book.  So coming from a rather dysfunctional one, I found that annoying.  Too many babies, too much joy in being together.  Hmmm.  There was Rory, drawn most interestingly: he was very very disconnected and judgemental, almost dangerous in his disowning of women except as function.  Colin, passive, intuitive, suddenly tattoo covered.  Kayleigh – catalyst, very good character.  Rhys: was he ever not mad too?  What was wrong with him?  It seemed like he wanted his mother and sister – only them?  Was he on the way to becoming a predator, but stopped himself after his mother ‘rejected’ him?  He was scary and odd.  None of the children were normal.  It was a tour de force in how wrong things can go.

And its timings were beautifully beautifully done – the backwards and forwards, the progression of the characters problems, the letters, giving a mirror to Lorelei…Scarily, scarily real. 

One of her BEST books. Absolutely 20/10.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

11. The Seven Sisters, by Lucinda Riley 


(One of the weirdest reading experiences I’ve had.  I was not enjoying reading it, I was hating the cold fish, overly formal way of writing.  It was distant and matter of fact which I sort of like; but completely non emotive despite describing emotive situations.  I hate to be made to over-feel, but this was the exact opposite: I was reading about interesting and personally earth-shaking events, and yet finding them hugely…uninvolving.

And yet…every time I put the book down – and I read 2 others entirely, when this was put down – I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next: so I did care.  WEIRD.  I’m not sure when or if I’ll be reading the second one in this series.  I have it.  But…I felt this was overly long and overly distant.  Even if its country – Brazil – and subject matter – love in the time of the Belle Epoch and the raising of the statue of the Cristo Redentor, were fascinating, the style was not.  I don’t remember Lucinda Riley writing so mechanically before?  But anyway.  A good book in a want to know what’s going to happen way; and a bad book in a don’t like the style way.  Confusing.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

12.                This House Is Haunted, by Guy Lyon Playfair


(The book of the infamously contested Enfield Haunting case.  Scared the bejesus out of me in that it was written extremely calmly, and showed just how interminable and boring the events could get.  As well as unsensical and confusing.  There was so much philosophical discussion that I was really surprised, and captured.  Seeing as I definitely have the notion this phenomena is possible, whatever the explanation, and that I do think it can be catching, like fear or depression – I felt quite relieved to finish it – though it was remarkably stimulating in terms of the way it made its case and presented what the author says he saw and felt, heard etc.  Not clearcut, and all the better for it; one of the best ‘true haunting’ books I’ve read.  ON KINDLE.)