Aug 31st

Burned, bombed and banned books

By SecretSpi

I had an attack of arty-fartyness last weekend and visited documenta14 in Kassel. It's an exhibition of contemporary art, and the 14 is not to confuse, or be arty, or be behind the times: it's the 14th time that the exhibition has been held.


I was a bit disappointed this time, having visited in 2012 and 2007. I can't put my finger on it, but everything seemed so depressing, predicatable and worthy. I wasn't shocked or surprised. Nothing made me laugh. There was nothing I'd label as outrageous. The closest I got was that an old 1970s Post Office Building in a rather grim part of town is being used as one of the galleries, and the invasion of hipsters and intellectuals wondering whether the Turkish hairdressing salons and Syrian bakeries in the area were real or merely arty installations was priceless.


One work that you can't avoid at documenta14 is from the Argentinian artist Marta Minujin. It's called 'The Parthenon of Books' and is a life-size replica of the original,  built from banned books. A bit different from matchsticks, anyway.


Ms Minujin is no stranger to creating Parthenons Parthena Parthenae - dammit! Where's my Latin O Level when I need it (or is it all Greek anyway ... ?) in that she created something similar in Buenos Aires in 1983 at the time the military junta were on their way out, using confiscated books that were languishing in cellars.


The documenta14-commissioned Parthenon has been erected on the Friedrichsplatz, where two thousand books were burned by the Nazis in the 1930s. In the nearby Friedricarium, which was being used as a library at the time, 350,000 books were lost as a result of an Allied bombing attack in 1941.


A few thousand books destroyed deliberately, or hundreds of thousands as collateral damage: which is worse? A philosophical (or is it ethical?) question to which there is no answer, only opinions.


There is still time, if you like, to supply a book for the Parthenon. It is undeniably an impressive work of art, in its concept and from a distance. Close-up, it's slightly disappointing. If you follow the link at the beginning of this para, you'll see that the books included are based on a shortlist of 170, and there is also a more comprehensive list, currently standing at 120,000, being developed by the University of Kassel. Maybe it is inevitable, but the same books appear again and again in the columns, almost like a product placement or sponsorship from the publisher. The main suspects:


The Germany version of 'Guantanamo Diary' by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. OK - fair dos - I haven't read it but it sounds like something controversial.


'Twilight' and others in the series by Stephenie Meyer. Now ... funnily enough, this doesn't seem to appear on the short or long list although maybe it has been banned as being an affront to literature, somewhere.


In fact, there were a few books that many would think were banned for good reason and should stay so. I expect my son would like to see 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' by Goethe banned once more and no longer forced on German teenagers at school.


I'm still not sure what will happen to the books when documenta14 is over, but I won't be queuing up for a copy of 'Twilight' even if it has been part of a work of art.

Aug 30th

Need help re: agents predilections

By Hilly

A query for all you wonderful Cloudies. If any of you live abroad, do you put your address/foreign telephone number down on the cover letter when you send out submissions? Or might this put prospective agents/publishers off? I know the world has become smaller with emails and the internet, but can this make a difference? Has anyone any experience of this and can advise?

The next query is, I have been long and short-listed in a number of big competitions. Great, eh? The thing is, it’s for different genres and target markets. Should I only let them know about the ones in the same genre or all of them?
Should I also let them know I have written ten novels but in a variety of genres and for different target markets? Or will I simply ‘shoot myself in the foot’ and they’ll think I can’t focus on one consistently?

It’s all a bit tricky, isn’t it. I’d love to hear any views on this as I’m pretty confused right now.

Aug 28th


By Dolly

The tidal bore drives up the spine, pulling in the breath. It reaches its zenith, before slipping back down again, pushing out the breath. The body lives. Heart pumps the blood. The skin feels, and eyes see colour. Sound of speech and hearing, while the flesh burns with desire. The mind is fuelled with ideas and language. The body in all its intricate and subtle movement, travels through time. Over the years it slows, until finally, it becomes acquainted with the gravedigger's spade, and a handful of earth that rattles on the coffin lid, as the mourners turn away to the pub and the inevitable buffet, where, whoever the body was, will be mentioned over a drink, a sandwich, a chicken drumstick and perhaps a piece of cake. Gradually, the small talk drifts to general things, other people's health, and the reason for the gathering becomes obscure. Eventually, it breaks up, leaving the body forgotten in the grave. Over the years it will be visited. Someone will leave flowers, remember, and say, or think a few words. Families change, people move, until there is no one left to visit, and it becomes abandoned. The earth shifts, and the monument to who ever is buried there, moves with it, listing slightly, a stricken ship, that once carried someone's life.


Alternatively it might be turned into a fine ash and exist in an urn, and for a while, sit on someone's window sill, a display cabinet, or the traditional place, centre stage over the fireplace. Then, over time, occupy a space in the dark recess of a cupboard, or behind the overcoats at the back of a wardrobe. Or perhaps becomes the result of a symbolic gesture, where the remains are scattered over what is assumed to be a favourite place. 'He or she liked to come here,' they will say. Whether he or she did or not.

Where will the dead be when this takes place? Fighting the darkness, or coming to terms with exploding light? Or perhaps looking for the welcome of visions, that are expected to accompany them on the stairs to heaven, and an everlasting, blissful existence. Maybe it's just a trick, a lie taught to everyone when they are young. When Sundays were Sundays, nothing was open, the streets were quiet, the church bells rang, and the pubs were full for an hour between the morning service and the Sunday roast. Then again, there could be nothing. but even nothing is something. The universe is in a state of flux, and all things must pass, all things must change. Even oblivion.

Aug 28th

Pre-York Confession

By Raine

Well hello there,

I've just realised that although I told the Randoms and my SE group, I haven't told you lot. And rather than spend all of York weekend telling people individually (and probably ending up sobbing in the loo), here's a wee update...

You know last winter, I said I had signed with Zeno Agency? Exciting times etc etc. Well, not so much.

Things were looking good - book was out on submission to editors and there were signs of interest. And then my agent left her job, and publishing. And as no-one else at Zeno (at the time) represents my genre, that was pretty much that.

To make a longish story short, I am back to submitting to agents.

To make it slightly longer, having health issues, as you may recall, anything that knocks you back mentally, knocks your health too. It's been a difficult few months, to say the least. But I *have* resubmitted the original book, and the full is out with a couple of agents as we speak. I also have another book ready to submit after York (I'm showing it to our lovely Emma Darwin, so waiting on her thoughts first), and a third beginning to look vaguely presentable.

Our brains are funny things, and although losing my agent was nothing whatsoever to do with me, I still felt like I'd failed in some huge and fundamental way. But chocolate helps with that, as do my fabulous writerly friends who've been ace.

There isn't a moral to this blog, and it's not a cry for sympathy...I just wanted to let you know. I would have done sooner but ... you know, life etc. I am back on the horse, even if it is a mulish and bitey wee bugger.

Much love and tea

Raine x

Aug 28th

Certainly no carry on

By mike


   I had intended  to post a description of Egyptian slave market  written in 1832 but this might cause offense, so I have not done so.  My reason for the post  occurred because  of Fraser’s  (Flashman) comment on the writer. His footnote on the person who wrote the description of boobies, has  been noted on other web sites.  The author of one web-site  writes: ‘I admire the female form myself but J.A.ST John needed a course a course of cold baths if you ask me.‘ 

  It seems rather strange that a writer should be remembered in this fashion; in a rather facetious footnote.

     In the last paragraph of his introduction, the travel writer comments on some contributors to his book:...‘Their authors are entitled to my gratitude; though to express it in any other general way might be injurious to their interests and safety.” 

     A modern book on the subject might well make a similar acknowledgement. The game is a afoot, Well, for a bit.    I was interested in a comment by Secret Spi.  She wondered how a modern Egyptian or Arab might respond to the book.   This raises insolvable problems - especially if the Arab is female.

    W.Said covered this  topic in his books ‘Orientalism’ and ‘Culture and Imperialism’.   The ‘Orient’ has been recorded under Western eyes.

    I managed to write and send off a ghost story for a competition.  It took me a full week to to  do this ,and I wonder if my time might have been better spent?  

    The previous week I attended piano concert at which the pianist played many of the war-horses of the romantic repertoire.  Two Beethoven piano concertos were followed by Chopin, Ravel, Debussy and Rachmaninov,  Before each piece, the pianist put his hands on his knees - and for at least one minute - remained totally still.  And then he was off!  It was a bit like  sprinter embarking on a marathon race.  I felt a bit like the pianist, especially the thursday, and Friday as  I wrote from 7 in the morning till 8 at night while the sun shone outside.   It is all circumstance, as I got the last submission date wrong.  This is today - a bank holiday  I thought it was the friday of last week, though I sent  the play off on Saturday morning. So I very nearly didn’t write it at all. Even then, my original idea was abandoned and I worked on a previous idea of several years ago.

Aug 25th

'Days like this are rare...'

By RichardB

Italians love their motor racing with the sort of passion that we British usually reserve only for football (or rugby, in Wales). And almost any Italian fan will tell you that the greatest driver who ever lived was a man who died way back in 1953, a small wiry Mantuan with a beaky nose and a lantern jaw, by the name of Tazio Nuvolari.


An Italian to his core, Nuvolari would have had a lot of trouble fitting into today's calculating, clinical, money-driven Grand Prix scene. He drove with verve, passion and almost insane courage, doing seemingly impossible things with his car. He was injured many times in crashes, but never let that stop him, driving on at least one occasion with his leg in a plaster cast. He was known to jump up and down in his seat and to thump the side of the car as he drove, urging it on. When he was on form no other driver could live with him. He was the Flying Mantuan, Il Maestro, a national hero.


In 1935 the German teams of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, heavily financed by Hitler for propaganda purposes, were beginning their total domination of Grand Prix racing that would last until World War II. At their own German Grand Prix, held on the challenging 14-mile Nurburgring circuit, Nuvolari beat the lot of them in an obsolete Alfa Romeo with a huge power disadvantage. It has been called the greatest motor racing victory of all time.


The organisers had been so confident of a German victory that they didn't even have a copy of the Italian national anthem to play. Obligingly, Nuvolari lent them his own record, which he carried around just in case.


In those days death was an ever-present threat for racing drivers, and somebody once asked Nuvolari how he found the courage to get into his car before a race. His reply went something like 'Tell me, do you believe you're going to die in bed? You do? Then how do you find the courage to get into it every night?'


Nuvolari didn't die in a crash, but by 1948 he was 55 and quite ill, his lungs ravaged by years of breathing exhaust fumes. He was undergoing a rest cure at a convent by Lake Garda when Enzo Ferrari asked him to drive one of his cars in that year's Mille Miglia. Ferrari was then just starting out as a manufacturer, but he had managed a racing team, Scuderia Ferrari, all through the 1930s running Alfa Romeos, and Nuvolari had driven for him many times, including that immortal day at the Nurburgring.


Although he was moderately well-off, Nuvolari's two sons had both died young and he was alone in the world and slowly dying. He had little else to live for. He accepted Ferrari's offer just a few days before the race.


There is an event run today called the Mille Miglia, but it bears precious little relation to the real thing. It is a cruise for historic cars around Italy, an excuse for wealthy car collectors to show off their precious possessions to the public. The real Mille Miglia was an event that could only have happened in Italy. It was a race like no other: a flat-out blast round a thousand-mile loop of ordinary roads, taking in towns, villages and mountain passes, starting and finishing in Brescia. It was open to anything that complied with a very loose definition of road-legal, from baby Fiats to thinly disguised Grand Prix cars, and the only concession to safety was to start the cars at one-minute intervals instead of en masse. Although the roads were officially closed to the public, close policing of a thousand miles of road was impossible.


The race was stopped after the 1957 edition, when a car crashed into spectators, killing four adults and five children as well as the two men in the car. The only real surprise was that it hadn't happened sooner. By then the fastest cars were getting up to 180mph or so down the long straight Roman roads, and the race had long outgrown its original 1920s concept.


In the 1948 race the infirm and middle-aged Tazio Nuvolari, who'd driven the race many times but had had no practice in the car, set off like a rocket, driving like a man possessed and quickly opening up a big lead. But Nuvolari was always hard on his cars, because he demanded of them things no other driver did, and the Ferrari started to fall apart around him. When the bonnet came off and flew away over his head Nuvolari is said to have shouted to his riding mechanic 'That's better: the engine will cool more easily.' Then one of the mudguards fell off and one of the springs started to come loose. The driving seat came loose too: Nuvolari threw it out and grabbed a sack of oranges to sit on.


At the pit stop in Bologna the team tried to persuade him to retire, but Nuvolari would have none of it. When he reached Modena Enzo Ferrari himself begged him to call it a day, with no more success. Not long after the brakes failed. Nuvolari still pressed on; but after a hair-raising series of skids, the last of which resulted in suspension damage, even he had to admit that his race was over.


Spitting out blood from his ruined lungs, he had to be lifted out of the car. He had been keeping himself going by sheer willpower, driving on his nerve-ends. He was still nearly half-an-hour ahead of his nearest competitor.


When Enzo Ferrari  came to collect him and console him, Nuvolari is reported to have said 'Ferrari, at our age days like this are rare. We must try to enjoy them to the full, if we can.'


Five years later, Tazio Nuvolari died after suffering a debilitating stroke the year before. He was buried in his racing clothes of yellow jersey and blue trousers, and over half the population of Mantua lined his funeral route. Entering Mantua on his way to the funeral, Enzo Ferrari stopped at a plumber's shop to ask for directions. The plumber, seeing the Modena registration on the car but not recognising the driver, said 'Thank you for coming. A man like that won't be born again.'

Aug 24th

Andalucian Tales: little red bike

By Hilly

    My new red bike. Twenty five years ago.

‘So,’ I began, ‘what’s it like then?’
    ‘Cute as a button.’ My friends Matt and Lisa had brought it here to southern Spain in the back of a truck. For me.   
     Matt continued, ’Not in the same league as my Enfield, but it is so sweet.’
    ‘It’s brand new, has two gears and is automatic so that should help with ease of handling.’ Lisa sighed, ‘I want one now that I’ve seen it.’
    ‘Well come on then, let’s get going.’ I was itching to see my new bike.
    It was parked round the back of their building and as I rounded the corner, all I could see was RED. It was a Honda automatic scooter and it gleamed and glistened and I couldn’t wait to try it out.
   ‘Oh, it’s brilliant, thank you and you’re right, so cute!’
    ‘I recommend you get a helmet but as yet it’s not compulsory,’ Matt passed all the documentation to me, which I secured in one of the pockets on my pack. ‘What you do need is glasses to stop bugs getting in your eyes, here ...’ he handed me the keys and pointed, ‘the ignition is here, petrol cap, lockable, is here, don’t forget to put oil in at the same time as the petrol, the accelerator is here.’ He stepped smartly back in case I suddenly shot off down the track.
    ‘If you want it, bring the money round tomorrow but don’t worry, if it’s not alright, we can easily off load it on to someone else round here.’
    ‘Thanks for that but I know it’ll be great. It’s the freedom that I need now and if it moves, then that’s all I want. I’ll see you tomorrow then.’ 
    Hauling on my pack, I started the bike, which purred quietly to itself, slipped on the cheap pair of John Lennon style sun glasses that I had been wearing for years and wobbled off very slowly to Matt shouting, ‘Away she goes!’
    Gaining confidence I speeded up, bounced across the dry riverbed, nearly falling off before I had even got out of first gear and careered up the lane that led back to Orgiva. The main road was more daunting as I had to remember which side of the road I was driving on. (These were the days when you didn't need any basic or otherwise training). The little bike purred slowly upwards. At a certain point it shifted out of second gear, which I had managed to stay in for about five minutes, back down to first as the gradient was too steep.
     Matt and Lisa were right, it did have two speeds, slow and very slow but it did get me home and I felt exultant as I parked it amongst all the other vehicles. And then illegally painted it a range of colours other than red with cans of car spray. Pretty little thing it was now.

A few months later, as it was making strange, rattling sounds, I’d left the bike at the mechanics along the lane. Tempted by a very reasonable offer that Alfonso the mechanic had made me on the bike the last time I was in, I noticed in alarm the way his eyes glazed over when he gazed at it. He practically dribbled but managed to hold it together until this second time, when he could not contain himself further and blurted out, ‘How much do you want for it?’ Desperately trying to back track, he then became positively ‘blasé’. ‘Oh,’ he said, flicking a cloth over the now new, blue/purple/green painted body. ‘It’s quite nice, I am thinking of getting a small bike for town, you know. Why did you paint it this horrible colour? The red was so beautiful. It is sacrilege, you know.’ He looked like a man whose Mother has just been insulted.
   ‘Well, I like it how it is now. I don’t like red,’ I burbled in my ‘not-so-good’ Spanish.
  He grunted in response, obviously not impressed.
    So, you can imagine my surprise when I went to pick up my bike that afternoon and found it in myriad pieces across the workshop floor, all sporting a gleaming new coat of red paint.
    ‘OH!’ he said, caught, literally, ‘red-handed’. ‘I though we had made a deal? No?’
    I must have been nearly as red as the new paintwork. ‘How I get up and down mountain now? You no pay me money! You no have papers; I have papers, what I do now? I need vehicle to work, to live.’
    ‘Ah, well,’ he moved in one fluid motion and indicated off to the side into the shadows like a cheap magician’s assistant. ‘I do have this one spare. It is a Spanish bike that is made for the mountains, very strong but light, good for a woman, no?’
     He must have known the words ‘made for the mountains’ would hit home. I had been going slower than the pedestrians for a while now and would’ve killed to get into second gear and nearly feel the wind in my hair. I went to look at this new proposition, also trying not to seem too keen. It had a heavy suspension, proper sized wheels and was fully geared. Although I had driven a Honda 100 c.c. about London, I was a bit wary as I had only just got the hang of turning right when I went travelling. I had, up to this point, unfortunately spent an inordinate amount of time driving around in circles as I could only turn left. Was it something to do with gravity? Thinking about the terrain here, I might just end up in Marbella!
    As if this idea had only just occurred to him, Alfonso suggested a ‘swap’. How convenient, considering that my bike was in pieces littered across his floor. I accepted graciously, tested it outside up and down the track to get used to the gears and wobbled off, shouting that I would bring the papers the next day and get his in return. He seemed satisfied and I finally got, not only out of first gear but into third and cruised up the mountain, speeding past the turn-off to the villages, past Los Llanos (literal translation the big bar ‘on the flat bit of land’, which if you know the area, you really have to celebrate), and careered with ease down the track. Fine ochre dust being kicked up in my wake, I parked in my usual spot, exhilaration pounding through me. I had nearly got up to 20 M.P.H.!

Aug 24th

It's Greek to me

By AlanP

I had a reason to seek out this plaque, which I will explain in a later blog, perhaps. It's in St Mawnan Church. It seems strange to me that there should be a Greek inscription on the memorial for someone with no apparent Greek connection. At least non that is easily apparent. It's a challenge I am setting myself, to see if I can discover the why of it.

First step is to learn what it means. I'm assuming Greek because of the character set. Any and all help gratefully received. Apologies for the crap picture. It was harder than I thought to capture a highly polished plaque in a dark church with sun streaming in.





Aug 22nd

Book pricing - on line etc

By mike

Between £5 and £10 would be acceptable for me.  This would be for a paperback. 

I recently recommended the short stories of Walter De La Mere as I know some word clouders  write about the supernatural.  The book I read is called ‘The Best Stories of Walter De La Mare‘  I read a few  stories in great detail and thought‘ Ah - this is how it is done.‘  This particular book can be read on-line. I suggest dipping into the story ‘All Hallows’

   I looked for other books in second hand bookshops but I  had no joy.  I also tried bookshops - as one book is in print.  This is  ‘Out of the Deep: and other supernatural tales’

   It is a British Library publication. (April 2017)   It may seem pricey at £8.99 but many Londoners will have to pay more in fares to get to the British Library and back home. The kindle price is a few pounds. 

    However, looking at the Amazon reviews. The first review says: “ If you enjoy ghost stories, then I strongly recommend you avoid this book at all costs. Each story is approximately one hour long and goes absolutely nowhere. The author may be accepted as an accomplished contributor to English literature, but it certainly isn't for the work in this book..”.

    I am devastated. Any idea I might have  had - of attempting literary criticism has been abandoned..

    I have some ‘The British Library’  publications as they are last copies.  I think I might have had to pay more than £8.99 to have the book sent to my local library.  As they were ‘last copies’ I would have to read them in the library to which the book  is sent, so £8.99 is a considerable saving in  money and time.

     I know the British Library is not a typical on-line publisher,  I recall the ‘face’ value of few books I did buy was about £12, but, at the time, Amazon offered a discount and downloading was not an option

    All the  De La Mare short stories are available and I think are published by the descendants of Walter De La Mere,but I don’t know,  These editions seem pricey.  I wanted to see copy of the British Library book before buying it, as I might have read the stories.  This option is not available with the family edition,

     I am such a duff with computers there is no point in taking that route myself, but I would be reluctant to do this without professional help This would be with editing the texts to make them readable.  In most cases the books have been published.

     Just by circumstances I am looking, in detail, at a few days of an 1832 travel book . Can it be turned into a book of more general interest?  The editing problem would be complex.  This is because this has already been done by the author!   Later editions exist.

The author became blind and I don’t know how this might have affected his memories.

   i only have three days left to enter a competition for a horror play and cannot get down to it.  I don’t think I will make the deadline!!


Aug 21st

An Early Autumn

By Athelstone

Last week I was in Brittany. I had been warned that the August weather was not quite up to scratch this year: a disappointment to the thousands of Parisians escaping to the countryside in La Rentrée, the annual holiday/mass-evacuation. In fact, apart from a few showers, it was glorious, with temperatures up in the mid-20s, that’s the 70s for people like me brought up with Fahrenheit. 

As the ferry approached Portsmouth on the evening of the return journey, several of us went to the windows to catch a glimpse of the new flagship carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth recently docked there. We were disappointed. The ferry was arriving in a torrential downpour and the windows were obscured with streaming water. That was what I found. A wet and dismal evening for the height of summer, my car’s dashboard telling me that the temperature outside was a miserable 15 (that’s not even 60 - Fahrenheit fans).

So! Winter will soon be with us*. As many of you know, the most important thing to be done in winter is the composition of a short story. This blog is my convoluted way of bringing your attention to something that is on the way. Coming soon. About to break free.

Sometime within the next few weeks, I will set up a group and produce another blog in which I will invite interested parties to join in a writing exercise: to write a short story and then to judge the work of others. This event, a Word Cloud tradition, was started by AlanP some years back as a challenge with a competitive edge. That’s important. This is no online writing competition where you wave goodbye to your cherished text and then some anonymous celeb author picks somebody else’s for a prize (and it wasn’t nearly as good as yours, and that whatsisname can’t even put a sentence together, and look at all those bloody, useless, excessive, green, adjectives…). AlanP always emphasised that it was first and foremost a challenge – and it is. It’s a challenge to write to your absolute best and then put that story up before a group of people who, if you don’t know already, you will come to know through the work. It’s a challenge because once you have done that, you then have to read each and every story. Actually, that’s the easy part. The real challenge is to put every ounce of mental effort you can into picking those that you consider the best. Believe me, this is a challenge. Only once have I had a clear view from an early stage of who I would pick. Even then, the struggle to select others was agonising.

And when all that is done, you find that the challenge was worthwhile. As if fate was on my side in making this point, it turns out that an entry in the last challenge won second prize in the Segora short story competition and then won the Remastered Words 2017 competition and will be published in audio format. Previous competitions are littered with similar tales of success: competitions won, stories published, stories forming the kernels of novels and so on. 

As a taste of what’s to come, I can say that anybody who has taken part in one of AlanP’s challenges in the past should feel at home with this one. I thought long and hard about shaking things up, re-jigging the format and so on, but there are so many aspects that I enjoyed in the past, that I have decided to ease myself into the big shoes with a little familiarity. If I do another then change may come – but that’s for later.

I can also tell you that the title of the challenge will be Whispers and Glances

Watch this space.


*with luck, my gloomy prediction will inspire a touch more summer. My first trip to York was a wonderful sunny weekend with drinks and conversation on the water’s edge. Hope to meet some of you there this year.



Getting Published


Visitor counter



Blog Roll Centre


Blog Hints

Blog Directory