Recommendation: “The War of the Wolf” by Bernard Cornwell

Now an old man, Uhtred of Bebbanburg finds himself drawn back to Wessex by old oaths and the inevitable coming invasion of Northumbria. But while an ailing King Edward means that soon he’ll find himself marching south, for now he is drawn north by personal vengeance and what may be his final battle.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism about Bernard Cornwall’s series being very samey. I can understand the argument. But I still find that each once is just as readable as the last, and I’ve been waiting eagerly for War of the Wolf to come out in paperback.

I think these books avoid seeming too similar by being based on history. The characters are driven by on actual events, and so while the plot and characters may undeniably have a similarity across all the books, the fact they are draped over the backdrop of history gives them a realism they might otherwise have lacked.

Saying that, I would have though I’d have liked this one less. The majority of the story in War of the Wolf is not based in real events. Essentially, the book sets up the coming death of Edward and rise of Ethelstan that I assume will be the drive of the next story, leaving the majority of the story fictional. But I still enjoyed reading this just as much as the previous stories.

There’s also the fact we’re coming to the end of this series. Uhtred is now in his sixties. And while he, our narrator, can’t die, Cornwall does a very good job of showing age catching up with him. He’s losing speed. He’s still imposing, but lacks the raw power of youth that drove him before. And at the same time, he can see that Christianity is winning, and the old religion, his religion, is passing away. He’s a man beginning to face his own mortality, but in a way that suits the character.

There’s maybe two more books left to this series, assuming that it will end with Ethelstan’s rise as the first king of England (sorry for spoilers, but I think we’re out of the statute of limitations for events over a millennia ago), and War of the Wolf kind of has the feeling of a quick breather before the final push to the climax of the story of the creation of England.

If you’re a fan of the series, that fact is going to leave you more than excited for the next instalment.

Review: “Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London” by Matthew Beaumont.

I really wanted to like this book more. In fact, I think the amount I wanted to to enjoy it is the only reason I managed to make myself finish it.

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The main concept is one of those that is oddly interesting: a history of London at night. But it is interesting. It’s one of those areas that you don’t realise you’ve never thought about. I mean, when did you last think about how much public street lighting must have fundamentally changed public life? Or what life in the was city like when it would literally be pitch dark at night? I didn’t know that the literal act of being outside at night was once considered a crime. Did you? 

And the conceit should work as well. Beaumont uses examples of literature from different periods throughout London’s history – from Shakespeare to Dickens – to show how these poets and authors – in their work and their lives – reflected these changes in society. How going outside at night without an explicit reason went from being a crime to a leisurely pastime of gentlefolk.

But unfortunately Beaumont took this in completely the wrong direction. Rather than a history shown through the lens of literature, he makes this a literary critique that simply uses history as a loose excuse to show off his own knowledge. His writing is overly literary and self important – seeing the Forward was written by Will Self was fair warning, I suppose – making large chunks of the book almost unreadable. The topics should be interesting, and most often start off that way, but then Beaumont will slip into deep literary analysis that makes it impossible to stay engaged.

Essentially, this could easily lose around half its word-count. It’s not a thin book so wouldn’t look anaemic, and it would be a much better read. Unfortunately Beaumont appears to be part of that literary scene who believe that part of a good book is making it as hard to read as possible. It’s not the subject he’s writing about that he wants us to be impressed with, but his own intelligence. This is not a book the writer intended to be enjoyed. I’m half convinced that Beaumont may have just published his PHD thesis.

It wasn’t so bad that I gave up on it. There was enough in there to chip through and enjoy. But it’s not a good sign when your reaction on finishing a book is relief.

My notebook is dead. Long live my notebook!

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My notebook has finally died. The binding has gone, and it is now a mere collection of paper collected together in its former covers.

It’s not been a bad innings for something I’ve been carrying around with me for seven years. And I mean literally seven years. The first entry in the book is a draft of a blog post I wrote about my upcoming wedding dated 15th September 2009.

That’s literally seven years ago to the day! 

How’s that for freaky?

There’s just so much in this little book; Story ideas, book drafts, brainstorming sessions, quick poetry, directorial notes, stage manager plans, to-do lists, job application notes, notes from seminars, room plans, timelines, meeting minutes, family trees. I wrote in a previous post how important a good notebook is to a writer, it feels truer than ever right now. There is a little piece of everything that was part of my life in the last seven years in here.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-13-41-33And today, seven years to the day when I made my first entry, its replacement has arrived.

Look at it. Isn’t this just a thing of beauty. What is it about a Moleskine notebook that’s just so… right. They have something different about them, but I can never put my finger on what.

Well, here’s to another seven years with my little green book.

Remembering An ‘-ism’

Well, it seems that everyone and their mother has thrown in their tuppence on this topic, so much so that there is very little really left to say. Those on the Right has extolled her graces. Those on the Left have trampled her name in the mud. Some have called for people to leave a poor old lady’s grieving family alone. Others have claimed that such a public figure has no claim to such anonymity. Some have held death parties, while others lined the streets for the funeral.

There have been many times since Margaret Thatcher’s death that I’ve wanted to wade in to the many arguments, but I pride myself that I have more sense than that. Everyone had already made up their minds and so I kept out of it, lest I further encourage more vitriol or pointless rehashing of well worn arguments.

But having read through so many articles, I’ve found there is one little thing that I keep wanting to be mentioned that so far people keep missing. So, despite the already vast amount of words about her death already filling the internet, I’ll add just a few more.

One of the arguments throughout this whole situation has been the possible lack of taste, or not, that has been shown by people celebrating Thatcher’s death. Many have counter-argued, quite fairly, that they hated her in life for what she did to them and so pretending otherwise now would be hypocritical. But then maybe, as many on the Right have argued, the old adage of not speaking ill of the dead raises its head, and those who disagreed with her should remain silent for the duration.

They also argue that these celebrations do not seem exclusively populated by those who lived through the 1980s. Many involved are too young to even remember Thatcher, or even to have been alive when she was in power. They are just jumping on a bandwagon, upsetting a grieving family and looking to cause trouble.

And this is where my thought comes in. After so long, 34 years since she came to power and 23 since her own party threw her out of it, Margaret Thatcher cease long ago to be a mere person. Love her or loathe her, she has transpired mere humanity (if you believe she ever had any) and became an “-ism”.

‘Thatcherism’ is more than just one woman; it is something that represents an entire era. An era of the haves and have nots, that for many people represents a time where their way of life was dismantled, for better or for worse, in the name of a political ideology. In exactly the same way that Marxism isn’t the study of what Karl Marx did as an individual, neither is Thatcherism simply down to the actions of one politician.

What these people are celebrating it the symbolic death, through the woman, of the -ism. While Thatcher did many things, and was the leading light of the ideology that took her name, she was not the whole thing. She was a symbol of what it stood for, and it is the death of that symbol that is being celebrated. While the world is by no means free of it, we can believe that our society has moved on where the violent social upheavals are a thing of the past.

And its the same for the other side. The current Tory government can argue that they are mourning a mere woman all they like, what they are doing to worshiping the idol of Thatcherism, and the power it gave them, one last time.

So before anyone starts to turn on those supposedly using death of a weak old lady in the name of political capital, Margaret Thatcher long ago surpassed being such a basic concept as ‘one person’.

Thatcher, was an ‘-ism’. Nothing less.