Holiday Book Bag Summer 2019

To me, one of the great things about a summer holiday are the books I take in my book bag. The chance to relax and read something in a good lengthy book reading session. These are the books I took away to read this summer.

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborelli.

I’ve always found Marilyn Monroe to be just about the most fascinating of all the great Hollywood movie stars, not only her life and career but also her strange and mysterious death. This book written in 2008 is interesting in that it focuses on her early life as well as her movie career, but also looks closely at her private life and her issues with her own mental health which give us a clue to understanding her unhealthy obsession with drugs and medication. Clearly, as the author shows, it was more than the usual Hollywood addiction to uppers and downers, essential perhaps back then to deal with late night publicity and early film calls but actually for Marilyn a way to deal with the mental anguish that plagued her and her mother for most of their lives.

Marilyn was terrified of ending up like her mother in a mental institution and when in the early 1960’s she was voluntarily admitted to a mental hospital, supposedly for a rest cure, she was terrified to find she had been locked into what she described as a madhouse. Former husband Joe DiMaggio came to her rescue but the experience must have reminded her of her own mother who herself was desperate to escape the institutions she was kept in.

A lot of elements of her early life I wasn’t really aware of until reading this book and also the author makes a good point in showing that Marilyn herself wasn’t always honest about what she told the press and others about herself.

Well written, very interesting and apart from the last chapter on the Kennedys which I think has been dealt with better in some more recent books, a great addition to any Monroe book collection.

My Turn by Norman Wisdom.

I have to say that until reading this book I had no interest whatsoever in Norman Wisdom. I used to see his films regularly on television as a child but I have to say, I have never found him funny and his slapstick gormless antics have always left me unmoved.

Liz picked this book up for me at a church charity sale and I had a quick look at it one day relaxing in the garden. It sounded pretty interesting and I do love showbiz life stories so I popped it into my holiday book bag and finished it off on holiday.

Norman tells us the story of his early life in which his parents were clearly not happy together. His father was violent and eventually his mother left and divorced her husband. This being the 1930s when divorce was not so prevalent as in the present day she was unable to take her children with her and they were sadly neglected by their father.

He left them alone for long periods and their education and welfare suffered. At one point Norman remembered going to school in bare feet, something not so uncommon he says at the time. His father put Norman and his brother in various foster homes and at one point they even found themselves living on the streets. Norman himself was saved by the army. He joined as a child as a band boy and credits the army and the army way of life as the making of him. After leaving the army he found his father had remarried and went to see him hoping to be taken in. He knocked on the door and a lady answered. Norman told her who he was and she asked him to wait.

Later his father returned and without a thought for his son and his situation, threw him out. He is never mentioned again. It’s amazing that someone who has suffered so much in this way should go on to a career of making people laugh. I did wonder whether Norman, living in a lovely home in the Isle of Man, surrounded by a collection of exclusive motor cars, ever once thought about his father, who incidentally was a chauffeur.

Later he was reunited with his mother and brother and was supported by his mum and her new husband as he made his way into the world of comedy.

The first part of the book is truly sad and at the same time refreshing to see how Norman copes with all this and yet still goes on to fame and fortune. The latter part of the book is not so interesting; more of a list of his numerous successes but one anecdote was rather funny.

Norman was invited to Spain for a film festival where apparently his films were very popular, his visual style of comedy transcending the language barriers. At the festival he is the star attraction and due to go on last but Hollywood star James Mason thinks he should go on last as he is the bigger star. Norman agrees and goes on before Mason. He then wows his audience with a short speech in Spanish, leaves to a standing ovation and poor James Mason walks on to only a trickle of applause!

Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown.

This is another book I picked up at a charity book shop. Derren Brown is an enigmatic TV fella whose shows are a sort of combination of magic, psychology, hypnotism and some just general weird spooky stuff. I’m not sure what I was expecting from his book. I suppose I guessed it was a sort of autobiography of sorts but in fact it’s really about the things that interest the author, pretty much in the realms of magic, psychology and hypnotism and have contributed towards his performances both on the stage and on TV.

He starts off with a little background to magic and how it works, things like sleight of hand and then how the magician uses various techniques to divert attention away from something that he doesn’t want you to see to something he wants you to see.

Another interesting technique, vital to a magician is memory. Imagine a magician, or anyone for that matter being able to memorise an entire shuffled deck of cards. Sounds impossible doesn’t it but no, it can be done by using various methods which the author describes which are also pretty good for remembering anything like passwords, telephone numbers or shopping lists for instance. The way to do it is by linking something –whatever it is you are trying to remember- to something you can remember like a really striking image. So when trying to remember the name of a new acquaintance called Mike for instance, we should create an image of someone with a really big nose, shaped like a mic –a microphone.

There are more highly interesting sections on hypnotism, and body language and then the author moves on to discrediting things like mediums who try to contact the spirit world. Everything they do he claims can be done by ‘cold reading’, a way of interpreting not only body language but verbal language tricks too.

Overall a fascinating book but one theme that Derren plays too much with is how he has rejected Christianity because science cannot prove that Jesus was who he says he is, the son of God and has been resurrected. Surely Derren especially should realise that everything is not as it seems.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

My Holiday Book Bag 2019

I really do love my books. There is nothing nicer, nothing more relaxing than lying on a beach, by the pool or the sea reading something interesting. Not only that, some books just cannot be read in short sessions while you are on a break at work or getting ready to go to sleep. Some books demand attention and deserve a good holiday reading.

All the books below were bought from second hand bookshops and chosen after a good satisfying browse. .

Honourable Men. My Life in the CIA by William Colby

I started my holiday reading this book, in fact I’ve been looking forward to reading it for quite a while since finding it on the shelves of a second hand book shop. The forward to the book was pretty interesting. Colby, the director of the CIA is summoned to Washington to find himself fired as President Ford, seeking to move the CIA on from the revelations of the Nixon/ Watergate era, wanted new management in the agency. Colby then leaps back in time to tell us of his exploits in World War 2 as an agent of the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA in occupied Europe. That chapter seemed to be very much an I did this and then I did that sort of monologue and I have to say I put the book down in favour of other more interesting books.

Looking at the reviews on Goodreads, they were all pretty encouraging so when I have the time I think I’ll have to try and finish the book off. These days I must be rather impatient, sometimes a good book takes time to deliver while others are enjoyable almost from the first page.

Under a Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein

The first thing I must say about this book is that after only the first couple of pages, I knew I liked it, I knew I liked Rick’s writing style and I knew, instinctively that this was going to be a good read.

Rick Stein is famous as a chef and restaurateur and his many TV shows about cookery and in particular, cooking fish have made him very popular indeed. In this book, subtitled a memoir, he talks nostalgically about his early life and links it with food and various dishes from his youth and also with music, talking about various tracks that he loves and which remind him of his early life. It is, well particularly the first half of the book, a free talking adventure down memory lane taking in all sorts of places, moods, food, tastes and music as he does so. He paints a nostalgic and warm picture of rural Cornish life which was pretty privileged; his father was a farm owner and pretty well off although sadly he committed suicide when Rick was only 18. Rick tells us about the suicide in short bursts throughout the book, in fact at first he doesn’t even mention the death was a suicide. I can imagine it was pretty hard to write about and maybe Rick himself found some solace as his spoke about his father. Anyway, I found myself liking Rick very much and left the book thinking that Rick thinks pretty much just as I do which is perhaps one of the reasons I liked the book as much as I did.

The latter third of the book when he talks about his restaurant and TV work is interesting but doesn’t really have the heart and soul in the writing in the way that the first part did. All in all, a lovely read and one I enjoyed very much.

M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker.

I am a big fan of the TV series mash, a very big fan and I didn’t realise until recently that the TV series and the feature film were based on a book. Richard Hooker was a surgeon in a mobile hospital unit in the Korean war and based this book on his own experiences. The book introduces all the familiar characters from the TV show, Hawkeye, Trapper John, Colonel Blake, Radar and many others. Also, many of the scenarios from the TV show had their basis in this book. The thing is, if this was a book written after the TV series and not before, I’d say the writer hadn’t quite caught the spirit of the TV show, which seemed to bring all the familiar elements, war, tragedy and humour, together so expertly.

One element that was much better than the TV show was the end. In the TV show MASH continues to the end of the Korean War and the final two episode finale when the war ends and everyone goes home just didn’t do it for me. In the book, Hawkeye and another character who wasn’t in the TV show, the Duke, finish their tour of duty and are sent home. They have a goodbye party and leave and as they make their way from Korea to the USA they seem to shed their zany personas and become ‘normal’ once again.

The book is good, quite good in fact but the TV series was epic, absolutely outstanding and perhaps this book suffers a little because I caught the TV show first, even though in reality, this book came first. It’s good but it doesn’t come close to the TV show.

The People v OJ Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin

This fascinating book is a detailed look at the 1995 murder trial of former US football player OJ Simpson. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman. The pair were murdered outside Nicole’s house in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles and bloody footprints were found leading away from the scene. Simpson’s car had blood traces with matches to both Nicole’s and Goldman’s blood. There wasn’t even a low-speed police pursuit of Simpson that was broadcast live on TV bringing in a reported 95 million viewers.

The defence team managed to divert attention away from all of this evidence by playing into the troubled atmosphere in the area at the time. Motorist Rodney King, a black man had been beaten by a group of white police officers. They were all cleared of wrongdoing by a white jury despite the fact the incident was recorded on video clearly showing the officers beating up King. The defence also made great play about a ‘racist’ cop who was one of the first on the scene and even implied he could have planted damning evidence at Simpson’s home, that of a bloody leather glove that matched one found at the murder scene.

Witnesses gave newspaper and TV interviews and the lawyers themselves gave numerous TV interviews. The trial proceedings were broadcast live making the defense and prosecution teams into instant TV stars. The judge welcomed TV pundit Larry King into the courtroom and held up proceedings while King and the Judge chatted in his private chambers. The media attention led to the jury being sequestered for the length of the trial and not allowed to read newspapers, magazines or watch the TV news about the trial. A number of them were dismissed during the proceedings for various things, only 4 of the original jurors making it to the end. Both sides were involved in the jury selection procedure asking questions ranging from sports to their views on domestic violence, all things that would be incredible in an English courtroom. Incredibly, before the trial had even started the TV news had broadcast a 999 call by Nicole requesting the police because Simpson was beating her up.

The author describes the background to the defence and prosecution teams and how they worked. One interesting thing was their use of outside companies who specialised in jury selection and analyses. The defence team followed the advice of their researchers who advised that middle aged black women tended to favour Simpson. The prosecution had the same advice but prosecutor Marcia Clark felt that that same group, middle aged black women, responded strongly to her and that her depiction of OJ as a wife beater would sway them. That was a big mistake.

This is a deeply fascinating book written by a journalist who covered the trial at the time for the New Yorker magazine.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

Writing, Marketing and the Incredible Truth about Google.

Once upon a time when I first started this web page, my whole focus was to promote my book, Floating in Space. Floating is a kitchen sink drama, something on the lines of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, although not quite as good, but set in 1977. Those were the days; no Internet and no mobile phones. There were only a handful of TV channels. Jimmy Carter was the US President, Jim Callaghan was the UK Prime Minister and a pint of bitter was only 25 pence.

 I had taken a number of essays based vaguely on my early life, knitted them together, added something of a storyline and finally, after lots of re-writing and editing, realised a lifetime’s ambition of creating a book and becoming a writer. It’s exciting to produce something, some small piece of work which people actually read, although to be completely honest, pretty much everything I write is for me, for my own personal pleasure and even if nobody ever read anything I wrote, the actual writing itself still gives me a lot of pleasure. Having said that, every time I sell a paperback or a Kindle, every time someone adds a ‘like’ to one of my posts it does make me feel really good.

Back in the old days like 1977, when everything was, you know, black and white and digital publishing was unheard of, an author would have to submit his manuscript to a publisher and nine times out of ten would be flatly rejected. Publishers are experts on literature, or so I suppose but even the best of them have rejected books like the Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, or the Harry Potter books for instance. Maybe they are not such geniuses as we thought.

Either way, even Frederick Forsyth would be taken aback a little I think, if he had to write a weekly blog, plan posts for Facebook and Twitter and make short videos for his YouTube page. Things just aren’t what they used to be!

Not long ago I picked up an e-mail from the people at Google and they offered me a substantial amount of credit to start using Google ads again. I have to admit, I’d not advertised on Google for a long time but creating an ad these days isn’t as easy as it sounds. One of the important aspects is to know your audience. Your audience? Well, I’m not sure I do know my audience. I’m guessing, and this is purely guesswork, that people like me would like the things I write so I suppose we’re looking at middle aged book readers, interested in a humorous take on life, which is what Floating really is.

For the past three years I have concentrated my social media promotions on Twitter. OK, I have a Facebook writer page and a Pinterest account and a Google+ account but it’s Twitter where I have really pushed myself. So much so that I am the proud possessor of over 6,000 followers. Sounds good doesn’t it? If every one of those 6,000 people were fans of my blog and each and every one bought a copy of Floating in Space I’d be quids in. The fact is, out of those 6,000, I’d say only a handful are genuine fans. The rest want to be friends with me for one reason -because I have 6,000 followers and every time someone Tweets one of my Tweets I am honour bound by the unwritten Twitter users code to Tweet them back, Tweet them to my 6,000+ followers.

Anyway, the reason I mention Twitter is that over on the Twitter analytics tab there are some really interesting tools that tell you all sorts of statistical stuff about your Twitter account but one tool in particular will give you the lowdown on your audience, your Twitter audience that is. So, a quick click over to Twitter and I see something like this;

That’s my audience sorted so back to Google Ads to see if I can add those details provided by Twitter and you get these drop down boxes that seem to go on forever in the search to identify your audience: What is their location? Are they parents, homeowners, car owners and so on and so on? Even on the parenting box you can choose one or two or more children.

Then you look at language spoken, income bracket and a multitude of other choices with which you can target your potential customer. Then you are looking at what sort of results are you after? Sales leads, purchases, web site clicks, video clicks, post likes?

This might be the point at which you, the reader, might be thinking that me, the author, is going to answer those questions. You might be thinking this is one of those how to do it posts with step by step instructions to get more book purchases and more readers. Now, or pretty soon, you might think, Steve is going to reveal all, some trick to Google Ads. You might even be thinking ‘wow, Steve is really clued in to all this technical marketing stuff!’

No, not gonna happen, it’s more the other way around: I’m sitting here waiting for someone to tell me what to do!

Just while I’m on the subject of Google it is pretty amazing how much Google is involved in your life, or can be, if you let it. If you search for something on the Internet, you probably use Google. If you upload videos to YouTube, that is part of Google.

A while ago I upgraded from my old banger mobile phone to a top notch internet savvy smartphone. I added Google onto my phone, logged in and found that straight away, Google was saving all my contacts on to my Google profile. Helpful, in fact very helpful because when I changed phones I no longer had to save my contacts to my SIM card. I could just log in to Google again on my new phone and there they were, all my contacts just waiting.

Here’s another thing, your Google timeline. I don’t know if you ever look at it or even know what it is but when you get a chance, check it out because what you will find is this, all your movements in great detail.

On the day I left for my holidays in France for instance, we left home at 8:57am, drove 307 miles in 5 hours and 21 mins. Travelled on Eurotunnel then drove 2 hours and 31 minutes through France to our hotel which was 4 minutes and 150 yards away from a restaurant on the Rue du Mont Perreux. And there was me, annoyed at myself for not jotting the car mileage down before we left home.

A while ago I was in Manchester with my brother and Google showed all our movements, what pubs we were in, how far we had walked to each pub, and how much time we had spent in each establishment. The only thing it didn’t record was what we drank, but now I think about it, in Wetherspoons I used the Wetherspoon app to order drinks so those details will be there, recorded for posterity in my phone memory somewhere.

Last weekend Liz and I went into Lytham for the Christmas lights switch on and when I looked, Google had once again faithfully recorded our movements. There were the times we had walked to the bus stop; the time and distance we had travelled on the bus (16 mins and 4.2 miles.) However, there was one missing element. After watching the festivities in Lytham we went to the Red Fort restaurant and now I think of it, I was unable to ‘check in’ there because I had no signal.

When I checked Google later it asked me if the Ego restaurant, one of my many regular watering holes and a mere stone’s throw from the Red Fort, was a ‘missing place’ Sorry Google, this time we fancied a curry at the Red Fort.

One more thing about Google. The whole genre of detective fiction will have to be changed. I watching a murder documentary the other day on TV and the killer’s movements were traced meticulously by Police investigators. A lot of their work involved tracking down CCTV cameras, trawling through recorded footage and establishing the timeline of the suspect. Then there was more legwork, interviewing people and taking witness statements. Such a pity the murderer didn’t have Google on his phone as his movements would have been there, minute by minute.

Good thing they didn’t have the Internet in Columbo’s day. Google would have ruined many an episode!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Holiday Book Bag Video Version

Eagle-eyed readers will have surely spotted the lack of the usual video version to my summer book bag 2018. Alas, I filmed three versions, all of which suffered from hesitation, repetition and deviation, so much so that not only would I not have lasted long on the radio show ‘Just a Minute’ but any addition to YouTube would be sorely lacking, particularly in the area of presentation.

However, due to the miracle of technology, particularly in the field of editing, a fairly reasonable video version has been made available for my long-suffering YouTube audience and I feel it only fair that they should not suffer alone and that my WordPress followers should also be invited to watch.

If any viewer is unduly affected by this video, a free counselling service is available. Please contact your local healthcare provider immediately should any adverse symptoms occur.

Writing and the Big 300!

It’s not always so easy to come up with a new blog post week after week. It’s even harder to find something extra special for my 300th post. Three hundred posts! I suppose to those of you who have been writing for years, 300 may not be such a big milestone but for an amateur writer like me, it’s pretty special. The crazy thing is this, a few weeks ago I was commenting on one of those online forums, praising WordPress and blogging and someone commented that if I hadn’t been blogging I might have finished my second book! Looking back I now wonder whether that guy was actually right. 300 blog posts, times my average word count per post: That comes to about 20,000 words. Yes, perhaps I could have written my next book. Then again, it’s not just the words, its the idea behind the words, the creative thrust of a book that’s important. Get that and the book should just follow. Still, that fellow had a point. Should I give up my blog posts in favour of my book? Well, if that would guarantee me producing a book then yes, great! The thing is, it’s not a lack of words that have kept my book in a constant state of unfinishedness (is that a word? If Norman Mailer can invent words then so can I.) It’s really my own laziness.

Laziness, fear of the blank page, procrastination, they are all enemies of the writer. The only way to overcome them is just to keep on writing. If you are writing a blog post and it wont come, switch to something else; that other post you had on the back burner or that  script you had started a few years back. A great deal of my work is done like that, in small bursts of activity. A while back I had an idea for a film screenplay and worked away creating the first quarter of the work. Later I decided to turn it into a book and as I worked with the text, adding in all sorts of detail that wasn’t in the original script, the story came alive to me in a different way and I started to bring something new to the book version. Don’t hold your breath though, its still far from completion.

On a number of occasions I get an idea for a scene, a single scene for a screenplay or even a book. Just a scene, not a book or screenplay idea, just an idea for a short scene. Occasionally I’ll write something and see an opening for that scene, a little space that the scene will fit in and perhaps take one of the characters from A to C when before there was a yawning chasm at B!

The other day my brother and I were talking about war pictures and I said that war films don’t really do it for me but then, my brother reeled off a number of war films that I love. World War 2 Films like The Wooden Horse, First of the Few, The Cruel Sea, The Great Escape, and The Dambusters. Then there are modern classics like Platoon and Born on the Fouth of July from director Oliver Stone. Platoon is a particular favourite of mine; it was written and directed by Stone and based on his personal experiences in Vietnam, which made it all the more relevant and emotional.

Anyway, I’m talking about war films for a reason, which is this. My scene, the one that I’m waiting for a story to fit it into, is from a war film. It goes like this:

EXTERIOR. WORLD WAR 2 BATTLEFIELD. SHELLS ARE BURSTING ALL AROUND. MACHINE GUN FIRE RAKES THE AREA AND A WOUNDED SOLIDER STUMBLES INTO A FOX HOLE. SOLDIERS RUN TO HIS AID. THEY TURN HIM OVER AND LIFT HIS HEAD UP.

THE SOLDIER COUGHS AND TRIES TO SPEAK.

SOLDIER 1: Take it easy son. Don’t try to talk.

SOLDIER 2: HE LIGHTS A CIGARETTE AND SLIPS IT INTO THE WOUNDED SOILDIER’S MOUTH.

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS AND CHOKES.

SOLDIER 1: What did I tell you kid? Don’t try and talk. The medic’s on the way over. Save your strength.

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS EVEN MORE.

SOLDIIER 2: Sarge, I think he’s trying to tell us something.

SOLDIER SPITS OUT THE CIGARETTE.

CLOSE UP:

(By the way, I did mention it was a comedy scene , didn’t I?)

WOUNDED SOLDIER: I don’t . .smoke..

Oh well. Here’s another script story. Ages ago when I first met Liz and we began socialising in St Annes, we started frequenting Wetherspoons there. It’s a pretty friendly pub and we made friends with quite a few people. There was Big Steve who I wrote about in another post but we also met two guys, Craig and Danny (as usual, names have been changed to protect the innocent!) They were brothers in law who were married to twin sisters and they both owned and ran small hotels in St Annes. The hotels were on the same street opposite each other and the  sisters were identical twins so their whole scenario seemed to scream ‘sitcom’ to me.

I used to ask them what funny things had happened to them in their work as hoteliers and being married to identical women. ‘Loads of things’ they would always say but I could never get any details. Anyway, when I had a quiet moment I started off a pilot sit com script using their situation, rival hoteliers married to identical sisters. It’s nothing brilliant but mildly amusing and it sat in my documents folder for a long time. Every now and again when I slipped into that blank page syndrome, I’d pull out the script and add a few more pages.

Not long ago I noticed on one of my occasional visits to the BBC Writersroom page that a window of opportunity was coming up for a sitcom script. The BBC, rather than accepting ‘spec’ scripts all year round open a small ‘window’ of a few weeks where you can submit your work in certain areas, sometimes a film script or a play, sometimes drama, other times situation comedy. I went back to my sitcom script,  pulled it quickly into some sort of shape, added an ending and bunged it off to the BBC. Now I sit glued to my inbox with bated breath, awaiting the BBC email that may or may not even arrive.

Of course, I do wonder what might happen if the BBC actually decided that my sitcom script is worth making into a pilot? That would be fun having my work made into a TV show. Imagine if it was succesful! Imagine if the BBC said we’re going to make a twelve episode series! Imagine me trying to write twelve episodes when it took me months to write one 25 minute episode! Even the great Spike MIlligan had a nervous breakdown writing the numerous scripts of the radio show ‘The Goon Show’. Of course, someone at the BBC could be reading this very post. Did I say something about 12 episodes? Would I be able to write 12 episodes?

Of course! What’s 12 episodes to a top writer like me? I might even start episode 2 straight away. Well, straight away after a cup of tea. And maybe a sandwich. Better make it first thing tomorrow. Well, tomorrow afternoon might be better . .


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information!

The Film of the Book or the Book of the Film

It’s always  a bitter-sweet experience when someone decides to make your favourite book into a film. It doesn’t always work out because maybe it was a big, thick, long book and they have cut out your favourite bit, or perhaps the cast wasn’t the one you imagined. It’s usually just the same in reverse. You see a great film and in the credits it says based on the book by so and so, then you rush out and get the book, and it turns out to be a little disappointing. Sometimes it’s even better than the film!
Anyway, here are a few of my film/book experiences.

The Horse Whisperer.
The book.
I picked up this book in a charity sale last year. This is what I said about it in Book Bag 4:

I’m not even sure why I picked up this book; it’s not anything I would normally be interested in. I bought it for a few pence at a church table top sale and I think I bought it one, because I wanted to give something, a few pence to the church fund and two, I faintly remembered the book had been made into a film with Robert Redford, although I had never seen it. The reviews on the back of the book said things like ‘a page turner’ and ‘the hottest book of the year’. Anyway, I bought it ages ago, and on a whim threw it into my book bag. I really hate having a book and not reading it.

From the beginning the book was a page turner giving a hint that something exciting and interesting was coming. I liked the idea of a horse whisperer; someone who could train a horse without hurt or pain, merely by whispering. I envisaged a native American Indian perhaps or some mystic horse guru. The fact is that the story of the horse is nothing but the background to a love story, involving a New York magazine editor and a Montana cowboy. Written in a sort of matter of fact magazine style, it turns out that writer Nicholas Evans is a screen writer and much of the novel reads rather like that, a screenplay, and each character comes with extensive background notes like the writer’s character notes on a screenplay. At the half way point this novel lost steam for me. I read it to the end but the ending was so contrived I was just glad to have finished it. Somewhat disappointing. Wonder what the movie is like?

The film.
The other day I noticed this film was showing on the Sony Movie Channel and set my hard drive up to record it. The result was an OK sort of film although a little on the slow-moving side. I’m tempted to say it was more of a woman’s film but Liz watched it alongside me and she wasn’t impressed either. I felt the casting was not right. Robert Redford just looked too smart and tidy to be a cattle rancher and cowboy. He actually looked as though he came from the Roy Rogers school of cowboying although he also directed the film. If I was casting I would perhaps have gone for someone like Kevin Costner perhaps, and the female lead, played by Kirstin Scott Thomas, needed a stronger, more assertive woman, perhaps a native New Yorker and not an English actress.

The ending was different in the film which was a good thing as the book’s ending was so poor as I mentioned above. Rotten Tomatoes report 74% positive reviews but sadly, I think I was part of the 26% negative ones.

2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film.
I first saw this movie back in 1968, which was quite a fascinating year for me. I wrote about the experience of seeing the film in a earlier post about film music and here is, in part, what I had to say:

I first saw the film in the summer of 1968. I was only 11 at the time and I remember my Mum being surprised I had spent hours at the cinema on a lovely hot day. I watched the film in the huge movie theatre in Northenden, now a Jehovah’s Witness assembly hall. There were only a few people in the picture house that day and it was wonderful having this huge place almost to myself and seeing this incredible film in 70mm on the big screen. I recall being somewhat confused by it all, especially the jump from Neanderthal times to the future, until I bought the novel by Arthur C Clarke which explained things in a way the movie did not.

2001 is a particularly visual film. Kubrick cut out a lot of dialogue because he wanted the film to stand as “basically a visual, nonverbal experience” that “hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.”

2001

Picture courtesy Flickr.com

According to Wikipedia, despite the few people in the cinema with me that day in 1968, the movie went on to become the highest grossing North American movie of that year.

2001 set the pace for the sci-fi movie with its depiction of spacecraft drifting slowly and silently through space. The first Star Trek movie was heavily influenced by 2001 which made it look a little dated when the movie Star Wars was released and did the opposite thing, showing spacecraft whooshing across the screen at lightning speeds.

The book.
As I mentioned above, I was rather confused by the film and there were quite a few moments when I was wondering what was actually happening, for instance the jump from Neanderthal times to the future, the moment when the monolith sends its deep space signal and various other things too. I went out and bought the book by Arthur C Clarke and went straight into a wonderfully well written,  plausible space adventure. All the technology that Clarke wrote about had its origins in science fact, both the space missions and the computer technology which make up the main parts of the story. If you have never seen the film or read the book (shame on you) 2001 is about a mysterious monolith which appears on earth in neolithic times and helps the ape men of the day to develop. Later, in the future, the mysterious monolith is found buried on the moon and when it is exposed to sunlight for the first time, it blasts off a signal to Saturn. (In the movie the destination is Jupiter, as director Stanley Kubrick thought that the special effects department would struggle to create Saturn’s rings.)

Anyway, the scientists of the day decide that the monolith is part of some extraterrestrial intelligence and set up a manned space mission to investigate. As the mission progresses, the onboard computer, HAL, decides to have something of a nervous breakdown which creates an unexpected hazard for the crew.

Verdict: The book is a wonderful read, one of the classics of science fiction and the movie has deservedly become one of the most influential films of all time.

The Great Gatsby.
The book.
I can’t really remember when I read this book for the first time. It was many years ago and ever since, this short novel has been in my personal all time top 10 reads. The story concerns Jay Gatsby who lost out in the love stakes because he was born on the wrong side of the tracks and not an appropriate suitor for the lovely debutante Daisy. Off he goes to the first world war, comes home to the USA a much more worldly-wise fellow than when he left and one way or another he becomes a millionaire.

Gatsby has a huge mansion in the Long Island suburb of West Egg. Renting a cottage in the grounds is the book’s narrator, Nick Carraway. Nick is fascinated by the lavish parties held at the mansion and soon meets Gatsby himself. It turns out that Gatsby’s parties are a device, a lure to attract the beautiful Daisy who Gatsby still loves and hopes will one day come to him like a moth to a flame.

It’s a simple story of love and desire but it becomes something much more in the hands of the author F. Scott Fitzgerald. I often think of it not as a short book, but as a long lyrical poem that has an intrinsic beauty fashioned by the most wonderful turns of phrase. In particular I love the last page and this final paragraph:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter. Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . and one fine morning . . So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Film.
I noticed on the Internet that there was a 1949 version with Alan Ladd which I have never seen but the latest film version was released in 2013 and starred Leonardo DiCaprio with Baz Luhrmann as director. That particular film had been lying dormant on my hard drive recorder for quite a while, just waiting for a quiet few hours for me to watch. As I was part way through this post this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to start it up. So, I settled down with a glass of French red and clicked the play button.

The first part of the movie didn’t really do it for me and the depiction of Gatsby’s famous parties seemed more like a music video than anything, especially with the strange substitution of modern techno music for the jazz music of the time.

Later on, the picture comes into its own. Leonardo DiCaprio is good, indeed very good as Gatsby. Overall, tone down the special effects and the music video feel and this could have been an outstanding film adaptation.

The film version I adore though is the one from 1974 starring Robert Redford as Gatsby and Mia Farrow as the fragile Daisy. I may have written above about Redford being miscast for the Horse Whisperer but he is perfect as Gatsby, so much so that now, whenever I re-read the book I always see Redford’s face in my mind.

The screenplay was by Francis Ford Coppola who directed The Godfather and there are some memorable moments in the film. One of the ones I like particularly is the one where one of Gatsby’s associates is introduced to Nick, thinking him one of Gatsby’s dubious business connections. Redford as Gatsby, firmly but politely indicates a mistake has been made and we get a hint at something questionable behind Gatsby’s facade. Is he a gangster or a bootlegger perhaps? Another is the moment when Gatsby and Nick meet at one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick doesn’t realise he is talking to Gatsby himself when he says he doesn’t even know who is Gatsby is!

Verdict: Brilliant book and a lovely film.

Lost Horizon.
The Book.
I picked up this wonderful gem of a book at charity shop years ago for the bargain price of twenty-five pence and if I could convert the pleasure this book has given me into pounds, shillings, and pence, it would be a figure that far eclipses that initial outlay. James Hilton has become one of my favourite writers and one of my personal writing heroes. (Check out my blog about him here!) This highly original novel reflects the fear and sadness that many must have felt in the days before World War 2. There must have been a feeling then that with new technology, the approaching conflict could be the end of civilisation.

In this wonderful book, a group of Lamas in a monastery, hidden from the world by a chance of geographical fate, decide to look ahead and make sure that the riches of the world, not gold or silver, but literature, art and music, should be preserved should a holocaust engulf the world. To ensure that their creed of respect and compassion endures they kidnap a British diplomat, Robert Conway, to carry on their work and set about bringing him to Shangri-La. Shangri La is a small community in Tibet insulated from the world by mountains on all sides and the people here enjoy unheard of longevity.

Despite his capture Conway is taken into the confidence of the High Lama and given his task of continuing the community and its traditions, but his fellow captives have differing ideas, especially Mallinson, his young vice-consul who is desperate to escape.
The story is told in an interesting way, one that enhances the mystery by a chance meeting between civil servants, one of whom is anxious to talk about Conway and his mysterious disappearance. The story is told about how Conway is found in Tibet with a loss of memory and how his memory suddenly returns and Conway tells of his abduction and escape from Shangri-la. I have to admit that this novel is one of my top ten books of all time, and one I return to time after time.

The Film.
Directed by Frank Capra and starring Ronald Colman, Lost Horizon was shot in 1936 and went seriously over budget. Issues that contributed were scenes shot in a cold storage area, used to replicate the cold of Tibet. The cold affected the film equipment and caused delays. There was also a great deal of location shooting and scenes where Capra used multiple cameras shooting lots of film. Wikipedia reports that the first cut of the film ran for six hours! Studio Boss Harry Cohn was apparently unhappy with the film and edited it himself, producing a version that ran for 132 minutes. Further cuts were made and as a result, Capra filed suit against Columbia pictures. The issue was later resolved in Capra’s favour. The film did not turn a profit until it was re-released in 1942. A frame by frame digital restoration of the film was made in 2013 and various missing elements of the film were returned, including an alternative ending. Sadly, some of the visual elements were so poor that they have been substituted with stills as only the soundtrack was useable.

Ronald Colman is superb as the hero of the film, the slightly world-weary diplomat and politician who finally comes to believe in the ideas of Father Perrault, the High Lama, who wants to keep safe the treasures of the world until the famine of war has passed by.
This movie adaptation is nothing short of wonderful, in fact it is one of my favourite films of all time.  If you see this movie on DVD make sure you take it home and settle down for a wonderful film experience.


A book written by the author which sadly has yet to be made into a film is Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Holiday Book Bag 2018

There’s nothing I love more than a good book and as usual, here’s a quick round-up of the books I’ve taken on holiday to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. As I’m flying I’ve not brought any hardbacks, just four paperbacks. All my books are usually sourced from the Internet or second-hand book shops but the ones below, with one exception, were gifts.


Lennon, the Definitive  Biography by Ray Coleman.

This is a book first published in 1984 that has been revised and updated. It’s been subtitled the ‘definitive biography’ although that’s not a phrase I’d use to describe it. It’s a decent enough book don’t get me wrong but as for ‘definitive’, that’s another matter. The writer has known Lennon as a journalist since the heady days of the early sixties when the Beatles had their big breakthrough in the pop charts so has had the opportunity to talk with Lennon first hand regarding many events in his life.

The first part of the book appears to be the new revised section and details what has happened to Lennon’s work and image in the years since the book first appeared although really, this section would be better placed at the end of the book.

The writer has no time for music journalists who waxed less than lyrical about later Beatles’ records released in the last thirty odd years, things like The Beatles at the BBC released in 1994 or the Beatles Anthology. Reviewers who gave those records a poor reception get short shift indeed and the reader is quickly reminded of their chart topping sales. In their defence though pop music journalists tend to look forward to new music, not back to the old. More scorn is saved for Albert Goldman who wrote the book The Lives of John Lennon. Personally I thought that was rather a good book; it’s certainly more compelling than this one although it tends to focus on Lennon in a negative way whereas this book is very generous towards Lennon. It’s the book of a Lennon fan and focuses on the events in Lennon’s life in a very positive way.

Another annoying aspect of the book is that when Lennon and the Beatles achieve fame, the book drifts off into a lot of general observations about Lennon’s life and music and the narrative tends to lose the thread of his life story. A similar thing happens when discussing John’s son Julian when the narrative jumps forward to discuss things that have not yet happened in the story’s timeline. Sorry but I like my biographies to stick to a certain amount of chronological sequence.

Both John and Yoko emerge from this book as whiter than white although the truth of John Lennon is, I suspect, somewhere between Albert Goldman’s critical book and this work of praise.

After writing this review, here in Lanzarote, we went for a meal at the Casa Carlos restaurant. As I scanned through the menu I could hear something familiar playing in the background. I couldn’t recognise what it was at first. It was an instrumental version of something, then I realised what it was: Love me Do. I’m sure the sharp-tongued John Lennon would have some choice words for the restaurateur after hearing an easy listening version of his work as background music.

Being Elvis by Ray Connelly

Subtitled A Lonely Life, this is a biography of Elvis Presley by another music journalist, Ray Coleman. Elvis became the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll who inspired Lennon, McCartney and a whole host of others to become musicians and pop stars. I’ve read quite a few biographies of Elvis, all much thicker than this one but this is a great holiday read being both interesting and informative. The foreword to the book was particularly insightful regarding the impact Elvis had on other musicians. The author recounts two phone calls, one to Bob Dylan and one to John Lennon where he happened to mention that he had been to Elvis’ 1968 comeback concert. Both those highly regarded stars bombarded Coleman with a series of questions about Elvis showing that despite their own success and achievements, they were still at heart Elvis fans.

The book goes on to recount Elvis’ beginnings as a poor white boy in segregated Mississippi who became an incredible phenomenon; revolutionising pop music, earning hundreds of millions of dollars and yet at the end of his life was dependent on loans from his bank to keep going as he had made few investments with his money.

Time and time again, Elvis was disappointed at the poor standard of the songs that he was presented with, especially in his films, however the book reveals that his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, wanted music in which the writers were willing to use Elvis’ own music publishing company and who were willing to give up a percentage of their royalties for Elvis and the Colonel. Elvis just appears to have put up with this intrusion into his artistic life as he didn’t like confrontations with his manager. The result was that he went from the cutting edge of pop music to somewhere at the back. It was only after his comeback concert in 1968 that he decided ‘enough is enough’ and decided to sing whatever took his fancy, no matter who wrote or published it.

In his later years Elvis was fat, bloated and addicted to amphetamines, sleeping tablets and diet pills. He worried how his fans would react to a tell-all book written by former members of his entourage. A final confrontation appeared with Tom Parker. Elvis threatened to sack him but Parker demanded back payments of 2 million dollars. Free of Parker, Presley could have got himself a new manager who perhaps could have sorted out his personal issues and engaged a new record producer, more in tune with the times. Sadly, he decided to stay with the ‘Colonel’.

Elvis died in 1977 of a heart attack. At the autopsy some months later 14 different drugs were found in his body, some in toxic quantities. It seems clear that drug abuse was a significant factor in his death.

A pocket-sized introduction to Elvis but nevertheless, an interesting and fascinating read.

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy.

This is the only novel I’ve brought with me on this holiday. I particularly chose it because I’ve read two of Ellroy’s non fiction books on previous book bags and I wanted to read some of his fiction. This is a detective story set in 1940’s Los Angeles and is a fast-moving story of cops and murderers and how to get on in the LAPD of the time. It’s written in the first person and is laced with LA jive talk and slang that really evokes the time and place. A good read but a little gruesome for me and I didn’t like the ending when you think the case is solved and then something else happens, and after that, something else.

A Daughter’s Tale by Mary Soames.

This is a memoir by Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter, Mary. I had it down on my reading list as I supposed it was a biography of her father, however, it’s not a biography at all but a personal memoir of her life as Churchill’s daughter. It starts off with her early years living with her family in Winston’s famous house Chartwell. It’s a record of life in a different time and the writer talks about her retinue of animals, her nanny, the servants and all the things you might imagine surround her in an upper class home in the 1930’s. One interesting observation is that in 1935, Churchill, strapped for cash after the Wall Street collapse of 1929, considers selling Chartwell and his daughter quotes a letter he has written to an estate agent saying that his family has mostly flown the nest and that his life is probably in ‘it’s closing decade’. How wrong he was! The portrait the author gives us is an oblique one, Churchill seen from a different angle.

The early part of the book is not so interesting and the author constantly quotes from school girl diaries giving us a sort of Enid Blyton world of lunch and dinner menus, dog walks and pony rides and debutantes balls and a time when ‘coming out’ meant something far removed from what it does today.

The later part when Hitler plunges the world into war was when the book finally began to interest me. On the back cover the Sunday Express is quoted saying the book is a ‘delightful memoir’. I don’t think I can sum the book up any better.

As usual, here’s the video version below. I shot a couple of versions, one was too dark and another had problems with wind noise. I should have gone for take 3 really but the lure of the swimming pool was too much . .


One final book, Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977. You can buy the book by clicking the icon below to go straight to Amazon!

Floating in Space

Never Judge a Book by its Cover

The Problems of a Self-published Writer.

quotescover-jpg-91I was at a pub quiz the other week and one of the questions was ‘name an author who has written 723 novels.’ Seven hundred and twenty-three novels. Can you believe that? The answer, in case you didn’t know is Barbara Cartland. She has a place in the Guinness book of records and is known as one of the world’s most prolific authors. At the other end of the scale there is me, Steve Higgins, with my one book, Floating in Space.

I have probably written more words, in my blogs and tweets and other social media posts promoting my book, than are actually in the book itself. Oh well, that is one of the facts of the self-publishing world: Writing a book is one thing but marketing is an entirely different ball game altogether and of course the competition is fierce with more than 5000 new books released on Kindle every day! Is it worth it you might ask? Why do I do it? Well, quite simply I do it because I like doing it and when the enjoyment has gone I’ll start thinking about doing something else with my spare time.

Nothing improves and hones your writing skills more than the writing process itself and as a blogger with a deadline of 10:00 am on a Saturday morning I have even started to feel like something of a professional writer. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to log into WordPress and find someone has liked one of my posts, or better still has left a comment. I’ve always thought that an intrinsic element of the human condition is finding that out that there are others in the world who think the same way as you do and like the things that you like.

I do tinker quite a lot with Floating in Space and some time ago I added a version which hopefully corrected the book’s various grammatical mistakes and I also added a small index to help explain 1977 to my younger readers. Recently I went a step further. I’ve not always been completely happy with the cover of my book. I used the cover designer built into createspace and KDP select to create a cover from various stock elements but I’ve always thought I could do better.

Using the web site canva.com which has a Kindle cover template I designed a new cover using a background photograph I had taken myself. I’ve always envisioned the cover as being a lovely cloud filled sky and the image of a man floating there, hands outstretched. That image is the whole essence of floating in space and although I’d like to explain further I don’t want to give away the ending for any potential readers. Anyway, there is no floating man on the new cover (yet) but there is a rather lovely cloud filled sky. I was pretty pleased with the result so I exported it to Kindle and there it was, working pretty well I thought as my new cover. Take a look below at the old and new versions.

picmonkeybook-collage

Old cover to the left, new cover to the right.

I then added it to my paperback version in createspace and after uploading it I ordered a copy for promotional purposes. Now I’m glad I did that because the book arrived with its smart new cover but I found there was no lettering on the spine and the entire back cover blurb had gone. Now, after some research, I find that to create a cover for the paperback, you have to create a full book jacket including the front and rear of the book! Looks like it’s back to the drawing board for now for the paperback cover!

I’ve had to be a little creative in using the paperback for my web site photos. The one below shows the new version but the one underneath showing the rear cover is the old version!

dscf1792_31219045553_o

A lot of the videos I have on this site were made at animoto.com and it was great to find I can just edit my original videos, take out photos of the old cover and insert the new one, except of course for shots where I’m actually holding a copy of the book.

Wonder if Hemingway ever had all this trouble!


If you want more information about Floating in Space click the links at the top of the page. Have a look at the updated video below to hear more about the way the novel was written and a little bit of background information:

Update.
I wrote the above post last week and now, after a few days work, here’s the finished cover which is now live on Amazon if you fancy a paperback to read while you while away those dark winter nights.
webversbook-cover

The Secret of my Success

successThe secret of my success. What’s that about, you might wonder? Well, I thought it was time to write something about Floating In Space again and update you with how it’s going. Success of course is pretty relative. Floating In Space isn’t a blockbuster hit, in fact it’s currently rated at 677,726 on Amazon so there’s a bit of a way to go before we start challenging the current number one paperback. Still, from my point of view, that of an amateur self published writer, I’m reasonably pleased with myself. I wrote Floating for me, for my own personal pleasure and the fact that so many people have read it is great.

Last year, 2015, I was averaging a few quid in royalties each month. A fiver means I’ve sold about ten Kindle copies and I was selling at that rate per month for most of 2015; sometimes less, occasionally more. In November I thought that was the time to crank up the pressure and get ready for the Christmas rush. I took some of my profits and invested them in a couple of advertisements. One on Twitter and one on Facebook. It’s interesting how advertising on the Internet works. You can target people by age, gender and interests, by geographical location, by personal interests, by all sorts of things. My Facebook ads didn’t seem to do so well, indeed various versions were not accepted due to the text used in my images. Facebook doesn’t like text within images but images on the Internet are highly important as you probably know. Posts with images attract much more interaction than posts without images. Anyway, I eventually solved the issue by using text free images thus making them more Facebook friendly.

On Twitter, I promoted an existing Tweet about Floating and it went pretty well. Well, I thought so at first, the only thing is that my December sales were nil. Same for January and February. In fact it was only mid 2016 that they seemed to recover. The current ad I am using is on Goodreads. It’s a pay-per-click ad which is doing really well. A huge amount of people have seen it, although only a few have actually clicked on the ad, and it’s then, when a viewer clicks on the ad, that I pay a few cents.

This blog, with its various posts and videos was started originally to sell my book. After all, it’s one thing to publish a book, it’s another to start selling it and people need to know it’s out there first. However, this website has taken on a life of its own. My own writing has improved and its a great to have a deadline  -10:00AM every Saturday which just seems to hone my writing. I work towards that deadline every week and so far, with the help of my standby or banker posts, I’ve always made it OK.

My posts go out automatically every Saturday to all my social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr accounts and I have a fair few followers on all those sites, especially Twitter. On Facebook, my writer page has only about 150 followers and probably less on Tumblr and Google+ but on Twitter, I have a whopping 3,684 followers. Yes, 3,684! Now, I’d like to be able to tell you how I did that but I’m not sure I can. The only answer I can give you is that networking, constant networking, eventually pays off. I usually post four times a day on Twitter, just links to my posts and videos, all coupled with a picture that I hope readers will find interesting enough to click on. Here’s the interesting thing, the really crazy thing. Often, my stats at WordPress won’t match with Twitter. Take a highly retweeted post on Twitter, linking to a wordpress post and my Twitter stats will show a pretty hefty number of retweets and likes but on wordpress there are not always the same figures. That’s because, I think, my fellow promoters and networkers at Twitter don’t necessarily click the link on the tweets in the first place, they just take them at their face value and like or retweet as they think fit. Why? Because they have their own agenda which doesn’t necessarily fit in with mine. Internet etiquette means that I’ll tend to retweet the tweets of my retweeters and if I do that, boom, those tweets are going straight to my 3684 followers, just as my retweeters wanted. Yes, the Internet can be a pretty ruthless place. My pretty large following gives me a certain sort of power, it makes me pretty popular and means that my following is just expanding organically. My latest stats say I’m getting another 2 followers every day so please check the date and update that 3684 figure incrementally when you read this!

So, is it still possible to find success as a self published author or Internet writer? Believe me, I won’t be giving up my day job anytime yet but it’s not impossible to at least make a living. 50 Shades of Grey started out as a self published novel, and so did many other books. In fact click here to read about the top 10 best-selling self published authors.

Still what is success really? If Floating In Space hits the best seller lists and I make a huge amount of money from it, I’d only fritter it away in restaurants and pubs, spend far too much time in some sunny resort, and probably drive about the country in a ridiculously expensive car. Do I really need success? Do I really want it?

Of course I do!


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information but in the meantime, check out my one minute video below!