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.

4 Simple Secrets of Self Publishing

One of the bylines I use on Twitter is ‘hear it straight from a self-published author’ so I thought it might be an idea to write a post about just that, about being a self-published author.

1. The first thing to remember in the world of self-publishing is that it’s just you, no one else, just you.

You are the writer, the editor and the proofreader all rolled into one and there is only you to tell you that that bit is good and that other bit is not so good and that the book is too long or too short, or anything else for that matter. Sometimes you might find you need a little help, particularly in the area of proofreading. After I wrote my book and then rewrote it a few times I personally began to develop a sort of word blindness and I tended to see only the words I thought I had written and not the ones I actually had written. Spelling and grammar checkers will pick up things like repeated words, bad spelling and so on but a really good idea is to get someone to proofread your work. How many mistakes Liz has spotted in my work I shudder to think!

2. Once you have clicked the button at Amazon to publish then another thought may begin to enter your head: Who is going to buy your epic work? How will they even know about it?

The answer is marketing, and who will be marketing your book? Well, for a self published author, it’s going to be you! Yes, that’s your cue to start Facebooking, Tweeting and Blogging so you can get your message out to all those eagerly waiting readers; a new book is available, come and get it.

A thousand websites are out there that will tell you about the intricacies of marketing and blogging. Some will drop a tiny sliver of free info onto your doorstep, others want you to sign up for their webinars and their courses all guaranteed to sell your book, at a price of course.

For me there are a few select websites that I follow and I do follow their advice particularly when I decide to shell out some money and actually advertise. Apart from advertising, I publicise Floating in Space in all the usual places I have mentioned plus I have a raft of videos to bombard the public with, some short and snappy and others that go into more detail. Then of course, there is this humble blog, going out once a week in the hope that these short missives about life, the universe, books and classic films will hopefully entice a few people to buy my book and bring me in a few sales. Will you be a best seller and make lots of money? Some writers do of course but when £5 a month drops into my bank account, sometimes more, sometimes less, I count myself very happy indeed.

Got yourself an author blog? No? Get yourself one ASAP. An author blog is a way of communicating straight to the book buying public. WordPress is a great way to start, fairly easy and free. The only thing I pay for at WordPress is my website address, http://www.stevehigginslive.com

3. Have you self-published at amazon?

Well if you have, having your author page at amazon is very important too. Get yourself a good bio sorted and some juicy stuff about your book. Another place that’s important is Goodreads. Take some time to set up your author page there too and try to interact with readers and other authors. Take a look at my Goodreads page here.

4. One last thought.

Ok, you’ve gone down the self-publishing route but that doesn’t mean you have to stay self-published. Keep on researching publishers and keep on sending off your manuscripts!

Oh and one other thing, just because you have found these four ‘secrets’ published on the Internet, that doesn’t mean that they are right, or good or even worthwhile listening to. I am just like a thousand other writers knocking out works like this that float off into the internet. I have no editor to tell me my post wasn’t helpful or interesting or generally up to much. I just have me and some grammatical support from my lovely proofreader who labours away correcting my tenses and spelling and other errors for no monetary gain at all, although I do take her out for a meal now and again.

So if you fancy becoming a self published author and blogger, join the club. Floating in Space is currently rated by Amazon as the 520,413th most popular book on their site. Almost a year ago it had hit the dizzy heights of 4,536th most popular so that is quite a fall, maybe it’s time to consult my head of marketing (me) and maybe sort out a new video from my personal video producer (me) for a new ad campaign!


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.

 

Dealing with that Bad Review

Getting a bad review is not nice. That’s the basic fact of the issue. Nobody likes a bad review. The flip side, the good review is just great. You feel good, your writing, your work is vindicated but the bad review, well that gets you right there, right in the solar plexus and depending how thick skinned you are, well, even then it still hurts.

I have a number of reviews of Floating in Space on my Amazon page and they are all pretty complimentary.

The first one was written some years back by my friend Andy. We used to work together until I changed shifts. I thought I was going to progress from deputy manager to full-time manager but it didn’t work out but well, that’s another story.

I enjoyed working with Andy because he and I were just sympatico. We like a lot of the same things such as music, films, and books. We have the same sense of humour, have similar viewpoints on life and just, well, generally get on well.

I remember once on a dull night shift I decided to compile a list of my top 20 favourite singles but it expanded and expanded until it became my top 100. I showed it to Andy and he began compiling his own version. We compared notes and found that there was so much music that we both liked that our compilations overlapped in so many area. There were, of course, some areas of music that Andy liked which didn’t appeal to me but there was much more that we had in common. Andy though had quite a few artists and songs on his list that I had never heard of and as we talked and pulled out more and more tracks from our memory banks, I became desperate for something that I liked but would be new to him and so I started racking my brains for something he would never have heard of.

After a few moments I remembered an artist so obscure that Andy would never have heard of in a month of Sundays.’ Andy,’ I told him. ‘I’ve got one record that I really don’t think you’ll know. It’s by a Japanese percussionist.’

Andy thought for a moment and said ‘you don’t mean Stomu Yamashta!

He and I both roared with laughter. It’s not totally inconceivable that two middle-aged men with similar likes should both have bought albums by the same obscure artist decades ago but it seemed so funny to us that we both howled with laughter. I remember one of our team mates coming over and asking what the joke was. When we had recovered sufficiently to tell her, she looked back at us blankly and went back to her desk. Clearly she thought we were both bonkers.

I’m not sure Andy was too keen on looking at my book with a view to reviewing it. He’d looked at my blog posts and he wasn’t a particular fan. Anyway, eventually he succumbed to my constant mithering and one day decided to take my review copy home.

He came back to work saying he had really liked the book and even went so far as to buy his own paperback version. That was another satisfied reader and a great feeling for me to have a friend like my work. Andy, as I said earlier, wrote me a pretty good review.

Another short but good review came from my old friend Brian. Brian actually features in Floating in Space, thinly disguised as a character called Billy Mallet. Billy, and Brian, were both great jokers and were always quick with a funny response for any given situation. I remember once going into a pub with Brian where he was due to have a game of pool with someone and it was something of a grudge match if you know what I mean.

Anyway, we walked into this pub. The atmosphere was not good and someone shouted out to him. I don’t actually remember what the remark was, it certainly wasn’t of a complimentary nature but Brian, without missing a beat called to the guy and said ‘hey, fancy going around with a face like that and no dog licence!’ which brought the house down and cleared the atmosphere. Brian and his mate had the pool match, Brian won, money was exchanged and we left in search of more congenial surroundings.

Brian’s review was short and sweet but positive.

Another review came from one of my WordPress fellow bloggers who decided to see what all the fuss was about on my web page, which as you may know is full of posts, pages and videos praising this relatively unknown literary masterpiece. That review was very, very kind indeed and compared FIS to similar works like the Reggie Perrin books and writers such as Stan Barstow, Alan Sillitoe and Bill Naughton.

So now it’s about time we came to the bad review. It wasn’t a nasty review, it wasn’t one of those internet things where someone just starts having a go at you. Come to think of it, not long ago on YouTube, someone commented on one of my promo videos that Floating was ‘a rip off and a sad copy of Life on Mars!’

Life on Mars if you remember, was a TV show in which the main character wakes up in 1970’s Manchester where he is a police detective. Well, I don’t know where that guy was going with that one because FIS is nothing like Life on Mars although it is of course set in Manchester in 1977. I pointed that out to my random YouTube commenter but he never replied and after about a month I deleted his comment as it annoyed me every time I happened to see it.

OK but what about the bad review on Amazon? I know, well here it is:

I got this for my oh (other half?) to read as he was at uni in the 70s. But he wasn’t interested, so I read it myself. It wasn’t my cup of tea. I found it boring, lacking in real story and about free sex and booze.

Free sex and booze! I don’t remember writing anything about free sex but then again, then was some sex. It’s a book about young men and young men like young women and, at least back in the seventies, young men and women liked having a drink and a dance and they enjoyed the subtle and no so subtle arts of the ‘chat up’!

I like to think that FIS observes young men up close in pubs and clubs and I wrote, quite accurately I thought, about beer and cigarettes, about banter and chat up lines, pints of lager and Bacardi and cokes and the smoky background of 1970’s jukebox music.

The reviewer mentions university so perhaps life was different for students in the 70’s. Perhaps for them it was all red wine and progressive rock, cannabis and sex. (But not free sex, clearly.)

Still, there are a number of things to remember about reviews, especially bad reviews.

Firstly: Even the very best of the bestest authors get them because not everybody will like your book.

Secondly: It’s not a personal affront; the reviewer just didn’t like my book. When it comes down to it, I don’t care for every book I read, do I?

Thirdly: Look at the review objectively. Are they any comments I can use to improve my next project?

Fourthly: Pick yourself up and carry on. OK, give yourself time to perhaps eat chocolate, drink beer or even have a moan to friends but then pick yourself up and move on!

Here are a couple of posts on the subject of bad reviews that helped me.

Click here for one and here for the other.


Floating in Space is set in Manchester 1977. It’s about beer and cigarettes, banter and chat up lines, pints of lager and Bacardi and cokes and the smoky background of 1970’s jukebox music. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

10 Books Rejected by Publishers!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had been written in Edinburgh cafes while author JK Rowling and her daughter lived on benefits. The book was rejected 12 times and was only published when one publisher’s daughter read the first chapter and then begged her father to produce the book so she could read the rest. The series may now have finished, but the Harry Potter franchise continues. Eight films, one theme park, and countless video games, board games and products later, Harry Potter is one of the highest grossing franchises of all time. Rowling is no longer living on state benefits and is reputedly worth 700 million pounds. I have to admit I have never read the Harry Potter books but I salute an author that has given the gift of reading to a new generation of young readers.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

A number of searches on the internet brought up the magic rejection number of 38 for this novel. Rejected 38 times? Well I also found an interesting post by author Brenda Coulter in which she claimed the novel was never rejected. Margaret Mitchell apparently felt the novel would have little interest outside the South but happened to meet with someone from the MacMillan publishing group who immediately bought the publishing rights, much to the author’s surprise. The writer of the blog post went on to say this about publishing:  It just isn’t true that every talented writer will eventually be published if she works hard enough and waits long enough and believes. Novels don’t get published because their authors have faithfully paid their dues and waited their turn. Publication isn’t a bus that anyone can catch as long as they have the correct fare and show up at the right stop at the scheduled time. A novel is accepted only when some publishing house believes it can make money on the book. Period. So the difference between a published author and an unpublished one does not always boil down to talent and experience. Sometimes the difference is, quite simply, marketability.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Lolita was rejected 5 times. One publisher wrote that the book was “…overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” I read the book a few years back after reading a blog post about classic books I must read. I felt a little like a sort of voyeur reading the novel which is about one man’s passion, lust even, for a young girl. It was an interesting read and the excellence of the writing seemed to jar a little with the subject matter. ‘A neurotic daydream’ is probably a good description of the book.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Again, this is not a book I have read but I have seen the film starring Gregory Peck. Moby Dick was initially rejected by publishers Bentley and Son who wrote back to Melville asking: “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?” Melville decided to keep the whale although the young voluptuous maiden idea surely has it merits. .

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum.

It’s hard to say how many times this book was rejected but the author did keep a journal he called ‘a record of failure’ detailing all his rejections. The book was first published in 1900 and by 1938 had sold over a million copies. The book was illustrated by W W Denslow and both he and Baum claimed credit for the book’s success. The publisher only agreed to publish the book when the manager of the Chicago Grand Opera House, Fred R Hamlin, committed to making The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into a musical stage play to publicize the novel. The book was famously made into a film in 1939 starring Judy Garland.

Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

The novel was turned down by the first four publishers the author approached. Eventually Harold Harris of Hutchinson decided to take a chance on a modest print run of 8,000 copies. The Jackal became a sensation and only two years later Fred Zinneman was directing the movie version. Forsyth was a journalist in Paris in his mid-twenties and was aware of the controversy over the granting of independence to Algeria. He had befriended some of President De Gaulle’s bodyguards and had even reported from the scene of a real life failed assassination attempt, in fact an account of this real incident opens the novel. What would happen, thought Forsyth, if the terrorist group the OAS decided to employ a hitman to murder the President? The resulting novel has a gritty documentary style of realism that would influence a new wave of thriller writers.

Carrie by Stephen King.

Stephen King apparently received 30 rejections for his book before dejectedly tossing it into the trash. His wife Tabitha fished it out and urged him to try again. The book was published and became a classic of the horror genre. At the time back in 1973, King and his wife were living in a trailer, he taught English at a private school and his wife worked in ‘Dunkin Donuts’ as well as them both moonlighting in various part time jobs. Sales of the book were boosted by the film version and the paperback sold over a million copies in its first year.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This book was rejected by 25 agents but was finally published in 2003 after the author sent the manuscript to a small San Francisco based publisher where the work found its way into the hands of a sympathetic editor. I have to say that this was an odd novel and took me quite a while to get into the book and understand the fractured timeline of the time traveller. However, it was an interesting and enjoyable read although a somewhat quirky addition to the sci-fi genre. Having said that, some reviewers regard the book as more of a romance than a work of sci-fi.

Roots by Alex Haley.

Alex Haley spent eight years writing the book and received 200 consecutive rejections or at least that is what some internet sites say. Others say Haley may have had 200 rejections but that includes his other work as well. His novel Roots finally became a publishing sensation, selling 1.5 million copies in its first seven months of release and going on to sell 8 million. Such was the success of the book that The Pulitzer Prize awarded the novel a Special Citation in 1977. Again, this is another book I have yet to read but I do remember the TV series from 1977.

Floating in Space by Steve Higgins. I sent my book off to 3 traditional publishers who all declined to publish it. To be fair, my manuscript was not in great shape but I have beavered away and every now and then updated the book so now I like to think the manuscript is pretty reasonable. After those three knockbacks, paltry compared to some of the rejections mentioned above, I chose to self-publish at Amazon. Should I perhaps have tried harder, spent more time on my covering letter, sent out the manuscript to more publishers? Still, just like Brenda Coulter says: Publication isn’t a bus that anyone can catch as long as they have the correct fare and show up at the right stop at the scheduled time. It’s about marketability!

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.

Dear Diary

Reading a published diary is not like reading a normal book, A diary isn’t an autobiography, it’s something slightly different, the thoughts of the writer at the time and not his or her later retrospective thoughts.

I am a diarist, though very much an irregular one. Many of my diaries have gaping pages of emptiness in them and catch up pages where I quickly skim through things that have happened to me. Other pages are just lists of my shift times and I have to say there is not much of any great literary value in any of my diaries, although they are interesting to look back on, well at least to me. My oldest diary dates back to 1971 and a great deal of it concerns the television programmes I had watched. No wonder my old Dad used to call me ‘square eyes’!

Just taking in a random page from 1971 I see the Belgian Grand Prix was cancelled that year. I think there were safety concerns regarding the very fast Spa Fancorchamps circuit. I was a big fan of the Saint with Roger Moore and Strange Report was a TV show from the time with Anthony Quayle. I see that the Le Mans 24 hour race that year was won by Helmet Marko who these days is one of the big bosses at the Red Bull formula one team.

Exciting stuff from 1971!

I recently read the diary of Kenneth Williams which was interesting but in some ways difficult to keep track of. I did think at the time it was the only diary I have read but now I think of it I have also read Albert Speer’s Spandau: The Secret Diaries, a series of thoughts and essays he had smuggled out of Spandau prison where he served his 20 year sentence. Also, in a Southport charity shop, always a great place for second-hand books, I picked up Monty Python member Michael Palin’s diaries. Anyway, firstly I’ll start with Kenneth Williams’ diary. I reviewed the book for this year’s Holiday Book bag post and it went something like this:

The Kenneth Williams Diaries edited by Russell Davies.

I’ve always rather liked Kenneth Williams, the slightly over the top star of many a Carry On film as well as many radio comedy shows. However, it did feel rather odd reading his private thoughts through his diary. This is not an autobiography where the author tells us the story of his life and keeps things in some sort of order, it’s a diary, a record of the author’s day to day thoughts and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what is happening. In a lot of the diary entries Kenneth refers to people by their initials rather than their name. The habit of using initials can be rather annoying as the editor will mention in one of the many footnotes that SB for instance refers to his friend and fellow performer Stanley Baxter. Later on SB will turn up again and I find myself flipping back through the footnotes because I have forgotten who SB was.

In the diaries, Williams talks about his private life mostly in a sort of code. He does talk about his many trips to Morocco where he went in search of young men, something he was willing to indulge in the secret world of gay men abroad.  A lot of this activity gave him little pleasure and it seems to me he was unhappy with his sexuality and perhaps he envied his friend the playwright Joe Orton, who accepted himself in a way Williams never could.

The diaries are actually pretty famous because they reveal Kenneth Williams as being so very different to the persona he revealed to the world. All of Williams’ moods are revealed in the book, his anger, his sadness and his disappointments as well as his happier times. It’s interesting to read about world events in the entries, for instance the Moon landing in 1969 causes Williams to moan about the TV being all about the moon! I was 13 at the time, very interested in the Apollo programme and couldn’t get enough of moon landing TV.

The three-day week is mentioned in 1973 along with various entries about power cuts and industrial action, a time I remember well, sitting in my Mum’s kitchen lit by a candle and my dad trying in vain to read the newspaper.

I did expect to read a lot about Barbara Windsor, his great friend from the Carry On films but there is little about her although actress Maggie Smith is talked about constantly, his admiration for her very evident.

I did wonder whether Kenneth Williams wrote the diaries expecting them to be published when he died but that same issue he dealt with in a 1972 entry where he claims that the writing of a diary is only something to jog the memory. He goes on to say; ‘One puts down what one wants, not what others want. That is what is so delightful about a diary, it is what the self wants to say.’

The strange thing is that the diary reminds me a lot of my diary which I write in these days only infrequently. I started it as something just to get me writing and I still write in it on those occasions when ideas for a story or a blog fail to materialise. A diary can just be a record of your daily life but it also is a confidante, something you can turn to when something has annoyed or upset you or just when your thoughts are so overwhelming you have to get them out onto paper or your computer screen. I ended up feeling an affinity for Williams, a similarity whereas before reading this book I thought we had nothing in common at all.

Kenneth Williams seemed to have many sad moments where he wished he had a confidante, perhaps that is another reason he wrote in his diary. Many entries detail his dissatisfaction with his life and his sadness. ‘What’s the point?’ is how he ends many entries, including his very last one on the 14th April, 1988.

I did not know about Williams’ theatre career, or even that he had one and it was interesting to read about what an actor and performer’s life is like; it seems to be mostly waiting for things to turn up, waiting for one’s agent to ring or for calls from film or TV producers. When the phone does not ring it can be a worrying time, as it seemed to be for Kenneth Williams, thinking about his tax bill or other bills that need paying.

A fascinating read and not quite what I expected.

Spandau: The Secret Diaries by Albert Speer.

Albert Speer was Hitler’s armaments minister and favoured architect and this book is made up of diary entries he had secretly smuggled out of Spandau prison where he was incarcerated for 20 years after the Second World War. Speer admits he was one of those people seduced by the power of Hitler’s personality. Looking back at Hitler today in grainy old black and white films it is hard to understand how this strange and dour man who ranted and raved while speech making could seduce anyone. However, many have testified to the startling power of his personality. I remember watching that interesting BBC documentary ‘The Nazis: A warning from History’. In one segment various people were interviewed who declared their youthful love for Hitler; a young girl who looked into his eyes and saw goodness. An old man who testified he had once seen the great side of Hitler. Sadly Hitler let them down and many more like them. Speer maintained that he knew nothing of concentration camps and the final solution but author Gitta Sereny claimed in her book Speer: His battle with Truth that Speer knew more than he let on.

Getting back to the Secret Diaries. Speer talks about his imprisonment, his relationships with his fellow prisoners and his walks. Speer paced round and round the prison garden and as he counted down the miles he walked, he traced his steps across other parts of the world and imagined walking from Berlin and on to Heidelberg and from there on to Siberia. It is quite a few years since I read this book but the time is right for a re-read I think.

Michael Palin: Diaries 1969-1979 The Python Years.

I get the idea from some of Michael Palin’s comments in the book that he plans to publish more of his diaries. I’ve not finished it yet but so far its been pretty interesting, especially being a fan of the TV show Monty Python. Anyway, Palin started his diaries soon after packing in smoking. Perhaps it was a way of helping get over his tobacco addiction, perhaps not. The diaries also begin just as Monty Python, the comedy TV show was starting and Palin mentions this in his introduction, his aim not to record the start of the ground breaking comedy but more to record things about his new family, his wife having recently given birth to their first child.

A number of similarities between myself and Palin struck me early on, firstly, he gives us a quote from one of his schoolboy diaries which is amazingly similar to the one from my 1971 diary shown above. Another was his interest in the moon landings of 1969. Kenneth Williams may have been annoyed about the continued TV coverage of Apollo 11 but Palin and myself were more than happy to see it all.  Palin stayed up till 5am to watch the TV pictures from the Sea of Tranquility and I remember vividly being got up for school by my mother and being both amazed and excited about the TV broadcast presented to me while I ate my cornflakes. School mornings were never the same again.

My Diaries.

My diaries are definitely not for publishing. Looking back at them I notice that whenever something interesting has happened to me I have never written about it at the time, it has always been some time later when I have set down my feelings about the incident, whatever it may have been.The diary may be a confessional for some people but for me, I started writing a diary as a way of making myself write when I couldn’t think of anything else to write about. In the early 2000’s I started writing a diary on my laptop only to lose all my recollections from 2005 to 2006 when the file somehow became corrupted and refused to open. I was quite excited when the latest version of Microsoft Word came out because it gives you the option to repair a damaged file. Alas, that option would not work on my diary file. Then of course there are my big boxes of pre-2000 diaries. What shall I do with this lot I wonder? Will they add something to social history or grace the rubbish tip when I’m gone?

The latter, probably. . .


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.

Bright Lights, A Princess and Murder

I’ve been interested in the JFK assassination since I was a schoolboy and one of my earliest memories dates back to 1968 when JFK’s brother Bobby was shot at the Ambassador hotel after winning the California presidential primary. I was 12 years old at the time and I remember being so very shocked by his murder. The shooting of RFK and the circumstances surrounding his murder are probably even more questionable than the murder of JFK in Dallas but the mainstream media seem to look down on anyone who questions the accepted theories in both cases and the phrase they have coined for those of us who dismiss the tired old mainstream ‘lone nut’ ideas, is ‘conspiracy theorist’, and it really does annoy me.

It’s one of those phrases that pour scorn and ridicule without proper debate or discussion but having said that, there are some people who call out conspiracy without even thinking. I mean, seriously, can anyone actually doubt that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969? Was it all a hoax just to win the space race?

And as for 9/11, can people really think that the CIA and George Bush actually engineered the Twin Towers attack in New York just for an excuse to begin the second gulf war? Surely not!

That of course brings me in a roundabout way to Princess Diana. She was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997. She was estranged from her former husband and father of her two sons Prince Charles and was involved at the time with Dodi al Fayed, son of Mohammed al Fayed, the owner of Harrods. The crash was an accident wasn’t it? So why talk about conspiracy? What conspiracy?

Many years ago I remember seeing a BBC documentary about the accident and it raised more questions than answers and so one day, in my favourite new Blackpool secondhand bookshop what did I spy but a book about Diana’s death. The Murder of Princess Diana  by Noel Botham.

In the book the author alleges that Diana’s death was not an accident but was engineered by the British secret service. What happened then on the night of August 30th and the early morning of the 31st, 1997?

Diana was in Paris with her boyfriend Dodi al Fayed. The two of them were spending time together but had been hunted down mercilessly by the paparazzi, desperate for pictures of the couple. Diana felt that she was under constant surveillance and in fact British security services did monitor the phone calls of the Royals for supposedly ‘security’ purposes. Some years earlier, mobile phone recordings of Diana and one of her lovers had been revealed to the public in the so-called ‘Squidgy’ tapes. Ken Wharfe, Diana’s former bodyguard told a UK inquest in 2008 that the tapes had been recorded by GCHQ, the UK government’s secret listening station and deliberately leaked. They were apparently broadcast on a loop until an amateur radio ham picked up the messages and passed them to the media.

The princess’s friends suspected the “Squidgy” tapes were leaked to smear her at a time when her failing relationship with the Prince of Wales was at its most acrimonious. From then on, the Princess was very concerned with eavesdropping and hired private security consultants to sweep her apartments for bugs and listening devices.

August 30th around 4:30 p.m.: Diana and Dodi Fayed arrive at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, owned by Dodi’s father, Egyptian businessman Mohamed al Fayed. They enter through the back door and are shown to the Imperial Suite.

5:40  to 6:30 p.m.: Reportedly, Fayed ventures to Repossi jewellers and two rings are later delivered to the Imperial Suite. Perhaps they are gifts, perhaps Dodi is considering marriage.

Around 7 p.m.: Diana and al Fayed exit the Ritz through the rear entrance and are driven to his residence, near the Arc de Triomphe.

9:50 p.m.:  The couple return to the hotel and head for its L’Espadon restaurant, after forgoing reservations at Benoît Paris because of continued paparazzi attention. Diana reportedly orders Dover sole, vegetable tempura and a mushroom and asparagus omelette. Dodi began to feel suspicious that photographers might be posing as restaurant patrons and requested their food be delivered to their room.

August 31st 12:20 a.m.: With bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, al Fayed and Diana reportedly attempt to evade photographers by leaving the hotel through its rear entrance to return to his apartment. They enter the backseat of a black Mercedes S280 to be driven by Ritz security employee Henri Paul.

12:23 a.m.: The Mercedes, in an attempt to outrun photographers, collides with a concrete pillar in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. Bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was the only passenger in the Mercedes to be wearing a seatbelt. He was also the only one to survive the crash.

Fayed and Paul died at the scene. Following the accident, Dr. Frédéric Maillez who happened to be driving by, stopped and tended to Diana before the arrival of the emergency services.

In Noel Botham’s book, he notes that the paparazzi carried on photographing the scene while the doctor worked to save Diana; some even poked their lenses inside the smashed car. Finally help arrived and Diana was taken away in an ambulance.

Approximately 2:00 a.m.: Diana arrives at Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital, undergoing surgery minutes later.

4:00 a.m.: The princess, who celebrated her 36th birthday the previous month, is pronounced dead.

That then, was the timeline of events. It looked like a simple car crash especially when Police revealed that Henri Paul, the Ritz security man and Dodi’s driver that night was revealed to have had a blood alcohol level that was more than 3 times the legal limit. However, despite that he appears relaxed and normal on the Ritz CCTV images. Not only that, no one appeared to notice Henri as having been drunk or intoxicated. In the book, the author reveals that Henri’s autopsy indicated that he had a high reading for carbon monoxide in his blood which would have been totally incompatible with someone driving a car. According to tests carried out by two French medical experts hours after the Paris crash, the levels of carbon monoxide in Mr Paul’s blood ranged between 12 and 21 per cent. That compares to a normal reading of around two to four percent.

With that carbon monoxide level, Henri Paul would have been unconscious and totally unable to drive a car. There was however another death that night, a man who was depressed and took his own life by inhaling his car’s exhaust fumes. Could the blood sample have come from this unknown male the author asks?

Another factor was a Fiat Uno which was ahead of Diana’s Mercedes which according to the Police was untraceable. In fact the car was traced to a journalist with connections to the security services. The Fiat Uno blocked the Mercedes in the Alma Tunnel and Henri Paul swerved to the left to avoid it although his front wing clipped the Fiat.

Ahead of the Mercedes was a scooter with a pillion passenger and some reports claim that an incredibly bright light was flashed by the pillion passenger back towards the Mercedes which would have blinded the occupants and forced the driver to crash. This same scenario was featured in an MI6 file according to former agent Richard Tomlinson. Tomlinson had seen an MI6 secret plan to assassinate Slobodan Milosevic which used the exact scenario of the crash that led to Diana’s death. When Tomlinson tried to give this information to the magistrate in charge of the French inquiry into the incident, he was arrested at gun point by the DST, the French secret service, beaten up and interrogated for eighteen hours.

Police said they were unable to trace the Fiat Uno but Mohamed al Fayed claimed the owner was a journalist, James Andanson, with connections to the various security services. He had boasted to friends about inside knowledge of Diana’s death but he was found dead in 2000. He had driven to a remote spot and set himself and his car on fire, a gruesome way to commit suicide but that was the official verdict. A few weeks after his death an armed raid was carried out on the agency for which Andanson had worked. The only material and records removed were Andanson’s.

Ultimately, if we believe that Diana was deliberately murdered then we have to ask the question why? Who would want to murder Diana? What would be the point? To enable Charles to marry Camilla? In present day UK do the marriages of the Royals have any relevance anymore? After all, this is the 21st century and the days of royal murders and plots to change the succession are all part of history, ancient history.

Author Noel Botham claims that a certain element of the British secret service was used by a sinister hard core of palace watchdogs under oath to defend the royal family against scandals, whether that is the case I do not know but the author clearly believes that. Mohamed al Fayed has gone further, naming the Duke of Edinburgh as the author of the plot to kill Diana. Is al Fayed a grieving father making wild accusations or do his claims have some substance?

I have to say this book was an interesting read, not just the conjecture about assassinations but also the background to Charles and Diana and Camilla. The incredible love story, the blossoming of the princess, the failure of the Royal marriage, Diana’s efforts to outdo the Royals in revenge for Charles’ betrayal of her with Camilla. All in all, a fascinating read.


The Assassination of Princess Diana by Noel Botham.

Click here for a fascinating pdf file on the results of Operation Paget, the Metropolitan Police Investigation into the various conspiracy claims in 2004.


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.

 

Woody, Marcus and such Small Portions!

I’ve just returned from yet another jaunt to France, a short one this time, six days in Liz’s motorhome, meandering around the Loire area, which we both love. One of our aims was to spend our nights ‘wild camping’, that is to say camping wherever we could without using commercial camping sites.

France is actually very motorhome friendly with many municipal sites providing free camping and toilet emptying facilities free of charge with optional charges for things like fresh water or electrical hook up and so on. We found a lovely spot by a lake, actually a plan d’eau, called Lac du Homme. In the summer when we visited it was a busy bustling place with a bar and restaurant and many spots for bathing and picnicking. The french take their picnics seriously and always bring huge hampers of food, always covering the many wooden and stone picnic tables with table cloths before opening up their bundles of cutlery, plates and food. At the Lac du Homme there were also quite a few areas with barbecue facilities dotted about, all that was needed were the hot coals and some steaks and burgers to cook.

Now in early October a last burst of summer had come and the restaurant and bar were boarded up for the winter. Most of the time we had the lake to ourselves, joined only by the few occasional visitors. The last two days were so hot we even ventured out onto the man-made beaches for a refreshing dip into the cold, very cold, waters.

One of the great things about being at this quiet lake was not only the quiet, calm and relaxing atmosphere but also the chance to read. I read a great deal but at home and at work I tend to read in short bursts, on my dinner breaks at work, in quiet moments in a morning or before I go to sleep. Holidays are when you can really get to grips with a book, really read it through without having to put the book down and go back into work. On this short break I finished off a book I was reading at work, The Assassination of Princess Diana’ (more about that in an upcoming post) and started on one of the P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster books. It was amusing and interesting and thoroughly English but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

One other book I read was one of last year’s reads, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus was an emperor of Rome and when he was compelled to go out with his armies to do battle he spent many hours alone in his tent compiling a series of philosophic writings that became known as the Meditations. Marcus was concerned with the force of nature, the force that drives the universe and all its  workings. Nature for him was probably more akin to God than what we understand nature to be but his thoughts and ideas are very moving, even more so as they were written prior to the year 180, nearly 2000 years ago. A lot of his thoughts are about life and death, simple things like a man who enjoys a long life and a man who experiences a short one both lose the same thing when they die. Death is a natural state he explains. Why fear it when everyone who has ever lived before us, has experienced it. To those of us who hunger for fame (potential authors perhaps) Marcus asks what is the point? One day you will die, one day those who remember you will die so one day your fame will vanish when no one remembers you. Time, says Marcus, is like a river, for as soon as something happens, the river of time carries it away, then some other event comes, also soon to be washed away.

In the opening of Annie Hall, one of Woody Allen’s most popular films, he talks about life in this way: “There’s an old joke, two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Woody Allen and Marcus Aurelius, both philosophers in their own ways.

I’ve spent a lovely couple of hours this week watching To Rome with Love, one of Woody Allen’s more recent films. Woody, if you have read one of my earlier posts about directors, is my all-time favourite director. I love his subtle observations about life and love, and his humour. What is a little sad lately, is that Woody’s image and persona have been challenged by his adopted daughter Dylan, who claims Woody assaulted her when she was young, 7, I think, and that he should be arrested and prosecuted. Woody stands by an investigation into the charges from 1975 that exonerated him but of course now, in the age of digital media, Dylan is able to go straight to the people with social media and put forward her case.

Someone who has put forward defence of Woody Allen is Moses Farrow, Woody and Mia’s adopted son. He has claimed in a blog post that his mother Mia was abusive and domineering and referring to the details of Dylan’s claims that there was no railway in the attic-supposedly where the attack took place- and that the attic was only a crawl space, not a place where father and daughter could play.

Many actors and actresses have come forward saying they will never work with Woody again and his reputation seems to sink lower every day and the body of work he has produced is now, by association, tainted. There is even a possibility that his latest film may not be released. I am a big fan of Woody Allen and although these revelations did not put me off watching To Rome with Love, it does set off a small alarm bell in the back of one’s mind. Did Woody do it? Did he molest the young Dylan? Well, two people know for sure: One is Dylan and the other is Woody. Woody claims Dylan’s claims were fabricated by Mia Farrow, his one-time partner and the mother of Dylan as part of a war of hate aimed at Woody because he became involved with another of Mia’s step daughters, Soon-Yi, and in fact, later married her. Mia, according to Woody, has brain washed Dylan with her abuse claims, so if that is true, then only Woody himself knows the truth. It seems to me that if Woody was an abuser then he would have abused other women and as no one else has come forward then that means Woody is innocent -doesn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t expect to see Jimmy Saville on old episodes of Top of the Pops, or Gary Glitter for that matter. Their actions and behaviour have airbrushed themselves out of history. Still, I will be very sad if they stop showing Woody’s films on TV.

Getting back to our trip to France, it was my birthday while we were away and it was nice to celebrate it in the sunny Loire valley instead of cold and rainy England. On our previous motorhome trip we had a lot of issues with mobile wi-fi which can be a bit of a pain when you have a blog deadline for Saturday morning. I wasn’t happy with Virgin media because my mobile data didn’t work in France, despite an expensive phone call to Virgin. Anyway, they sent me a new SIM card and I was happy to find that on this trip my mobile phone connected to the internet without problems. I even found that I could connect my Ipad to my mobile and use my mobile internet on my pad, so much easier than writing a blog post on your phone. Of course I had written my last post about Comics and Superheros in advance and had it scheduled but even so, I always like to tinker with my posts right up to that last moment.

After we returned, Liz and I went to a birthday meal for Liz’s sister-in-law who has a similar birth date to me. One of the other guests, a young girl, asked me about my birthday and how old I was. I was reluctant to say but finally answered 62. “62?” She said, “I didn’t think you were that old!”

Maybe that’s a good thing, that I look younger than I actually am and in fact that comment was really a boost for my personal image but there’s no getting away from that figure of 62. Still, here is one last quote from Marcus;

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.


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.

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.