Sunday, 26 July 2015

Judging A Book By It's Cover....

A slight aside from my usual territory, as I mentioned in my recent blog I've been discovering the work of Nicola Upson. In doing so I've also come across the work of illustrator Mick Wiggins who contributed covers to the particular editions I've bought in the Josephine Tey series. 

I've totally fallen for Mick's art, please visit his website at to experience it for yourself. See, I'm not just about words, I like pictures too.....

Stevie at BLM

Friday, 24 July 2015

Happy Birthday A 2 Z... Well Alexandre 2 Zelda At Least....

On this date, 24th of July, there are two birthdays that may be of note to literary lovers... Both of which could be used, (by a writer in the habit of wishing to 'represent' on behalf of equality and social balance) to highlight the contribution non-male-AngloSaxons have made to the world of literature...namely, Alexandre Dumas and Zelda Fitzgerald!

Now I have to confess to the fact that I'm writing this impromptu blog mainly because I got a bit annoyed today. (Yes. It happens). 
The reason behind this annoyance was a certain FB page post of a giant of the literary publishing world that shall remain nameless. (They use a small black and white bird as their emblem....).

This publishing house (usually one of my favourites, I collect their early publications, love their styling, love their work all round, generally) posted on Facebook a 'happy birthday' to Zelda Fitzgerald... so far so good... then proceeded to refer pretty much entirely to her famous husband and his (admittedly well-known) work.

Come on! It's HER birthday, I said, in a comment and they deleted my contribution! Nope. Can't have anything pointing out our failings. No way. Apparently.

So Happy Birthday Zelda Fitzgerald. Who wrote one, and mostly finished another, novel. (A bigger achievement than most of us will manage). Who suffered mental illness and a certain degree, (by modern standards at least) of mental cruelty and bullying by her more famous husband, and who, finally, and tragically died in a fire at the institution in which she was, at the time a patient. 

Alongside Zelda today, entirely thanks to the vagaries of the Gregorian calendar, sits Alexandre Dumas. Legendary French author of what was to become perhaps the most famous of French stories outside of France, The Three Musketeers. The author of literally dozens of works, including The Count of Monte Cristo (famously referenced in the movie Shawshank Redemption as the work of 'Alexander Dumb-ass'...) and many less well known non-fiction works, Alexandre had the distinction of being the son of the first black general of the French army. 

Alexandre himself, in spite of his father's fame had to deal with racial discrimination in his lifetime, and did so using the literary skills he had been born with. In his 1843 short novel Georges he addressed the issues of race and colonialism, and responded to a man who insulted him about his ancestry with the rejoinder... "My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends."

So this is a blog for the birthday girl and boy, who were who they were, regardless of who they were to others, regardless of preconception.

Happy reading

Stevie at BLM

Thursday, 23 July 2015

My Week In Books Number... Ok, I'm Not Sure. But Read It...

So, once again it's been far too long since my last post on here, though I have been delivering plenty of titbits of bookish stuff at the Facebook page... .... So please try not to judge me!

So what's been happening since my interview with Robyn Annear a couple of weeks back? Well, you'll be little surprised to hear I've bought loads of books, mainly focused around crime fiction recently, with a dash of history and just a sprinkle of magic....

With the encouragement of the up-coming TV series, I've bought myself a copy of Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" where 19th century Napoleonic Wars are sent in a whole new direction with the re-emergence of magic! Sounds like an interesting twist!

TV has influenced me once again with the next couple of books, this time in the person of  British historian, Dr Lucy Worsley. Worsley is currently Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces but is best known as a presenter of BBC television series on historical topics, including Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency (2011), Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls (2012), and The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain (2014). It will come as no surprise that she is also a successful author in the same field.

I've recently got hold of copies of "If Walls Could Talk" and "A Very British Murder" which I'm eager to get into!

Finally, I recently 'discovered' Josephine Tey, alias Gordon Daviot.. alias Elizabeth of the early twentieth century's great writers who is surprising little known these days. Strangely enough, hot on the heels of this personal discovery, before I'd really had time to fully enjoy Ms Tey's work, I discovered another author, namely Nicola Upson

Now this is interesting, (at least I think so), because it so could have been a very tacky, very try-hard, very... just not the thing.... thing. Nicola Upson writes crime fiction with the aforementioned Josephine Tey as her main protagonist. Yes. She takes an early 20th century crime writer, and turns her into a fictional, (but very non-fictional) crime story heroine. I know, right? Anyway, I've read the first hundred or so pages of "An Expert In Murder", first in the series..... and it's really great! I mean REALLY great! 

It's a brave thing to do, but only a third into the book and I'm going to say buy it, borrow it, steal it (ok, don't actually steal it) but read it!

That's it for this week, Happy Reading!

Stevie at BLM.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Interview With A Wrecker.....And A Wrecker's Biographer....

On a recent trip to the top of Bourke Street for a Sunday lunch with some friends, my wife and I came across a cute little shop by the name of Melbournalia which, as you can probably imagine has a host of souvenirs of our favourite city. Amongst them I was delighted to find copies of a book called Bearbrass: Imagining Early Melbourne which some of you may recall I gave a mention  back in February....

I absolutely loved the book and the wonderful way it's author, Robyn Annear transports the reader back to the muddy streets of old Melbourne when it was new. 

Well, sat alongside it, in Melbournalia, were copies of A City Lost & Found: Whelan The Wrecker's Melbourne also by Robyn Annear. Now I'd heard about this one, and had been keeping my eye out for a copy, not just because I'm a mad book-buying fiend.... but because, for my living, I am also a wrecker, or demolition worker! Whelan's are part of not only my industry's history, but as Robyn clearly realised, Melbourne's. 

These mysterious alignments of interests having been brought into being by the fates of book loving.... I thought I'd drop Robyn Annear a line or two and ask for an interview for the entertainment of you, dear reader... She kindly agreed, and here it is....

Robyn Annear, you’re in danger of becoming Melbourne’s unofficial chronicler, how does the title sit with you?
Well, ha, Stevie. Have you noticed I haven’t had a book published for ten years now? If I think of myself as a writer these days, it’s more in the past tense. Having said that, I’d be happy with ‘unofficial’ chronicler; it sounds literally ‘off the books’.

Do you feel a kinship with Melbourne considering you’re a bit of a country lass at heart?
It’s the other way round: I’m a city lass at heart. Even though I’ve lived out of town for 25 years now, the pace here and the lack of variety (people, places) can feel limiting. Also, I like anonymity. Can’t get that in a country town. Plus, what I really like is miles upon miles of footpath unspooling in all directions. We’re short on that around here. So a kinship with Melbourne? Yeah. It’s the place I know better than any other, and it still surprises me.

What part of the city makes you feel most comfortable?
Flagstaff Gardens, I like a lot. Collins Street. Little Bourke Street west and Little Lonsdale West and their laneways. The main shopping drags are just mad with unruly pedestrianism.

Which are your favourite bookstores to visit?
City Basement Books is far and away my favourite. I especially like their ‘new arrivals’ table and the shelf at the counter where they keep old books without covers (and covers without books!). I’ve found treasures there for just a dollar or two. As for new books, I like Hill of Content. The ‘hallowed’ atmosphere there works for me. It’s a danger, too, though, as it encourages ‘aspirational’ book buying. You know how, in that hushed, rarefied kind of setting, it’s easy to imagine yourself with hours of unbroken leisure for reading – when real life (for me, anyway) isn’t like that at all. Like most people, I read books mostly in grabs, between interruptions.

How often do you come into the city these days?
Right now, I only make it to the city about once a month – which is killing me. Family and work demands are keeping me close to home. I hope that’ll change soon, though. In the meantime, I explore the city streets using Google Street View. Not quite the real thing, but…

What do you read for pleasure?
The New Yorker, every week. It opens new vistas of thinking to me all the time. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to stick with a book. Non-fiction, in particular, seems too often to take a micro-idea suitable for an essay and s-t-e-t-c-h it out to (extensive) book length, repeating and over-elaborating to fill the pages. I’ve been enjoying the books of the curmudgeonly English philosopher, John Gray and the essays of Nicholson Baker. In fiction, I like Michael Cunningham (he wrote The Hours) and George Saunders’ short stories. Also Maira Kalman’s books of paintings and reflections.

Which book do you wish you’d written?
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee). It’s a blast.

Your approach to historical writing follows a vein of imagination some would consider unscholarly, why did you choose this approach?
Because I am unscholarly, wilfully so. (Don’t get me started.) Not having gone to university – so not having to unlearn the rules – was my lucky escape. Setting out to write Bearbrass, I just wanted to share my pleasure of Melbourne and to have some fun. It now seems unfortunate that some people took me seriously and that I bought into the idea of myself as an historian. I’m beginning to think that, by instinct, I’m more like a psychogeographer – or would be, if it weren’t such a wanky word.

Bearbrass does something, for me, many other history books don’t, it brings the reader into contact with the real people of the time. How do you achieve this?
I guess it’s because I intersplice the historical narrative with fictionalised/imagined bits taking the reader up close with a Bearbrass individual and (usually) the strife they found themselves in. Without realising it, I wrote those sections in the second-person, so that ‘you’ (the reader) felt as if you were there. And the fact that I drew so heavily on newspaper sources – so gossipy and on-the-spot – probably brought readers closer to their Bearbrass counterparts.

Who are your inspirations?
Gillian Tindall’s The Fields Beneath: The history of one London village inspired me to write about ‘a place’. Her books of history and (earlier) fiction have continued to inspire me. As a writer, she has a curious and subtle (unobvious) turn of mind.
Madeleine Henrey, who wrote as Mrs Robert Henrey, chronicled London during and immediately after World War 2. A Frenchwoman who married a London journalist in the 1930s, she was curious about everything, and an unrivalled noticer. Her loving, exploratory portrait of post-Blitz London, in The Virgin of Aldermanbury (1958), is a marvel.

Many people aspire to writing as a career, is talent more important than perseverance?

Which of Melbourne’s historical figures of the last 180 years would you most like the opportunity to interview face to face and why?
That’s easy: E.W. Cole of the Book Arcade. The Arcade was an expression of his eccentric mind and world-view; I’d just love to see them up close and in action.

Is there anywhere else in the world you’d like to have the opportunity to write about?

Not really. It would feel impertinent, somehow, to write about someone else’s place. Having said that, the book I’m (glacially) working on is largely set in Boston, USA. The focus, though, is on people rather than place. (And hey, place is much easier than people to write about; people keep moving, blurring the exposure. And who knows what they’re thinking?)

Thank you Robyn, there are more titles out there by Robyn Annear, all you have to do is look them up book lovers!

Happy reading
Stevie at BLM

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Born On The 4th Of July?... Well I'm English So I Don't Accept The USA Was....

OK, even speaking as an Englishman, I have to tip my hat to the US of A for their big day, the 4th of July, the day they declared independence from the greatest nation in the world.

We all know that right? I mean there have been movies, ones where Vietnam vets (that's ex-soldiers, not doctors for animals, for anyone English) grew long hair and moustaches in wheelchairs and became heroes twice to both sides of the story...

Then there was the one where an Australian serial Brit-hater pretended to be American for a couple of hours while he tomahawked the b-jesus out of redcoats......

And don't forget the one where the Fresh Prince punched on with an alien and a guy called Randy stuck a nuke up an alien starship!!

Speaking as a Brit, I date the birth of the USA as November 25th 1783. The day the last British troops left New York. Because that's when they'd won. Up until then, we, still technically at least, "owned" them. So there.

All petulance for comic effect aside.... there have been some interesting books written about the "American Rebellion" as I prefer to call it.....

Here are a handful I have copies of....


The First Salute by Barbara Tuchman
A world renown historian delivers her take on the conflict.

The War Of Revolution by Christopher Ward
The president of the historical society of Delaware gives us his detailed account of the war that created the US.


Redcoat by Bernard Cornwell
One of the greatest ever historical fiction authors place us at Valley Forge in autumn (fall) 1777, where history was re-written.

The Fort by Bernard Cornwell
This time Cornwell takes us to the summer of 1779, the third year of the war, where he fictionalises the events of one of the most fascinating episodes of the conflict.

Washington And Caesar by Christian Cameron
A fictionalised account of the war from the opposing perspectives of George Washington and his slave Julius Caesar.

Up The Revolution.....

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Who Says Crime Doesn't Pay?....Congrats To Christopher Fowler....

Well it seems crime can pay, because last night in the UK was the meeting of the great and the good at depicting the bad, as The Crime Writers' Association held it's gala awards night.

The CWA is well worth a look if you're a budding author in the crime genre, or take a look at their sister site for crime fans.. The Crime Readers Association.

Click those links people. Click Those Links....

Amongst the shortlisted crime writers for the prestigious CWA Dagger In The Library Award were two of my favourites, Peter James

author of the Roy Grace, Brighton-based detective novels and Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant & May novels who was interviewed by your truly just a few weeks ago right here!!

Well, as any of you who actually read the title of this blog will know, Christopher Fowler won!

Congratulations Christopher from all at BLM. 

(I told you he was good......)

Stevie at BLM