Monday, 27 October 2014

Wot I'm reading: (slightly) Gay Paree in the 1950s

JAMES BALDWIN: Giovanni's Room


In the beginning was the word, and the word came from Gore Vidal: The City and the Pillar (1948). In 1953 the word came from Mary Renault: The Charioteer. Then in 1956 came Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, recently given a new edition in the UK and the USA. These three are the 'pivotal' gay novels of the mid-20th-century, and I've now re-read two of them, with Mary Renault still to be revisited.

David, a blond all-American WASP with a mainly heterosexual past, falls in love with a gorgeous Italian barman. Their affair is brief and intense, doomed by David's inability to commit to a homosexual relationship. We know from the beginning that Giovanni is facing the guillotine but we don't know until nearer the end what crime he has been driven to and how much responsibility David bears for driving him to it.

This, because of its time, is a very 'respectable' read with no explicit sex scenes, but it resonates with a powerful emotional intensity. Visibly influenced by the great French writers - Proust, Gide, Genet - the writing is always elegant and occasionally a bit precious: "I felt myself flow towards him, as a river rushes when the ice breaks up." In the last chapter, as the story moves from gay romance into melodrama, there are even a few faint echoes of Hemingway.

1950s Paris - "this old whore", Giovanni calls the city - is vividly evoked: her riverside promenades, her louche bars, her Bohemian artists, her sensation-seeking visitors. Beyond his major works which played a key role in the civil rights movement, Baldwin made a significant contribution to the 'canon' of expatriate life and gay fiction. Giovanni's Room may seem dated to the modern reader, but it remains a major milestone in the history of gay liberation.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Censored by GOODREADS

I've just had an email from Goodreads, the website (owned by Amazon) for writers and readers to review each other's books and discuss issues of interest.

"Hi David,

We're contacting you about your recent blog post. Upon review, we determined that the images in your post violated our policy on excessively violent imagery. Given this, we have removed your blog feed from the site. 

Sincerely,
The Goodreads Team"

The "excessively violent imagery" they object to were photos (like this one) obtained from Facebook of Kurdish women and children slaughtered and terrorised by ISIL terrorists in Syria. There are more disturbing pictures which I chose not to use to reinforce my argument that the medieval treatment of Syrian Kurds, in Kobani and other towns, is taking the world one huge step down a road that leads to Armageddon. The road to Armageddon is a road I took my readers down at the end of my 2009 novel Shaikh-Down.

I am disappointed, shocked even, that a site such as Goodreads should impose censorship on its readers. Extremist groups like ISIL, the Taleban, Boko Haram impose censorship and abolish human rights in the areas they have savagely conquered. A new Dark Age is dawning. The fanatics of Islamic State are the most brutal of the extremists who plague the world today. Goodreads plays into the hands of the fanatics by censoring what their followers can read about ISIL

I hope that those who follow my reviews and comments on current affairs on davidgeebooks will continue to find their way to my pages.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

ISLAMIC STATE: do they want Armageddon? Maybe we should let them have it.

These - from Facebook - are the pictures you won't have seen on TV: women and children shot on the street and in their homes by the jihadi terrorists we have come to know as Islamic State - IS or ISIS or ISIL.

These merciless thugs are carrying out their atrocities in the name of their god - Allah - who perhaps is not your god or mine. If Allah is the god you believe in, you may feel that Islamic State are putting a different "spin" on their version of your god.

But they aren't.

If you look at the history of Islam, it began with blood and destruction. Muslims say "Peace Be Upon Him" when they mention the prophet Mohammed, but Peace is not what Mohammed brought to the seventh-century world in which he lived. He was a warrior who brought death and destruction. His message was "Kill them (unbelievers) wherever you find them," which is what Islamic State, in his name, are doing now - bringing death and destruction to their fellow Muslims as well as to the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq and Syria and soon Turkey. These horrible photos - I'm sorry if they disturb you - are proof that IS has returned Islam to its seventh-century roots.

Plenty of people continue to remind us of the terrors visited on the people of Europe, the Middle East and South America in the name of Jesus Christ by the Crusaders and the conquistadors. The Phalangist Christian militia massacred more than 3,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 1982. Today, in the Central African Republic, Christian militiamen are carrying out a genocide against Muslims, as others have before them throughout Africa during the long age of Empires. The Empire that goes on longer than all the others is the Empire of Death.

Jesus Christ did not preach destruction; his message, not an easy one, was a message of peace: "love your enemies ... do good to those who hate you". But destruction and retribution have often been carried out in his name, acts which blaspheme the message he brought to the world.

There are those who say the world would be a better place with no religions. They may have a point.

Moderate Muslims - of whom there are millions - need to stand up and declare that the faith of these terrorists is not the faith they wish to belong to. They can find a few of the Prophet's gentler sayings (there aren't many) to shore up their belief.

More than a million people (I was one of them) marched in the streets of London in 2003 against the Bush/Blair invasion of Iraq. Tens of thousands of Kurds and their supporters have demonstrated around the world in the last few days to call for logistical support to defend the beleaguered Syrian town of Kobani against Islamic State. We need to hear them. IS threatens the world - East and West - far more than Al-Qaeda ever did. Their 'Caliphate', if we do not halt its expansion, will eventually turn its attention to Israel, the most hated enemy of jihadists, the enemy with the most nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The Kurds of Kobani will not be able to hold off IS on their own.

Maybe it's time for the rest of the world to say, "You want a Holy War (jihad)? Let's get it over with. Bring it on - now!" Perhaps we need a million people to march in London in favour of war this time.

At the end of my 1999 'Arab Spring' novel Shaikh-Down I offered a vision of the world after Armageddon in the very near future. Damascus, Mecca, Jerusalem: all destroyed. Arabia - from the Gulf to the Mediterranean - turned into a vast radioactive desert. This is where Islamic State, in the name of Allah, are taking us. They must be stopped. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Wot I'm reading: The Lincoln Lawyer drives on

Michael Connelly: The Gods of Guilt


This is the Lincoln Lawyer's fifth outing. A callgirl is brutally murdered in LA. In today's digital world Gloria had an online pimp who is charged with killing her and asks Mickey Haller to defend him. Eight years ago Haller represented Gloria on a drugs bust that led to a key cartel figure being put away for life. Now it seems the ramifications of that case are connected with Gloria's killing.

Haller's investigations are more legal than procedural, so these books have more talk and a bit less pace than the ones featuring Detective Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly's first and foremost creation. The Gods of Guilt has almost as many lawyer meetings and courtroom scenes as a John Grisham, but Connelly's trademark is the sudden moment of violence and the surprise piece of testimony that cracks a case. The trial scenes in The Gods of Guilt are as tense as those in TV's LA Law (fondly remembered!); perhaps it's time the Lincoln Lawyer took to the small screen?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

David at the movies: camp it up, Dracula!

DRACULA UNTOLD


Francis Ford Coppola's stylish 1992 take on Bram Stoker's Dracula had a five-minute prologue that showed how the 15th-century Wallachian prince Vlad (known to history and folklore as 'Vlad the Impaler') came to be transformed into the legendary Count Dracula. Dracula Untold expands those five minutes into a 90-minute 'Origins' story without adding anything much to the mythology. There's a lot of sword-fighting and a few spooky scenes in the bat-cave where an ancient and barely recognisable Charles Dance shreds his victims or, in Vlad's case, offers transmogrification. There are scenes which show Vlad as a charming happy family man in his palace (obviously not when he's impaling hundreds of his enemies!). 

Luke Evans is a more beefcake Vlad than Gary Oldman in the Coppola version, but he's mostly meat and not much substance, like Gerard Butler's take on the Count in Dracula 2001. Charles Dance seems not to mind slumming in a schlock movie but Dominic Cooper looks very uncomfortable as the evil Turkish Sultan, as well he might. This addition to the Dracula spin-offs is no worse than the 2012 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter but not as much fun as Stephen Sommers' 2004 Van Helsing. Luke Evans is cute but he hasn't got Hugh Jackman's charisma. Oddly, since Evans outed himself as a bi-guy on TV not long ago, there's a key ingredient that  he doesn't bring to the movie which the best Draculas have always had, from Bela Lugosi through to Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman: Dracula has to be played with a touch of camp

GONE GIRL


Adapted by Gillian Flynn from the novel which everybody (except me) has read, this is a theme - "The lady vanishes" - that has been much visited in the movies, as has the parallel theme of the husband suspected of making her disappear. Through brief but telling flashbacks, alternating the viewpoint from Nick (Ben Affleck) to Amy (Rosamund Pike), we are given a kaleidoscope view of a too-perfect marriage that has slowly come apart at the seams. The main plot twist, which could only be a surprise to those who haven't read the book, is very predictable, but some of the later twists are neatly executed, although often credulity-stretching. The ending is nicely unpredictable and brings a pleasing sense of Just Desserts.

Ben Affleck makes a good fist of Mr Nice-Guy who may not be such a nice guy, but the movie belongs to Ms Pike. Her threatened wife is definitely not from the school of Doris Day in Midnight Lace; the echoes are rather more of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction or Jagged Edge, two movies to which this film owes a hefty debt. The sex-and-violence quotient is fairly high, but I'm surprised the film didn't sneak below its 18 rating. Leavened with some humour, particularly targeting the media vultures who descend on the family house in outlandish numbers, this is at heart just a spiced-up version of the earlier screen melodramas which must have inspired the author. Hokum, quality hokum even, well-scripted and stylishly directed, but not quite as "classy" as What Lies Beneath, another of the movies that I found myself remembering while I sat through this.

MAPS TO THE STARS


We used to expect gross-out horror from director David Cronenberg. Now he gives us weird and weirder. Maps to the Stars centres around self-obsessed Hollywood actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) and her new personal assistant Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who is a recently paroled arsonist from a mega-dysfunctional family. Agatha's brother Benjie (Evan Bird) is a teenage brat famous for playing teenage brats onscreen.

The lives of this trio, their families and friends, are acted out against a Tinseltown of designer homes, designer shops and exclusive restaurants. The background 'sheen' is reminiscent of an Almodovar movie, plus there's a gothic element borrowed from Shyamalan (Agatha and Benjie see dead people). Julianne Moore's performance is in the kind of hyper-drive she brought to Boogie Nights, which helps to power the movie's gearshift from Hollywood satire into violent melodrama. One of the themes is incest, which surely needed a deeper and subtler exploration.

Robert Pattinson takes another step away from the Twilight Zone in the role of a limo driver with screenwriting aspirations (like every other chauffeur in Los Angeles). Despite Monday being discount day in my local multiplex there were only three people in the afternoon audience, which suggests that Cronenberg's movies have lost their crowd-pleasing appeal since he moved away from horror. Clearly he is reaching out towards a more discerning class of viewer. Maps to the Stars is very much an 'auteur' movie, highly intelligent and stylized, but perhaps perched uncomfortably between satire and psychodrama.

PRIDE


It's 1984 and the Prime Minister whom Bill Nighy is pleased to call "Margaret fucking Thatcher" has pitched phalanxes of policemen against the miners in their long-drawn-out strike against the latest wave of pit closures (the movie manages to avoid mentioning that many mines had already closed under previous Labour governments). A small band of London gays - and one lesbian - decide to show solidarity and start fund-raising to support the miners who, after a year of action, are facing real hardship. LGSM (Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners) descend on one small village in Wales which accords them a mixed welcome: all but one woman are quick to accept them; all but two of the men are hostile.

Prominent among the gays are earnest Joe (George MacKay), a 20-year-old from Bromley not yet out to his family (the age of consent was still 21 in 1984) and flamboyant Jonathan (Dominic West in a role very similar to Simon Callow's in Four Weddings) who breaks the ice by introducing the village people (excuse pun) to disco dancing. In what I suspect is a highly fictionalized episode, a group of the villagers come up to London and are treated to an eyebrow-raising tour of gay hot spots.

This 'culture-clash' comedy is scripted in the vein of TV's Miranda or Absolutely Fabulous. The ensemble cast perform with relish, especially. Paddy Considine and Imelda Staunton as two of the more gay-friendly villagers. Homophobia and Aids cast darker shadows to remind us that the 1980s was not only the decade of Margaret 'fucking' Thatcher versus the trade unions.

Very much in the spirit of Kinky Boots and Made in DagenhamPride takes a fragment of modern UK history and builds it into a sparky, spiky comedy. Another crowd-pleasing demonstration of British cinema at its very best. I hope the same team will look back at the Sottish referendum in a few years time!

Friday, 26 September 2014

20 people a year jump off here



We were at Beachy Head on the Sussex Coast last weekend, where my inamorato took this photo. Behind us the rescue services were abseiling down the cliff (400 feet) to bring up a jumper. No, not a dropped sweater - the body of someone who had jumped off. About 20 people a year choose this short-cut to the morgue.
This week 200 unsold copies of my novel The Dropout were pulped by my publishers. The cover features Beachy Head. Don't worry, folks: I'm pissed off but not suicidal. Not every book sells like Fifty Shades - alas!
Read an Extract from The Dropout on    www.davidgeebooks.com   and read about my disastrous experience publishing it on the Save! Print! PUBLISH! pages.

Still available as a book (last few copies!) or as a download.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

How to be the new Jeffrey Archer, the next Anne Rice!

Literary lifestyle coach Stephanie Hale has interviewed twelve of the world's best-selling writers of fiction and self-help books, picking their brains for tips on How to Write a good book and, more importantly (if fame and fortune are your goal), How to Make It Outsell Everybody Else's. Jeffrey Archer believes that story-telling is a gift from God - gifted to him, of course, but not necessarily to us lesser mortals. Some writers, says Joanne Harris (Chocolat sold 30 million copies), "have bigger egos than others." Bigger sales too: Archer has sold over 270 million books!

Barbara Taylor Bradford
Barbara Taylor Bradford (89 million): "A novel is a monumental lie that has to have the absolute ring of truth". Substantial advice from a Woman of Substance. Mrs Bradford says she cannot start work on Chapter Two until Chapter One is not only written but edited. (That's my style too, Barbara.) Editing, of course, is key. Lord Archer does 13 or 14 drafts of each book - in longhand. Joanne Harris thinks four is enough. New Age guru James Redfield recommends leaving a completed book for 6 months, so that you then re-visit it as a reader.

Taylor Bradford gets up at 5 a.m., Lord Jeffrey at 5.30. Alexander McCall Smith gets up at 4 and only writes for about three hours, but he reckons to produce around 3,000 words in those three hours and writes 4 or 5 books a year! The importance of discipline cannot be over-emphasized.

McCall Smith (only 40 million books sold, but he's written close to 100) is a big fan of Facebook and likes to discuss books-in-progress with his followers. " Joanne Harris prefers Twitter and Tumblr. Vampire queen Anne Rice (100 million plus) responds to all her fanmail and reviews/postings on Amazon/Facebook. New writers, Anne says, shouldn't try to sound like someone they admire. "Sound like yourself." Sound advice.

Your book needs the Pick It Up factor
James Redfield gave away the first 1,500 copies of The Celestine Prophecy. He says a book must have the "pass along" factor: write a book people will buy again to give to friends. Financial planning expert Sharon Lechter's mantra is "Pick It Up": a book needs a title and a cover that people cannot resist. Hers is Think and Grow Rich. Lifestyle guru Brian Tracy says, "Do anything to get a real, live publisher." If self-published books reach a reviewer's desk, "they are immediately thrown in the waste-basket."

Bernard Cornwell (20 million) sees himself as a story-teller, like Lord Archer. He's very anti writer's groups and has a lot of common-sense advice: "Something has to happen on every page ... you cannot bore people." A splendid pronouncement from Sir Terry Pratchett (85 million and counting): "Write with passion about subjects that you're passionate about."

Terry Pratchett:
"Write with passion"
Your head will swim reading this book. So many ideas, so many tips. Which one will work for you? I think the Big Selling Point - the "hook" - of my latest novel The Bexhill Missile Crisis is the question I ask in the Prologue: When did Sexual Intercourse begin? Poet Philip Larkin said it was in 1963 - "between the end of the Chatterly ban and the Beatles' first LP ." I say it was in October 1962 when the Cuban Crisis made everyone fear that there might only be time for one last fling before the Superpowers blasted the world to pieces. The four characters in Bexhill unfortunately choose the Horseman of the Apocalypse for this final fling (he rides in on a motorbike).

A final word from Brian Tracy: "There are three keys to writing a bestselling book, and nobody knows what they are."

Stephanie Hale's interviewees have shifted a billion books between them. Does that daunt our spirits? Shall we lesser mortals continue our desperate, even futile, struggle? Bet your ass we will!