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The Terrorist, by Garry O’Connor

Fiction Posted on Thu, July 16, 2020 15:25:45
The Terrorist, by Garry O’Connor

The late 1960s. Celebrity playwright Oliver Lindall has assembled his team of players for the premiere of his new play When Winter Comes. For the author, first-night nerves won’t be his only obstacle. Among his troupe is Simon Baird, chosen for his acting skills, yet known for his reputation. Baird has brooding class resentments and is as likely to wreak destruction as shine in any new production. When the play finally premieres, we still don’t know what it will be: more plaudits for Oliver Lindall, or chaos at the hands of the hugely talented, mercurial Simon Baird? In the climax of O’Connor’s The Terrorist we are delivered not only a verdict, but one further question: who actually owns the finished production – the playwright, the players, or the audience played to? Simon Baird has his answer, and demonstrates it graphically.

‘A gem.’ Publishers Weekly on Garry O’Connor’s William Shakespeare: a Life

‘A fascinating biographical study of a stellar acting career – including the secrets that lie behind it.’ Simon Callow on Garry O’Connor’s recent biography of Ian McKellen

‘Garry writes a racy, opinionated and very readable account of life and loves in the English theatre since the 1960s, based often on his own experiences…’ Bamber Gascoigne

‘…an unusual and absorbing book…. I really felt you knew the wiles and shenanigans that go on behind the scenes. Mad, troubling, desperate and funny – I fell around with laughter when poor Oliver got locked in that office. And of course in Simon you’ve created a memorable monster. I thought of several such – Williamson, who drove poor Terry Hands mad by botching his lines as Lear, Harris, Burton perhaps, possibly the rather nice and very self-questioning Hopkins, but above all Oliver Reed, who once threatened someone I knew with a shotgun and drank for England, Scotland and both bits of Ireland. However, Simon is a character in his own right!’ Benedict Nightingale

The Terrorist is available for pre-order at the following online retailers:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble

Waterstones

Book Depository

Wordery



Maria Vetsera, by Peter Cowlam

Fiction Posted on Fri, July 10, 2020 11:27:10
Maria Vetsera

You see, / It’s all a decree, / An ideology, / When the prince and his mistress / Are a mote in the eye. / The imperium says they must die.

According to standard encyclopaedia entries, Baroness Maria Vetsera, a girl of seventeen, began relations with Rudolf, Archduke and Crown Prince of Austria, in October 1887, and for reasons still to be puzzled on accepted his offer of a suicide pact. The official story is that Rudolf had ideas for himself as a future King of Hungary, who in that role would resuscitate a Kingdom of Poland. But there were forces against him, and he was frustrated in these efforts, and furthermore was unhappy in his marriage – hence his mistress Maria Vetsera.

On the morning of the 30th of January 1889, he and Maria were found shot dead in the hunting lodge at Mayerling. The emperor and his advisers in attempting to disguise the facts only provoked rumours, though depression resulting from his political isolation is recorded as the best explanation of Rudolf’s suicide.

Now for the unofficial story—

We begin in the crags and bluffs of a landscape brooding under a leaden sky, and a filthy night of rain. A coachman hunched in the folds of his coat moaned at his secret mission, and paused mid-oath when a reddish-looking ember streaked across his horizon. He watched through the slits of his eyes as it gently arced to earth, and in a pirouette of orange flames cratered the hillside. There it fizzed out abruptly – two intertwining twists of smoke under an icy sheet of rain.

His coach had been newly retouched, and gleamed in the violet zigzags of light forking through the valley. He thundered on, through the mud and ruts, almost overturning where two enormous boulders – grey, sluggish shapes – loomed from nowhere through the rain. Abruptly the road twisted and rose, fell and rose again, then plunged finally into the forest. He lashed at the horses, and had as his sole thought his destination – only his destination – and how to accomplish that without mishap.

Borne along with him were two passengers, their embassy the cargo propped precariously between them. They were brothers – merchant bankers both – who despite the wrap of expensive furs shivered uncontrollably. That was because the little flakes of frost that chilled their blood was fear, a new pang for a pair more accustomed to life in the rococo drawing rooms their leisured clientele inhabited. That lumpy sack of cargo wedged between them, all too ghoulish, and greatly inconvenient, was a cadaver – in fact their dead niece, who at seventeen had been pretty, vivacious, and a baroness. Her name was Maria Vetsera, too young and good-looking to die. Nevertheless that loll of her head, as the coach clattered on through all those spooky rain-dark pines, told you she was dead.

The coachman’s task was to deliver his two bankers and one deadweight to the monastery of Heiligenkreuz, under whose bell tower a sexton and his mate had already knocked the soil from their shovels, and stood waiting by the grave they’d dug. They like the brothers couldn’t guess at what it was, this prologue all four mummered in – or that the drama was destined to repeat itself twenty-five years later.

But now to Vienna. The year 1889. At that time southern Europe was dominated by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, under its emperor Franz Joseph. Its extents were oppressive to some. In its favour there was breadth of religion, language, culture and economics – those four monsters hard to tame or control. By contrast, other countries the emperor ruled had an unhappy knack of self-mutilation, for even then intractable contours rumpled the cloth, for example the Balkans. We shall also see there were things the emperor didn’t find amusing. A case in point was the one thumbprint grazing his escutcheon, in the person of his son, the Crown Prince Rudolf, whose fads he sought effective means of dealing with, by excluding him from all functions or fiascos grounded in affairs of state. You couldn’t be surprised at Rudolf’s reaction against this, whose interests were counter to the military education his father had set out for him. His preferences were natural history and literature. One sultry afternoon – or so we come to imagine it – Rudolf was thinking of how best to resist his father’s proscriptions. Activism was one thing, and required effort, while a life wrapped in cotton wool was a misfortune reserved for the effortless. With these two at odds, Rudolf gazed into just that limbo where nothing much of consequence could ever be achieved by him.

Our own historical moment must have taught us something of everlasting monarchs, whose longevity their heirs have to suffer in finding a role for themselves. That conundrum, when it visited the Habsburgs, did so on a late January morning in 1889. The emperor had spent tranquil moments unrolling the scrolls of his signature onto one of his crested documents, and had planned for an hour with one of his ladies. Alas that wasn’t to be. The shrill of voices, then the sudden sweep of his padded doors, shattered that illusion. His wife thundered in, and had in train the royal physician – a sombre, spindly man whose coat tails flew up behind him. The emperor, who paused to catch his breath, nevertheless had to deal instantly with marital torpedoes fired across his blotting pad.

‘Rudolf is dead. Rudolf has shot himself.’

The emperor put away his pen, and was staggered.

Earlier that morning, Rudolf’s body had been found in the bedroom of his hunting lodge, in the leafless Vienna woods. To complicate things the prince had not been there alone. In the same deadly pact the corpse of Baroness Maria Vetsera rumpled and bloodied the bedding too – for they’d both been shot.

‘Then it’s clear,’ the emperor said. That vixen, in a fit of God knew what, had murdered his son.

His court physician begged to differ, though trembled as he did so. He’d examined, he said, both bodies, and had no doubt that the prince had shot the baroness, then trained the revolver on himself.

‘My son is not a murderer,’ the sad-eyed king decreed, and that was true – the emperor’s son was not a murderer.

We pause for the official course of action, when rumours in Vienna invaded every drawing room. The emperor’s next instructions were categorical: to prepare the family vault for the prince’s body. That was at the Church of Capuchin Friars. The hunting lodge would close, and re-open as a shrine, with a service. After that came the official investigation, which the emperor ensured was headed by Baron Krauss, the top man at that time in the Vienna police. Krauss would report to the emperor, and reporting to Krauss was Baron Friedrich d’Oc.

Krauss took immediate action over the Vetsera burial, which went ahead, symbolically, under an angry, swollen sky, and was veiled in secrecy. It was, potentially, the biggest scandal of European society – just that sort of state dilemma the d’Ocs, with their wealth, connections, and more important a centuries-old diplomacy, were trusted to dampen down. Therefore what history fails to record is Friedrich’s velvet glove, and the iron claw that drew it on. Gathered in its grip were members of the press, whose hold on things correspondingly diminished. Even Moritz Szeps, a close friend of Rudolf’s, and proprietor of the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, couldn’t do more than mumble into his pocket handkerchief. What paragraphets he manufactured offered nothing conclusive, with the revelation only that Rudolf – or rather he and his ‘paramour’ – had been shot dead at Mayerling, a village on the Schwechat River, about twenty-five kilometres southwest of Vienna. The hunting lodge is now a Carmelite convent.

The barons Krauss and d’Oc did a thorough job, and made sure no one was able to say what had prompted these events. Inextricably bound to them was the emperor’s wife, Elizabeth – Empress of Austria and Bavaria (and also Queen of Hungary).

One person Elizabeth might have trusted was the ambitious Count Andrassy, who as the most powerful man in Hungary sought to extricate its kingdom from the empire. He was backed in this by Bismarck, the German Empire’s first chancellor (1871–90), whose influence on European politics left its mark on the dual murders of Mayerling. Emperor Franz Joseph had too readily bowed to his medic’s opinion, even if it made his son a murderer, or worse than that, guilty of the mortal sin of suicide. Against all, he ordered the crown prince laid to rest in the imperial vault – with no post mortem, and no inquest. There was a token investigation, entrusted to Baron Krauss, whose job included the disposal of Maria Vetsera’s remains, but of course, only the moment’s Realpolitik drove these things along. The secret treaty of 1877, between Russia and Germany, amounted to a handshake effectively uniting the emperor’s two biggest enemies.

That was a treaty the crown prince was likely to approve of, and that surely made Rudolf’s suicide unlikely. He’d been eliminated, for fear of what politically he was likely to develop into. Franz Joseph, the prince’s father, saw to his removal, with the barons Krauss and d’Oc trusted to do the work and dust his tracks. The emperor’s motto was: ‘never apologise, never explain’. That served an empire not simply steeped in power and wealth and military might. To Franz Joseph, it was something more ancient and much more permanent than that. It was his on divine trust. If to maintain it meant sacrificing his son, then unlike Abraham his regal hand would not be stayed, and Rudolf had to die.

Rudolf’s successor was his cousin Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose political thinking was more in line with the emperor’s, but whose domestic affairs were not as polished. In opting to marry beneath him, any future offspring couldn’t accede after him. But then on the 28th of June 1914 he and his spouse were shot in Sarajevo – an assassination sparking World War I, and a final confirmation that the archduke wouldn’t succeed to the throne.

You can read more on Maria Vetsera in the novel New King Palmers, winner of the 2018 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction, available at Amazon USA and Amazon UK



Once Upon a Time in Paris, by Eliza Granville

Fiction Posted on Sun, June 28, 2020 12:47:36
Once Upon a Time in Paris, a novel by Eliza Granville

Like her last novel, Gretel and the Dark, Once Upon a Time in Paris cleverly combines a fairy-tale element with magic realism: in this case, an account of events in the life of Charles Perrault. Set in Paris in 1695, intertwining historical fact with multiple layers of fiction, Once Upon a Time in Paris invites readers to consider the possibility that the Tales of Mother Goose were not written by Charles Perrault (nor by his son, Pierre Darmancourt, as originally claimed), but by a reclusive figure almost entirely overlooked by history. The novel is set at that point where the tradition of oral story-telling is fast being absorbed by the written word, and our mysterious recluse is caught between the two practices. Once Upon a Time in Paris offers a dazzling new insight into the connection between the ogre of folklore and fairy-tale and the post-Enlightenment feminist struggle.

‘Twists, turns, knots and kinks…’ No shortage of those in this deliciously smart, mischievous and engrossing novel. Not a goose feather in sight – like Perrault’s own fairy tales, Granville’s novel has been written with a swan’s quill. I read it in a sitting.’ Professor Richard Marggraf Turley

‘Real world and fairy-tale blend and interpenetrate until the boundaries between fantasy and reality blur and meld. The relations between fact and fiction, actual and imaginary realities, are continually brought into question in this subtle and always engaging narrative.’ Jon Elsby

Gretel and the Dark, Eliza Granville’s Holocaust novel, was published to great critical acclaim first by Hamish Hamilton, then by Penguin. After those minor houses the only way is up, and CentreHouse Press is outstandingly pleased to have her present novel, Once Upon a Time in Paris, a dazzling new insight into the connection between the ogre of folklore and fairytale and the post-Enlightenment feminist struggle.

Once Upon a Time in Paris is available at Amazon USA and Amazon UK



A Forgotten Poet, by Peter Cowlam

Fiction Posted on Wed, June 24, 2020 15:42:19
A Forgotten Poet, a novella by Peter Cowlam

A Forgotten Poet follows the fortunes of diffident and reluctant man of letters, Harold Humber, from his early life in the English Midlands, through his post-war career as economist, jazz aficionado, expert in industrial architecture, and, in the final reckoning, author of four slim volumes of popular verse. While still studying for his degree he is besotted by arts bombardier Hugh Monmouth. Monmouth is determined to see that his Exe Set – the name given his group of poets and writers – is written into English bookish history as the driving force in a changing literary landscape. Monmouth uses his family connections with London publishing house Sabre and Sabre to launch his friend Humber into print, and deliver him as ‘the most important poet writing in English now’. That ‘now’ extends over the post-war period, into the counter-culture of the 1960s, into the industrial unrest of the 1970s, into the greed-is-good of the 1980s, through the dot-com bubble of the ’90s, and, after his death, into Sabre’s extensive archive. That archive’s files and papers fall, accidentally, into the ambit of indie publishing, twenty-first-century-style. When reopened, what new revelations are gleaned of the retiring Harold Humber and the narcissistic Hugh Monmouth? What are we to make, in light of new information, of Harold Humber, poet and economist, as we now learn of struggles throughout his working life, and the range of different disguises he met them with?

A Forgotten Poet is available on Kindle USA and Kindle UK



Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize?

Fiction Posted on Fri, September 01, 2017 17:06:49

Listen as you read. Narrator read by Gilly Anderson; Wye, Zob and Snell read by Peter Cowlam:

Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize? is a satire
on literary celebrity, set in the relatively safe remove of early
1990s literary London. There are three main characters. The first is
Marshall Zob, whose father, of eastern European origin, has
previously changed his family name from Zoblinski, or Zobilinsk, or
something like that. Zob Junior is a literary celebrity, whose social
ascent has taken him to London’s literary heights, through a
network of media and literati contacts. Zob can and does delude
himself that his success really is down to his genius. All that’s
missing from his CV is the Booker Prize, which he feels he should
have won, but hasn’t.

The second of the three main characters is Alistair Wye,
a computer science graduate who by some monumental fluke has been
hired as Zob’s amanuensis or assistant. Wye’s job prior to this
was as overseer of a computerised database, one designed by him for a
theatrical properties firm as a means of keeping track of its stock,
its orders, and its clients. The entire book is supposedly Wye’s
personal diary, recording his reactions to life in proximity to a
literary celebrity.

The third main character is the hapless Andrew Glaze,
one-time Professor of English Literature at Exe University. Glaze is
already dead before the action of the novel starts. As Wye notes in
the foreword to his diary, news of his death was ‘a passing that
hardly caused me to put down my coffee cup, or extinguish my
cigarette’. It’s a passing that’s important to Zob, since back
in the 1970s he was not only Glaze’s student, he was his star
student, or as Wye puts it, also in his foreword,

Marshall Zob, should you not already know, is the
perfection of the dead Andrew Glaze, PhD, whose brightest student he
was. This was back in the early 1970s, in the cloisters of Modern
College, Exe University, where the writer and academic, and Blagueur
Prize-winner (twice), the witty Zob Senior [that’s to say
Marshall’s father], had passed before him. [Incidentally, Zob
Senior was also Glaze’s friend and colleague. I am not meaning to
suggest by this any hint of nepotism, which Glaze himself has
remarked the English are so touchy about.]

Glaze’s personal life hasn’t been a great success.
Prior to the novel’s opening, his marriage has collapsed and his
wife Samantha has fled to New York. After the divorce, she intends to
marry one of New York’s wealthiest bankers. All of this is
chronicled in a series of letters, postcards etc. languishing in
Zob’s archive.

Zob has been careless about filing these letters, and
keeps them dotted around in no particular order. Furthermore his
replies to his friend Glaze have all been made on an ancient
IBM-compatible using word-processor software he never quite
understood. That correspondence does still exist, somewhere on disc,
but when that ancient PC refuses to boot up it is Wye’s job to find
a solution and retrieve it all. In fact this becomes vital to Zob
since, as an important academic, Glaze’s life and work is about to
be commemorated publicly. For Zob there are also commercial
opportunities in reproducing and annotating his long exchange with
Glaze. Wye does manage to restore that creaking PC, and what he finds
there, and what he finds in Zob’s paper archive, forms much of the
material that ends up in his diary – which could be summed up as a
ruthless exposé of the life of a literary superstar.

He is amused to find, in Zob’s letter to Glaze dated
the 30th of May, reference to himself, on the subject of his
appointment, which reads as follows:

Most recent interview took place in my pool hall. I go
there a lot – it helps me to think, and relax. I couldn’t make it
– or rather him – out. A native of Manchester, yet talked like
colonial Tunbridge Wellian. His name’s Alistair, though he didn’t
hint at a Scottish connection. He seemed – which is perhaps the
operative word – seemed (stress) well informed generally. He
assumes I am of the Left, because he’s seen my byline in The
Observer
, and told me he’d read and liked my lampoon on the
decent, genteel exterior of former Tory prime ministers. I didn’t
say hear hear…

For all this his degree’s in computer science, though
the man was evasive about his university – a sleight of hand I
thought these boffins weren’t capable of, having no intelligence
outside that realm of the microchip. He could be very useful, as I
wouldn’t mind all that hardware paraphernalia – though God knows
I can make nor head nor tail of the box of tricks I have got. He
works, he says, for a theatrical properties company in Mortimer
Street, for whom he designed, wrote and installed a stock-and-order
system. He reads a great many science books, and for that reason
thinks he can talk down to me. I showed him a thing or two on the
pool table.

Wye remembers that interview differently. This is from
his diary entry of July the 4th:

The conversation we had in his pool hall was over a best
of three games, which did, it is true, end on the final black. This,
naïvely, he potted. The light from the canopy above, parcelled its
tiny quanta in a varied dilution of yellow. Here perfectly was Zob’s
imperfect illumination, in whose glaze I remarked on the soiled nap
of the table. ‘Successive smokers,’ I said, and chalked my cue.
Together we bent to those grey-green archipelagos, those swipes of
ground ash. ‘I am interested in music,’ I said, in reply to his
question what existed other than the written word. When he talked
about literary prostitution this was, he said, merely a term in a
very long series. According to him, we who worked prostituted
ourselves in one way or another. In a glum status quo few authors had
the courage to challenge anything. Did this, I asked, not leave your
fellow pool players intellectually in vacuo? And to talk of
society’s imbalance, wasn’t that merely society’s
impregnability? That was more or less it, he said, never having
claimed that the elevated tribes and scribes to whom he belonged
really did have a social conscience.

He potted a first yellow, calmly: wasn’t he after all
on the comic side of fiction, and therefore exempt? Then, he
imagined, he snookered me.

‘Let me show you,’ I said, ‘how to bend a ball….’
Awkward, of course, to cue, just as our human quarks or men of
conscience can’t with certainty cast their vote. To the massé
nevertheless. My stolid white dragged its heels round an interposing
yellow. It struck a side cushion and my object ball simultaneously.
Result: Not the pot he’d expected. I allowed him, O ye dumb angels,
bearing the professor’s footstool, just one more visit to the
table. I took that first game, it has to be said without much effort.
The second I gave him, only because he bought lunch, which consisted
of egg, cress, warm mayonnaise, sandwiched with expert inattention in
two squares of foam.

Now, as for those levitating letters tailing my surname,
I cannot legitimate the embossed sheen of a doctorate, the gold plate
of an MSc, nor even the albata filigree of a lowly MA. As a
short-trousered first-former, and I agree a touch Romantic, I took
Browning – with his ‘Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!’ –
and that ricochet off the book of Ecclesiastes – ‘…all is
vanity’ – somewhat to heart. What after all is ‘education’
but the remorseless hum of commerce? At seventeen I wrote a one-page
constitution, governing the life, aim and ideals of Wye’s
pantisocracy. The project was doomed, naturally, depending for
sovereignty on a deserted, disintegrating cottage just outside a tiny
settlement called Capel, where I was known and loved. That wider
kingdom sent in its head-shaking yeomanry, blued in look and uniform,
with arguments against my scheme. Their central thrust was the minor
matter of ownership. Our adopted country or cottage belonged to a
Medway vicar, while the ‘discovery’ of marijuana also helped
break up our experiment. This was one smoke-filled, winter afternoon,
when the sky was a blossom pink (as I looked out and up, through a
weald of elms).

I told Zob my qualification was as a computer scientist,
though I have only a BSc, so in terms of the actuality that wasn’t
entirely untrue. I watched him on that final black, which he’d
failed to spot was equidistant from two corner pockets, making
predictable the white as it holed itself too. Lucky we didn’t bet,
eh, Marsy? Amazingly our second interview took place in a grimy café
not far from his snooker club, and for a third he sent me to see his
agent Cornelius.

Meanwhile Zob, in his political infighting in the
brutish world of publishing, shows us his weakness for public
accolades. He attempts, aided by his agent, to bribe his way into
winning that prize of all prizes. That prize Wye can dismiss as a
typically English parochial thing, but important internationally
(apparently). Here Zob eventually comes unstuck, when a new and even
more mediocre novelist, Justin Simms, appears on the scene just as it
seems certain Zob will win. Simms has friends as powerful as Zob’s,
and at the last moment is poised to snatch the prize from under Zob’s
nose. Wye describes him thus, in his diary entry of April the 20th:

He was – and didn’t blush to hear it – of gentle
birth. Throughout his boyhood he tinkered with a red Bugatti, which
even before he was licensed he drove direct to Vire. He drove
circuitously back, upsetting the gendarmerie. His first efforts in
creative writing were naturally quite brilliant, winning him a prize.
In researching his debut novel Simms wanted to know what was all the
fuss about in post-industrial Britain? He lacerated his yachting
pumps, which had cost hundreds. He fished out his striped rugby
socks, his school wars fondly remembered. Some dungarees he had
sprayed the Bugatti in served as principal garment, all enhanced
authentically by a few days minus shaving tackle. The hair, bleached
by a long weekend in Key Largo – where he was best man at an old
chum’s wedding – well, those strands would just have to grow
themselves out. So apparelled Simms set a course into the
disintegrating streets of his and your metropolis. North of Oxford
Street he sang – this was outside the Cambridge, with its
early-evening throngs, where people pressed coins into his open palm.
He moved on to the Blue Posts, offering a fabricated life story to
its drinkers, or, he corrected, its drinkers outside under parasols –
who urged him away with cash. For his nights he acquired a polythene
wrap, into which he mummified himself, mostly in a doorway off the
Strand. From that he graduated to a cardboard coffin in the precincts
of Charing Cross. So on for a long three months, where his street
life gave him – a realism actually lived through – the germ of
his ‘powerful’ first novel. For most the palm was already his,
that thing so close to Zob’s own heart.

Agent Cornelius, now faced with having to earn his
commission, devises a five-to-six-point plan as to the problem of a
dangerous rival.

1 A declaration of ‘war’
is inadvisable, as that could put you in a vulnerable light.

2 Conciliation is a best
first step, with a public laudation, such as ‘Welcome, colleague’.

3 Open camaraderie between
you and the new boy. By that we mean friendly, professional rivalry.
This is the surest way to undermine the Crouch link. [Geraldine
Crouch chairs the prize committee].

4 Remember! Crouch is a
raging suffragette, and as yet no one has sounded out Simms on that
score. Ideally he’ll be unsympathetic.

5 Finally Simms was born
with money, and is bound to get bored with work. If so you might lead
the rest of us in regretting his premature retirement.

PS 6 Have a party. Invite
Simms, and Crouch. And me!

Preparations for that party are finalised by Wye, who is
co-opted to serve as wine waiter. The invitation list is a ragbag of
important, opinionated arts correspondents, commentators, reviewing
hacks, book editors, journalists, devotees, and a low-budget
filmmaker with options on Zob’s novels. Wye navigates his way
through the gossip, the backstabbing, the career talk, the clash of
egos, and has finally had enough when Shayle, the filmmaker, a
dejected-looking man, regales those gathered around him with a tale
of professional woes. Wye describes it as follows, in his entry of
June the 25th:

The sullen Shayle took one of three last glasses on my
salver. Symbolically Zob turned up then apologetically turned down
the central chandelier, via the dimmer switch. An escaping cramped
ellipse of light from a table lamp, in a burnt hue of burnt sugar,
illuminated an eye, a sallow cheek, an ear lobe, as Shayle began to
speak. He’d had a problem with extras – this on a shoot in
Exeter. I don’t propose to make doubly clear that his job is
largely low-grade entertainment, and that his lode is a TV production
house I have the foresight not to name. ‘It’s what you get,’ I
said, ‘for falling short of Equity rates’ – because, brothers
and sisters in servitude, picture the scene:

Director circles that particular section of supremely
pointless script where hero, an Italianate youth, whom ignorant
author has named Sancerre, enters private casino. Silence. Action.
There are six extras seated at each of three round tables, above
which gaffer has suspended lights from makeshift gantry. Dealers deal
cards onto green baize. This is draw poker, the rules of which are
not entirely grasped by all eighteen. Other props are: a Churchillian
cigar, numerous cigarettes, cold tea in whisky glasses, water for
gin, where only the lemon is genuine, and low-alcohol lager. None is
to be drunk, as no top-ups between takes. There is an imitation haze,
and several thousand pounds in sterling, all in bank notes (and
there, gentlemen, is the rub). There is one camera only, and this
means an interesting interplay of angles is, well, frankly
troublesome, and in the end a little nicety Shayle – already over
budget – decides to abandon. Sancerre strides to table where he
sees his great rival Anjou, and because the scriptwriter has no
grounding whatsoever in mathematical probability theory fleeces his
opponent, first with a full house, then a straight flush, finally
four of a kind. This – as I yawn – does not conclude the story.
The casino is folded up and put away. The players break up for
coffee. Those bank notes are counted. They are recounted. Then they
are endlessly recounted. Here we arrive at the brink of an
accusation, though directed at which of those eighteen? Or perhaps
the star Sancerre himself is underpaid…. Here I turn to the liver
surgeon, whose surprised left eye socket seems momentarily monocled.
‘Do please have this last glass,’ I say.

Wye, utterly bored, and irked at officiating all night
as Zob’s wine waiter, retreats from centre stage once most of the
guests are drunk and past caring. With Snell’s assistant Merle, who
is in the process of forming a breakaway agency, and is instrumental
in bringing his diary to publication, Wye and two other guests decamp
to the laundry room for a game of cards. He sums that up as follows:

How shall I wrap up this dismal scene? My departing
Muse, in a lightness of tread, and with that cool air of exile she
fans to my brow, has preached detachment. Gloria finished my bottle.
Giles – who stumbled on my semi-hidden stocks – suddenly usurped
my promotion to major-domo, at least insofar as Orphic revels needed
to be supervised. Ms Crouch and Miss Bloge processed through the
buffet lounge, where the former delivered her new tractate, Women
and the Priesthood
. Here I cannot take issue – without, that
is, looking stupidly solemn – when that whole charade was
essentially fun and games for the male of the species, a ‘poor
chap’ who sought to dignify his workhorse status with the magic
rain of mysticism (there I go: solemn). Flude, Snell and the
impeccable Simms picked at a raspberry-coloured pâté, and were
otherwise in conclave. Merle – star of my studded heaven – had
got Isabelle and Blandford into the laundry room, and needed only the
unsuspecting me for a hand of solo. Merle, my precious Merle! How
could I disagree with your abondance (or agree with your
misère)? It’s no matter. By two a.m. I had had enough,
therefore dissolve, I say, inebriate sprite! The smiling Wye could
find no right bid…

…for a twenty of diamonds…a duopoly of spade
queens…a quartet of black twos…

…and was it you, was it you who put me to bed, shoes
by the door, beige pantaloons overhanging my chair, shirt on a
hanger?

Merle!

The book plunges on through its rivalries, its artistic
and academic failures, its family feuds, through its master-slave
relationships, but does end on a bright note, when Wye is asked to
pen his conclusions. ‘Well now, let me think,’ he says. ‘In my
memoir of social decay, which has been after all the catalyst of
artistic regeneration, I shall start I suppose with a fatality. The
corpse, Glaze’s, is symbolic. Some time hence its transmogrified
mulch is the moving ground that the grandeur of a renascent
literature flourishes in. It shan’t be compacted – not by those
clumsy hobnails our many Marshall Zobs tramp in our world of printed
pages in.’ And abetted by Merle, off Wye goes to publish his diary.



Across the Rebel Network, by Peter Cowlam

Fiction Posted on Wed, December 14, 2016 12:00:27

Anno centres a federated Europe in an
uncertain, and not-too-distant digital future, when politics, the
media and mass communications have fused into one amorphous whole.

He works for the Bureau of
Data Protection (BDP), a federal government department responsible
for monitoring the full range of material, in all media, posted into
cyberspace. The BDP is forced to do this when rebel states are
seceding, small satellites once of the federation but now at a remove
from it, economically and socially. A handful of organised outsiders
threatens to undermine the central state through a concerted
propaganda war, using the federation’s own digital infrastructure.
It is this climate of mutual suspicion that to Anno makes inevitable
decades of digital guerrilla warfare. While his department takes
steps to prevent this, he doesn’t reckon on the intervention of his
old college sparring partner, Craig Diamond, who is now a powerful
media mogul. The two engage in combat conducted through cyberspace,
in a rare concoction of literary sci-fi.

Across
the Rebel Network
is published by CentreHouse Press and is
available in print format. Retails at all the usual places, including
Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Word Power Books, Barnes and Noble.



Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize? by Peter Cowlam

Fiction Posted on Wed, December 14, 2016 11:52:02

Winner
of the 2015 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction. For Alistair Wye,
assistant to ‘top’ novelist Marshall Zob, Zob makes just two
mistakes. First, he plans a commemorative book celebrating the life
and work of his dead mentor, John Andrew Glaze, whose theory of
‘literary time’ is of dubious philosophical pedigree. Second, Zob
turns the whole literary world on its head through the size of
advance he instructs his agent to negotiate for his latest, and most
mediocre novel to date.

Secretly
Wye keeps a diary of Zob’s professional and private life. Comic,
resolute, Wye stalks through its every page, scattering his pearls
with an imperious hand, while an unsuspecting Zob ensures perfect
conditions for the chronicles satire.

Set in the relatively safe remove of London’s beau
monde in the early 1990s, Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize?
unremittingly debunks the phenomenon of literary celebrity.

The plot revolves round a researcher working through an
archive of computer discs, emails and faxes, and his own diary
recording his reactions to life in proximity of bookish heavyweight
Marshall Zob. It’s a roaring satire, in the best English comedic
tradition.

Who’s
Afraid of the Booker Prize?
is published by CentreHouse Press and
is available in print format. Retails at all the usual places,
including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Word Power Books, Barnes and Noble.



Marisa, by Peter Cowlam

Fiction Posted on Thu, July 28, 2016 14:29:55

A fiery collision of interests, not without its pathos, when Bruce meets Marisa. The former is destined to be head of a financial house founded by his father, for whom the suffragettes, let alone second- and third-wave feminists, might just as well not have happened. The latter is a left-leaning arts polymath, and tags along with Bruce and his patriarchal pronouncements, but only up to a point. It’s debatable whether she manages to teach him anything. A great deal of sumptuous prose is expended throughout this charming novella as Marisa undoubtedly tries. Jack d’Argus

Marisa is published by CentreHouse Press and is available in print and ebook formats.

Print book retails at all the usual places, including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Wordery, Barnes & Noble.

Ebook available at Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, Nook. Sample download available at Smashwords.