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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


Book Depository


Light in the Darkness, by Jon Elsby

Theology Posted on Sat, July 11, 2020 16:14:05
Light in the Darkness, by Jon Elsby

Christian apologetics is an important area of intellectual endeavour and achievement, standing at the boundaries between theology, philosophy and literature. Yet it has been largely neglected by historians of literature and ideas.

In these essays, the author attempts to establish apologetics as a subject deserving of respect in its own right. He analyses the apologetic arguments and strategies of four of the greatest Christian apologists of the twentieth century – Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and C. S. Lewis. He shows how different lines of argument support each other and converge on the same conclusion: that what Chesterton called ‘orthodoxy’ and Lewis ‘mere Christianity’ represents the fundamental truth about the relations between human beings, the universe, and God.

A new book on four of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th C – Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, C. S. Lewis, available at Amazon USA and Amazon UK

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

Heroes and Lovers, by Jon Elsby

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, July 05, 2020 14:57:57
Heroes and Lovers, by Jon Elsby

What is a tenor? What makes some tenors great? Why are tenors so rare? Heroes and Lovers suggests answers to these questions and offers critical essays on twenty-six tenors and shorter assessments of thirty-four others. The tenors covered range from Francesco Tamagno, the first Otello, and Fernando de Lucia, both of whom recorded in the early years of the twentieth century, to Joseph Calleja and Rolando Villazón today. The book also comprises an introductory essay and separate essays on the early tenors of the recorded era, the popular tenors, the British tenors, and the specialist categories of Mozart tenors and Heldentenors.

This is a personal selection and it will please, stimulate, provoke, and infuriate in equal measure.

‘This truly is a book for lovers of the art of singing and the tenor voice.’ Alan Bilgora in The Record Collector

Heroes and Lovers is available at Amazon UK and Amazon USA

The Burghers of Ceylon, by Andrew Elsby

Ethnology Posted on Mon, June 29, 2020 15:01:35
The Burghers of Ceylon, by Andrew Elsby

The Burghers of Ceylon traces the origins and history of the mixed-race populations of imperial Ceylon. It explains how, and why, those populations emerged, how they developed, how they were distinguished – and how they distinguished themselves – from the Europeans and from the native populations. It explores the components of burgher identity. The author also provides answers to the following questions. How reliable is the evidence of the Dutch Burgher Union’s genealogies? How prevalent is racial misrepresentation, and what were the motives behind it? How were the mixed-race populations treated by the European colonial powers? What happened to those mixed-race populations when colonial rule ended in 1948?

The author’s interest in the burghers of Ceylon came about after his mother’s death, when he discovered she was from a Dutch burgher family in Ceylon. Her mother was half English and half native, and her father, Raoul Frank, was a Dutch burgher descended from a long line of German, French, Dutch, Belgian and British European male ancestors, with native or mixed-race female ancestors from the Dutch and British periods in Ceylon.

The Burghers of Ceylon is available from 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

Short Historical Sketches: Edward II | by Peter Cowlam

Ethnology Posted on Fri, June 19, 2020 12:21:34
The Downfall of Edward II

The painful fact of Edward II / As Simon Schama must have reckoned / Is no amount of calming unguent / Damped that ramrod up his fundament.

Edward II was King of England from 1307 to 1327. Although not over-blessed with leadership talent, he entered a long, hopeless campaign of authority over his powerful barons.

He acceded to the throne in 1307 on the death of his father, Edward I, granting the highest offices to his predecessor’s most active opponents. He was hated by the barons on assigning the earldom of Cornwall to Piers Gaveston, who was possibly his lover. In 1311 a baronial committee drew up a document called the Ordinances. It demanded Gaveston’s banishment and restraint on the king’s powers over finances and appointments. Edward affected to meet these demands, sending Gaveston out of the country, though he was soon allowed to return. The barons reacted by seizing Gaveston and putting him to death, in 1312.

In 1314 Edward led an army into Scotland when the Scottish king Robert the Bruce was agitating against English over-lordship. He was defeated by Bruce at Bannockburn, which secured Scotland’s independence. Now Edward was at the mercy of Thomas Lancaster and his group of barons. By 1315 Lancaster had made himself virtual master of England, but proved to be incompetent. By 1318 Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, with his group of moderates, had assumed arbitration between Lancaster and Edward. Edward found two new favourites, Hugh le Despenser and his son, also Hugh. The king showed his support for the younger Hugh’s ambitions in Wales, at which point Lancaster banished both Despensers. Edward took up arms on their behalf. His opponents fell out among themselves, enabling him to defeat and capture Lancaster, and have him executed.

Free of baronial control, Edward annulled the Ordinances, avenging Gaveston’s death. But too heavy reliance on the Despensers stirred up resentment with his queen, Isabella, who on a mission to Paris became Roger Mortimer’s mistress. Mortimer was one of Edward’s exiled barons. In September 1326 Roger and Isabella invaded England, executed the Despensers, and deposed Edward, whose son, Edward III, was crowned King. Edward II was imprisoned, and according to Simon Schama (and other historians, as well as Christopher Marlowe), was tortured to death, probably with a red-hot poker thrust up his anus.

Peter Cowlam’s novella A Forgotten Poet is available on Kindle USA and Kindle UK

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