Category Archives: Novels

My vote for the Nobel Peace Prize: the girl who defied the Taliban.

Sometimes there are people who seem to have guts and moral fibre that leave the rest of us behind. 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck a year ago by the Taliban, for advocating that girls should be allowed to go to school.

MalalaShe had been writing a blog about life in the Swat Valley, where the Talibs were gradually taking over, forcing girls’ schools to close by threats of violence. Violence was so common that one day, when her younger brother was playing in their front yard, she asked what he was doing. “Digging a grave,” he answered. The Taliban found where Malala went to school, got on her bus and fired. The results became world news. After surgery and rehab in England, she is now (this Wednesday) on the anniversary of the attack talking about her future. She can’t go back to Pakistan yet, but she wants to improve her education, and keep pushing.

She has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a long shot, since there are over 200 nominees. But I hope she gets it.

Malala reminds me a lot of people who have stood up against injustice, and/or to promote the cause of women. Rosa Parks may not have been shot or lynched  for refusing to go to the back of the bus with the “coloured folk,” in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, but she could have been. Protesters in Egypt two years ago risked death in the hope of democracy. Aun Sung Sui Kee endured 20 years of house arrest in Burma for upsetting the military by winning a democratic election.

The world needs more Malalas. The world need more people like you and I to give to charities that are specifically directed to educating girls in third world countries. The world needs people to put their money where their mouth is.

Malala has a book out, the kindle version is here, and there is a paperback in Book Depository.

Best wishes until next week.

Advertisements

Hitchcock: impossible to live with, but worth the effort

How do you live with a man who is extremely talented, perhaps a genius, but who is insecure, resentful, often dismisses you, puts you down, is a peeping tom and seems determined to prove that everyone else in his industry  is wrong?

Helen Mirren, from Wikimedia Commons
Helen Mirren, from Wikimedia Commons

In Hitchcock, staring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as his wife Alma Reville, Hitchcock believes the Hollywood film industry want him to make the same kind of film over and over again, so he chooses as his next project Psycho, based on a book about a serial killer (Ed Gein) who kept his dead mother mummified, and killed attractive young women who came to his motel. It was 1959, and Hitchcock proposed showing a woman being stabbed to death in the shower, and evidence being flushed down a toilet. Back then, cinema just didn’t show those things. Everyone is against the project.

These are the twin themes in this film: Hitchcock’s determination to prove the industry wrong, and the effects on Reville of a living with a man who most of us would think was  impossible to live with.

The first theme begins when Hitchcock is asked at the premier of his latest movie, North by North West, whether he is too old to continue making movies and should just retire.  As she hears the question, Reville freezes. We can see how deeply she knows the question will hurt Hitchcock.  Hitchcock sets out to prove everyone wrong, but chooses a project which nobody will fund. When the studios won’t finance the film, Hitchcock mortgages their house and tells Reville that if it doesn’t work out they’ll be eating crow for a long time. In fact, they’ll probably lose their house and may become bankrupt.

The filming is soon behind schedule, and Hitchcock doubts whether the still ‘has it.’  Reville also has doubts, which are implied, but not directly voiced. As the film progresses, Hitchcock’s doubts grow, until he refers to the film as being ‘stillborn.’

The second theme revolves around Hitchcock’s  constant overeating and drinking, his obsessing over actresses that he could probably never attract, his lechery (in front of his wife) and his suspicions of Reville’s relationship with a fellow writer, Whitfield Cook. As Cook and Reville work together on one of Cook’s scripts,  Cook tells Reville that a lot of great men are “impossible to live with, but worth the effort.” Eventually Hitchcock accuses her of having an affair with Cook, at which point Reville gives Hitchcock a blast over the time she spends supporting him, and the little recognition or gratitude she gets for any of it. After they have a reconciliation of sorts, Reville turns her energies into helping Hitchcock “whip Psycho into shape.”  When  Paramount Pictures decides to release the picture in only two cinemas, Hitchcock comes up with an ingenious plan to get the film the publicity it needs. It went on to be regarded as one of his best films.

The acting in this movie is superb – especially that of Helen Mirren as Reville. In many scenes the main emotional impact is conveyed merely by the  expressions on Reville’s face, without the need her to say anything. If Mirren doesn’t get an Oscar for this, I’ll be very very surprised.

This film is well worth the money. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you’ll consider it.

So what did you think of Hitchcock and his films? Do you have a favorite   Could you have lived with a man like that? And did you ever watch the original of psycho? I’d love to hear what you think.

Note: this is my blog site. For information about my novel, click here. For information about editing an academic thesis, click here.

Your TV is spying on you: Big Brother is coming

1984

Here are a few strange things I came across this week.

US company Verizon has applied for a patent  for a device that would allow a TV to monitor people in their living rooms, picking up sounds,  telling whether the occupants  are children or  adults, and whether they are having an argument. If it detected an argument, it might then should an advert for marriage counselling. If it detected the sound of gym equipment being used, it might show ads for fitness equipment or personal trainers.

The device would also be able to recognize the skin tone and guess the race of the person watching the TV. In the novel 1984, the government watched everybody through their telescreens in the name of Big Brother. If we thought Facebook and other computer applications were playing ‘big brother’ when they keep track of which websites we visit, so they can target ads to us, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Ellen DeGeneres told us Bic had a new line of “pens for women.” Seriously? The pens are supposedly designed to fit a ‘female hand,’ whatever that means.  They come in pink and mauve. I wonder who in the company thought this was a good idea. De Generes sends it up with a mock ad which is amusing.

A sixteen-year-old Norwegian kid downloaded an app onto his smart phone that mimicked the sounds made by dying rabbits. (The app was intended for people hunting foxes.) He and a friend thought it would be funny to put the phone in the middle of the road to see what happened. They did. A fox came, sniffed and nipped the phone, then picked it up in its mouth and made off with it. There’s a video here. The kid didn’t get his phone back.

If you stay on the page after the fox video, you can also see a video of an Albino Echidna, ( more or less an Australian hedgehog.) The commentary is in Swedish, but there’s an English explanation here .

Finally, a man  in Australia, was charged with cruelty to an animal (among other things) after he bit a police dog, which bit him back. The man had been arrested for breaching a restraining order, and began kicking the cage in the back of the police van. When police attempted to move him to another vehicle, he kicked and bit a police dog. The dog bit back, and the guy required stiches in his arm.

Does anybody have any strange news items they’ve come across? And how do you feel about  your TV set detecting your race, age gender, based on being able to recognize skin tones and voice types.  Is this going too far?

Knowing you could have prevented your sister’s death.

Today I released my new novel, Fire Damage, on Amazon Kindle.

How do you get over knowing that you could have prevented your sister’s murder?
Cameron Oakwood is an intelligence analyst whose sister and nephew were killed in a car bomb explosion outside a politician’s office.  Cameron knew terrorists had made death threats against the politician. His family blames him for not warning his sister to stay away from that building. The case was never solved. Three years after her death, his family has cut him off. Consumed by guilt, Cameron obsessively re-reads documents he has hoarded to do with the case. He is becoming addicted to alcohol and tranquilizers.
Cameron is assigned to work with FBI agent Jodie Finch on threat by a Japanese doomsday cult to release a genetically engineered virus at an international sporting event in Melbourne, Australia. She is attracted to his intelligence, his humor and his honesty, but she worries about his addictions and his obsessions about his sister’s death. She wonders if he is ready for a new relationship.
As they work together, the terrorists take hostages to a remote country house in the path of oncoming forest fires. Cameron and Jodie have only hours left to prevent the biological attack. As they  race to rescue the hostages, they make a stunning discovery about the identity of the bomb maker who killed Cameron’s sister. But they make their discovery in the most frightening possible circumstances, when all their lives hang in the balance.

If you’d like to visit the site, and possibly buy a copy, you can see it here.  If you want to down the kindle app to read kindle books on your computer, you can get it here.

Why is John le Carre such a good spy / thriller writer?

I first came across John Le Carre’s novels 30 years ago. The first book of his I read was “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.” It dealt with a theme that recurs constantly through the remainder of le Carres’s books: betrayal, and the way intelligence services use and the dispose of people. The main character is sent on a mission where he risks his life going into East Germany during the cold war. He makes a shocking discovery at the end of the novel: a central belief he has held all the through the book, something he based his whole actions on, is in fact a lie. And the people who sent him into East Germany knew it, and used him to spread that lie, at the risk of his own life and that of his girlfriend. The book doesn’t have a happy ending.

In real life, le Carre (real name John Cornwall) was a spy.

He worked for the British Army’s Intelligence Corp in Germany in 1950, returned to England in 1952 where he spied on suspected communists for MI5 at Oxford, and he became a full time MI5 officer in 1958. In 1960, he transferred to MI6, and left the service in 1964 after ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” became a success. By this time, Cornwall’s cover as an MI6 agent had been blown by the real-life Kim Philby, a British agent secretly working for the Soviet Union.

What makes le Carre’s characters so interesting is that they often very flawed people. His own life experience gives him ample justification for books based on secrets, deceit and betrayal. Perhaps his best ever book was written in  1986. The cold war was still on. Le Carre writes  “A Perfect Spy”. It tells the story of a young man who has a conman for a father. The conman father is based on le Carre’s own father, who went bankrupt several times and ended up in jail for insurance fraud.

The main character (Magnus Pym) is a British intelligence officer who forms a relationship with a Czechoslovak intelligence officer in which they exchange documents so each can claim to have a valuable mole on the other side. The book contains a line that struck me as brilliant. When Magnus leaves home to hand over his first batch of documents, le Carre writes “…and Magnus stepped out into the night and became his father.”

And let’s be realistic: what do  intelligence agencies like MI6 and MI5 do? They get people from other countries to betray their countries. They burgle, they bug, and they spy on their own colleagues. Just read Spycatcher , the autobiography of MI5 officer peter Wright, who spied on his own boss in an attempt to discover if the boss was a soviet mole.

In the world of James Bond, good is good and evil is evil and James Bond never stabs anyone in the back. In le Carre’s world, intelligence agencies are prepared to cut people loose after they used them. The interests of your country matter more than the life of some informant.

In some ways, le Carre’s books remind me of the American film “Fair Game” (see here, and here ) about real life CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was exposed as a covert CIA agent by the White House when her ex-Diplomat husband criticised intelligence suggesting that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy yellow cake from Niger. Plame had scientists ready to defect from Iraq to the US, and they were left high and dry when Plame was exposed. (Gordon Libby got a jail sentence of two and a half years for exposing Plame, but George. W. Bush commuted his sentence.) Which just goes to show you what murky world intelligence can be. And le Carre takes through that murkiness in all its sordid detail. That’s one reason why his books are so compelling. There’s something fascinating about people who lie, burgle and bug for a living, and do it with the blessing of their country. Most of them believe that that they’re doing it for a “good” purpose, because “my country” is a good country. Don’t most of us think that? I’ll be sad when le Carre dies. I wonder who’ll take his place?

Any thoughts on why spy novels continue to be popular? Please, leave a comment!!!

Richard Snow

twitter: Richard_A_Snow