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Monday, 21 September 2015

Book Review: Murder on a Summer's Day by Frances Brody

Murder on a Summer's Day is the fifth book in the Kate Shackleton mystery series that I so adore (the previous four have all been reviewed on this blog). Set in the 1920s in Yorkshire, this series follows a private investigator and, in this novel, Brody brings a touch of India to the Yorkshire countryside.

Kate is asked by her cousin to travel to Bolton Abbey to help find Maharajah Narayan, a distinguished visitor who disappeared while hunting. When she arrives at the scene Kate finds puzzle after puzzle blocking her path and it soon transpires she's involved in yet another murder case. Superstitious locals believe shooting a white doe was the reason Narayan died but there's a missing diamond and an unsuitable local girlfriend waiting in the wings. Kate keeps coming up against brick walls, despite the aid of her partner Jim Sykes and housekeeper Mrs Sudgen and the mystery builds gently as the book progresses.

I thoroughly enjoyed the layering of Indian culture on the Yorkshire setting. It added a new dimension to Brody's books, which are already uniquely enjoyable (for me) because of the three key ingredients of a female detective, period setting and the base in Yorkshire. The mystery itself ties together the English and the Indian aspects of plot with plenty of twists and turns along the way and some completely believable characters. There are a couple of especially memorable scenes, specifically one involving a snake and another involving a fire, both of which have lingered with me since I finished reading.

In fairness, I don't think Frances Brody could write a Kate Shackleton novel that I didn't enjoy but that doesn't mean this one isn't worth reading. Once again, Brody refrains from neat conclusions and, beyond that, I seriously hope the question she posed in the last line of this book is answered in the next. It's a frivolous fangirly question but I still care nonetheless.

This book was read as part of the 'Women' reading challenge, details here.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Classic Film Review: Heavens Above! (1963)

Heavens Above! stars Peter Sellers as an irreverent minister posted by accident to a snobbish parish. A name mix-up means that Reverend John Smallwood transfers from being a hapless prison chaplain to a complacent town where he proceeds to stir things up in his own gentle style. He sticks to the Bible rather than the Church, which causes a few problems. This satirical look at contemporary life also features Cecil Parker, Ian Carmichael, Eric Sykes, Miriam Karlin and Isabel Jeans.

I enjoyed this one, though not as much as I expected I might. It's amusing seeing the mix-up between the two John Smallwoods and watching the 'wrong' one's introduction into the village. Peter Sellers plays the idealistic minister perfectly - not once do you get the impression that the poor chap knows what on earth he's doing. His influence on Lady Despard (Jeans) is entirely realistic at first, as are the progressions of the other major stories. For instance, after seeing a large family evicted from their plot of land Smallwood invites them to stay at the vicarage with him. In this film everyone but Smallwood has an ulterior motive, even Lady Despard who is desperate to save her soul. As such, things don't exactly work out well.

There are moments of brilliance, including when the food bank established to help the poor begins putting the local tradesmen out of business. It's an excellent examination of good intentions gone awry but the film itself begins to lose its way in the last third with a plot twist that's memorable for all the wrong reasons.

In truth, when I think of this film I'm likely to think more of the bizarre ending than anything else, which is a shame. Heavens Above! makes some good points, perhaps as relevant today as they were then, but it loses its effect somewhat and I wish a more plausible ending could've been found.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

After All, It's a Step in the Right Direction

I've been excessively silent on this blog recently and I apologise for that. I'm still lagging behind with my book and classic film reviews but hopefully I can get those up to date soon. The sad truth is that I haven't had much time to read and watch anything or, really, to do much apart from react to things going on around me. It's not the most rewarding of existences and it certainly isn't healthy for me personally.

So where are we at? Well, last Friday I delivered what I hope is the last piece of my PhD puzzle. My thesis corrections have been uploaded and outstanding paperwork delivered so, theoretically, that should be that.

In other news, I was delighted to be short-listed in the 2015 Exeter Story Prize with my short story 'Pongo'. That's one I'm particularly proud of and I'm glad all that hard work paid off. One of the things that drew me to that competition was the ability to submit longer short stories. Sometimes you need the extra space and I don't think 'Pongo' would've squeezed in to a more constrictive word count.

I'm also standing for election again in the Pontefract North by-election on the 24th September for Yorkshire First. Politics is still something I'm passionate about, though I don't go into it much on this blog. However, in fairness, I haven't had much time to go into it on my politics blog either! The last post I managed over there was badgering the previous councillor to resign and, lo and behold, now I'm standing for her seat. Isn't life a funny thing?

My priorities have, quite naturally, shifted with waving the PhD goodbye. Top on the list is trying to look after myself a little better than I have been doing in recent months. Beyond that, there are always other things in the pipeline. Here are the headlines.

  • Back in July I developed a priority list of novel drafts. I've got cracking on the fourth draft of 'Max', marking up all the necessary edits and starting on the nitty-gritty of actually implementing them. This is going to be a long process and it may derail the other projects I want to work on before the end of the year. However, I'd still like to get to 'Danni' and 'Izzy' before the end of the year. I'm also working on the assumption that I'm going to be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, though by this point I've usually had a big idea and I'm working on refining it. I need inspiration to strike. 
  • On the short story front, I need to get back into the groove. For instance, I currently have four in need of a second draft and another four that I've decided need a complete overhaul before I resubmit them. At the time of typing, I only have three short stories out at submission but there are another two I'm content enough with to send out so I need to get on with that. My aim is to make my co-working day with Wakefield Jelly the main day for short story paper edits again. That's worked very well in the past and it's a dedicated day for escaping to edit short stories (in addition to a dedicated hour of escape each weekday to actually write them). Incidentally, if anyone's around on Wednesday 23rd September, pleased stop by at Create and join us Jelly folk. The group has been going for two years now and, amazingly enough, I've been going since the start!
  • I'm also hoping to take on some tutoring work for A-Level students and above. I had some success in this quarter earlier in the year so, if you know anyone who needs a little help with their English studies please ask them to contact me. Hopefully there'll be more on this in the future. 
  • Freelance writing and project management is also another string to my bow and is taking up a chunk of my time at the moment. 
There, that's perfectly manageable, isn't it? Who said anything about slowing down? Besides, it takes my mind off the fact I'm essentially flying without navigation at the moment. But, as Angela sings, it's a step in the right direction, after all...even if I don't know quite what direction I'm going in.