Book Review – Caged by Paul Falk

May 26, 2018

This is a novella written in the first person.  The story reads like an official report.  But this is okay as the protagonist, Jack Toback, is a government servant brought up through the ranks of a USA prison service.  He makes some small attempts at humour, which though few, fit into his personality.

He is put in charge of a revolutionary correctional facility run by robots and there is a great deal of description about their development and how they work.  Although the narrative is set in the future it is very relevant to the current time as the use of electronic technology and robots are becoming more integrated into our society.  The story left a number of issues unresolved.  This is not a unique or bad idea as it keeps the reader thinking about the various forces influencing the outcome of the automated prison experiment.

There is certainly potential here to expand the plot further and develop it into a novel or as a series of shorter stories.  The detailed style of writing may not be to everyone’s taste but it locked me in to turning the pages of my Kindle right to the end.  I can recommend it to any lover of dystopian fiction.

Keith Jahans

Caged is available on Amazon’s Kindle Store for $1.40 / £0.99

 

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Engaging with Fellow Writers

April 30, 2018

During the past few weeks myself and fellow authors of The Watford Writers group have been engaging with other writers and readers as part of Watford’s Big Word Fest.  On the Friday evening of 20th April some of us read at an “Open Mike” event at Watford Museum and on Saturday 28th April a few of us exhibited some of our books and took part in a self publishing workshop at Watford Central Library.  Thanks to the staff at both venues and to those who took part, I had an amazing time.  I recommend that anyone visiting Watford should visit both venues which are open most days and are outstanding examples of their type.

Keith Jahans

 


Watford Museum

 

Watford Central Library

 

Self Publishing Workshop

 

More photographs can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/watfordwriters

 

 

 

 


Book Review – Dead Simple by Peter James

April 11, 2018

This is the first book in Peter James’s detective series featuring Roy Grace.  The author has hit on a winning formula as the jacket states that 14 million copies of have been sold of this book alone.  It is certainly a rattling good read for anyone who loves police procedural crime novels.  The plot kept me riveted right to the end with many unsuspecting twists along the way.  Peter James is certainly an expert storyteller.

Keith Jahans

Published in 39 formats and editions and easily found
on Amazon & other major book stores


Book Review – The Assassination of Margret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

April 5, 2018

This is the title story in a collection of shorts by author Hilary Mantel known for her award winning novels about Henry VIII’s “Fixer” Thomas Cromwell.  I have not read these novels but have seen the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall which was the first of the Cromwell stories and it is clear from these that she is a talented storyteller.

The stories in The Assassination of Margret Thatcher collection are expertly written with well crafted descriptions of the characters and the settings in which the action takes place.  But apart from the title story, which is the last in the collection, I found the narratives hard to follow.  However, I am glad I persevered with the stories as short story writing is a difficult art to master and I was intrigued to see how a writer with Hilary Mantel’s reputation went about tackling them.  The collection has received many excellent reviews so it might just simply be that the stories are not to my taste.

Keith Jahans

The assassination of Margret Thatcher is published by Fourth Estate
and is available in hardback, paperback, as an ebook and audiobook


Graham Taylor: In His Own Words – a talk by Lionel Birnie for Watford Writers Group on 19 March 2018

March 20, 2018

Last night I attended an inspiring talk by sports journalist Lionel Birnie about how he went about ghost writing football manager Graham Taylor’s autobiography.  I have been staying in Watford for the past few months now and this was only the second time I had visited this writers group.  A number of the members knew Taylor personally so this was a very poignant and emotional occasion.  Taylor sadly died at the age of 72 on 12 January this year shortly before the book was published.  The book was written in the two years before his death and it was his family’s wish that Lionel and his editors proceed with the book project as they knew that it would have been what Taylor wanted.

Lionel gave an excellent account of his writing process which served as a splendid example to the writers present.  He told how he gave Taylor a notebook with several headings pertinent to his life and asked him to write down the thoughts that came into his head.  He recorded their many conversations on a small portable tape machine and went with Taylor to visit locations that were pertinent to his life.  He emphasised the efforts he made to make the book sound that it was written in Taylor’s own voice as he felt this was so important to Taylor’s family and Taylor himself.

Graham Taylor is an important figure to Watford, not just to the football club which he managed for two distinct periods, but the whole town.  This was indeed easy to see from the warmth of Lionel’s talk and by the way it was received by his audience.  I was so impressed by what I heard that I bought a signed copy, have added it to my increasingly lengthening reading list and plan to review it later this year.

Keith Jahans

Graham Taylor In His Own Words: The autobiography
is published by Peloton Publishing Ltd and is available in hardback for £19.99


Robots and Typing

February 20, 2018

I spent most of my working life in the years BC (Before Computers).  When I started work at a UK Government veterinary laboratory at the end of the 1960s there were no calculators; desktop and laptop computers had not been thought of.  Instead, we worked out calculations and wrote letters with pen and paper.  Then a typist would type up the results of our endeavours and copies were made as she typed (it was always a female typist) on carbon paper.

The ladies of the typing pool were some of the kindest, jolliest people I have ever worked with.  Sometimes I dictated my words into a cassette recorder and handed them a tape, but most of the time they had to decipher my scribbled handwriting and most could touch type faster than I could talk.  When I presented the thesis for my Masters Degree for one to type, I did not know that the G and F on the qwerty keyboard were next to each other so that when the word, “buffer”, appeared in my hand written script (and it appeared frequently because of the nature of my study) it came back as “bugger”.  A red faced lady apologised profusely but instead of simply erasing the offending word with correction fluid, she insisted on retyping the whole manuscript.  Then came the first computers and word processors and I guiltily typed out my own letters and reports.  Then came the demise of the typing pool.

Now the personal computer is as much of my life as a pen and paper once were.  I am slightly dyslexic so the built in grammar and spell checkers are a godsend.  But the human interaction with someone who most always presented the text in a manner more pleasing to the eye than I ever could is gone.  Most repetitive human actions now seem to be being replaced by robots.  Even driverless cars are appearing on the roads.  The world is advancing at a pace scarcely envisaged three decades ago.  On the surface it appears that we may have lost something along the way but I like to think that we can still keep the human touch alive with art, music, writing and humour that people have naturally built into their genetic makeup which machines can never replace.

Keith Jahans


Book Review – Jim Laker: Nineteen for Ninety by Brian Scovell

January 29, 2018

I met the author, Brian Scovell, in November 2015 at the Folkestone Book Festival where I bought a signed copy of this book and, such is the length of my book reading list, it is only now I have managed to read what I found to be a riveting book.

Jim Laker was one of my sporting heroes.  Even though I was born and brought up in Bristol I have lived most of my life in Surrey and have followed the exploits of Surrey County Cricket Club for many years.  Laker plied his trade in a generation of cricketers that preceded those I followed and I only got to know of him from his work as a TV commentator long after he retired as a player.

He seldom appeared on camera but from his manner and through the sound of his voice always appeared to be a gentleman.  It therefore came as a complete surprise that I read that he was banned from Surrey CCC and the prestigious MCC for four and seven years respectively.  This was due to his book, “Over to Me,” which was ghost written shortly after his playing days and criticised a number of prominent men who were instrumental in running national and international cricket at the time.  Laker admitted that he should have been more vigilant in reading the proofs prior to publication but publishers then, as they still do now, relish controversy as this invariably serves to increase book sales.

But it is his expertise as arguably England’s foremost off-spin bowler is how he should be remembered.  His feat of taking 19 test wickets in one game in 1956 was a remarkable achievement and will probably never be surpassed.

This is an adsorbing read for anyone interested in the game.  On first reading the events appear dated but it is the nature of the game of cricket that occurrences similar to those that befell Laker can happen today.

Keith Jahans

 

Jim Laker: Nineteen for Ninety by Brian Scovell
is published in hardback by The History Press