God, Drugs and Rock & Roll

During my years at university studying creative writing (early 1990s), I often listened to Alice Cooper as I wrote my short stories.

Here is a side of Cooper not often recognised.
His faith. His experiences in the music industry. His celebrity friendships. Golf.

And more…

Half a World Away by Mike Gayle

half worldMike Gayle concentrates on relationships and their difficulties.

Meeting new people.
Falling in love.
Trying to maintain love.
Falling out of love.
Love of girl or boyfriend.
Love of husband or wife.
Love of children.
Love of family.
And the heartbreak when that love ends or is not reciprocated.

He manages to capture and communicate the familiar, things with which I strongly identify.

Sleepless nights when the mundane and insignificant becomes exaggerated in importance:

In the dark everything seems so much worse than it really is; even the smallest thing seems like a mountain you’ve got to climb. I tried telling myself that I was just tired, blowing things out of all proportion, and that everything would seem better in the morning, but what use is that when the morning’s so far away?

In the middle of the night, waiting for daylight feels like forever, a forever where you’re stuck going over every bad thought in your head with a fine-tooth comb.

Or those times of self-doubt, feeling that your intentions may be misunderstood, and that no matter what you say, or how you say it, it will be misinterpreted and received in the wrong way.

I reread the message twice. It looks okay to me but I think about sending it to Jodi to check it over for me, just to be on the safe side. In the end I tell myself not to be so silly, read it through one last time just to make sure it makes sense, and then press send.
For a minute I feel good.
Then for another I’m sick with nerves.
Then for another after that, I’m convinced I’ve said the wrong thing.

mike gaylePerhaps its this familiarity in Gayle’s stories that gives me a feeling of authenticity through which I can believe in the characters and their experiences.

There are some complex and difficult relationships in Half a World Away. Noah Martineau’s marriage is breaking apart. He is reunited with Kerry, a sister he didn’t know he had. And he’s forced to face the forgotten past he’d tried to avoid.

Despite feeling a little exasperated by the apparent unreasonableness of one character, I had to recognise such characteristics ARE displayed by real people in real life, and conflict isn’t always rational: ultimately that’s something the particular character comes to recognise for themself.

I’ve been a Mike Gayle fan for a couple of decades (and maybe more).
I can always rely on him for an entertaining, moving, page-turning reading experience; often with at least a hint of humour.

There’s an intentional simplicity to Gayle’s writing. He writes with clarity, not obscuring the story and his characters with complex language to show off authorial cleverness.

While I can enjoy poetic wordsmith authors who can demonstrate a clever evocative turn of phrase, if their kind of books were all that were available, I think my love of reading would eventually fade.
Mike Gayle is an author I confidently turn to when I need to rekindle that love.

 

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Author photo from: https://www.hachette.com.au/mike-gayle/

For more see his website: mikegayle.co.uk

Already Dead, Stephen Booth

already deadAlready Dead travels down multiple, seemingly unrelated story paths.

A possible murder investigation.

An adulterous relationship.

DS Ben Cooper on extended personal leave.

Dianne Fry seconded back to Edendale to replace him.

The events of the previous book have taken a serious toll. Cooper is unfit for work and has become reclusive, worrying his work colleagues.
While they investigate the suspicious death, Cooper conducts a more personal investigation that could lead to the end of his career. Or worse.

Booth takes the reader on this varied journey and then somehow is able to bring the seeming unrelated theads together in a surprising conclusion.

Even a good turn can have unexpected deadly consequences.

I particulalry like the following brief exchange between a potential witness and DS Fry.

Baird seemed to notice the hovering youth outside for the first time, and gestured to him irritably. The young man came in and handed him the file without a word.

‘Thank you, Aaron,’ he said.
He waited until the boy had gone, and grimaced at Fry. ‘Aaron, I ask you. Why do so many parents give their kids these ridiculous biblical names?’

Fry hesitated. ‘Perhaps they’ve never read the Bible and wouldn’t know a biblical name when they heard one, Nathan.’

‘You’re probably right. Ignorance is everywhere.’

Unlike previous books in this series there were no significant music references, however a historical note caught my attention and led me to investigate further to find out more. I wrote a bit about this in my previous post: the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell in the Bakewell churchyard.

Town With Blood On Its Hands

A real life Derbyshire case of justice denied, mentioned in the Stephen Booth book (Already Dead).

murder-in-the-graveyardIn trying to find out more about this murder case from 1973, that I first saw mentioned in Booth’s 2013 novel,  I discovered that a book about it was published only a couple of months ago and that there’s also recent podcast series available.

I’ve now ordered the book, (Murder in the Graveyard by Don Hale), and when I get the time I’ll try to access the podcast.

Here’s an old Guardian article about the case.

Guilty secrets of town with blood on its hands by Amelia Hill (11 Feb 2001)

Stephen Downing walked free last week, 27 years after being jailed for the murder of Wendy Sewell. His conviction is certain to be quashed. But if he is innocent, then who is guilty? Amelia Hill reports from Bakewell, which has known the truth all along.

For 27 years, the small town of Bakewell has been living with guilt. Children born long after the horrific events of that chilly, sunny day cheerfully rattle off the tale of the young woman with questionable morals who was murdered in the graveyard on the edge of town and how a gentle, mentally disabled boy was fitted up for the crime.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2001/feb/11/ameliahill.theobserver
I also found this documentary on YouTube.

Endurance, by Scott Kelly

… most problems aren’t rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist (Scott Kelly, Endurance)

endurance.pngThe first thing I want to say is that Scott Kelly’s book Endurance is probably the most informative book I’ve read about the present day space program, and one of the best books of any type that I’ve read in a long time.

Kelly’s account of his year on board the International Space Station (ISS) is fresh, and authentic, a significant contrast to the staged presentations that can be viewed from time to time when the Station crew interact with the public from space.

Starting out as a disengaged school student who hated study, Kelly’s life changed after reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. Inspired by that book, Kelly became determined to be a test pilot and then an astronaut. He needed to force himself to become a more engaged student to make sure the path he wanted to take would be open to him.

While most of the book is about Kelly’s record breaking stay on the ISS, in occasional chapters he also writes about the life journey he took to get there. From school days, through his military service and eventually his career with NASA.

Kelly’s identical twin brother Mark also became an astronaut, and Scott’s year in space gave NASA a unique opportunity to observe the effects of long-term space travel, enabling comparisons to be made between the genetically identical brothers to see what effect a year in space would have, and whether it would lead to any genetic changes.

43While aboard the Station, Kelly had numerous crewmates from a variety of backgrounds: Russian, Italian, Japanese, and British, living and working well with them all.
Daily life could be a challenge. He had regular struggles with the temperamental apparatus that removed carbon dioxide from the ISS atmosphere, and he started to recognise when it was malfunctioning by the symptoms he experienced whenever the CO2 level was high.

exp44

There were also occasional problems with the toilet facilities, which was not only an obvious inconvenience, but seriously compromised the reclamation of water in what was intended to be a closed water recycling system. All water, including urine and airborne moisture from perspiration is supposed to be purified and recycled as drinking water.
A saying I’ve come across a few times (though not in Kelly’s book) is the phrase “todays coffee becomes tomorrows coffee”.

The difficulties faced weren’t all technical. Having no means of laundering clothes, crew members were required to remain in the same clothing for as long as they could tolerate it, wearing underclothes for several days before throwing them in the garbage. Outer clothing was worn much longer.

exp45It might seem a strange comparison, but reading this book brought to mind The Wizard of Oz. While the business of space may have a certain “magic” to someone like me who grew up during the beginnings of the space program, Kelly’s book takes us behind the wizard’s curtain. Apart from problems with malfunctioning toilets and carbon dioxide scrubbers (and lack of laundering and bathing facilities),  Kelly’s space walks revealed the damage caused by micro-meteors to the exterior of the ISS, with serious pitting to the surface. Damage that would have fatal consequences to an astronaut  should it happen during an excursion outside.

46While there have been countless amazing scientific and engineering achievements, at times the space program isn’t always as controlled and organised as the space agencies may like the public to think. So much relies on chance – such as the unexpected appearance of an old satellite  in the same orbit but in heading in the opposite direction to the ISS, presenting the imminent possibility of a catastrophic collision.

But even facing such a serious threat, appearances clearly needed to be maintained. Emergency procedures were interrupted for a scheduled PR link-up requiring astronauts to face an interview with an earth based group about more trivial topics. Then after the interview they continued the urgent preparations and  sought sanctuary in the station’s Soyuz capsule in case an emergency evacuation was required.

As his time on Station came to a close Kelly started to think about some of the things he missed – and he provides a quite moving list of very mundane experiences that most of us would take for granted, but to someone deprived of them for a year they have significance.

…I miss the sound of children playing, which always sounds the same no matter their language. I miss the sound of people talking and laughing in another room. I miss rooms. I miss doors and door frames and the creak of wood floorboards when people walk around in old buildings. I miss my couch, sitting on a chair, sitting on a bar stool…

One of the common experiences of those who spend time away from earth, viewing it from above, is the awareness of its fragility, and the lack of visible borders.

At one stage Kelly was interviewed by an American politician who seemed to be concerned about him sharing the ISS with a crew of Russians – as if their interaction could compromise US national security, or other American interests. Kelly was quick to point out that all of the ISS residents, no matter what their national origin relied on each other for their very lives, and would do whatever it takes to ensure each other’s welfare.

To those aboard ISS, maintaining the well-being and life of the crew was more important than political posturing.

… following the news from space can make Earth seem like a swirl of chaos and conflict, and that seeing the environmental degradation caused by humans is heartbreaking. I’ve also learned that our planet is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and that we’re lucky to have it. (Scott Kelly, Endurance)