Happy birthday

Happy birthday to me, that is, because today has been my 72nd birthday. Several emails have arrived noting that various Facebook friends have been wishing me a Happy Birthday. I find Facebook baffling and useless as a means of personal communication, so am unable to access any of these messages on my Facebook feed, where I can detect no sign of them. So let me say here, to Robert L, Bjorn, Tim, Rob F, among others: thanks for all the good wishes.

In this computerised era, everyone is prompted by their various machines to do this, but it still means something that they actually do it.

Also appreciated were various phone calls. It tells you something about the experience of Getting Old (see the category list below) that all of these conversations included, in among the birthday greetings, medical discussions of various bodily malfunctions and of the efforts of the NHS, such as they have been, to correct these. My various friends and family are also Getting Old, you see. Older, anyway.

The general lesson from these medical conversations seems to be: if you want the NHS to start being properly on your side, get yourself classified as an emergency. Let me clarify this. You need to be threatening to die. Then, the NHS seems to stir itself into action. But if you are merely rather damaged and you are able to get worse before death looms at all threateningly, the NHS can’t seem to persuade itself to be that interested. It focusses its attention instead on manipulating the various queues it puts you in, in order to made its statistics look better than they actually are. Basically, it tries to keep you in a queue before it allows you to join the actual Official Queue, the one it wants to keep short, and thereby make itself look good. One of the friends I spoke with today said he had recently photoed a bench in a hospital corridor with the words “SUB QUEUE” attached to it.

Birthdays, when you are rather old, remind you that you are Getting Old. Which might explain why, to celebrate my own birthday, I have, by way of giving myself a present, chosen to have a good old grumble.

Three more DI Meg Dalton books to come (following on from the first three)

Until around yesterday, fans of Roz Watkins’s DI Meg Dalton (who include me (Roz being my niece)) had to be content with knowing that there were, or would be, for sure, in all, just three Meg Daltons to be read. There was the first, The Devil’s Dice. There is Dead Man’s Daughter. And in 2020 there will be Cut To The Bone. So, if you liked the first Meg Dalton, you could only be sure of two more books spent in her grumpy but appealing company.

But yesterday, with the announcement of a further three-book deal between Roz and her publisher, that three has now turned into six.

What this means is that if, before yesterday, you were wondering whether to make a start with this series, your best case would be that you liked your first Meg Dalton and would have two more to enjoy, one straight away, and another one quite soon. But now, if you like the first Meg Dalton you read, there will be five more.

Accordingly, the economics, if that’s the word, of reading about DI Meg Dalton’s adventures and ordeals have radically altered. Worst case, you won’t like the first Meg Dalton you read, and that will be that. That hasn’t changed. But if you like that first one, then the eventual reward that will follow just got massively bigger.

All of which means that there will now be an increased demand for the two early Meg Daltons, the two that have actually already been published.

Now is also a good time to be buying the very first one, The Devil’s Dice, for another reason, which is that Amazon is now selling the paperback of this for just £2. And actually you now can get it for under a quid from other sellers. Well worth that sort of money, I’d say.

All of which I learned from following Roz on Twitter.

Here is something of what I thought, of the second Meg Dalton, Dead Man’s Daughter.

Just kidding

Niece Roz tweets:

Had enough of your relatives already? Don’t just think about murdering them – come along to @scarthinbooks tomorrow afternoon and talk about how you could actually– (Just kidding, Twitter. Just kidding)

Scarthin Books is, alas, in the Peak District, where Roz lives. This is impossibly far away from London, where I live. If she ever holds an event like this in London, I will definitely attend. I will make sure that all present know that she and I are related. Otherwise I will say little. I will concentrate on looking quietly attentive and quietly thoughtful.

Photo of Roz’s second Meg Dalton book here.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A very responsible turkey

ABC News reports, with video:

This very responsible turkey halted traffic on a two-lane road in New Hampshire until the entire flock was able to cross.

Via Roz the Crime Fiction Writer, who says:

He has the exact demeanour of our old school lollipop lady.

Pigeons and foxes aren’t the only ones who have adapted to human civilisation.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Roz Watkins’s second book is out today

I read Dead Man’s Daughter quite a while ago, because I got sent a proof copy. What do I think of it? Very good, and with one especially good moment near the end, which (spoiler alert: I’m about to say something about this moment) I thought was a very acute comment on the nature of human moral beliefs and intuitions, and which I thought was very well set up to achieve maximum dramatic impact.

As I have to keep explaining, Roz Watkins is my niece, that being why I keep plugging her books at this blog when most of what you see here is stuff about London and my photos of London.

Trouble is, writing about detective thrillers is a bit of a mug’s game. I am used to writing about books of the sort where you are allowed to go into the details of what the book actually says. If I find the argument presented in a book, of the kind I’m used to writing about, to be persuasive, then I can say so and say why. But when you are writing about a detective thriller, telling everyone what it says, and especially how it concludes, is a big no. Those who “review” books like this one seem often to be reduced to cliches, all about how they stayed up all night reading it, did not see the end coming, liked the general atmosphere, the leading characters, the dialogue, and so on and so forth, in pretty much those sorts of words. In particular, reviewers compete with each other to find out how many generalised adjectives they can deploy as a substitute for “very good” (see above).

So, yes, I think this book is very good, but if you want to know why I think that, you’ll have to read it. Even then, you might not discover, because maybe you’ll disagree with me. (At which point you too will be forbidden to explain in any detail why you didn’t like it.)

One thing I can say without any fear of giving away any plot details is that the title on the cover of this second book is a lot easier to read (light coloured lettering, mostly dark background) than the title of the first one (lightish lettering, light background) was. I thought that the first book, The Devil’s Dice, was very good, but I think this second one is a bit better, partly for the reason vaguely alluded to in the first paragraph of this, and partly because I found the politics of it (there is some politics, loosely defined (as in: not British party politics)) to be intriguing.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

More photos from Monday January 28th

The Monday before last really was a very good photoing day. (I’ve been calling it Sunday but actually it was Monday, Monday January 28th. I remember at the time being confused about what day it was.)

First, seconds after I had stepped out into the sunlight, there was this:

That being me, in among the branches of the tree.

Then, following further excitements yet to be revealed, there was this lighting effect. And then there were these smartphone-photoing ladies. And then these guys, also photoing, with another shadow selfie added by me onto their backs.

Then I went past the Wheel, and gave that the Wheel and Tree treatment:

And just before it got dark, I ended up at the top of the Tate Modern Extension.

When it was dark, I climbed into Blackfriars Station, and walked over the river to Blackfriars Tube. And enjoyed the view, with its weird reflections of the station in the sky above the City Cluster:

I love how the black sky turns blue in that.

But before I went home, I dropped in on Waterstones, in Piccadilly, to see if the newly released paperback version of The Devil’s Dice was on show. And it was:

I am finding it exhausting just thinking about that day, and how it ended. It was very cold, and the cold takes it out of you, by which I mean me.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Roz is now being quoted

This is not an advert for a book. Well, it is, but that’s not my purpose in showing it here. My angle is my niece, the crime fiction writer Roz Watkins, who is quoted here, enthusing about the book:

The point being that, with what seems to me like remarkable speed, Roz has turned herself into someone whose opinion about other people’s writing is considered worth quoting.

I found the above graphic at her Twitter feed, along with her thanks for having been described as “the great Roz Watkins” by a grateful publisher. Everything about Roz’s public and social media presence says to me, and I am sure to everyone else who is following her, that she is very serious about her writing career. Deadly serious, you might say.

This matters, because readers of crime fiction need to know that, if they invest their time and curiosity and shelf space, to say nothing of their cash, in a leading character, this investment will pay off. The energetic and upbeat way that Roz presents herself says that there will be plenty more books about her lead detective. There is already a second Meg Dalton tale coming out next April, and if several more Meg Daltons do not follow, at a speed no faster than (but no slower than) is consistent with the maintenance of quality, I for one will be very surprised.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The paperback cover will be much more legible

The Devil’s Dice is a debut work of crime fiction, written by my niece (which I mention to make clear that I am biased in her favour) Roz Watkins, and published earlier this year. I enjoyed it a lot when I read it, but I did complain about the cover design:

Memo to self: If I ever design a book cover, make the title on the front either in dark lettering with a light background, or with light lettering on a dark background.

This earlier posting reinforced that point with a photo of a big display of books in Waterstone’s Piccadilly, from which you can only tell that The Devil’s Dice is The Devil’s Dice when you crop out that one title from that bigger picture and blow it up, thus:

This illegibility effect is also all too evident in this photo, taken by Roz’s brother.

All of which means that this (this being the relevant Amazon link) is good news:

That’s the cover of the paperback version of The Devil’s Dice, which which will be available in January of next year. Okay, it’s not a huge change, but putting the same orange lettering on a black background instead of a near white background is much more likely to get the attention of the fading-eyesight community, of which I am a member, and which is surely a quite large chunk of the public for crime fiction. This is also the kind of thing that just might sway a decision about whether to put a book in a bookshop window display.

I bet I wasn’t the only one grumbling about that earlier hardback cover, and it would appear that the grumbling has had exactly the desired effect.

I know little about book publishing, but I’m guessing that paperbacks are where the volume sales are, driven by those early glowing reviews (The Devil’s Dice got lots of glowing reviews) penned by the readers of the hardback version. And from that volume comes the magic of a serious word-of-mouth wave. Most readers are probably willing to wait a little in order not to have to devote scarce bookshelf space to great big chunks of cardboard, and for the sake of having something a bit easier to carry around.

And, if you really insist of your books being ultra portable, or if your eyesight is even worse than mine and you need seriously to enlarge the text, The Devil’s Dice is also now available in Kindle format, for just £1.99. I am biased (see above), but for what it’s worth I agree with all those glowing reviewers, and recommend The Devil’s Dice in all formats, even the hardback with its dodgy cover.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Two good jokes – and a mystery (and a sign (and a cartoon dance))

Two things got my attention just now on Twitter, both, I think, very funny. I didn’t actually LOL. But I did smile.

First up, this quote:

It is always bittersweet when your relatives bid you fond farewell as you leave for Edinburgh, and only you know how much you are about to defame them for comedic gain.

And next up, this cartoon:

The latter of these two jollities goes way back, and I suspect that the script and the visuals were done by different people. But the first one is bang up to date, and I am hence able to direct you to who originated it, which I like to do.

This, on the other hand, baffles me:

I recognise financial commentator and funny man Dominic Frisby, on the left there. But why do Frisby’s shoes have lightbulbs in them? Who is that other bloke, and why are the two of them waving their fingers like that? Why are they sitting in the eyes of a giant skull? Also, what on earth does this have to do with Brexit? What is it that Remainers have said about such a scene as this, to the effect that it couldn’t happen, or would happen less? Are the above two gents, like the provider of the quote above, in Edinburgh, for the Festival? And have the Remainers said that the Edinburgh Festival this year would be a flop? Yes, that must be it.

LATER: Just noticed where it says spikedmath.com in the cartoon. So I guess that’s where that started.

EVEN LATER: This:

Also:this.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog