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Of ties and lawn mowers: a free fic for Friday.

The grass was covered in frost, slivers of white delicately outlining each blade. He could hear the crunch of steps on the gravel drive and the murmur of voices from the bar. It was early, but nobody would care to play until the sun broke through. Better to remain snug and dry indoors with a stiff drink as medicine against the cold. That created problems.

He’d asked Johnson to step into his office this morning. He’d intended to try a little innuendo, see how the fellow reacted. But if he showed interest, today wouldn’t be any good at all. The club would be full of members, all over the place, dammit. And what was he going to say to the man, after all? He could hardly pretend to give instructions about cutting the greens in this weather. The young groundsman would know quite well there was something up. Trouble was, he should never have taken him on. Should have realised at the interview that the man’s robust physique and black curls would just prey on his mind. Maybe not his mind. Prey on him, anyway.

Should have employed that older applicant with the stooped back and wall eye. Nothing for it, he’d have to leave a message postponing their intended chat. Say he’d had to go out unexpectedly. But then he’d have to go. Look bad if he was seen lurking in the bar with a drink rather than in his office where he’d said he’d be. He sighed and picked up his car keys. Perhaps no message after all. Just leave, and pretend he’d forgotten, later. Such a lot of fuss and deception.

Why did it have to be so difficult? Why couldn’t he just wink at the fellow and buy him a drink, put a hand on his shoulder, or even his thigh? He’d do that like a shot if he was a woman. If Johnson was a woman, rather. And he knew all about modern manners – no harassing the women staff, no harassing the staff altogether. But then how did a chap get to know if there was a possibility of anything? And he was old school, dammit, and wanted to make it all clear from the start. Straight. Well, not straight. Even the language was against him. Johnson crossed the car park in front of the windows and was heading towards the door that led to the offices. The manager fled, precipitately, muttering as he did, and passed the groundsman with his face averted.

*****

Johnson watched Harris get into his car and roar off into the cold morning. Funny, he could have sworn he’d been due to see him in the office. Odd guy. Good-looking. As in really really good looking. But cold rather than hot. Not old, but so old-fashioned and stiff. And never even a word for him as they passed in the doorway. Oh well, there was nothing that could usefully be done outside today. Whatever the manager wanted could wait till he came back and deigned to tell him about it.

Meanwhile, he’d been told he could use the bar as if he was a member. He’d have a look. You never knew, there might be some talent. Unlikely, but worth checking out. Most of the members were middle-aged and dull; probably straight as ramrods, too – like the manager. But it might be fun to drop a hint here and there, raise some of those middle -class eyebrows. Probably more than his job was worth though. So just a drink. Then he’d get on with stripping down, oiling and sharpening the mower. Dammit, he could have done with some entertainment today. He stripped off his heavy work gloves and headed further into the clubhouse.

*****

When Harris got back, he still felt out of sorts. He had driven around aimlessly, stopped at a pub with an odd name he couldn’t remember for a kind of ploughman’s lunch that wasn’t a patch on what they served at the club, and then decided he would have to return after all. There was a lot of office work to do. He sighed as he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Then he glanced out of the window and felt rewarded, excited even. Johnson was doing things to the mower. Esoteric things like taking it to pieces and putting it together again. Harris had no idea about mowers other than that they were expensive and were needed to cut grass. He did, however, have plenty of ideas about the groundsman.

Whatever he was doing, the task necessitated Johnson bending over the machine, his taut arse, splendid in its denim coating, directly visible to Harris, almost like an invitation. But it couldn’t be. Could it? The man must know the direction of the manager’s office window. But if he was concentrating on his work… Of course, he bloody well ought to be concentrating on his work. That’s why he was employed in the first place.

Except that if that was all that had been required, the older man might have been a better choice. Harris swallowed convulsively.

*****

That was the moment Johnson straightened and looked over his shoulder. He usually dealt with the machine just here, hoping against hope. But not really hoping, just daydreaming. Building castles in the air populated by older guys who were good looking. And he shouldn’t daydream. Not with the functionality of the club machinery at stake. He always wondered whether Harris ever saw him.

He’d obviously seen him today. Was staring at him, a kind of hunger on his face. Surely not? Surely the man was straight? He’d never heard any rumours to the contrary. Still, that meant very little. The man could be bi. Or he could be in denial, even to himself.

Johnson considered. There was every reason to ask to see the manager. The aborted meeting this morning – maybe there was something he should know before he went home. No need to allude to that strange moment when he’d caught Harris looking at him. No need at all. But if there was anything, well, perhaps this was the day to find out.

He finished dealing with the mower, then stood up, his back objecting to the straightening after so long bent over. His hands, cold even in the gloves, welcomed the idea of indoors.

*****

Harris didn’t have a secretary. Didn’t see the need. Karen on reception fielded visitors and members who wanted to see him, answered phone calls and did the odd spot of typing. Pretty girl, if you were that way inclined, which he wasn’t.
Staff mostly knew they could just knock on his door any time. He tried to be accessible. But when the knock came so closely after his glimpse of Johnson bending over the mower, he was almost panic stricken. He hastily adjusted himself and then sat down abruptly behind his desk. Wonderful what a lot a stretch of oak could hide.

‘Come in.’ Did his voice sound normal? He had no idea. And then he gulped as he realised who had just knocked and entered.

‘I just wondered, sir, whether there was anything important. Since you had to cancel our meeting this morning.’ Johnson’s voice was a sexy growl that had Harris half hard again in a second.

*****

Johnson wasn’t sure exactly what to say. The manager was looking nervous, or possibly annoyed. But his question, he thought, was perfectly legitimate. He enjoyed his job, and wanted to make sure there was nothing outstanding to be seen to urgently.
Harris was staring at him, his mouth opening and closing, but without any sound coming out. He was blushing slightly, too, as if caught in some secret activity. As if staring out of the window had been in some way reprehensible. Johnson could soon disabuse him of that notion. But he couldn’t risk open flirtation. He valued the job too much.

The silence continued.

‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ He used his most sultry voice, and hoped against hope that if he was wrong, Harris would just take the words at their straightforward value.

*****

Harris looked helplessly out of the window, hoping for some kind of rescue. The light was fading. It was still early January and the evenings started early. He could barely see the mower now. There was a dull glow across the course, where the street lights were coming on.

Johnson’s query couldn’t be real, could it? Could he, dull-as-dishwater Phil Harris, golf club manager, be arousing interest in this glorious twenty-something who stood in his office?

He cleared his throat.‘I’m sorry about this morning,’ he said. ‘Something came up.’
Well, that was a bit of innuendo he hadn’t intended. But the groundsman didn’t seem concerned. There was a small smile on his face. A knowing look in his eye.

*****

‘I was just servicing the mower,’ Johnson said now. ‘I wondered if anything else needed servicing.’ Then he muttered under his breath, ‘or anyone.’ It was so mumbled that if necessary he could say he’d said, ‘or something,’ and it would be hard for anyone to contradict him.

He waited. He didn’t dare say anything else. It would be so easy if they could only say exactly what they thought without any repercussions. But to begin with, although there could be no overt homophobia in his employment, a golf club was not the most progressive of workplaces, and to add to that, although Harris wasn’t his employer, he was his manager, so things could get awkward quickly.

Harris was moving towards him. That blush was deepening.

‘I was watching you with the mower,’ Harris said.

‘I know.’ Let him make the first move, for goodness’ sake. And yet, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he was too constrained by his managerial role.

*****

‘I was thinking,’ Harris said, hoping his voice wasn’t betraying his nerves, ‘that I might have a drink in the bar. Would you like to join me?’ There. That couldn’t be too threatening, could it? It wasn’t his custom to drink with staff, but he could, if necessary, justify it as some relaxation while they discussed aspects of Johnson’s work.

‘I’d like that,’ came the reply.

*****

They were staring at each other, neither of them quite daring to speak. Dan Johnson, the young groundsman, and Phil Harris the manager. Who’d have thought it? Mark Leigh, the barman, smiled to himself. He’d have thought it, had thought it the moment Dan had reported for work that first day. They were made for each other in so many ways. Looks – both had them in spades. Shyness, too and old-fashioned manners. Neither of them had ever shown the slightest interest in women, members, members’ wives, members’ daughters, kitchen staff, or Karen on reception. And if a guy wasn’t interested in Karen, then he wasn’t interested in women.

He served them a pint of beer each, and handed out coasters. He’d already cleaned the tables and was enjoying the lull between the daytime crowd and the evening lot. So Mark could watch this pair from his position behind the bar without them realising they were being scrutinised. It would, he thought, be as entertaining as any of the soaps on the telly.

*****

Harris loosened his tie. It was a few years since the club had abandoned its insistence on ties as the appropriate and mandatory wear in the bar. But Harris still felt somehow obliged to wear one. He knew it appealed to the older members, and he didn’t care whether it appealed to the women or not. Somehow, at the moment, the thing felt more like a noose.

‘Nice tie,’ he heard Johnson say. He’d chosen one of his favourites today, thinking of the appointment he’d made (and then broken) in the morning. It was dark grey with a tiny pattern of penguins wielding golf clubs and its fun element contradicted its formality, making him laugh inside.

‘Thank you,’ was all he managed.

Johnson was very slowly moving his hands, circling each wrist in turn. ‘Of course, ties are such useful things,’ he said. ‘Not just decorative.’

Useful? Harris tried to think of a use for a tie. Well, he supposed he could make a makeshift tourniquet if someone had a small wound. Anything else? No, he was stumped. He looked enquiringly at his companion.

‘For tying things up,’ the groundsman said. ‘They can be used to keep a wandering branch in place, or provide a quick mend on a machine. Though I’d never use one as good as yours, of course.’

*****

There didn’t really seem to be anything for either of them to say. Both men sipped their beer in silence.

‘I just wanted…’ Harris began, and Johnson waited for some kind of guillotine to fall. He had no idea whether the manager had wanted to praise or scold him or merely give instructions. It seemed he was about to find out.

‘…to tell you how pleased we are with your work,’ said Harris. The royal we? Hardly. The marital we? But Harris wasn’t married. The managerial we, then. But Johnson would take it, anyway.

He smiled, tentatively. And Harris smiled back.

He thought he’d said some kind of thank you. Then they made some desultory small talk about the grounds, the machines, the weather. If cross examined, Johnson would not have been able to remember what they had talked about. He was drowning in that smile. It lit up the manager’s face and brightened the dull grey evening.

Harris fidgeted with his tie again, and Johnson couldn’t help fidgeting with his fingers as he imagined tying it round the other man’s wrists.

Another smile. Why was it all so difficult? There was supposed to be equality nowadays. And he didn’t imagine teenagers had any problem making suggestions, proffering invitations, and so on. But adult men in the workplace were at a distinct disadvantage. Of course, so were women, and for that matter the men who wanted those same women, but acknowledging that didn’t make his own situation any easier.

‘Your day off’s a Monday, isn’t it?’ Harris knew perfectly well that it was. He made out the rotas for staff time off, and had probably checked in any case.

‘Yes?’ Johnson turned it into a query. Did Harris want to change something, or ask him to work overtime?

‘I wondered.’ Harris stopped.

Time to bite the bullet and offer some encouragement. ‘What did you wonder?’ Johnson spoke softly.

‘Whether you might like to go out for a meal some time. I checked which restaurants around here were open on a Monday.’ Harris was blushing again and looking extremely nervous.

‘I’d love to.’ That had to be clear enough.

‘Next Monday, then?’

‘It’s a date. That is, I’m assuming it’s a date. Is it a date?’ Johnson thought he might be blushing too.

‘Definitely a date.’ The tone was suddenly all efficient manager, confidence returning now that the invitation had been accepted.

‘And you’ll wear that tie?’

‘If you like it so much.’

‘It gives me ideas.’

‘About penguins? Or golf clubs?’

‘About the uses of strips of silk.’ There. That was definite, too.

‘By the way, my name’s Phil. Not at work, of course, but when we go out.’

‘And mine’s Dan.’ Stupid thing to say. Harris, Phil, was his manager; of course he knew his full name.

‘Till Monday then, Dan,’ said Phil.

They looked straight at each other, promise in both sets of eyes. Then Phil retreated to his office, pleading work to be done, things to sign, people to phone. And Dan got up with a thought about working but knew it was so dark and so cold that all he could reasonably be expected to do would be to put the mower away.

‘Leaving?’ The barman grinned.

‘Just need to tidy up.’ Dan knew his voice was gruffer than usual and that he had a stupid smile plastered all over his face.

‘Doing anything special tonight? You look as if you’re looking forward to something.’

‘Not tonight, but it’s Friday already. And I do have a date, but for Monday.’

‘Ah. Well, enjoy your evening anyway. See you tomorrow.’

‘See you.’ Saturdays and Sundays were their busiest days. Too busy to hope for any more unscheduled meetings with the manager. Monday, however…

He put the mower away in the outbuildings in a kind of dream, glanced at the manager’s window and saw Phil putting on his coat, presumably getting ready to go home. Though he’d probably be back later to oversee a Friday night in the club. Monday had to be his day off, too. Very few people played golf on Mondays and Karen could cope with them.

But the tiny penguins with their golf clubs would, he hoped, get the perfect round on Monday. Meanwhile, he could just enjoy the anticipation. He was soon astride his motorbike, bombing down the road to his future.

*****

Phil went home and fed his cat, Mogg, then went back to socialise and supervise in the bar. He had changed his tie for a light blue one with dark blue diagonal stripes. The penguins were now too precious to risk in the booze laden atmosphere of Friday night at the club.

He was smiling broadly. Let people wonder. It was almost Monday.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2020 in ficlets, writing

 

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My latest novel is ‘live’

My latest novel just went live on Amazon and Smashwords.
This final volume in the Living Fae series brings all the family loves and lives up to date and ends with Harlequin and Yarrow more in love than ever. There are mm, mmmm, mf and ff romances, there is travel, there are unicorns, and there’s a strong family saga element.

If you’re unsure about mm romance, please don’t hesitate to try the series. There’s very little explicit sex, and there are other romances to satisfy most tastes as well as exciting travel and adventures. And if you’re even less sure about polyamory, well, remember these are fae, with fae, rather than human morals and emotions.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/999158

There’s a page on this blog where you can see a timeline to orient you in the various stories in the series which overlap slightly, and a glossary to remind you of details and names of all the characters. I’ve been advised that some of the page formatting needs work and I will remedy that, but meanwhile, all the information is available.

Talking of formatting, I’ve checked the final product on Smashwords and whilst it’s perfectly readable and consistent it isn’t exactly what I intended. Word and I are going to have to have words…

I’ve already started a short story that will act as a further glimpse into the lives of the fae on Alderley Edge. I’m intending it as a free Christmas/Solstice story for the end of 2020.

Later this month a friend is going to give me a guest blog spot to advertise more widely, and my next post here will be to set out my marketing options and ask your advice.

Oh, and the tax issue is sorted – but at the cost of a sleepless night.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in publishing

 

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It’s that time of year again… (tax returns)

Tearing my hair out. I dedicated today to doing my tax returns. I earn so little it annoys me anyway, but I (a) pay tax on my work pension so have to declare other earnings and (b) need the US foreigner tax exemption so have to be part of the system. I did, going by past experience, expect to spend the whole day. It looks as if tomorrow is spoken for, too.

1. Get messages from HMRC about tax self assessment being due.

2. After previous years, put off doing anything till the due date is looming.

3. Attempt to sign in using Government Gateway details (which have worked in the past) and find Government Gateway has closed but I can use the details to sign in to their new system.

4. But they want to verify it’s me.

5. So they send an email and I authenticate my email address.

6. They ask for my passport number. I don’t keep my passport in the lounge (who does?) so this involves a trip upstairs. Anyway, fill in the number as requested.

7. Now they want to send me an access code but do it using my old mobile phone number which no longer works. I changed my number early last year.

8. I can change my preferences and give them a new number – which means signing in again. Change preferences to include updated phone number. (And no, I can’t use the landline because they use an automated number which our Call Guardian won’t accept and I can’t white list their automated number because they won’t give it to me till I’m completely signed in.)

9. New mobile number accepted.

10. They send a code. This means going to the other end of the house. We get internet at one end of our long narrow old stone cottage and mobile coverage at the other. Not their fault, but still.

11. Back at the computer with code. Sign in.

12. At this point they tell me I’m signed into the wrong account but won’t explain.

13. Try things like clicking on continue, hoping to find a new form to fill in.

14. Just keeps going to a loop with ‘wrong account’ message.

15. Email them and they get back to me to say will deal with problem in the next two days.

16. Another email saying they’ve removed my security preferences. I think they mean the change of phone number but still, panic ensues.

17. In the process of trying to open these emails, my gmail crashes.

18. Try to reload gmail and Chrome crashes.

19. Try to reload Chrome and laptop crashes. Well, it could be coincidence but I wasn’t doing anything else…

20. All restarted. Try again with similar results including a new text code (back on my travels) and the same wrong account message. I simply don’t have another account.

21. Try phoning. Permanently engaged, except when they aren’t but aren’t answering.

22. Try their online help forum but you have to be logged into your account to access it.

23. Note that my attempts so far get me to a page which has all my details – full name, d.o.b., address, email, National Insurance number, passport number, etc. so they know exactly who I am…

24. Note that all their offers of help relate to help filling in the form. I only want access to the form which I can deal with quite happily if I can ever get it.

25. Reflect that most people only access this site once a year when their tax is due and it’s insane for them to keep changing the way things are done. Intend, if I ever get through to the phone helpline, to ask for a printed assessment form. Will let you know but it may be some time. Give up for today.

(For anyone who notices these things, yes, that’s the same frog/toad. He/she comes in handy.)

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2020 in personal

 

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The Name of the Rose: book, film and TV series

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. (This month’s in depth review.)

Quite a long time ago, probably round about 1983 when the book was first published in English, I read Umberto Eco’s novel avidly. I then, equally avidly, watched the Sean Connery film (1986) but not until it aired on TV. Recently, I watched the BBC programme of the eight part TV series made by a German/Italian collaboration. I lost my copy of the book in our Portuguese fire but felt a need to re-read and bought the Kindle version which I read concurrently with the TV series. I felt impelled to explore my reactions and thought I’d share them with you.

I loved the original book, because of the insights it gave into the mediaeval mind. Of course, Eco could be wrong, but it seemed to me that he had done all possible research, kept his own mind open, and got as close as a modern writer could.

It was the first (and so far last) time I have ever read a book with a dictionary to hand. I kept stumbling over vocabulary that I soon realised was part of Catholic, monastic and mediaeval usage. I am not altogether familiar with either Catholicism or monasteries and I was amused to note that on re-reading I had exactly the same problem with words like balneary (a monastic ‘bathroom’) and narthex (a porch in a monastery church) as well as Roman measures such as a sextary, used in the Italian monastery. (This last was hard to find in any online dictionary.) I had clearly had no need for the words in the intervening time and my mind had buried them. I suppose I could have ignored them but kept thinking I might need to know to make sense of clues in the mystery.

I also found my reading slowed by the amount of Latin. My Latin, originally studied till I was 18 then maintained to some extent during a law degree, is decidedly rusty. I can still cope with things like Fabula Petro Cuniculo or Winnie Ille Pu and with inscriptions on ruins but not with mediaeval debate, especially because mediaeval Latin is not quite the same as the Roman version. Perhaps if I didn’t have some grasp of Latin I would have been more able to skim over those bits!

I liked, from the start, the way a murder mystery was woven into a story about a kind of mediaeval Sherlock Holmes, so that we got crime, seeking solutions, solutions, and the entire world surrounding them in all its richness and strangeness. I like Eco’s writing and have read a few of his books and articles, but as I said recently to a friend, he does meander. However, I suppose his byways take us into unexpected corners, illuminating aspects of mediaeval life. I must say sometimes I just wish he’d get on with the story. It certainly builds to a satisfying if horrific climax, one tempered by the knowledge that Adso of Melk, the narrator, was still alive and indeed penning his tale at a great age.

I think the book stayed in my memory because of the depictions of monastic life which I found fascinating, and which helped explain ruins like Fountains Abbey when I visited them. The only thing that jarred with what I do know of mediaeval times was the size of the library. Books were precious in those days before printing, and very few monasteries or colleges had more than a shelf or two. The monastery here prides itself on its extensive library, but even so, it seemed a little too extensive to me. In a way, that takes the story into an alternative universe and gives it a kind of fantasy quality which for some readers (like me) actually enhances the overall effect. Similarly, the treasury seemed to have more than its fair share of relics for a small and comparatively unknown community.

Then I watched the film. I enjoy Connery’s acting and I thought the entire film was well done, but I have to say I thought it was too short to do real justice to Eco’s narrative. In just over two hours there was only time to create the chilling atmosphere in the monastery and show William’s erudition and sleuthing skills, not to ponder at length on the ecclesiastical debates that underpin the story. Still, I thought the acting and direction were excellent and that the film would serve as a good introduction to both the period and the book. I have rewatched it once but found myself distracted by other activities (I remember I was getting a meal ready) and with no pressing need to concentrate. I did put down my work and focus on the exciting ending all over again.

So after all that, I was thrilled to know that there was an eight hour series planned. Surely this would give sufficient time to explore the issues? Well, it did, but the series is, as one or two reviewers have already said, ‘messy’. The monks all look alike, the buildings, other than the library, are not well explained, and there are other flaws. The village girl who is brought to the monastery for one of the monks, with whom Adso falls in love, is shown as a feral woman living in the woods, and Adso meets her there, not in the monastery kitchen.

I gradually realised that this gave us the opportunity to have Adso actually speak aloud some of his thoughts which are interesting but obviously unspoken in the book. For instance, he tells her about the way to find out if someone is in love, by holding their wrist and noting the speed of the pulse if a certain name is mentioned. In the book he merely fears William or another monk will try this on him, Adso, using the name of the village girl.

There is another woman in the series who is not well explained. She appears to be living as an outlaw and is trying to put arrows through the pope’s military escort of Bernard Gui. She is injured in the process. Long after her first appearance we are led to think she might be one of the heretics some of whom were burnt by the inquisitors including Gui, or perhaps the daughter of one, and eventually this turns out to be the case. It’s possible the directors thought her presence would help to underline the importance of her father’s papers, which play a part in the story, but in the book, the heretics and their families are introduced in a more orderly fashion.

I was finding the series confusing. My husband, who, like me, had read the book and seen the film, reacted similarly. So that was when I bought the Kindle version of the book and started to re-read.

It was quite hard to keep pace with the series but avoid spoilers. I don’t mean spoilers in the sense of the murders, and the ending, but of details. A book is, of course, quite different in structure from a TV series (something recently brought home to many viewers and readers by Game of Thrones). As I said earlier, I had the same vocabulary problems. I also had instances of a kind of double-take where I couldn’t work out whether Eco was repeating himself (unlikely) or whether the TV adaptation was out of sequence (like Adso’s conversation with the girl).Much of the dialogue in the book is reproduced faithfully in the series, but not always in the exact place in the story.

The series is a joint German/Italian production and the cast are drawn from all over Europe. The acting is not, in ,y opinion, as stellar as that in the film. The young monk Adso (Damian Hardung) is brilliant as is Salvatore (Stefano Fresi). John Turturro as William of Baskerville is good, but lacks (for me) Connery’s commanding presence. Rupert Everett as Bernard is, I thought, disappointing. It doesn’t help that Turturro and Everett have similar dark, compelling features which, encased by a monk’s habit, make them hard to differentiate straight away. (Husband said to look at the hats or cowls, but I could never get past the eyes.) This is not to denigrate Everett’s acting; I simply thought the director missed opportunities to develop the character.

I reached the three quarters way point in the book, just about keeping pace with the half way point in the series, when BBC decided to give its weekly slot to a sports fixture (admirable, I’m sure, but it could no doubt have been differently organised) so I knew I would have to wait a fortnight for the next episode and so slow down in my reading of the text if I wanted to keep pace. I shrugged mentally and carried on to the end. I already knew the basic story after all, and it might be easier not to be reading and viewing concurrently; it was beginning to be a bit like watching a French film with subtitles that bear little relation to what is actually being said. (For the information of those of you who don’t watch films with subtitles or only ones where you don’t also know the language, this is a horribly/amusingly regular thing.)

Then BBC found yet another sports fixture for a Friday night. Surely they know these things in advance? Leaving viewers hanging for a fortnight when almost the entire cast are dressed in brown habits and are almost interchangeable is not the best of ideas. My husband had been away and missed a couple of episodes. He gave up trying to work out which…

The finale was just as exciting as in the book and the film, though not quite as believable. The very end, an epilogue with Adso and Baskerville, was beautifully done.

Eco shows us how the priests and monks, guardians of knowledge at the time, debated and argued. He explores their sometimes twisted logic, and their passionate beliefs in whatever they were saying. He writes a great deal about heresy, both factual and fictional (but true in the minds of the pope’s supporters).

Three big idea seem to underpin the story. The first is the division between the religious and the secular (in this case the pope in Avignon and the emperor in Rome). The second is the debate about poverty and riches, possession of worldly things, and the uses to which they should be put. The third is the anger with which people confront anyone who disagrees with them, accusing them of heresy and regarding them as deserving of death. These are, in fact, very modern problems and as such appeal to the twenty first century reader and viewer. We have the separation of church and state, the arguments for and against varying degrees of socialism (and the condition of the poorest in society) and the increasing tendency for politicians and their supporters, even in the ostensibly liberal ‘west’ to accuse their opponents of all kinds of treachery and crime. This all ties in well with a book that is basically about heresy.

William of Baskerville, the ‘hero’ of the book, is a man both of his time and with a modern way of thought, applying real, not false logic to puzzles and mysteries, unpacking for Adso and therefore for the reader, not only the immediate concerns but also the means of considering them properly. William tells us that the devil can be found in the arrogance of the spirit, an interesting concept. He also suggests that freeing ourselves of fear of the devil might be true wisdom.

The murders are, in the end, solved, and we learn (from Adso) the later fate of some of the other characters. Adso himself is an interesting character; in the story he is merely an assistant to William, but as a narrator he is brought to life not only for the duration of the events depicted but over a long life in his monastery at Melk.

Some of the other monks provide contrasting opinions on heresy and I was reminded of today’s fake news and conspiracy theories. This was particularly highlighted by the abbot’s long speech to Adso (in the book) about the jewels in his ring, a symbol of his office, and their symbolism, which differs from one group’s viewpoint to another. Adso’s dream (which he regards as a vision) is based on the Coena Cypriani, or the Feast of Cyprian, a book that uses mockery and laughter to combat prejudice. In some ways Adso’s dream interpretation mirrors the confusion in which he finds himself. In others, it foreshadows the importance of a hidden book to the mystery’s solution.

The text, of course, describes the fire’s effect on the entire monastery, not just the library. This makes for a less spectacular finale but one that perhaps stays longer with the reader. The film ignores this – as I said, it’s too short. The series touches on it, but barely.

Eco could not have foreseen events of today but in some ways his depiction of the fire that destroys the library has relevance for the recent fire in the roof of Notre Dame in Paris, both in the damage that occurred and in the arguments generated about general responsibility for historic buildings, and about religious donations.

A word about the title: I was unsure about its meaning and checked with Wikipedia. Apparently Eco had arguments with his publisher and wanted a neutral title that would give nothing away but would reflect mediaeval thought. Wikipedia says: In the Postscript to the Name of the Rose, Eco claims to have chosen the title “because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left”. I would, in fact, recommend looking at the Wikipedia article, not because it’s the fount of all wisdom but because it begins to answer some questions and points the way to explore further. At the end of the series, Adso attempts an explanation, telling us that texts are important. A rose withers and dies but the word that describes it remains.

At the heart of everything is the book, which is fitting because it symbolises both all the books in the library in that mediaeval monastery, a library that once described will never be forgotten, and the hidden book at the centre of the mystery. In some ways the library foreshadows and informs aspects of Terry Pratchett’s library in the Unseen University and the Hogwarts library in the Harry Potter series. It also, of course, reflects things like the Reading Room at the British Museum, and the wealth of information to be found online (again, using Wikipedia or various search engines as starting points).

The book certainly has meaning for the modern reader and it is not essential to know much about monasteries, mediaeval history, etc. to enjoy it simply as a complex murder mystery. The author explains everything necessary at length (sometimes at great length) and the story has plenty of relevance to us today. The film and the TV series, however, don’t do as much explaining, and the viewer would probably get more from them by reading the text, before, during, or after.

Altogether, I enjoyed the entire experience. I would recommend this ‘immersion’ but perhaps think carefully before embarking on it about the sequence to be followed. Book, series, film. Book, film, series. Film, book, series. I’m not sure and I think the answer would vary depending on the reader or viewer’s familiarity with mediaeval monasticism, and would differ for different people. At any rate, think hard before you dive in!

It’s certainly an experience that makes you think, wrapped up in brilliant writing and brilliant film production. I don’t think I can recommend it all highly enough.
Book – five stars plus
Film – four stars
Series – four stars
And yet – the series and the film both added immeasurably to the book if only as illustrations. And they caused me to re-read the book, which had to be a good thing!

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2020 in critiques

 

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December Reviews

Not to be confused with my top picks of the year!

Films and TV

The excellent:

Vienna Blood***** Reviewed in more depth last month when I pleaded with people to watch it and persuade BBC to make more.
The Nightmare before Christmas***** (re-watch) I adore Tim Burton.
Elizabeth is Missing (Glenda Jackson)***** Glenda’s acting is superb but so is the work of whoever conceived and wrote the script – a woman’s descent into dementia.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children***** I already said I adore Tim Burton. I think he makes all his films specially for me.
Game of Thrones Season 8***** I managed to avoid spoilers till my DVD (pre-ordered) arrived… Now I just hope Martin gets on with the final book!!

The good:

War of the Worlds**** I kept trying to spot landmarks in Weybridge because my in-laws live near there… I liked all the period detail and the Wells references.
The Sinner Season 2**** Run of the mill American thriller. Quite good but I wasn’t keen on the main actor.
The Name of the Rose (TV series)**** Look out for an in depth review later this month
David Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur**** Fascinating. I think it was a re-watch.

And the mediocre:

Beauty and the Beast (2017)*** I kept falling asleep. Gorgeous lush sets and costumes but otherwise ordinary and I didn’t find any of the songs memorable.

Books

The excellent:

Submerge by Eleanor Musgrove***** An undercover cop gets involved with the members of an LGBT club. Superb minor characters (and I read a Christmas short about two of them).
HE’S BEHIND YOU by Clare London (Rainbow)***** Pantomime mayhem in the village hall and a budding romance or two.
The Christmas Deal by Keira Andrews***** Fake boyfriends to lovers with a Christmas focus. Heartwarming and beautifully written.
The Taitaja by silverr***** Original work on AO3. FF story set in a fantasy world. https://archiveofourown.org/works/12197871
Angels Sing by Eli Easton***** Jamie and Stanton produce a school Christmas performance, save a bookshop, raise Mia and fall in love. Delightful.
The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish***** Corbin and Alex bond over baking. A magical Chanukah story of love and acceptance.
Shutter Angel by Dawn Sister*****Wonderful story in which a churchwarden finds love unexpectedly.
A Box of Wishes by Jackie Keswick***** A cat helps along romance between a cop and a cafe owner with a magical box.
Shooting Star by Kaje Harper***** Plenty of excitement (and romance) when a doctor is accidentally drawn into the affairs of an undercover cop.

The good:

The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith****It’s witches who make the wine in France (and the beer in Germany) so wonderful. An exciting (and romantic) story about a witch who returns from a curse to find a new owner of ‘her’ vineyard.
A Christmas Chance by Louisa Masters**** Paul and Jacob in Paris. I got the impression I should have read other books in the series first.
Yours for the Holiday by DJ Jamison**** It can be difficult when you fall for your best friend’s little brother who is now all grown up. Especially when you’re spending Christmas at their family cabin.

The readable:

The Greenway by Jane Adams*** A thriller set in Norfolk. Interesting but I didn’t feel a need for any more about either the police or the victims.
Crossroads (Book 1) by Riley Hart*** Neighbours fall in love even though one thought he was straight.

This was a wonderful month, with nothing poor or dire!

Then there were numerous short stories, mostly offered free via advent calendars on social media or via author newsletters. I won’t give you the entire list – they were all individually worth reading but at times I felt as if I was drowning in sugar and the tales tended to blur. Of course, I offered one myself… I’ll just list the seriously good reads which were either by authors I already know or tempted me to explore their works and add to my tbr list.

How a ghost cat saves Christmas by Terry Poole***** I loved the ghost cat and his interactions with his humans.
The Choice by Barbara Elsborg*****A paranormal romance with twists and turns.
A Very English Christmas by Keira Andrews***** Isaac and David from the author’s Amish trilogy (which I love) spend their first Christmas in what they call the English community.
The Doll Maker by Hannah Henry***** An intriguing story about a dollmaker whose dolls are more than they seem.
Merry and Bright by Joanna Chambers***** Three stories with a Christmas theme in one volume.

In case you missed it, my ff Christmas story False Starts is still free on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/997047 I meant to put it on Amazon this week and start charging but there are some formatting problems so I’ll leave it alone for a week or two!

Fanfic

I can’t resist mentioning Sloth’s Christmas Miscellany by Small_Hobbit**** https://archiveofourown.org/works/21672616 A mixed bag of short pieces, all quite delightful. No single entry is quite worth five stars but the whole collection is wonderful and when the latest offering arrives in my inbox it makes my day!

I’ve been steadily making my way through the SGA Secret Santa collection and haven’t finished yet.
Everything he needs by respoftw***** was written for me and is superb https://archiveofourown.org/bookmarks/426121294
(I gifted someone else with: Why it would never have worked (a tongue in cheek take on the sex pollen trope) in case you’re interested. https://archiveofourown.org/works/21759241)

Last but not by any means least I did the beta for my daughter’s Supernatural challenge and absolutely loved her story which is a mediaeval AU with Dean as a dragon and Sam as a warrior. It isn’t even my fandom, but I adore dragons and her writing has always been excellent!
Dragonwilde by Fledhyris***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/21685843

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2020 in reviews

 

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HAPPY NEW YEAR – and the best of 2019

I’ve been reflecting on the year in my viewing and reading so of course I had to make a list. I chose three in each category and for most categories the choice was extremely difficult. I was strict with myself about no re-reads or re-watches. Most of these have been mentioned in the course of my monthly reviews but one or two are December discoveries.

VIEWING

Films: I didn’t go to the cinema in 2019. These were all watched on the TV screen.

I, Daniel Blake (scathing indictment of UK social security system)
Fantastic Beasts (magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe but earlier than the main story)
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (a Tim Burton fantasy adventure with gifted children living outside time)

TV general series: They had to be series I’d finished watching.

Desperate Romantics (a fictional account of the lives of the pre-Raphaelite painters)
Carnival Row (fae refugees from war find problems in a steampunk London AU)
Game of Thrones (sex, violence and dragons – I adore the books, too)

TV crime/police/thriller series: Again series I’d finished watching although with all these we’re hoping for more seasons.

The Crimson Rivers (French detectives; every case seems to involve the supernatural but turns out to be mundane)
Spiral (French detectives and lawyers in Paris; each season has a focus on a serious modern problem e.g. sex trafficking)
Line of Duty (UK series with ongoing high level corruption underlying each season’s highlighted crime)

Documentaries: There were some good single programme documentaries but I prefer series with more opportunity to immerse myself in whatever it is.

Wild China (the main focus was animals and plants in the various regions but there was plenty about the people and their homes too)
Treasures of the Indus (following the river route and showing both the history and the present day)
Great Railway Journeys: Australia (Michael Portillo doing one of his inimitable travelogues with railways linking the programmes)

READING
No re-reads and each author could only appear once in the entire list. If you know I enjoyed your book – gave it five stars, even – and it isn’t in the list, all I can say is that the competition was intense!

Books – stand-alones

General

Tallowwood by NR Walker (Detective novel set in Australia. MM romance plus gory crime plus focus on Native Australian issues.)
Rising Tide by Susan Roebuck (MF romance set in Portugal when a young woman in a fishing village finds love with a visitor from America while they solve a mystery)
The Heights by Amy Aislin (MM romance in which a child is kidnapped and discovers his real background as an adult)

Twisted Fairy Tales

The Cracked Slipper by Stephanie Alexander (What happened to Cinderella and the prince after the wedding)
The Wolf and the Pear by Alex Jane (A terrorised village, a wicked witch and a werewolf who falls in love with a village boy)
Cutie and the Beast by EJ Russell (Beauty and the Beast retold for an mm audience)

Sci Fi, Fantasy and Paranormal I love this genre but despite some wide reading only found one story worthy of inclusion in my end of year list.

Vlarian Oath by MistressKat (An ff romance set in space. Available free on AO3 where it was published as part of a mixed fanfic/original challenge)

Books – series: (a good series is a chance to get to know a world and its inhabitants in depth – I may well have started each of these before 2019 but have read more during the course of the year)

General series

The Power of Zero and Two Divided by Zero by Jackie Keswick (I’m looking forward to the rest of this series with its focus on a young man rescued from a life sleeping rough and trained to combat crime via computer. MM)
Resonance, Resistance and Renaissance by Lilian Francis (Delightful slices of village life interspersed with mm romance)
Choosing Home, Returning Home and Staying Home by Alexa Milne (mm romance set in the Scottish Highlands)

Fantasy and paranormal series:

Psycops by Jordan Castillo Price (Victor can see and talk to ghosts; this helps in his detective career with Jacob, his partner in both work and love)
How to Howl at the Moon by Eli Easton – plus sequels. (The people of Mad Creek are a mixed bunch: some are dog shifters. Romance, both mm and mf, and some crime.)
Apple Boy by Isobel Starling (first in a series of fantasy adventures with some excellent world building – looking forward to more!)

Sci fi series: Another of my favourite genres but I only found one series for this list.

Machineries of Empire by Yoon Ha Lee (a trilogy set in the far future with space opera, interplanetary politics and gender fluidity at its core)

Detective series:

Cambridge Fellows by Charlie Cochrane (Cambridge dons as amateur sleuths. Wonderful period detail. Mild mm romance)
Pinx Videos by Marshall Thornton (set in LA at the height of the Aids epidemic. Funny, exciting, and poignant by turn. No romance – yet)
Bitter Legacy and Object of Desire by Dal McClean (exciting thrillers with mm romance set in present day London )

Short stories:

The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson (wonderful paranormal Christmas mm romance)
He’s Behind You by Clare London (Pantomime mayhem in the village hall plus a helping of mm romance)
Taitaja by silverr (ff fantasy story published on AO3 alongside the writer’s other work which is worth checking, especially her poetry)

Non fiction:

Harry Potter: A History of Magic – various authors (the book of the British Library exhibition)
The Broken Circle by Enjeela Ahmadi Miller (engrossing story of a family’s escape from Afghanistan)
Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch (looks at the changes in language brought about by social media)

Fanfic: available on AO3

Buen Camino, Bodie by Sharon Ray (a story in the Professionals fandom that charts a pilgrimage Bodie makes after Ray’s death)
In the forests of the night by greenapricot (a story in the Lewis fandom that uses Northumbrian legend for a satisfying Halloween read)
Dragonwilde by Fledhyrys ( an AU story in the Supernatural fandom. Dean is a dragon and Sam is a mediaeval warrior – the author is my daughter and this is not one of my fandoms but I fell in love with the story anyway!)

I will return to my normal monthly reviews in a day or two!

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2020 in reviews

 

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A free short story for Christmas

A Christmas present for my friends and readers. Go to Smashwords where this ff short story is free. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2019 in ficlets, publishing, writing

 

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