Bloody Blog

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

A *really* scary man.

I was out and about in Muswell Hill, doing a few middle class errands. You know, picking up the olives and the Marsala wine. “Trifle?” “No, chicken. With mushrooms.” “Ah, yes. Nobody buys it to drink these days, which is a shame.” (So said the man in Prohibition Wines.)

I suddenly realised that, although I had set out very deliberately with two shopping bags, I now only had one.

Bag down, you might say.

This is a big deal. Shopping bags don’t grow on trees, you know. Or maybe they do, judging from those flimsy plastic ones you see flapping about in branches.

So I retraced my steps, calling in at all the shops I’d been to. The lady at Ryman’s was particularly concerned on my behalf. I tried to reassure her that it was okay. The bag was empty, so it wasn’t as if I’d lost my shopping. But I could tell she was anxious on my behalf, and distressed that she couldn’t help me.

She shouldn’t have worried. A few moments later, I spotted it. There on the pavement outside Fasta Pasta.

I couldn’t believe my luck. So I honed in to pick it up before anybody else scooped it up and claimed it as their own. The last thing I wanted was a tussle on the Broadway over a cloth bag.

What I hadn’t clocked was the woman with a small dog coming in the opposite direction to me. Or rather, I had seen them, but I hadn’t really paid them much attention. I was understandably focused on retrieving my bag.

Woman and dog passed me as I grabbed the bag and I heard her say, quite distinctly, “A really scary man!”

I’ve no doubt that she was referring to me. I believe she said it for my benefit as much as her dog’s. She obviously mistook my joyful expression at being reunited with my bag for something more sinister. And perhaps she saw my sudden crouching movement as a threatening gesture against her little doggie. Maybe the animal was spooked and she was trying to reassure it, though it seems a strange way to go about that. Something like, “Nothing to worry about, it’s just a nice man picking up his bag” would have been more soothing, I think.

Or maybe, just maybe, she’d had her eye on the bag herself and was pissed off at me for getting there first.

I was flummoxed, to say the least. She went on her way, and I was on the point of yelling after her, “Oi! Who are you calling scary?” but decided that would only confirm her in her prejudices.

It was a disconcerting episode. And led me to reevaluate how I come across to other people, especially random strangers.

I thought back to my earlier encounter with the lady in Ryman’s. Perhaps it hadn’t been concern I’d seen on face. But fear.

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

The warm bath phase.

I’ve got a new book to write. It will be my tenth published novel. Double figures at last.

It’s another historical crime novel, the next in my Silas Quinn series. As always, there’s a bit of research to do before I start writing.

Researching a novel is a bit like lying in a warm bath. You know you’ve been in there too long, but you can’t quite bring yourself to get out.

In some ways, it’s my favourite part of the process. But it’s also the most daunting. There’s just so much material to read. Novels of the period, memoirs, biographies, narrative histories, newspaper archives… Plus whatever is out there on the internet. You want to read everything because you always feel that you’ll find the one detail that will make the difference in the very next thing you read. At the same time, where to begin… or what to read next…

I’m consciously trying to absorb details as I read, looking out for incidents that typify the period and might somehow fit into my story. Trying to get a feel for what it must have been like to be alive in that specific place and time (London at the outbreak of the First World War).

The trick is remembering all those interesting snippets and details that you pick up along the way. You make a note of them, or highlight them on your kindle. But eventually you end up with so many notes and highlighted passages that you can’t keep track. The most recent discoveries block out the gems you dug up earlier.

(And some time in the hazy future, when you’re actually writing the book, something will come back to you. A fuzzy, half-remembered detail that you’re sure is crucial to the scene you’re struggling to imagine. And you’ll drive yourself mad trying to hunt it down.)

The beauty of a book that isn’t written yet is that it is all potential. It could be brilliant. It could even be a bestseller.

But the fear that it will be terrible is there too. And that stops you from beginning the writing.

Better to run a bit more hot water, keep the bath nice and warm, so you don’t have to get out just yet.


Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Kaiser Donald.

guns of augustThe_War_That_Ended_Peace_PBDonald Trump has been compared by some to Adolf Hitler. (I don’t know, something to do with his love for Tiki-torch-bearing Nazis and generally being a little bit fascist-y?) But reading Barbara Tuchman’s riveting The Guns of August, about the outbreak of the First World War, I was struck by the eye-popping similarities between Donald Trump and an earlier German leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Take this, for starters. Tuchman’s thumbnail sketch of Wilhelm: “The Kaiser, possessor of the least inhibited tongue in Europe.” She goes on to talk about how he “had worked himself into a frenzy ending in another of those comments that had periodically over the past twenty years of his reign shattered the nerves of diplomats.”

If Twitter had been around during the Kaiser’s day, his ministers would have had daily heart attacks. Before the war, when Britain and Germany were still friendly nations, he said this of Edward VII: “He is Satan. You cannot imagine what a Satan he is!” The language may not be exactly Trump’s. Trump is more likely to say “bad hombre” than Satan. But the unguarded comment is worthy of one of Trump’s 5 a.m. tweetbursts.

Tuchman tells us that “[i]n one of his pre-war indiscretions, the Kaiser once said to a British officer at maneuvers, ‘I will go through Belgium like that!’ cutting the air with a flip of his hand.” Given that a German invasion of neutral Belgium was virtually guaranteed to draw Britain into a war – the one thing that Germany was most anxious to avoid – it was, to say the least, an ill-advised remark to make. The kind of thing that might have General Kelly burying his face in his hands.

Like Trump, who has still failed to fill many key posts, the Kaiser was not great at delegating. When tasked with appointing his chiefs of staff, he remarked: “I need no Chief. I can do this for myself.”

This picture of the Kaiser as a proto-Trump comes through in another book covering the lead-up to the Great War, The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan.

“The Kaiser was notably inconsistent,” Professor Macmillan writes. “… his violent language and outrageous statements gave observers the wrong impression.” She also describes him as “[a] man trying hard to show a forceful dominance that did not come naturally.” And again: “He was always quick to feel affronted but frequently insulted others.” As a German diplomat once observed: “He just talks himself into an opinion… Anyone in favour of it is then quoted as an authority; anyone who differs from it is ‘being fooled’.”

Or how about this, written about him in 1903 by Philipp, Prince of Eulenburg, one of his closest friends, “H.M. sees and judges all things and all men purely from his personal standpoint. Objectivity is lost completely and subjectivity rides on a biting stamping stallion.”

Professor MacMillan also comments on the Kaiser’s short attention span: “Many [ministers] grumbled… that the Kaiser was inattentive and complained if their reports were too long.” His Chancellor from 1900 to 1909 von Bülow found a way to get around this, by keeping his memos short and spicing them up with gossip.

The Kaiser was often a laughing stock abroad and the butt of satirical articles in the German press. Lord Salisbury’s view of the Kaiser was that he must be “a little off his head”. But as MacMillan points out: “if the Kaiser was a joke it was not always a very good one.”

Perhaps the most Trumpesque of the Kaiser’s gaffes was an interview that appeared in the Daily Telegraph in 1908. It was intended to restore the Kaiser’s relationship with Britain and win the British public over to his side, reassuring them that he was their friend. But he seriously misjudged the tone and was quoted as saying “the British are mad, mad, mad as March hares!” His self-pitying complaints didn’t play well with his intended audience. Sir Edward Grey, Britain’s Foreign Secretary remarked: “The German Kaiser… is like a battleship with steam up and screws going, but with no rudder, and he will run into something one day and cause a catastrophe.” The interview didn’t go down well in Germany either. As MacMillan writes, “Germans were appalled and outraged that their ruler would make such a fool of himself, and not for the first time.”

Like Trump, the Kaiser felt unappreciated, which led to a sense of grievance that, fatally, determined German foreign policy. The question is, will Trump, like the Kaiser, turn to militarism to make him feel better about himself? Wilhelm once confided to the King of Italy: “All the long years of my reign, my colleagues, the Monarchs of Europe, have paid no attention to what I have to say. Soon, with my great navy to endorse my words, they will be more respectful.” That feels chillingly Trumpian to me.

All content © Copyright 2017 by R. N. Morris.
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