Monday, 29 April 2013

The Thirty Nine Steps

Think you know the story? Think again. 

She's not in the book

This never happens in the book

Sorry, no Forth Bridge hidey bits in the book

Forget all about Mr Memory

Many people will be familiar with this one via the many cinematic or televisual adaptations which seem to come along more often than a new edition of D&D. However, few, if any, have given a faithful rendering of the book and it’s only in the past few days that I’ve actually gone back to source and read the original, which is getting on for 100 years old (in 2015).

Why, I wonder, do they feel the need to adapt it so heavily?  What about the story seems to make it difficult to transpose to the screen?  The book itself is short – around 41,000 words, so its length shouldn’t be a problem. It’s fast-paced with barely a let-up in the action, so fitting it in to 2 hours or so presents no difficulty.

No, what the problem is with the book is its sheer old-fashionedness; it champions values that are sadly out of keeping with the modern world as we perceive it and wish it reflected in our entertainments.  Nobility and self-sacrificing heroism, a rugged masculinity and a lack of sexual content seem, it appears, to make for poor crowd-pleasers.  It did, however, manage to please me, since I took it at face value and cannot really remember clearly the cinematic adaptations.

To be honest, whilst enjoying the yarn (for such it is), I was reminded for the most part of a Call of Cthulhu scenario in the Keeper is intent on giving the players the fright of their lives whilst never really intending to kill them. In fact, the whole book could serve as an object lesson in how to survive whilst on the run in the aforementioned game, since it is set in 1914, barely a decade or so before the time during which many Keepers set their adventures. Merely substitute ‘sinister plotters’ for ‘sinister cultists’ and you could probably run this one.

Of course, there are, it is freely admitted, colossal contrivances that conspire to make the story work. It’s a yarn, as I’ve already said. The pace manages to overcome the disbelief that may rear its head at certain points and if you read it in the spirit in which it’s written, the enjoyment is heightened. There’s also a rather abrupt ending and some dialogue that might be read as a ‘comedy Scottish accent’ although since Buchan was Scottish, I must bow to his inestimably superior knowledge.

As a glimpse into another time, another world and another set of values to which we may well glance with wistful nostalgia from time to time, especially when confronted with the less than savoury aspects of our own time, this book stands as a very good example.

Saturday, 27 April 2013


No-one told me; one day she was there
and the next she was gone. And then she
was back again but somehow emptier.
Silence was thrown over us like a damp blanket.

No questions. But I imagined her staring
at the ceiling. Her gaze was like glass;
but something inside was cracked beyond repair.
They had put her in the spare room. I watched

the door from the top of the stairs. The room
stank of hops; it had been used to make beer.
Strong and dark and bitter, never going away.
I wanted to take her dinner. I was told no.

Three days later, she rose; she had no smile left.
Her eyes were holes into a nothingness.
I waited; when there was no-one there, I asked.
She said ‘they used hooks’. The room was painted

white again and again, desperately clean.
She went into exile like a mediaeval queen.
‘You’ll like it there; nobody will know,’ they said.
‘It’ll be a whole new start for you’.

Thursday, 25 April 2013


This is a blog to showcase my writing, both old and new. I've been writing for a very long time, over forty years or so. I started at primary school and I've never really stopped.

In 2001, I started a 6-year part-time Creative Writing Degree at the University of Hull, in which I gained First Class Honours. Many of the pieces that you will read over the next month or so came into being on that course.

Others were written for various poetry competitions; they veer perhaps a little too far towards the strange, but I'm including them here anyway.

I'm also adding book reviews which first appeared on another blog; I'm hoping to increase these in number as I finish books. I've almost always got a book on the go and for this, I owe a debt of gratitude to my local library who are only too happy to get new books in for me if they're not in stock already. Thanks, ladies!

I hope to add to the pieces in the collection; I'm still writing and will put them up as I finish them.

Finally, this is not a criticism arena; I would be interested in comment but have no editorial intentions as yet. I'm just keeping the creative juices flowing and trying to maintain my confidence.