Tag Archives: Roddy Doyle

Reading list: Tudors, Nazis and Detectives

reading in the showerTime off = reading. Though to be honest, with me, any time = reading. Including in the shower. (Aah, maybe that was an admission too far. Anyway…)

All this time reading, when I should be WRITING, DAMMIT! But hang on. All is not lost. Stephen King is riding to the rescue of my beaten, bedraggled, often ignored but unbowed writer’s conscience.

In his excellent and useful book ON WRITING – A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT, Stephen King says this:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. there’s no way round these two things thast I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft: I read because I like to read.

Phew! I’m at least halfway to being a writer. And this is what else I’ve been reading in the past fortnight and recommend to you.

ALONE IN BERLIN, first published in 1947 as JEDER STIRBT FUR SICH ALLEIN by Hans Fallada (real name Rudolph Wilhelm Adolf Ditzen). He died the same year. The story is of a couple who, when their son is killed on the Russian front, begin to write and drop postcards attacking Hitler across the city.

Be This Guy: August Friedrich Landmesser, a worker at the Hamburg shipyard Blohm + Voss, refusing in 1936 to make a Nazi salute at a mass party rally. (However, I can now reveal the true story of his so-called heroic gesture. Too stingy to buy deoderant. Underarm sweat stains. Too embarrassed to raise his arm. This story is really all about personal hygiene. Don't be this guy.)

Be This Guy: August Friedrich Landmesser, a worker at the Hamburg shipyard Blohm + Voss, refusing in 1936 to make a Nazi salute at a mass party rally. (However, I can now reveal the true story of his so-called heroic gesture. Too stingy to buy deoderant. Underarm sweat stains. Too embarrassed to raise his arm. This story is really all about personal hygiene. Don’t be this guy.)

An insignificant gesture of resistance perhaps, but one that provokes a concerted Gestapo campaign to find and kill them. It’s an exciting and moral story and paints a vivid picture of Berlin and Berliners during their days of complacency and then anxiety as the war begins to turn against Germany.

It also addresses those questions like – What would I do? What could anyone do? What did anyone do?

We don’t tend to hear much about the small ordinary acts of heroic resistance by Germans to Nazism. Perhaps because it conflicts with the idea that all Germans were complict – along the lines of Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen. Or perhaps because it undermines the defence that the masses were swept along, ignorant and innocent of the evil deeds of a few – along the lines of the film The Nasty Girl (Das schreckliche Mädchen). People did know – some acted with honour and humanity. Bit like today.

An inspiring read.

I also enjoyed RATLINES by Stuart Neville, who also wrote the ingenious Ghosts of Belfast (published as The Twelve in the UK). I’ve clearly got Nazis on the brain, because this is about Nazis and their fellow travellers who have fled defeat and holed up in the Republic of Ireland. And now someone is hunting them done and killing them. It could wreck the upcoming visit of President John F Kennedy. It’s clever, imaginative and pacey.  The author’s note at the front had me hooked:

These things are known to be true: dozens of Nazis and Axis collaborators sought refuge in Ireland following the Second World War; in 1957, Otto Skorzeny [the German paratroop leader who dramatically rescued Mussolini]  was welcomed to a country club reception by the young politician Charles Haughey; Otto Skorzeny purchased Martinstown House in Kildare in 1959; in 1963, in response to a question by Dr Noel Browne TD, the Minister for Justice Charles Haughey told the Irish parliament that Otto Skorzeny had never been resident in Ireland.

The rest is just a story.

And it’s a good story Continue reading

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Thank you Culture Northern Ireland

Thank you Culture Northern Ireland for giving me a £100 Amazon voucher (for winning a writing competition completing a survey). And thank you Gerry Anderson and politician Gregory Campbell for helping me spend it. Well, to be more precise – they had a row. But Continue reading

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Favourite books (as of today)

If I thought too much about this my head would explode, so, as if leaping over the alley between two rooftops five floors up, I don’t pause and…

1. A Ride on the Whirlwind (African Writers Series)Sipho Sepamla (Fiction – tales of a revolutionary cell in apartheid South Africa.)

2. A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople – From the Hook of Holland to the Middle DanubePatrick Leigh Fermor (A memoir of his eighteen-year-old self walking from the Hook of Holland to a bridge over the Danube between Slovakia and Hungary in 1933. The next part of his journey to Constantinople is described in the sequel, Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland – The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates.)

3. Lucky Jim (Penguin Modern Classics)Kingsley Amis (Fiction – the funniest book ever)

4. E: A NovelMatt Beaumont (Fiction – a clever concept, written entirely in emails, very funny with it. Sequels include The e Before Christmas and E Squared – though the idea is getting less and less fresh.)

5. You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the ImaginationKatharine Harmon (A wonderful collection of maps of the mind, imagination, the world, heaven, hell and other points west. Just a gorgeous book to hold.)

6. The Forging of a Rebel – Arturo Barea (Autobiography – this is a trilogy, so is it cheating to include it? The three volumes are The Forge [ The Forging of a Rebel Book 1 ] (Flamingo), The Track (Flamingo) and The Forging of a Rebel – The Clash – childhood in Madrid and Castile, action with the Spanish army in the Rif War in Morocco, marriage and children, and finally his part in the Spanish Civil War.)

7. Ulster (A Penguin special) – The Sunday Times Insight Team (Reportage/History – an account of the outbreak in the late 1960s of the most recent “Troubles” in Ireland. As a “child of the Troubles”, this book made a big impression on me when I read it as a young ‘un. And while we’re on the subject, isn’t the “Troubles” an odd term to use to describe periods of general mayhem, localised civil war, military curfew, murder gangs roaming the streets, and widespread fear and loathing. It’s on a par with that other useful phrase – “a wee bit of bother” – as in: “Oh, I’d suggest you take the other road this evening, there’s been a wee bit of bother over beyond.” The WBB a euphemism for, say, the blowing into a ditch of a passing armoured personnel carrier and the killing of those inside. But moving right along…)

8. The Blue TangoEoin McNamee (His imagined version of the real life murder of Patricia Curran in 1952. It was the main pre-Troubles crime celebre in Northern Ireland, never satisfactorily solved. He’s done another interesting version of the death/killing of Princess Diana, called 12:23: Paris. 31st August 1997, but I prefer The Blue Tango.)

9. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945Tony Judt (History – Post World War Two history of Europe.)

9 1/2. For Whom the Bell TollsErnest Hemingway (Fiction – you may have heard of this Spanish Civil War tale.)

10. Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for AfricaDambisa Moyo (Well argued polemic – She lays out the reasons the West should suspend development aid to Africa, for the good of Africa. She’s Zambian. I bought the book in Durban, South Africa.)

Phew! I was worried for a moment that I wouldn’t fit it all into a top ten. And appallingly I have failed to include anything by Andrea Camillieri, Henning Mankell, Roddy Doyle, Maurice Leitch, Brian Moore, Chuck Palahniuk, MJ Hyland, Philip Kerr, Iain Banks, Michael Dibdin, Martin Cruz Smith, Andrew Marr or Ian Rankin. Or any poetry at all. Disgusting.

And that previous paragraph means I’ve cheated three times. Rubbish.

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