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A Date With . . . Denzil Walton

Denzil Walton is a freelance writer who lives near Brussels, a place that has a poor image among many of his fellow English men and women, although that has more to do with the institutions based there than the actual place. I began by asking him what he likes about the city and what, if anything, he dislikes.

“I actually live in a small Flemish town about 20 km to the east of Brussels, near Leuven. It’s a totally different world there from Brussels. However, I do like Brussels when I visit it for business. It has a certain energy about it, undoubtedly linked to the major decision-making institutions there. I like the wonderful diversity of the city, and of Belgium as a whole. For example, recently I attended an English Carol Service. It was in a Flemish church with a South African choir leader and readings in English, Danish, French, Dutch, Polish and German. For me, that event encapsulated much of why I enjoy living on continental Europe: not just the diversity but the interdependency. It’s not all wonderful, of course. I get frustrated sometimes with the bureaucracy here, a lot of which is linked to there being three official languages and a stunning complexity of federal, regional, provincial and municipal governments.”

For most of the people I interview on this site, writing is a secondary source of income or a career path adopted following retirement. Denzil has made his living as a writer for many years. How does he view those people who take up writing alongside, or after, a different occupation?

“With total respect. I admire anyone who takes up a new skill or develops an old one after retirement, whether it’s writing or something else. There’s certainly no thought of ‘competition’. There’s always more room for more authors and more books!”

On his business writing website he says: “I love writing, whether it’s to convince, encourage, inform, or simply make complicated subjects understandable.” Which of those aims does he regard as most important?

“They are all equally important, depending on the writing task and target audience. If I’m writing a newspaper article on self-driving cars then my primary goal may be to explain how they work and the potential benefits and challenges of this new technology. If I’m writing a more technical blog post on electricity grid networks then the readers will be fully acquainted with the subject but might be more interested in me informing them of the latest developments or political discussions in that area.”

Does he see a potential for danger in “writing to convince” which could be construed as propaganda? How would he view the difference between the former and the latter?

“In the Business-to-Business sector in which I work, my ‘writing to convince’ is focused on convincing a potential customer that a particular product is going to meet their requirements. In other words, it starts by defining what a customer needs. For example, they might need a ½-inch air operated diaphragm pump for a particular application. The product brochure I write will hopefully convince them that my client’s ½-inch air operated diaphragm pump fits the bill perfectly. It’s not a case of selling them a 1-inch pump just so that my client can earn more money. That practice belongs more to the Business-to-Consumer sector where there is more writing to convince consumers to buy something they don’t really need. I am not active in that area.”

Denzil makes no secret of his great love of nature. That’s what inspired his series of books and the website he created to “encourage a child” to participate in various nature related activities. What was his own inspiration for this passion?

“I think I was inspired by nature herself. At a young age I suddenly became fascinated by the birds and butterflies in the garden and wanted to know more about them. I don’t remember being inspired by a person. In fact, as my interest in nature developed, it was me who inspired my parents to show more of an interest in nature! However, once I began to show an interest in nature, I was inspired by some of the great nature writers that I read when I was young. My first inspiration was Henry Williamson. His most famous book is Tarka the Otter but he wrote a series of nature books that I found wonderful. Then I discovered the delightful books of Gerald Durrell. These days my favourite inspirational nature authors are John Lewis-Stempel, Patrick Barkham and John Lister-Kaye.”

What does he see as the dangers that children face from spending too long glued to their screens?

“There is increasing scientific evidence that over-use of screens can lead to children experiencing behavioural problems, attention difficulties and sleep disorders. As being in front of a screen is a sedentary occupation,obesity is a risk. And if the screen-time is exposing a child to violence, there is the risk of bullying or even greater aggression. I believe that adults can experience negative side-effects from too much screen time too. I started avoiding screens in the evenings after realizing they were affecting my own sleep patterns.”

And what are the benefits of engaging with nature?

“In this respect I’m indebted to the work and books of Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle in which he coined the phrase ‘nature-deficit disorder’. He describes the benefits of connecting children with nature as including improving mental acuity, enhancing creativity, reducing depression, fighting obesity, and simply promoting overall health and wellness. Oh and simply having fun!”

Are there benefits also for the adult who takes up the challenge of “encouraging a child”to engage with nature?

“I think being with a child in nature can help an adult discover their ‘inner child’ and enjoy a welcome break from the stresses and anxieties of their life. It’s also a great ‘natural medicine’ in the fight against depression – and time outdoors is actually being increasingly prescribed by doctors! Encouraging a child to engage with nature – for example by watching birds together, as I describe in my book – can strengthen bonds between adults and children. And as I mentioned above, being in nature is such fun! Adults can’t fail to be inspired themselves when they see and share in a child’s amazement and wonder at the natural world around us.”

I certainly wish Denzil the very best of luck with this new and exciting project. Here is my review of the first book in the series:

Do you know a child who spends too long glued to some kind of screen? Be it smart phone, tablet, lap top, gaming machine or the TV in their room, we can all agree that too much screen time is bad for them. Do you wish there was something you could get them excited about that would have the benefit of separating them from their screens whilst providing fresh air, exercise and a new outlet for their natural curiosity?

Freelance writer and nature lover Denzil Walton may have the answer. His new little book entitled “Encourage a Child to Watch Birds” is a delight. It is, too, the first in a series of books that have the aim of encouraging us adults to encourage children to take part in activities other than spending time attached to their screens. Yet to come are: “Encourage a Child to – study small mammals”, “– enjoy creepy-crawlies”, “– learn about trees”, and “– care for the planet”.

Meanwhile “ – Watch Birds” contains 10 increasingly advanced suggestions for ways to interest children aged from 7 to 12 in discovering facts about birds by observing their behaviour and listening to their songs. From watching ducks in the local municipal park to feeding the birds that visit your garden or balcony, to constructing nesting boxes, the book explains the dos and don’ts of caring for wild birds. Written in accessible language, it would suit a grandparent, uncle or aunt who wants to help their grand child, niece or nephew to develop outside interests.

It takes about 30 minutes to read the book but it will provide hours of pleasure for you and that special child as you progress from watching (not feeding) the ducks to using binoculars to observe birds of prey in action or dissecting owl pellets to identify the kinds of animals they feed on.

Buy at Amazon.co.uk
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Don’t Spare the Horses

In case Sally’s description and Lesley’s review posted in Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore below don’t convince you to buy this  book, here is my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2471099115

via Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New Book on the Shelves – #WWI drama – The Dandelion Clock by Rebecca Bryn.

Writers and Readers don’t always Understand Each Other

This post from Rebecca Bryn resonated with me because I recently received a couple of critical reviews of Strongbow’s Wife. In one case the writer of the review kindly e-mailed me pointing out a couple of minor period details that I got wrong. The other claimed to have had his faith in the book destroyed by the appearance of a minor  character who aspired to write ‘poetry in the Greek fashion’. Impossible in Medieval Britain according to my critic. Trouble is he was a real person who did indeed write epic poetry emulating Homer.
Rebecca is definitely one of my favourite authors, though I have yet to read The Silence of the Stones. I guess it’s time I did.

via Unpleasant and juvenile? Bad reviews -2

Falling in Love With Love

The Talk of the Town

Maeve Brennan. Image found at fictionfanblog in a review of one of Brennan’s books. Origin unknown

Before yesterday I had not heard of Maeve Brennan. Last night I fell in love with her. I was introduced to her by the Irish Jazz singer Emilie Conway via a captivating performance combining the spoken word and music.

Brennan grew up in Dublin in the years immediately following the 1916 Easter Rising. Both her parents were actively involved in that failed insurrection, her father condemned to death then reprieved and imprisoned. After his release he participated in the brutal civil war between supporters and opponents of the treaty that gave independence to 26 counties, leaving 6 of Ulster’s counties still in the United Kingdom. Echoes of what many saw then as betrayal by former allies who signed the treaty resonate today in arguments about the presently invisible border, a border which may need to be made more visible if the UK fails to reach a satisfactory solution on it’s proposed departure from the EU – a decision that threatens to be every bit as divisive for Britain as the 1922 treaty was for Ireland.

But that is by the way. In the 1930’s Brennan’s father was appointed as Ireland’s first ambassador to the USA. When the rest of the family returned to Dublin Maeve remained. She is best known for her columns in the New Yorker as “The Long Winded Lady”. But, like many other Irish and Irish/American writers, she was a master of the short story, as this tribute piece by Ann Enright in The Guardian from May 2016 makes plain.

booklet20cover20itunes20web75-previewEmilie Conway is a singer who discovered Jazz whilst on a visit to Chicago in 1999. She has, in the past, performed concerts featuring the songs of Billie Holiday among others. This latest set, of which last night’s performance at Portlaoise’s Dunamase Arts Centre may have been the last (there is nothing on her website to indicate any planned future gigs), is her musical tribute to the writer. It was compiled to celebrate the centenary of Brennan’s birth and was performed in New York and Chicago, as well as Dublin, last year.

Conway’s voice has the ability to encompass a number of different styles and this lends itself to such an innovative event. From the near operatic style of traditional Irish ballads, sung in Irish, at the commencement of the set, through swinging jazz standards, to the raw harshness of an alcoholic’s diatribe in Gershwin’s Vodka, she brings a poet’s sensibility to every number.

The first half draws on Brennan’s writing about Dublin family life and the inability of couples, in that time and place, to properly communicate their emotions. The second half is a meditation on those New Yorker columns, and the loneliness and insecurities of the woman behind them. At one point Emilie hides her cocktail dress beneath a trench coat and becomes that lonely, insecure, writer, seeking a voice in which to express her contempt for the pretensions of the actors, artists, musicians and, yes, her fellow writers, with which she came into contact every day in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Emilie, too, delivers her own prose poem to the Washington Square Hotel and the generation of young writers and musicians that lived, worked and played in and around it. Accompanied by skillful improvisations from Johnny Taylor’s piano this was, for me, one of the highlights of the whole show.

I congratulate Michelle de Forge for having the courage to devise a series of concerts she calls Jazz in the Mezz, utilising a previously underused space within the Dunamaise Centre, to introduce Jazz to the people of Laois. The problem is that, outside of Dublin and Cork, there is no appreciation of, or appetite for, Jazz in Ireland. I fear that the experiment may be viewed as a failure. Certainly that is the only conclusion to be reached from the small number attending last night’s event.

I have pondered this absence of Jazz from the Irish cultural scene and have developed a theory about it. I have heard that, in the decades following independence, the population was force fed Irish traditional music and culture in an attempt to counteract generations of Anglicisation. Moreover, under the oppressive influence of the Roman Catholic

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Poster image from DJ Citizen Lane’s website https://citizenhq.wordpress.com

Church, jazz was seen as “the devil’s music”. So, whilst the rest of Europe and North America embraced jazz before its evolution into rock, the Irish were unaware of its existence. When the resistance to tradition finally took hold, rock was ready and waiting to be adopted by a generation eager to dismiss what they derided as ‘diddly-aye’ traditional music in favour of rock and blues, giving us Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore and so many others. Only now, thanks to people like Emilie Conway and Suzanne Savage, are the Irish beginning to understand the connection between their own folk traditions and the roots of Jazz.

If a performance by Emilie Conway is billed anywhere near you in the future, I urge you to attend. You will not be disappointed. Whatever her chosen theme, you can be sure that her voice and her interpretation of the music will delight you.

Suzanne Savage: Singing Sensation

One of the very few drawbacks of living in our little corner of Ireland is that we don’t often get an opportunity to hear live jazz. There is, of course, plenty of music from other genres. In the last while I’ve seen performances from Barbara Dickson, the Black Family, Hazel O’Connor and, just the other week, a rip roaring, stand up and stomp your feet, performance from the versatile Jack L, back on home turf ahead of a UK tour to promote his latest album.

And, of course, there are many semi-professional bands and solo artistes doing pub gigs every weekend. But jazz, the music that spoke to my generation, that was written about so eloquently by Kerouac and Ginsberg, the rhythms and melodies, and alliterative lyrics of “The Great American Songbook” that underlies the best tracks of the best rock artistes of the last half century, that music is rare in our neck off the woods. Indeed, I suspect it is rare most everywhere these days.

So, when I learned that the innovative manager of our local community arts centre had commissioned a series of intimate jazz concerts in a small and hitherto under-utilised part of the building, I was delighted, and eagerly obtained tickets for the first which took place last evening. The artiste who had been chosen to fill this first experimental spot, it turned out, has flu. But she has friends in the business and was able to obtain a stand-in at a few hours notice. Never having seen the intended performer, I have no idea what I, and the handful of other jazz lovers present, missed. What I do know is that the stand-in is an incredibly talented singer.

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Ella Fitzgerald. Image from Grammy.com

She took me on a journey back to my first ever experience of live jazz, when, at just 15, I saw Ella Fitzgerald perform in a large theatre in London as part of a Jazz at the Philharmonic tour.

And she took me, lyrically, to New York and Paris and London’s Barclay Square. She asked me ‘Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?’ If only I were fifty years younger I’d say ‘yes’ to that in a nano-second.

She gelled beautifully with the two musicians accompanying her despite never having met them before. That, I suppose, is one of the delights of jazz standards – everyone who plays jazz knows them and even though they lend themselves wonderfully to endless reinterpretation and soaring improvisations, once you’re in the groove instinct takes over and there is a certain inevitability about the direction the music will take you in.

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Suzanne Savage. Image from Youtube

The young woman I speak of is called Suzanne Savage and it was no surprise to me to discover, from her Facebook page, that, among her accomplishments is listed chorister at Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. The beauty of her soprano voice was evident last night. So, too, was her ability to use that voice as an instrument, bending notes, scatting along with the string bass and allowing the pianist space to riff while she moved her body with the rhythm before returning to the melody like a swallow returning to its nesting place after a sojourn in warmer climes, having just soared away into the rafters and roamed the basement of the former gaol that is now the Dunamaise Centre.

I can still hear her rendition of ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ in my head as I write this. Her voice contained delightful echoes of Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne but was, without doubt, first and foremost, Suzanne Savage, a unique and wonderful sound to savour.

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Martin Taylor. Image from jazz24.org

And she took me back to another concert, late in 1978 or early in ’79, another time when I was entertained by a stand-in because the billed solo instrumentalist couldn’t make it. On that occasion the stand-in was a very young man who sat on a high bar stool and played the coolest, and the hottest, acoustic guitar set imaginable. In a venue where the quieter passages of other concerts were often marred by the sound of conversations being carried on at the back of the room, he held the whole company in enthralled silence. His name? Martin Taylor. Within months I heard he had replaced Django Reinhardt, dueting with Stéphane Grappelli.

Will Suzanne Savage ever enjoy the fame of Martin Taylor? She is certainly earning rave reviews for her highly innovative current project which showcases her versatility. But jazz these days is no longer part of the mainstream of entertainment. Although Michael Bublé has had phenomenal success in recent years, and Imelda May seems to be doing okay, in an industry that prefers boy bands and potty mouthed young women, I fear that someone like Savage, however talented and passionate about her art, will struggle to gain recognition beyond the ever decreasing circle of lovers of jazz and other avant garde genres.

I hope I get another chance to hear her perform – she deserves a much bigger stage and audience than she had last night. The Albert Hall in next year’s jazz promenade concert would not be too wild an ambition. Clare Teal, are you listening?

 

Not At All Crooked Hillary

Just as the media are filled with news of a book about life in the Trump White House, I offer my review of What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This was given to me as a Christmas present. I found it to be a fascinating read. I suppose I should qualify that by stating at once that I am a sucker for anything to do with politics, even American politics. Other people become ecstatic about sport, obsessing about the fortunes of a particular football team or tennis player. For me, politics is my sport; I care as much about government policies as others do about the application of the off-side rule. Newsnight and Question Time mean far more to me than Match of the Day ever could. So to read about the ups and downs – and in Hillary’s case it was mostly downs – of an election campaign, is a delight on a par with reading about Andy Murray’s Grand Slam disappointments and successes.

But there is much more to this book than an account of the 2016 presidential election and the mistakes she admits having made. This is a self-portrait of someone who has dedicated herself to a life of public service and of attempting to create the conditions in which her fellow citizens can prosper and achieve their full potential.

From radical student politics in the late 1960s, through advocacy for the under-privileged as an attorney, to her period as Secretary of State in president Obama’s first administration and, finally, her campaign to become the first woman president of the USA, she has never shirked from what she sees as her Christian duty to serve the greater good of mankind.

Those ubiquitous e-mails

There is a lot about the e-mail saga and the way it monopolised media coverage of the election, despite extensive evidence that she had done nothing wrong. All her predecessors at the State Department used their personal e-mail accounts for official business, as did her successor at first. When published, the e-mails showed only that she was someone who cared deeply about the welfare of the staff for whom she felt responsible. State secrets were not shared via e-mails on that account, nor anywhere else. And yet the media and her opponent refused to let go of the accusation that she was corrupt and dishonest. Finally, when the scandal seemed to have abated and her ratings were on the rise, the head of the FBI, for reasons best known to himself, chose to revisit the subject with unwarranted insinuations that made many voters uneasy about supporting her.

From unguarded remarks taken out of context, to decisions to respond – or not – to specific accusations from her opponent, she takes full personal responsibility for any short-comings in the campaign. And she is eager to learn, and to pass on the lessons learned, from these mistakes.

She was sustained throughout the campaign, and in her efforts to overcome the disappointment of failure, by her Methodist faith and the example of her mother, the product of a broken home, neglected by the grandparents who brought her up, who, nevertheless, grew up to experience the ‘American Dream’ and to pass on the same Christian values to her daughter.

I cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like to have to listen to taunts of ‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘Lock her up’ from her opponents, knowing she had done nothing wrong and sought only to better the lives of her fellow citizens. To her credit she has little to say about such things, concentrating instead on the policy proposals that never gained a proper hearing in the media, buried under the relentless e-mail fake news stories which she contends – she presents evidence in support of the claim – were orchestrated by Vladimir Putin and Wikileaks.

There will be many who will claim that she is part of the conspiracy by the wealthy elites to remove the hard earned assets of the poor. I believe that the opposite is the truth. When she says that her intention is to reverse that trend, I believe her.

Minority rights

As a Liberal I am in no doubt that there are two elites and that many on the political left fail to make the distinction. There is indeed an elite that seeks to amass great wealth with little thought to the people who are hurt in the process. Those are the corporate entities, and their owners, who fund the Republican Party in the USA, and advocate for Britain’s exit from the European Union, in order to remove, or substantially reduce, regulations intended to protect consumers and workers. They have the majority of media outlets in their corner. They deny the evidence of man made climate change as vigorously as they once denied the link between tobacco and lung cancer.

But there are, too, the ‘Liberal elites’ that the political right, supported by the bulk of the media, characterises as being out of touch with the realities of life as experienced by ordinary people, supporting policies that help minorities at the expense of the majority.

It is true that such individuals use their wealth to support a plethora of charitable causes and, in government, they do advocate measures that benefit the disadvantaged. But that does not mean they are not sympathetic to the plight of those who feel left out when minorities gain rights that others take for granted. As Hillary Clinton points out towards the end of her book, a way has to be found to demonstrate that seeking equality for all does not have to mean a race to the bottom. Rather, we need to make clear that lifting the downtrodden benefits us all in the long run.

I feel bound to add one other factor that looms large in the book, as it did through the campaign. Hillary believes herself to have been fortunate to have reached maturity at a time when the women’s movement was at its commencement. As a female lawyer in the 1970s she was a rarity, someone people came to look at out off curiosity. And much of her campaign strategy in 2016 seems to have concentrated on the significance of breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ and the idea that a woman could become president acting as an inspiration to girls and young women. I can’t help wondering  if that emphasis on the feminist aspect of the campaign put off some potential voters, both men and women, who are deeply suspicious of the movement.

I HAD A DREAM

I recently read and reviewed the first book in this series. I can certainly recommend Ms Clarke’s Africa writings to anyone who wishes to gain a better understanding of that continent and its many and varied cultures.

lucinda E Clarke

I had a dream last night, not as earth shattering as Martin Luther King,

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.

I’m not that famous and important, and frankly although I was standing on a stage too, no one was listening to me. Sad isn’t it?

Now most of us might dream of receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature and then being interviewed on a national Breakfast Show, simpering as the interviewer gushed about our brilliant book – right?

Well, my dream wasn’t like that. The stage morphed into a television studio and my interview went something like this:

tv STUDIO

INT: So, I understand Lucinda that hardly anyone bought your new book?

ME: Well a few did …

INT: Looking at this pre-order number on Amazon, well it’s a disgrace.

ME: I have at least 3 fans! I’m sure they ordered one and DH promised he would …

INT: I presume you told people about it?

ME: Oh…

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