Sunday, September 23, 2012


When I first visited Seattle for a reasonable length of time – about three weeks, as I recall – it lived down to its reputation of having weather similar to Ireland. The sky was heavily overcast and gray every day, and it seemed to rain an ungodly amount. However, to be fair, it was winter; so why I expected anything better is a good question – except that I was supposed to be on vacation, as well as scouting out the area. Why did I pick that time of year? I have no idea, but I was probably between projects.

That soggy visit was some years back, and now I regard Seattle’s weather with equanimity. Firstly, with Global Warming frying most of this nation ever summer, I am increasingly cognizant of the merits of rain; and secondly, I have learned to appreciate the general mildness of the climate, and the fact the weather in the summer can be extremely pleasant, with clear clue skies being vastly more common than in Ireland – and that country’s notorious damp chill being agreeably absent. In fact, I have had all my sliding doors open around the clock since May (possible because I live on the sixth floor of a fairly secure building); and haven’t gone down with pneumonia as yet – which would certainly be the case if I was back in Dublin.

These days, as I strip away as much as possible unless it relates to writing, I find my mood is much more influenced by how my writing is going than whether there are clouds in the sky. Nonetheless, it is hard not to appreciate our recent run of near cloudless days, leavened by a tinge of autumn, and capped by some truly spectacular sunsets.

Indeed, today is yet another such day.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


As those of you who have read my second novel, Rules Of The Huntmay know, the airship operated by the Tokyo police features significantly in the denouement. I did not invent the idea of an airship floating above Tokyo every day. There really is one, or at least there was when I was last in Japan in the Nineties.

At first, I found the sight of this lighter-than-air aircraft rather ominous, but soon I took it for granted, and no longer really noticed it.

Today, I might give it a second look because surveillance equipment has improved so much in the last couple of decades that it is now realistic to assume that an airship hovering a couple of thousand of feet above you can practically read the numbers off your iPhone. If that is a slight exaggeration today, I suspect it won’t be for long.

I mention airships because they are a keen interest of mine, and because I was discussing them the other day with a close friend who is the nearest thing I know to a human encyclopedia of aviation. In fact, he actually helped to moor an airship on one unique occasion – so he has had genuine hands-on experience. I am mildly jealous!

My interest is not just academic. I have a story in mind, based in, and around an airship, which will be set some time in the future.

I tend to think about stories years before I actually write them; and to assemble them piece by piece. Normally, I start with one or two elements, and then build from there. Oddly enough, my characters do not necessarily come first even though they always end up as the most important elements. But, as it happens, Games Of The Hangman started with a castle – and it took some years before Hugo Fitzduane had matured in my mind.

Now, he is virtually real to me; and, as I know from many thousands of fan e-mails, many of my readers feel much the same way.

It is quite an honor.


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Friday, September 21, 2012


One of the great mysteries of this great country is why we are so


unwilling to learn from the successes of other nations – even if supported by absolutely masses of data. My example, in this case comes from Norway (and the above is its flag).

We are the global champions of ‘NIH – Not Invented Here’ - the notion that if something is developed elsewhere, it is inherently suspect. It is a pervasive corporate flaw – and is an important reason why hitherto great corporations decline – but we have elevated it to a national principle. The American Way has to be the best. We are also, whatever our politicians like to argue, in a state of measurable decline.

Is it reversible? Theoretically, yes; however we are so politically divided and wedded to our prejudices, that our recovery is far from certain.

Our greatest national impediment is ignorance. Despite a tradition of education in the first half of the twentieth century, we have lost much of that ground in the second half – and subsequently – to the point where we are no longer internationally competitive under many headings.

One factor which contributes to our educational decline is the simple fact that Americans don’t read enough (and don’t learn enough when they do read).

This is all part of our rather extraordinary reluctance to support the arts – despite global evidence that such subsidies contribute enormously to the economic and cultural wellbeing of a nation.

But let me focus more narrowly, and show what can be done in relation to encouraging both authors and reading by quoting what Norway does.

Norway buys 1000 copies of every book a Norwegian author publishes. It provides a $19,000 annual subsidy to every author who is a member of the Authors’ Union. The Association of Bookstores is allowed to have a monopoly on the sale of books—but is prohibited by law from engaging in price competition. It requires, by law, that bookstores keep books in stock for two years regardless of sales. And it exempts books from its very steep sales tax. Not surprisingly, Griswold finds, “Norwegians everywhere read, and they read a lot; Norway has one of the world’s highest reading rates.”

This example was drawn from Regionalism and the Reading Class, a sociology book by Wendy Griswold.

The answers are out there; yet we chose to ignore them.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


What a week! I have been in super-intensive editing mode, and ended up so tired I slept for twelve hours on Friday night- and perhaps a little more. Either way, I didn’t feel able to get up until nearly 1.00 pm today; and was asleep most of the time.

But, at least, I was much refreshed. I don’t mind working hard – in fact I love it – but I will admit that no matter how much I enjoy what I do, simple fatigue eventually catches up with me; and Saturday is my self-appointed day of doing absolutely nothing. Of course, I cheat – and work on regardless – but the point is that I don’t feel I have to; and, if there is a good movie on the TV, I will break to watch it with a clear conscience.

In that spirit of volunteerism, I then went to work editing the last fifty or so pages of Satan’s Smile – and finally reached ‘THE END.’ Since I have been through the book many times, that shouldn’t, perhaps, have meant so much, but this time it will go into a binder marked ‘PUBLICATION DRAFT’ and that means a great deal.

Is it a good book? Frankly, it is a much better book than I ever thought I could write.

Will it hit the market soon? Yes, it will; and we are talking weeks rather than months.

Though I am writing this on Saturday, I think I’m going to post it as my Thursday September 20 entry. I’m going to try and hit every day even if sometimes I have to write in arrears. I doubt I’ll achieve perfection, but the intent is there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


English: 3 ring binder (opened)

English: 3 ring binder (opened) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am relieved to be able to say that there has been some resolution to my latest outburst of absent-mindedness.

Having searched high and low throughout my modest apartment for several days to find my missing copy of How Eagle & Cuckoo Save America: The Beginning, I finally plowed through a pile of to be read paper on my desk, only to find the missing manuscript. It then came back to me that I had borrowed the binder – as opposed to the contents - for another purpose.

I blush; and hang my head in shame! Well, metaphorically. Realistically, I just feel damn stupid. Clearly, I need more ring-binders.

I first encountered ring-binders at school, and they transformed my approach to note-taking, as well as consuming a significant percentage of my pocket money. Not sure at all why I was so dedicated, but in those days I took astonishingly good notes, and learned accordingly. The man who taught me the art of good note-taking was a rather pompous history teacher at Ampleforth called Mr. Dan. I owe that superficially uninspiring man a great deal. Few could appear to be so dull, yet teach so well. 

The trick where exams were concerned, I discovered – it was never formally explained – was not to re-gurgitate one’s notes (everyone did that), but to use them as memory prompts. If I could recall a heading, in my mind, it would morph into a visual impression of the heading, which I would then describe. There are severe disadvantages to dyslexia – which I know to my cost – but there are advantages too.

These days, I have mainly switched to electronic filing, but I still like to print out the last few versions of each manuscript of each book I write, insert them in a ring-binder, review them in that form, and keep the final printed copy for the record.

Given the ever increasing popularity of electronic readers – a trend I support – I don’t know how long the writer’s special affection for paper will last – but I am of a generation which still regards that extraordinary material with some wonder.

When you pick up your first published printed book, riffle through its pages, and recall the years of effort that went into it, you will understand.

Will the sight of one’s first e-book up on Amazon deliver the same thrill? I’ll let you know when I know.

Should be soon now.







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Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Having confessed to acute absentmindedness when in my writing zone, I had better explain that I don’t actually have to be writing when in that state. I merely have to be thinking about some aspect of writing for my connection with what purports to be the real world to become tenuous. That means I don’t have to be sitting at my computer to put on my reality distortion field. The state is, so to speak, mobile; and can exist when performing some other activity like shopping, or walking, or driving.

Driving! Yes, indeed. And frankly I’m not at all sure that any any author should drive while in the writing zone. Mind you, how such a legal restriction could be enforced is a good question.

Writing apart, I wonder is absent-mindedness hereditary? My much loved grandmother, Vida Lentaigne, was impressively absent-minded and once forgot to put on her dress before going to church. On the other hand she was also a writer, albeit of poetry, so it may be that her particular writing zone was the cause of her scatty behavior.

She wrote some truly wonderful poetry, and continued studying her craft until she died at the age of 78 (without question, the worst day of my life).

Her will specified that the love letters she had exchanged with her husband, John Lentaigne, should be burned unread upon her death. I was delegated to do the task. Despite my curiosity I did as she had asked, and consigned the bundles of letters, all tied up in pink ribbon, to the flames. Only later did I find out that her poetry had been similarly packaged; and I had burned that too.

To this day, I cannot forgive myself.

It was my grandmother who first got me hooked on books. Before I could read, she used to read to me, and would add extra chapters if I would eat all my food, including items I disliked. Specific rates were negotiated. Two carrots were worth one chapter; and so on. I got the best deal from artichokes in white sauce – which I loathed.

It is a great thing to be read to; and granny was a talented reader, teacher, and creative mentor.

Without her inspiration, I would never have become a writer. As for artichokes; we have agreed to mutually co-exist.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Apart from a few friends whose opinions I have learned to trust, from time to time I ask people who I don’t know very well, to read an unpublished manuscript.

My ideal victim is an intelligent general reader – as opposed to someone connected to publishing in some way. I’m much more interested in the reaction of an average book lover than I am of someone in the business. Indeed, I harbor the strong suspicion that literary agents, editors and publishing executives rarely read any manuscript properly. First of all they don’t have the time; and secondly they are normally perusing a manuscript with an entirely different agenda in mind to the general reader. If you doubt me, go spend time in a publisher’s office, and you will soon see what I mean. Above all, such tyros of the publishing industry are skimmers par excellence, and are far more interested in: “Will it sell?” than the merits of the book, as such. They also tend to build up prejudices based upon their past experiences and to extrapolate from the specific to the general (as is: “Westerns don’t sell;” or “All heroes have to be American). And they are decidedly subject to groupthink. In short, they behave rather as if they were in the movie business; or on Wall Street.

In contrast, the general reader seems to be motivated by a blend of curiosity and the desire to be entertained; and in my experience, can often come up with insights – both large and small - which are invaluable for the author to learn.

So much for general principles, but currently I am tearing my hair out because I cannot find a manuscript I printed out for a delightful lady called Michele; my barber’s wife, as it happens. Quite how I can lose a clearly labeled ring-binder in a comparatively small apartment is a mystery to me, and I have checked everywhere from my shelves to the fridge. Now would I really do something as nutty as store a manuscript in the freezer? Absolutely.

You see, that’s where the downside of finally mastering the art of being able to focus on my writing cuts in. When I’m in the zone, I forget what I have put on the stove, use the cat to polish my shoes with, and put the baby in the washing-machine.

Beware of the focused author.



Sunday, September 16, 2012


I really wanted to include some humor in yesterday’s blog about feminized fish, but wasn’t sure the ideas that occurred to me would be deemed to be in the best possible taste. I could have worked on the issue and come up with something, but I’m trying to discipline myself to blog fast.

I really don’t like writing anything which is completely serious, though sometimes my humor is so dry it passes unnoticed. Needless to say, that is not quite the result I want, but I have learned to accept that people’s senses of humor vary – and to take my lumps.

At one stage in my pre-author life, I ran a company in Germany and had the magnificent title of: “Herr General Director.” German titles are nearly as good as their uniforms; and you omit them at your peril. If someone has a doctorate – and many do – he expects to be addressed as “Herr Doctor,” or he will poke out your eyes with a paperknife; or the bureaucratic equivalent. Addressing him as “Klaus” on first acquaintance will not go down well; even if his name is Klaus. The Germans take rank very, very, seriously.

The company retained blue chip accountants staffed by august beings all of whom seemed to have doctorates (a very German thing). Anyway, we were walking back from an introductory lunch in Dusseldorf, when we came to a pedestrian underpass which featured magnificent stainless steel hand-rails which guided one down to the bowels below.

I couldn’t resist. I loved slides as a child, and achieving adult status hasn’t made me love them less. Despite my corporate uniform of suit and tie, I jumped up on one of the rails, and had a most enjoyable ride to the bottom. German engineering is as good as they say it is.

I have seen people shocked many times in my life, but I have never seen any group quite as stunned at my undignified action as those senior accountants. Serious business people just did not behave this way. Mein Gott! It was days before they could look me in the eye.

I thought it was a hoot; and the looks on their faces funnier still. Suffice to say, they didn’t share my sense of humor.

What can I say in my defense? I was young, and, well, I’m Irish – a notoriously casual culture – and I only dressed like a corporate type in those days. I was really a writer-in-waiting, and we march to the beat of a different keyboard.



Saturday, September 15, 2012


I heard on the radio recently that a significant percentage of male fish caught in Puget Sound have been identified as having female characteristics.

To use an old phrase: “There is something in the water.” Specifically, the hormones, and hormone mimicking chemicals, that we are flushing away, are ending up poisoning our habitat; and us.

Keep that word ‘us’ in your mind. It doesn’t just mean other people. It includes you too; and feminized fish are only one symptom of a much larger problem – chemical pollution as a whole. The fact that so many Americans suffer from a medical condition is not an accident. Apart from debasing the food chain to the degree we have, this country is seriously polluted in a myriad of other ways to the vast detriment of the nation’s health. Senior Citizens may be living slightly longer, but, in contrast with other countries, we are growing older sicker.  And, yes, I have facts to back that up. And, unless very rich, we are also being outlived by most of our peers in the developed nations. In short, we are aging sicker and dying sooner. What does that say about the American Way Of Life.

I first wrote about all this in Titanic Nation after reading that fish from Washington DC’s Potomac River were similarly deformed; and that such chemicals were not being filtered from our water supply.

It would be nice to think that a journey of approaching 3,000 miles to the North-West  would have left one far away from such hazards, but evidently not.

Comedian and Talk Show Host Bill Maher regularly comments that Americans are poisoning themselves, and I think he is absolutely right.

Yet I note that at a time of Presidential Election frenzy, such a vital issue is receiving no attention at all. On the one hand, we are scared stiff of terrorists; and, on the other hand, Fortune 500 companies are killing us off in droves every year. At best we are talking hundreds of thousands, and it is more likely we are talking millions. If you think about it, that equates to roughly one Holocaust ever single decade.

Could it be that the U.S. Business Model needs some tweaking?

Congress deserves its lousy ratings; and so do we for being so complacent, fatalistic, and just plain ignorant.

But, of course I’m joking. I have to be. America is the richest country in the world.

Check the data. Therein lies the shame of it all. 




Friday, September 14, 2012


I am endeavoring to get back into the habit of blogging regularly, but until I master the art of writing a simple, elegant, stand-alone, paragraph, that goal looks like remaining elusive. I shall continue to try, just the same. A writer should always be faced with challenges, and, better yet, fresh challenges. 

What do I mean by ‘regularly?’ I’m still working that out. Ideally, I’m like to write something virtually every day, but when that is combined with my other duties, it seems a high bar; though a worthy objective.

Anyway, I took a couple of weeks off from blogging to do some high octane editing in order to get The Blood Of Generations ready for publishing. This exercise involved ten to twelve hour days, virtually seven days a week. In all, I made several thousand minor changes, and rewrote a dozen or two passages. It was unbelievably hard work, but extremely satisfying. It’s amazing how much one can improve a manuscript when one has the perspective of time.

I used to hate editing. Just writing the book just once seemed to be hard enough work. Actually it’s the easier part where I am concerned. Re-writing is when I put the edge on the blade.

I attach great importance to the visual look of a book – even in manuscript form. Strictly speaking, that shouldn’t matter at the manuscript stage, but since I have a decidedly visual mind (and imagination) it matters to me; and, on a practical level, I find I am motivated by good presentation.

My final tasks yesterday were to add ‘Front Matter’ and ‘End Matter.’ These terms refer to the material at the beginning and end of the book – such as Author’s Note and Dedication – which are not directly part of the story.

So when will The Blood Of Generations be up on Amazon? I’m not going to give a date for another couple of weeks; but shortly is the answer for the moment. It is the fourth book in the Hugo Fitzduane series and is located in Ireland, Israel, and France.

I think you’ll find it worth the wait. It’s a classic Big Thriller and runs to a shade over 500 pages. I have described it as:



A Novel Of War, Terrorism,

Love, & High Adventure.

I’d say that describes it pretty accurately.