Can A Rapper Really Influence Great Literature?


Somebody once told me ‘You’ve got to write about what you know’, and that really stuck with me. You can’t write about things you don’t understand, and as such I constantly work to educate myself and learn more so that I can write about exciting new things.

So, as Stormzy, the famed London rapper, announces that he is launching an offshoot of Penguin Random House, under the name #Merky, to support aspiring writers, what does this mean for the industry?

After all, what does Stormzy know about writing, and will he be able to spot the good from the guff? Sure, I know that he won’t be doing most of the work- which is about as likely as the Kardashians making their own perfumes or slaving away in the factory that makes their lipkits- but it still begs the question, what does a writer of rap music know about literature, and how will he be able to influence the up-and-coming generation of young writers?

It’s my theory that what Stormzy needs to do now is make sure he’s taking on the right writers. People who are truly passionate about their craft- young writers who have grafted, have their names out there and are working hard to succeed. Those who think writing is an easy way to make a name for themselves, and send in a load of poetic cobblers or some true-life drama will only stop writing as soon as their name is out there and try to live off the fame it has bought them. The industry doesn’t need more of those; what it needs is real triers who are working hard to get a foothold in this competitive market.

Offering paid scholarships to kids in schools is a great idea, but I disagree with the rapper’s assertion that it is hard for writers to ‘get their name out there’. With the internet, blogs, free websites and social media, getting your name out there is the easy part- it’s getting people to pay you for your work that’s tough. As a copywriter I know that pretty much every journalist, writer and novelist out there had to go through months, if not years worth of unpaid posts, internships and writing ‘for exposure’ before they managed to get a paid role. What the industry needs is fundamental change; a shift in thinking so that writing is not viewed as something everyone can do, but as a real skill, and something worth paying for.

Overall, I guess really only time will tell whether Stormzy’s foray into publishing is just another publicity stunt or a real chance for some great new voices to be heard.


Why Omnibuses Are A Godsend On Long Haul Flights

reading on planes

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, I recently had the fortune to travel to Australia and sample the delights and explore the natural wonders of Queensland. Being from the UK, the flight is horrendous, with a long layover in Singapore as well as the flights themselves, both of which combine to steal away nearly a full day of your life.

When packing, I had to think long and hard about which book to take with me for so that I didn’t get board en route. I was only taking carry on luggage in the form of a massive backpack, and as such I had limited space for literature, giving myself added pressure to choose correctly.

In the end I opted for a tried and tested option- an omnibus of Colin Dexter’s incredible Inspector Morse novels. They seemed like a sure bet- I love all of his work and I hadn’t read them in a while so I would be suitably enthralled throughout the whole massive flight.

During the flight I noticed that some of my fellow travellers had also plumped for omnibuses to ensure that they had enough reading material. One of the girls I was travelling with had chosen a Bridget Jones The Single Years and there was a bloke at the back of the plane who was reading a Jeeves and Wooster omnibus.

This got me thinking- why are omnibuses such a good choice for long haul travel? I suppose the main issue is consistency- you know what you’re getting with work from the same author/ series, so you can safely say, even if you haven’t read every book in the omnibus, that you will be reasonably happy with your choice and won’t hate your reading material for the entire flight.

Then of course there is the not-so-small matter of space. Because each book does not need a front and back cover, and the legal bumf is usually confined to the front of the whole omnibus, they are significantly smaller than lugging however many individual books around with you. This is a great thing when trying to cram everything you’re going to need into a limited amount of luggage, and means that you don’t have to heave vast reams of paper about with you.

Anyone who is about to mention buying a Kindle for long haul travel can kindly fuck off. Whilst tablet computers and e-readers have their virtues, there is something to be said for reading an actual book over staring blindly at a screen, particularly when one is on holiday and wants to switch off. Also, on places there are often restrictions to the use of electrical devices, as well as the limitations that the battery will place on you, as there are often not charging points for ages, and those things drink power.

So, as far as I’m concerned, omnibuses are the way to go. They’re often a cheap alternative to buying all the books in one go anyway, and with so many older omnibuses available second hand they are, in my humble opinion, vital for anyone planning a long distance trip this summer.



Non-Fiction Bank Holiday Reads To Get You Feeling Informed


A couple of weeks ago I had a rare whole week to myself. I treated myself to a week away from work, told everyone to fuck off and took myself and a good book to a posh marina for an ice cream and a quiet read.

The book in question was Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. A friend of mine had lent me the book but I hadn’t made time for it; what with the reviews I do I always have a huge stack of books just waiting to be read.

Making time to read some non-fiction was awesome, and I really enjoyed it. The book is incredibly descriptive and provides unique insight into a jumbled and disruptive White House. What impressed me the most was the fact that, despite my adoring the escapism that fiction offers, I truly enjoyed my foray into non-fiction.

Which got me thinking: for the Bank Holiday, when everyone has plenty of time on their hands, maybe now is the time to be checking out the latest non-fiction awesomeness. There’s so much going on in the realm of non-fiction, with the current political landscape bringing forth a wide variety of commentaries and historical books looking to showcasing the similarities. There’s a book called The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump, which aims to find poetic meaning in the President’s ramblings, a book that aims to educate those who want to find out more about British policies called How Britain Really Works: Understanding the Ideas and Institutions of a Nation, and, for those seeking real insight on American politics, Hillary Clinton’s biography, which will offer you more education and knowledge than anything even remotely Trump-related.

For those who aren’t so politically minded, there are a lot of biographies and autobiographies out there right now too, although Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which promises to be fascinating, won’t be published until November. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay looks set to be a great, funny exploration of the trials of a Junior Doctor which would make for intriguing reading. Also, major celebrities such as Russell Brand, Bruce Dickinson and Robert Webb have autobiographies out so that you can find out more about your favourite celebrity no matter what you’re preference.

So as you stretch out on the last day of your Bank Holiday relaxation, why not check out some non-fiction and educate yourself before you return to the drudgery and mundanity of normal life.

Why You Should Binge Read As Well As Binge Watch

Stack Of Books

Netflix recently advertised for someone to binge watch its shows, films and original content and give it ratings, which set everyone of as screen slaves, film enthusiasts and lazy twats alike all started vying for this coveted position.

However, whilst binge watching continues to be a popular pastime for many, few expostulate on the benefits of binge reading. After all, there is nothing so fun as setting aside a few hours to devote to making a dent in that stack of books that you’ve been meaning to check out for an absolute age.

Recently, someone asked me on Twitter if I chose to binge read or read one book at a time. However, to my mind these are not opposites. Whilst I understand what they were asking, that being whether I read one book at a time or have several on the go, I believe that binge reading is something completely difference. Binge reading is reading several books in quick succession, engrossing yourself completely in each then carrying straight on, the way many might choose to read a particularly engrossing series or the all the books by their favourite author.

I myself indulge in this practice on occasion, and I think it should become more popular. The Easter bank holiday gave me a chance to really get my teeth into a number of books that have been in my ‘must read’ stack on my bookshelf for a while now. With May, AKA ‘the month of two bank holidays’ coming up, what better time to stock your shelves and settle in a for a couple of days of binge reading?

After all, whilst binge watching is an easy, lazy pastime following a hectic day at work, people often forget that binge reading is just as good a way of relaxing and unwinding. Whilst people often think that reading is harder than watching, in reality the benefits outweigh the negatives, as reading may be slightly more laborious but it is more stimulating for the brain and many often remember things better when they read them rather than ingest them through a screen.

Also, I often find it is a great day to make myself check out new books, authors and genres that I would otherwise not bother with. Over a couple of recent long weekends I’ve had I have checked out a number of books that are not my typical reading material, including memoirs, non-fiction and even a comic novel.

In the end, with extra time on your hands in May and the Summer holidays rapidly approaching, I would thoroughly recommend grabbing a load of books, shutting yourself away from it all and indulging in a little binge reading. You never know, it might become a new favourite pastime!

Changing Christie: Heinous Or Harmless?

ordeal by innoncence 2

Following the recent furore around the BBC’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence, I wondered why everyone was so upset. After all, when adapting TV shows and films Directors and Script Writers often change the plots to suit the audience.

However, many have been incredibly upset by the serious change in plotting that the writers have made. Instead of the perpetrator being the housemaid, at the instigation of the adopted son of the victim, her lover, who was falsely accused, she is in fact his mother, and neither were actually guilty. The murderer, in the show, turns out to be the victim’s husband, who is found out by his adopted children and maid, who capture him and hold him hostage in his late wife’s nuclear bunker whilst they get on with their lives.

This myriad of changes caused great consternation among die-hard Christie fans. The book had not been faithfully adapted, and as such the BBC has ruined it. These people do not seem to understand that what the BBC has, in fact done, is not created a Christie adaptation at all. It may have the same name as one of the Queen of Crime’s novels, but it does not have any of the classic traits or characterisation of her works.

After all, the book uses Arthur Calgary as a form of principal detective, rather than the blubbering mental patient that the show transforms him into. In the book the character, accompanied by others, doggedly explores the blasé secrets, petty scandals and sad affairs of the principal cast of suspects, all of whom are neatly contained within the family home, being either family themselves or servants. Like many of her novels, Christie crafted a unique ending for Ordeal By Innocence by having the innocent be a master manipulator who actually played a key role in the murder. Having his accomplice as the housemaid allows Christie to criticise both the class system and the treatment of women at the time.

Whilst the BBC adaptation might make minor observations about class and gender, as well as making a clear racial statement by casting a black actress in the role of one of the victim’s adopted children, none of these allusions are particularly impactful, and are muddied by the adaptation’s lack of sincerity and sheer lavishness- the costumes are better thought out than the plot throughout, and the dialogue has been woefully neglected in favour of stunning panoramic views of lakes and vast tree lined forests.

I can completely understand why Sarah Phelps chose to change the adaptation so drastically from the original: not only does this allow her to put her own stamp on the work, but it also makes for better TV. After all, the novel relies on the reader being completely transfixed by the notion that Jacko is innocent and the author’s copious red herrings to steer them towards a nail-biting conclusion, whereas, spread over three episodes, the TV series would struggle to build and maintain such tension. As such, Phelps not only intensifies the characters, making many much more bitter or shrill than they are in the novel, but also completely changes the plot in order to make it memorable. After all, the fact that I am writing this post about it proves that this divisive move has worked. All publicity is good publicity- right?

Overall, it is my firm belief that the BBC has effectively not made a Christie adaptation at all, and whilst I am not sure I would go so far as to say that this Easter’s Ordeal By Innocence is an outrage, it is certainly not fit to bear the Queen of Crime’s name.

Easter Reads to Get You Through the Last Day of the Long Weekend

Easter Reading

Happy Easter! I hope you are having a lovely weekend filled with fun, family and, most importantly, chocolate! If you work in retail or healthcare then I am sorry for flaunting my freedom to you, but for everybody with a long weekend, now is a great time to check out new books.

With so much extra time on your hands (for those of us lucky to have Bank Holidays off), now is a great time to peruse your local second hand bookshops, charity shops or even use your leftover Christmas vouchers to buy that book that’s been on your wish list for like ever. As the working week draws ever nearer, now is the time to curl up on the sofa and check out your new books in peace and quiet.

Pastoral novels are a great read in Spring, as you long for rolling hills and wide, open fields. Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a great choice, or there’s a new book called The Wood by John Lewis-Stempel, a beautiful nature text which I personally am keen to check out. If you have never read it, I am also very keen on H is for Hawk, an engaging memoir by a fascinating author.

There are those who would like to get back to the religious roots of the holiday (never mind the fact that it has in fact been reappropriated from a Pagan festival), and perhaps reacquaint themselves with some more spiritual texts, such as the bible or some non-fiction which discusses it, however I know nothing about all that, so good luck to you.

For those who fancy re-reading an old favourite, or getting to know a beloved classic, now is the best time, as I have already asserted in my previous post. Having recently visited Jane Austen’s former home at Chawton, I have been reaching for her works, and have devoured her unfinished three novels, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon, with great delight.

There are also many great reimaginings of older classics that you can grab, for example Money in the Morgue, Ngaio Marsh’s unfinished Inspector Alleyn novel which has been completed by Stella Duffy, and will soon be reviewed on the Dorset Book Detective very soon. There is also A Talent for Murder, Andrew Wilson’s innovative novel featuring a reincarnation of real life Queen of Crime Agatha Christie as a fearless crime solver working to uncover how she came to be almost pushed in front of a train and what her is behind her rescuer’s attempts at blackmail.

There’s also books which are the basis for your favourite film or TV series to consider if you’re a screen junkie, and with so many to choose from now is the time to grab your favourite and settle down for a cosy read. With Ordeal By Innocence dominating the Easter TV Guides as the show to watch, avid readers can either grab that or check out one of the other, slightly better books in Christie’s expansive back catalogue, such as Dead Man’s Folly or They Do It With Mirrors. There are also book versions of your favourite films, such as Netflix’s Annihilation, Ready Player One as well as A Wrinkle in Time.

If you fancy something completely new, there are many great new releases out there that you can check out; there is Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell, The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths or The Visitor by K.L. Slater. Crime Fiction always gets a boost around this time of year, following Christmas and in the run-up to the Summer holidays, with the January releases now out in Paperback whilst the Summer books are only just out in Hardback, with their Paperback release scheduled in time for everyone to snatch one as they jet off to sunnier shores.

Whatever you choose, as Monday brings the long weekend to its close you can while away your final day off with a good book and remind yourself why you love reading.