Sunday, 29 November 2009

In a Free Republic

Okay, so I have masses of books that I've read before this one (just finished it) to review still, but never mind. By Alison Plowden, I picked it up because I'd got interested in the English Civil War (Cavaliers and Roundheads variety) and I wanted to know what happened afterwards. While I get the impression that this is a very interesting period in history, with all the religious disturbances, the change to a Commonwealth, then Protectorate, then Commonwealth, then restoration of the King, I found this book quite poor. It was badly organised, that was one of the main problems. Things weren't told in even a vaguely logical order. There were references to a particular royalist uprising, but then later references to apparantly the same thing seemed to suggest it happened after Oliver Cromwell's death, while the initial description seemed to suggest it was while he was still alive. The reasons for the Protectorate were mostly dealt with succinctly, but when you start to find information about the medicinal practices of the time in a chapter about (or at least allegedly so) Coffee Houses and Witches. It was partially in chronological order, partially in a vague sort of topic order, which had the effect that it was difficult to follow clearly and I cannot imagine trying to find information in that book with regard to any specific topic. It really was quite all over. So I was very disappointed that such an interesting topic was so poorly covered. I wouldn't recommend it, though I would certainly like to know more about the period. Oh, the other thing that confused/annoyed me was that at the end of the book when it was talking (in very brief terms) about the Restoration, you initially got the impression they were talking about Charles II! And of course, he'd had his head chopped off... So if anyone happens to know of a good book about this period, I'd appreciate it if you could let me know. It's just hard to find books on something like this when your local library, despite having two and a half bookcases full of WWII books, has less than a shelf on the English Civil War... I'm sure there're some in storage somewhere, but I don't really like browsing books on the library catalogue (particularly as when I was looking for books on WWI aviation it brought up nothing, and when I've searched for English Civil War, it's come up with books on the American Civil War instead. Humph. Anyway, it wasn't a great book by any stretch of the imagination.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Well, not only am I now an official Nanowrimo winner, I have also managed to finish Moonwalker! There are one or two bits I need to go back and fix, but that can wait. I'm just chuffed that I've done it. 26 days from start to finish, and it's approximately 80000 words. I'm really pleased with how the story itself turned out as well. Especially since it was the first time I ever went into Nanowrimo with a plan--normally I find it quite hard to write from a plan. I tend to go in with a couple of characters and just run for it. But I had a beginning, a vague idea of a middle, and a vaguer idea of an end. Still more than I normally write with. Character profiles are the only planning I've ever done for a story that's worked, not the synopsis I came up with for Moonwalker (although I hadn't worked out the title until half way through). Anyway, I'm not finished with Nanowrimo yet. I've started another with a character that leapt upon me on Sunday and demanded a story as soon as I'd finished this one. I suspect it's going to have a historical element to it, perhaps a little more so than with Moonwalker which was technically sci-fi but also involved Egyptians. Anyway, I'll go now and do a little more writing, but I just wanted to share that I've finished Moonwalker :D.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


I'm purple :D. Yay! I lost a couple of words because I think open office is a little more generous as to what constitutes a word (as in, about a thousand extra words more generous...), but I'm still purple. Okay, I suppose I need to qualify that statement a little. It maybe doesn't quite make sense. Basically... I'm now an official Nanowrimo 2009 winner. I scrambled and uploaded my novel, and the word counting monkeys deemed it long enough to make me an official winner. My story is also nearly finished. I just need Sprite to walk out the hospital, borrow/steal with the intention of returning (I hope) a Naut (my name for an aircraft on the Moon), head out to the First Colony, and join up with the archaeologists again. Then he can explain to them in no uncertain terms that the First Colony most certainly did not have weapons, they were a pacifist society that got wiped out by the Americans. Oh, and it might be a good idea to fetch Emma back after she ran away when I kinda killed her boyfriend with a booby trap. Yeh, I think she needs to return at some point. Soon I hope. Cos I have another story which seems to want writing NOW and I keep telling the characters to hold off until I've finished Moonwalker. And I need to decide what time period new story is set in too, as I'm half tempted to place it in the 1950s... We shall see.

Friday, 20 November 2009

First Blitz

I really really enjoyed this book. I nearly bought it, decided that it was a rather big book to have on just one topic, and didn't. But then I saw it at the library and thought I'd give it a go, and have now come to the conclusion that it would've been worth buying it. Neil Hanson does a fantastic job of bringing an intriguing and little known event to life. At times his tale is very moving, particularly when describing the deaths of a number of schoolchildren due to a German bomb which fell on a primary school. There were tears in my eyes as I read the first hand accounts which were woven into the narrative throughout (although I admit I am quite an emotional person at times). Now, I'm a bit of a WWI aviation fan, as you may have noticed :D, but I'd never heard of this attempt, or the England Squadron as it was termed. And though I had a vague knowledge, inspired by some pictures, that there were a couple of massive aircraft built by Germany, I had no idea just what they stretched to. Aircraft, biplanes remember, and rather flimsy things at that, which had five/six engines, and the Giants were bigger than anything the British or Germans flew during WWII (so bigger than a Lancaster bomber, and that is BIG). Can you imagine what it would be like to fly in something like that?! Well, Neil Hanson does a very good job of capturing the sorts of emotions flying through the pilots and crews minds as they set out on their missions.

The England Squadron's sole purpose was to deliver a devastating load of bombs to London, in order to force England to capitulate. The theory was, that if London was wiped out, the ability of the British people to resist would be shattered. Basically, it was area bombing as later practiced by the British. Hanson traces the battle from both sides--that of the victims on the ground, and that of the aircrew who flew these tremendously long missions, bearing in mind that in 1917 when the thing really got started, aeroplanes had only been able to fly over the Channel for eight years. And in 1918, apparently the Germans were only minutes away from delivering a massive strike upon London, one which would (theoretically) have had a similar impact to the attack upon Dresden as the incinidaries to be dropped were almost identical in design, and the methods had been finalised as a result of experience gained previously. At the last minute, politics intervened: the German high command felt sure they were going to lose the war, and feared that by bombing London they would inflict upon themselves a more punitive peace than would otherwise be the case. It is interesting to ponder what would've happened had the messenger's car broken down and the England Squadron taken into the air. Would London have been wiped out? Would enough planes have gotten through to cause substantial damage? There was little risk from anti-aircraft fire, which could not see the night-flying bombers, and relied upon pinpointing them with sound (apparently blind people were used for this role, as they had more sensitive hearing) and then ranging the guns accordingly. The anti-aircraft guns were in fact more of a danger to London than to enemy aircraft. And the aircraft sent out as interceptors had only the most rudimentary night time flying equipment--it was all rather trial and error, and incredibly difficult to find a Gotha or Giant when you were up there in the dark. No, the real danger was from the aircraft themselves. Only two sorties out of every single mission flown by the England Squadron had no aircraft suffering engine failure and returning to base. It has to be remembered that they were flying these massive bombers at a time when the Sopwith Camel killed about as many pilots through its own violent right hand spin and engine failure and structural failure as the enemy pilots did shooting them down.

This is a remarkable book, well written and gripping, and echoes of WWII sneak through its pages. The air defence system which was put in place by the end of WWI was identical in every respect apart from the fact that radar replaced audio direction finding, to that used in WWII with such success. The lessons learned from the bomber offensive were ironically used differently by each side. The British concluded that a) the bomber would always get through, and b) it would be possible in future for a knock out blow upon the enemy, that morale bombing would work as they had seen such disruption (completely out of proportion to actual damage). The Germans on the other hand, concluded that it was pretty much a waste of time. Both conclusions are still drawn about area bombing.

I would strongly recommend this book. Not only does it tell a fascinating story, Neil Hanson writes with insight and flair. I really enjoyed this book, and will probably find myself reading it again, and I'll certainly keep my eye out for other books by him.

A Question...

Okay, so what I want to know is this: I normally use Firefox. Today, it is being awkward and insisting that I have a non-responding window open when I blatantly don't, and therefore won't let me open it. I can't be bothered to restart my computer--it takes a fair while. So: why is it so different looking on Internet Explorer? I mean, it's not even as though I'm on a different website. But for some reason, all the controls at the tob of this web page are bigger, the text in this box is smaller, and everything seems rather square. And also, why does Chrome not work with Blogger? You would've thought that with them both being google things, that Chrome would be the optimum platform to use with blogger. But I tried three times to log on, and I know user name and password was right, and even when I clicked sign in rather than enter it just refreshed the home page rather than logging me in. Humph. So now I'm forced to write this blog post without using Firefox, so it all looks a bit weird, and without a built in spell checker, which is always useful when you have a tendency to make loads of typos. Can any computery people explain in non-technical language? Or is it just that it is like this?

Thursday, 19 November 2009


James May did a programme on TV a few weeks ago about the joys of model making. Now, that just happens to be one of my hobbies, so although I was at a Blest rehearsal when it was shown, I made sure to catch it on BBC iPlayer (incidentally, the first time I've ever used it--worked well and wasn't difficult to operate at all). One of the things he said struck me; he claimed that the reason they're having to make GCSEs easier is because people are not making models any more. Now, having done GCSEs quite recently myself, I don't quite agree that they've got easier. However, it did get me thinking. What's the point in making models? What do you learn from it? And do you even learn from it or is it just fun? Well, I can identify about twenty odd aircraft quite easily because I've made models of them. When I read stuff about Spitfires, I can look up and there's one hanging right over my bed, along with a Lancaster and a Mosquito and a couple of other WWII types. But the ones I really love are the WWI ones. I've built six, and have another three to build. And I'm really pleased to say that Airfix has finally decided to release some WWI aircraft in their range. Previously, I've had to get Revell ones, and the instructions just aren't as good. They take longer because you have to sit there at the start and make a note of which letter represents which paint (not helped by the fact that most of my paints are Humbrol, and they have different numbers to the Revell ones). And I had some real difficulties with the instructions when I was building my Chinook, because some of the instructions were wrong. Anyway, I'm really pleased that Airfix has finally decided to release some. I did manage to find a few Airfix ones before--from the car boot, and they'd been released ages ago and discontinued.

Anyway, what skills do you gain from building Airfix models? Take it from one who's built over thirty (mostly aircraft, but a truck and gun, and a tank too), you definitely learn patience. And besides the obvious fine motor skills painting and poking little parts into place, you do learn how to follow instructions and think ahead--you quite often have to paint things like the area around the cockpit cover before you can put the pieces on, which can mean flicking to the end. Plus you learn about what you build, because there's always a bit of information with it. For example: the Seafire which I just built informed me that although it was superb in the air, the narrow track landing carriage made it very difficult to land on a ship.

Or am I just totally justifying a hobby I love for the simple reason that it's enjoyable and rewarding to look at a model and think 'that used to be x number of bits of plastic, and now it's a...'? Hmm, maybe :D. I'd really recommend you give it a go though (the starter kits are great, they come with all the paints and the glue that you'll need, and if you get a more basic one, you shouldn't find it too hard).


This was the first James Rollins book I've ever read, and it was brilliant. I'll definitely be reading loads more of his books (actually, I've read a couple since and really enjoyed them too). The characters were brilliant, I have to admit I completely fell in love with Sam. I think one of the things that really struck me, besides the brilliant plot line and action, was the way the characters interacted so realistically. To me, that's the most important thing. A book might have the most intriguing plot in the world, but if the characters fall flat, it's pointless and I just can't read it. It's the little details that make the characters in this book, like Sam's battered cowboy hat. The plot, as I said earlier, was also pretty awesome. Sam's leading an archaeological team (I can spell that thanks to my nano novel!) in the Andes, and they stumble across some intriguing remains in an old temple. When an earthquake traps them below ground, they have to find another way out, and discover a tribe that has been 'lost' to modern knowledge. A fascinating story, and packed with believable details, it really impressed me. I'd highly recommend it.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Yay!!!!! I've finished!!!! Well, not the story, but the word count. Fifty thousand, yay!!! Can you tell I'm excited??? Maybe I should stop using so many exclamation marks, but yay! Finished today (had a thousand words left on Sunday, but I was at church in the evening and Ruth's in the afternoon, so I didn't get chance to quite make it all the way), and now, I get to try and finish the story before the end of the month. I wonder if I could have two certificates if I do double the needed word count? I wonder if I could even manage double the needed word count, cos obviously I still have college stuff to do etc. Anyway, I'm chuffed. And if you look across to the left at the top of this page, you get to see that my participant status has changed to winner :D. Heading off for English Lit. Cheerio.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

45000 Words!

Well, I've only five thousand words left to win nanowrimo for this year, although my novel has a good bit to go yet. I think I'm going to have to do some quite severe cutting back when I'm finished though. I have several gratuitous fight scenes which I should probably cut out. I blame bonfire night :D. But yeh, I'm thinking I should manage to hit fifty thousand tomorrow, when I can come back and scream about it. But for now, I think I'm going to abandon computer and go finish reading The Venetian Betrayal by Steve Berry (very, very interesting, although I'm slightly miffed that I appear to have started a series some distance into it, and there's a slightly confusing aspect but I'll talk about that when I come to write the review).

Thursday, 12 November 2009


I realised after I posted that and was going to go, that I never said about how my novel was coming on. Well, it's no longer untitled. It's called Moonwalker. So far, due to repeated attacks by various 'baddies' including robots, wild animals, Ferals (radiation affected humans who often have an affinity with animals and may act like wild animals too), and a slight diversion when I sent Sprite off to help some other military chaps to take a hill, my characters have not yet arrived at the site of the First Colony where they'll start digging. However, Sprite has picked up a baby tiger, they've been joined by Catcher who was rather unexpected, and the characters have developed quite nicely. I'm also at just over 36000 words, which means I'm ten days ahead of schedule. (In other words, I've written 36000 words in twelve days!) And I've still managed to read a bit and build another two models (a tank and a truck with a gun). Oh, and my dad helped me hang another ten aircraft from my ceiling the other day, so the sky above my bed and throughout my room is starting to look rather busy. They're quite hard to count because they're all over the place, but I think there's about thirty of them up there now, of various types. The only thing that unites all of them is that they're all military (I'm counting my Tiger Moth as military because it's got RAF roundels on and it was used as a trainer). Other than that--well, there's two Harriers, three helicopters including a Chinook, a Lancaster bomber, an F-15E, six WWI aircraft, a number of WWII ones of German, British and American make, and several inter-war aircraft. So not really a particularly unified collection, but it looks good. Most of them are English. Oh, there's another two jets that I forgot about, a Red Arrows Gnat which was one of my first Airfix ones (I used to build wooden models, then 'graduated' to Airfix type), and a Skyhawk. And a wooden one too. And a Dakota on a stand. I nearly forgot about my Dakota. Hmm, yeh, quite a collection I guess. I'll have to get a Hurricane sometime to go with the Spitfire and the Defiant. Yeh, that went slightly off topic. Never mind. Suffice to say, Nanowrimo so far is going pretty well, I'm on the downward slope from 35000, hopefully I have enough spare time to finish it off.

Jane Eyre

Well, I did read this over the summer, in the end. (Yes, I'm still on the books I read over summer, but you'll be glad to know I am now actually reaching the end of my huge long list, which was 45 books long... I haven't written reviews of stuff I've read before though, and one or two books I read that weren't so good I've basically forgotten what happens (they were pretty mediocre fiction), so I won't bother with those either). I put it off most of the way through the summer holidays, and realised three days before going back to college that I was actually going to have to read it. So I picked it up and tried to find the point I'd abandoned it at about three years earlier because I just couldn't face any more, and realised that instead of it being a third of the way through, as I'd thought, I was actually only three chapters in :(. It dragged, is all I can say. I had to bribe myself with letting myself reread Foxbat by James Barrington, and the truly excellent Excavation by James Rollins (have I reviewed that? I should do if I haven't, it's amazing!) in order to get through it. To be fair, I thought the plot wasn't too bad. I suppose I've been 'spoilt' by reading such fast-paced thrillers as Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly, which goes ridiculously fast and has stuff happening constantly, but I couldn't help but find large parts of Jane Eyre rather boring and superfluous. For a lot of the book, the most fun I had was looking up the occaisional word I didn't know, and finding out that a Barmicide Feast was from Arabian nights after a rich guy pretended to give a beggar a feast, but it was actually just a plate with nothing on. I enjoyed, I have to admit, the part where she was flirting with Rochester while still a governess, but I guessed really early on that there was either an illegitimate child or a wife in the attic (without having ever gone near the story before), and that kind of spoilt things for me. And then there was the whole wandering in the Moors. When she was lying in the heather etc I found myself wanting to slap her and scream at her to stop being so pathetic and feeble, and to just go back to Rochester, marry him, and let me go and read something a bit more exciting. However, it did end (fairly) well, although part of that might have been my relief that it was finally out the way.

To be fair on the book, when reading it in small chunks to analyse in English Lit, I have enjoyed looking at it. There's a limit to how much you could possibly write about something like Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly, because it is literally all action. Maybe something about the evils of capitalism??? I know that my dislike of Jane Eyre is rather controversial--I was surprised to find myself rather in the minority in my English Lit class, and when I commented that I didn't like it on Facebook, I got a considerable number of people saying they totally disagreed. Fair enough, but I suppose romance (or at least, romance this long-winded) is not my style of book. I don't think it's fair to say that just because it's a classic everyone should read it and enjoy it, and I also don't think it's fair to slate authors such as Dan Brown (I really enjoyed Digital Fortress), just because they're thrillers and they're somewhat escapist rather than 'serious'. Digital Fortress does address the issue of whether or not the government should be allowed to read our e-mails. I wonder if the government reads this? And I was hoping to pair Mattimeo by Brian Jacques with Jane Eyre, as Mattimeo is definitely a bildungsroman, and involves plenty of journey. However, the Welsh exam board said it had to be a 'respectable' sort of book, and as Mattimeo is technically a children's book, and also about talking animals, I don't think it quite fits into that category. It's a brilliant book though, and it certainly addresses the issue of growing up and of having expectations placed upon you that you might find it difficult to live up to/ don't want to live up to. I honestly think Brian Jacques' books deserve to be classics far more than Kidnapped which I never managed to read and did not get past the first page when I tried at an age when I (supposedly) should have enjoyed it. Anyway, that's enough of a rant about Jane Eyre. I wouldn't recommend it, but a lot of people would, maybe you should try a few pages (the middle bits are the best bits...).

Churchill's Wizards

This was such a fun book to read. It was completely awesome! The stories of deception and cunning that were employed in both World Wars, from the early efforts of the camofleurs, to the later, sophisticated deception operations including creating an entirely false alternative D-day landing, sticking documents in a dead body and floating it into occupied France, and racing about the desert with various false armies and camoflauged real ones. It covers deception from the earliest efforts at avoiding aerial reconnaissance, through sniper covers, false trees (one of which was unfortunately struck by a shell after a great deal of effort getting it into place and destroyed), dazzle paint, paranoid inventors who believed that the Germans had disguised entire roadways under massive false terrain, and all the way through to D-day. Incredibly well written, it turned what could have been a dry and dull book into not just an informative but also a fascinating read. I'd highly recommend this book, as it adds a fascinating insight into how the art of camoflauge came to be what it is today, and how deception was used throughout the Second World War to get the Germans to look in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like I said, it's a fun book to read and I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

History of Military Aviation

I read up to the end of the Second World War bit in this book, and to be quite honest I was disappointed. I think the trouble is, it was trying to cover to big a period. There were some skimpy mentions of the early early part, like the early use of balloons as observation platforms (eg Boer War), and about the really early stuff in Britain. I think there was too much focus on the English side too, and yet they missed out some of the mega journeys (like the one over the Atlantic! Which was even done by naval aviators!), which obviously had an impact on the rest of it. I suppose the part on the First World War was okay as a summary, but that's really all it was. I got a bit bored to be honest and gave it back to the library. I wouldn't really recommend it except as a starting point--if you know much about it already, it doesn't say much new. In fact, there were only the odd one or two details which I didn't know about. The pictures were quite impressive and large scale, but the real problem is that it was trying to cover over a hundred years of aviation history in one volume. I have a bigger one now that covers the history of aviation up to about 1936 when it was published, which is made up of a series of articles. The first one was about the flight across the Channel in 1909, and there was a very relevant point made--the idea that you could be completely out of sight of land and could only see the sea below doesn't seem all that major to us now, but to Bleriot it would have been pretty stunning. If his engine went wrong then (which was quite likely--there was another man who was on the verge of doing it before him but had to ditch, then tried again on the same day and again had to ditch, though both times he was rescued), he would've been stuck. It had never been done before, and the engines were unreliable enough over land, where at least you had a half decent chance of finding an empty field and landing there. Anyway, the History of Military Aviation basically has good pictures and not amazing commentary alongside it. If you ever happen to see Aerial Wonders of Our Time though (and you have an interest in the subject...), I would highly recommend you grab it.

The Guilded Seal

Wow! I started reading James Twining because the book just happened to be in a buy one get one free and it looked like a cool cover (I know, I know, don't judge a book by the cover, but I read the blurb too, which also made it sound cool). So I got it, and boy am I glad I did. I've now read all three in the series, and I wish there were more.

Basically, they're about an art thief, the best in the business, who decides that it's time to leave the game. So he ends up setting up a business with his ex-fence in order to help people recover stolen works of art and to suggest security improvements using his own experience. That doesn't really do it justice, but I don't want to just post them one after the other and do them individually. They're really really good basically, and I'd highly recommend them if you'd like to read a crime novel from the 'other' side. So yeh, well worth investing a bit of time into these books. They're quite fun to read, and the main character (Tom Kirk), is absolutely ace. If they did this as a film (and did it well, some books have been done shockingly badly like Eragon), he's the sort of character everyone would be drooling over, because he's got such depth and yet he comes across as so quick and fun, the sort of person you'd want to spend time with. So that was a whiz speed review of James Twining. Watch this now, I'll click on post and then realise I've actually written about him already. Never mind.

10K Shout Out!!!

Yay!!!! I hit ten thousand words a little bit earlier. I'm now on eleven thousand, but ten thousand's a mile stone. And I hit it three days early (not literally I hope, that could be quite painful to hit a mile stone, they're pretty solid...). So yes, that's ten thousand words into a brand new novel. All in three days. I've also finished off my English Lit coursework and an essay for my distance learning course. Which I guess is a bonus (although for both of those my problem was more cutting down the word count, because I had too much to say and not enough words to say it in). Anyway, I hit ten thousand words. And so far the only unexpected thing has been a contingent of robots, but as I'm writing sci-fi, I guess that doesn't really matter too much. Robots are just fine in sci-fi.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Not Nanowrimo. Just the story I was writing before Nanowrimo. Well, novel. The Ark is now complete, don't ask me how long because it isn't typed up. Any rate, I managed to finish it 22 minutes before Nanowrimo began. And today, I have managed so far 4492 words, which is about two and a half days worth of novel. So far, it's going pretty well. My inter-character conflict is developing quite nicely (and naturally) by itself, with Vari and Patrick hating Sprite's guts, and Emma sitting on the fence a bit. I think she might have to get together with Sprite, but Patrick is definitely chasing her. Definitely. And they're all on the Moon, without any mishap (although Vari was rather intimidated by the pilot telling her he'd 'only' hit the sea seven times in the past twelve months, and as it wasn't that long since the most recent hitting the sea it wasn't their turn for it). And I wrote in Lukas like he asked me too :D. Anyway, that's where it stands at the moment. They're just about to head off for the First Colony, so we shall see what happens.