Friday Night Drinks with… Todd Wassel

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Friday has come round again, so it is time for another celebratory drink and chat with an interesting author. Tonight I am delighted to be sharing Friday Night Drinks with… Todd Wassel.

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Todd, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Coffee. It might be evening for you but it is Saturday morning for me!

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

To a cool little container bar on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane, Laos. It is called LaoDi and it is run by a Japanese and Lao that have their own Rhum factory that they use to mix with Japanese liqueurs. 

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

The Buddha and Janis Joplin. 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Beside my 9-5 job trying to save the world and help people, I’m in the middle of writing a 3 book memoir series. I’m on book two now and I want it to lead to more happiness, doing what I love, and telling others about it. 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

The first time someone commented on a blog piece I wrote, and I realized that I had something to say. My biggest challenge was believing that I had something to say and finishing my first book. 9 years of thinking about before I was finally able to get it out into the world. 

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I’d love to earn a decent income from having adventures, writing about them, and having enough people read them that it just keeps going. 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

In a few years I plan to buy an old Japanese farmhouse and spend a few years moving it, and renovating it. 

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

After 45 countries and 21 years living abroad that is a really difficult question! I’d say hiking into Machu Picchu was on my bucket list and deserves to be near the top. Bhutan is at the top of my current list. That and hiking the 100 highest peaks in Japan. 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I was born in San Diego California, while my Dad was going to Top Gun as a navy pilot. Yes, the place is real. From there we moved every three years of my life as I followed along. My day job was for a long time working in conflict and war zones with Non-profits. Despite all of that, I considered myself to be timid and not adventurous 😊

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I’m actually a Fantasy nerd at heart. I’d say the Brandon Sanderson Stormlight series. A great new take on the genre. 

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Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilisation alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soil-less ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armour that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

The result of more than ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is but the opening movement of The Stormlight Archive, a bold masterpiece in the making.

Speak again the ancient oaths:

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.

The Knights Radiant must stand again.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Sleep as long as possible, and have a beer to even things out around 11 am. 

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Spending the day rock climbing or hiking and then the evening on a porch with a BBQ, a beer and a view

Thank you for joining me this evening (or morning in your case), Todd, it has been a fascinating chat.

Todd Wassel is the author of Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japan and you can buy a copy here. The book is available for free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

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Far from the lights of Tokyo. A 1,200 year old pilgrimage. A life changed forever.

Guided by a wandering ascetic hiding from the Freemasons; naked Yakuza; a scam artist pilgrim; and a vengeful monk, Walking in Circles is a fun, inspirational travel memoir set in a Japan few outsiders ever get to see.

Award-winning writer Todd Wassel draws on over twenty years in Japan to retell his epic journey through the contradictions of a contemporary yet traditional Japan while trying to overcome the barriers to happiness modern life throws up.

Over half a decade after first landing in Japan Todd is lost, unable to go home, or move forward. Convinced there is more to life, he risks everything to return to the one place he found answers years before: the ancient Shikoku Henro pilgrimage. Walking the 750-mile henro path, sleeping outside each night, Todd is armed with only a Japanese map and the people he meets along the way.

Todd Wassel is an international development professional, author and traveler. He has worked across Asia and Europe for the past 20 years as an English teacher in Japan, a human rights advocate in Sri Lanka, a conflict management specialist in Timor-Leste and Kosovo, and has worked in and traveled to over 40 countries. He has worked for the United Nations, small local NGOs, for the US government, and is currently the Country Representative for the Asia Foundation in Laos. Todd won the People’s Choice Award in the Southeast Asia Travel Writing Competition and has been featured in Lonely Planet, the Diplomat and ABC Australia.

Todd has hiked into Machu Pichu, watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Fuji, dived the reefs of the Maldives, honeymooned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, danced for three days at weddings in India, hiked from Montenegro to Albania, through Kosovo and into Macedonia, and walked the 900-mile pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku Japan, twice (the topic of his new book). He likes adventures and strong coffee.

Fluent in Japanese, Todd has a B.A from Colgate University in Asian Studies and Comparative Religion as well as a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher school at Tufts University. Todd met his wife Kaoru during a security crisis on the tiny half island of Timor-Leste and they have been traveling the world together ever since.

They currently live with their two children, Kaito and Sana, in Laos along the banks of the Mekong.

Connect with Todd via his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Desert Island Books with… Fran McNicol

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Today I am transporting another fortunate/unfortunate soul to my desert island with nothing to keep them company except five books of their choice and one luxury item. This week I have stranded author… Fran McNicol.

Book One – Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

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Jakob Beer is seven years old when he is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried village in Nazi-occupied Poland. Of his family, he is the only one who has survived. Under the guidance of the Greek geologist Athos, Jakob must steel himself to excavate the horrors of his own history.

A novel of astounding beauty and wisdom, Fugitive Pieces is a profound meditation on the resilience of the human spirit and love’s ability to resurrect even the most damaged of hearts.

The first time I read Anne Michaels I was transfixed. She is a poet before a novelist and her use of language is precision and perfection itself. No word out of place, beautiful rhythm and intonation and a vocabulary that is rich and varied without ever being intimidating. It’s a Holocaust story, a story of loss and survival, that also takes a tour through archeology and ancient history. The beauty of the language and the depth of the sources somehow soothes the horror of the story, and the despair that the lost can never leave us, and yet never come with us.  Ever since I first read this book, it is THE book I recommend – every lover of words should read it.

Book Two –The Stonor Eagles  by William Horwood

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Cuillin – last of the great sea eagles of Skye. For her there will be many bitter years of exile, sustained only by a belief that one day her offspring will return to her abandoned homeland.

James MacAskill Stonor – a lonely, bewildered child growing up in a storm-racked English coastal town… but destined to be one of the greatest and best-loved artists of this century. ‘The Stonor Eagles’ – his beautiful and haunting sculptures, whose creation and final unveiling are recounted in this deeply moving saga of life, suffering, and the courage to love… of dreams that die, and dreams that can come true.

A tale of exile and redemption. Two stories intertwined, the story of the last sea eagle high in the jagged Cuillin Hills and the tortured artist toiling to bring a sculpture to life. It’s a book I never truly manage to pigeon hole or completely understand, but each reading brings another layer or a different emphasis. It’s written on an epic scale, and brings out the wildness of the Black Cuillins as well as the despair that seems to lie at the heart of much creativity. Mostly the description of the eagle battling the wind and learning to fly the true horizon, as befits her kind, is a brilliant, wild and savage metaphor for the quest to find our own true nature.

Book Three – A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

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Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

In fact the copy I have is the Earthsea Trilogy- to pick one story without knowing the ending now seems strange.

I love fantasy, and tales of the perennial battle between light and dark. This is the original brilliant story of a boy with wizardly powers who foolishly opens a rent into the dark underworld. The magic in Earthsea is dependant on knowing the true names of things- when you know the name of a creature, it must do your bidding. The art of magic therefore is the art of finding out the true name, of dragons and wraiths. It’s a beautifully written, dark and complex book that I first read as a teenager and yet still stands the test of time.

Book Four – This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann

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At the turn of the twentieth century, Nathan Walker comes to New York City to take the most dangerous job in the country: digging the tunnel far beneath the Hudson that will carry trains from Brooklyn to Manhattan. In the bowels of the riverbed, the workers – black, white, Irish and Italian – dig together, the darkness erasing all differences. But above ground, the men keep their distance until a dramatic accident on a bitter winter’s day welds a bond between Walker and his fellow workers that will both bless and curse three generations. Almost ninety years later, Treefrog stumbles on the same tunnels and sets about creating a home amongst the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and petty criminals that comprise the forgotten homeless community.

Calum McCann is another favourite author for his use of language. I find McCann’s style can be deceptively clean and simple, but with surprising layers, and in this, my favourite of his books, it’s as if the spaces in between the words let the light in. It’s the story of the tunnels of New York, the men that built them, and the others that have now re-purposed them. When I read this book, I can feel the light shining, and I always find hope and clarity.

Book Five – Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara

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Flicka’s colt Thunderhead is an ugly white throwback, but Ken believes he can turn the colt, wild as it is, into a champion racehorse. 

This book tells the story of every pony mad child’s dream. An ugly unwanted foal that turned into a quirky horse, dangerous, difficult and magnificent. It’s a story of belief and perseverance, of following your instincts, and listening to your inner voice. In the end it is a story and of working with the nature of the animal not against.  And there is no false reassurance or cliched promise of ease. There is no capitulation. It’s one of the seminal books that has shaped how I think about horses and our relationships with them. It’s another sweeping epic, set in the mountains of Wyoming, where love and loss and challenge and heartbreak are the backdrop to joy.

My luxury item

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A Book of Stars, to learn the secrets of the universe while i had nothing else to do.

About the Author

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Fran McNicol is an amateur equestrienne living in the UK. She is a full-time doctor, specialising in surgery. Her MD thesis was an examination of the inflammatory cascade in sepsis. As a surgeon, MBChB, MD, FRCS, she obviously knows a huge amount about the human animal. But the most useful product of medical training, from her horses’ point of view, is that she learned how to research, evaluate evidence and then apply theory to optimise the care of her horses. Her writing is, therefore, a mix of opinion and her current state of learning from 25 years of doctoring, time spent working around the world as a polo groom and many years of keeping her own horses. Fran loves training young horses and focuses on riding the sport horse both classically and holistically. She competes regularly for her local riding club, especially in One Day Eventing. Nelipot Cottage started life as an educational blog, to share learning and best practise, to promote the benefits of a barefoot and holistic herd lifestyle for whole horse health, and to reflect on life lessons learned along the way. Fran believes that horses exist to bring out the very best in humans. It is her hope that sharing these tales will bring new friends, kindred spirits, exchange of knowledge and lots of positive energy into the lives of the Nelipot herd.

Fran’s book is called Bare Hooves and Open Hearts: Tales from Nelipot Cottage and you can buy a copy of the book here.

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I am a consultant surgeon and a keen amateur equestrian. Paddy, my first event horse, was as cheap as chips and came with a fearsome reputation. Part of that reputation was that he hated the farrier. His feet were weak and crumbly, wouldn’t hold shoes, and he absolutely hated the whole process of being shod. When he kicked our “horse whispering” farmer across the yard, and we had to sedate him to get the shoes on, I wondered if there could be another way.

I did some reading and took the plunge, taking his steel horseshoes off for good, and he went from strength to strength, growing incredible rock crunching feet. We went on to qualify for several riding club championships, and he was still sound and eventing aged 20.

My second horse, Cal, had terrible feet when I bought him, and he broke his carpal bone tripping over his long toes out in the field. Once he was rehabbed back into full work, I was determined to avoid the concussive effects of metal horseshoes. I knew from my experiences with Paddy that barefoot eventing could work.But Cal is a sturdy Irish Sport horse with flat dinner plate feet, and getting him sound and comfortable on all surfaces was a challenge. All the learning, the emotional, psychological and intellectual investment, the changes in lifestyle and horse husbandry that I had to make to get Cal’s feet functional, became the subject of this book. I wanted to share the learning, to spare others the pain and the expense.

When I took Paddy’s shoes off, I chose to challenge accepted dogma and tradition. I chose to put my horse’s needs before my own aspirations. I listened to my horse and Irelinquished my agenda for the health of my horse. On that day, my relationship with all my future horses changed completely. There is no recognition in law, or indeed in Equine Science, that these magnificent animals might actually be sentient beings, capable of communicating with us if we could only listen. Once you start listening, once you offer the animal a voice, an opinion and a say in the relationship, the bond you forge is like no other.

Bare Hooves and Open Hearts tells the story of my chequered journey from traditional eventer towards a more thoughtful and holistic type of equestrianism. The book includes stories and guidance based on experience around barefoot performance, healthy diet, sustainable horse keeping, mindset and horse-human connection.

Connect with Fran:

Website: http://www.nelipotcottage.com/

Facebook: Fran McNicol / Nelipot Cottage

Twitter: @FranMcnicolUW

Instagram: @nelipotcottage

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Guest Post: Viking Voyager by Sverrir Sigurdsson with Veronica Li

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This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland.

Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success.

Spurred by this favourable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by Sverrir Sigurdsson on the process of co-writing his book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir with his wife, Veronica Li. Over to Sverrir to share his piece.

Husband-Wife Collaboration by Sverrir Sigurdsson

When I told stories of my travel adventures to friends, their reaction was often, “Why don’t you write your memoir?”  I never thought I was important enough to do that.  At the same time, I did have many fond and exciting memories of growing up in Iceland and later traveling the world for both work and pleasure.  So, I started jotting down memorable recollections and saving them in a folder called Episodes on my hard drive. 

In my retirement, after I’d done everything I ever wanted to do, including designing and building a house with my own hands, I got more serious about writing down my memories.  I now live in the U.S. and am watching my all-American grandson grow up with little knowledge of his heritage.  The desire to leave him a cultural legacy became more urgent.

I showed a few of my “episodes” to my wife for feedback.  Veronica is a former journalist and published author who had taken a “Glad he has something to occupy him in his retirement” attitude toward my project.  But one day, she looked up from reading one of my episodes and said, “Sverrir, you’ve really had an interesting life.”  From then on, my project became hers too.

The first step was to decide on a focus.  This was easy as we both knew what I was about.  The theme would be my life as a modern-day Viking, traveling the world like my forefathers.  The memoir would hark back to my childhood in Iceland, which shaped my outward-looking worldview.

We hit an impasse in chapter one.  Veronica wanted to start with the present and from thereon traverse a flexible timeline between past and present.  I wanted chronological order, beginning from my grandparents and working my way linearly to the present.  After several rounds of verbal fistfights, I threw in my knockout punch.  “This is my life.  I’ll write it the way I want.”  She lay down and surrendered, or more like played dead.

Thus I started my story with the tragedy that befell my maternal grandfather.  I believed this was the root of who I was and felt compelled to get it out on the first page.  I dumped it all out, everything I knew about the incident and the life of Icelandic fishermen.  Veronica and I worked and reworked the chapter several times, and the final product was, to our surprise, everything we both wanted.  In the middle of the distant past, she sneaked in time-traveling to the present and made me introduce myself as an old man writing to leave a legacy to future generations.  This became the blueprint for the rest of the book.  The chapters are chronological in order, but within the chapter, the story flashes backward and forward to other time zones, offering a rather kaleidoscopic dimension.

No two people can be more different than Veronica and I.  She’s a people person and calls me a “thing” person.  Being a passionate carpenter and a professional architect, I’m in tune with wood, brick, and mortar but a moron with regard to human emotions and signals. She, on the other hand, can sniff out emotions like a dog but is blind as a bat to the world of machines and hardware.  Her nagging question, “So how did you feel?” annoyed me to no end.  But as she pushed me to probe into myself, I unearthed emotions I didn’t know I had.  Such as the Christmas my father traveled to a London hospital to undergo life-saving treatment for his kidney disease.  As a ten-year-old, I said goodbye to Dad one bleak, cold morning.  The family doctor had warned my mother to be “prepared.”  I don’t remember feeling anything at that moment, but I do remember the sadness that spilled out when Mother brought out the previous year’s Christmas tree from the attic.  Because of Dad’s illness, my parents pinched every penny, including money for a tree.  The poor tree looked like a mangy animal, with its needles brown and half gone.  Writing about it seventy years later made me realize I had feelings after all!

Veronica’s ignorance in mechanical matters also forced me to a new level—hers.  I’d assumed everyone knew the mechanics of a car engine, a block and tackle pulley system, or a carbon arc lamp.  When I realized she had no clue, I had to draw it out in diagrams for her.  Once she understood, she popularized my techno-jargon into a flowing narrative for every audience.  She was happy for the new knowledge and I was happy to be saved from my geeky self.

Our disparate talents also came in handy in describing scenery.  Veronica drew from her poetic instincts, comparing rock pillars rising from the sea to “spikes on a dragon back,” and well-fed glaciers to “paunches of sleeping giants.”  My contribution was my knowledge of geology, something all Icelanders learn as children.  In a country where glaciers sit like lids on volcanos, the dramatic reaction of fire meeting ice causes fast-cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called tuff or palagonite.  This is the stuff that forms much of the spectacular landscapes Iceland is famous for.

I’d thought the gap between our personalities would cause contention, but it turned out to be our strength.  And when friends ask, we answer yes, we’re still happily married.

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Thank you for sharing that with us Sverrir, it sounds like each of you brought your strengths to the writing of the book and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is a prize winner of The Wishing Shelf Book Awards organized by a group of UK authors.
“Not only a well written memoir, but an interesting take on Icelandic history from post-World War Two until present day. A RED RIBBON WINNER and highly recommended.” The Wishing Shelf Book Awards

About the Authors

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Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

Veronica Li emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a teenager. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and her masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University. She has worked as a journalist and for the World Bank, and is currently a writer. Her three previously published titles are: Nightfall in Mogadishu, Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home, and Confucius Says: A Novel.

Connect with the authors:

Facebook: Sverrir Sigurdsson

Twitter: @Sverrir_Sigurds

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Book Review: The Man in Black – Peter Moore: Wales’ Worst Serial Killer by Dylan Rhys Jones #BookReview

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The true story of former criminal defence lawyer Dylan Rhys Jones’ experience of defending Rhyl serial killer Peter Moore, found guilty in 1996 of murdering four men and seriously assaulting many more, and referred to by the judge when sentencing as as dangerous a man as it is possible to find.

I am happy to be posting my review today of The Man in Black by Dylan Rhys Jones. My thanks to the author for inviting me to review his book and providing me with a digital copy for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I don’t read true crime books. It’s not something that interests me, reading about the depravity that some human beings are capable of and I’m not in the habit of celebrating or glamourising these criminals until they become some kind of twisted celebrity. However, when I was approached by Dylan to review his book, I agreed because this is a different type of true crime novel. It focuses on the experience of a solicitor who is called upon to represent a serial killer in his legal case. As a non-practising solicitor myself, I was really fascinated to read about this experience first hand in a non-fictional book. It is something that every law student imagines when they are studying criminal law at university, but very, very few ever experience.

I first decided I wanted to be a lawyer aged 13, because of the TV show, Crown Court. I don’t know how many of you will remember this programme (if you’ve never seen it, Google it), but I was obsessed with it. At the time, I was convinced it was real, I didn’t realise it was fictional, and I was determined I was going to become a criminal barrister. At university, I found the criminal law module of my degree fascinating but, as I studied and then began my training contract in a firm, it became clear that I was no advocate and that my talents lay in the non-contentious area of corporate law and mergers and acquisitions. The practice of criminal law is not much like the portrayals you see on TV. It is much darker, dirtier and depressing than you see, but so, so necessary for the justice system to operate fairly and I have nothing but admiration for the people who make this their vocation – because this is what it is. They are not in it for the fame or fortune, but because they are called to help people.

All of this becomes very clear when you read this book by Dylan Rhys Jones, as he describes to you his experience of being the solicitor charged with acting on behalf of serial killer, Peter Moore in the mid-1990s. The book focuses on his emotional reaction to dealing with this depraved man, the long term effects it had on him personally and his impressions of Peter Moore as an individual. It is absolutely riveting. Very, very few of us will ever have such close, personal contact with someone accused of such evil acts, and to read about how Dylan interacted with this man, accused of some totally heinous acts, what effect having to become so intimately acquainted with the horrendous crimes he committed, the long-lasting psychological effects it had on him – well, it will open the eyes of anyone who has ever wondered how criminal lawyers can represent such criminals and how it feels to be ‘taking their side.’

Despite the fact this is focused mostly on the legal side of the case and the solicitor, and does not portray things from the killer’s side or try to get in to his mind, there are still some graphic descriptions of the crimes and parts of it are deeply disturbing. For me, the toll that representing someone like Peter Moore takes on his legal team is possibly the most disturbing part and just confirmed to me what heroes these people are. Criminals need robust legal representation, regardless of what they are accused of, for our adversarial legal system to operate fairly, but criminal defence lawyers are regularly scorned and maligned. Anyone reading this book should come away with a much clearer and fairer understanding of why their job is vital and what they sacrifice in order to do it. If you don’t come away with massive sympathy for the author at the end of this book, I would be amazed.

This book is really honest, well-written and compelling. I was gripped from beginning to end by Dylan’s vivid descriptions of what he went through in representing this man, and I came away with so much admiration for him. I have never been more sure that I made the right decision not to become a criminal law solicitor, I would never have been robust enough to survive it, and also reminded me why I don’t read true crime books. This is a must read for anyone who wants to see the story of a serial killer from a unique and completely different angle.

The Man in Black is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Former criminal defence lawyer Dylan Rhys Jones has also lectured on Ethics and the Law at medical conferences, and is a regular lecturer on Law and Criminology. He is not only a marker and moderator for the WJEC Criminology examination, but was also co-writer of the examination as well as contributing to the inception, writing and thereafter presenting of the Criminal Justice and Offender Management foundation degree course at Coleg Cambria and Chester University.

He is a regular contributor on radio news programmes and programmes about politics and the law and has also worked on numerous TV programmes. He is currently working on a TV documentary about the Peter Moore case.

Connect with Dylan:

Twitter: @drjdylan

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Blog Tour: 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal And Planner Volume II by Marielle S. Smith #GuestPost

52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner Vol. II

I am happy to be taking part in the blog blitz today for 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner by Marielle S. Smith. Thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the author for providing me with the guest post.

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‘With this book by your side, anything feels possible.’ Jacqueline Brown

Tired of not having a sustainable writing practice? You, too, can get out of your own way and become the writer you’re meant to be!

52 Weeks of Writing:

  • makes you plan, track, reflect on, and improve your progress and goals for an entire year;
  • helps you unravel the truth about why you aren’t where you want to be; and
  • keeps you writing through weekly thought-provoking quotes and prompts.

With this second volume of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner, writing coach and writer Mariëlle S. Smith brings you the same successful strategies to craft the perfect writing practice as she did in the first journal. The only difference? Fifty-three different writing quotes and prompts and a brand-new look!

Interview with Marielle S. Smith

Who are you and where are you from?

I’m Mariëlle S. Smith, a writer, writing coach, and editor. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, but I moved to Cyprus almost two years ago. I needed a change of place and pace and Cyprus had inspired me in the past, so… I packed my bags and got on a plane.

Why do you write? What are you hoping to achieve?

The ultimate end goal for me is to leave a legacy that I’m proud of. For me, this means I try not to work on anything that doesn’t feel a hundred percent right to me. I don’t want to look back one day and have to admit to myself, ‘Yes, that book… I wrote that for the wrong reasons.’

Have you always been writing or is it a more recent thing?

No, I’ve been writing for as long as I remember. I don’t know when I started doing it; it was always there. The more recent thing is that I now admit to doing it, while it used to be more of a secret. I didn’t admit that I was serious about my writing until I was twenty-eight, and I only admitted it to one person at the time. Now, I introduce myself as a writer, so I’ve come a long way.

What do you write and why are you writing in these genres specifically?

I’m writing a lot of non-fiction at the moment, but I have co-written a lesbian romance series under a pen name, and I’m working on a young adult fantasy series.

Why do I write these things…? The romance series because we were both fed up with what that genre had to offer and wanted to add another kind of story to the pile. It was about writing more realistic love stories. It was a fun project and I would love to return to that world someday.

The YA fantasy series feels like it’s THE story that I need to tell. I’ve been working on it forever, slowly figuring out what it is I’m trying to say. I’m currently working on the sixth draft of the first book and I’m falling in love with it all over again.

As for the non-fiction, that’s about helping other people create. It’s all inspired by my coaching and editing work and the journaling I do about my own creative practice.

Is that what inspired the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner, Vol. II?

Absolutely. 52 Weeks of Writing is directly based on the material I use in my coaching practice, the worksheets I have clients filled out. Of course, when working one on one with someone, I’ll personalise the worksheets to fit my client’s specific needs or struggles. 52 Weeks of Writing offers my coaching material in a more universal way so that any writer can work with it.

Will there be a Volume III?

Yes! It won’t be out until 1 December 2021, but the cover is already done. I’m currently testing new writing prompts and exercises for it on the members of my Facebook group, the Accountable Wordsmiths. I never intended to create a second volume, let alone a third, but once someone asked about it, the thought wouldn’t leave me alone. I tend to take that as a sign, so I can’t wait to put it all together later this year.

Thanks for sharing that with us Marielle.

You can buy a copy of 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner Volume II here.

A printable PDF is available through: https://payhip.com/b/0YgJ Get 50% off until 31 March 2021 by using the coupon code 52WOW during checkout.

About the Author

52 Weeks Author

Mariëlle S. Smith is a coach for writers and other creatives, an editor, and a writer. Early 2019, she moved to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, where she organises private writer’s retreats, is inspired 24/7, and feeds more stray cats than she can count.

Connect with Marielle:

Website: https://mswordsmith.nl/en_GB/

Facebook: M. S. Wordsmith

Twitter: @MSWordsmithNL

Instagram: @mariellessmith

YouTube: M. S Wordsmith

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly #BookReview

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In December 2018, after fifty years of belly-laughs, energy and outrage, Billy Connolly announced his retirement from live stand-up comedy. It had been an extraordinary career.

When he first started out in the late sixties, Billy played the banjo in the folk clubs of Scotland. Between songs, he would improvise a bit, telling anecdotes from the Clyde shipyard where he’d worked. In the process, he made all kinds of discoveries about what audiences found funny, from his own brilliant mimes to the power of speaking irreverently about politics or explicitly about sex. He began to understand the craft of great storytelling. Soon the songs became shorter and the monologues longer, and Billy quickly became recognised as one of the most exciting comedians of his generation.

Billy’s routines always felt spontaneous. He never wrote scripts, always creating his comedy freshly on stage in the presence of a live audience. A brilliant comic story might be subsequently discarded, adapted or embellished. A quick observation or short anecdote one night, could become a twenty-minute segment by the next night of a tour.

Billy always brought a beautiful sense of the absurd to his shows as he riffed on his family, hecklers, swimming in the North Sea or naked bungee jumping. But his comedy can be laced with anger too. He hates pretentiousness and calls out hypocrisy wherever he sees it. His insights about the human condition have shocked many people, while his unique talent and startling appearance on stage gave him license to say anything he damn well pleased about sex, politics or religion.

Billy got away with it because he has always had the popular touch. His comedy spans generations and different social tribes in a way that few others have ever managed.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories brings together the very best of Billy’s storytelling for the first time and includes his most famous routines including, The Last Supper, Jojoba Shampoo, Incontinence Pants and Shouting at Wildebeest. With an introduction and original illustrations by Billy throughout

The fourth category in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021 is ‘Read a book by an author you would like to meet.’ I could not choose between two authors for this challenge, so I decided to do one in paperback and one in audiobook format. The first book I have chosen is Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly. As an interesting aside, this was the last book I bought in an airport, on a trip to New York in February 2020. Remember the days of buying books in airports? I  wonder when they will come around again!

I’ve been a massive Billy Connolly fan for many years. I’ve got lots of DVDs featuring his standup and travelogues, and I was lucky enough to see him live twice. He never fails to make me laugh, even just on a chat show. So it was with great sadness I heard about his retirement, although entirely understandable in his circumstances.

I was looking forward to reading this book in which he has gathered many of his most famous stories for posterity. Billy never really told ‘jokes,’ they were always funny anecdotes and tales, often poking fun at himself or other absurdities he saw in every day life. He often talked about sex and bodily functions, and was very sweary and he makes no apology for that, so the book would not be for anyone who did not like this in his live shows because Billy is exactly the same in the book as when performing. If you did love his humour though, you will find many of your favourite stories within these pages.

The book is split in to chapters on different, loosely connected topics, but otherwise it is fairly randomly organised with just little anecdotes and longer ones interspersed with comments, thoughts and musings on his life and career. Some people won’t like it because it isn’t a particular linear format, but then Billy’s comedy was never like that. He would start on a topic and then wander off at a tangent when other things occurred to him before looping back round to the original story (or sometimes not!), so the book is a good reflection of his style and really brought him to life for me.

I could hear his voice telling these familiar, and some unfamiliar, stories very clearly. Parts of it made me laugh out loud and I had to keep stopping to read bits aloud to The Irishman who kept asking me what I was laughing at. It was a book that really cheered me up during this lockdown. However, it is not the same as watching Billy perform, and you realise how much his expressions and gestures and movements added to the comedy of his story-telling. The ‘Wildebeest’ example illustrates this best. It is many people’s favourite story of Billy’s, but it just isn’t as funny when you can’t see him doing the vacant expression of the wildebeest and the actions of the lions as they plan their attack.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this but it can’t replace Billy’s performances, and I for one will miss him terribly. I wish I could have met him in real life just once before Parkinson’s started to take effect. I’m sure it would have been great craic.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories is out now in all formats except audio and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sir William Connolly, CBE is a much-loved Scottish comedian, musician, presenter and actor. He is the recipient of a BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award and is regularly voted the nation’s favourite stand-up comedian. Billy was born and raised in Glasgow and now lives in America. He announced his retirement from live performance in December 2018.

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Guest Post: The Sifnos Chronicles by Sharon Blomfield

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Photo credit: Brian Richardson

Quirky and beguiling, often unwittingly funny, and always so utterly kind, the people of the Greek island of Sifnos charm and fascinate. They roar past on motorbikes with whole families squeezed on top, plus whatever earthly goods they can manage to hold on to. They live their lives in the open, their shouts, their squabbles, and their laughter in plain view of anyone who takes the time to notice. Open-hearted and spontaneous, they ply strangers with countless gifts… … and, impromptu, they invite a passing traveller to their wedding.

Filled with encounters and observation, gentle humour, and more than one unforeseeable twist, The Sifnos Chronicles is a narrative tale that takes readers along on this traveller’s journey through whitewashed alleys, into homey tavernas, across ancient marbled paths through the hills, and ultimately into the heart of this magical isle.

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog Sharon Blomfield, who is going to tell us about the inspiration behind her travel memoir, The Sifnos Chronicles. Over to you, Sharon.

When The Muse Speaks by Sharon Blomfield

I still recall the exact moment, know precisely where I was sitting in that Greek island taverna. The taste of fresh herbs in the revithokeftedes, those chick pea fritters I’d polished off, still lingers on my tongue. My nose quivers still at thoughts of the hot olive oil that hung in the air. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat had just stuck his head through the front door and had started into another of those faux-Shakespearean soliloquies of his. It was at that very instant that the island itself grabbed me by the hand and gave a firm yank. There’s a book here, it said, and you are the one who must write it.

A book? A whole book? Not me. It was short articles I wrote, travel stories, not books. Plus, the ferry was about to arrive and in minutes would take me away. My time on Sifnos was finished.

The island, though, had other ideas about that.

When I’d arrived on Sifnos three weeks before, I’d found pretty much what I’d expected of a Cycladic Greek isle. Blue skies, marshmallow-white buildings, crimson bougainvillea spilling over it all. But almost right away I sensed something else, something quite curious, a sensation I’ve never felt anywhere else on my travels. It was as though I’d landed somehow in the middle of a story, one with a whole cast of characters carrying on around me, wandering through my days. Every morning the same ones would flock to the square to inspect the fishmongers’ wares, never to buy, merely to see who caught what last night. There was the family who thought nothing of squabbling in view of everyone in their taverna, the bossy mother-in-law  in the corner peeling potatoes, the kids who’d ignore their mother’s loud orders and run in from the street and back out at will, the husband who’d bury his head in the TV and ignore it all, who we watched once turn up the volume when there were too many customers and he couldn’t hear. The Happy Greek my own husband dubbed him. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat who pretended to be Italian and thus more sophisticated, but wasn’t either, who you’d see every day squish himself into the cab of his tiny three-wheeled truck and tootle off across the island in search of someone – anyone – who’d pay attention to his latest outlandish antics. For those weeks I threw myself into their midst, waited to see what would happen and wisely as it turned out, recorded everything I could recall in my journal at night, laughing at so much of what I’d observed once more.

I revelled too in the kindnesses I’d received. The kindnesses, oh my. The generosity. The hearts so wide open, so willing to embrace even a random traveller like me. There were sweet treats galore at the end of most meals. The man who, after we’d paid, would invent a different excuse every time to pour us an ouzo. “To fight off the cold,” it was one balmy night, then he’d sit with us and chat for another hour or so. There was Coffee Shop Lady whose warm hand on my shoulder one morning spoke the words our lack of a common language couldn’t. And the dear woman we called Grandma who cut a bouquet of roses from her garden for me once, but snipped off every single last thorn before she’d hand them over.

The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, the book that muse of an island coaxed out of me, begins on that ferry two years later, this time in the moments before it lands on Sifnos again. Finished with this island, I was not. Hardly. Those characters and their faces were as real to me as though I’d seen them all yesterday.

I was under no illusions, though. We two Canadians were but tourists here, mere blips in the passing crowd that had surely numbered in the thousands in the two years since we’d been gone. Memories of us, if wisps of them remained at all, would have dimmed to almost nothing.

But once again, this island had its own opinion about that. As we walked down the alley on our way to dinner that first night, Grandma was exactly where I expected to see her and she rushed toward us with a smile and warm hugs once more. The Happy Greek was right where we’d left him and he spotted us right away as we crossed the square on our way toward his place. “You!” he exclaimed as we neared and his index finger practically jabbed my husband in the chest. “Two years,” he marvelled at how long we told him it was we’d been away. Inside, our usual table, the one with the best view of the goings-on, was still vacant and we sat down right where we’d left off. Ouzo man was soon back at it once more. Fisherman Hat guy too.

Over the next four weeks, there were more people to see again, and new ones as well, and twists of fate we never saw coming. A photograph my husband did on the first trip popped up again and in one heart-stopping moment cemented his connection forever with a family of fishermen and their tiny seaside village. A chance encounter netted us an impromptu invitation to one of those quintessentially Greek island weddings. High on a hill at the end of the island, the church was white and blue-domed, of course, and surrounded by the Aegean on almost four sides. The ceremony, bathed in the warmth of the late afternoon sun and presided over by two black-hatted priests, smashed forever my illusions about Greek Orthodox religious practice and how sombre it is.

That muse was right. A whole book was what I was living on Sifnos, and when at the end of a month we returned home, I began in earnest to write The Sifnos Chronicles, my tales from this Greek isle.

When a place calls to your heart as strongly as this one has to mine and says you must return, you must. As often as it insists you must. Nine more times to Sifnos since the events in that book and counting, in our case. And always, the island has made known its demands of me. There’s a second book now too. Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, set six years later in that tiny fishing village, tells more of the fun, of the relationships with this island and its people and how they’ve grown. There is too my blog, The Sifnos Chronicler.

The message Sifnos had for me that day in that taverna was loud. I can’t wait to see this pandemic in the rear view mirror, to get back to my island again, to see what else it has in store.

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Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Sharon, it’s made me want to travel to Sifnos immediately. Let’s hope we are all able to visit our favourite destinations again soon.

If you would like to get your own copy of The Sifnos Chronicles  and do some armchair travelling whilst stuck at home, you can buy a copy hereThe Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales is also available here. But if you’re on Sifnos, drop into To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop, in Apollonia. (https://www.facebook.com/Το-Βιβλιοπωλείο-The-Bookshop-Sifnos-270568056317513) Independent book stores everywhere need our support now more than ever.

About the Author

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I am a writer and traveller who on my wanderings has found myself somehow invited to tour an odd hobbit-like house in the South Seas, to drink wine in the kitchen of a sunburned chalet in a high Alpine pasture, and to be a guest at a Greek island wedding. My stories and photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, among them The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Boston Globe and France’s Courrier International. I live in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada with my photographer husband and fellow traveller, Jim Blomfield. 

The year 2006 brought us to Greece for the first time, to the island of Sifnos. It was meant to be a one-time visit but what I hadn’t counted on was how the kindness of its people and the unexpected adventures we encountered there would melt my heart and how we’d be drawn back almost every year after that, always for a month at a time. How Sifnos would turn me into a book author and a blogger. 

Connect with Sharon:

Website: http://www.sharonblomfield.com/home.html

Facebook: Sharon Blomfield

Twitter: @SharonBlomfield

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Book Review: More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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A decade ago, Caitlin Moran thought she had it all figured out. Her instant bestseller How to Be a Woman was a game-changing take on feminism, the patriarchy, and the general ‘hoo-ha’ of becoming a woman. Back then, she firmly believed ‘the difficult bit’ was over, and her forties were going to be a doddle.

If only she had known: when middle age arrives, a whole new bunch of tough questions need answering. Why isn’t there such a thing as a ‘Mum Bod’? How did sex get boring? What are men really thinking? Where did all that stuff in the kitchen drawers come from? Can feminists have Botox? Why has wine turned against you? How can you tell the difference between a Teenage Micro-Breakdown, and The Real Thing? Has feminism gone too far? And, as always, WHO’S LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN?

Now with ageing parents, teenage daughters, a bigger bum and a To-Do list without end, Caitlin Moran is back with More Than A Woman: a guide to growing older, a manifesto for change, and a celebration of all those middle-aged women who keep the world turning.

It’s taken me ages to get round to writing this review, I finished the book weeks ago. I’m not sure why, I think I’ve been worried that I can’t do justice to how I feel about More Than A Woman within the confines of a blog post. I’d actually like to read it again and try and distill my thoughts a bit more but there isn’t time so I’m going in, for better or worse. Sometimes it’s harder to write a review of a book you loved passionately than it is a book you felt lukewarm about.

Caitlin’s previous book, How To Be A Woman, made me snort a copious quantity of hot tea down my nose on a crowded train back in 2011, which was both painful and embarrassing, so I approached this book with some caution. More Than A Woman has the same mixture of humour, brutal honesty, searing insight and pathos as the last one, but this time Caitlin has grown up, hit middle age and is sharing that experience with us, no holds barred and, just like last time, I recognised so much of my own life and experience between the pages.

Caitlin and I are of an age so, although much of our life experiences have been very different, the basic building blocks of being a forty-something woman in modern Britain are universal. Relationships, children, body issues, emotions – they work pretty much the same for all of us, and acknowledging this is a fundamental way of allowing us to empathise with and support our fellow women, and this is one of the great joys of this book. It’s like having a slightly drunken chat with your best mate, the one where you have imbibed just enough to bring down any nicety barriers, the woman is someone you have known so long that she is privy to all your embarrassing secrets and you can just lay it all out on the table for dissection. Catharsis for when you are struggling.

That’s what this book is. Catharsis. A sharing of pain and problems so that you don’t feel so alone, or abnormal, in the things that bother you from day to day. Caitlin is painfully blunt, she doesn’t hold back on telling it like it is, warts and all, and it is a beautiful thing to read. Every worry you ever had about your life is set out here and she shouts, ‘Look, me too, this is normal, YOU are normal!’ It is so comforting. It allows you to laugh at yourself, and put some things into perspective. It’s not the end of the world, we’re all going through it, and survive. Like the last book, she has such a skill in expressing things in a way that just make them hilarious, I found myself laughing out loud in many places. Luckily, I’ve learnt not to read her books in public any more. See, I’m growing and learning too, there are some benefits to ageing.

That’s not to say this book is all fun and jolly japes. She addresses some very serious issues too, the care of ageing parents, struggles with parenting. The chapters dealing with her daughter’s anorexia are heart-wrenching. There were points where I was in tears and my soul was cracking in sympathy with what she was going through, because I can all too clearly imagine how I would feel in that situation. That is the genius of this book, and Caitlin’s writing in particular. It is just so true, all of it, and she is not afraid to put it out there for us all to see. Her writing is really brave and insightful and comforting. I really, really loved this book and will be keeping it on the shelf next to How To Be A Woman, ready to dip into next time I need a friend. Especially important in this year when our real support network of friends have been out of reach in real life much of the time.

This is a book I would like to gift every woman of my age, because I want them all to read it and realise that we have much more in common that we have differences and it is really important for us to be there to support one another. You never know what the next woman is going through, and hiding under the cheerful and competent facade we often plaster on for the rest of the world. Maybe she needs a friend. A pat on the arm. A squeeze of understanding. That simple act can make the difference between surviving and going under. I know I couldn’t get through without the amazing female friends I have, this book is friendship between two shiny covers.

More Than A Woman is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. At one point, she was also Interviewer and Critic of the Year – which is good going for someone who still regularly mistypes ‘the’ as ‘hte’.

Her multi-award winning bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries, and won the British Book Awards’ Book of the Year 2011. Her two volumes of collected journalism, Moranthology and Moranifesto, were Sunday Times bestsellers.

Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, debuted at Number One, and is currently being adapted as a film. Bloody hell, that’s actually quite impressive.

Connect with Caitlin:

Website: https://www.caitlinmoran.co.uk/

Twitter: @caitlinmoran

Instagram: @mscaitlinmoran

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Book Review: Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister

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Could the courts really order the death of your innocent baby? Was there an illegal immigrant who couldn’t be deported because he had a pet cat? Are unelected judges truly enemies of the people?

Most of us think the law is only relevant to criminals, if we even think of it at all. But the law touches every area of our lives: from intimate family matters to the biggest issues in our society.

Our unfamiliarity is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to media spin, political lies and the kind of misinformation that frequently comes from loud-mouthed amateurs and those with vested interests. This ‘fake law’ allows the powerful and the ignorant to corrupt justice without our knowledge – worse, we risk letting them make us complicit.

Thankfully, the Secret Barrister is back to reveal the stupidity, malice and incompetence behind many of the biggest legal stories of recent years. In Fake Law, the Secret Barrister debunks the lies and builds a defence against the abuse of our law, our rights and our democracy that is as entertaining as it is vital.

I vividly remember an evening in 2016 when I went out to dinner with a group of around eight of my closest friends. Earlier that day, the retrial of a footballer previously convicted of rape had resulted in an acquittal, and conversation inevitably touched on this current hot topic. To my dismay, there were lot of harsh words directed at the victim in the case, with assertions that she was clearly a ‘liar,’ that the law needed to do something about the problem of ‘fake claims’ of rape and the subsequent destruction of the lives of ‘obviously innocent’ men. I refer to dismay, because this is what I felt upon realising that my group of well-educated, largely liberal, tolerant, engaged and generous friends were so ill-informed as to what the acquittal of this footballer really meant with regards to the honesty of the woman involved and the appropriateness his behaviour. None of them had actually read any detail as to the facts of the case or the grounds on which he had been acquitted, they had simply accepted at face value the many sensational and inaccurate news reports on the case. It was eye-opening. I tried my best to explain why these assumptions were untrue, but was not entirely successful as a lone voice crying against a storm of popular misinformation.

I mention this story, because it is one of the cases referred to by The Secret Barrister in their new book, Fake Law, in which they try to counteract some of the inaccurate stories we are constantly being fed by various sections of society, including the media, vested interest groups and, sadly, to an increasing degree, our own government, why this misinformation is so damaging to the very fabric of our society and why each of us on a personal level should care. Reading this book, for me, is like reliving most of the Twitter arguments I have had over the past five or so years, much more clearly articulated. In fact, I first stumbled across the Secret Barrister on Twitter in 2018 on a thread regarding the hot topic of that particular moment, the arrest of pensioner Richard Osborn-Brooks for the ‘crime of defending his own home,’ a story that is discussed in the opening chapter of this book, and I have been an ardent fan ever since.

The book sets out many of the most contentious legal firestorms of the past few decades, recaps on what the general public have been lead to believe about these issues by certain factions, explains very clearly why much of the information we have been fed is misleading at best and downright dishonest in some cases, and then asks why it may be the interests of certain parties for us not to be given the whole truth about these matters, and what negative consequences for each of us arise when we nod along with this misinformation. For anyone taking the time and trouble to read the book and really think about what the author is saying, it is a deeply disturbing read.

Coming as I do from a background in law myself, I am familiar with the majority of the legal issues and concepts that The Secret Barrister puts forward in the book, hence why many of the cases they highlight here are ones that have had me personally raging on Twitter. However, the writing is set out clearly with the lay reader, not the legally educated, in mind and all of the principles are set out in a basic fashion using simple language and illustrated with easy to digest examples and comparators. Anyone can pick up this book and understand the points being made. In addition, The Secret Barrister has a delicious turn of phrase, and an absolutely wicked tongue which is truly pleasurable to read. I know if we met we would get along famously. I raise as particularly delightful examples their glorious descriptions of potential pleasures lost due injurious cases of negligence on page 83, their sly references to ‘neo-Dickensian sportswear retailers’ and their accurately unflattering assessment of the mental capabilities of a former Justice Secretary at the bottom of page 93. This is no dry, dusty tome to be waded through as if studying a textbook, this is an entertaining, informative and, ultimately, important text that is accessible to everyone who has an interest in understanding more about their legal rights and why it is important that we do not allow them to be undermined by factions with any agenda other than the best interests of us as individuals, and society at large, at their heart.

Because this stuff matters to all of us, whether we realise it or not. The law and the legal justice system underpins the very fabric of our society, ensures the smooth running of our lives and even our safety and liberty. You may think, as we are encouraged to do, that, if you are a law-abiding citizen, being kind to your fellow man and minding your own business, the law has little to offer you. You would be wrong. The law, and your ability to turn to it for redress when you are wronged, is what is preventing you from being irreversibly mangled by an intoxicated surgeon in a botched operation and then uncompensated; from a manufacturer selling you a faulty dishwasher without liability when it subsequently burns down your house ; from an ex-partner maliciously being able to keep you from seeing your children because you doinked the babysitter; from your boss capriciously firing you because he doesn’t like the fact you wear brown shoes with a black suit to work; from you being wrongfully identified as an armed robber by the short-sighted bank teller who came to work without her contact lenses that day and banged up for a ten stretch; or from a government deciding that the freedom of religion is no longer a human right exercisable by the denizens of our country and forcing you into trying to find an affordable house with a priest-hole in which to hide the unfortunate administrator of your future clandestine religious services. Extreme examples? Maybe but I think they illustrate the main point being made through the book. The law is for everyone, and we all need to protect its integrity and our access to it. My favourite quote from the book, which neatly sums this up with a comparison to a ‘giant game of Jenga,’ falls at the end of Chapter 8. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

I made pages and pages of notes on this book in preparation for writing this review, and there are so many more things I could say, but I run the risk of getting on my personal hobby horse, rather than writing a book review, and The Secret Barrister rides this hobby horse with much more elan than I ever could, so you should just read the book for yourself. I love the law, I have since I was 13 and first became entranced by the idea of pursuing it as a profession. Even though I no longer practice, it still fascinates me intellectually, and I am horrified at the way it is being eroded, and with the presumed consent of large swathes of the population. It genuinely scares me, if I’m being honest. The fact that this consent is being gained by the dissemination of lies and distortions of fact is abhorrent. This is why you need to read this book. Understand what you are being fed and why, so you can make informed decisions about what to believe and what to support. Don’t allow yourselves to be conned. Knowledge is power.

I have read this book twice this year, it is so good and, since this book was published in September, there have been so many more examples of misinformation arousing misdirected public outrage on legal matters. The government have passed a statute which breaches international law, whilst telling us they haven’t. Only this week there were false claims that the approval of the first vaccine against COVID by the UK regulator was a Brexit benefit. These falsehoods are being perpetuated by Government ministers, people we elected to act in our best interests, including the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor, who are supposed to protect the integrity of the law. As I recently completed the second read through, I had visions of the poor Secret Barrister sitting despairingly in their writing garret, self-medicating with gin as they frantically scribble daily addendums to this book, emailing increasingly harried messages to their beleaguered publisher, trying to keep up to date with the latest chipping away of the legal framework on which we all depend. Their desk is covered with dozens of sodden post-its, used to mop up their tears of frustration as they fight the rising tide of misinformation that threatens to engulf us. They have my deepest sympathies.

The fact this happens is outrageous. Be outraged. Refuse to accept it. But how can we reject these actions when many of us don’t even know we are being lied to? The media are complicit in the deceit. We deserve better and we should demand it. We need a basic legal education for all, and a media that reports on these things honestly. We currently have neither. What we do have are individuals such as The Secret Barrister, and a wealth of other lawyers and legal commentators who are trying to shine a light on these fabrications and why the law matters to all of us and deserves protection.

Seek them out, arm yourselves with information and decide for yourselves what it important. Start here, with this book, it’s a great read, and an important one. It’s my book of the year for 2020. Sadly, I fear the people who most need to read it are the very ones who won’t.

Fake Law: The Truth About justice in an Age of Lies is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law.

The law can often feel to the public like an alien and impenetrable world, linked to everyday life only by selective news reportage and artistically-licensed tv dramatisation. The Secret Barrister aims to bridge that gap by providing a candid, and hopefully accessible, explanation of our criminal justice system, of how it works, and of how, all too often, it doesn’t.

The Secret Barrister has written for the The Times, The Guardian, New Statesman, iNews, Esquire, Counsel Magazine and Solicitors Journal, and has appeared in The Sun, The Mirror and Huffington Post.

In 2016 and 2017, the Secret Barrister was named Independent Blogger of the Year at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. In 2018, they were named Legal Personality of The Year at the Law Society Awards.

The Secret Barrister is a patron of FRU (Free Representation Unit) and the Aberdeen Law Project.

Their debut book, Stories of The Law and How It’s Broken, was a Sunday Times bestseller for 24 consecutive weeks, and was named the Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2018 at the Books Are My Bag Awards.

Connect with The Secret Barrister:

Website: https://thesecretbarrister.com/

Facebook: The Secret Barrister

Twitter: @BarristerSecret

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Book Review: The Britain Potential by Jim Cowan

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Reading this is going to change how you see Britain, especially its politics. The way we are used to hearing about Britain’s politics is through the filter of our media. This book, however, delves below the surface to the underlying realities and from there, a very different politics emerges. This is a politics which starts and ends with people realising their potential.

From Britain’s shifting political centre of gravity The Britain Potential pieces together a politics that is neither left nor right, is not of division and polarisation but is about integration, balance, and unity. It offers an entirely fresh, genuinely humanistic vision grounded in actual developments both historical and contemporary. This is a politics viewed as something at work in daily life which is not being reported in the media and that no political party has yet spelt out. 

Told through stories, The Britain Potential helps readers take the pulse of the country and understand for themselves what ‘remedies’ will be effective. It offers ways forward, and hope, for people newly interested in politics, the politically homeless, people dissatisfied with life in Britain, leaders and activists of all kinds, public servants, business people, and people in communities. People around the world, who look to Britain, should find much of interest.

Britain has enormous potential, but is it realising it? For too many the answer is no. This is a book about what it takes to realise that potential, as individuals, families, communities, organisations and as a country. The Britain Potential is in our hands.

Today, I am pleased to be sharing my thoughts on The Britain Potential by Jim Cowan. I would like to thank the author for inviting me to review the book and for providing me with a paperback copy for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Ever since the Brexit referendum in 2016, I have been feeling increasingly disenfranchised by the British political system. There is currently no viable political party on offer that seems to align with my ideals of the government that this country needs. What we currently have is clearly not working, the situation in this country is getting worse and worse. We are becoming more polarised as a society, people are angry, scared and isolated, they don’t feel served by society as it currently stands. And from what I see daily on social media, I know I am not alone in my frustration and disillusionment.

So, it was with interest that I picked up this book by Jim Cowan, which promised to give me a new vision of politics for Britain, one which sounded much more like the perfect vision I would have for how our country should work. Where we all feel more connected and involved in the running of the country, invested and active, rather than having things imposed upon us by a ruling class over which we, as individuals, feel we can have very little influence.

This book contains a lot of interesting ideas about a new way of moving forward in the UK, by passing more power and decision-making to the people at a local level, so that everyone can feel invested and engaged in making their own society better in a way that works for their particular circumstances. An ability of local organisations and authorities to tailor services to what is needed in their specific area, rather than a homogenised approach from central government that does not address specific regional needs, with the role of central government being to support and encourage these local initiatives. Where the focus is on listening and responding to the articulated needs of the end users of services, ie US, rather than on controlling and managing us and forcing us to mould ourselves into a centrally-mandated stereotype. This would allow people autonomy, and an ability to invest and believe in themselves, to live a truly individual and authentic life. For each one of us, and consequently the country as a whole, to realise our full potential.

I’m going to be honest, this is not an easy book to read. Despite being only around two hundred pages, it is dense with information, packed with some complicated jargon and utilising concepts that were totally alien to me and took some time to absorb and understand. Bits of it took me a couple of read throughs to totally grasp, it is not a relaxing book to take to bed with you at night (although I did.) However, once I got into it, I was totally absorbed and really fascinated by the ideas being mooted. I found the examples of places and organisations already operating along these lines truly inspiring and the picture that Jim paints of what Britain could be like, tempting and aspirational. If you are at all interested in politics and the way that our society could be improved for the benefit of everyone, it is truly an hopeful read.

I have to tell you, I came away from this book feeling quite emotional, which was entirely unexpected. I was left thinking ‘if only.’ If only this could be how we lived, everyone working to the best of their abilities for the betterment of society for everyone. I can see how this works at a micro level, both in Jim’s examples and when looking at my own small rural community, which is filled with village initiatives, community support and just individual acts of kindness and care. But can this be amplified to a national level? Looking around at how things currently operate at the macro level, it actually looks less and less likely. I see our society moving in the opposite direction, with a Government intent on taking more and more power to itself, rather relinquishing it, with our society become more selfish, small-minded and inward-looking, rather than exploring ways of working with others to the benefit of all. The over-riding national sentiment seems to be that helping and caring for others means losing something ourselves, rather than enhancing our lives. All movements for equality are met with resistance by people who see it as them having to give something up, rather than pulling everyone up to the same level. It makes me despair.

I loved the ideas in this book, but when Jim concludes that we are currently a long way from achieving this utopian version of our society, and the only way to get there is by a slow, incremental change rather than radical reform, I believe he is right. This vision is but a speck on the horizon, and I don’t currently see the path ahead from here to there.

The Britain Potential is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

I have focused on political and social change in Britain for over 40 years.

This has been reflected in all areas of my life.

Community development, encompassing many different roles, has been at the heart of my work from the early 70s until 2012.

Between 1968 and 2005 I acquired five social science degrees, including a PhD.

I was also an honorary visiting research fellow for 10 years up until 2016.

In my personal life, I’ve practiced a socially engaged form of Buddhism for over 40 years which has enabled me to develop my consciousness more fully and realise more of my potential.

Since 2012 I have been meticulously researching what has been, and is, happening across Britain.

All these aspects, work, personal and social, academic study and research come together in this book.

It is four voices of doing, thinking, being, and researching that you will hear as you read The Britain Potential.

Connect with Jim:

Website: https://www.thebritainpotential.co.uk/

Twitter: @thebpotential

Instagram: @thebritainpotential

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