I hope you had a restful break over the New Year and that 2017 brings you and yours everything you wish for.
And if you’re in any of the places currently experiencing extreme weather, please stay safe. Don’t forget, if you can’t get outside, keep warm and curl up with a good book.
Bag Man, my new Leathan Wilkey novella, was published last month.
The book is available for free electronic download. If you haven’t already got your copy, follow this link and start reading today.
I use a service called BookFunnel to deliver my free books. If you have trouble getting this book, just tap the Help Me link at the top of the download page and the BookFunnel support team will be pleased to help.
If you like real books that you can hold in your hand (or you’re just a fan of spending money) there is a paperback of Bag Man which is available from:
Writing Bag Man
Before I had even published the first Boniface book, I had an idea for a second series which became the Leathan Wilkey series. I wasn’t certain about the location—Budapest and Sarajevo were possibilities—but the most likely location was Paris.
So I went to Paris to have a look.
When I arrived I dropped my bag at the hotel then took the Metro and headed to La Défense, the business district on the western edge of Paris. From there I walked back into the city following along Axe Historique to la Louvre.
I walked. I looked. I took photos.
On one of the roundabouts I passed a large concrete building with some riot police gathering outside. The building was le Palais des Congrès de Paris, a conference and concert venue with a shopping mall.
If you’ve read Bag Man, you’ll know there’s a scene set outside le Palais des Congrès de Paris. You’ll remember that as Leathan passes the front of the venue he sees some protestors who are greatly outnumbered by the police.
As I walked by, I took some photos of the police. These two in particular caught my eye.
Having taken the pictures I thought little of what I had seen and carried on walking, but three years later when I came to write Bag Man, I needed a location for a major conference where Gabriela Carvalho might speak. The location also needed to be one where protestors might assemble outside.
There was an obvious choice of location.
In fact, if I’m honest about it—and you’ve got to promise not to tell anyone—the scene in the book is largely what I saw that day. My input was:
- to add some rain
- to set the scene later in the day, and
- to add a few protestors (when I was there, there were no protestors…just the police).
If you want to see the uncropped version of the two officers, or to look at the other pictures I took that day outside le Palais des Congrès de Paris, head over to the album on Facebook.
Simon Says Archives
This is the third edition of Simon Says, my monthly readers’ group communiqué.
If you’ve missed the earlier editions, you can catch up here:
In the first edition of Simon Says, I chat about the new Netflix documentary Amanda Knox.
In the second edition of Simon Says, I talk about:
- The process by which I winnow down loose ideas to find a kernel from which I might start to build a story.
- Goliath, the new Amazon Original starring Billy Bob Thornton.
Reasons to Forgive Don Cheadle
You probably didn’t know Don Cheadle needed forgiving. Some context might help…
I’m a Londoner. London born, London bred, and I’ve lived my entire life in London.
I understand how Londoners talk. And it’s not just one way—there is not a single London accent or dialect. Added to which there are somewhat over 300 first languages spoken in the metropolis and the accents when people speak English, the cadences they use to talk, the words they employ are all different. Some even speak cockney…but not that many these days.
If you’ve ever watched Ocean’s Eleven (the 2001 George Clooney version)—and you should watch it, it’s a good movie—you will have heard Don Cheadle “speak London”. I could try to explain my pain, but it’s much easier to say it’s not the kind of accent you ever hear in London. Ever.
However, I can forgive Cheadle, and I can explain that forgiveness in one word: Mouse.
Devil in a Blue Dress
In the movie Devil in a Blue Dress, Cheadle plays Raymond “Mouse” Alexander. In a film crammed with outstanding performances (Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, and Jennifer Beals), Cheadle’s performance stands above all others.
Mouse is charming, self-aware, witty, and ruthless. He sees the weaknesses in his friend Easy Rawlins (played by Washington) and he still stands next to him, ready to fight.
But above all, Mouse is deadly. And his entrance about halfway through the movie is a moment to be remembered.
If you haven’t seen the film, seek it out. You will enjoy it.
You will also understand why I can forgive Cheadle. His performance is electric. You don’t see the actor, you only see the diminutive killer, Mouse.
Then Read the Book
You also need to read the book.
Walter Mosley’s novel—the first in the series featuring Easy Rawlins, a black private investigator and World War II veteran—is a noir masterpiece pulling together threads of race, friendship and betrayal, and political corruption in the context of post-war America.
So often a great novel becomes a disappointing movie which has little resemblance to the source material. Not so here. Sure, there are changes, maybe some tightening to aid the transition, but apart from that, what you read on the page is what you see on the screen.
And if you haven’t come across Mosley before, you need to change that soon. Like most people, my favorite series is the Easy Rawlins novels, but I also love the Fearless Jones books (incidentally, Jones plays a part in the latest Easy Rawlins, Charcoal Joe), and the New York based Leonid McGill series. I get on less well with his science fiction stuff, but that’s just me.
Watch the movie, read the book. You’ll thank me later.
Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?
In 1170 the King of England, Henry II, is reputed to have exclaimed, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”
While there is some question about the precise words that were said, what happened next is not disputed. Four knights took the utterance as a royal command and proceeded to Canterbury where they found the troublesome priest—Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury—and put him to death.
It’s now 2017 and the present Archbishop is unlikely to be murdered at the command of the monarch. But have you ever heard yourself exclaim, “Who will rid me of my troublesome lack of washing powder, cat food, and toothpaste?”
Just me then…?
But if you are prone to expressing yourself out loud, you may soon find your commands are obeyed with washing powder, cat food, and toothpaste arriving at your door.
Meet Echo and Alexa
I am, of course, talking about the Amazon Echo and Alexa. The difference between the two is Echo is the hardware (a tube or a puck-shaped device) and Alexa is the voice assistant.
Over the holiday season just gone the Echo Dot was the best-selling, most gifted item on Amazon dot com, so there’s a good chance you own one (or several) of these things.
If you haven’t played with one of these, then don’t worry, you can command Alexa to do more than just order stuff from Amazon. For instance, if you try any of these commands, Alexa will understand:
- “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?”
- “Alexa, add write next Boniface book to my to-do list”
- “Alexa, add milk to my shopping list”
- “Alexa, turn on the light”
- “Alexa, how tall is the Statue of Liberty?”
- “Alexa, read me the news”
- “Alexa, what’s the weather?”
- “Alexa, set a timer for five minutes”
So it does tricks…but is there more?
We’ve had voice-whatevers in our phones for years, but this is the first voice controlled—and exclusively voice controlled—product that has become hugely popular, and probably the first voice controlled device that has implemented this stuff in a practical manner.
Voice control is far more natural than opening up an app on a phone or tablet. It’s also a lot easier to give a command directly (“Alexa, turn on the lights”) rather than looking to find your phone (and making sure it’s charged) and then going through a process something like this: unlock the phone > find an app > close that app and find the correct app > search through the app and hit a bunch of buttons and options in an attempt to figure exactly how to turn on the light.
Turning on a light may not seem a particularly troubling task—even if your hands are full—but think about the wider implications for a moment. Beyond the basic convenience of not needing to stand up and turn on a light (or whatever), it should be remembered that these seemingly trivial tasks are not necessarily easy—or indeed possible—for everyone. And the power of opening the world of computing to people for whom a smartphone is a frighteningly complex piece of technology should not be underestimated.
Going to a world of voice control isn’t cheap. It’s not simply about buying a few Echo Dots. You need a whole collection of new bulbs, switches, sockets, thermostats, TV remotes, and so on. Then the process of setting up the devices is a pest (and very boring). The set up is even more tedious if you’re controlling a lot of devices.
It’s not cheap. It’s not simple to get up and running. But it might be a huge step forward.
Another reason that Echo/Alexa matters (and this reason is closer to home for me) is audio books.
Audio books have been with us for as long as I can remember. You used to be able to buy them on cassette and then on CD, but in recent years we’ve all got rid of our CD players and audio books have become a thing you listen to on your phone or tablet.
A phone or tablet can be convenient, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the first choice as a listening device in the home—the built-in speakers aren’t great, the device needs to be charged, and you’ve then got to find the app and find the book.
The Echo offers a much better audio experience and listening to a book only requires the command, “Alexa play audiobook The Girl on the Train.”
I say only requires a voice command… Of course, you need to buy the audio book or pay a monthly subscription to Audible.
What About You?
Were you one of the many to receive an Echo over the holiday season? How are you using it? What have you found most useful?
This edition is a bit shorter than usual just to ease us all back into 2017.
I’ll be back next month, probably on Valentine’s day. Until then, please do drop by on my Facebook page or send me an email to say hi.
All the best