Friday, 1 April 2016

An Anthology of Christmas Murders - Terror, Tinsel and Turkey edited by Jeremy Moiser

Terror, tinsel and turkey - Contribution by Harry Riley

Alan Weywent was an overweight flamboyant fraudster, whose cut-price double-glazing company of A-Wey-Went-Windows went bust. He had had full order books when the firm closed down, but his suppliers had pulled the plug because of too many unpaid bills. He was faced with litigation from customers who’d forked out in advance for replacement windows and conservatories that would never get built. Also there were building-contractors owed tens of thousands of pounds for unpaid work and materials. This crooked businessman moved from town to town around the Midlands, setting up bogus companies, preying on elderly vulnerable customers and then vanishing with their hard-earned savings. His double-glazing scam had proved incredibly profitable, and he was sorry to see it go, but a very healthy portfolio of virtually untraceable offshore-accounts had softened the blow. Now he would have to lie low until the heat cooled. 

Moving to the small town of Tillon on Trent in Staffordshire, he had rented a large house in a decent area and attempted to bury his past, adopting a new persona, with a splendid new name: Eugene O’Brady-Smith: a wealthy book-loving bachelor, studying creative writing. He looked for a local group of writers and quickly struck gold. Because he was smooth-tongued and used to getting his own way, it was not long before he was appointed chairman of the Tillon and District Writing Group. It was at one of their weekly group meetings that he made his announcement:

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Rover’s Return - an excerpt from 'Wild Strawberries'

Wild Strawberries by Derek Smith

It was the month of June. James was nine and would not be ten until the first week in July. He was now settled into the country ways, had accepted that the lack of a bathroom and civilised toilet facilities were a fact of life, and that going to bed by candlelight was normal. It was summertime now and the clocks had been altered. Candles were no longer needed and the dawn chorus started shortly after five o’clock, when it became light.
One morning during a chat with Geoff Blore, with whom he often shared the last part of the walk to school, it was mentioned that Jack, the chap who collected the milk from Geoff’s farm, drove his lorry into the Midland Counties Dairy in Birmingham every morning. James then realised for the first time that the village he regarded as isolated and remote, did in fact have a direct link with Birmingham. This came as quite a revelation. He suddenly saw that here was a way to get home for a weekend and to see his mother and his two younger siblings who, after four seemingly long months, he could hardly remember. It would also give him the chance to bring back some of the toys that he had had last Christmas - and what a bonus that would be! He had no toys at Woodhouses, his only distraction being the coveted egg collection.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Golfing with the Enlightened Dead - "What if you could play a round of golf with history's most provocative philosophers?"

...Book Excerpt...
The First Hole
Socrates and the Midwife
Leadership is midwifery. Pull what you can from individuals’ minds by asking questions. Individuals then become aware of their abilities to be engaged and to take pride in their work.
The first hole is a reasonably straightforward 373-yard par four with a green that is guarded by a “burn”
(a Scottish euphemism for a death-by-water hazard).

A short bald man with a scruffy beard, and clothes that appeared to have been slept in was standing on the first tee, seemingly in a trance as he stared down the fairway. Bud approached him and extended his hand in greeting. No response. “Good morning. Would you mind if I joined you today?” No response. Then another golfer came up beside them and whispered that Socrates often did this when a dilemma perplexed him; people simply have to play around him when he is deep in thought. Bud took a closer look. Yes, he now saw the resemblance to a bust that he had in his office, picked up in a market in Athens many years before – the same snub nose and large protruding eyes. He waited a few minutes as the previous group made its way down the first hole. Suddenly Socrates shook himself and murmured, “Yes, definitely a 5 wood, slight draw into the wind, then a three-quarter swing with a seven iron. The ball will land on the right side of the green and roll down to the left within ten or twelve feet. One putt – birdie – perfect.”
Bud stood back, impressed with the imaging and sheer intensity of concentration that this strange fellow had just demonstrated. But would theory translate into action? Socrates stepped up to the ball and, like the cartoon version of the Tasmanian devil, swung hard, pounding his ball straight out of bounds. He teed up a second ball and swung mightily again: the ball skipped off the end of the tee box. Strangely, Socrates seemed totally unaffected by these mishaps. He carefully replaced his 5 wood in his bag and, after waiting while Bud effortlessly drove his ball slightly left of centre to avoid out-of-bounds on the right side, they started walking. Bud couldn’t help but notice the seeming discrepancy between the intense strategising before the first swing and the actual technique and outcome; he had to ask Socrates about it. The response was dignified yet curt: “Theory is perfect, humans are fallible.”
As they proceeded down the first hole, with Socrates eventually making the green after five shots (plus his 2 stroke penalty) and Bud landing safely on his second swing, he asked Socrates what it was like being the world’s most famous philosopher. “Actually, I always thought of myself more as a midwife of ideas,” was his reply. Bud, who was not trained in philosophy or in midwifery, pressed him for details; he was, as usual, more than happy to accommodate.

Midwifery and Giving Birth to Ideas
Socrates. Philosophers are lovers of wisdom. Of course, they love the knowledge, beauty, and truth they discover themselves, but some also feel a calling to help others become philosophers, or at least philosophical in their daily decisions. They do this because they believe that of all of the components of being human, it is our capacity to reason - to think logically through problems - that makes us uniquely capable of good and evil. If we could only be more philosophical, more truth seeking … just wiser … we would have better tools to construct and maintain the “good life.”
Now personally, I believe that pure forms of knowledge of all things exist within us, though I know that this is not a terribly modern perspective. Nonetheless, I believe that they reside in our souls from birth. In other words, we have the capacity to know truth in all of its forms if only we are able to tap into our souls. This is obviously easier said than done because we often don’t know what questions to ask ourselves to get this information out to the conscious level – we need help to do this. Unfortunately, most of us never receive this kind of help; rather, we are told what to do, and how, when, and sometimes why to do it – our parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses leap in to guide and control so that we behave obediently and according to what society and organisations dictate. This is the “mind is a blank slate” notion made so popular about two thousand years after my death by two fellows named John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. They believed that we know nothing when we are born – we are not pregnant with ideas – and therefore we must have our minds filled by those who do know things.
In contrast, I believe that the mind is not empty, but profoundly full of ideas waiting to emerge – waiting to be born. Whether or not you actually believe that the soul contains these truths isn’t the point; what is important is that we all have ideas. Many of them are profoundly practical and some are deeply philosophical, and the leader’s task is to help us bring these ideas to the light of day.
For example, in one of Plato’s dialogues, the Meno1, he wrote about me having a conversation with an uneducated slave to demonstrate that we have innate, or inborn, knowledge. During this conversation, despite the fact that this fellow had had no formal training in geometry, he was able to arrive at Pythagoras’ theorem by responding to the questions I had carefully selected for him. What Plato was getting at here is that regardless of what hidden knowledge one is trying to extract from a pupil, if you ask the right questions, he or she will arrive at or give birth to the correct answer eventually and will feel empowered by doing so. The opposite approach, of course, would have been to tell the slave about the theorem and hope for a successful regurgitation, possibly with little or no understanding. Does this approach sound familiar – like contemporary teaching strategies used from kindergarten to university?
 As you can see then, my perspective is that the job of the philosopher is to act as a midwife, helping individuals to give birth to and become aware of ideas they already have so that those ideas can be used to live well. This simple process has been called the Socratic method of teaching.

Reviews by Business and academic leaders

"This is truly a fascinating book. It makes the ideas of the great philosophers meaningful to everyday life. A remarkable achievement."
(Dale Eisler, Senior Policy Fellow, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, 
Former Assistant Deputy Minister, Natural Resources Canada & Consul General to the USA)

"It's very accessible. Over nine holes of golf we are introduced to the ideas of some of the great thinkers and shown how we can all become applied philosophers, using these ideas to lead better lives. The world needs more applied philosophers!"
(Elizabeth Fistein PhD MRCPsych
Ethics and Law Lead, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge)

"What if you could play a round of golf with history's most provocative philosophers? The Enlightened Dead gives us that opportunity and at the same time offers a practical guide to leadership. A great read for fans of golf, leadership and philosophy."
Bryan Walkey
President, MeetingZone North America

"As an advertising entrepreneur, we are in the “winning ideas business” and this book offers meaningful insights from Socrates, Aristotle and other great minds to help give you a “competitive and meaningful advantage” in today’s business world. There is something for every business person." 
Dave Ploughman
President & CEO, BSTREET Group
Toronto, London, New York

"Having followed the works of modern leadership theoreticians such as Frederick Herzberg, Douglas MacGregor, Tom Peters, Jim Collins and a slew of other notables, I was intrigued to learn that their theories reflected the thinking of the great philosophers. 
Play a round of golf with a few of these philosophers in "The Enlightened Dead" and learn the origin of foundational theories of organizational behaviour." 
Rob  Cooke
Leadership Advisor and Strategist

Putting leadership and golf in the same hole

Ebook | Kobo | Google Play | Amazon Kindle | Apple iBook |  Nook

Saturday, 6 February 2016

They’re all foreigners abroad | Book Excerpt

Travel / Humour
by Stuart Wright

Ear plugs (During August)
If you go abroad during the month of August then ear plugs are absolute ‘must’ accessories. Foreign industry just about closes during the month of August and many, if not most foreigners, head for the local coast for their annual month’s holiday. They shout, they shout a lot. You can be on the beach, in a restaurant, on a pleasure boat, or anywhere you care to name on a foreign coast and you will experience a complete and utter ear bashing. Foreigners are completely incapable of having a nice quiet conversation, they just shout. You will probably think that they’re arguing but it’s just normal behavior to them.
Take some ear plugs because they do your head in!

Ear plugs on the plane
Some people suffer from severe headaches during take off and landing on aircraft and we have to sympathize with these poor unfortunate people. In order to overcome the problem, some altitude sufferers use these spongy ear plug thingies which are usually bright yellow. Have you seen them? You can be sat there on the plane minding your own business and having a quick gander at the other travellers when all of a sudden your eyes lock onto the person sat opposite to you. What’s wrong with their head? Is their brain melting? These bright yellow spongy bungy thingies have started to work their way out of this persons ears and they look as though they have some radio active gunk coming out of their head.
‘Oh, it’s just some of those spongy bungy thingies; thank God for that!’

Saturday, 2 January 2016

SEVEN | Rippercide | Book Excerpt

Genre: Fiction: Crime and Mystery, Thriller / Suspense
Author: Peter Hodgson

The side streets branching off Blackpool's Seaforth Road resembled the alleys of a foggy Victorian London. The noise from the slow traffic smothered the rumble of the Irish Sea, its waves toppling as they succumbed to the Promenade's robust walls, foaming on their retreat. The austere red-bricked houses faded from view, resembling figments of the imagination rather than part of the austere construction of the town's dwellings. Taxi drivers left their engines ticking over whilst waiting to take customers into the town centre where they could enjoy further drinks, music and dance. Groups of boisterous men and women were keen to make the most of their Friday night out.
The weekend had begun.
Raucous laughter and chanting from the lager merchants rang out. There was bound to be a fight or two as the night progressed, and you would be sure to come across a couple of discarded half-eaten Chinese takeaways and splatters of vomit along the way.
At 10 p.m. the music of local band Hot Fever thundered from the stage of The Elms public house, renowned for its heavy music, underage drinkers and pot smokers. The band's second set was in full swing. Its four members lapped up the attention and adulation from the crowd during their performance of an original song called ‘Smash Me Out’ which featured a heavy bass line that never left the key of E. Despite the bad weather conditions the usual patrons had turned up to revel in the atmosphere.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Stop! … don’t go any further | Serendipity – A miscellany of short stories | Book Excerpt

Fiction: Short Stories
by John Butler

With trembling hand, the driving instructor wiped the beads of cold sweat off his brow. It was not that it was a particularly warm day, in fact, now, as autumn drew to a close, there was that foreboding snap in the air that reminded us that winter would soon be upon us.
His face was a sickly shade of white and his eyes were closed in an unnatural tightness. For several moments he said nothing, then, making a visible effort to control his breathing, broke the long silence.
The driver, Miss Jarvis, an attractive young woman of about eighteen, turned in her seat and looked at him.
“Are you all right sir?” she asked in her best caring voice. At his command she had slammed on the brakes of the little red Fiesta and brought it to a shuddering halt.
So far, the examiner had sat through her test in stony silence. As he turned to answer her enquiry, she noticed his deathly pallor had slowly given way to an angry red. He looked like a ripe tomato about to burst.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Folly Under the Lake - Book Excerpt - Chapter 1

Genre: Fiction: Crime and mystery
Author: Salema Nazzal

“We can’t possibly turn down an invitation to stay the weekend at Witton Park!” exclaimed Florence Brewer heatedly to her husband Joseph. “Walter and Blanche would be most upset. Walter has spent a small fortune getting the folly built, and he’s dying to show it off to us.”
“It’s not so much a folly as an underwater smoking room by all accounts,” mused Joseph, leaning back in his chair, and looking up at the ceiling. “They say the domed roof is made of glass and you can observe the fish swimming by while you’re puffing on your pipe. I must say I’m rather keen to view the thing, but a weekend with the Sinnet family is almost more than I can stand. I know he’s my father’s oldest friend, but the way he constantly clears his throat in that way. He never used to do it and I find it bally annoying. Blanche is pleasant enough but I just can’t fathom either of them. I must say, I think…”
“I don’t care what you think. We’re going and that’s final,” interrupted Florence, peering at her reflection in her powder compact through half narrowed eyes. “It’s not like we’re inundated with invitations, though I can’t work out why. The word about town is that he’s imported some marvellous marble statues that are dotted about all over the estate. I’d like to feast my eyes on them, plus all the improvements he’s been making to the house and grounds.”
“It certainly sounds like he’s been splashing his cash around,” said Joseph in a jovial voice. “I’ve heard the three lakes are quite fascinating.”