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Author: Writer1

Witch’s Box IV release

“Half an Empire” the fourth book in the “Witch’s Box” series, was released on 9 Nov 2023 and is now available for purchase.

Maihara has now achieved her ambition of becoming Empress, but her reign is beset with problems. The Imperial Treasure is missing, and her efforts to fix the Empire’s finances alienate the nobility. Threatening letters arrive. Her most trusted adviser suddenly becomes unavailable, and her new lover becomes embroiled in a diplomatic scandal. Can anything else go wrong? Yes, it can. Contains references to transgender issues.

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This Slavery -EC Holdsworth

 This Slavery by Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (Trent Editions).
First published in 1925, this is a radical polemical novel and a key intervention in the history of British working-class writing. Carnie Holdsworth, originally a mill worker, became a full-time writer in the 1920’s.
The action follows two sisters, Hester and Rachel Martin, whose lives are thrown into turmoil when a fire at the mill leaves them unemployed. As the material poverty of their home-life deepens and the young women are forced to confront the difficulties of their economic circumstances, Hester and Rachel make romantic and political choices that will place them on opposite sides of the great class divide.
Initially slow-moving, the novel clearly demonstrates the oppression and unfairness of the workers’ situation, with grinding poverty, and the police and authorities on the side of the mill owners. The story gathers pace in the second part, with the workers demanding a raise while the owners are desperate to complete large orders.
Well worth reading if you are interested in working-class history.

Asylum (review)

Asylum by Moriz Scheyer,translated by P.N. Singer, Profile Books, 306pp.

This memoir was written while Scheyer, an Austrian Jew, was fleeing persecution in Austria and hiding in France. Scheyer was a significant literary journalist in prewar Vienna. Shortly after the Anschluss, he fled to Paris, only to make a failed attempt to flee the city when the Germans invaded. Subsequently he escaped to unoccupied France, only to find himself and his people in increasing danger from German advance and the Vichy round-up of Jews. A failed attempt to escape to Switzerland, incarceration in French concentration camps and contact with the Resistance followed. He survived solely because of the kindness of strangers who hid him, and he eventually found refuge in a mental asylum run by Franciscan nuns.

The manuscript was found only by chance long after the war. It seems Scheyer may have made some attempt to publish, but the top copy was destroyed by the family, who thought it excessively anti-German in the post-war climate.

The book blazes with white-hot anger against the Germans and against French collaborators, and expresses fears that the sufferings of the Jews would be forgotten. This publication (2016) should help ensure that they will not be.

This menoir is well worth reading if you have any interest in the history of the period. Since Scheyer was a professional writer, it is eloquently written.

Travel blog

For many years I have kept a travel blog recording places I have visited in the UK, and also some foreign holidays. Most of the posts are accompanied by photographs. I have now decided to link it here for your interest and edification. Days Out Blog

Travellers in the Third Reich

Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd, Elliott and Thompson ltd, 488pp.
“The rise of fascism through the eyes of everyday people.”
This remarkable book depicts the rise of the German Nazis through the first-hand accounts of visitors to Germany through the 1930s.
Many visitors were impressed by German modernity and progress and made repeated visits to Germany to enjoy the beautiful countryside and the historic towns and cities. Many visitors saw nothing of the dark side of the regime, or were willing to overlook excesses which they hoped would diminish with time. Other visitors had extreme right-wing sympathies and saw little to criticise in the treatment of the Jews and other minorities.
Today we prefer to forget how many prominent Britons admired Hitler and the Nazis, but there were too many of them to list here. Also not much mentioned nowadays is how the Nazis appeared to be inventing a pagan religion of Teutonic symbols to supplant Christianity. The Nazis made a point of presenting themselves as a bulwark against Communism, but if one compares the National Socialist and Communist programs it is hard to discern any difference.
This book is quite an eye-opener, but before condemning our predecessors one should perhaps reflect on how many people today are happy to holiday in countries with unpleasant regimes, or to trade with them.

Winters in the World

Winters in the World by Eleanor Parker, 266pp, hardback.
I became aware of this book via a local literary festival. I missed the author’s talk but bought the book anyway as the subject ‘a journey through the Anglo-Saxon year’ seemed interesting.
The book draws on a wide variety of sources including poetry, histories and religious literature, to investigate how the Anglo-Saxons felt about the annual passing of the seasons and their relationship with nature. Some festivals from the Anglo-Saxon period are still celebrated today while others are long forgotten. Even the names of months and seasons have changed.
If you are interested in the period, or want to encounter some Anglo-Saxon poetry, this book should prove of interest.

“Short Story” Magazine

“Short Story” (https://shortstory.substack.com/) is a fiction magazine that aims to ‘change the world, one story at a time’.
They publish one short story a month, and pay well. It is available by subscription.

The War in the West

The War in the West, James Holland, Bantam Press, 693pp, £25
Germany Ascendant 1939-1941
An interesting one-volume history of the early part of the Second World War. This book give a readable account of the war, as seen through the eyes of an number of participants on both sides. It also deflates a number of myths about the war, in particular about the strength and invincibility of the German forces. While the Germans had a formidable army and air force, their navy was small and their army was not as mechanised as the popular image of fast-moving Panzers would suggest. Germqn propoganda obscured the fact that they were less motorised than most of their opponents and their field guns were still drawn by horses. Germany also lacked the raw materials and other resources needed to sustain a long war. Bad planning ensured that the Germans lacked some useful aircraft types.
The French were better equipped with tanks and had an army of comparable strenth, a bigger navy and also an air force, but intimidated by German propoganda managed to defeat themselves rather than be defeated by the Germans. The French political establishment was split by internal squabbles and the army was consistently slow to respond and its leaders unwilling to fight.
Reading this book I was struck by several similarities between WWII and the Ukranian crisis. In both, a dictatorial leader acts ignoring the advice of his more cautious military staff, and takes over several countries before mounting an egregious attack on another counrry, forcing allies to respond. In both, the attacked country does not get as much support as it hoped for. The aggressor armed forces turn out to be less powerful than their propoganda persuaded their opponents they were. In both pre-wars, attempts at negotiation or appeasement turned out to be pointless.

Butler to the World

Butler to the World, Oliver Bullough, Profile Books, 273pp, £20. How Britain became the servant of tycoons, tax dodgers, kleptocrats and criminals.
The subtitle says it all. This is a very readable expose of the mysterious workings of international finance and how money moves around without any checks or supervision. After Suez, Britain having lost an empire was looking around for a new role, and found one in acting as a ‘butler’, i.e. providing services without asking awkward questions. Bullough describes institutions, structures and personalities with whom the general reader will be unfamiliar but which effect the secret movements of billions of pounds.
Bullough illustrates these murky dephs by means of a number of examples, of which one ‘The Scottish Laundromat’ will suffice here. US-based investigators advised the Scottish police about a crime in Moldova, where criminals had via a scam stolen a billion dollars from Moldovan banks and caused the money to vanish without trace. In turn one of the police tipped oof an investigative journalist, who confirmed that the last known destination of the money was an ordinary Scottish house in Edinburgh, home of a Scottish Limited Partnership, actually controlled by two companies in the Seychelles, where ownership of companies is a closely guarded secret. SLPs (with which few will be familiar) do not have to register their actual identity anywhere, making them the perfect tool for moving money around. The journalist uncovered many other instances of the nefarious misuse of SLPs. An official of the newly empowered Scottish National Party, Roger Mullin, was appalled by these revelations and took up the case. Investigators found that there had been a boom in SLPs, most owned by anonymous offshore companies, evidently used on an industrial scale for hiding stolen money. Mullin found strong indications that the financial services industry and Scottish lawyers would rather SLPs were left alone. So what happened? Nothing, except that by an obscure process the regulations were relaxed even further.
If you are disturbed by this and similar activities, you need to read this book.