In print at last!

So it seems I’ve finally made it into print in book form, although not perhaps in the way I’d been aiming.

05-14-2007ngl_14peobriefgvl254unn1.jpgA quote from a review I wrote last year for Mia Gallagher’s excellent Hellfire novel has been reproduced on the inside cover in the paperback edition. Hurray! Sort of.

(Long time readers of the blog will now that fiction writing is something I’m interested in and I’ve been working on a novel on-and-off for some time.)

And if you’re wondering what this has to do with The Hoff, the picture is one of the first that came up when I googled ‘in print’ in google. Why, I’ve no idea, but does the Hoff need a reason?

Perish the thought . . . Anyway, I’m currently reading Piers Morgan’s highly entertaining Don’t You Know Who I Am? which heavily features The Hoff as one of Morgan’s fellow judges on America’s Got Talent. Very funny and very good reading.

Review: Blaze, by Richard Bachman

King by another name – and it’s scary too
Blaze. By Richard Bachman, Hodder and Staughton, €17.60.

Review published in The Sunday Business Post, Sunday, June 10, 2007 – Reviewed By Alex Meehan

blaze.jpgLove him or hate him, there’s no doubt that Stephen King is among the most important writers to emerge in the last 50 years. His books include some of the best loved stories of modern times such as Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Stand by Me and The Dark Half.

The latest book to come from his word processor is not his most recently written. Blaze is the last of the novels King wrote between 1966 and 1973 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

At the time, it was widely believed that an author could only expect to sell one book a year, so King came up with an alter-ego to get around the restriction and Bachman was the result.

Written in 1973, Blaze was completed just before his smash hit Carrie, and then binned without being shown to publishers. Thirty-four years later, it has been pulled from the back of a filing cabinet, lightly rewritten and dusted off for a 2007 release.

King writes about the darker underbelly of life, about fractured and broken characters living seedy lives in stark contrast to ordinary decent folks. He is best known as a horror writer, but really he’s a character writer beyond compare. He can use a single sentence to suggest a fully formed character in a way that lesser thriller writers can only aspire to.

Blaze is one such book with one such character. Clayton Blaisdell Junior is the criminal antihero, a mentally handicapped giant of a man who struggles to make sense of the world.

king.jpgThe story jumps between two distinct narratives. In the backstory, the young Blaze is beaten by his violent alcoholic father and thrown repeatedly down the stairs, resulting in brain damage and a fist-sized dent in his forehead.

He is taken into care and struggles to find his way in the world until a chance encounter introduces him to George, a small-time hustler who becomes Blaze’s best friend and the brains behind a prolific partnership in short cons and petty crime.

Blaze depends heavily on George to keep the capers coming and the law at bay. George is tiring of his hand-to-mouth existence, though, and wants the pair to move from short cons – confidence tricks and department store scams – to a long con – a big league crime that will pay big bucks.

In the main narrative though, we discover that George is dead, following a knife fight, yet confusingly, he continues to play a role in Blaze’s life – he talks to him, goads him and encourages him to follow through their one last caper. This time, Blaze is to kidnap the infant son of a wealthy local businessman and demand a US$1 million ransom.

Is George really dead? Is he a ghost haunting Blaze from beyond the grave? Is Blaze imagining his voice? It is a Stephen King novel, so it’s hard to say and that’s half the fun. Blaze is classic King – a gripping story well told. In most crime novels, the tension is created as a clever criminal eludes capture and a clever detective pursues him.

Here though, the tension is built not from wondering how Blaze will be caught, but wondering how much longer somebody this stupid can evade capture?

Blaze is a sad case – his is truly a hard luck story, but it is very hard to feel sympathy for him. His humanity shines through when he starts to fall for the kidnapped baby Joe, but not for long and it’s not hard to predict where this car crash of a story is going to end up.

King killed off Richard Bachman in 1985,when too many people knew his real identity. He put out a press release announcing the death of the author from ‘‘cancer of the pseudonym’’, but when you’re a writer as prolific and successful as this one, then even 30-year-old literary cast-offs beat the pants off other writers’ best work.

(Taken from

Tricks of the Mind and the evils of relativism

I’ve had a weekend off for the first time in . . . literally months. While I was in town on Friday afternoon, I picked up a very interesting book – Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind. A thoroughly enjoyable read and pretty addictive stuff – I started it on Friday and finished it on Sunday afternoon.


Tricks of the Mind is an unusual sort of book – it’s not that hard to tell that it probably came about for commercial reasons – I’d guess Brown was offered a publishing deal to get something into the shops ASAP on the back of his popularity as a TV and stage performer. The resulting book is a mixed bag of personal invective, anecdote and practical techniques from Brown’s experience as a mentalist and illusionist – things he has come across that have a theatrical application but may also be of interest or use to the reading public.

All these are sandwiched together into one volume, which rather surprisingly works because of the manner in which they are tied together by the author’s . . . well personal vision sounds far too pompous. Perhaps personal conviction might be more apt.

However, this isn’t a book review, and while the book is good, it needn’t be for the purposes of this blog entry. Many things in Brown’s book struck me as interesting, and undoubtedly it’s an entertaining and educational read. Anyone who would like to understand more about the astonishing things Brown does will enjoy it, but actually I found the sections dealing with the nature of belief and the development of the new age culture to be more interesting.

In particular, in a section headed Science and Relativism, he talks about the idea of relativism. This is the concept that all cultures are valid and that no one culture has the right to judge or impose its value system on any other. This insidious curse is largely behind the movement in favour of political correctness and multiculturalism and interestingly, it’s comparably recent in conception. Brown points out that it was an anthropologist named Clifford Geertz that paved the way for these ideas by being the first to talk about tribal cultures in the 1960s on their own terms, rather than as exotic or primitive curiosities.

Geertz seems to have been the first to see the values of a different culture as no more or less valid than those of another, which of course is total nonsense. Anyway . . .

“This was a real step away from the distasteful colonial ethos. In time, as we slipped into post-modernism, a fetish developed for all truth being relative. Our ‘truths’ and ‘meanings’ were seen as simply products of our own value systems, and to suggest that one belief was somehow better or more valid than another was at best deemed old-fashioned and sweet; at worst it was treated by certain commentators and self-styled intellectuals as a symbolic rape. This relativism – both the extreme opposite of fundamentalism and yet an effective means of promoting dangerous and unfounded ideology by disregarding the value of evidence – was typically enshrouded in layers of purposefully obscure language, as if exhaustingly impenetrable wording was necessary proof of superior thought.”

Brown postulates that this trend is what has ultimately undermined the public appreciation for the role of science and it’s evidence-based methodology in the modern world.

“Scientific knowledge came to be seen as just another example of subjective and personal meanings, this time happening to belong to the scientists and a mere product of their value system. It was seen as neither more nor less valid than the most unscientific beliefs held by an eccentric new ager.”

Interesting stuff. Obviously, Brown is better know for his fantastic TV shows in which he uses magic, hypnotism, NLP, pyschology and bare faced lying to produce astonishing results. This is my current favourite clip from youtube.

And if you want to know how he might have done this, watch this clip.

Can you has cheezburger?

I’m strangely drawn to ‘I can has Cheezburger?’, the most disturbed blog on the web. It consists of pictures sent in by fans of small furry animals, usually cats, in humorous pictures with captions.

Most are nauseatingly cutesy – submitted presumably by the same kind of middle-aged woman who wears nothing but pink and thinks the world should have more frills and smell more like perfume.

However, every now and again, something funny crops up.

Hur hur!

Amazingly, this blog shows up every day as the number one most popular blog on wordpress. I don’t know how many people view I can has Cheezburger, but for reference, this blog doesn’t even register on the main league tables at all and it gets around 500 people a day visiting. I’m guessing that many many thousands of people tune in every day to Cheezburger. Strange.

Review: An Iron Rose, by Peter Temple

Hard-boiled thriller with an Australian accent
An Iron Rose, by Peter Temple
Review published in the Sunday Business Post, May 27, 2007 – Reviewed by Alex Meehan

It’s not often you come across a detective novel set in Melbourne, and rarer still that it’s quite so good as Peter Temple’s An Iron Rose. When MacArthur John Faraday’s best friend Ned is found hanged, the police and surrounding community make the reasonable assumption he committed suicide. But ex-cop turned blacksmith Faraday is far from convinced, and nagging doubts make him think all is not as it seems, and if it wasn’t suicide, then it must have been murder.bu000521.jpg

Faraday has thrown in his big city ways, moved to the country and opened a forge. He sinks pints in the local pub, chats to the locals and even togs out for the local footie team, but leaving behind his dark and violent past as a detective senior sergeant in the Australian Federal Police is not as easy as all that.

Clearing out Ned’s house after the funeral, Faraday discovers press clippings from the 1980s about the skeleton of a girl found down an abandoned mine shaft. Why is Ned concerned and what drew him to repeatedly visit the Kinross Hall detention centre for juvenile girls?

Is it possible that Ned himself may have been responsible for string of killings of teenage girls? As Faraday progresses through his investigation, more murders occur, this time to people he’s interviewed. The story heats up as Faraday sets out to find the truth and draws sinister forces down on himself in the process.

An Iron Rose is a stylish thriller written in the first person and chock full of local Australian colour. The characters speak in gruff, truncated sentences and are fond of black humour – they play out their roles in a harsh environment with a worldly sense of irreverence. This is an accomplished novel from a writer who is a name to be reckoned with in his home country.

A heavyweight crime writer, Peter Temple is an ex-journalist who occupies an Ian Rankinesque position in the Australian fiction charts. He is best known for his series of detective novels featuring disgraced lawyer and gambling addict Jack Irish and has won a record five Ned Kelly awards for excellence in Australian crime writing.

An Iron Rose is a time-out for him, a standalone crime thriller separate from the franchise that has made him a household name down under. Temple’s success is based on the simple premise that Australia has its own people, vernacular language, culture and personality, so why shouldn’t that be reflected in its fiction? Iron Rose features well drawn characters in atypical settings that challenge the genre well.

Interestingly, this book was first published in 1998, but is only now available in this part of the world. Despite the size of the Australian market, it has been historically difficult for successful authors to break out and find audiences in Europe and the US.

Publishers have apparently felt that Australian slang and culture would be too difficult for audiences used to US and British-based detectives to take to heart. Based on An Iron Rose, that may soon be a myth exploded. Just in time for the summer season, this is an ideal beach or poolside read – it’s engaging, entertaining and interesting without requiring too much from the reader.

Derren Brown’s zombie videogame

I’ve long been a fan of Derren Brown, and first saw this video clip on TV a few years ago. There’s many hours of fantastic TV on youtube featuring this extraordinary man, so if you have time to kill and want to learn a bit about the world around you and the power of perception, check it out.

I’ll blog in more depth about my thoughts on how Mr Brown works but for now, this clip should provide some food for thought, at the same time as scaring the pants off you.

For anyone who has never seen this guy in action, Brown is a genuinely extremely talented hypnotist and mentalist – he specialises in the kind of performance-based stage magic that David Blane can only dream about. He uses no stooges or actors and everything he does and gets other people to do is based on human psychology. Which is scarier, that’s it’s fake or that it’s real. You decide.