‘How many people are you expecting at your reading?’
‘Well, it’s impossible to know. Maybe five, maybe 20.’
‘But how many people will you will be happy with?’
‘Well, anything over three.’
We’re on our way to my reading from my Berlin thriller Blood Summit at the excellent English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna. Not only is it a Friday night, but the World Cup has started: Portugal vs Spain, no less. I am managing my expectations appropriately.
We gather in the bookshop. It is a beautiful place, in the heart of Vienna’s old town. Outside, a cobbled street. Inside, books reach to the ceiling: a temple of imagination, stories and ideas. If you have never visited Shakespeare & Co, go today or, at the latest, next weekend. They are open until 9 p.m. six days a week.
People keep coming. By the time I start the reading, at 1930, the shop is already crammed – I count 19 people. More keep arriving, slipping in cunningly through a hitherto unsuspected back door.
A wonderful place for a book-reading – Shakespeare & Co
What does reclusive author Robert Pimm look like in the flesh?
You can find out on Friday 15 June at the wonderful Shakespeare & Co bookshop at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna.
I will be reading from my new Berlin thriller “Blood Summit” (“a rip-roaring romp of a thriller” – Sir Christopher Mallaby). Entry is free and copies of the book will be on sale.
Come along – and bring a friend!
For a preview, see the video below, from my March 16 reading at Cafe Korb, also in Vienna.
In fact, you can buy “Blood Summit” in Shakespeare & Co any time: (more…)
What makes Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers some of the best? I put it down to consistent quality; great characterisation (including fine women and minor fellers); humour; dialogue; satisfying problem-solving; and wisdom. If you like thrillers, worth putting on your list of “best books to read”.
Burly, yet brilliant. Violent, yet sensitive to the needs of women. Loyal to friends, yet indifferent to relationships.
Jack Reacher, hero of Lee Child’s thriller series, is an ex military policeman with terrific characteristics.
“The Affair” is excellent
I’ve been a Jack Reacher fan since reading my first Lee Child novel, “Tripwire” (Jack Reacher 3), over a decade ago. That book features a cunning plot; extreme violence; and a powerful, satisfying resolution.
Child has published two dozen Jack Reacher novels, one a year since 1997. They are hugely successful: “Blue Moon” (no.24 in the series, published in 2019), for example, has over 9,000 reviews on Amazon.com and over 8,500 on Amazon.co.uk.
Here are 8 reasons why people love Jack Reacher:
(i) the early novels are consistently good. In addition to “Tripwire” I enjoyed, for example, “Killing Floor” (JR1: crisp, authoritative writing and richly textured, eg Reacher’s quest to find legendary guitar player Blind Blake), “Die Trying” (JR2); “The Visitor” (JR4: an original, creepy and tricky mystery which Reacher struggles to solve); “Echo Burning” (JR5: strong, complex plot); and “Without Fail” (JR6);
(ii) great women. I particularly like the enigmatic Frances Neagley, a female equivalent of Reacher who is if anything even cooler and tougher than he is and also features in “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11); “The Enemy” (JR8); and “The Affair” (JR16). I also liked the improbably beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux in “The Affair”, with her remarkable appetite:
The grease from the meat made her lips glisten. She was a slim woman. She must have had a metabolism like a nuclear reactor.
(iii) in some novels, eg “The Enemy”, Reacher displays dry, ironic humour (US readers: apologies for my UK spelling tendencies), particularly in displaying insubordination. When asked “Where did he have the heart attack?”, Reacher replies “In his chest cavity”;
(iv) fine dialogue, such as this, between Reacher and Deveraux, after sex, in “The Affair” (Reacher is narrating):
Afterwards Deveraux yawned and stretched and said, ‘You’re not bad for a soldier boy.’
I said, ‘You’re excellent for a Marine.’
‘We’d better be careful. We might develop feelings for each other.’
‘What are those?’
‘What are what?’
She paused a beat.
She said, ‘Men should be more in touch with their feelings.’
I said, ‘If I ever have one, you’ll be the first to know, I promise.’
She paused, again. Then she laughed.
(v) some of Lee Child’s later works are again excellent. I recently read “The Affair” (Reacher 16) which re-introduces not only Neagley but also Reacher’s sense of humour;
(vi), Lee Child also write some strong male minor characters, such as military men Leon Garber and Stan Lowrey, of whom Reacher, narrating the story, gives this splendid account:
I leaned on the wall next to the phone… because Lowrey’s stories were usually very long. He fancied himself a raconteur. And he liked background. And context. Deep background, and deep context. Normally he liked to trace everything back to a seminal point just before random swirls of gas from the chartless wastes of the universe happened to get together and form the earth itself.
In addition to Garber and Lowrey, I particularly like Major Duncan Munro, another military policeman, who delivers some splendid one-liners, such as this exchange, as Reacher explains why he wanted to keep certain information secret:
[Reacher:] ‘I wanted Munro to go back to Germany with a clear conscience.’
Munro said, ‘My conscience is always clear.’
‘But it’s easier to play dumb if you really don’t know the answer.’
‘I never had a problem playing dumb. Some folks think I am.’
This exchange, where Munro actually gets the better of Reacher, is reminiscent of the famous “Does your dog bite?” exchange between Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, and a hotel receptionist in the 1976 film “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”, in that the hotel receptionist has the better lines:
(vii) Jack Reacher has an almost Holmesian ability to infer events from invisible clues as he, for example, reconstructs the murder of Janice May Chapman in “The Affair”;
(viii) Finally, Reacher has plenty of good one-liners and epigrams, eg:
I didn’t like him much. A snap judgement, maybe, but generally those are as good as any other kind.
Is there a down side to Jack Reacher? Personally, I think some of the middle and later novels are less good than others. My least favourites include “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11) and “Nothing to Lose” (JR12), where Reacher’s fine sense of humour seems to have been excised. I found “61 Hours” (JR14) slow-moving. But things picked up with “Worth Dying For” (JR15). “The Affair” (JR16) is so good it inspired me to write this blog.
My advice: if you like thrillers and want to sample Lee Child, try some of the earlier books listed above. If you are a fan but have been deterred by some of the less compelling tales in the series, keep reading!
For: solid thrillers with a hero saved from caricature by his great sense of humour (more humour in future episodes, please, Mr Child)
Against: in those books low on humour, Jack Reacher is less entertaining.
P.S. If you like thrillers, you should try my own Blood Summit (“Hugely entertaining” – John Connolly).
I am on a four-stage plane journey, from Vienna to Sharm-el-Sheikh and back via Istanbul. On the first leg, from Vienna to Istanbul, my Turkish Airlines flight features seat-back video and I choose recent blockbuster “Black Panther”.
Unfortunately the crew make many announcements in numerous languages (bold italic links are to other blogs on this site), interrupting the movie. So I miss the end of the film, which I am hoping will include astonishing plot twists but fear will mostly be superheroes slugging each other (a fundamental problem with all superhero movies: if two superheroes have a superhero fist-fight, how do you make it interesting? No-one knows).
On the next three legs, Istanbul-Sharm, Sharm-Istanbul and Istanbul-Vienna, the Turkish Airlines aircraft are older, without seat-back video. So I haven’t seen the end of “Black Panther”. Should I make an effort to catch the last 20 minutes? What do you think? No spoilers please!
The news gets worse. On the communal screens on the older planes, the airline shows episodes of Fish Tank Kings. This is (more…)
I have so far published seven hotel stories, available on Amazon in the novel-length Seven Hotel Stories: The Complete Collection.
All the stories feature the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager, Ms N; her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana; and Ms N’s unique methods of solving problems.
The first story, Britches, shows how Ms N and Tatiana first met; and how they sorted out the hotel owner from hell using a Combined Burns Night and St Patrick’s Day Ball (they exist – I have been to one); the President of China; and something Tatiana found under a handsome Scotsman’s kilt. You can read an excerpt from Britches here.
The second Hotel Story is The Two Rooms. It features an obnoxious guest; a hypocritical Prime Minister on a moral crusade; some Russian ice-hockey fans; an angry Japanese sushi chef; and a startling twist. Is it my favourite? Perhaps it is. You can read an excerpt from The Two Rooms on this site.
I have written several times in these chronicles of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse, including my induction (How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide), drawing on the excellent advice of fellow WordPress blogger and Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – strongly recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.
Hence my concern, bordering on panic, at my initial perception that “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” was not quite such a pearl of the Wodehouse canon as, say, the wondrous Thank you, Jeeves. Bertie Wooster’s early decision to grow a moustache, to the disapproval of Jeeves, felt a little familiar as a plot device. The plot of the first half of the book meandered – well, I am reminded of Bertie’s description of Daphne Dolores Morehead on her first appearance in the novel as having “a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway”.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”
That very reference to Ms Morehead, however, signals my sense of relief that I can in fact recommend “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”, the seventh P G Wodehouse novel to feature Jeeves and Wooster and his sixtieth book overall, wholeheartedly. From about the half-way point, the story spreads its wings. The subsequent flight is sublime. The scene following the unexpected arrival of the aforementioned Daphne at Brinkley Court is amongst the funniest (more…)
“The Simpsons” is the most sophisticated show on TV. Obviously.
In an earlier post I praised Series 25, Episode 20, Brick Like Me, in which I noted the parallels between the episode and the 1955 Frederik Pohl short story The Tunnel Under the World.
Trash of the Titans, Series 9, episode 22, is from 1998. It was the 200th episode overall. Do the producers make a special effort with round-numbered episodes? Maybe they do: Brick Like Me was episode 550.
Trash of the Titans looks at what can happen when democracy goes wrong:
(i) an evil corporation, trying to fill a lull in sales of its useless toys, cards and gifts over the summer, invents “Love Day” to boost sales (a naive executive who argues they should accept the lull – “hey, we’re making enough money, right?” is ejected by goons). Shortly after, the Simpsons are celebrating “Love Day”, despite Lisa pointing out that “the stores just invented this holiday to make (more…)
Franz Schubert steps to one side.
The lights go down.
Robert Pimm looks up at the packed crowd.
‘My name is Robert Pimm,’ he says. ‘First time I’ve said that.’
For those of you who were kind enough to attend my first reading from my new Berlin thriller Blood Summit at the Cafe Korb in Vienna last year, introduced by remarkable artistic director Franz Schubert (“this name is not a joke”), thank you.
The video of my reading from Blood Summit above was produced by the excellent Sibylle Trost in Berlin – thanks, Sibylle!
I was delighted to receive a good deal of positive feedback on 16 March, as well as news the next day that brilliant English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna had run out of copies of Blood Summit.
They have since renewed their supplies. (more…)
The pattern is unmistakeable.
A graph shows a financial trend-line (the price of gold) going up and down a couple of times, then declining more steeply.
Around the trend-line, someone has sketched a crude profile of a camel, its head lowered as if to vomit.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Vomiting Camel, a spoof species of technical analysis created by FT writer @katie_martin_fx to poke fun at how so-called technical analysts attempt to predict future price movements of eg stocks or oil or gold by drawing lines on graphs to identify trends.
You can read her brilliant article (more…)
“Zum Schwarzen Kameel” is one of the best cafes in Vienna. It is also one of the best restaurants in Vienna; and one of the best bars in Vienna. A review of a Vienna institution.
No seats. Outrageous spectacles. An enigmatic, four hundred-year-old name. What is it that makes “Zum Schwarzen Kameel” stand out?
Zum Schwarzen Kameel (Bognergasse 5, 1st District) is not exactly a cafe but I have decided to include it in my famous Vienna cafe reviews it as it is undoubtedly one of the best cafes in Vienna as well as being something of an institution.
Some of the decorative detail in the Kameel is breath-taking – RP
Nestled in the heart of the First District close to a plethora of so-called designer shops (Prada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel et al), the Kameel is frequently packed with both tourists and well-heeled locals enjoying an eclectic blend of alcohol, open sandwiches, cakes and hot beverages. My first impression was: “all a bit much” (or, as the Germans might say, schickimicki). My second, and conclusive, impression was: “des hot wos” (more…)
I am quite intrigued by this movie, which I have not yet had a chance to see. Greatly hope it is as good as the rather reliable reviewers at Inconsistent Pacing make out.
Do you remember the first time you watched Jaws, and you were really hyped up, but it was kind of disappointing? And you complained about the corny acting and the special effects and someone said, hey, you’ve missed the point?
And then you watched it again, and this time you got it, because you knew the secret: Jaws is not a film about sharks. Jaws is a film about fear.
That magical moment has never happened for me. I think Jaws is a terrible, boring film, and I always will. But I mention it now because The Death of Stalin is not about Stalin. Or sharks.
It’s about fear.
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Aunts aren’t gentlemen” is one of my favourite Wodehouse novels. The the 10 quotations below are some of the funniest I have found.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen”
That’s a high bar: see eg my reviews of Thank You, Jeeves (click link for five wondrous quotations) Right Ho, Jeeves (click for 14 fruity quotes) and Ring for Jeeves, which also teemed with quotables.
So for all you Wodehouse aficionados out there, here are ten exquisite quotations from Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen:
- ‘Nice girl,’ I said, for there is never any harm in giving the old salve. ‘And, of course, radiant-beauty-wise in the top ten.’ [Orlo’s] eyes bulged, at the same time flashing, as if he were on the verge of making a fiery far-to-the-left speech. ‘You know her?’ he said, and his voice was low and guttural, like that of a bulldog which has attempted to swallow a chump chop and only got it down halfway. (more…)
Many people come to this site in order to read my thriller Blood Summit.
You can get hold of a copy of Blood Summit thus:
(ii) if you live in Vienna (or even if you don’t), stroll along to Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2. It’s a terrific bookshop and (more…)
The Klimt masterpieces have been seen only twice in the last 127 years.
Yet they have been on show all the time.
It makes some sense.
The paintings are rendered doubly enticing by the juxtaposition of columns – Photo RP
In 1891 Gustav Klimt, at the age of 29 already a successful painter, was commissioned as one of several artists to paint murals in the mighty main staircase of the newly-built Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna – a kind of combined British Museum and National Gallery. The paintings are epic in scale, stretching from one side of the vast space to the other.
I noticed the paintings at once when I visited the KHM in 2016 and wanted to get a good look at them. But I couldn’t. (more…)
My famous Vienna Cafe Reviews note the alleged “no kissing” rule in the Cafe Malipop; and promise a story from 1986.
Here it is. It concerns the Gmoa Keller, right here in Vienna.
Back in 1986 I looked something like this
In the 1980s, the Gmoa Keller was a tenebrous place, damp with history and rich with atmosphere. It was run by two elderly sisters from the Burgenland, Grete Novak and Hedi Vécsei. Grete had been in charge since taking over from her uncle, Andreas Herzog, in the ’60s. He in turn had run the place since 1936.
Late one night, my girlfriend Nicky and I took refuge there from a bitterly cold, wet evening. We ordered beers. We were the only guests.
The beer, and the safe haven of the Gmoakeller, warmed us up. A hint of kissing arose. Nothing ostentatious: a nuzzle, perhaps, a cheek to a neck.
Grete shuffled across to where we were sitting. She leaned down to my ear almost as though she were about to kiss me herself. (more…)
Have you ever wondered what Robert Pimm looks like in person?
Now you can find out.
I will be performing my first public reading at 19.30 on 16 March at the Cafe Korb, Brandstätte 9, in the First District of Vienna. Details are at the Cafe Korb Facebook page.
The Cafe Korb is a fine cafe, as I have reviewed separately. Its glories include an Art Lounge – click on the link for a 360-degree view. The cultural programme is eclectic and sublime – upcoming events range from “Who’s Afraid of the Jewish Mother?”, through the Korb’s famous Philosophical Evenings, to a performance by US jazz, blues and soul singer Margaret Carter.
It is in this splendid space that I shall be reading excerpts from my thriller Blood Summit – a world premiere.
The Art Lounge of Cafe Korb – worth a zoom, or a visit
The Art Lounge is not fantastically large and I am hoping it will be pretty packed. Entry is free, and I will answer questions after the reading. I look forward to seeing you there.
More recently, in my blog How to read P G Wodehouse: a new prescription, I savoured the fruits of recent roaming of the Plum pastures; and cited juicy quotations from the outstanding Ring for Jeeves.
Indeed, I have been struck by the poverty of many self-styled treasuries of quotations when it comes to Plum’s oeuvre.
So here, without further ado, are a few additional succulent fruit, assembled by me with pleasure from Thank You, Jeeves.
The cover of the Folio edition of ‘Thank You, Jeeves’
Thank You, Jeeves strikes me as one of the funniest of the Jeeves tales (quite an accolade – Ed). Jeeves himself has oiled off elsewhere for much of the action, but in his absence, Bertie Wooster’s ability to get into scrapes is exploited to outstanding effect. Such scenes as a night in which Bertie repeatedly fails to find a place to rest his head are (more…)
Here is the text of Chapter 6 of my Berlin thriller Blood Summit.
“Terrorist Uli Wenger meets a mysterious Russian.”
Enjoy! You can read the first six chapters of Blood Summit together here.
The Reichstag dome. Bad things happen here in “Blood Summit”
BLOOD SUMMIT: CHAPTER 6
One day, Uli Wenger thought, he would be tagged. If he lived that long. The technology existed: the state would inject a chip into each citizen and track them by satellite. If Uli were in charge, he would have people tagged tomorrow. He would want to know where everyone was, so he could torment them as they had tormented him.
But for now, there were no tags. That was good. Otherwise, what he planned for tomorrow would be impossible. The insects had saved him. The insects hated change. They liked their old-fashioned ID cards, which could be forged and bought and fixed. (more…)
The book fits right in, between Ian Fleming and John le Carré. Good company.
“Blood Summit” at Shakespeare & Co in Vienna
Shakespeare & Co, the famous Vienna English language booksellers, stocks my Berlin thriller Blood Summit. I am proud to see it there on the shelves.
If you live in Vienna, I suggest you nip right down to Shakespeare & Co and buy yourself a book from their well-stocked shelves.
Shakespeare & Co also stock my book Seven Hotel Stories.
Shakespeare & Co is at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna (1st District). It is worth a visit. A sketch, including of the excellent Guy Perlaki who helps run the shop, is on the Vienna Würstelstand site.
My original Vienna Cafe Reviews story, published in March 2017, included a story about a customer having a bad experience trying to get the bill, back in 1986.
A couple of my Austrian friends sprang to the defence of the waiter. Sure, Vienna cafes had a charming, the-waiter-is-always-right serving ethos, they said. But who wanted subservient waiters? The attitude of Vienna cafe waiters was all about the dignity of labour, and standing up for the right to be treated as a human being.
I recommend the Cafe Schwarzenberg, which is not the cafe referred to below!
I was not so sure. Indeed, these comments reminded me of my 2004 Financial Times piece “When dinner becomes the last supper“, which begins: Friends from Paris, Madrid or New York often ask me: “Why are German waiters so brilliant?” It’s a satire, by the way.
Indeed, I have been in many Vienna cafes (the Sperl, the Bräunerhof and the Tirolerhof spring to mind) which are as traditional as they come, but where the waiters go about their business is an efficient and thoroughly satisfactory way.
Is there any contradiction between efficiency and tradition? I’d welcome your views.
Meanwhile, I thought readers might be interested to read the full story of that 1986 experience. It goes as follows.
I had been invited to lunch by a friend from the Vienna Town Hall (the mayor at that time was Mr Zilk). My friend suggested we go to a certain cafe, famed for its traditions. (more…)
‘One of my favourite restaurants in London is the Laughing Halibut,’ I say as we eat our lunch in Vienna. ‘When I first started eating there in 1979, it was run by this Italian guy, and one of his sons used to work there, a young bloke. Now, the son is still there, he seems to run the place, but he has become a much older man.’
’40 years is a long time, I guess,’ my friend says. ‘The Italian has aged. But you have stayed the same.’
‘Correct! It’s like that Joe Walsh song, Life’s been good to me so far. Great lyrics. It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame, he sings. Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed. Best fish and chips in central London.’
A delicious portion of chips from the Laughing Halibut – RP
I often think of the Laughing Halibut, and would recommend it to anyone visiting or living in London. In fact, I like it so much that it features in a key scene in a novel of mine, which is on ice at present but might see the light of day in a couple of years. The scene also features a phlegmatic Italian waiter.
The scene (which I have lightly edited, for reasons too complex to explain here) is as follows. Angus Fairfax, the protagonist of the book, is meeting his wife Rosie for lunch.
Excerpt from an unpublished novel
Rosie and I had instituted regular Monday lunches when she was promoted – again – twelve months before. ‘You must be in the diary,’ she’d said. ‘Otherwise, I’ll never see you.’
She’d been right. These days, most of our conversations seemed to take place in the Laughing Halibut in Strutton Ground.
Strutton Ground was a curious street. (more…)
I was bemused recently to see a news report headed: Austria ranked by expats as one of unfriendliest countries.
I have lived in Austria for years and have numerous friends. Who are these expats who say Austrians are unfriendly? And who is doing the measuring? I decided to investigate.
It turns out that the report is based on the “Expat Insider 2017” survey carried out by the “InterNations” network.
Austria has a lot to offer – as well as friendly people – Photo RP
“Internations” is a company which works to help expats settle in and get to know other expats (slogan: “Wherever in the world life takes you, our InterNations Communities help you feel at home”).
Its full report, which you can download in full from the link above, is packed with interesting statistics. (more…)
The US President, British Prime Minister, German Chancellor, Russian President and other G8 leaders are taken hostage by terrorists at a summit in Berlin.
Rescue is impossible.
One after another, hostages are executed at point-blank range, killings streamed live, bodies left on show for fifteen minutes to prove that they are dead.
Then the U.S. President is thrown into the killing chair – and shots ring out.
Who is to blame for this cataclysm? Who can resolve the crisis – against a background of terrorist demands which seem impossible to meet, yet which have demonstrators massing outside the Reichstag to support the hostage-takers? (more…)
What is the Overton window? I first came across the term in a piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books in July 2016.
He described it as “a term… meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment… [which] can be moved.”
Lanchester said that ideas can start far outside the political mainstream yet later come to seem acceptable. He cited Brexit as an example: considered eccentric in 1997, yet enjoying large-scale support in a referendum by 2016.
Lanchester’s article, by the way, like many LRB pieces, is improbably long: set aside a bit of time if you want to read it.
A recent piece at the splendid “Flip Chart Fairy Tales” blog (recommended: often a source of illuminating graphs, charts and views) entitled “Breaking the Overton Window“, also noted how opinions can change. The author argues that for politicians and commentators the Overton Window has moved over recent decades towards libertarian, right-wing policies which do not obviously overlap with established political parties. By contrast, the views of voters have moved in the opposite direction, towards more authoritarian and left-wing ideas – likewise not corresponding clearly to existing parties. This tendency, he argues, a) is a move away from traditional “left-wing” and “right-wing” categorisations; and b) should lead politicians to shift towards those authoritative and left wing policies if they are not to leave voters alienated from politics.
What has this got to do with social media, and why does the Overton window matter? (more…)
Here is the text of Chapter 5 of my Berlin thriller Blood Summit.
“In which Helen Gale gets into even more trouble.”
The Reichstag dome. Warning: bad things happen here in “Blood Summit”
BLOOD SUMMIT: CHAPTER 5
Helen watched Sir Leonard Lennox grow angry. It was a rare, but frightening sight. Even when the ambassador was calm, his rugged features tended to darken in response to obstacles or unreason. Now, the combination of brilliant white bandages and a choleric outburst made his face look black with rage.
‘They say what?‘
Basil Nutter grimaced, glanced around the conference table and said nothing. Decades of experience in the back rooms of embassies from Abidjan to Yerevan had left the wizened but career-challenged diplomat equipped with two convictions. The first was that the key to a contented life was to avoid drawing attention to yourself. The second was that efforts by governments to influence the media were at best pointless and in most cases counter-productive. Basil was arguably, therefore, ill-fitted to the job of embassy press officer. He seemed physically to have shrunk as the Summit loomed. This morning’s blast had left his brow, and his suit, more deeply creased than ever.
Helen had been thinking of the injured child in the street. She saw Basil’s plight and intervened.
‘Ambassador,’ she said. ‘You need a cigarette. Possibly two.’
‘First sensible idea I’ve heard all day.’ A lighter and a packet of Benson and Hedges were in the ambassador’s big hands in an instant. ‘And before you say anything, Jason, this is an emergency. Since the windows have been blown out by a terrorist bomb, we’re technically outside anyway.’
Jason Short said nothing, but looked at the overwhelmingly intact windows and pursed his lips.
The ambassador lit a cigarette, blew a stream of smoke towards the ceiling, and turned to Basil. (more…)
I have chosen my favourite ten posts, out of the 47 I published in 2017. Which is your favourite? Let me know. And feel free to re-post this on Facebook or to “like” it – if you do.
A novelty this year was my Picture Quiz – not including this picture from Cuba. Spot the Che Guevara tattoo
It wasn’t easy choosing a shortlist. I’ve left out many favourites, including my account of how, aged 8, I used to electrocute myself regularly with my girlfriend Barbara in Wonder Woman and Wartime Moral Confusion; or my recent review of The Last Jedi 3/10: the galaxy’s most shagged-out designers? (more…)
What a brilliant movie! Full of breathtaking, blow-you-away moments, unpredictable plot-twists, and unforgettable images and ideas!
I speak, of course, of the original 1977 Star Wars.
I love movies and adore sci-fi. The original Star Wars sent me into a drug-like high when I saw it in Dolby Sensurround at the Odeon Marble Arch in 1977. So did parts of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention the hilarious Galaxy Quest. I gave a strong review to the last Star Wars outing, The Force Awakens, despite initial misgivings.
So when someone takes a massive budget, an epic back story and the expectations of millions and turns out something which is 80% as dull as ditchwater, I feel personally betrayed. Here are 7 reasons why The Last Jedi is, by the standards of what could have been, an inter-galactic train-wreck:
(i) it is beyond boring. In fact, it is the first movie in which I have actually fallen asleep in the cinema, ever. The scenes of Rey and Luke discussing obscure stuff on an island go on and on and… dear God, please can something happen soon? (more…)
Here is Chapter 4 of my Berlin thriller Blood Summit.
The Reichstag dome. Warning: bad things happen here in “Blood Summit”
How did Dieter Kremp, Deputy Head of the Summit Security Unit and a macho package of anger, “exquisite, toned musculature” and chauvinism, become the lover of Helen Gale – a Cambridge-educated top diplomat? How did the US Secret Service almost stop the Summit happening?
Find out now.
BLOOD SUMMIT: CHAPTER 4
As he ran towards the Summit Security Unit command bunker, Dieter Kremp was reminded with a jolt how much he hated the logo for the Children’s Summit. A Berlin bear on its back, for Christ’s sake, balancing a cute kid on each of its sharp-clawed paws. The bear was grinning playfully – hungrily, more like – as it performed this unnatural act.
Wonderful news and äußerst schön. My Berlin thriller Blood Summit is now up on Amazon, both as an e-book and as a paperback – I’ve seen, and signed, a copy. Both look terrific, thanks to Ken and Kate over at Creative Covers.
If you enjoy Blood Summit, feel free to leave a review an Amazon, repost my facebook posts, retweet my tweets, or do anything else to spread the word. The greatest challenge faced by any author is bringing her or his book – however brilliant – to the attention of people who might enjoy it.
I’ll be doing my bit on this blog and elsewhere, but all help gratefully received.
I will also be happy to sign paperback copies – these first editions will obviously be priceless collector’s items in years to come.
Potsdamer Platz – Helen Gale lives in a flat here (photo RP)
Meanwhile I shall continue to publish excerpts from the novel.
Chapter 3 develops the conflict between Helen Gale and her boss, Jason Short, and introduces several new characters including:
– Ram Kuresh: the only avowedly gay member of the Secret Intelligence Service Office in Berlin. (more…)
In the last couple of weeks I have posted the prologue and first chapter of my new thriller, Blood Summit.
This week comes Chapter 2. Get to know Uli Wenger, the mastermind behind the plot to seize the Reichstag. What drives him? Why does he detonate a bomb outside the British Embassy in Berlin? You decide.
The full text of Chapter 2 is below. Or you can read all the excerpts published on this blog together at my new Blood Summit page.
One other big piece of news.
The complete thriller Blood Summit is now available on Amazon. On Friday 1 December I uploaded both the e-book version (suitable for Kindle) and, for the first time in my experience, a paperback version. The e-book is already available at the link above. The paperback seems to take longer to appear; I will let you know when it does.
I have worked long and hard on Blood Summit, both to write the novel (a big job) and to prepare it for publication. It is a wonderful moment to be able to make it available to readers. I hope you enjoy it. Anything you can do to draw the book to the attention of potential readers will of course be welcome.
Blood Summit: the cover
Here is the text of Chapter 2. Thoughts, comments and re-posts welcome!
It was not accident but design which made Uli Wenger so hard to see. His disguise was brilliant. Only one person in the crowd could recognise him. She would never tell a soul.
More marchers were appearing. The merciless punctuality made planning easy. Uli was in control. In thirty-six hours, he would hold a knife to the throat of the world. A few hours after that, the world would embrace him as its saviour. (more…)
Last week I posted the prologue of my new novel, Blood Summit.
This week, you can read the first chapter. It introduces protagonist Helen Gale, a brilliant, tough counter-terrorism expert responsible for protecting G8 Presidents and Prime Ministers at the Children’s Summit in Berlin. The blurb:
Counter-terrorism expert Helen Gale has one job: to protect world leaders at a summit in the Berlin Reichstag.
But terrorists take hostage presidents, prime ministers, one hundred innocent children – and Helen’s journalist husband.
Then the executions start.
Helen’s life implodes. Yet she alone can see the truth. As special forces plan a deadly assault, she must enter the shattered hulk of the Reichstag to stop a bloodbath.
Blood Summit: the cover
Here is the text of the first chapter. You can read the prologue and first chapter together at my new Blood Summit page.
Helen Gale was briefing the ambassador on the Children’s Summit when the first rock hit the window.
‘The Prime Minister flies in at 1500 tomorrow,’ she said. ‘The trouble is, Air Force One is due at 1450. Obviously, the German Federal Chancellor won’t have time to greet the President of the United States at the airport.’
‘Who wants to meet a child in a sandpit?’ the ambassador said.
‘The President’s been called worse things.’
‘Not by the Chancellor. After a speech on US foreign policy. When someone’s left the microphone on.’
What is in my new thriller Blood Summit?
Here is the prologue.
The complete novel, as both paperback and e-book, should be available soon on Amazon.
Watch this space.
Early draft of “Blood Summit” cover
Two years earlier
There were children playing in the street outside her door. Turkish, Uli Wenger guessed from their dark skin and bright clothes. He walked around them. The first insect Uli ever killed had been a child. Today, he had more important business.
The surface of the door was rough with dirt and spray paint. Sixteen buzzers studded the wall. The target lived on the third floor. Uli pressed the button by her name. (more…)
In fact I have just oiled over for a further immersion in Plumtopia, notably this informative piece about P G Wodehouse societies including The P G Wodehouse Society UK.
I can verify that the site is a veritable motherlode of P G Wodehouse-related info. Recommended.
Meanwhile I have been continuing my own exploration of the oeuvre of the author known as “Plum” (short for “Pelham”, his first name). I have so far completed my perusal of Carry on Jeeves, Very Good Jeeves, The Inimitable Jeeves, The Code of the Woosters, Joy in the Morning and Ring for Jeeves. The standard is consistent, although I have taken medical advice not to binge on more than three consecutive P G Wodehouse novels, as intensive research shows this may reduce their impact.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Ring for Jeeves”
The efficacy of this new reading prescription has been proven by a Wodehouse abstinence (more…)
In 2017 I published the seventh Hotel Story.
The Three Heads.
Like all the Hotel Stories, The Three Heads features the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager, Ms N, and her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana. Like its predecessor, The Swedish Woman, The Three Heads presents Ms N with a crime which she must solve, reinforcing her credentials as the Sherlock Holmes to whom Tatiana, the narrator, plays Doctor Watson. I’d be delighted to hear your comments.
By way of a taster for The Three Heads, I hope you enjoy the following excerpt.
The Three Heads (excerpt)
‘Tatiana, my sugar plum. You are looking beautiful today.’
‘Thank you. But – ‘
‘I mean it, buttercup. I never forget how lucky I am to have you.’
‘Pablo. I am grateful.’ When I gaze into Pablo’s warm brown eyes and see his soft lips smiling at me, I find it hard to think straight. ‘But we need to talk about your plans to promote the hotel. Our Caravanserai Ultra Platinum is in trouble.’
‘Our hotel promotes itself, turtle-dove. It is the coolest, most luxurious and most ecological destination on earth, and the only hotel located entirely within a hollow mountain.’ He gestures around the Sunset Bar, with its outrageously exclusive (more…)
Welcome to “The Americans”. Who are they? What can they teach us about ourselves?
You can read more on my page, The Americans.
The prologue begins with me leaving Durango, Colorado, as the sun sets in mid-July.
The first thing I saw were his big butcher’s arms: broad and sheened with sweat. Next I saw tattoos; a square jaw, thick with stubble, set in a sullen half-smile, half-sneer; and a six-pack of Schlitz, wedged between his thighs on the driver’s seat.
Schlitz – the beer that made Milwaukee famous. What made Milwaukee famous made a loser out of me.
Was it dangerous to enter the cab of the old Ford pick-up? Standing by the roadside outside Durango in the evening heat, I had the usual split second to decide. I sensed contradictory feelings: fear; an urge to keep moving; and thirst.
‘Where are you heading?’ I asked.
The next town.
‘OK.’ I got in. The cab smelled of camphor.
My 1979 diary and Rand McNally Interstate Road Atlas. The flag was originally stuck to my red rucksack as a hitch-hiking aid
It was July ’79. Jimmy Carter was President. Donald Trump was a 33-year-old real estate developer in (more…)
Why do sequels suck? Why does it drive us crazy? My study shows examples of what makes sequels bomb and asks why movie-makers become so lazy.
I am watching the sequel to a movie I adored three years ago. The sequel is so piss-poor that I feel violated and upset. How can a major studio spend squillions of dollars producing such trash?
Weeks later, it happens again. Another sequel, another cringe-making dose of drivel. Strangely, the two movies have much in common, including much of what makes them so unwatchable.
The movies are: Guardians of the Galaxy II (2017) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017).
Guardians of the Galaxy 2: decent trailer, execrable movie
The Lego Batman Movie: ditto
There is something weird about how films are rated. Is it a conspiracy? I’m beginning to wonder.
Readers of this blog will know that I decry conspiracy theories. But I recently saw two films (movies) I thought were dire and one I enjoyed. The first two were Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (Rotten Tomatoes rating 82%, certified fresh) and The Lego Batman Movie (Rotten Tomatoes rating 91%, certified fresh). The one I enjoyed was The Circle (Rotten Tomatoes rating 17%, rotten).
In the likely event that you haven’t heard much about the movie, the plot revolves around likeable young ingenue Mae (Emily Watson) who joins “The Circle”, a fusion of Apple, Google and Facebook (more…)
More complex than Dan Brown. More thrilling than Le Carré. Closer to the truth than either.
Counter-terrorism expert Helen Gale has one job: to protect the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the US, Britain, China, France, Russia, Germany, Canada and Italy at the Children’s Summit in Berlin.
The Reichstag is the most fortified building on earth. Yet terrorists take world leaders, tycoons, one hundred innocent children and Helen’s husband captive. Then the executions start.
Helen is suspended from duty and sued for negligence. Yet she alone sees the mastermind behind the siege. As US special forces plan a deadly assault, Helen must enter the shattered hulk of the Reichstag to stop a bloodbath.
“The genuine article: clever and melancholy: a security-pass into a world-within-a-world” – Matthew Parris on Robert Pimm.
OK, everyone. Help me. Ahead of publication of my new novel, Blood Summit this autumn I am drafting the blurb for the back page. What do you think of the above? Would it make you want to read the book? Comments welcome: do use the comments box or send me an e-mail.
I’m crowdsourcing comments and you, faithful readers, are my crowd.
And thanks for all your comments on titles. Excellent comments from different people in different senses. For now, I’m going with Blood Summit.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – the “click here” blue button). You can check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.
I’ve added new reviews to my popular Vienna cafes: which are best? blog. The fifteen cafes reviewed are mostly in the town centre, but include several in the 3rd, 6th, 7th and 10th Districts. The latest additions are the little-known Cafe Morgenstern (charming and super grunge) and the popular Cafe Museum (much restored since the 1980s). Take a look.
If you have a favourite cafe you’d like me to review, let me know in the comments. I’m highly suggestible and always looking for something original – see eg my brand new review of Cafe Malipop.
The shabby but charming decor of the Cafe Morgenstern, complete with star – RP
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.
P.P.S. see my piece When dinner becomes the last supper for a tongue-in-cheek guide to “why German waiters are the best”.
You’re shopping for a fast-paced, intelligent action thriller.
The Reichstag in Berlin: setting for my new novel
One of them is called Blood Summit.
One of them is called Body Politic.
The third is called Show me the head of the President.
On which do you click?
Please let me know in the “comments” section below.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.
Can we make ourselves happy? Is there a formula for being happier? Suggestions and practical ideas for improving your mood.
Can we make ourselves happier? It is a question I have looked at so often – along with feminist issues – that I even have a category for it on this blog called Existential – and women.
Some say that a combination of a) physical activity; b) other people; and c) nature is the key to happiness, cf walking the Dales Way in England
One of my key ways to improve my mood, when things appear to be going wrong, is to take a step back and get some perspective. I wrote about this in my 2017 blog Things are getting worse, right? Wrong. Here’s why.
Other happiness-related blogs include:
In the course of a recent quiet weekend, I dipped into the soul of central European melancholy.
I watched 210 minutes of a 1964 black and white TV adaptation of Radetzky March, a novel by Joseph Roth. Later I listened to Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter’s Journey). Spoiler alert: this blog mentions key plot points of both.
Radetzky March is about the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, illustrated through three generations of the Trotta family. The eldest Trotta, a humble infantry lieutenant of Slovenian origin, saves the life of Emperor Franz Josef at the battle of Solferino in 1859 (more…)
‘Is it cold in here? I’m a bit cold.’
Mick Jagger, in a skin-tight stage suit displaying his gaunt chest and an ornate cross around his neck, is drenched in sweat. You can’t hear the crowd respond. Are they delirious, or puzzled?
“Ladies & Gentlemen” on a 300-square-metre open air screen in Vienna
Until now I’d never heard of the Rolling Stones’ 1974 concert movie Ladies & Gentlemen. Drawing on performances from four 1972 concerts in Texas, it was released in quadrophonic sound (remember that?)… then disappeared.
Most concert movies are boring. This one – not so much. (more…)
A man is writing a novel. He decides to check a fact. He consults his computer, or his phone, to find he has six new messages from friends. An extraordinary news story has come out. Some thrilling sport is available, live, on-line.
You know the rest. By the time our writer friend returns to his novel, 45 minutes have passed, and he has forgotten what he originally set out to research.
Our apparent inability to focus on anything for an extended period of time is one of the problems of the 21st century. It risks hampering our creativity and channelling our energy into bitty activities which leave us unsatisfied or unhappy. What can we do?
First, we can learn from the masters of concentration. One of these is the novelist Anthony Trollope, about whose awesome qualities I have written before, including this: “Trollope’s work is a reminder that sometimes, life in the slow lane can be better than the alternative. There’s no way to rush-read Trollope. His novels are best savoured: read in chunks, rather than a few pages at a time.”
‘Do you hate me, James?’
Dixon wanted to rush at her and tip her backwards in the chair, to make a deafening rude noise in her face, to push a bead up her nose. ‘How do you mean?’ He asked.
I first read Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim several decades ago. I enjoyed it immensely; and noted this exchange as summing up both how some women speak; and how some men react.
Re-reading the book recently I felt it had not aged well; but that it was still full of laugh-out-loud moments, including the one above.
What I was less sure of was how similar Kingsley Amis’s eponymous first person narrator is to Kemal, the first person narrator of Orhan Pamuk’s scary and thought-provoking novel The Museum of Innocence, which I reviewed recently.
In particular, are they similar in the way they treat women?
What do you think? I would welcome thoughts from readers.
As I am on holiday without a computer or iPad I cannot give this subject the attention it deserves for now; but will aim to do so in August when reunited with a computer.
Watch this space.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.
The sharing economy is a great way to decrease your ecological footprint and make your contribution to saving the planet. Not buying stuff can be rewarding, too.
The novel Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny, opens with the following lines:
His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha– and the –atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then he never claimed not to be a god.
I was thinking of Lord of Light the other day, and the new start-up Fat Llama, when planning to walk the last 100 miles of the Pennine Way.
This is not the Pennine Way, but the Lake District in 2007
I was due to walk the Pennine Way with my brother, with whom I walked the Dales Way in 2003 and who has done all the hard planning, including scoping the route, booking accommodation and so on (and has walked the first 168 miles of the Pennine Way, on his own). But for various reasons he now cannot go – disaster. Fortunately, my daughter (more…)
I recently inherited a splendid shelf-full of P G Wodehouse in a hand-tooled Folio edition.
My shelf of Wodehouse
But where to begin with Wodehouse?
Pondering this problem, I was delighted to come across fellow WordPress blogger Plumtopia, who specialises in, amongst other things, how to read P G Wodehouse. I discovered two invaluable articles:
- Getting started with Bertie and Jeeves: a chronological challenge considers where new readers should begin reading the series. It is a terrific piece and includes admirable advice about ignoring its own advice if you so wish.
- P G Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster storiesis also a splendid introduction.
When I was 8 and living in the mountainous African kingdom of Lesotho, my friend Barbara Stewart used to receive a package of DC and Marvel comics every few weeks from a relative. We would retreat to a certain deserted basement room in the university campus to gorge ourselves on the newly arrived treasures.
In that room was an electric point with the cover missing. We discovered that by inserting our fingers into a certain part of the wiring, we could give ourselves a powerful electric shock. We spent many lovely afternoons reading comics and daring each other to give ourselves another shock. Barbara, if you’re out there, please get in touch.
Wonder Woman “Official Final Trailer”
I mention this story because, back in the ’60s, we used to think the DC comics, with characters such as Superman and Batman, were cool; and that the heroes in the Marvel comics, (more…)
Saroo, a tiny boy, arrives confused, in Calcutta. He does not speak Bengali and has no family or friends or idea where he is.
Lion is his story.
The “Lion” trailer is packed with spoilers. Avoid!
I watched Lion on a wise person’s recommendation recently on a plane to Chennai. I thought the first half, featuring the stunning Sunny Pawar as Saroo, was riveting – especially if, like me, you hadn’t seen the trailer and the plot developments came as a complete surprise. The second part, which featured amongst others Nicole Kidman, struck me as OK but relatively routine and schmalzy in parts, especially the dodgy finale. (more…)
When was the last time you punched the air and said “yesssssssssss!”?
If you want to understand me a bit, read on.
Air-punching is the stuff of small victories. You disagree? Please leave a comment below. I would argue that with big victories (child born; illness overcome) you feel a powerful inner glow and no air-punching goes on. But I digress. My recent small victory involved the mileometer (an English word, the spell-check tells me – more usually odometer in the US and probably more appropriate here also as I actually choose to measure my cycling progress in small, rapidly-mounting kilometres rather than large, hard-to-accumulate miles, a fascinating subject in itself) on my bicycle.
I bought this bike on 16 July 1998 in Bonn, along with three other bicycles which have since perished. One was out-grown. Two were destroyed when a car I was in skidded on snowy tires in my garage in Kyiv and crushed the bikes, which were leaning against the wall and thus in the wrong place at the wrong time. My own bike was leaning against a different wall and escaped.
The bike on the Rhine tow-path – before I uglified it with yellow tape for Berlin – Photo Robert Pimm
In Bonn, I cycled 14 km each day to and from work, mostly on a tow-path along the Rhine, (more…)
One wonderful feature of Austria is the survival of independent cinemas.
Austrians do not admit this. They complain that independent cinemas are dead or dying and everything used to be much better. This is kind of true: I remember in 1985 sitting through a showing of the movie Britannia Hospital in a Viennese cinema as the only viewer.
Trailer for Toni Erdmann (English subtitles)
But believe me, Austrians: you have it good (or, as they say in German, hör auf mit dem jammern auf hohem Niveau).
It follows that in Austria, one has a feast of fine independent films, many off-beat and existential. But are they any good? (more…)
I know. You can’t really review a whole country.
Railway station in Chennai – all photos Robert Pimm
Especially not India: more than 13 times the size of the UK, massively diverse, and packed with history.
But I wanted to write for two reasons. (more…)
A review of the forthcoming thriller Atomic Blonde describes it as “the biggest action role for a woman on screen to date”.
Sounds good to me.
Atomic Blonde (2017) – trailer
A piece in the International New York Times by Jessica Manafi, which appeared in the Austrian Standard on 22 May, argues that Lorraine Broughton, the MI6 spy who is the heroine of the movie played by Charlize Theron, is getting closer to equality by (more…)
‘I saw this terrible news today.’ My friend, a sensible person, is distressed. ‘A terrorist group is breeding babies to be brought up as fresh soldiers for their cause. How can we resist such fanaticism?’
‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘It’s probably a mix of propaganda and sensationalism.’
I’ve written before about how the Internet is filled with misleading nonsense (“a vortex of vacuity; a crisis of kaka; a whirlwind of piss-poor polarisation”) in my blog The Internet. 7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation.
Lesotho: one of the most beautiful countries on earth has a low life expectancy – Photo RP
I’ve also written about the elegant Tuchman’s Law (hit the link for the full article), which says: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (more…)
A man stands halfway along a long, deserted alleyway. Autumn leaves blow in the wind. A woman approaches, walking slowly.
Will she stop? Or will she carry on, and walk past him?
The original trailer for the Third Man is dated but – unlike later versions, and like this review – contains no spoilers
If you have seen the cult 1949 film The Third Man, you will know the answer to this question. If, like me, you worship the film, merely to think of this scene and its resolution will send a pleasurable frisson down your spine.
Is the fact that many of the “Top films of all times” named by film buffs tend to be black and white classics based on (more…)
A young black man goes with his white girlfriend to see her parents at their remote woodland mansion.
Bad things happen. See the trailer.
A top reviewer and 100% trusted person recommended Get Out to me in March, but I only managed to see it on a weekend visit to Istanbul in late April and it is only now appearing in Vienna (question: (more…)
When I knew I would be moving to Vienna, but before this was widely known, I changed the heading on my Twitter account to a new image.
My intention was to hint, to those who knew either Vienna, me or both, that I was on the move.
The picture is an image from my all-time favourite film, set in post-war Vienna, The Third Man. To avoid spoilers I shall not say what it depicts, but merely to look at it gives me shivers of recollection.
No-one is allowed to applaud.
After each item the audience stirs, a captive beast, constrained – and stays silent.
Only after 15 performances – seven readings by Julian Barnes, and eight piano pieces by Angela Hewitt, lasting two hours – is the audience unleashed. Rapture ensues.
The Konzerthaus is one of Vienna’s great cultural institutions. With four separate concert halls, it offers an eclectic range of arts designed to be accessible to a broad public. In recent years the programme has included the “Originalton” cycle – literary readings with music. Most authors read in German but in 2015 British author Ian McEwan read; and in 2017 it was the turn of Julian Barnes – both accompanied by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt.
Julian Barnes and Angela Hewitt at the Konzerthaus – Photo Robert Pimm
I recently asked Tatiana, narrator of the Hotel Stories, how she would describe them. She answered as follows:
‘If I am honest, I am astonished that so many readers are interested in reading about Ms N, my small but perfectly formed boss, who is a normal female hotel manager like any other. She herself asked me to point out that the publicity describing her as “occasionally homicidal” is libellous and that that she would never seek to harm any guest or colleague, or encourage anyone else to harm him, no matter what bad things he might be doing.
It is not her fault if these people sometimes suffer tragic accidents, such as Mr Buddy Rich in Gents in the Florida Everglades, or Mr Matt Miller in The Swedish Woman in a pool of blood in the lift. With hindsight, Francois, the too-macho diving instructor in the soon-to-be-published Seven Ukrainian Girls should never have asked to be smeared with lubricant before he put on his diving outfit. And at the time her boss suffered an unfortunate surfing accident in Hawaii in the not-yet-published Total Control, Ms N was in a double-landlocked country far away and thus cannot be held responsible.
I hope that is clear.
I also am noticing that some people are buying individual Hotel Stories separately!
I am sorry to say that this is not logical, or appropriate.
This is because if you are buying even two Hotel Stories, the cheapest and best way and if you are asking me most sensible way all round is to buy Seven Hotel Stories: The Complete Collection. In this book you can read seven Hotel Stories. I guarantee this is best value and also a wonderful book. You can buy it on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
So: check out the Complete Collection. Like I was saying: seven whole stories. By the way, I am in all of them; and so is the remarkable Ms N.
Thank you for listening.’
‘P.S. If you would like to see more tasty, fresh, original writing by Mr Robert Pimm, follow his Facebook page or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button). You can explore the wealth of variety in the more than 200 posts on this site via Mr Pimm’s five pleasure paths.’
Viennese customer (standing up, exasperated, after 20 minutes of trying to get the bill, in German) ‘Excuse me, Mr Waiter; I’d like to pay, please.’
Head Waiter (chatting to other waiters on the other side of the room) ‘If you’re in such a hurry, you should have stayed at home.’
This is a true story from Vienna, 1986 – I was there. If my host that day (then working in the Town Hall with Mayor Zilk) is reading this, do get in touch. Can you guess in which of the cafes reviewed below the scene occurred? Clue: it was not the Hawelka.
The entrance to the Cafe Hawelka – photo Robert Pimm
How good are Viennese cafes? Is it even fair for me to assess them, as a foreigner who has lived only four years in the city, all but the last year back in the 1980s?
Most Viennese cafes are excellent. I like the fact that (more…)
Should you feel sad or celebrate when a musical icon of your youth is no more?
Here’s a list to celebrate. Seeing others’ lists of the Shakespeare of Rock’n’Roll’s top songs, I thought readers deserved something more definitive and (dare I say?) imaginative. So here are my personal 7 favourite Chuck Berry tracks.
“I-40 heading west” – 1979 hitch-hiking photo by Robert Pimm
7. Almost Grown (1959) – a paean to teenagerhood (curiously, the word for a teenager in Russian, Подросток, means “almost grown”). As so often with this most original singer-songwriter, the lyrics are exquisite as the restless teenager grows up – and settles down (“Now I really have a ball/So I don’t browse around at all”).
6. Brown Eyed Handsome Man (1956) has funny, not to say absurd lyrics about the sex-appeal of brown-eyed, handsome men – like Chuck Berry himself (“Milo Venus was a beautiful lass/She had the world in the palm of her hand/She lost both her arms in a wrestling match/To get a brown eyed handsome man”). Plus, as always, passionate guitar riffs. (more…)
What if the cure for coronavirus is worse than the disease? What if after COVID-19 we have COVID-21, COVID-35 and COVID-42? How will coronavirus change society, and the world? Read Coronatime.
What if technological innovation was so all-transforming that it reversed the advance of civilisation?
It has happened before.
In recent centuries we’ve got used to the idea that technical innovations – the steam engine, electricity, air travel, antibiotics, contraception, the Internet – mean that “Things can only get better”.
Tell that to the collapsing dregs of the Roman Empire. Or the Aztecs. (more…)
‘Please, Tatiana, show mercy!’
But Tatiana does not show mercy. You can find out why in my 2016 Hotel Story, the sixth in the series.
If you have read any of the Hotel Stories, you will enjoy this one. If you haven’t read any, The Swedish Woman is a great place to start.
How to enjoy The Swedish Woman;
- You can read some of The Swedish Woman instantly via this free chunky excerpt;
- You can scoop up all seven Hotel Stories, including The Swedish Woman, in one package in Hotel Stories: The Complete Collection;
- If you can’t afford it or don’t like paying for stories, no problem: write a comment below and I’ll send you a free Word copy of the first short story in the series, “The Two Rooms“. It would be great to hear from you.
“Why am I still, in the main, so zestful?
I know, but I don’t like to say
In case the gods take it away.”
As so often, Alan Clark, here aged 62, is talking about what he refers to as the other – as in “I fear that if I’d come from ‘an underprivileged background’ I’d probably by now have done time for GBH, or assault, or even what Nanny calls the other.”
An Amazon reviewer of Alan Clark’s diaries, which cover the period 1972 (when he was 44) to his death in 1999, described him as The Mr Toad of the Tory Party – vain, boastful and a lover of fast cars. No-one outside the UK has heard of him. He quotes Hitler, of whom he keeps a signed portrait in his safe, and revels in the shocking effect this has on readers.
So why read his diaries? (more…)
A couple of years ago, we first learned how big data could influence politics. The way in which we can be influenced by social media is fairly scary…
What if the team supporting a political campaign had information about the opinions, preferences and voting intentions of every individual in a country, and could tailor their campaigning precisely to each voter?
They have it already.
The Vice News article “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down” is the second scariest thing I’ve seen for ages.
It analyses how the harmless-sounding British company Cambridge Analytica uses information gathered from social media – all your “likes”; which shows you watch on TV; every quiz you ever did on Facebook; what you click on; what you buy; what you drive – in fact the whole of so-called “big data” – to build up a picture on you more detailed than anything George Orwell could have imagined.
If the Thought Police in 1984 had had big data, they wouldn’t have needed Room 101. They would have known everything already.
As others have observed, Orwell got total surveillance right. What he didn’t anticipate was people voluntarily putting on line all the information about themselves a potential authoritarian state could ever need.
A man teaches a roomful of students the art of interrogation. The interrogator is in control; powerful; inexorable.
The man interrogated, after forty hours without sleep, is broken; helpless; ready to confess everything.
How would we behave? If we were the interrogator – or the victim?
Set in 1984 – yes – The Lives of Others explores the relationship between an officer of the East German secret police, the Stasi; the citizens on whom he spies – two artists trying to stay true to their values while keeping out of trouble; and, the corrupt apparatus of the state itself, represented by the sleazy Minister of Culture who (mild spoiler alert) authorises the surveillance in order to eliminate the lover of the woman he fancies.
The quality of The Lives of Others is in the way it combines: (more…)
The Simpsons is, possibly, the most sophisticated show on TV.
Take a look at Series 25, Episode 20 (episode 550 in total), “Brick Like Me“. Homer, after enjoying playing with Lisa but then being rejected by her when she wants to spend time with older girls, wishes that he could play with her forever in a perfect world.
He then awakes in that world, where everything – himself and the family included – is made of Lego bricks. At first, everything seems perfect. Neither he nor Lisa nor Maggie will ever grow old; they can play forever; “where everything fits together and no-one gets hurt”.
‘It’s relentless,’ the god-like figure says to me. ‘From 7 a.m. things are coming in. All day – even when I’m in meetings, mealtimes. Until late at night. It’s the 24-hour news cycle.’
I’m talking to a top figure in an elite organisation: someone I respect and trust.
In fact, this person is almost a household name. Most people would see him or her as someone who has risen to the top through an awesome combination of intellect, charm and hard work. Yet this person is struggling to cope with information coming in on one device – a Blackberry.
What chance do the rest of us have? You may be addicted to multiple devices.
When Blackberrys were first introduced, people called them Crackberrys. No wonder. Ten years later, our smartphones are one hundred times more addictive – an addiction as strong as alcohol or gambling, as the video below (watch it later!) points out.
What can you do? (more…)
Who is the enigmatic Swedish woman?
It’s time to find out. The Swedish Woman, the third short story in the unique “Hotel Stories” series, reveals the answer. It’s the most entertaining story yet. It has several outstanding twists and novelties.
One of the novelties is that for the first time (more…)
A detective from western Germany, sent to investigate a murder in what used to be East Germany, finds evidence implicating a right-wing duelling fraternity.
An Austrian detective investigating a brainwashing cult which makes money preying on vulnerable young people finds his daughter targeted.
A Swiss woman working for a controversial assisted suicide programme is murdered.
A serial killer who targets people with medical or psychological problems decides to kill next the detective investigating him – who is, indeed, suicidal.
Trailer for episode 1,001 “Es lebe der Tod” (Long live death) on 20.11.16
The German police procedural Tatort has been running since 1970. Every Sunday evening at 20.15, a 90-minute episode is aired in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The series enjoys cult status partly because of (more…)
I have recently been examining my father’s magnificent collection of books to try to decide which further volumes, if any, to try and rescue.
In doing so I came across – amongst many other treasures – four volumes of history by the American historian Barbara W Tuchman. I must confess that I had never heard of her.
I looked Barbara Tuchman up and found “Tuchman’s law”, coined by the author herself in 1971, according to Wikipedia, “playfully”:
‘Disaster,’ says Tuchman, ‘is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening — on a lucky day — without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold” (or any figure the reader would care to supply).’ (more…)
An American man tries to shield his children from society; but finds society, and children, are complicated.
A British man and woman try to make their way through life; but are tormented and defeated.
I recently saw two fine films in 24 hours. In the confusingly-named Captain Fantastic, Viggo Mortensen plays a father trying to raise six children in a remote forest according to his ’60s-oriented anti-capitalist views. When a tragedy forces them to interact with the outside world, the father’s efforts to give the children what he considers the best possible upbringing are challenged; and something has to give.
I know sequels are usually rubbish (see below). But I can’t help hoping this movie will at least retain some of the greatness of the original “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
The trailer has two good points:
- a promising soundtrack
- a fine line: “There are two types of beings in the universe. Those who dance. And those who do not.” This is a pretty good distinction.
In an hotel elevator awash with blood, a man lies murdered. But who is the killer?
What is the role of the enigmatic Swedish woman, whose identity is shrouded in mystery?
In The Swedish Woman Ms N, the most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager in the world, must solve the crime before the country’s untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice, who happens to be one of the suspects, can solve it in his unique and not necessarily helpful way.
The Swedish Woman has been rated by some readers as the funniest Hotel Story so far.
In an elevator awash with blood, a man lies murdered. But who is the killer? And what is the role of the enigmatic Swedish woman, whose identity is shrouded in mystery?
Find out here, soon.
After a year in the crafting, I shall publish soon my third in the series of short Hotel Stories.
Its title is The Swedish Woman.
Hailed by early readers as maybe the funniest of the Hotel Stories so far, The Swedish Woman features a galaxy of extraordinary characters – from the 100% untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice and the charming but elderly Irish gentleman in search of female company who may or may not have only six months to live; through the brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager Ms N and her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana; to the mysterious Swedish woman herself.
Who is she, and what is she doing in the hotel?
By way of a taster, here is the first part of the story. Enjoy, (more…)
In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States. What became of the carefree, relaxed young 21 year-old of these pages? Can I rediscover those qualities? And what about America itself? Was it better then, or worse?
You can read more about this journey on my page, The Americans.
This is what happened on the night of 27 July. To TC and Miguel: if you’re out there, get in touch.
Valley of the Rogue
TC was too young. Miguel was older, but didn’t like being asked to show his ID. So when their ancient Chevy had wheezed into the gas station in Crescent City, we pooled six grimy dollars and I went to buy the beer.
California coast near Monterey, 1979 – photo Robert Pimm
In California at 20 you can have sex, smoke dope, and die for your country, or someone else’s; but you can’t get a drink without a friend. The two Mexicans and me, Oregon-bound, were old friends for the night.
So how did I end up with TC and Miguel in Crescent City?
In summer 1979 even the most laidback, doped-out, rock-lobotomised New Yorkers said (more…)
In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States. It was, with hindsight, a wild ride. Indeed, so far as I can see (but tell me if I’m wrong), hitch-hiking has since faded into history across much of the world, whittled away by rising living standards, cheap alternatives, and the proliferation of freeways with junctions where hitchhikers are not allowed to stand.
“Valley of the Rogue” is a self-contained account of what happened on 0ne night, 27-28 July 1979. I’ll be publishing it on-line on this blog at 18.08 Vienna time on 14 September. If others tell me they enjoy it, I’ll be delighted to publish a few more excerpts.
Ginny and Tanya, with whose family (including Karen and Billy) I hitched north through Big Sur earlier in July 1979 – if you’re reading this, do get in touch
A man repeatedly lies to and harasses both his fiancé and his young lover, while pontificating about the “unpalatable anthropological truths” which plague relations between the sexes. In pursuit of his obsession with the young lover, he then displays over 728 pages (in my paperback edition) every one of the unpleasant male characteristics he decries, from jealousy to over-control. In the process he ruins her prospects for either marriage or a career and brings about a tragedy.
Yet, at the end of the novel, the author invites the reader’s sympathy for his protagonist, making his last words in the book: “Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life.”
The author also invites the reader to explore and even share in the obsession of the protagonist, Kemal, by filling a house with objects supposedly collected by Kemal and associated with the object of his obsession, Fusun. This house is the eponymous “Museum of Innocence”, to which I gave a rave 10/10 rating in an earlier review.
The case containing 4,213 cigarette stubs in The Museum of Innocence (Photo: Robert Pimm)
I wrote in my review of the Museum: “The story… is told in the first person by Kemal, a spoiled, wealthy 30-something year-old from Istanbul. Kemal narrates the story of his obsession with Fusun, a younger woman, over a period of nine years. During that time, Kemal discovers that one way to salve the ache of loss when Fusun is not present is to handle objects associated with her. So he begins to steal items from her family. These objects form the nucleus of the museum.”
I also wrote that “Kemal is beyond creepy”. But he may also be interpreted as a prototypical man.
So: do the ghastly actions and self-justifications of Kemal depict a warped misogynistic monster? Or is author Orhan Pamuk simply laying bare with unprecedented honesty how all men really think – and act, if they are given the chance? (more…)
A man buys a house in Istanbul in order to turn it into a museum, filled with objects collected by an imaginary character in a novel which the man plans to write later.
That man is Orhan Pamuk, Turkish Nobel prize-winning author, about whose awesome productivity I’ve written before.
The museum, and the book, are called The Museum of Innocence.
A display case in The Museum of Innocence (Photo: Robert Pimm)
I hesitate to review The Museum of Innocence. Others have done a brilliant job already. For example I recommend this superb 2012 piece by Elif Batuman in the always-crushingly-intellectual London Review of Books.
But I felt it might be worth alerting people to two aspects of The Museum of Innocence.
A glamorous woman lies on a couch, her throat apparently cut, awash with blood. Techno music swells. Nothing happens. The music continues. Still nothing happens. The camera dwells on the woman. Hours pass.
You sometimes sit down to watch a movie and feel your heart sink during the opening scene. Rarely have I felt that sensation so intensely as in the opening sequence to “Neon Demon”. Did someone lose the editing scissors? Did no-one say: “Let’s cut this scene from three minutes to 10 seconds in case the audience loses the will to live”? If not, why not?
The premise of “The Neon Demon” sounds promising. A staggeringly beautiful young model comes to LA. In seconds, she is the hottest property in town. Other models become jealous and seek bloodcurdling revenge while engaging in acts of taboo sex. (more…)
A giant bad alien spacecraft attacks the earth, equipped with impenetrable force-field, overwhelming technological superiority, and the ability to make opponents clutch their heads and go “aaaargh” or “Oh my God!”simply by appearing in the neighbourhood.
Plucky earthlings (mild spoiler alert – but you guessed this, right?) repel the attack, despite most of Europe, the US East Coast and other unimportant zones being destroyed by the impact of the giant spacecraft landing.
They are aided (mild spoiler alert – but you could have guessed this, surely?) by the bad aliens having the same kind of glaring vulnerability routinely overlooked by the Death Star Reconstruction Committee in the “Star Wars” franchise.
Haven’t we seen this before?
Yes, in the original “Independence Day” movie in 1996. Hardly anything has changed, except that most of the actors from the original movie have aged.
(The exception is Jeff Goldblum, who looks roughly the same as he did in 1996, despite appearing in around 50 movies, video games and TV series in the intervening 20 years. In fact, the degree to which Jeff Goldblum is identical reminds me of Ian McKellen’s famous observation that he was lucky to be able to play two different roles – an old gay bloke and an old straight bloke – whereas some actors could only play one role. So true of so many actors.)
What else is there to say about this incredibly bad movie?
One of my favourite moments in “Mad Max – Fury Road” comes when a gigantic armoured truck (or “war rig”) roars past a desolate swamp inhabited by stilt-walking mutants.
The mutants continue their mysterious swamp-wading activities as the truck zooms by.
The mutants are not explained. The shot lasts a few seconds.
But the scene sums up much that is magnificent in the explosion of insanity which is Mad Max: Fury Road. If you’re going to set a movie in an imagined post-apocalyptic world, you’d better make that world look exotic, gritty and all-round awesome from start to finish.
A popular teacher who thinks himself an anarchist is forced to teach a class on autocracy to a bored bunch of middle-class students. He attempts to grab their attention by proposing a “fun” experiment: could you – a bunch of sophisticated young people – be seduced by the lure of authoritarianism?
The experiment begins. The results are horrifying.
I’ve written before about the astonishing ability of big Hollywood movies to disappoint.
Equally astonishing is the ability of many low-budget non-Hollywood movies to be excellent.
But most people will never see The Wave, because: (more…)
I love the movies. On a Saturday night I went to see the extraordinary Argentine drama The Clan in the Istanbul Film Festival, about a family from Buenos Aires who kidnap and murder people. I’d have given it 10/10 but I had to leave the cinema half-way through, because a small bomb went off across town, and I missed the end. Long story.
So on the Sunday night I went to the same cinema to see Hail Caesar, the latest movie from the Coen Brothers.
I’ve seen and enjoyed lots of Coen Brothers films. Blood Simple. Raising Arizona. Miller’s Crossing. Fargo. The Big Lebowski.
Now you mention it I haven’t seen a really good Coen Brothers film since 1998.
I watched Bridge of Spies and found it good-looking but deadly boring. Where’s the dramatic tension? Why should we care about the characters? It had none of the characteristics – originality, surprise, joy, dark twists – which distinguished the early Coen Brothers productions.
The trouble is, I’m such an optimist I always think: “these guys have ploughed millions of dollars – tens, hundreds of millions – into making this movie. They must have some basic idea of what they’re doing. It’ll improve soon.”
I’m so naive.
So I approached Hail, Caesar with trepidation. It has George Clooney in it, possibly Hollywood’s most boring actor. The trailer makes it look terrible. But it was on when I had a free night.
It was beyond awful. Here are five reasons why:
You are a brilliant writer.
But not everyone realises it yet.
What to do?
One of the great truths of writing is that however brilliant you may be, getting someone to read and appreciate your work requires contact with other human beings. I don’t mean publishers and agents, important as they are; but writers; editors; critics; and other, often annoying, people who give you advice on how to improve, polish and market your fiction.
George Orwell: another inspirational author (see below)
Here are two sources of such contacts.
First, I recently had the good fortune to hear the writer Paul McVeigh reading from his debut novel The Good Son in Izmir (the link goes to a goodreads site with rave reviews). He was inspiring and entertaining, and mentioned his blog, which gets a staggering 40,000+ hits a month. (more…)
I am standing in the lobby of a breathtaking luxury hotel.
My friends, all top hotel professionals, crowd round me.
‘We’ve heard about your Hotel Stories,’ says one. ‘They sound fabulous – a little bit spicy, a little bit mysterious, loads of strong women. Are they based on real life?’
‘Absolutely not,’ I say to the group of hotel managers and luxury travel experts. ‘The stories spring fully-formed from my imagination. But enough about me. Has anything weird or stimulating happened in any of your properties recently?’
‘Weird or stimulating barely suffices to describe what happened at my hotel in London last week,’ says the general manager of a legendary five-star property. ‘Let me tell you about it…’
So what is in the Hotel Stories; and why should you read them?
All seven Hotel Stories star the world’s most brilliant hotel manager, Ms N (she is too modest to wish to be named here). She has strict methods of dealing with badly-behaved hotel guests. The stories are narrated by Ms N’s beautiful but naive colleague, Tatiana.
The first reason you should read the Hotel Stories is Britches, which records how Ms N and Tatiana first met. They form a team, as Tatiana helps Ms N sorts out the hotel owner from hell using the President of China; a whisky-tasting; and something Tatiana finds under a handsome Scotsman’s kilt. (Links in bold italics are to other posts on this site.)
I had the good fortune recently to attend two events at which the famous Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk was present.
Orhan Pamuk with British film director Grant Gee (Photo: Robert Pimm)
The second was an event to mark the closing of the rather terrific !f Istanbul Film Festival.
I recently spent a weekend in Berlin in the company of an intelligent and successful 21 year-old to whom I am closely related.
During my visit I did a bit of social media. I have two Twitter accounts, including @robertpimm; an Instagram account, a Facebook account and of course this WordPress account (also one of two – my other is at work).
It’s easy to spend a lot of time
observing my navel following my progress.
Instead of doing social media, enjoy a glass of iced Sipsmith Gin with a friend
Checking your smartphone in public drives some people crazy. But others perhaps put up with it more than they should.
I blame the telephone. (more…)
I am enjoying Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale in the Folio edition, a welcome Christmas gift. Bond certainly is a dated, post-war creation. But he does have magnificent attributes, many associated with his lifestyle. Take this description of the Martini he orders:
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”
I checked Kina Lillet – it’s a defunct aperitif whose main ingredient, quinine, was removed in 1985.
As Felix Leiter says: “Gosh, that’s certainly a drink.”
But I’m inspired to go into print by Bond’s comment to Jesper Lynd (after whom he decides to name his previously un-named Martini recipe, which I have been drinking regularly since reading the book) at dinner, after she has ordered caviar as a starter. Bond asks the waiter for extra toast.
“The trouble always is,’ he explained to Vesper, “not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it.”
So true, so true.
My father died on 29 November 2013.
He left behind many wonderful memories and made many people’s lives better.
But this blog isn’t about him; I’d need a book for that.
This blog is about a list he left written on a tiny scrap of paper:
In his later years my father, a biblio- and logophile, occasionally left the odd piece of paper unfiled or perhaps in a place that was not obviously logical.
So it was my mother, as she sorted through his countless documents, who – rather astonishingly – discovered the scrap of paper; and brought it to my attention recently, thinking I might be interested.
I was fascinated. People love lists.
This one is headed “How to work better” and reads as follows:
- Do one thing at a time
- Know the problem
- Learn to listen
- Learn to ask questions
- Distinguish sense from nonsense
- Accept change as inevitable
- Admit mistakes
- Say it simple (sic)
- Be calm
I wrote a blog a while back called “how to write“. It was one of my most popular blogs.
Here are two lists of tips from famous authors about “how to write”.
The first list, by George Orwell, is good for style:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
A massive movie looms on the star-studded horizon, turbolasers and ion cannons blasting with irresistible power. Supporting fire from a flotilla of media frigates and merchandising vessels drives millions of awe-struck film fans into movie theatres across the world to emerge, two hours and 16 minutes later, dazed, happy and desperate for the sequel.
But is it any good?
In November my blog “Star Wars 7” – 5 reasons you should Fear the Force set out how the trailers, plus the previous three Star Wars episodes, made me fear the worst for the new movie.
I was wrong. And I should know. This week I saw it twice the same day*.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fine, entertaining movie. I was wrong to doubt it. (more…)
December 2010: FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Russia has won the competition to host the 2018 “FIFA World Cup”. Qatar will host the 2022 competition.
You can watch the announcement, should you so wish, on this 21-minute long presentation. The actual announcements are at minutes 9.10 and 15.50.
Berlin Olympic stadium – venue for 2006 World Cup final
27 May 2015: the US department of Justice indicts nine FIFA officials and five others for “racketeering, conspiracy and corruption“. The US Attorney General says: “The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States”.
21 December 2015: Sepp Blatter is banned for eight years from all football related activity by FIFA’s own ethics committee, along with fellow top football administrator Michel Platini. Both deny any wrongdoing. (more…)
I’m delighted to announce that the fifth in the series of “Hotel Stories”, Ask for Scarlett, is now available. If you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app on your iPad, laptop or other digital device, you can download it instantly with six other stories in Hotel Stories: the Complete Collection.
I wrote about Ask for Scarlett in a previous post, including the fact that it lets us, for the first time, see parts of the story from the point of view of Ms N – the most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager in the world. It may also, perhaps, introduce a couple of comparatively sympathetic male characters.
The good news: the best scene I’ve ever seen in a movie was the opening of Star Wars in 1977. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. High-concept, ironic, awesome. A field of stars, then planets: one, two, then a third, filling the horizon. A space ship zapping into view, pursued by a star destroyer so huge it took twelve seconds to appear from the top of the screen, driven by three immense engines thrumming with power – I saw it in 70mm Dolby surround sound and the cinema shook and… wonderful.
The bad news: the worst scene I’ve ever seen in a movie was the opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 16 years after the previous movie. You saw the instant the opening text crawled up the screen that the mojo was gone. Ewan McGregor’s first words: “I have a bad feeling about this“. Too right! Things went downhill for the next three episodes.
So I’m hoping that “The Force Awakens”, will be more Star Wars than menace. Based on the way the series has deteriorated over the years, my ever-analytical head says standing in a ice-cold shower of nitric acid while tiger ants gnaw my nasal passages will probably be more entertaining. But my ever-optimistic heart says “maybe this time they’ll have a plot, some new ideas, and rediscover their sense of playfulness and irony”.
Desperate for any concrete info, I’ve trawled the trailers.
When I entered the Warner West End in London’s Leicester Square, the movie I’d come to see had sold out.
So I chose a random feature which was about to start: Risky Business, starring what now seems an astonishingly young Tom Cruise.
I found it hilarious, cunningly-plotted and elegant. It includes one of the great lines of all time: “Who’s the U-Boat commander?”
Sixteen years later, at the Sony Centre in Berlin, the same thing happened. This time, the not-sold-out-picture I ended up seeing was The Sixth Sense. I found it spooky, shocking and exhilarating.
Two of the films I’ve enjoyed most in my life. I often thought it was because I had zero expectations.
My recent blog “The Internet. 7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation” set out troubling facts about this most wonderful of inventions.
One of my concerns was that:
“the Internet polarises opinion. Imagine a billion people in a desert, shouting. Who can shout loudest? The best way to attract online attention is to be shocking and extreme. Slag someone off. Be outrageous. You know that famous, reasonable, internet commentary site? No? That’s because there isn’t one. You can’t be reasonable and famous on-line.”
So I was interested to see this weekend in The Financial Times a piece by Simon Kuper, “Paris attacks: Notes from a wounded city” (NB if you don’t have a subscription to the FT, you can sign up to read the piece – and several more every month – free).
Kuper’s piece is characteristically thoughtful. I like his resistance to simplifying everything – particularly anything as tragic as the Paris attacks. But I was most struck by his comment that in the world of punditry and politics, “the people with the clearest messages win“.
Thus, Kuper suggests, if you want to look at the world in a more nuanced way – he quotes a man who asked of the 13 November events “with what perception must I perceive this?” – you are unlikely to be invited onto TV to pontificate about how we should react.
What people want is certainty; and that is what pundits offer.
That is often the equivalent of shouting loudest. But it is not always the best way to approach important issues.
Do check out Simon Kuper’s piece, and my earlier blog.
‘What’s the best scene you’ve ever seen in a movie?’
‘The opening of Star Wars in 1977. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”? High-concept, ironic, awesome. A field of stars, then planets: one, two, then a third, filling the horizon. A space ship zapping into view, hunted by a star destroyer so huge it took twelve seconds to appear from the top of the screen, driven by three immense engines thrumming with power – I saw it in 70mm Dolby surround sound and the cinema shook and – ‘
‘Whoa! Enough already! And the worst?’
‘The opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 16 years after the previous movie. You saw the instant the opening text crawled up the screen that the mojo was gone. The taxation of trade routes? Huh? Ewan McGregor’s first words: “I have a bad feeling about this“. Too right! Things went downhill for the next three episodes.’
‘How about the new Star Wars 7? “The Force Awakens”?’
‘Well… my head says standing in a ice-cold shower of nitric acid while tiger ants gnaw my nasal passages will probably be more entertaining. But my heart says “maybe this time they’ll have a plot, some new ideas, and rediscover their sense of playfulness and irony”.’
‘Are you an idiot? Or a congenital optimist?’
‘These franchises trade on humankind’s incurable optimism bias. Check out (more…)
One of my most popular ever blogs was called: Spectre: 5 reasons to miss it & 5 reasons you’ll see it 4/10.
A wise person commented thus:
“We thought a sixth reason to hate the film might be the completely useless portrayal of all women. The incredible number of perfectly coordinated outfit changes that the main Bond girl managed after leaving her workplace without any luggage was incredible. It also failed the Bechdel test.”
Lea Seydoux as Dr Madeleine Swann (Copyright: United Artists)
The casual sexism of most early Bond movies grates on many modern audiences, although some argue Skyfall was a notable exception.
Spectre (2015), too, has a nod or two towards equality. The love interest, played by Lea Seydoux, is supposedly a doctor, although she spends more time pouting (21 minutes – I may have made that figure up) than healing (0 minutes – I’m pretty sure about that one). In one scene she actually (more…)
‘What did you think of Quantum of Solace?’
‘Terrible. What was with that totally inflammable hotel in the desert?’
‘It made no sense. Why go to a remote house and wait for limitless Austin Powers-type henchmen to pour out of helicopters?’
‘So you won’t be going to Spectre, then?’
‘Well… I’ll probably check it out.’
We’ve all been there. You come out of a Bond movie feeling soiled and cheated. But you keep going back for more.
Why are the movies so awful? And why do you keep hoping against hope that the next one will be different? Because you’re hooked.
Here are five reasons why Spectre is awful:
The reviews on my site tell you something useful.
Maybe one useful thing. Maybe more.
Blue Mosque, Istanbul. Not yet reviewed (photo: Robert Pimm)
I won’t necessarily review the latest thing: I don’t see why a movie or artwork created a decade or a millennium ago should be any worse than one created yesterday accompanied by great hype. It may even be better.
Each review will offer:
- an insight, based on my personal opinion, tastes, experience and all-round worldly wisdom, to help you make your mind up on the subject of the review. You don’t have to agree; in fact I’ll be delighted if you leave a comment disagreeing;
- a rating out of 10;
- a “For” and “Against” section. If something is plain dull, I won’t be reviewing it. It’s got to have good and, inevitably, bad points. Even Hans Rosling. Remember: I didn’t say you had to agree.
“Have fun and comment.”
PS you can explore other writing on this site, starting with the sitemap and guide.
‘What’s your favourite restaurant?’
‘Umm… it’s that tiny place in Cihangir. Often closed. Free tea from a samovar upstairs. I can never remember its name.’
‘Those are all brilliant restaurants. Great views. Mouthwatering food. But given a choice for eating by myself, or with a friend visiting Istanbul, I go most often to Datli Maya.’
How many children (defined as people aged 0-15) lived in the world in the year 2000? Answer: two billion.
How many are there now, in 2015?
And how many will there be, on present trends, by the year 2100?
The answer, according to Swedish statistician Hans Rosling in this compulsive communications masterclass, is: there are two billion children now, and there will still be two billion in the year 2100. We have passed “peak child”.
By 2100, he forecasts, the world population will have increased from today’s seven billion to around eleven billion.
But, Rosling says, because rising living standards and better education are cutting fertility rates, population growth between now and 2100 will all be among older people; and by then, the world population will be tending towards stability.
What percentage of the world’s population are literate? 20%? 40%? 60%? 80%?
How many babies do women have on average in Bangladesh? 2.5? 3.5? 4.5? 5.5?
Rosling presents a slew of statistics using everything from graphs to building blocks to communicate an optimistic assessment of future growth trends, while noting that even on these figures, we risk destroying ourselves with climate change.
You may disagree. But for a masterclass in communication you can’t do better than this.
For: informative, entertaining, and occasionally jaw-dropping.
Against: we all know the phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics”.
PS the phrase “Don’t Panic” is of course central to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, although its most famous proponent (as noted by Richard in comments below) is possible Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army.
P.P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.
I often enjoy most the movies I didn’t intend to see. I went to see “Mr Holmes” but it had finished. So I ended up watching “The Walk” instead.
The film has irritating elements. The magical realism style feels laboured, with the protagonist, French high-wire walker Philippe Petit, narrating his tale from the torch atop the Statue of Liberty. The whimsical Amelie flavour won’t suit everyone; the cute early courting scenes between Petit and love interest Annie may set some teeth on edge. But when we get to New York and the practical business of how Petit set about stringing a wire between the Twin Towers (still under construction) and doing his walk, the film becomes in turns engrossing and, I found, thrilling. The 3D helps, rather than hinders. And both the final resolution of the affair with Annie and Petit’s reference to his complimentary ticket to visit the viewing platform of the Twin Towers “for ever” offer chill drafts of realism.
For: an entertaining and technically impressive rendering of a real-world adventure with decent narrative drive. The final high-wire scenes above New York are vertigo-inducing.
Against: overly cute in parts. Some lazily-sketched minor characters. And you’re left wanting to find out more about Petit, and to watch the widely-held-to-be-a-masterpiece documentary of the same event, Man on Wire. In fact, I may have to buy the DVD.
My friend, a top Internet expert, sips his beer. “Look how you can chat for free, with video, to your friends around the world,” he says. “See how quickly you can buy a book, book a flight, check in, or check something out. The Internet has made the world fantastically better.”
“No,” I say, “I use the Internet for hours every day. But it could destroy us all. For example:
(i) the Internet polarises opinion. Imagine a billion people in a desert, shouting. Who can shout loudest? The best way to attract online attention is to be shocking and extreme – sometimes called “spice”. Slag someone off. Be outrageous. You know that famous, reasonable, internet commentary site? No? That’s because there isn’t one. You can’t be reasonable and famous on-line;
(ii) the Internet clouds understanding. If an established news outlet says something wrong or daft, people care. Private Eye or The Onion will mock them. But in the Internet, no-one edits your racist hate-speech or loony conspiracy theories. The Internet teems with this stuff, which tends to veer to weird extremes because that attracts readers. Result: the barmy ramblings of religious fruitcakes and conspiracy nut-cases occupy more megabytes on the internet than (more…)
What is the most famous art movement you have never heard of?
I suspect it could be the “Zero Art Movement”. Let’s explore it.
The Sky Over Nine Columns – Heinz Mack (with Bosphorus behind)
The Zero art movement was based mostly in Germany in the years 1957-69. Let’s listen to one of its founders, Otto Piene, in his Paths to Paradise:
I go to darkness itself, I pierce it with light, I make it transparent, I take its terror from it, I turn it into a volume of power with the breath of life like my own body, and I take smoke so that it can fly.
Maybe that is magnificent. Maybe it’s meaningless. I’m not sure. Maybe you’re not sure either. But wait.
I was lucky enough this year to enjoy a holiday in Bali. Fabulous.
But the island faces challenges. Development is eating up the beauty which draws visitors.
Rice field on Bali (Photo Robert Pimm)
Locals seek prosperity. Visitors want somewhere to stay and amenities to enjoy.
Let’s cut to the chase. If you haven’t discovered the novelist Anthony Trollope, you should start reading him. Today. Here are 11 life-changing reasons why:
(i) the six Palliser novels, starting with Can you forgive her, are literature’s best guide to politics and power. Why did Lord Acton say “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men“? Trollope explains, long before Acton said it;
(ii) Trollope writes perceptively about relationships and sexual politics. His novels boil with strong women, from the indomitable Lady Glencora to my favourite, Miss Dunstable (an heiress who will not be pushed around by any man – not even the all-powerful Duke of Omnium). Many Trollope women feel more emancipated, or tormented by their lack of emancipation, than their sisters in some contemporary novels;
(iii) Trollope is brilliant on religion and its relationship to the state. (more…)
Wonderful news for the hundreds (yes, I have counted) of fans of the ‘wonderful, feminist and dark’ Hotel Stories.
A fifth story in the series, Ask for Scarlett, is coming soon.
Many readers have asked – please can we see what is going on inside Ms N’s head?
Others have said – surely there must be a few more sympathetic male customers in these five star hotels?
One or two have said – the hotels you’re depicting aren’t luxurious enough. What about some real luxury? (Actually, I made that up. No-one could possibly doubt the luxury of the establishments in Hotel Stories 1-4.)
So watch this space for news of Ask for Scarlett – out soon on Amazon for your delectation.
It will address all the queries and alleged deficiencies mentioned above. Well, some of them.
Incidentally, analysis shows that my most popular post about the Hotel Stories is 5 Ways the “Hotel Stories” can improve your life, featuring beer, fish and chips, the picturesque hamlet of Stow cum Quy and “Don’t get mad, get even”. Check it out.
It’s true. The Hotel Stories can improve your life.
What if the cure for coronavirus is worse than the disease? What if after COVID-19 we have COVID-21, COVID-35 and COVID-42? How will coronavirus change society, and the world? Try Coronatime.
I wrote a while ago about “7 ways to explain the meaning of life” (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
I said that the meaning of life would emerge around 80% of the way through my novel Coronatime; and that it involved “Come Celebrate with Us” and “The Kiss”.
Wiener Secession, 2015 – Photo: Robert Pimm
I live in Vienna. Since I lived here in the ’80s the wonderful Secession building built in 1897 by Joseph Maria Olbrich has a new basement housing Gustav Klimt’s magnificent Beethoven frieze, (more…)
How to write novels, a blog and short stories, while holding down a full-time day job. For writing a book, a target-driven approach may work for some people.
People sometimes ask me: ‘when do you write? What are you working on now?’
Here is a snapshot.
How is the coronavirus changing the world? In addressing how everything may be affected by coronavirus, Coronatime examines existential questions such as the relationship between time and money.
I wrote in my blog Red London buses and the meaning of life (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site) how we all have a limited number of years, months, weeks and days to live.
My blog Read this now – before you waste more of your precious life pointed out that most of us feel short of time; and are not sure how to spend what time we have.
So what would happen in a world where some people were able to live for hundreds of years. What leisure activities would they seek? Read on:
Edited excerpt from “Coronatime” Chapter 15
KY Sutanto had visited London many times. But this was his first venture to the district called “South of the River”. (more…)
What if the cure for coronavirus is worse than the disease? In addressing how the world may be affected by coronavirus, Coronatime examines existential questions such as: when is the next bus coming?
We all have a limited number of years, months, weeks and days to live.
So why should we spend that time waiting for a red London bus?
My recent blog Read this now – before you waste more of your precious life pointed out that most of us feel short of time; and are not sure how to spend what time we have. I also noted that my novel Coronatime (hit link to read) explored 5 ways wealth and creativity can’t mix (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
The conclusions of Coronatime are good news for poor people.
So where do London buses come in? (more…)
My novel “Coronatime” creates a post-coronavirus society where the relationship between time and money has crystallised into a way to trade life itself. A post-pandemic world will tell us a lot about our existing world’s obsessions.
Have you ever wondered: “what shall I do today?”
Or even: “what shall I do now?”
It’s one of life’s mysteries that:
– we all have a limited number of years, months, weeks and days to live;
– we all want to make the most of that time;
– many of us feel short of time to do the things we want;
– and yet… when we do have some free time, we’re not sure what to do with it.
It depends how you look at it. Anish Kapoor in Istanbul. Photo: Robert Pimm
Part of the problem is excess choice. Twenty years ago, I had a job where I flew regularly between London and the Far East in business class. I had a busy job, and I used to relish the thought of a 15-hour flight with no disturbances and a host of pleasures on-tap. But when I settled down into my comfy seat on the plane, I sometimes found myself overwhelmed by a kind of existential panic. Should I (more…)
My post-pandemic comedy, thriller and love story “Coronatime” looks at how a world after Coronavirus will be shaped by our obsessions with beauty, wealth and staying alive.
What do Peter Pan and Steve Jobs have in common?
Answer: they both help explain why wealth and creativity cannot mix.
There is a reason for that stereotype of a starving artist in a garret. Need, and monomania, sharpen the senses. No wonder millionaire rock stars have trouble re-creating the catchy tunes which made them famous. Why should they get out of bed in the morning?
My post 7 ways my sci-fi novel Coronatime explains the meaning of life (bold italics are to other posts on this site) contrasts how you might behave if you suddenly found you had only six weeks left to live with how you would act if you learned you were immortal.
In the first case, we’d all try to enjoy an intense six weeks.
Me aged 1 (in pram) with elder brother – both rich in Coronatime
What can a post-coronavirus society tell us about love and the meaning of life? My novel “Coronatime” is a thriller, comedy and love story set in a post-pandemic world.
I wrote a while ago about “7 ways my sci-fi novel Coronatime explains the meaning of life“.
I said that the meaning of life would emerge around 80% of the way through the book; and that it involved “Come Celebrate with Us” and “The Kiss”.
Wiener Secession, 2015 – Photo: Robert Pimm
I live in Vienna, where the climax to Coronatime takes place, and was delighted to find that the wonderful Secession building built in 1897 by Joseph Maria Olbrich had got a new basement. That basement houses Gustav Klimt’s magnificent Beethoven frieze, based on the Ninth Symphony, which, to quote Wikipedia, “illustrates human desire for happiness in a suffering and tempestuous world”. (more…)
The standard ingredients of instrumental lede, nut-graf, body and kicker, or cosmic kicker, provide a great framework for writing blogs, articles or other factual reports.
A writer stares at a blank page, sweating. How to get started? If only there were a simple guide somewhere to writing articles for the Internet, newspapers or magazines!
So you want to write the perfect article? Welcome. I’ll tell you how.
The essential starting point is that you must have a clear central message. What are you trying to say? What’s your point? Clarity on this makes everything that follows much easier.
Start by reading part 1 of this series “7 tips for writing the perfect article” (links in bold italics are to other posts of mine on this website). It shows how to decide on your message and make sure what you are writing is relevant. Later, in part 3, How to write great Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers, you can see two worked examples based on the model set out below.
Once you are clear on what you want to say, it’s time to get started. “The best way to start work is to start work”. Structure is everything.
Many journalists use a simple template. There are lots of ways of doing this; but the following, based on advice from a US journalist friend, has worked well for me in numerous feature articles during my time as a freelance journalist. A worked example is at the end of this blog.
For more writing tips, follow this blog (hit the blue “click here” button top right)
Your article should consist of the following elements. I’ve set them out in the order in which they will appear (more…)
I thought this account of how leap seconds work at “The Science Geek” was outstanding. A complex subject explained in English that you can understand, without in any way talking down to his audience. A model for science communication! I read his blog with pleasure.
I am hoping I can tempt him to write something about ageing and telomeres, a concept which lies behind the life-extension premise of my novel Coronatime.
I don’t have a leap-second-themed picture in my image bank, but here’s a picture of Wittgenstein’s grave from the Central Cemetery in Vienna – itself located, with existential irony, on the edge of town…
How to start a blog? Let’s say you want to write a non-fiction piece for publication as a blog, newspaper article or in other media. Where to start? Here are seven top writing tips.
1. What is your message? A clear message is the most important – and difficult – element of writing a blog or writing an article. If you don’t know what your message is or why you’re communicating it this way, stop right now. The good news? Once you’ve decided your key message, the article is already half-written. Check out this piece, where the message is “if you’re going ski-ing a ski-guide may help you have more fun“. That message must be newsworthy and interesting – are you or the editor confident people will want to read it?
2. How to decide on your message. So what is “newsworthy and interesting”? Two possibilities:
i) a news peg. Something has happened out in the world. People want to know about it. You’re going to tell them. It could be an anniversary, a local or national event, or a personal angle on something people know about. My piece about Berlin traffic-light men, for example, reports on how images designed for East Berlin began to spread into West Berlin in 2005.
ii) a news line. Maybe you have something to say which is newsworthy. Invented something new? Got an announcement to make? Published your new book? Developed a miracle diet? If it’s of wide interest, (more…)