Friday 31 August 2018

The Booker Goes Ballistic

Literary snobs get their knickers in a twist over the inclusion of Belinda Bauer's excellent novel, Snap in the Booker longlist

'It’s hard to understand how the Man Booker judges could have deemed Snap to be of sufficient depth or imagination to merit its inclusion.'   The New Statesman

Well how about the fact that the book is quite astounding, elicits multiple emotions in the reader and that the child characters in the book are as real as any in fiction. Is that enough of a reason for inclusion in your special longlist?

'Putting a crime novel in for a prize would be like entering a donkey in the Grand National,' former Booker judge, John Sutherland said back in 2010, and there lies the problem. Booker,it seems, only favours plot-less books featuring damaged characters in an existential crisis.

The New Statesman review of Snap is needlessly critical - the book explores trauma through the eyes of Jack Bright, eleven years old at the start of the narrative, and his siblings, one little more than a baby in arms. This character has to survive in a brutal reality and he doesn't have time for an inner crisis, existential or otherwise.  It's a darker than dark story, but the characters are so well realized that there are some incredibly humorous scenes that spring from these characters. And yet all the Statesman review seems to suggest is that the descriptions of a pregnant character is patronizing to women. Um, er - OK if they say so.

It's these same people who bemoan the fact that young people don't read anymore, and yet when something exciting comes along, something that can actually compete with video games, big budget movies - well, surely this is the way to go.

'If it’s tokenism, I don’t care, because it does so much not only for crime writers but for readers in general, because now hopefully some of them will be open to reading a different kind of book. So many writers from other genres are jumping on the crime bandwagon, and I think it’s starting to find its place again, with people who love to read a good book and don’t care what it is. It’s just about marketing, and I wish people would understand that and pick up some good stuff and read it.”    Belinda Bauer talking to The Times about her novel's inclusion in the Booker longlist.

Bauer's received some flak from literary minded keyboard warriors on Twitter since the announcement of the longlisting, but she doesn't care, and is taking it all in her stride.

In a few weeks the shortlist will be announced and the Archive is keeping its fingers crossed that Belinda will make it to the final six titles - that'll cause the literary snobs to take note. They'll be so shocked that their pullovers may slip from their shoulders - the over the shoulder jumper look  just makes you look like a twat, anyway.

Regardless of the prize or not, Belinda is certainly shaking things up in the literary world. It's as if she's become a  literary version of Johnny Rotten, a keyboard bound Sex Pistol. Anarchy in the book store.

Read the book and decide for yourself, the Archive says.

Snap by Belinda Bauer is available now.

Once all the madness is over The Tainted Archive will be running an interview with Belinda Bauer herself, so keep reading folks.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Achtung - Commando Comics

Gott im Himmel!

If you think the days of British action comics are long gone, that our square jawed heroes have been replaced by America's costumed crusaders then you are only partly correct in your assessment.

For whilst the glory days of the boy's adventure comic, the days when titles like Battle, Warlord, Hotspur and Victor dominated newsagent's display stands, may have been cosigned to history there is one series of adventure comics that are still being published. Commando Comics, published by D C Thomson, first saw print back in 1961 and today more than 50 years later there series is still going strong with four new titled being published every two weeks.

'I've lost count of the number of people who, over the years, have told me they learned all their German vocabulary from Commando. They freely admit that Commando hasn't taught them much of the language but every single one has started the list of words they know with "Achtung!' We're Glad we've done our bit for international understanding.' Calum Laird, one time editor of the Commando series, writing in his introduction to the Carlton Books Commando collection, Achtung.

Though it's not all been stereotypical Germans - Over the decades Commando stories have featured both good and bad German characters, as well as characters from all the other nations that took part in the conflicts featured in the stories. And whilst it is true that the majority of stories have been set around World War II, it is not always the case. Over the years there have been First World War stories, Cold War stories, science fiction stories, westerns, stories of adventures with pirates on the high seas, and lately there have been stories set on the Home Front. The latter series has been very well recieved - I felt that The Land Army Marches written by Iain McLaughlin with artwork from Vincente Alcazar was a particularly fine piece of storytelling that made the most of the comic book medium.

Each Commando title is a digest sized publication that contains a complete 63 page story, told in panels of striking black and white artwork.

When Commando was first launched back in the 1960's the competition was fierce. Fleetway were the main competitor with it's popular War Picture Library books, and D C Thompson knew they didn't have the budget to compete in terms of the production values of their rival, and so it was a conscious effort to make the Commando covers far more lurid, far more exciting that those of War Picture Weekly. The Commando covers were like a British answer to the American pulp style art and the storytelling within was equally pulpish - high concept plots with steely eyed heroes.

The true origin of Commando though, indeed of war comics in general goes back much further - during the late 19th century the Religious Tract Society began publishing the Boy’s Own Paper, featuring exciting stories of daring and adventure, with strong Christian moralistic undertones. The ‘Boys paper’ was born, and was very much seen as an educational tool for inspiring good young citizens for society and the empire. The publication had a slew of imitators including D C Thomson's first steps into the field with 1921's, Adventure - the paper ran for 1878 issues between 1921 and 1961 when it was merged into Rover.

'Although I’m delighted by it, I don’t know for sure what to put the title’s longevity down to. I think that because each story is so long we concentrate on plot more than visuals (though never at the expense of the visuals) and this gives the finished article a weight that the comics couldn’t. There’s a lot of reading in a Commando so if you’re a story fan, it gives you just what you need.'  Previous series editor, Calum Laird, talking to The Tainted Archive back in 2009

'COMMANDO saw off all its competitors simply because of the quality of its stories, artwork and general presentation, all of which were superior to the likes of WAR PICTURE LIBRARY, BATTLE, WAR AT SEA, AIR ACE and so on. But I have no idea how it has survived. A loyal, hardcore readership? Probably.' Writer, David Whitehead talking to the Tainted Archive in 2009.

The Commando books are now iconic and their contribution to pop culture can not be overestimated - there have been exhibitions of the comic's artwork held at the National Army Museum and stories about the series have been featured many times in the national press - 

'Mein Gott! Donner und Blitzen! Can it really be true? The Commando comic has just turned 50.  For half a century, schoolboys have thrilled at these action-packed wartime stories.' 

The Daily Mail announced when the title turned fifty years old back in 2011. That same newspaper would make a big fuss in 2013 when it was announced that Commando Comics would now be printed in Germany. That article, written in the Mail's usual bombastic style can be found HERE.

And now decades later Commando remains the only British war comic still in production, and although sales may not match the incredible circulation figures of the 1960's and 70's they are still healthy - servicing a loyal core readership and hopefully gaining new readers from time to time. The title is still published in print (ask at your local newsagents) but it has been joined by a digital edition which can be read on tablets, eReaders and computer screens.

Long may they continue to be published.

Find the official Commando website HERE 

Find my interview with both David Whitehead and the previous editor of Commando HERE

Read David Whitehead's article on writing Commando Books HERE

Monday 27 August 2018

Sunlight a hundred years dead

Watching filmed footage of the First World War one gets an odd sensation - we are aware that what we are witnessing are horrific events, and yet there is so much distance between now and then that it is difficult to fully appreciate the enormity of the situation presented in the grainy film. The movements of the men on the screen seems jerky, almost as if they were created by animation and the explosions are merely puffs of smoke, fleeting and seemingly insubstantial. Photography is basically the capture of light and what we are watching is sunlight a hundred years dead.

Prior to starting work on my book, Cardiff and the Valley's In The Great War (published Feb 28th 2015 by Pen and Sword Books), my knowledge of the so called Great War was limited to a list of dates and major battles. But by the time I finished the book I had a far greater understanding of the conflict. It had been brought closer to me, and now I saw it as a very human story. No longer was it some far distant war, the combatants made up of anonymous names and faces, the devastation lessened by the passing of the years, but something very real, something that I felt on a deeply emotional level. There were times when I was writing that I found tears in my eyes - one such instance was when I detailed the eventual fate of the Cardiff Pals, but there were others too. Writing the book had brought me closer to these soldiers who long before I was born took to the foreign fields to protect a way of life for future generations...for you and me, if you like.

The research for the book was immense and I spent many hours going through old newspapers in Cardiff's excellent Central Library, covered many miles traveling up and down the country visiting graveyards and the offices of military records and on several occasions meeting people who had stories to tell of relatives who had fought in the war.

I am immensely proud of this book. 

I do hope many of you pick up a copy.

Cardiff in The Great War - Looks at the Cardiff Pals and other local regiments who fought in the Great War and how the experience of war impacted on the area, from the initial enthusiasm for sorting out the German Kaiser in time for Christmas 1914, to the gradual realization of the enormity of human sacrifice the families of Cardiff were committed to as the war stretched out over the next four years. An important place for Coal export this book looks at how the balance between working and fighting was achieved by the Dockyard workers The Great War affected everyone. At home there were wounded soldiers in military hospitals, refugees from Belgium and later on German prisoners of war. There were food and fuel shortages and disruption to schooling. The role of women changed dramatically and they undertook a variety of work undreamed of in peacetime. Meanwhile, men serving in the armed forces were scattered far and wide. Extracts from contemporary letters reveal their heroism and give insights into what it was like under battle conditions.

The book can be purchased now from any bookshop and there is also a Kindle version available.

This November will see the publication of a companion volume that looks at the second world war.

Sunday 12 August 2018

The Man Booker Prize gets Real - Belinda Bauer longlisted

When I reviewed Snap by Belinda Bauer earlier this year, I wrote:

 - I think this is my book of the year - yes I know we're just nudging towards the end of June, but I really can't see another book coming along that touches me in the way this one did. It's absolutely heart breaking in places, but despite the darkness of its subject matter it is full of humour. The main character Jack, a young boy who carries truly Dickensian misery upon his shoulders is a wonderful creation and it would be a very cold reader who didn't develop a strong affection for him; empathize with the incredible burden he carries around.-

You can find my full review HERE.

Well, it seems that a great many people agree and this week the news dropped that the novel has been long-listed for the prestigious Man/Booker Prize.

Here at the Archive we're rooting for Belinda...but what an achievement.


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