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24 April 2011

Three Men in a Float by Dan Kieran and Ian Vince

Take a classic 1958 milk float, three men and a journey from Lowestoft to Lands End, and you have the ingredients for a distinctly original book. This attention-grabbing concept prompted plenty of enthusiastic national media coverage, including a dedicated BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast in February 2008.

The book is jointly authored by Dan Kieran and Ian Vince, who share the writing of its twenty chapters - all written in the first-person narrative form. After describing the story behind the story, each day-long leg of the journey is allocated its own chapter.

These legs vary in length from as little as 17 miles up to 49 miles. Each day's eventual distance being highly dependant on weather conditions, driving terrain, characters encountered, extravehicular adventures and, of course, availability of suitable charging points. So, as you can imagine, it was a particularly slow journey, as confirmed by the book's subtitle - Across England at 15mph.

The pivotal third man, Prasanth Visweswaran (Pras), has the necessary electrical skills - and risk taking attitude - to turn their concept into a reality. Still, without the support of friends, supermarket managers, publicans, campsite owners and generously spirited members of the public, it would have been impossible.

The problems faced in securing adequate supplies of electron-based fuel are a central, and often highly amusing, theme within the story. A story imparts a crystal-clear indication of how far away the UK is from delivering a viable infrastructure, able to support battery-powered alternatives to our current fossil-fuel guzzling vehicles.

The milk float in question rolled off Cowley's Morris car plant production line on 2nd September 1958. In the intervening decades this once commonplace mode of door-to-door transportation, has largely been resigned to history. After all, when was the last time you saw, or heard, a milk float trundle down your street?

Parallels with Jerome K. Jerome's 1892 classic Three Men in a Boat are obvious. And the inspiration provided by Jerome's book is clearly stated in the text. But the narrative's pace, humour and sense of adventure ensure this isn't some pale imitation or shallow copycat effort.

Enjoyable as it is, it's unlikely this book will also become a classic. And yet, in my imagination, when this century ticks over into a new one, I can envisage a world where all transportation is electric powered. In such future times the trials, tribulations and experiences of completing a 600 mile journey three times slower than a cyclist could manage, might indeed become an interesting and amusing literary resource of a past era.

18 April 2011

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

After Dark is a novel set within a seven hour period, commencing a few minutes before the strike of midnight. With scenes set amongst the backstreets of downtown Tokyo, its pace beautifully captures the slow, stretched out feel of the nighttime.

Highly detailed characters are, ultimately, richly exposed to the reader through a trickle of vividly naturalistic observations, expressive behaviour, meaningful interplay and effective dialogue.

In fact, it takes most of the narrative to discover who the reclusive, bookish, thoughtful main character Mari really is; her background, her fears, her dreams and the depth of connection to her sister Eri.

When combined with Haruki's skilful prose, clear voice, scrupulously crafted atmospheric scenes and volumes of unspoken mystery, it's a technique that ensures we're always immersed, always keen to turn the page.

There are many writing devices and traits at work. Chapters entitled with an ever-increasing time - to denote the advancement of the night. Pronounced shortening of chapter length as the story concludes - to enact rapid scene change and raising the tension. Using a narrator voice when visiting a scene with mystical, dreamlike viewpoints - to endow a movie director like quality. An inconclusive ending - resolution

Its a novel immediately identifiable, albeit in a fascinatingly illusive manner, as a Haruki Murakami story, and a highly recommended read.

14 April 2011

People Power

This week's Micro Mart magazine, issue 1153, published my latest feature article, People Power.

It's an investigation into how, in our modern world, a few individuals can enact changes that cause rapid, radical and long lasting consequences for the IT industry.

It questions the justification for the enormous R&D budgets employed by the likes of Microsoft and Nokia, when compared with free spirited, shoe-string budget initiatives that create hugely popular, globally significant products in the social, mobile and entertainment arenas.

Click to read more analysis articles and posts.

2 April 2011

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Paul Chowder is in love with poetry and is determined to show us why. In a delightfully rambling story we're taken through a challenging period of his life. It's a story shared with Roz, various neighbours and friends, his dog Smacko, and the mouse.

Throughout the first-person narrative he conveys his thoughts on poetry and poets, rhyming and free verse, and in particular, rhythm. Having little regard for the iambic pentameter or the trochaic octameter, he maintains all good poetry is based around an underlying four beat or three beat rhythm - occasionally adorned with strategically positioned rests.

There are obvious parallels with western music and lyrical poetry. Especially with regard to the ballad stanza, which he describes as, "Four lines, four beats in each line, and the third line drives towards the fourth."

It's certainly an interesting and entertaining point of view. One argued by multiple examples from some of the greats: Edward Lear, Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Mary Louise Ritter, Alice Carey, Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale, T.S. Eliot plus many others - and liberal use of his sharpie.

Yet despite all this poetry knowledge and his previous successes he reveals, in a dryly comic manner, his lack of confidence and loss of motivation for creating the introduction to his poetry anthology.

Ultimately, this highly readable book is able to both entertain and inform. The way the prose subtly, almost subconsciously, imbibes gems of poetry knowledge and understanding upon the reader, is the mark of highly creative and skilled writer.