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About this blog

This blog is a place for my non-fiction writing.

There will be posts promoting my writing, in all its areas. I will talk about my writing in general, the inspiration behind it, my writing process and several of the issues I’ve faced writing. It will also contain essays, reviews and other examples of my non-fiction writing. There won't be any politics here but there will be social commentary and personal stories.

(I have started a book reviewing project, I am attempting to review as many of the book I've read as possible, and I am going to post those book reviews here too)

Entries in this blog

Book Review: Going Down in La-La Land by Andy Zeffer

Adam, an aspiring actor, makes the trip from New York to LA in search of fame and fortune. What he finds is a trip into the underside of fame in LA. Here is a modern-day Rake’s Progress; Adam (the narrator) arrives in LA with such high hopes, he has the looks and talent to be a star, but he finds an unfriendly city where he can’t get his foot on the bottom rung of the showbusiness ladder. This novel could have been a pro-faced, and even homophobic, grime tale, warning about the “evils”

Drew Payne

Drew Payne in Book review

Book Review: Holocaust Tips for Kids and Smite the Heathens, Charlie Brown by Shalom Auslander

Satire is a difficult form to get right. If it is too humorous then it might not be biting enough; if the satire hits home then it can be dry and even dull, and then it can be humourless and miss its target. These two short stories take a satirical aim at religious persecution and antisemitism in particular. Holocaust Tips for Kids is a young teenage American boy’s view of the Nazi Holocaust. It reads like that teenage boy’s scrapbook, facts and reportage sit all beside the boy’s own w

Drew Payne

Drew Payne in Book review

Book Review: Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why; The Science of Sexual Orientation by Simon LeVay

Gay marriage has been making the headlines recently and there are a lot of arguments for and against it. At the heart of a lot of these arguments is whether homosexuality is “natural” or “unnatural”. Simon LeVay is a neuroscientist and takes an evidence-based approach to his subject. He doesn’t just look at the theories behind human sexuality; he looks at the evidence for those theories, or lack of it. This is what lifts this book head and shoulders above previous books looking at the origi

Drew Payne

Drew Payne in Book review

Book Review: Mother's Boy by Patrick Gale

Charles is the apple of his mother’s eye, born in Cornwall just after the end of the First World War. He becomes the focus of his mother’s life after his father dies from TB. But Charles does not want to be a “mother’s boy” and when war breaks out, he leaves his claustrophobic life in Teignmouth, enlisting in the navy as a coder. The title of this novel has a double meaning and Patrick Gale uses both of them with skill and breadth. Charles is a boy raised as his mother’s sole outlet, the so

Drew Payne

Drew Payne in Book review

Book Review: Three Ex Presidents and James Franco by John Buchanan

It is 2008 and John, an Irish university student, is spending a year at an American liberal arts college. During that year he forms three very different relationships with three very different young men—the radically gay Jake, Eric the straight jock whose life is turned upside down when he is shot, and Brendon, his former best friend from Ireland. Also during that year he will be involved in a shooting, cause a scandal at a historical monument, meet an ex-president and be complimented by a risin

Drew Payne

Drew Payne in Book review

Book Review: The Machine Stops by EM Forster

It is the future and all humans live underground, each person having their own room, which they never leave. All their needs – food, drink, hygiene, medication and even sleep – are provided for them automatically from machinery within the room’s walls and ceiling. They communicate with other people without leaving their rooms, via a metal disk on which the other people’s faces are projected. They have a book that contains all required knowledge, which is being constantly updated. This world is a

Drew Payne

Drew Payne in Book review

Book Review: Miss Marple's Final Cases by Agatha Christie

Miss Marple is probably the most famous female detective in English literature, she was certainly an original character when she first appeared in print, using psychology and character observation rather than searching for physical clues to solve crimes. This collection of stories was published posthumously after Christie’s death and brings together the remaining Miss Marple short stories that hadn’t been published in book form before, plus two supernatural stories that didn’t feature Miss

Book Review: London Urban Legends by Scott Wood

Urban legends are fascinating; they say so much about our society and the stories that it runs on.   Scott Wood certainly loves urban legends. Scott ran the Southeast London Folklore Society, and it shows in this absorbing book. He doesn’t only write about those common urban legends that have been circulating for years—though they have their space here—but he has also dug deep and found some obscure items, including those that were a flash-in-the-pan in years ago. But what lifts this b

Book Review: The House of Stairs by (Ruth Rendell writing as) Barbara Vine

It was no secret that Ruth Rendell also wrote as Barbara Vine. Writing under this pseudonym, she created many gripping psychological thrillers. They are not so much who-did-it as how-they-did-it or why-they-did-it. The House of Stairs is the best example of this. The book opens with a chance meeting between the narrator and Bell, a woman she hasn't seen in over twenty years because Bell has been in prison for murder. The story slips back and forth in time between the 1980s, as the women beg

Book Review: From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell

Its 1964 and the beginning of summer in the English market town of Kingsmarkham. Margaret Parsons, a shrewish and quiet housewife, disappears from her home. Days later, her murdered body is found in a copse of trees outside of the town. Chief Inspector Wexford leads the enquiry into her death, criss-crossing the almost quintessential Home Counties town to do so. From Doon with Death is not only the first Wexford novel by Ruth Rendell, it is very much a novel of its time. It isn’t just that

Book Review: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

Alien invasion is a staple of science fiction and has featured far too many novels and films, but in The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham turns that classic theme into a frighteningly original story that is still disturbing now. The Midwich Cuckoos begins with Richard Gayford (the novel’s narrator) and his wife Janet returning from an evening in London, celebrating his birthday, to the English village of Midwich, where they have recently moved. Midwich is the stereotype of the quiet, sleepy 19

Book Review: Logical Family: A Memoir by Armistead Maupin

For so many of us, Armistead Maupin is known for the Tales of the City series of books. Though set in San Francisco, these books chronicled so many of the changing events of the seventies and eighties in such a personal way. Logical Family is Maupin’s memoir, starting with his birth in very conservative 1940s/1950s North Carolina up to 1970s San Francisco when he first started publishing Tales of the City as a serial in a newspaper. This is an amazing and complicated journey that Maupin tel

Book Review: Liverpool Murders - Kirkdale Hangings 1870–1891 by Steven Horton

The premise of this book appears simple; it chronicles the 29 hangings that took place within Kirkdale Prison, Liverpool, until it was closed. But inside that premise lies a fascinating social history. In 1868, an act of parliament stopped all public executions; after that, all capital punishments took place within a prison’s walls, away from the excited crowds of onlookers, and Steven Horton uses this as the starting point of his book, ending when Kirkdale Prison was closed in 1892. He res

Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

Philip K Dick’s name gained notoriety with a string of Hollywood films, but none of them have done justice to the dark and paranoid worlds created in his books. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (filmed as Blade Runner in 1982) is Dick at his best, combining so many of his favourite themes—post-nuclear war, religion, identity, technology and dis-utopia. It is set in the near future, on an Earth that has suffered a nuclear war but at a high cost. This Earth is dying, everywhere is su

Book Review: A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie

“A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.” So reads the announcement in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette that morning. That evening, the local neighbours all dutifully turn up at Little Paddocks, all with their different excuses for being there. At 6.30 p.m., without warning, all the lights go out and… This is the beginning of one of Agatha Christie’s most intriguing novels that is firmly rooted in post-war Britain. She chose to set

Book Review: The AIDS Pandemic by James Chin

There have been many different theories about the spread of AIDS, some of them bizarre, but here James Chin returns to a very old one; AIDS is not a threat to the heterosexual population. Chin is an epidemiologist and bases all his arguments on a narrow reading of the HIV/AIDS statistics. He seems to want to turn back the clock to when we talked only of “risk groups”.  There are no political, cultural, social or psychological elements in Chin’s arguments, which leaves this book very one-sided.

Book Review: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials was a groundbreaking trilogy of fantasy novels. They were breathtaking in their scope and originality; the concept of a person having the personification of their soul in the form of an animal called their daemon was both simple and a stroke of genius. It was also a wonderful writing device; characters could literally talk to themselves. For a long time, Pullman hinted that he was writing a second trilogy, The Book of Dust, following on from His Dark Materials. Finally, i

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

“Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” This is the premise of Kurt Vonnegut’s greatest novel, but it is far more than that. As a middle-aged man, Billy Pilgrim is a successful optometrist, dully married to his wife with two children. As an elderly man, Billy Pilgrim is abducted by aliens, the Tralfamadores, and kept as an exhibit in their zoo on their home world. There he meets and starts a relationship with Montana Wildhack, a beautiful model who is abducted to be his companion. As

Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

This novella has a simple but enjoyable premise, which Alan Bennett exploits with his sharp and intelligent wit. The queen, unusually for her, is at a loose end in Buckingham Palace and goes for walk. Around a corner she doesn’t usually walk around she discovers a mobile library. Thinking it rude not to, she borrows a book from it. This first book sets her off on an odyssey of reading. She reads for pleasure, but also her reading educates her and opens her mind. And all this reading leads t

Book Review: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries (Boystown #1) by Marshall Thornton

The hard-bitten American PI, working on his own to solve a murder, has become such a staple of crime fiction that it is now a cliché and has been parodied more times than I can even begin to count. There has to be something original to one to even make me think about reading it, and Marshall Thornton has found that something original with his Nick Nowak mystery series. Nowak is working as a one man PI, in 1981 Chicago, when these stories start, but he enters these three novellas with his ow

Book Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie was the queen of the literary three-card trick. She would create a mystery, lead you down a path thinking a certain character was the murderer and then at the end pull the rug from under your feet with the murderer as a totally different character—the last character you would suspect or the first one you’d discounted. Reading one of her books is like playing a game against her, can you spot the murderer before she reveals them? It can be said, and not unfairly, that many of

Book Review: HIV (Third Edition)

Treatment and survival of people with HIV has improved greatly over the years. No longer is HIV an automatic terminal condition. Now treatment opinions are varied and complex so treatment manuals are a required resource, but a resource is only as good as the information in it. The editors here, Libman and Mackadon (both doctors), appear to have put a lot of work into this volume. The authors of each section are qualified for the area they are writing on. It felt refreshing that the editors

Book Review: Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey has fallen in love with the crime novelist Harriet Vane. Unfortunately, she is on trial for her life, accused of poisoning her former lover. Lord Peter, to demonstrate his love for her, sets about to prove Harriet is innocent before she faces a retrial. Dorothy L. Sayers has often been called the best writer of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, but I have never found this. Her descriptive style is certainly better than Agatha Christie’s and Ngaio Marsh’s, but I find her

Book Review: The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt

David Leavitt’s strength has always been the drama he finds in ordinary people’s lives. Not for him the lives of the extraordinary, but his characters can so often feel like the most ordinary of people, yet the lives he finds behind their ordinariness are fascinating. This, his first novel, revolves around a cast of characters who are in flux in their lives, small changes that led to far greater ones. It is 1980s New York and Philip, a gay man in his early twenties, has fallen in love for t

Book Review: The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett has become inextricably linked with the life of Miss Shepherd, the tramp (by her behaviour and attitudes she could never be called anything else) who lived in a derelict van on his driveway for nearly twenty years, but this book is where it all began. Though this is a slim volume it still carries so much pathos. It is constructed from entries from Bennett’s diary that chronicle his relationship with Miss Shepherd. It began when he allowed her to park her van, in which she live
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