Sarah Potter Writes

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Archive for the tag “non-fiction”

Book Review: Enemies of the People by Sam Jordison

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a first for me, getting political online. There are some books that you wish you’d read earlier rather than later, and Enemies of the People is one such book. Not that it was available prior to the Brexit vote, or the electing of a reality TV star as President of the US. It seems we’re victims of lies and manipulation; this book tells us who the culprits are, plus a great deal more.

In Enemies of the People, Sam Jordison doesn’t pretend objectivity and, by his own admission, wrote it quickly and in anger.  On the front cover are the words “We’re all screwed and here’s who to blame”, and in his blurb he holds men responsible for the whole mess: mostly white men in a temper (not including himself, of course!).

Primarily, this is a history book written by somebody who can write “more than 140 characters at a time” and sees it as a “golden opportunity to snatch back the narrative and set the record straight”. The book does not go into great depth but is a series of snapshots of fifty people whom the author feels have had the greatest negative influence on our society. These include certain British prime ministers and US presidents, past and present; current members of parliament;  deranged dictators; people on the Rich List (some skilful, some moronic); founders of religions, from the relatively sane, through to extremist sects, down to the plain screwy; royalty, with William the Conqueror thrown in for good measure, and a closing chapter dedicated to a medical charlatan/founder of a commercial radio station, who almost became governor of Kansas in the 1930s and could be seen as a metaphor for our times.

Of the fifty people mentioned, not all of them are wholly bad or lacking in areas of brilliance, but I’m hazarding a guess that a fair percentage of them suffer from narcissistic personality disorders (or have suffered, because they’re now dead). A few have meant well, but power has corrupted them, filling them with greed, or they’ve just lost their way.

As the author points out, by the time this book went into print it was probably out of date in some respects. Certainly the chapter about Jeremy Corbyn needs updating, although, unlike the author, I had no issue with the Leader of the Opposition having “sloped off to his allotment association’s annual get together while most of his cabinet were busy resigning following the Brexit vote”. But then, as a keen allotmenteer myself, I can’t think of a better way to get away from it all and clear my head.

In summary, I enjoyed this book in a perverse way. It confirmed what I already suspected about those in charge of our society, with all the spin, lies, hypocrisy, greed, manipulation, and contradiction. This should have depressed me, but I felt oddly empowered by knowing my enemy better. Sam Jordison’s writing is pacey, entertaining, easy to read, and peppered with wry wit.  He comes over as very passionate about truth, justice, and the betterment of society.

I now challenge him to write a book titled “Friends of the People”…

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Sam Jordison is co-director of an Indy publisher Galley Beggar Press in Norwich (www.galleybeggar.co.uk) and editor of Crap Towns. He’s a journalist for The Guardian and writes regular articles about books and publishing on their website (www.theguardian.com/profile/samjordison). He also runs the online book club The Reading Group (www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/reading-group) and the annual Not The Booker Prize.

Enemies of the People is available from all good bookshops in the UK, as well as from HiveWaterstones, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

April’s Guest Storyteller, Cee Tee Jackson

Cee Tee Jackson

Cee Tee (Colin) Jackson is an ex-bank manager turned professional dog walker from Houston, Scotland.

He’s a bit of a short arse, with a short attention span. No surprise then, that his first book, ‘Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee’, at just one hundred and eleven pages, is also a little on the short side.

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Sarah says: I’m delighted to welcome Cee Tee as this month’s guest storyteller. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading the book mentioned above, which falls into the category of non-fiction that is at times stranger than fiction! Seriously, I really enjoyed this book, based on his true experiences as a pet professional, and awarded it five stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

Today, Cee Tee is going to regale us with a tale (tails) from his book.

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The Dangers (Extract from ‘Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee.’)

I was with three dogs, all from the same household: Ozzie, a bouncy, athletic and energetic bearded collie cross; Gem, a lovely-natured little Staffordshire bull terrier; and Sam, a rather overweight, but ultra-sociable Cairn terrier whose short, stumpy legs struggle to keep his belly from trailing the ground.

In a country park, high in the hills that overlook Paisley and Glasgow, we were following our regular route. As normal, I checked each field for sheep and cattle before entering. Except, on this occasion the cattle were not apparent from the entrance and were actually ensconced in an obscured dip, around a bend.

The three dogs were off-lead and slightly ahead of me as they charged through the open ground. Well, Ozzie and Gem, at least – Sam was mooching his way around as usual, searching for scraps of discarded picnic food and leaving his scent-mark on just about every raised tuft of grass that he passed.

I knew something was wrong the instant all three stopped what they were doing and stood still. Gem threw me a look from over her shoulder which I loosely translated as:

“We’ve got a problem …”

Confronting us now, and quickly rising to their feet, were about twenty cows. Worse – they each had their young with them.

I returned Gem’s look, hoping she’d interpret it as:

“Keep calm, and walk slowly towards the woods.”

At least in there, I reckoned, the cattle would have no room to charge us, and if we were seen to be walking away from them, hopefully they’d realise we intended no harm to their calves.

The most vociferous of the herd was by now no more than four metres from me. She was snorting and stamping her front hooves on the ground. The others were becoming more animated and vocal as they circled us. I shot a look towards the wooded area, some fifty metres away.

The alarmed baying of the group in front of us had alerted a splinter-herd, who had been resting-up in the shade of the very same woods.

Gem slowly turned her head towards me, a quizzical look on her face. I think she was saying:

“What now, wise-guy?”

‘What now?’ indeed.

Well, Ozzie, being of nimble foot, had already made himself scarce and scarpered towards the bottom end of the field. Gem, ever so trusting, was still awaiting instruction.

Sam, completely unaware of any possible danger, decided he’d like to make friends with the cattle. This was not helping, at all.

A car stopped on the road that bisects the park, and the driver came to the fence around a hundred metres away. From his vantage point, down the slope from where we were cornered, he could see a gap forming in the herd. He shouted to me and pointed to where we should run.

And run we did – Gem close by my side.

It was, as I’d read in magazine articles, ‘every man and dog for themselves,’ as we, the faithful Gem and myself, raced through the break in formation. Sam, however was still dithering around with his new ‘pals.’

“Come on Sam” I hollered. “BISCUITS!”

That did the trick. His little legs were a blur as he tried to catch up, more afraid of missing out on a treat than the danger of being trampled and kicked to death by an irate cow or two.

We quickly reached the sanctuary of the road, where Ozzie was waiting:

“What kept you?” I could imagine him panting.

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Damp Dogs and Rabbit Wee is available to buy (Kindle and Paperback edition) from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

Cee Tee’s links
Blog
Facebook
Twitter

 

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You can find the links to previous guest storyteller posts at 

 

Review: Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee

Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee
Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee by Cee Tee Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First selling point of this book is the author himself. Cee Tee Jackson is an ex-bank manager who runs a pet care/dog-walking business in the West of Scotland and sports a mohawk haircut.

Composed of a series of vignettes, the author shares true stories of his work with animals. The tales range from mildly amusing to hilarious, with the odd sadness thrown in. He has a personable and entertaining style of writing that would appeal to a wide age-range of readers.

Throughout the book, I was greatly impressed by the compassion and patience Cee Tee shows towards his charges, plus forgiveness towards animals with temperament issues. …I’m thinking he must have quite a lot of scars. For instance, he has a chapter titled “The Psychopaths” (a rabbit and a cat, to be precise).

My first job was as a kennel maid, which made this book of particular interest to me. I also used to keep rabbits that were all teeth and claws, and once tried offering a home to a rescue cat that was incurably homicidal (feeling great empathy with Cee Tee here).

Primarily, this is a book that dog owners will find incredibly entertaining. It’s clear that Cee Tee loves his work and hasn’t allowed redundancy (twice over) to tip him over into despondency. In fact I’m guessing, from some of his quips about the bank, that in hindsight he sees his new job as a liberation from an organisation he no longer respects.

However, it is obvious he respects animals and that he revels in his hours spent in the countryside rather than behind a desk in a stuffy office. He might end some days muddy, scratched, and smelling of damp dogs and rabbit wee but — what the hell? — the fellow is happy.

My only complaint about this book is that it is too short. Then again, the author does describe himself as “a bit of a short-arse, with a short attention span”.

View all my reviews

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This sharing of book reviews is a new thing for me, as I’ve only just stumbled upon this feature on Goodreads.

The author of Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee will be guest storytelling here in April. Meanwhile, you might like to visit Cee Tee’s blog

 

Guest Post: Editor, Gary Bonn, Talks About His Fascination for Autobiographies

The sheer joy of editing (really!). Gary 1 290x290

The startling revelations of scary intimacy.

Themes that shock your soul.

Most authors are happy to edit other people’s work. This is often a reciprocal exercise and I don’t know of a single writer whose work doesn’t benefit from their having edited the work of others, or whose writing hasn’t been significantly improved by the labours of skilled and experienced input.

I am an editor, and working on autobiographies is my favourite by far. Everyone has a unique and fascinating life and I haven’t worked on a single autobiography that doesn’t have profound themes.

*Gasps from the audience* “Themes in non-fiction?”

Oh boy, yes.

Currently I’m working on the autobiography of a nurse who worked in the community, in a bombed-out area of London, shortly after the second world war.

As if her descriptions of post-war chaos, the beginnings of the Health Service, the antibiotic and immunisation revolutions weren’t enough to blow my mind, there are social and personal themes in her commentary that enable me to step outside of my world and take a hard look at how things are now—both in my world and in me.

As in fiction, the editor has to work out what the writer is trying to say, exterminating ambiguities, clarifying the unclear, and strengthening the weak. This is the most beautiful challenge, taking people’s often blurry ideas and accounts of real life and working with the writers to make everything crystal clear.

And you learn about the authors. There is nothing more fascinating to me than another human. I…

Oops… yes… themes… ahem. I was getting there, honest.

Themes are the depth of a novel and the most moving element of a personal history. But there can be no richer source of themes than another person.

Everyone heads off into life armed with around 18 years of it and the knowledge that they know just about everything. When amply supplied with 80 years’ experience, and the realisation that they’ve never really known anything, people’s wisdom and humanity are often their strongest points. These can reveal the themes of human existence—and can profoundly shake you.

One client was dying, and this catalysed a unique situation. On toxic levels of medication to fight the oedema that crept, day-by-day, up her legs and would eventually flood her lungs, she started to tell me her life story. Recording it was a race against time as either the medication, or heart-failure would inevitably kill her.

However, she became more interested in my life and insisted, like an interrogator, “I’m asking the questions!”.

So, over a couple of weeks, we discussed ourselves and each other.

What developed from this highlighted just about the strongest human theme imaginable. Fuelled by impending death, my client became increasingly honest and open. She warmly encouraged me to do the same.

I kept taking notes – notes I’ll probably not allow to be published, for both our sakes. Never have I had such an intimate conversation. It was a mutual invasion of each other – but with every question welcomed, respected and handled with absolute honesty and openness.

Scary stuff, asking a question reveals a lot about the person asking it.

We abandoned any moral judgements of each other. She helped me find the courage to follow her lead and ask personal questions. She led us both to a revelation.

The theme? How little we humans know about each other, how much we could know, but dare not ask about; how scared we are of ourselves, of revealing our most intimate secrets, even to close friends and relatives.

I’ve never heard of a conversation so unrestrained. Surely it’s happened to others at some time, but there’s nothing in all the literature and other media I’ve come across that even approaches it.

What emerged, and profoundly shocked both of us, was the depth of separation between people and the desperate tragedy of it. Even in our closest relationships we reveal very little of ourselves and know so little of each other. The tragedy is we are not aware of it.

My client and I realised how lonely humans are, at least in our culture, and how close they could be.

In a world where politicians role-model ways to humiliate and ridicule even a single statement made by another, and strut their momentary moral superiority like posturing cockerels and hens, it’s easy to understand why we’re so timid.

Caught up in this extraordinary situation, driven by imminent and inevitable death, this awe-inspiring and courageous woman pushed us both into a whirlpool of openness and unconditional acceptance. I learned not only how easy it is to accept everything about someone, but also how wonderful it is to have a person know you completely and yet still admire and cherish everything about you, no matter how much you despise yourself .

Maybe the details will never be aired, but, for me as a novelist, this theme is too hot not to handle.

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Sarah says: Thank you, so much, Gary for sharing this insight into autobiographies. I admit to not reading an autobiography for ages, but perhaps I should.

My beloved Grandmother, who died aged 98, read them avidly up to the end of her life. I remember her sometimes getting through about four books a week; then she’d delight me with snippets about whoever she’d been reading about, calling them by their first name as if they were her best friends. 

Other guest posts by Gary:

https://sarahpotterwrites.com/2014/04/05/aprils-guest-storyteller-gary-bonn/

https://sarahpotterwrites.com/2013/12/16/gary-bonn-talks-about-writerlot-where-im-guest-storytelling/

And for anyone interested in having their manuscript professionally edited by Gary, you can check out the details at

http://garybonn.com/about/editorial-services-2/

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