Blog: Playing for Keeps – by Lazlo Ferran

This week: Sneak Preview, Free offer results, Short Stirlings, philosophy.

Sneak Preview is back!
Yes, I am writing again! It’s taken a few weeks but here is an excerpt from the forthcoming (in the next few years!) novel with the working title December Radio.

December Radio

Copyright © 2013 by Lazlo Ferran

All Rights Reserved

“Scary the first time but don’t look too long; you’ll be fine,” said Max Schickert, coiling the blue nylon safety line around the taut muscles in his forearm.
It was Davis Connaughy’s first trip to ‘The Telescope’. He looked at the innocent-looking gap between the two boulders with distrust. The noon-day heat of Peru in October was making him sweat slightly after the long hike up the hill above San Ramon. He glanced at the blonde Apollo in front of him and grinned. He turned to look back out across the vast valley of refulgent green, ruffled nearby by the gentle east-north east breeze.
“No problemo. I have done The Cave of Swallows twice!”
“You do realise how privileged you are to be here? Don’t fuck up! And pay attention.”
“Sorry.”
“Strap on here.” Max patted the piton he had just fixed his safety-line to and slipped through the tall grass covering the opening between the boulders. “Remember what I told you,” he shouted from within the cave. “The first twenty feet looks easy, but it’s slippy.”
Davis attached his line, took a deep breath and pushed aside the grass to enter the cave. “Moss?”
“Probably. Shit too. Including human. Shepherds used this as a latrine for hundreds of years.”
“Yeah I can smell that. Can’t see a damned thing yet.”
“You will. Swallows is nothing like this. I mean, bigger, yeah. But this place is just damned weird. Press will have a field day once this gets out. Okay, you beginning to see?”
“Yeah. Je-sus!”
“And I bet you ain’t never jumped from within a cave before.”
“Oops. Nearly went over! Still, Swallows is tricky at the top! Where is the first annulus?”
“You won’t see it. Not from up here. Stand here. And shut the fuck up about Swallows. It’s a walk in the park compared with this baby. Do you wanna die? I only accepted you along ‘cause your dad used to jump with my dad. I don’t usually jump with newbies!”
David caught up with Max on a narrow ledge overlooking the strange vaulted cavern. Once inside the entrance he could see for himself that the upper opening had been blocked by a massive rock fall, perhaps for thousands of years. The rocks were held in place only by their own weight. Any violent earthquake could have brought them down. The cave – if cave it was – ran down at an angle of 44.9 degrees from the horizontal and was five times as wide as the Albert Hall.
“I can’t even see the other side!”
“Nope. You’ll only see that when you jump!”
“This is the only way out and that’s the only way up,” Davis reflected out loud. He pointed to the single rappel rope secured around a rock to the right of his feet. It hung over the edge of the precipice and it stretched into the yawning abyss below. He stomach turned over.
“Yeah, we’ll fit a winch when we get time. Don’t forget you’re only the fifth man in here. How is your SRT?”
“Rusty. Never done much single-rope stuff.”
“Well make sure you have your gear secured before you jump. No way I’m pulling you up! You better get your stuff ready. And whatever you see, you’re sworn to secrecy. Right?”
“Right.”
Both men prepared their parachute equipment in silence. Speech could mean death. Davis was the first to finish.
“I’m ready,” he announced.
“Yeah… Well check it again. I’m not ready.”
“The lights!”
“Yeah. I’ll turn them on.”
Max bent to a crude electrical switch on the end of a black cable which also snaked over the precipice and into the gloom. Instantly the awesome shape of the cave was revealed dimly by a string of halogen lights, stretching away to the bottom of the cave. Every hundred metres or so, an annular opening marked a narrowing of the tunnel – five in all – before the bottom, over four hundred metres away.
“Wow! That looks scary!”
“Oh yeah! You’d better have your shit together here, man! Those ridges are what makes it lethal. And it narrows down to less than a tennis-court. Wet too. Mostly a big, slushy puddle. But you won’t mind, if you get that far. Ready?”

Free Offer Results

I had 373 downloads for Attack Hitler’s Bunker! which was a lot more than for Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate the week before. Admittedly there was a small promotional advert on Facebook but it yielded very few click-throughs so I think it’s a pretty fair comparison. It’s good to know my most recent work is doing so well.

Short Stirlings

As any who are fans of WWII aircraft will know, there are no Short Stirlings left in this world. Some may say that is a good thing; who wants to remember old bombers? However the Short Stirling was the first British heavy bomber. It suffered many handicaps forced on it by a short-sighted Air Ministry and yet still delighted the pilots who flew it with its beautiful flight characteristics. All other heavy bombers from all sides are represented in museums around the world but the few Stirling wrecks have been left to rot at the bottom of the sea and on mountain sides. The Stirling Aircraft Society aims to correct this. With very little money and few resources they are slowly, painstakingly building a ‘replica’ of a Stirling front fuselage using as many original parts as possible. Although I am not a member of the Society I have taken a keen interest in their progress. My book Attack Hitler’s Bunker! deliberately featured the Stirling prominently in an effort by myself to raise awareness of its achievements and plight. All profits from the book for the first two years will go to the Society. Last week I became aware of a wreck discovered by a French team of divers. They clearly do not realise the importance of the wreck which seems almost intact. It would be such a wonderful event if it could be lifted. The Society has contacted the team but as yet I have no information about where it is or how easy it would be to recover. I will post updates on here if there is any  progress.

Review of Castle Keep

I am reviewing this obscure WWII film  not because it’s good but because it raises some questions for me. The book is an average production, telling the story of a platoon of US soldiers defending a Belgian 11th Century castle during the Battle of the Bulge. No doubt soldiers had become incredibly cynical by 1944; the campaign was known for it’s brutality. No wonder then that it was chosen by the producers in the Hippy sunset of 1969. The period is known for its picaresque movies.

‘Picaresque’  – of or relating to a type of fiction in which the hero, a rogue, goes through a series of episodic adventures. It originated in Spain in the 16th century – Collins English Dictionary

Don Quixote is perhaps the first novel that suggests this type of character but he/she seems to have become very French by 1969. In most movies of this type there is at least one French character and so it is here; the US Major, played by Burt Lancaster billets at the castle and sleeps with the Count’s gorgeous young wife. His platoon are the usual bunch of misfits but with one art critic who envies the Major his bed-partner. Another soldier, played by Columbo’s Peter Falk is a former baker and when they discover a brothel he instead heads for the bakery.

“Where there is a baker, there’s a baker’s wife,” he answers to their jeers.

And sure enough the baker’s wife asks him to “Come to bed,” within a few short minutes. He has seemlessly replaced her lost husband. This typifies the slightly crazy and cynical nature of the film. In another scene a German tank is driven right inside a large church where the soldiers capture it. They try to drive it out but end up knocking down the whole church; typical dramatic and unnerving juxtaposition of images and ideas used in these picaresque adventures. They usually end inconclusively and so does this one. I find that I don’t really care for any of the characters; they have become too cynical for that. We are supposed to like the Major. Sometimes he is referred to as the General and I suppose this is where this film fails to even match it’s genre rivals. Everything about him is vague, as if he is a cipher.

Other movies of the type do better. The Beatles particularly employed this style in Help and The Magical Mystery Tour and here they manage to be likable. Perhaps they have more respect for the style. I can’t think of earlier films that follow this style but certainly by the turn of the decade films from Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines to The Confessions series to blockbusters like Waterloo and even Mary Poppins employed it. One of the more successful uses was Clint Eastwood’s series of Spaghetti Westerns (the genre probably culminating in El Topo, about as far ‘out there’ as a movie could be). Indeed Eastwood himself went on to star in one of the last picareque movies, Kelly’s Heroes.

Of course it’s not surprising that films became more cynical after the stifling of the Hippy movement. Either the directors were liberal and felt disappointed or they were right-wing and appropriated some of the Hippy aesthetics for their own use. Either way, such darker films became very typical in the early 1970s. Was it perhaps an Anglo Saxon attempt to appropriate French existential ideas as a sop during these dark times? British moral structure became almost vacuous in the wake of the Hippy collapse; probably not because everyone missed it but because nobody had anything better to offer.

Into this vacuum, perhaps the Dog-eat-dog philosophy of Freddie Ayers seeped. Many of his ideas were formed during the terrible Spanish Civil War of the late 30s and so his suggested structure – we are all animals so why not behave like it’ (my paraphrasing) was tailor-made for such times. Unfortunately, it may be that they have left a deeper imprint on our society than we would like to think.

Until now my views have been impartial, speculative but I leave you with one final thought and here I do have strong views: it might even be that the Big Brother House and X-Factor owe their existence to the picareque Don Quixote. Perhaps with the terrible fate of Jade Goody, who after all had nothing more than a hunger for fame as a talent, we have seen the noon of this way of thinking. Perhaps now we can get back to some sanity and appreciation of real talent.

Other News

As you can see from the excerpt, I am writing again. I reached a nice stage with the IT stuff so for the next month or so I will be concentrating on writing alone. I am assured that the Second Edition of Amit Bobrov’s The Journals or Raymond Brooks is being worked on by the publisher so I think we can expect that out soon. It is edited by me.

Elsewhere

I was a bit disappointed with the way Valentino Rossi ‘sacked’ Jeremy Burgess. After all these years of working so closely together it’s a bit rough. However I think it shows just how ruthless and determined to win Vale is. Let’s hope at least it brings results next year. Burgess has surely been one of Rossi’s most crucial partners during his whole career.

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