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A modern thriller set in the Middle East

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Friday, 24 October 2014

Celebrity books at Christmas

UPDATED

One of the most depressing issues facing independent book publishers and authors is the prominence given to books by celebrities. We're still almost two months away from Christmas, but the adverts are already out there, offering "discounts", real or fictional. Sadly, these celebrity books will sell, even though they are usually shallow tomes produced by a ghost writers and may never be read by the recipients.



UPDATE: Now W. H. Smith is offering this book for a huge "discount":

So, why would anyone want to part with a tenner to hear this self-important clown's views when they are already well known -- too well known, indeed --via the broadcasting and print media? Further, for less than a fiver you could have a pint at your local pub and hear some bore leaning on the bar expounding similar unsustainable opinions.

Computer viruses that don't exist

This posting is to be read to the accompaniment of screams of disbelief and shouts of "no, no, no!"...

For the umpteenth time I have been sent urgent messages by friends and associates warning me that there is a new virus in circulation that will destroy my computer hard drive. The latest such message came this morning from an old mate who has circulated it to his many email friends. The warning is headed "Black Muslim in the White House". It claims -- as all similar messages do -- that the existence of the virus has been revealed by CNN.

These messages are a hoax -- repeat HOAX -- and should not be circulated. Just think about it a minute. If a "virus" is as dreadful as the message claims, why does CNN have it as an exclusive? In truth, CNN never did not report the "virus"; nor did any other major news organisation, for the simple reason that it does not exist.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Broadcasting: The annoying interviewer who provides both questions and answers

UPDATED:

This item is from my favourite magazine, Private Eye. It is supposed to be satire, but is it? Having listened to James "Jim" Naughtie on the Today Programme this week, it would be easy to think that the item was a genuine transcript.
 

The other morning, on the Today Programme, Jim Naughtie was in typical form. As always, his questions were part statement and part enquiry. This is irritating enough, but what is really infuriating is his apparent compulsion to also provide the answers. What we got the other morning was something along these lines: "So, your answer would be blah, blah, blah, blah, etc ete, etc." This left the interviewee with three options: 1) answer "yes", 2) answer "no", or 3) provide an even more expanded reply than already given by Jim. She took Option 3. What she should have said was "Why the hell am I here if you're not going to allow me to answer your questions in my own way?"

An interview is best conducted if the questions are simple and direct.

Example:
  • Tell us what happened?
  • Was anyone hurt?
  • Do they know the cause?
  • Will there be an investigation?
  • etc etc

For a long time, Jim Naughtie's interviews have been the subject of public complaint and derision. So, why does he continue unchanged? Does he love and admire the sound of his own voice? Does he dismiss the satire and complaints as a form of love? Is his brain incapable of composing a simple question?

Above all, why don't his bosses have the courage to tell him that if he doesn't mend his ways, they will find someone else who can deliver interviews in a less irritating way? There are dozens of first class interviewers floating around the BBC. Many would love to replace him on the Today Programme and on his Radio Four Book Club.

UPDATE: This morning I heard Jim Naughtie doing an interview in which he asked two or three very simple, direct questions. Congratulations, Jim. See, you can do it if you try!


Friday, 17 October 2014

How not to make a sale

I have come to the conclusion that there must be a central training establishment for telephone and door-to-door salespersons on the make. These dreadful people appear to have been told that the best way to engage with a potential customer (victim?) is to begin with the words "Hello, how are you today?"

The most obvious answer -- and one that I usually give them -- is "Well, I was fine until a few moments ago when you called wanting to sell me something." They inevitably reply "Oh no, we're not trying to sell you anything." But, of course, they usually are -- and if, by chance, they aren't, they are trying to empty your wallet with some other proposal.

From time to time I have to phone people with a sales pitch. My opening line is always along the lines of "Hello, I'm Ian Richardson, a freelance journalist/writer, and I wonder if you could spare me a couple of minutes while I tell you about a story idea/proposal that I have?" Usually, they agree to listen and if they're not then interested, politely tell me so and the conversation ends in an amicable manner.

If I were to ring them with the opening words "Hello, how are you today?", they would probably slam the phone down, exactly as I do on such people. But will the wideboys and widegirls learn this lesson? No chance, I suspect. Nor will the training establishments that turn these people lose on the public.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Music on a wood saw

I don't know how the conversation started, but the other day I told an incredulous friend that a wood saw made an most unusual and charming musical instrument. He said he had never heard of such a thing, but I insisted that in the Australian town where I grew up (Charlton in the state of Victoria) one of the star turns at local talent concerts in the 1950s was a farmer who played a variety of musical pieces on a saw. And very good he was, too! There was nothing particular about the saw. It was just an ordinary one, about a metre long and probably from his farm workshed.

No doubt my friend remains skeptical about my claim, so today I decided to explore YouTube to see if there were any recorded musical saw performances. Sure enough, there were several. Here is just one example. Here's another example. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ciggies on the screen

Last night my wife and I watched a 1967 black-and-white BBC interview with actor Maggie Smith. It was reasonably interesting, but what really caught our attention immediately was that both she and her interviewer were happily smoking cigarettes on screen. Can you imagine that happening now? Of course not. Indeed, all BBC premises are now no-smoking areas and special permission has to be gained to light up a cigarette if one is required and artistically justified for a drama being shot in a studio.

The Maggie Smith interview took me back to the wonderful film Good Night, and Good Luck about the broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow. Murrow not only smoked during his program -- it was in the 1950s -- but it was sponsored by a cigarette company. Again, can you imagine, say, David Dimbleby puffing away on a cigarette during a live BBC television program? It would be out of the question.

When I worked as a journalist for BBC World Service, smoking was permitted in the newsroom for most of the years I was there. World Service news bulletins were then read at a rather leisurely pace to aid audibility on the shortwave transmissions. This allowed several of the tobacco-addicted newsreaders to smoke during a bulletin. They would inhale deeply between news items and breath out as they read each story. It was an astonishing sight, although many of my colleagues didn't seem to think so at the time.

Finally, on a thinly-related matter, there was once a music hall comedian born Vernon Watson. He wanted to have a more distinctive name, but couldn't think of a suitable one until one day he spotted a No Smoking sign. From them on, he was Nosmo King!