If I Ruled the World by Elaine S Moxon

We asked local author Elaine Moxon to give us her version of the perfect world. We just didn't think that would involve taking us back a few thousand years!

This is tough to answer! Everyone has their own concept of Utopia and I would be the last person to insist that anyone lived the way I dictated. However, this is part of why I write historical fiction – to live in another time and experience a world I would like to live in. Dark Ages Britain is not an ideal world by any means: it is full of conflict, invasion, oppression, rivalry and a failing economy thanks to the departure of the Roman Empire. What draws me to this time is the simplicity of everyday life for the common people. Let me explain.

Pollution is minimal. Yes, everyone is burning wood, but there are no cars, aeroplanes, diesel locomotives or fuelled sea vessels. Travel is on foot, by horse or ox-drawn cart meaning distances take longer to cover. Life is therefore slower and without the technological interruptions we force upon ourselves today, such as social media, telephones and television. You don’t have to remember to log your every move on Facebook or keep up with episodes of your favourite television series. Instead, if you want to speak to someone you have to visit them to share news. Communal halls and temples are where large groups can exchange news and ideas for the community, sipping ale or mead and listening to someone sing songs of historic events.

Ever wanted to work from home instead of slogging through that daily commute? Live in the 5th Century AD and you can! You might have to rise a lot earlier than you do now (with the cockerel’s crow at the break of dawn, rather than an alarm clock tuned to your favourite radio station), but you’ll have fresh eggs from your own fowl and warm goats’ milk. Vegetables and herbs will be grown in a plot beside your home – enough to feed you and your family and perhaps some for barter at markets. Oh yes, and there is no coin – money no longer exists. Following Rome’s departure around 410AD coin held less and less value and bartering returned to Britain. You’ll need to fatten that pig so you can get a good price, or have plenty pork to salt and store through winter.

Do you spend half your wages on new clothes and beauty products? In Dark Ages Britain you’d be making both yourself. If you’re lucky enough to own goats or sheep you’ll have a supply of wool to spin and weave into patterned fabrics, having dyed it with vegetables and plants to your own choice of colours. There is no need to fret over that dress size you’re trying to get into – a peplos is ‘one size fits all’! Shoes (if you are wealthy enough to afford them) and belts are made of leather, possibly from another crafts person in your own village and you can knit your own stockings. If you are nobility you’ll be able to add some sumptuous brocade to the edges of your tunics, the fashion status symbol of the time. Beauty products can be made using milk and animal fats, scented with herbs or plant essences.

Many people today are becoming more and more interested in self-sufficiency and this is something I do like to see. We must remember after all, that we are an island. It makes sense to know you can grab some eggs from the bottom of your garden and pick a few spuds and cabbages if you need Sunday dinner accompaniments. Allotments are making a comeback and I often see people at garden centres investing in fruit trees.

Another trend is sustainable energy and the amount of homes with solar panels is growing week by week it seems. If there was one thing I would bring to this simpler Dark Ages life it would be advances in clean energy and medicine. There are already many who have built new homes with sustainable materials, living the eco-friendly life.

I myself have two apple trees and am making preparations to grow my own vegetables. I use flowers from my own garden as cut flowers to save on the cost of purchasing expensive bouquets and currently buy fruit and vegetables from a local supplier. Living close to the land and its changing seasons and making use of the immediate community harks back to these simpler, more ancient times I write about. Farmers’ markets and summer fêtes are lingering reminders of a close-knit ethos that once existed throughout Britain. Whether you live in a village or a bustling city, you can still become part of a community, buying locally and ethically; we can still grasp an essence of earlier times. Turn off your televisions and have a conversation, share wisdom and interests with those around you. The future is what we make it and perhaps we can learn a little from the past.

 

Elaine’s debut novel ‘WULFSUNA’ (Book 1 in the Wolf Spear Saga series) charts the journey of the Saxon tribe of the same name as they return to Britain. Their mission: to reunite with other ‘Wolf Sons’ they left behind who settled on the isle when the Roman Empire departed. Betrayal finds them and unbeknownst to their Lord’s son Wulfgar, an ancient legendary Saga is weaving his fate. When they discover a dishevelled young Seer on the roadside, destinies are altered for many and the lives of Morwyneth and the Wulfsuna are irrevocably entwined.

‘WULFSUNA’ has already garnered several 5-star reviews from readers and fellow historical fiction authors and was in the May issue of the ‘Historical Novel Society’ Indie Reviews. Elaine is currently writing Book 2 of the Wolf Spear Saga, due for release in 2016. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and runs a blog and website. She lives in Birmingham with her family and their crazy chocolate Labrador, and loves baking, language etymology and of course, history! She has recently begun making her own 5th Century Saxon costume to wear at events (or round the house).

‘WULFSUNA’ is available as a paperback and eBook and can be purchased from the following sites: SilverWood Books, Kobe, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com

If I Ruled the World by Clovenhoof

I love the internet - I don’t have to lie about who I really am. If I met you in the street I’d have to tell you that my name is Jeremy Clovenhoof and that I live in Boldmere, but here I can come right out with it and tell you that I am Satan. That’s SATAN, Lord of Hell! I do live in Boldmere though.

Let’s just say that I was the victim of some corporate re-shuffling and they thought they’d park me in the suburbs to keep me out of the way. Keep a low profile they said. You’ll love it, they said. Well it’s been weeks since I’ve blown anything up, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on some changes that I have in mind to make things more interesting.

Okay, first up, I need to look after number one. It’s not selfish. How can I be expected to apply my full genius to the humdrum problems of the world if I’m chasing my tail trying to make a living? I’ve got a great job at the undertakers, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. They won’t even let me take my work home with me. So, here’s a couple of easy fixes that will see the cash come rolling in…

1) I’d like a column in the Daily Mail. I think it would suit my style, although I do worry that I’m not rude enough.

2) I’d like royalties from the church every time they mention my name in a service. Yeah, they love to chunter on about how Satan does this and Satan does that. Well a lot of it’s true, but I think I’m due a cut from the collection plate, it’s only fair.Now that’s sorted, let’s put the world to rights. The world of religion is obviously my thing. I think the main problem with it is that everyone takes it all a bit too seriously. I’m going to pep things up a bit.

3) Richard Dawkins is to be made pope. Seriously, I just want to see his face when he finds out. I’ll give the current pope a new job, don’t worry. I think he might enjoy a starring role in a Broadway musical. Something with lots of feathers and sequins.

Onto more general changes.

4) I think I can safely say that everyone will be happier if I stipulate that dogs are to have a minimum size. If a dog can sit comfortably in a teacup then it just isn’t a dog. Let’s reclassify those little ones as gerbils and move on.

5) I want food that bounces. I’ve had enough of the world’s scientists, doing this so-called research that tells us things that we already knew, I want to see them developing things that are genuinely useful, like bouncing food. Someone invent a kebab that you can drop on the floor and then catch on the rebound. You’ll all thank me for this one.Let’s get local now.

Birmingham’s fine. I like it a lot, but it could do with some small tweaks.

6) Birmingham is to be moved nearer to the sea. Canals just aren’t the same, so let’s sort it out. If it’s any easier to move the sea closer to Birmingham then that would be fine too. I don’t want you to think I’m unreasonable.

7) The Custard Factory. I went there and it was definitely not made of custard. As I said, I’m a reasonable man, so just a little custard fountain would be fine. I worry that the lawyers will turn nasty if we don’t throw them a bone. You can’t just say something’s custard when it’s clearly not.

8) While we’re at it, let’s make Spitfire Island actually spit fire as well. It’ll look a treat at night.On the subject of famous Birmingham landmarks, clearly Spaghetti Junction was designed to be viewed from above. It looks good on a jigsaw. Jigsaws - one of my finer inventions. Back in Hell, we had a team of demons who developed the whole concept. The demon who came up with the baked bean jigsaw got an award. Or it might have been an extra flogging, I forget. Anyway, on the ground, Spaghetti Junction’s way too dull. Even if you coerce the driver of a number 11 bus to take you over it, you blink and it’s over. I speak as one who knows. What’s needed is something to pep it up a bit, especially for us non-drivers

9) I’d like to see a helter-skelter installed there. Ideally it should have a device like they use on railways to shunt trains onto a different line. As people are sliding down, I’ll move the lever to send them either onto the soft cushiony landing place so they can have another go or if I don’t like them, I’ll send them the other way into the canal.

10) One more thing. Once a year, to celebrate wonderful me, I would like the canals of Birmingham to be filled with Cadbury’s chocolate instead of water. It will be reserved for me and my speedboat. I’m ruler of the world, aren’t I? I’m entitled to some perks. Okay, maybe if you’re really good, you can also ride up and down my Chocolate Speedway. I’m a reasonable chap after all.

Find out more about what Jeremy Clovenhoof gets up to in these books:

  1. Clovenhoof
  2. Pigeonwings
  3. Godsquad
  4. Satan’s Shorts
  5. Coming in October: Hellzapoppin’

 

Book: Pigeon Wings by Heidi Goody & Iain Grant

pigeonwings cover 2The follow up to Clovenhoof, one of the funniest books I read last year. That one had Satan being sent to live on Earth and covered all the trials and tribulations of the Prince of Darkness living in the West Midlands. This included working out what money is, what parts of the body do and what items are generally found in most homes across the civilised world. This time, after a – em, mix up – Arch Angel Michael is banished from heaven and is now the neighbour of his adversary. The other neighbours in the Sutton Coldfield building, Ben the book shop owner and Nerys the singleton who works in recruitment are still around.

Michael finds it easier to settle than Jeremy Clovenhoof did but the laugh-out-loud moments are still around him finding out what his man parts are used for.

Because he has been all about looking after mankind as his (former) boss wanted, he blends into human society so much better and is seen as a model citizen. Of course, he finds modern society with its lacksadaisy attitude towards church and god challenging. He even finds a way of earning a very good living by designing app for himself, which he is then encouraged to sell instead of giving way free. Who says being good doesn’t conquer all?

It took a little while longer to get into this one, what with monks on an island off Wales making magic jams, social climbing mothers and gay gym bunnies to contend with, but once past 100 pages, it’s a super-funny page turner.

By Rickie J, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites @RickieWrites

@BrumFaves

 

Festive Book Giveaway: After the Interview by A A Abbott

51KDy+IvdUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A free book?

Autographed by the author?

Yes please, we hear you cry!

AA Abbot writes office thrillers and this is your opportunity to win her latest, After The Interview.

"I find offices fascinating, with their secret projects, pecking order and water cooler gossip. That’s why I write about office life – with added thrills.”

To be in with a chance of winning the book, turn to Twitter and simply retweet the give away tweets until midnight 15th December. Then follow @BrumFaves in case you win.

Every retweet (up to one retweet a day) will be put in a draw and the winner announced on 16th December.

 

Bimingham Gift Guide: Books

[gallery type="slideshow" ids="3419,3969,2850,3357,3950,2853,3274,3693"]

Here's Brum Faves selection of books about Birmingham or written by local authors - or both!

  • 27 by Ryan Davis - Rock 'n' roll novel based in Birmingham in 1999.

  • Father of Locks by Andy Killeen - Unveils the historical truth behind the Arabian Nights tales

  • No Mean Affair by Robert Ronsson - Glasgow housewife’s journey from the poverty of the tenements to the centre of British political power in Westminster

  • Clovenhoof by Heide Goody & Iain Grant - Satan is fired from his job as Prince of Hell and exiled to that most terrible of places: English suburbia.

  • After the Interview by A A Abbott - We’ve all made mistakes at job interviews, but what happens when the tables are turned?

  • Spilt Milk Black Coffee by Helen Cross - Handsome Amir, somewhere in his twenties, somewhere in a Yorkshire town, is torn between duty and lust.

  • Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin by Barney Hoskyns

  • Million Dollar Dress by Heide Goody - Modern-day Cinderella story

  • In Other Hands by Iain Grant - People on the margins of society and the ties that bind us all together.

  • Beatrice by Fiona Joseph - The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune

Any more to add to the list? Let's have your recommendations in the comments or please tweet @BrumFaves

Book: Beatrice by Fiona Joseph

Coffee was considered a little too stimulating for female workers!

I’ve always had interest in the Cadbury family’s business methods anyway so was delighted to find out that local author Fiona Joseph was writing a book about them. More specifically, Beatrice Boeke, nee Cadbury, daughter of Richard was born in 1884.

On the strength of this book, I went to hear the author do a talk. I planned to buy a signed copy to read and hearing Fiona talk with so much love and admiration for Beatrice, I ‘fell a little bit in love’ too.

The story starts as Beatrice is born into what is already a wealthy family. Her father’s first wife died after giving birth to their fourth child and Beatrice is a result of his second marriage to his treasured Emma. They go onto have a long and happy marriage but are long gone before Beatrice rebels and this is when the story takes off.

We are introduced to Beatrice’s future husband, a trained architect, when she is already doing missionary work and she is on a panel interviewing him for a role in Syria. By the time he starts the role, they are already about to embark on a marriage.

Even before this, I enjoy every bit of the story and the book gives me a greater understanding on the Quaker beliefs held by the Cadburys. They are already known for ‘their mix of thrift and generosity’ and I love that sentiment. The most interesting aspect is that the simple life led by Quakers is at odds with the wealth the family accumulate. But, the wealth is very much redistributed in that they open their home to those less fortunate, offer them the opportunity to wash and have fresh clothes and most famously, they treat their employees with the utmost respect and care.

Bournville in Birmingham is still a dry village and no alcohol can be sold and there are other quirks in this little suburb of the city that totally adhere to the original Cadbury ethos. It’s a beautiful, well-kept place as I learn from my first visit their last year for a much-needed view of a Christmas lights switch on that was actually in December and not several weeks previous!

Back to Beatrice, most of the book now centre’s on how the conflict within her heart grows and what leads her wanting to give up her shares and inheritance. It is odd that she did not feel the same way as her father in that their wealth could be put to good use help others. I’m left wondering what they could have done with all that disposable income rather than giving it back to the factory workers, something her brothers, now the Cadbury directors, urged her against.

Beatrice’s and her husband’s legacy centre’s on what they did for education in Holland, where they both lived after Kees was deported. Both in England and Holland, they were routinely arrested for publicly speaking their minds about being anti-war primarily, something that is against Quaker beliefs anyway. But their belief in letting children learn through play, at their own pace rather forcing tests and learning (they called this sociocracy) is fascinating and something I have had a long-term interest in. We are guided through the time when Kees started home schooling their younger children (they had 7 in all), mainly as they could not afford the school fees. The popularity grew and eventually they set up a proper school, with some funds from the Cadbury Trust that Beatrice started with her dividends.

The couple lived through two world wars, struggling and at one point living in tents. I’m at odds at this when there brothers and sisters were living in luxury but still doing managing to do good for others. Either you work and earn a living and pay taxes – something they were against as they didn’t want their money paying for the wars – or you do good with the money.

But the family Boeke stood their ground and eventually, later in life managed to earn their keep through educating others.

This is a fascinating read.

By Rickie J, Founder and editor of Birmingham Favourites. @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites

Festive Book Giveaway: Spilt Milk Black Coffee by Helen Cross

A free book?

Autographed?

By a local Birmingham author?

Yes please, we hear you cry!

Moseley based, Helen Cross, an entertaining guest at one of our Meet the Author events this year, is currently working on a film adaptation of her latest novel ‘Spilt Milk Black Coffee’, a copy of which she has signed for the lucky winner.

Helen's  first novel ‘My Summer of Love’ won a Betty Trask Award and became a BAFTA award winning feature film, starring Emily Blunt and Natalie Press.

To be in with a chance of winning the book, turn to Twitter and simply retweet the giveaway tweets and follow @BrumFaves in case you win.

Every retweet (up to one retweet a day) will be put in a draw and the winner announced on 9th December.

 

Birmingham Books: Must Haves

Looking for ideas on original book presents? Here are some Birmingham infused book recommendations put together by city tour guide, Ian Braisby in 2013. Birmingham Books and Writers

Mainly regarded as a city of commerce and industry rather than culture, there is actually a very good reason why Birmingham’s coat of arms offsets the man with hammer, anvil and crucible with a lady carrying a pallet and a book.  Over the years, it has been the birthplace, home and inspiration to many well-known and hugely successful poets, playwrights and novelists.

Festive Book Giveaway: 27 by Ryan Davis

A free book?

By a local Birmingham author?

A novel based in Birmingham?

Yes please, we hear you cry!

Ryan Davis, a wonderful guest at one of our Meet the Author events this year, has kindly given us a signed copy of his book 27.

[box type="note"] It's 1999, the end of the millennium and Jim Vale, aka Jimmy Tyrant, singer of one hit wonders The Tyrants has lost everything he once loved. Like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and many rockers before him, Jim tries to end it all by committing suicide at the age of twenty seven.

Trouble is, he survives. [/box]

To be in with a chance of winning the book, turn to Twitter and simply retreat the giveaway tweets and follow @BrumFaves.

Every retweet (up to one retweet a day) will be put in a draw and the winner announced on 2nd December.

See our review of 27 here.

Book: 27 by Ryan Davis

“One of the greatest rock and roll novels ever written, an exciting new voice!" – Ian Marchant. Oh my.

I've read a few stories about Birmingham but this is the first based in the modern era. The story of Jim Vale, AKA Jimmy of the Tyrants is told at the turn of this century. As it twists from gangland drugs to murders to stereotypical dodgy band managers and millennium parties, I find myself looking out of my Jewellery Quarter window to confirm to myself it’s not real.

27 being the infamous age when so many promising rocksters commit suicide, we wonder if this will happen to Jimmy, after the runaway success of one of their singles. He doesn’t like the way the band are going and his so called best friend/bassist seems desperate to take his frontman/singer slot.

He wants out.

But he doesn’t succeed.

So it is then decided by the Tyrants manager that he should lay low, pretend he really has shuffled this mortal coil and let the band re-invent themselves without him, milking the story for every £ they can so he can repay his debts.

He has nowhere to turn, firstly because he is meant to be dead but also because his mother is currently minus all her marbles, his former girlfriend wants nothing to do with him and he has no money to make music.

Instead he turns to an old friend whose ambition is to be the biggest drug dealer in the city. To earn himself the money he desperately needs to make his own album, he becomes his friend’s runner and finds himself embroiled in deeper trouble caught up between the city’s gangs.

Read the book to discover if and how Jim/Jimmy makes it through. But if you live in Birmingham, the city will look a lot different afterwards as you spot the various landmarks heavily featured from 1999.

 Ryan will be talking about this book and his writing at the Birmingham Favourites #MeetTheAuthor event on August 11th2014. Click here for details & to book your free seat.

Find Ryan Davis on Twitter @RoyMonde or take a look at his website.

By Rickie J, editor & founder.

Book: Million Dollar Dress by Heide Goody

Book review by Simon Fairbanks Million Dollar Dress is chick lit packed with quick wit by local author Heide Goody.

It tells the story of Justine, who obtains a high-tech dress which can change the body shape of the wearer. Once Justine masters the technology, she can alter her slightly plump body image to match that of a Hollywood supermodel. Meanwhile, a host of interest parties are looking to take the dress for themselves.

The synopsis may suggest this is targeted at a female audience and it would certainly please this market. However, Million Dollar Dress offers a rich plateau for readers of any demographic and genre: the plot moves with the pace of a thriller, the dress itself is pure science-fiction and its comedy is universal.

It is this comedy element that propels Million Dollar Dress above the rest of its canon. Heide Goody has a particular knack for delivering an ensemble of sharply-observed characters and executing comedy set pieces with the chaos and energy of a Carry On film. Anagram fans will note that Million Dollar Dress contains two LOLs and you will certainly be laughing out loud as the story escalates.

The titular dress is a clever concept. As with all best science-fiction, it introduces a futuristic notion that addresses everyday concerns, specifically those relating to the body image culture which keeps certain magazines and reality shows in business.

The dress also acts as the MacGuffin and provides the perfect excuse to bring together an unlikely ensemble, ranging from fashion designers to military operatives. Particularly memorable characters include Blake Charwood (Sutton Coldfield's answer to Justin Beiber) and Justine's interfering mother figures, Pat and Irma. Their recreation of a scene from Alien to scare off an interested party is hilarious.

And best of all, the novel is set in Birmingham so there are plenty of regional references (the Bullring, the Jewelry Quarter) which act as an extra reward for local readers.

You can download Goody's novel for Kindle for a reasonable £2.05. And Million Dollar Dress is worth every penny.

By Simon Fairbanks who can be contacted via @simonfairbanks

Contact Heide Goody via @HeideGoody

Storytelling at Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath

Tucked away on York Road in Kings Heath behind Fletchers Bar and Eatery is the delightful Kitchen Garden Cafe, a wonderful and cosy venue offering excellent food, a range of fine ales, delicious soft drinks, great coffee, amazing cakes and a wide variety of entertainment.

In October, I headed along there for the Storytelling Cafe, a wonderful event that takes place on the third Wednesday of each month.  It's been running for a number of years now, and was recently taken over by some lovely lady storytellers, a few of whom were performing on Wednesday night.

Adult storytelling is something that I was first introduced to in 2012, and I was immediately smitten. We are all used to stories being gifted to us as novels, television shows and movies.  However, there is something unique and almost magical about sitting in an audience of eager listeners, as a storyteller continues with a tradition as old as time, weaving their tales around you like soft, silken threads of words.  I really do highly recommend giving it a go!

As for Kitchen Garden Cafe, well, they offer a special menu for Storytelling Cafe, and food is available from 6:30pm for approximately 45 minutes.  As well as storytelling, they also host live music nights, comedy and cabaret, details of which can be found via their website.

On my most recent visit, I didn't eat (well, okay, I had coffee cheesecake, and it was divine, but I was too eager to taste it and forgot to take a picture!).  When I visited in the summer, I enjoyed this delicious mezza platter, which as well as being a carnival for the taste buds, was also very reasonably priced!

Needless to say, I shall be returning again and again, and ensuring that I arrive in enough time to enjoy a meal when I do!

To find out about Kitchen Garden Cafe, visit their website.

Written by Debra Jane who can be contacted via @Notaskinnymini or her blog

In Other Hands by Iain Grant

Book review by Simon Fairbank

In Other Hands is a novel about five characters living in Birmingham who cross each other's paths in a series of unlikely coincidences. The story is written by local author, Iain Grant, and published by Pigeon Park Press.

The five-perspective approach with such a rich ensemble keeps the story fresh and makes for a page-turning reading experience. A lesser writer might struggle with such breadth (and depth) of characters but Grant slips between them effortlessly.

Readers will be divided over which character is their favourite: homeless Templeton, fox researcher Karen, amateur sleuth Nadia or terminal psychiatrist Jane. Many will rightly favour Danny, the reformed paedophile who regularly escapes into the fantasy of online gaming. Danny is a particularly difficult character to make sympathetic but Grant appears to relish the challenge. The scene where Danny is holding a little boy's hand is a tense, uncomfortable and brilliant piece of writing.

As ever, Grant's talent for witty dialogue exchanges is correct and present. One feels it is only a matter of time before he tries his hand at a screenplay. Perhaps his collaborative comic novel Clovenhoof will get a much-deserved BBC3 adaptation in the near future.

The sixth character in this modern day masterpiece is the setting. Joyce had Dublin, Dickens had London and now Grant has Birmingham. The city is realised in all of its timeless, charming Midlands glory with plenty of shout-outs to locations both in and out of the city. It will provide an extra frisson of joy to any Brummie or Birmingham graduate turning the pages and is worth buying for this reason alone. As Grant himself writes in the Dedication: “You might be able to imagine a story like this being set somewhere else. I can’t.”

If a criticism can be levelled at this masterful work, then it is this: Grant should have called the novel Five Ways, after Birmingham's infamous roundabout. Then again, the film adaptation can resolve that one.

In Other Hands is available for Kindle download on Amazon, currently priced at £1.94. A true bargain in this reviewer’s opinion.

Contact Iain Grant via  @iainmgrant or @pigeonparkpress.

By Simon Fairbanks who can be contacted via @simonfairbanks