Message from the ether

Messages from the ether

    I know that people read my books because I can see the numbers recorded on my Amazon account, but I don’t know who they are specifically. Even those that leave reviews usually write under a pseudonym. It’s only when someone takes the trouble to contact me direct do I learn something about them. Even then, it’s usually only basic information but each message brings a digit on a dashboard to life.


    Emails land from time to time via my website. The latest arrived the other day.


    Dear Sir,
    I must let you know how much I enjoyed your books. They give me great pleasure reading and make me laugh out loud when I'm down. In fact, at times I'm in heaps of laughter at some of your description of situations. On top of it the information you provide regarding the surroundings of where you walk or cycle are lovely and very informative.
Please forgive me if I made any language errors. I am Austrian by birth and I used to live in Hertfordshire for many years.
    Please continue writing, I would love to read more from you.
    Kind regards, M.

    (Full name withheld for privacy)


    This lady is originally from Austria and has lived in Hertfordshire. I have visited both places. In Austria, many moons ago, we saw the Vienna Boys’ Choir sing in a floodlit castle courtyard with a backdrop of a beautiful valley on which the sun was setting. It really doesn’t get much better than that. In Hertfordshire we cruised the Grand Union Canal on our narrowboat, a tiny but memorable part of our boating days. 'The Grand Union Canal' suggested to me a large, industrial waterway, but it was a real joy. So, immediately, the lady and I have two things in common. Three if you include a sense of humour!


    Communiques such as these give me a real fillip. I remember one from a man that began:


    'What an inspiration you are!’


    That was an attention grabber if ever I saw one. He went on,


    ‘In the autumn of my years I developed a blood cancer - not life threatening but life changing (according to the man with the knowledge). Anyway, my previous addiction to my bicycle saddle has faded due to some balance issues leading to a lack of confidence.
Due to these balance issues I no longer cycle, However, it doesn't stop me using my legs to walk. Lucky then that my wife's recent Parkinson’s diagnosis has resulted in walks aplenty. Got to keep the brain to muscle connections in fettle.....
In short, I found it extremely amusing and it has given me a few hours of escape.

    Thank you for a damn good read.


    He also tells me that he’s from Shropshire and he and his wife walk the canal towpaths in the area where we began or boating adventures.

    The ‘inspiration’ I’m sure, relates to my wife who battled cancer twice and beat a prognosis that she would very unlikely see the new millennium.

    I hope the two of them are still walking.


    Here’s another which cheered ME up at Christmas…


    Received 27th December 2021

    2 days before Christmas I tested positive for covid so I am confined to the bedroom of a small 2 bedroom house I share with my wife and teenage daughter I also have a passion for canals and canal boats which is not shared by the wife or daughterso sadly any idea of a canal holiday are zero. Anyway, I'm not a big reader only of Bill Bryson but my wife saw A Narrowboat at Large on amazon and got it me for Christmas. It is the best and funniest book I have ever read and thank you so much for getting me through isolation I just could not put it down she gave me the book early just before Christmas and I have just finished it superb thanks again.

    P.H.


    What struck me when I read this was how one life can be so vastly different from another. Also, how this guy and me were connected for a brief time through a book. I’ve no idea where he lives and we’ll likely never meet, but for just a few days we shared a smile and a love of canals.


    It’s comments like these that encourage me to keep writing, it really is a lovely surprise when such an email lands in my inbox. I do get poor reviews, some so vitriolic I wonder what’s gone wrong. Is it really all my fault or does the review writer have an axe to grind? Strangely, these nasty ones seem to be confined to the Amazon reviews section, as if those having a pop need to make their views public. Unfortunately, the poor reviews always sit near the top of the page despite there being plenty of more favourable ones.

    I have no right of reply.


    To know somebody else has enjoyed what I’ve done is great, yet likeability of a book is wholly subjective. In fact, reading generally is a personal experience. When I read, I’m left with an overall impression of a book (if I get to the end). But very often there are one or more short passages or particular characters that elevate it from good to special.


    My all-time favourite novel is ‘The Sea’ written by John Banville.


  Taken from the blurb on the rear cover - his protagonist ‘returns to a seaside village, where he once spent a childhood holiday, to confront a recent loss and distant trauma’. A simple theme and not overly inspiring if the truth be told, but it’s the novel’s matchless prose that has made me read it time and again.


    By way of example, I open it randomly at page 71 and he’s describing the special nature of the silence by the sea.


    'It is like the silence that I knew in the sickrooms of my childhood, when I would lie in a fever, cocooned under a hot, moist mound of blankets, with the emptiness squeezing in on my eardrums like the air in a bathysphere. Sickness in those days was a special place, a place apart, where no one could enter, not the doctor with his shiver-inducing stethoscope or even my mother when she put her cool hand on my burning brow. It is a place like the place where I feel that I am now, miles from anywhere, and anyone.’


    I can feel both his childhood illness and his current intense, lonely silence. For me, great writing. Strangely, in ‘The Sea’ I’m not really drawn to the main character. In truth, he is more a vehicle for the descriptive prose, which for me, is the star of the show. If I think back, I can’t remember what he looks like but I do feel the mood of the place to which he returned.


    Usually, I identify with one or more characters. That’s usually why I like a book or series. I’m drawn to those with a flaw, someone who may behave outside the norm, rebellious perhaps. Like Rebus or Bosch.


    In my ‘At Large’ books, the main character is me, so there’s definitely a flaw or two there!