The Booksmatter Blog

- because books do matter

An Author Grinds His Teeth

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Yes, I know I have an axe to grind – but really!

I doubt I’ve ever heard a play supposedly based on real-life events get everything so wrong. Radio 4 Extra this week repeated a confused 1995 production of Falling Heads by C H Evans, purportedly based on what was then labelled the ‘Trial of the Century’, a libel case brought by the exotic dancer Maud Allan against the maverick politician Noel Pemberton Billing in 1918. Though the trial transcript is a matter of public record it was ignored by the playwright, who preferred to make up his own less exciting version and to re-imagine the lead performers.

Maud Allan, a Canadian dancer in the Isadora Duncan mould, was presented as an English actress. Billing was shown as the inventor of no more than a rather pathetic airman’s helmet whereas in fact he was an aviation pioneer who founded Supermarine, the company that built First World War airplanes and went on to develop the Second World War Spitfire. Key witness Harold Spencer was presented as an upper class English twat but was in real life American. Trial judge Justice Darling was shown as exasperated by and against Billing whereas at the time he was roundly criticised for mismanaging the trial and assisting Billing throughout. The trial itself was replayed in brief and out of sequence, dropping several of the more extraordinary witnesses and changing the name of the one who did appear (to ‘Doctor Savage’). Arthur Ransome was dragged in as a behind-the-scenes manipulator, though he played no part in the actual events. Even Lloyd George lost his Welsh accent.

Why does this bother me? Partly, of course, because I wrote a far more credible (and dare I say, entertaining) account in my book The Maud Allan Affair, but also because accurate versions are available elsewhere, not least in Michael Kettle’s Salome’s Last Veil, Philip Hoare’s Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand, and Barbara Stoney’s Twentieth Century Maverick. The BBC’s version was a nonsense. Why, I wonder, was it ever broadcast?

Written by Russell James

April 20, 2014 at 4:39 pm

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Welcome to BOOKS MATTER!

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This is a blog about books and writing in which, I hope, the emphasis isn’t too much about me but instead is on books and writing generally.  You’ll see a roll of pages which, if you’re reading this on your PC, will be on the right and, if you’re reading on a tablet, phone or other device could be anywhere (but you’ll know where to find it on your screen).

Pages include About Me which, if nothing else, is refreshingly short, some attractive Ephemera of the Book Trade, a selection of Victorian Writers & Poets, as well as Have You Met? (some odd characters), and a host of comments on the writers’ life (mainly but not exclusively Crime Writers) collated as We Writers.  But why am I telling you this, when you can see the sections for yourself, simply by glancing over?

For the latest posts, of course, just scroll down.CWA Members Badge

Primarily, this is a blog for writers and readers, people who love books. (Though if you do want to know a little more about me or about any of my 20 or so books, check my website at ).

Most of my books, including those in Kindle versions, can be found at Amazon, by clicking here: <>

For NOOK downloads:

Whatever else you do, please check back in to BOOKS MATTER from time to time.  You never know what you’ll find.

Russell James  

Written by Russell James

April 7, 2014 at 4:52 pm

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My Book of the Month:

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(Why shouldn’t I include the occasional piece of self-promotion?)

Easily my most controversial yet most successful book (both in terms of sales and critical response), PAINTING IN THE DARK remains the book I recommend to anyone wanting to try me for the first time.  That’s why I’ve made it my BOOK OF THE MONTH.

It was dubbed “His masterpiece to date” by The Guardian

and “A terrific, cultured tale of crime for the sake of art” by The Times

Did you read it at the time?  Would you like to read it now?

You can read more about the book – including those rave reviews – here:

You can find the Kindle version by clicking the link below the picture:

Painting in the Dark

Painting in the Dark

Buy from Amazon

Written by Russell James

April 7, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Back when we bought books

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Nash book tokenBack before the days when we bought books in book shops and Book Tokens were made to look like rip-off store cards, they were attractive things made of paper and, astonishingly, might be designed by an artist of the stature of John Nash.

How would you like one of those for your birthday?  (Even if it doesn’t look a typical Nash.)

That’s when a present felt like a present.

< sigh >

Written by Russell James

February 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm

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Thackeray speaks to Michael Gove

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red indian boyWhen they think of youth today a perennial dream of many politicians is a return to Victorian values.  But here is Thackeray (a Tory, remember) musing in Vanity Fair (published 1847):

“If people would but leave children to themselves; if teachers would cease to bully them; if parents would not insist on directing their thoughts and dominating their feelings – those thoughts and feelings which are a mystery to all (for how much do you and I know of each other, of our children, of our fathers, of our neighbour, and how far more beautiful and sacred are the thoughts of the poor lad or girl whom you govern likely to be than those of the world-corrupted person who rules him?) – if, I say, parents and masters would leave their children alone a little more, small harm would accrue . . . ”

Written by Russell James

January 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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armchair readingWords need to be sown like seed. No matter how tiny a seed may be, when it lands in the right sort of ground it unfolds its strength and from being minute it expands and grows to a massive size.
- Seneca’s letters number XXXVIII

Written by Russell James

December 5, 2013 at 7:01 pm

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EXIT 39 – an iPhone novel

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E39 3An iPhone novel?

The world of publishing is changing.  The digital revolution has sent the skittles flying, and publishers don’t know how to pick them up again, let alone how to set the nine pins straight.  They’re concentrating on first-time novelists and established best-sellers.  The rest of us, the middle ground, are frozen out.

But writers can change too.  We can speak directly to you, our readers, via that same digital technology and, on that theme, my latest novel, EXIT 39, has the twist that instead of being typed in the usual way it has been narrated into an iPhone.  So what more natural than that I should launch it exclusively as an ebook?  (In all formats, of course – Kindle, Kobo, Nook or however you prefer.)

Should you bother?  Take a look.  Just click the link and, if you like it, please tell you friends – as many as possible!

Click here:

Be part of it, and enjoy Exit 39!

Written by Russell James

November 29, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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