T.J. Masters
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Writing

Well Read Wednesday: The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco

I was prompted to write this not in the first place by a book I am reading, but by the first episode of a new TV Drama series. I watched this on BBC Two last Friday night and I was hurled back in time 35 years to my first reading of the book itself. I have to say that the series looks as if it may remain even more faithful to the book that the wonderful  1986 movie version with Sean Connery and Christian Slater. Umberto Eco‘s classic medieval murder mystery has remained ever since that first reading, one of my all time favourite novels. The book Il nome della rosa was written in 1980 and translated into English in 1983 by William Weaver and The Name of The Rose was released in paperback in 1984. My much loved copy is shown here.

The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the cover of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, “The Name of the Rose” is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages.

Such was the blurb but it hardly scratches the surface of Eco’s debut novel. The writer was a professor of semiotics so it should not be any great surprise that the book is sometimes wordy, but always intelligent and a very clever, partial fictionalization, full of linguistic ambiguity.  The story works on a great many levels according to the interest of the reader, in the way that it creates a world enriched by several layers of meaning. What do I mean by that? Well let’s take a look at the name of the central character William of Baskerville. His style of deduction in solving the murders is very similar to that of Sherlock Holmes and as detectives they both work according to the principle of Ockham’s Razor which is the idea that one should always accept as most likely the simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts. William of Ockham lived during the time in which the novel is set. Right at the beginning of the novel, young Adso‘s description of his master in the beginning of the book resembles, almost word for word, Dr. Watson’s description of Sherlock Holmes when he first makes his acquaintance in A Study in Scarlet. So we may take William of Ockham and Sherlock Holmes (The Hound of the Baskervilles) and deduce William of Baskerville.

Some of the other characters in the story are true historical figures e.g. Bernard Gui, Ubertino of Casale and the Minorite Michael of Cesena, although Eco’s characterization of them is not always historically accurate.

Brother William’s young apprentice, Adso of Melk, is the narrator of this book so his name does not escape complex origins either. Adso is among other things a pun on Simplicio from Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue; Adso deriving from “ad Simplicio” (“to Simplicio”). Adso’s putative place of origin, Melk, is the site of a famous medieval library, at Melk Abbey. His name also of course echoes the narrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson (omitting the first and last letters, and with “t” and “d” being phonetically similar).

With such linguistic riches dripping from every page, this is also rollicking good story. With it’s wonderfully elegant descriptions of monastic architecture and it’s love of beautiful illuminated manuscripts Eco probably gets as close to an accurate portrayal of life in a late medieval scholarly Italian monastery as any modern writer could. Is it any wonder then, that The Name of The Rose has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling books ever published.

Maybe you can tell by now that I am a little in love with this book. When The Folio Society issued its beautiful Limited edition I had to add it to my collection of most treasured books. Oh, yes I will still be watching every episode of the new tv series.

If you want to know a bit more about the story, here is a fuller synopsis copied with grateful thanks from Wikipedia:

In 1327, Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk, a Benedictine novice travelling under his protection, arrive at a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy to attend a theological disputation. This abbey is being used as neutral ground in a dispute between Pope John XXII, and the Franciscans, who are suspected of heresy.

The monastery is disturbed by the death of Adelmo of Otranto, an illuminator revered for his illustrations. Adelmo was skilled at comical artwork, especially concerning religious matters. William is tasked by the monastery’s abbot, Abo of Fossanova, to investigate the death, and he has a debate with one of the oldest monks in the abbey, Jorge of Burgos, about the theological meaning of laughter, which Jorge despises.

The next day, a scholar of Aristotle and translator of Greek and Arabic, Venantius of Salvemec, is found dead in a vat of pig’s blood. Previously, William and Adso had been prohibited from entering the labyrinthine library by the librarian Malachi of Hildesheim, so they penetrate the labyrinth, discovering that there must be a hidden room, entitled the finis Africae. Benno of Uppsala, a rhetoric scholar, reveals to William that Malachi, and his assistant Berengar of Arundel, had a homosexual relationship, until Berengar seduced Adelmo, who committed suicide out of conflicting religious shame. The only other monks who knew about the indiscretions were Jorge and Venantius.

By the day after, Berengar has gone missing, which puts pressure onto William. William learns of how Salvatore of Montferrat, and Remigio of Varagine, two cellarer monks, had a history with the Dulcinian heretics. Meanwhile, Adso is seduced by a peasant girl, with whom he has his first sexual experience. After confessing to William, Adso is absolved, although he still feels guilty. Severinus of Sankt Wendel, the herbalist, tells William that Venantius’s body had black stains on the tongue and fingers, which suggests poison. William and Adso penetrate the library once more, discovering that Venantius had a book stolen from him, which they pursue.

On the fourth day, Berengar is found drowned in a bath, although he bears stains similar to those of Venantius. Bernard Gui, a member of the Inquisition, arrives to search for the murderer via papal deduction. Due to this arrival, Gui arrests the peasant girl Adso loved, as well as Salvatore, accusing them both of heresy.

Remigio is interrogated by Gui, who scares him into revealing his heretic past, as well as falsely confessing to the crimes of the Abbey. Severinus then is found dead in his room, to which Jorge responds by leading a sermon about the coming of the Antichrist.

Malachi returns to the early sermon that day near death, and his final words concern scorpions. Nicholas of Morimondo, the glazier, tells William that whoever is the librarian would then become the Abbot, and with new light, William goes to the library to search for evidence. The Abbot is distraught that William has not solved the crime, and that the Inquisition is undermining him, so he fires William. That night, William and Adso penetrate the library once more in search of the finis Africae.

William and Adso discover Jorge waiting for them in the forbidden room. He says that he has been masterminding the Abbey for years, and his last victim is the Abbot himself, who has been trapped in a secret passage of the library. The Abbot suffocates, and Jorge tells them that Venantius’s hidden book was Aristotle’s Second Poetics, which speaks of the virtues of laughter, something Jorge despises. Jorge put poison on the pages on the book, knowing that a reader would have to lick his fingers to turn them. Venantius was translating the book and died. Berengar found the body and disposed of it in pig’s blood, fearing exposure, before reading the book himself and dying. Malachi was convinced by Jorge to retrieve the book, which was stashed with Severinus, so he kills Severinus and retrieves the book, before getting curious and dying as well.

All of the murders time out with the Seven Trumpets, which call for objects falling from the sky (Adelmo threw himself from a tower), pools of blood, poison from water, bashing of the stars (Severinus was killed with his head bashed in with a celestial orb), scorpions, locusts, and fire. Jorge consumes the book’s poisoned pages and uses Adso’s lantern to start a fire, which burns down the library. As the fire spreads to the rest of the abbey, William laments his failure. Confused and defeated, William and Adso escape the abbey. Years later, Adso, now aged, returns to the ruins of the abbey and collects books that were salvaged from the fire, creating a lesser library.

Well Read Wednesday: Middle England by Jonathan Coe

I love it when a writer I respect sings the praises of a book and I am led to discover a new author and their work. This happened recently when I heard about Middle England. I read it, loved it, then wondered how I’d not heard of Jonathan Coe before!

Beginning eight years ago on the outskirts of Birmingham, where car factories have been replaced by Poundland, and London, where frenzied riots give way to Olympic fever, Middle England follows a brilliantly vivid cast of characters through a time of immense change.

There are newlyweds Ian and Sophie, who disagree about the future of the country and, possibly, the future of their relationship; Doug, the political commentator who writes impassioned columns about austerity from his Chelsea townhouse, and his radical teenage daughter who will stop at nothing in her quest for social justice; Benjamin Trotter, who embarks on an apparently doomed new career in middle age, and his father Colin, whose last wish is to vote in the European referendum. And within all these lives is the story of modern England: a story of nostalgia and delusion; of bewilderment and barely-suppressed rage.

Even if you are suffering Brexit burnout, you should find a little more space in the ‘B’ file for this wonderful, witty, light, insightful, incisive, state of the nation novel. In fact if you are suffering Brexit burnout, you need this book. This novel looks at the changes this country has witnessed over the last decade and lays bare the effects of those changes upon the big themes like family, love, politics, people and literature.

The book is inhabited by a wonderful cast of characters and through their lives we cry, we rage, we laugh both at them and with them and at times we not sagely. Always there is wit, laugh out loud outrageous wit. The writer in me loved the hilarious editing of Benjamin’s book. As for the sex in the wardrobe scene, well……

I am happy to see that this is the third outing for this bunch of characters so I am looking forward to reading both The Rotters Club and The Closed Circle

Well Read Wednesday: Morning

Morning has always been my favourite time of day and so the premise of this quirky little book drew me in and I am so glad that it did. Morning, written by author and food journalist Allan Jenkins is his “manifesto for morning”.

There is an energy in the earlier hours, an awareness I enjoy. In today’s world we tend to wake as late as we can, timed to when we have to work. But we don’t need to chase the day.’

In Morning, Allan Jenkins shows how getting up earlier even once a week or month can free us to be more imaginative, to maybe read, to walk, to write. He talks to other early risers such as Jamie Oliver and Samuel West, to poets and painters. We hear from a neuroscientist about sleep, a philosopher about dawn, a fisherman about light. Allan wakes early, he listens, he looks. He introduces us to a secret world.

This is a celebration of dawn and morning: the best time of day.

In essence the book is an intimate diary taking us through a year of the author’s mornings. This is also where the writing is at it’s best, especially when marvelling at the slowly waking natural world. Since many of these morning begin in pre-dawn darkness, he listens for sounds around him including naturally the increasing birdsong. the next sense to be engaged is that of sight as it records the first gentle diluting blackness and the coming of colour with the dawn’s early light. Movements are noticed and even the fragrances of morning. One of the things I loved was the recording of the very subtle changes which heralded each new season.

This is writing with all of the senses engaged and presented in short poetic bursts. It is a mindful journey through the quiet hours when day replaces night.

For many of those interviewed, including the author, the early start provides a golden period to do those things for which they have no time in their busy lives.

I love it when a book like this crosses paths with my own experience. Having thought of myself as something of an insomniac I have adjusted my bedtimes to encompass to shorter periods of sleep. The author briefly mentions this and it appears that throughout history, there have been numerous accounts of segmented sleep, from medical texts, to court records and diaries, and even in African and South American tribes, with a common reference to “first” and “second” sleep. There is strong evidence from studies carried out which suggest bi-phasic sleep is a natural process with a biological basis.

Reading this great little book has inspired me to to examine my relationship with sleep more closely and maybe to question the bedtime rules which we have all accepted as the norm.

Proud to be a Dreamspinner.

Over the past weeks and months, I’ve been a mostly passive observer while my publisher Dreamspinner Press has been going through a challenging time. As an unabashed advocate of the company I’ve been dismayed at the way in which so many people have taken to social media in order to elevate these challenges into a full-blown drama. We all know how much our wonderful community loves a good drama!

Wherever I see discord, I like to step back and look at the facts. Armed with what is known rather than what is surmised, or even fabricated, I try to be a voice of reason and to mediate on the subject. Looking at the strength of feelings being expressed in this matter, I have no doubt that my view will not be popular but I am always open to reasoned, fact-based debate.

Dreamspinner has been the flagship publisher in our genre for some years now. DSP has given so many authors, including myself, a great start in their writing careers. For the most successful, it has provided significant incomes too. From the very start I have been really impressed by the way the company has grown and developed. Dreamspinner has been a beacon of excellence and a source of income to authors, editors and cover artists alike.

The world of publishing has seen many challenges and if Dreamspinner is to survive in the current business climate, it must continue to adapt and evolve new processes and seek out new markets.

I am shocked at the way the community has appeared to turn on Dreamspinner like a pack of hyenas willing it’s demised so that they can feed. I have heard and read gossip, conjecture and complete untruths about what is going on. Most of this is from people who are not directly connected with the company. I have witnessed untruths being told and immediately verified by others who have no pertinent knowledge at all but are simply wanting to be seen as up to date with the cool gang!

Let me make my feelings clear: Firstly, I believe that Dreamspinner may have become a victim of its own considerable success. Secondly, I believe that if any company is capable of riding the current challenges, Dreamspinner is. Third and finally I honestly believe that if Dreamspinner fails, then it will mark the end of our genre as we know it.

If we do not give DSP the time, trust and support which it needs right now, we will all be losers in the end. Contrary to popular belief, DSP is still accepting manuscripts, still producing books and yes, it is still paying its authors including interest paid on all delayed payments. What puzzles me most about the negative chatter is that very little of it comes from current DSP authors. I’ve read way too many posts which include the phrase “I have friends who are authors” causing me to wonder why such people are qualified to comment at all.

Every current DSP author receives a detailed weekly update from the company. Progress is detailed and challenges made transparent every Tuesday without fail. At the end of each update, authors are invited to question the senior staff about any issues and their direct emails are given. The update ends with a note to say that none of the information is copyright and that PDF copies are available to share. It puzzles me that there is still talk of poor communication when actually the opposite is true.

If you’ve not deserted me yet, then here is my voice of reason for what it’s worth. Dreamspinner Press is clearly working really hard to rise above its current challenges. If you have a specific question or an issue, then the first port of call should be the company and not social media. In a very competitive commercial climate, any serious company must keep some of its processes under wraps for fear of attack or advantage given to other companies. We should not be demanding information which company may not be able to give. The unfair negativity and idle chatter doing the rounds at the moment is likely to become self-fulfilling. If the company were to fail now, I have no doubt that the blame could be laid at the feet of the ‘neggies’.

WE need Dreamspinner Press because it is the only company presently capable of guiding us into the future of the genre, whether we are directly connected to it or not. On the other hand, Dreamspinner needs us too to let’s show some faith and let those who have nothing good to say, just say nothing.

#ProudtobeaDreamspinner

T.J. Masters.

Well Read Wednesday: King Perry

If I am to make these posts a regular thing then they will cover a wide spectrum of books both fiction and non-fiction. Today’s selection is King Perry by Edmond Manning and comes from the m/m fiction genre in which I write. The book was recommended to me by dear friends which is always a worry, but in this case they proved that they know my reading tastes very well.

So what is the story about?

In a trendy San Francisco art gallery, out-of-towner Vin Vanbly witnesses an act of compassion that compels him to make investment banker Perry Mangin a mysterious offer: in exchange for a weekend of complete submission, Vin will restore Perry’s “kingship” and transform him into the man he was always meant to be. Despite intense reservations, Perry agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that will test the limits of his body, seduce his senses, and fray his every nerve, (perhaps occasionally breaking the law) while Vin guides him toward his destiny as ‘the one true king.’ Even as Perry rediscovers old grief and new joys within himself, Vin and his shadowy motivations remain enigmas: who is this off-beat stranger guiding them from danger to hilarity to danger? To emerge triumphant, Perry must overcome the greatest challenge alone: embracing his devastating past. But can he succeed by Sunday’s sunrise deadline? How can he possibly evolve from an ordinary investment banker into King Perry?

This book has taken me by surprise. I must admit that I may not have picked it up myself and indeed I struggled with the opening chapters.The tale was just too improbable and the characters too disparate. Vin appears to us as some well-intentioned madman. Perry on the other hand is a typical San Francisco investment banker living in his own safe bubble of boring existence. Vin is determined to burst that bubble but Perry has no idea what he has agreed to for the weekend. Did he in fact agree to it at all?

The whole endeavour is risky, some of it even illegal, but the execution of the plan is quite magical and beautifully written. The author is a fine wordsmith who can generate strong emotions with a simple, well crafted sentence. One moment I would laugh out loud and the next I was fighting back the tears. The duck was a brilliant comedy device but at the other extreme, the scene with a cello was one of the most moving and romantic I’ve ever read.

Vin himself seems uncertain about his own ability to break down Perry’s defences and at times we wonder if he is in fact going to break Perry the man instead. Of course the potential rewards for freeing the man from himself appear to be worth the risk. There is also lots of very hot sex along the way!

This story has so much to teach us about ourselves. The best fun is to be had outside our own safe comfortable bubble. The experience may be risky, but then love itself is risky and cannot thrive enclosed in a bubble. It takes great courage and also a real measure of vulnerability to accept unconditional love. Thith ‘kingship’ comes a new self-awareness and a powerful sense of achievement. It also brings with it a responsibility to share the rebirth with others.

King Perry was the first in a series of books called ‘The Lost and Founds’ and I look forward to reading them all in time.

 

Well Read Wednesday: The Binding

Welcome to the second of my new Well Read Wednesday series of personal book reviews. This week I have chosen another novel which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading.

The Binding

by Bridget Collins

I will admit that it was the beautiful cover of this book which initially grabbed my attention. When I saw the author’s name I recognised the writer of some great stories for Young Adults and so I read the blurb and was hooked. There were two reasons for this. Firstly it sounded like an unusual tale with a great premise. Secondly this is the author’s first foray into writing for an adult readership.

Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to start an apprenticeship with a Bookbinder not far away. The elderly and mysterious Seredith is a woman who, like her profession, arouses fear, superstition and prejudice, but neither Emmett, nor his parents can afford to refuse her summons.

Emmett leaves home, and Seredith begins to teach him the craft of hand-making beautiful volumes but along the way he learns that all the books contain real memories taken from real people to be sealed forever in the pages of the precious books. If you want to forget something, a binder can help you. If there are memories that need erasing the binder can assist. Your past can be stored away safely in a book and you will never again remember your secret, however terrible it might be.

These volumes are stored away in a vault beneath Seredith’s workshop. Row upon row of memories meticulously kept and recorded. One day however, Emmett discovers that one of the books has his name on it. What should he do?

Of course with this mysterious craft comes great responsibility an there are some unscrupulous practitioners who do not live by Serediths moral code. Books are sold and traded purely as a form of salacious entertainment.

To see this simply as a book about books is to do it a grave injustice. At its heart is a love story between two idealistic young men. There is tension, humour, pathos, horror and romance between its covers. If I have any reservations about the storyline it is that the early hints of mystery and magic are forgotten once the fires of romance have been ignited. Latent talents or special powers are suggested for Emmett but then discarded.

For all that, the story delivers strong themes and deep, emotional characterisations. As a writer well versed in teenage angst, the author can be forgiven for writing a lead couple who are both angsty and full on. Abusive fathers, exploitative employers, soul searching about soul stealing, it’s all here in a beautiful immersive story.

I loved it and heartily recommend it as a great read.

 

Well Read Wednesday: The Warlow Experiment

This is the first of a new series of blog posts in the form of Book reviews. Always a passionate and avid reader I tend to have strong opinions about the many and varied books I read but so far have written very few book reviews. Well read Wednesday will give me the chance to tell you about what I like to read but also give me some much needed experience of writing reviews.

The Warlow Experiment

by Alix Nathan

Having just finished this extraordinary book I believe it will appeal to all who love a great story, well crafted with strong characters, firmly bedded in it’s social and historical setting.

Herbert Powyss lives on a small estate in the Welsh Marches, with enough time and income to pursue a gentleman’s fashionable cultivation of exotic plants and trees. But he longs to make his mark in the field of science – something consequential enough to present to the Royal Society in London.

He hits on a radical experiment in isolation: for seven years a subject will inhabit three rooms in the cellar of the manor house, fitted out with books, paintings and even a chamber organ. Meals will arrive thrice daily via a dumbwaiter. The solitude will be totally unrelieved by any social contact; the subject will keep a diary of his daily thoughts and actions. The pay? Fifty pounds per annum, for life.

Only one man is desperate enough to apply for the job: John Warlow, a semi-literate labourer with a wife and six children to provide for. The experiment, a classic Enlightenment exercise gone more than a little mad, will have unforeseen consequences for all included. In this seductive tale of self-delusion and obsession, Alix Nathan has created an utterly transporting historical novel which is both elegant and unforgettably sinister.

I found the characters to be strong and utterly believable. The author has brilliantly captured the nature of the opposing dynamics of the major characters. The social strictures of the master and servant, the male subjugation of the female characters, the complete absence of empathy and the selfish reach for aggrandisement are all laid out for us.

The novel successfully blends fine historical detail with keen psychological observations, especially mental fragility, misogyny, compassion and  failed altruism. While set in the age of European enlightenment, with the French Revolution and Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man featuring in the background, the story also speaks to us in the present.

If you need your stories with a happy ever after ending then this may not be for you, but you are missing out! In fact the ending is as dramatic as anything else in this tale and since it was difficult to put down, the ending came all too soon.

 

 

Community? What Community?

I first encountered the m/m community of readers, writers, publishers etc. a little over four years ago. I was enthralled by the fact that everyone was so warm and welcoming. Writers who, on the face of it were competitors, appeared to be the best of buddies and generally supportive of each other. It was a bit of a culture shock to discover that the majority of the community were women, both readers and writers. I welcomed the inclusivity of it all and I am happy to say that I have made some wonderful friends in the group.

Recent events have tarnished that point of view. We have endured dramas coming along one after another: catfishing, women writers, male writers, book piracy, LGBTQI rights, trolling and back-stabbing. At present the community sucks. I sometimes wonder how we have the hypocrisy to call ourselves a community at all.

We are supposed to be a community of writers and readers brought together by creativity and craft. I love the fact that social media has closed the distance, allowing our readers to interact with us, but expectations need to be managed. Writers need to write and we all have our own styles, our own values and beliefs and they should not be held to ransom or publicly trashed by readers who have a different set of beliefs or expectations. In my experience it is not uncommon to read a book that does not grab me in the way that others might. I do however, appreciate that there will be other readers out there who may love it. I simply close the book, chalk it up to experience and seek another author who may be writing what I want to read.

Even in our little community there are as many different styles of writer as there are readers picking up their books. We don’t have to love each other’s work but the least we can do is respect it and appreciate our shared endeavour. Surely the idea of a community is that a group of disparate individuals can come together in mutual respect and support for each other regardless of individual styles or circumstances? When you are aspiring or struggling, you need the group. When you are successful, the group needs you.

The biggest issues appear to be those outside the realms of the craft. The world in general has been brainwashed to accept dumbed down politics which includes bigotry, intolerance, bullying and the cult of personality. Our small world reflects that and I fear that the actions of a minority will tear apart all that is good about our community.

Wow, I hear you say. Tim is turning into the classic grumpy old man. Well yes, I may be, but somebody needs to stick their head above the parapet. I do not rant without reason and I am driven by two principles. Firstly I believe in the famous words of Edmund Burke:

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’

I cannot stand by and do nothing while our community destroys itself. Secondly, and to support that stance, I turn to the words of the poet Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

So forgive me while I rage!

The m/m genre is being hijacked by sexual politics. In our rush to highlight and to defend the rights of each sub-group, we are losing sight of the real goal of equality. There can be no place for homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ageism or any of the other prejudices which we see every day, even in our own community! In a misguided attempt at defending their own particular in-group, I fear that some of us end up expressing the kinds of prejudiced views we are surely trying to stamp out.

 As a gay man I have spent the last 45 years struggling against homophobia, misunderstanding, bullying and even physical attacks, but always with the same goal in mind: equal rights. Not equal rights as a gay man, but equal rights as a human being. There is a fundamental difference here. I am not a man who identifies as gay. That suggests some choice in the matter. I am a gay man who identifies as human. I just want to be equal.

It is my belief that in our struggle to be identified under one letter of the alphabet or another, we actually compartmentalise ourselves and fragment our power. Of course that causes a problem for our allies. It’s quite clear that bigotry is alive and kicking in our community just as it is in the world at large. If you wish to be part of a community then you must respect the whole community.  An ally of one part of the group must be an ally of all. The goal for all must be equality for all. Equal human rights. We cannot pick and choose which flavours we like from the sweetie jar, or which are our favourite letters of the alphabet. By definition, the politics of equality must be about global equality.

And by the way, respect for the rights of others needs to start with respect for ourselves. Anyone who posts licentious images of men’s sexual organs or of men having sex together is no ally of gay men! We may write about such things in the context of a story but the posting of graphic images is insulting to the imagination of our readers and offensive to a great many gay men. You would not tolerate such sexualising of women so when did it become okay to do it to us? The same goes for anyone who delivers salacious accounts of their own sexual activities. Where is your self respect? It used to be said that those who boasted of their sexual encounters probably weren’t getting any, while those who were getting it didn’t have the time to talk about it.

Our community has a unique opportunity to be a beacon of excellence for equality and creativity. Of course we should discuss the politics but that needs to be done in a climate of mutual respect and understanding. There is always a place for debate and discourse in civilised society when empathy and understanding replace aggression and offensive language. Maybe we need a mission statement or a manifesto and if anyone has any ideas along those lines I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, lets play nicely. Lets be open to tolerance and inclusion. It’s time to grow up kids! Let’s show the world how it’s done.

Teaser Tuesday: NaNoWriMo Day one.

ursa-major2Yes I have decided to set myself the challenge of writing a novel during the month of November. The story is called Ursa Major which for those whose first language isn’t Latin, means Great Bear. Many of you will know this as the name of a stellar constellation so it will be no surprise to know that the Bear in the story is a Professor of Astronomy and Space Science.

There are five Tuesdays in this November so you can expect teasers from the novel on each of those days. Here are the opening paragraphs written this morning.

PART ONE: Good Morning Rosetta.

There’s something quite unique about the experience of driving late at night through the countryside. This is especially true when the journey takes you along quiet country lanes on cold winter nights. Sitting in the warm comfortable interior, the car somehow protects you from the elements and yet it connects you to them. This man-made bubble of metal and glass with all it’s glowing internal lights, reaches out to it’s surroundings with bright white beams. They progressively reveal your route as you speed along it.

English country lanes are certainly not uniform. Night driving like this can have you traversing open countryside one minute, then the next you are racing through a tunnel of branches where the trees are attempting to reach over the road and shake hands with each other. Just occasionally the brightest of the stars can be spotted through the wooden lattice but even on a crystal clear night like this, the envelope of light around the car obscures most of the myriad jewels twinkling above.

I’d left the sprawling city of Manchester madrid_060508_mxalx_078behind almost an hour ago and was hurrying south to my destination on the Cheshire plain. I closer I got, the more I felt the stresses of the day falling away. Anticipation and excitement grew as I neared my goal and I thought about the significance of what was to unfold over the next twenty four hours. Meeting with the funding board was one of the less pleasurable duties expected of a head of department and this evening had been hard work. Even the most modern of universities could take on an air of pomposity and stuffiness when you were dealing with the upper levels of academic management.

I smiled to myself at the irony of the evening. The last few hours had been spent justifying and defending the funding of my department. The next few hours would hopefully be spent successfully using the resources of that same department to make a major contribution to the exploration of space. One of the last great frontier explorations to challenge the human race.

Bear Among the Books – Reviews

Bear Among The Books was published one week ago today. Since then I’ve been bowled over by the reviews it’s received from some great readers/reviewers who all seem to ‘get’ my writing, and as an author that means more than I can say. Here is a selection of the reviews from Amazon and elsewhere. (If you want to read the negative reviews, feel free to check out Goodreads!)

BearAmongTheBooksFS

5* An Ode to Words and Books.

By Marleen – Published on Amazon.com

I should probably start this review by mentioning that I am a librarian. For that reason all the details about working in and the running of a library entertained me as much as the romance did. On several occasions I found myself thinking ‘oh yes, that’s how we do it too’ and that invariably brought a smile to my face. Something else that made me grin was the fact that I would probably describe myself as a cross between Daisy and Ben; while I love welcoming new members to the library and love seeing them peruse the shelves, I find it very hard not to frown when they disturb the order on those shelves.

But, this review is supposed to be about the book and not about my day job, and Bear Among the Books touched my heart in many ways. It contains a wonderful romance, it’s a declaration of love towards libraries and, maybe more than anything else it’s an ode to words, books, stories, writing, and reading.

“I had always felt sorry for people who didn’t read and never experienced the joy of getting lost in a well-written story.” – Ben

My heart ached for Jason. To love books so much and not be able to read. Scratch that, just to not be able to read is a nightmare scenario to me. A nightmare that Jason is consciously living, as his words about being/working in a library so beautifully reflect.

“It’s like being inside the biggest, richest treasure chest in the world. It’s like a bank vault for people’s dreams and experiences.”

Of course Jason’s illiteracy wasn’t the only thing about him to break my heart. His back-story is horrendous and brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. He’s such a gentle, kind and big-hearted soul despite everything he has endured and his insecurities are as understandable as they are heart breaking.

Ben was the sort of person I could fall for myself in a heartbeat. Kind, generous, patient, and always putting others first, he is exactly what Jason needs even if everybody else realises that long before Ben is willing to entertain the idea.

Jason’s grandmother was a breath of fresh air and I loved her attitude. The age difference between Ben and Jason is large —28 years to be precise. And while Ben does initially have some understandable concerns about it, I love that it wasn’t turned into a huge belly-ache or an issue for any of the other characters in the story.

“The heart has no wrinkles.” – Alice / Nan

In fact, this is not an angsty read at all. Despite Jason’s past and Ben’s reservations about a relationship, this is mostly a sweet tale about healing and books, about people coming together to do the right thing, and about embracing new opportunities and love when they come your way.

Bear Among the Books is a charming and touching feel good story. Yes, there are one or two moments that will tug at your heartstrings and bring tears to your eyes, but overall, this tale will leave you with a huge smile on your face and a love for the written word that is even stronger than it was before you started reading it.

 

5* Phetra Novak for GGR Reviews

Bear Among the Books is the new piece of writing by T.J. Masters and to say it’s a brilliant success is an understatement. T.J. Masters has this serene way of writing his story that you find yourself calmed, sort of lulled into the story like a quite participant in the lives of the characters. This is something at least I find masterful, not only because you get this in depth feel for the people in the story, because T.J. Masters takes the time to let you get to know the evolving characters both main and supporting. In this book there’s quite a few characters to keep track of but it’s never difficult to follow along and learn who one of them are.

Ben, one of the two main characters, is strong, confident but not arrogant small town librarian and a man with passion for books and the written word, which I think we all can relate to in one way or another, his simplicity as a character if I may say so should be boring but it isn’t he is everything but and I been pondering that for a bit and I realized it’s because T.J. Masters allows us to be inside his head and take part of what is going on there in a way that sometime other authors rush through, also this is where the supporting characters come in to allow Ben’s character really show, his protective, caring and god honest desire and need to help others become apparent.

Secondly, we have Jason, a tormented young man, merely 19, but who has “the heart of an angel” he’s young, he’s been through hell, but thanks to his nan and eventually Ben (among other people) he find his place in this world. Jason, is fascinating, and intriguing, a young innocent man in many ways because of the situation he’s in but yet very experienced and self-sufficient for the very same situation and life experiences. It is hard not to love him from the moment you meet. He’s smart and caring, and nothing is more important to than his nan because of the fact that she’s the only person in his world, as the book starts, that loves him for the person he is.

As for the supporting characters, I absolutely LOVE Jake (I feel a story there Tim) and Jason’s grandmother, Alice, what a treat! T.J. Masters did spot on with that woman. Also, one of my absolute favorite books by T.J. Masters (besides this one) is Taking the Gardener and Eric and

Tom from that book are also mentioned and visit in this one which is more than nice. While Taking the Gardener is a lifestyle book (BDSM) this is not, they fit right in and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Because Taking the Gardener, even though there are plenty of people who didn’t understand the true meaning of that book, is just like Bear Among the Books a story about finding yourself, about finding your place in life and when you have daring to take that step out from the shadow and live life, your life, to the fullest! Well done, T.J. Masters! Well done!

5* It was amazing

Serena Yates for Rainbow Book Reviews

The book description had me at Ben being a librarian and a passionate book lover, but then there was the riddle of Jason visiting the library almost every day without ever checking out a book – and I was hooked. This is a fantastic story about two amazing men who have a lot to deal with beyond the fact that they are gay. As it turns out, this is not a problem for any of the people in Ben’s life. But the age difference they face is almost thirty years, and Jason has had a traumatic childhood resulting in more issues to overcome than most young men his age. This could have been a book full of angst and drama, but instead Ben and Jason’s story turned out to be a slow-paced, gentle romance that focuses on the growth and changes that happen as they get to know each other.

For all that Ben works well with people, it takes him quite a while to figure out why Jason comes in, takes a huge variety of books off the shelf, leafs through each one, then returns them where he found them without ever checking one out. It’s probably because he never suspects the reason, based on Jason’s behavior, and because he is a little distracted by how good Jason looks. When Ben figures it out, he decides to help Jason learn to read and because Ben used to be a teacher, he has the tools to do it. The process he used – starting with picture books and graphic novels so Jason can focus on the story – was fascinating, and I was with both of them every step of the way.

Jason, even though his point of view is not included as Ben is the sole narrator, came to life for me based on his questions, reactions, and behavior once he has someone who believes in him and supports him. Yes, his grandmother already does that for him since she has taken him into her home, but that is different because she is family and her support is mainly emotional. Something Jason is in dire need of after his stepfather’s cruel abuse and his mother’s cruelty! Ben can help Jason gain self-confidence, give him the reading skills Jason so desperately wants, and become a true partner.

You might think that two men, as far apart as they are in age and experience, will never fit. This story shows that’s not necessarily true. On the other hand, both are lonely with Ben having lost his partner a few years ago and Jason having never had a boyfriend before. Then there is their love of stories and books that unites them as Jason learns to read. But in the end it boils down to the fact that they are attracted to each other, enjoy doing things like cooking meals together, and are simply good for each other. Despite everything they have to overcome and deal with, they are great as a team and as a couple – a pretty sound basis for a long-term relationship if you ask me.

If you like slow-burn romances that become sizzling hot once the partners get going, if an unusual May/December relationship with a few added issues is your thing, and if you’re looking for a gentle love story with a lot of heart, then you will probably love this novel as much as I do. It’s a very special tale filled with warmth and an “everyday feel” that had me entranced without the need for much action or huge plot twists.