FEAR AND LOATHING IN NORTH WEST JAVA

 

THERE’S A WHAT IN THE BATHROOM???

Ghost_Stories_August_1928

Heading down to Java tomorrow to hang out with my youngest daughter, who just got a job there.

She says her house has skinks, gekkos and … spiders. The spiders, she says, are quite large. In fact, they throw shadows.

One of them is “so big it has a personality.”

Just love spiders with personalities …

IF THE SPIDER DOESN’T GET ME, I’LL BE GIVING AWAY BOOKS AGAIN WHEN I GET BACK.

THIS MONTH THREE LUCKY PEOPLE WON A PRINT COPY OF “THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT”. JUST FOR BEING ON MY SUBSCRIPTION LIST!

Sign up here and next month you could win too!

shakespeare, london, crimeCLICK HERE TO JOIN!

LOVE, INDIA, TAJ MAHALCOLIN FALCONER

 

 

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SHAKESPEARE IS 551: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BILL

Will Shakespeare is 551 today – to wish him a happy birthday or not to wish him a happy birthday? That is the question.

original photograph: Deirdre O'Neill

original photograph: Deirdre O’Neill

I decided yes – but that you’d get the present.

All you have to do is join my newsletter today – and you could win one of THREE print copies of the first book in my WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE DETECTIVE AGENCY series (if you live in the US or Canada),

… or a consolation prize of one of ten eBooks wherever you live.

Alas, poor Yorick – he can’t make it to the birthday party.

But you can – so sign up here and you could win!

shakespeare, london, crimeJUST CLICK HERE TO JOIN!

LOVE, INDIA, TAJ MAHALCOLIN FALCONER

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HAPPY NEW 2558!

Happy New Year!

They have just celebrated the new year here in Thailand – by the Buddhist calendar it is now 2558.

It is the most important festival of the year for the Thais. Although the official New Year’s Day is the first of January, same as everywhere else, the Buddhist new year is 13 April.

No, I can’t make sense of that either.

copyright Colin Falconer

copyright Colin Falconer

It’s called the Songkran festival. It’s the longest national holiday of the year and everyone here loves it.

Songkran comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Sankranti’ which means ‘to move on or to change’. The festival originated in Burma, and is also observed in Vietnam and Laos.

But Thailand has elevated Songkran into a soaking wet art form.

Prior to the festival, Thais busy themselves cleaning their houses and taking out all the junk they’ve collected that could bring them bad luck in the upcoming year. They also carefully wash all their Buddha images and idols for luck.

copyright Colin Falconer

copyright Colin Falconer

The water pouring is meant to symbolize the washing away of sins and bad luck, and should have fragrant herbs added if celebrated in the traditional manner.

Sonkran is a time to give alms to monks and to visit temples.

But mostly it’s a time to grab a bucket of water and tip it on some passer-by’s head or shoot your water gun at a tuk-tuk driver.

The young westerners love it; they roam the streets in gangs soaking down anything that moves. This year Chiang Mai was party central, backpackers prowling the streets in full combat gear – shorts and goggles.

It was Blackhawk Down with super soakers.

All good clean fun, really clean. Well, sort of.

Last year two Thai transexuals were arrested for revealing their fake breasts in public. They were fined 500 baht and taken to a local shrine to seek forgiveness from the spirits.

Boys will be boys. Or girls. Whatever.

copyright Colin Falconer

copyright Colin Falconer

As Songkran is celebrated during the hottest time of the year in Thailand, getting soaked is no hardship, but you have to make sure your phone and camera are in a watertight bag before you leave your hotel.

But not everyone is happy about it: Prommin Kantiya, the director of the Accident Prevention Network, for example. “Do we want to be known as the hub of the water party with booze and a high death toll?’ he told news reporters, “or do we want to be known for having a beautiful culture that no one else has?”

He has a point about the high death toll.

Thailand already has the second-highest traffic fatality rate in the world – about ten thousand people per year die in motorcycle accidents alone.

Police statistics here show that road accidents double during the annual Songkran holiday from 27 per day during non-holiday periods to an average of 52 road deaths per day.

copyright Colin Falconer

copyright Colin Falconer

So I decided to stay away from taxis and tuk-tuks for Sonkran. I walked everywhere.

The first night I headed off to a club and the Thai concierge offered to come with me. I politely declined.

As I was walking down the street a Thai bar girl said she’d go there with me. I said thanks, but no thanks.

Then as I passed my favourite restaurant, the owner said, why don’t I come with you? I said no, really, I’ll be fine.

But when I got there, the doorman said: ‘Sorry sir, you can’t come in without a Thai.’

And that’s your Songkran joke. You have to admit, it’s pretty wet.

Happy 2558!

Isabella Lake Union

JUST 2 DAYS TO GO …

LAKE UNION are publishing my ISABELLA worldwide on 21st April and there are 2o copies to give away for US readers on GOODREADS.

Just follow the link here for a chance to win!

You will love it or you will hate it … I have never written a book that has divided opinion so much. Make up your own mind – go here to enter the competition!

There are even more giveaways if you join my mailing list!

JUST CLICK HERE TO JOIN!

LOVE, INDIA, TAJ MAHALCOLIN FALCONER

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The Irrawaddy Literary Festival – a Miracle in Mandalay

A few weeks ago I had the great fortune to be invited to the Irrawaddy Literary Festival in Mandalay.

copyright: Colin Falconer

copyright: Colin Falconer

Let’s be clear: this is Burma so the Festival is a highly political event. Its patron is Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition, and – until just a few years ago – one of the world’s most famous political prisoners.

Margaret Simons, writing in the Guardian  called the festival a kind of miracle – and it is.

The organizers have hardly any sponsorship. They put the entire festival together from London, supported by British embassy staff in Rangoon and a handful of local writers.

They had to pay their own costs for trips back to Burma.

copyright: Colin Falconer

copyright: Colin Falconer

Yet from five thousand miles away they somehow persuaded three writers of international renown to fly halfway across the world to an impoverished country emerging from years of brutal repression and corruption.

They would share the stage with a handful of unknown authors who only a few years before had been in jail. The translations from Burmese to English and English to Burmese was dependent entirely on volunteers, as was the transportation.

Yes. A miracle.

copyright: Colin Falconer

copyright: Colin Falconer

It is all the brain child of Jane Heyn, supported by her husband, former British ambassador Andrew Heyn and close family friends Giles FitzHerbert, (one time British ambassador to Venezuela), and Rupert Arrowsmith, a cultural historian with movie star looks and immense good humour, a man never seen anywhere without his signature white linen jacket – yet he was twice ordained as a Buddhist monk.

It is the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel … with books.

The supporting cast included Ann Enright, a Booker Prize Winner from 2007, (she won the award for her novel, The Gathering). I’ve met winners of big literary awards before, and I was dreading it. They can be unbearable. Ann was elfin, unpredictable, warm and huge fun.

copyright: Colin Falconer

copyright: Colin Falconer

There was Louis de Bernieres, who wrote one of my favourite books, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin as well as a book about my own part of the world, Red Dog.

If the Festival hadn’t been forced to change dates at the last minute they would have had two Booker Prize winners – Ian McEwan had agreed to come as well.

And Australia chipped in too; the University of Melbourne sent some wonderful writers and speakers, as education partners of the Festival.

How did Jane and her team manage this?

It should not have been possible.

It was not so long ago that it was almost impossible to find anything written in English here. This was a country run by generals, a nation of poverty and prisons, roadblocks and repression.

But after Suu Kyi was released in November 2010, the Heyns invited her to the Embassy for tea – as you do – and Jayne took a deep breath and asked her if she thought a literary festival would be a good idea.

DSCN0872

Rupert Arrowsmith, Jayne Heyn, Andy Heyn copyright: Colin Falconer

She did; in fact she said she would be the patron.

So the first Irrawaddy Literary Festival was held for the first time in 2013 in Rangoon. Not long before, gatherings of more than two people were illegal.

Ten thousand people attended and crowds mobbed Suu Kyi’s car.

How did they get away with it? Jane thinks it is because no one – not the government, not the writers – really understood what a literary festival was.

After this first enormous success, the Festival has survived two more years on a shoestring budget. It was this year held at the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel, in betel-nut juice spitting distance of the old palace, where the last King of Burma once lived.

This year the Festival was not as well attended, as Suu Kyi could not attend due to illness. But it retained its unique charm.

One night I spent two hours talking to the Ambassador from Ireland, thinking he was just some bloke who’d dropped in for a beer.

Louis de Bernieres and Andrew Heyn get photo bombed copyright: Colin Falconer
Louis de Bernieres and Andrew Heyn get photo bombed
copyright: Colin Falconer

The Burmese writers themselves are still coming to terms with the new freedoms and what they might mean. Hardly any are internationally known and the attendees included writers who had been jailed for their writing right through the spectrum to those who once wrote propaganda for the government.

So each day of the Festival one faction or another of the Burmese writers threatened to walk out. It is only the patronage of Suu Kyi that keeps the rivalries and bitterness inside the Burmese literary community from tearing the Festival apart.

The result of the elections later this year are uncertain so no one knows if there will be another Festival.

It would be tragic if it were to die.

DSCN0868But they need sponsors and they need a new organizer; Jane cannot run it again from London.

At the closing ceremony Giles Fitzherbert took the microphone and defiantly assured the audience: “There will be a festival next year.”

I really hope so. This was an impossibly wonderful event that just should not have been possible.

In a country that has seen many dark days, this festival is a glimmering light.

Isabella Lake Union

LAKE UNION are publishing my ISABELLA worldwide on 21st April and there are 2o copies to give away for US readers on GOODREADS.

Just follow the link here for a chance to win!

You will love it or you will hate it … I have never written a book that has divided opinion so much. Make up your own mind – go here to enter the competition!

There are even more giveaways if you join my mailing list!

JUST CLICK HERE TO JOIN!

LOVE, INDIA, TAJ MAHALCOLIN FALCONER

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HISTORY IS THE THING OF THE FUTURE

History is a thing of the past.

The Historical Novel Society of Australasia’s inaugural convention in Sydney last month proved that.

The response to the event far outweighed expectations. History and books about it – whether fiction or non fiction – has a great future.

I was honored to be invited to give the inaugural address.

There were many fantastic authors, agents and publishers sharing their expertise and experiences. One of the organizers, Elizabeth Storrs talked about her self published first historical novel, THE WEDDING SHROUD, which was so successful it led to a three book contract with Lake Union.

click the link to see the comic!

click the link to see the comic!

I was also fascinated with Sophie Masson’s crowd funding the translation and publication of Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel Mikhail Strogoff, which hasn’t been published in English for over a century.

(Well Classics Illustrated did it as a comic. It was the story that made me want to be a writer – I was about 7 years old – long before I discovered that Jules Verne didn’t write comics!)

The convention ended with Kate Forsyth, Jess Blackadder and myself performing a sex scene from Kate’s bestselling novel BITTER GREENS

Well not performing it … we just read the words.

BITTER GREENS shows the health of Australian historical fiction writing – it won won the American Library Association (ALA) Award for Best Historical Novel.

In the process of reading the scene we think we answered the question – how do you write a sex scene?

And we had a lot of fun doing it, too.

I can’t wait till the next convention in 2017 in Melbourne – this one was such a success, two years seems much too far away.

Well done Chris Foley, Elisabeth Storrs, Wendy Jean Dunne, Diane Murray and Greg Johnston. We all look forward to the next one.

Isabella Lake Union

LAKE UNION are publishing my ISABELLA worldwide on 21st April and there are 2o copies to give away on GOODREADS.

Just follow the link here for a chance to win!

You will love it or you will hate it … I have never written a book that has divided opinion so much. Make up your own mind – go here to enter the competition!.

 

 

Posted in HISTORY | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

HOW TO MAKE MONEY FROM SHAME

I thought long and hard about posting this video – it’s about shame and it’s quite confronting.

If you were alive in the late nineties you have probably heard of someone called Monica Lewinsky. She worked for a former US President called Bill Clinton. Their relationship caused a scandal that almost brought down his presidency.

Why should we listen to Monica Lewinsky has to say today?

Because if you have ever been the victim of cyber bullying or if you have ever been publicly shamed or humiliated in any way – or if you have ever joined in the pillorying of anyone else … this will either comfort you or give you pause.

I remember that I circulated my share of Monica jokes at the time. I am not proud of this now and much less so after listening to this.

It is a brave and deeply moving speech, arguably better than any presidential address Clinton himself ever delivered.

Yes, it will take twenty minutes of your time.

But it may change how you think about celebrity, and may even change how you treat – and are treated by – those who are not so famous. There is much to think about here. It made me reflect which is why I’m sharing it here.

It may also startle you to realize how the digital revolution has helped some people profit financially from publicly shaming others – and how we are all manipulated into helping them do it – one click at a time.

The real shame in this? That more people haven’t heard this …

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LONDON – A TIME CAPSULE

THIS IS AN EXTRAORDINARY VIDEO.

This is newsreel footage of London, shot in 1927, restored into colour and imposed on the screen side by side with video from similar angles, recorded 86 years later, in 2013.

Simply amazing. You have to watch it.

History in front of your eyes.

 

 

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HAMLET – it doesn’t get any classier than this

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8½ quotes about failure that may lead you to success

 

Thanks for the pictures to quozio.com

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WHAT IF A HOMELESS PERSON WAS SOMEONE YOU LOVE?

This is an interesting social experiment.

None of us would walk past someone we love if we saw them homeless on the street.

But the people in this video didn’t even know. And they’re just regular people, like you and me.

Have our homeless become so invisible that we don’t even want to look at their faces?

Why?

 

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