Novel about Alan Turing succeeds in bringing his ideas to life

Fall of Man in Wilmslow
David Lagercrantz
Quercus Books
MacLehose Press
Pub Date:  May 7 2015
Buy/Order: Amazon UK 

Published in Sweden in 2009  it would seem its appearance in translation now of  David Lagercrantz enthralling “Fall from Grace in Wilmslow”  may have been down, in some part, to the success of the recent film about Alan Turing,  The Imitation Game, taking, as it does, his death as its stating point.  It’s June , 1954 and a dead body has been found at a home in Wilmslow. Disillusioned young Detective Constable Leonard Corell is dispatched to handle the case and soon becomes curious as to the manner of the death and the dead man himself.

Corell quickly learns the dead man, Alan Turing is a convicted homosexual, and one who was forced to take female hormones as part of his punishment. He also discovers he has an O.B.E and seems to have done ‘something’ in the war, but what seems to be a secret. Fuelled on by his own, previously abandoned,  love of mathematics as well as a growing admiration for the dead man’s genius, Corell sets out to uncover just what Turing did in the war. This, in turn, brings Corell himself to the attention of the security services who are less than keen on anyone uncovering Turings involvement in the war effort, and in the face of recent defections to Russia are paranoid about anyone knowing anything at all.

This is an Intelligent, thoughtful and fascinating novel. Like the best faction (fact and fiction) writing Fall from Grace in Wilmslow succeeds both in drawing the reader into the world of a 50s cold war Britain and a time where just being in love could be a crime, as well as drawing a portrait of one of the great minds of the twentieth century. As with all faction writing there is the problem that the reader has no idea what the author has taken from the facts and what has been invented in their re-creation of events, but in that case you just have to look at the book as a potential starting point – as I’m sure many will – to finding out more about the real Turing. What is not in doubt is that Lagercrantz shows a love for Turing, his genius and also his naivety, and the book delves deep into his ideas and writings. This is a book of ideas – mathematics, science, philosophy, sexuality, politics, and of inner conflict, which sits heavy in both lead characters. Correll finds a lot to identify with in Turing and in the way he used mathematics to make sense of the world. For example the liar’s paradox in an idea that runs throughout the book: “I’m Lying!” If that sentence is true, then it’s a lie, because the speaker is lying, but then of course he is telling the truth because he says he is lying”. This has always held a personal fascination for me too, even when it is adapted, as for example it is in the truthful whitefoot/lying blackfoot riddle Cary Grant’s character tells Audrey Hepburn’s in the Stanley Donen 1963 film Charade. How something that is so simple can also be so complex is a wondrous and fascinating thing.

I also identified with Correll’s growing obsession about Turing. And it is hard not to be impressed by Turing. This is a man who, in 1936, invented the idea of a ‘Universal Machine’, basically a electronic computer, capable of running any program. A man who was at the forefront of thinking on Artificial Intelligence: his 1950 paper, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ introduced the idea that one day machines could ‘think’, although as he recognised that ‘thinking’ was difficult to define, it was more a question of whether a machine could imitate a real human being. The novel brings these, and other, ideas to life.

The novel also does a good job of the sexual politics of the time. Corell, like many of those around him is disgusted by homosexuality – though one expects he experienced it himself at school. He genuinely struggles with how he can so admire a man who is at the same time one he and others consider to be perverted. Corell, we get the impression, feels on some level he could have been Turing: a man who is dedicated to learning and mathematics, as opposed to just being PC plod in a backwater town. Indeed he is described as more like a student with an enquiring mind than a policemen at one point in the book. This case gives his life meaning again and awakens his thirst for knowledge.

Will Correll step on too many toes? Will the secret service have to ‘shut him up’?

Fall from Grace in Wilmslows is a genuinely thrilling read. Lagercrantz blends intelligence and thrills and George Goulding’s translation zips off the page helping to make this a thoroughly engaging novel. This is good news for fans of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series which Lagercrantz has been hired to pen further novels for [The Girl in the Spider’s Web is due out 27 August]. On this evidence that series is in good hands.


Review copy provided by MacLehose Press / Netgalley

Manifesto watch – TMT

Some of you may remember  that back in the depths of time the main focus of this blog was IT, IP, Telecoms and Media law, so it seems only right that my final Manifesto watch piece cover what the parties are saying on these issues.

Broadcasting /BBC

Conservatives:

A free media is the bedrock of an open society. We will deliver a comprehensive review of the BBC Royal Charter, ensuring it delivers value for money for the licence fee payer, while maintaining a world class service and supporting our creative industries.  That is why we froze the BBC licence fee and will keep it frozen, pending Charter renewal.

And we will continue to ‘topslice’ the licence fee for digital infrastructure to support superfast broadband across the country.

Labour:

The free flow of information and of different points of view is crucial for open debate and countering concentrations of unaccountable power. That is why the concentration of media power in too few hands is damaging to our democracy.
No one media owner should be able to exert undue influence on public opinion and policy makers. No media company should have so much power that those who run it believe themselves above the rule of law. Yet the current system for protecting against these threats is inadequate. Labour will take steps to protect the principle of media plurality, so that no media outlet can get too big, including updating our rules for the 21st century media environment.
Our system of public service broadcasting is one of Britain’s great strengths. The BBC makes a vital contribution to the richness of our cultural life, and we will ensure that it continues to do so while delivering value for money. We will also commit to keeping Channel 4 in public ownership, so it continues to produce vital public content.

Lib Dems:

To promote the independence of the media from political influence we will remove Ministers from any role in appointments to the BBC Trust or the Board of  Ofcom.

Protect the independence of the BBC while ensuring the Licence Fee does not rise faster than inflation, maintain Channel 4 in public ownership and protect the funding and editorial independence of Welsh language broadcasters.

Maintain funding to BBC World Service, BBC Monitoring and the British Council.

Green:

Tighten the rules on cross-media ownership and ensure that no individual or company owns more than 20% of a media market.

Maintain the BBC as primary PSB, free of government interference, with funding guaranteed in real terms in statute to prevent government interference.

Strengthen controls on advertising directed at children.

UKIP:

Abolishing government departments when their essential powers and functions can be merged into other departments. Such departments will include the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

SNP:

We believe that responsibility for broadcasting in Scotland should transfer from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament and we will support moves to more devolved arrangements for the BBC with greater powers and funding for the different national and regional broadcasting areas, such as BBC Scotland.
We believe that the licence fee should be retained with any replacement system, which should be based primarily on the ability to pay, in place by the end of the next BBC Charter period.
BBC Scotland should receive a fairer share of BBC income, reflecting more accurately the licence fee revenue raised here in Scotland. This would provide a boost of over £100 million, which we believe will provide important new opportunities for production companies and the creative sector in Scotland.

The Scottish Government and Parliament should have a substantial role at all stages in the review of the BBC Charter and we will work to ensure that any new governance arrangements for the BBC better reflect Scotland’s interests.
It should also be for the Scottish Government to decide which sporting events in Scotland should be included in the list of those that are free to view in Scotland.

Plaid Cymru:

We will devolve broadcasting to Wales and implement recommendations on broadcasting made by Plaid Cymru to the Silk Commission.

These include establishing a BBC Trust for Wales as part of a more federal BBC within the UK. Trustees would be appointed by the Welsh Government and the appointment process including public hearings held by the National Assembly for Wales.

Responsibility for S4C, the world’s only Welsh language channel, would transfer to the National Assembly for Wales, as would the funding for the channel that is currently with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We will ensure that S4C is adequately funded and that the channel maintains editorial independence.

Again, the Welsh Government should appoint the board members of the S4C Authority following public hearings.

We support establishing a new Welsh language multimedia service to operate online, on radio and other platforms, in order to reflect the needs of Welsh language audiences and improve current affairs coverage in Wales.

Ofcom’s office in Wales should have greater powers, including the authority to take licensing decisions.

The members of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Wales should be appointed by the Welsh Government. This would be best achieved by the federalisation of the work of Ofcom in a UK context.

Sinn Fein:

No Mention

SDUP:

No Mention

Alliance Party:

No Mention

Press

Conservatives:

We will continue to defend hard-won liberties and the operation of a free press. But alongside the media’s rights comes a clear responsibility, which is why we set up the public, judge-led Leveson Inquiry in response to the phone-hacking scandal, created a new watchdog by Royal Charter and legislated to toughen media libel laws.

Because the work of the free press is so important we will offer explicit protection for the role of journalists via the British Bill of Rights and we will ban the police from accessing journalists’ phone records to identify whistle-blowers and other sources without prior judicial approval.

Local newspapers are an important source of information for local communities and a vital part of a healthy democracy. To support them as they adapt to new technology and changing circumstances, we will consult on the introduction of a business rates relief for local newspapers in England.

Labour:

We remain strongly committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry.  We expect the industry to establish a mechanism for independent self-regulation, which delivers proper redress for individuals, as set out in the Royal Charter, and agreed by all parties in Parliament. We made a promise to victims of the phone hacking scandal. We stand by that promise and will keep it.

Lib Dems:

To guarantee press freedom, we will pass a British ‘First Amendment’ law, to require the authorities and the courts to have regard to the importance of a free media in a democratic society.

To nurture public interest journalism and protect the public from press abuse, we are committed to a system of accountability that is totally independent of both government and the newspaper industry, as set out in the Royal Charter on Press Regulation.

We share the hope of Lord Justice Leveson that the incentives for the press to sign up to genuinely independent self-regulation will succeed. But if, in the judgment of the Press Recognition Panel, after 12 months of operation, there is significant non-cooperation by newspaper publishers, then – as Leveson himself concluded – Parliament will need to act, drawing on a range of options including the legislative steps necessary to ensure that independent selfregulation is delivered. Where possible, we would seek to do this on the same cross-party basis that achieved the construction of the Leveson scheme by the Royal Charter.

Introduce statutory public interest defences for exceptional cases where journalists may need to break the law (such as RIPA, the 2010 Bribery Act, and the 1998 Computer Misuse Act) to exposecorruption or other criminal acts.

Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data which might reveal journalists’ sources or other privileged communications, for any of the purposes allowed under RIPA; and allow journalists the opportunity to address the court before authorisation is granted, where this would not jeopardise the investigation.

Undertake a post-legislative review of the 2013 Defamation Act, which Liberal Democrats drove through Parliament, to ensure the new provisions are reducing the chill of libel threats.

Introduce, after consultation on the detail, the changes to the 1998 Data Protection Act recommended by Lord Justice Leveson to provide a fairer balance between personal privacy and the requirements of journalism, ensuring that the position of investigative journalists is safeguarded.

Green:

Support recommendations of the Leveson  Inquiry and for the cross-party royal charter. But if this is not supported by all the major newspapers we will support legislation to implement the Leveson system of independent press self-regulation.

UKIP:

No Mention

SNP:

Regulation of print media is already devolved. The Scottish Parliament chose, on a cross party basis, to support the UK Government’s actions to implement Leveson. We will consider carefully the results of the first year review and work with other parties, in Scotland and at Westminster, to ensure effective regulation of the media on a non-political basis.

Plaid Cymru:

We will give local newspapers the status of ‘community assets’ so that owners could not close them without communities having the opportunity to keep their paper.

It is important for there to be a plurality of opinions and information sources. We will oppose any reduction in Welsh produced news and non-news content in our media.

Sinn Fein:

No Mention

SDUP:

No Mention

Alliance Party:

Support the implementation of the proposals form the Leveson report, specifically around a statutory replacement for the Press Complaints Commission.

Support the passage of legislation equivalent to the Defamation Act by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Creative Industry Tax Incentives

Conservatives:

The creative industries have become our fastest-growing economic sector, contributing nearly £77 billion to the UK economy – driven in part by the tax incentives for films, theatre, video games, animation and orchestras we introduced. Our support for the film industry has resulted in great British films and encouraged Hollywood’s finest to flock to the UK. We will continue these reliefs, with a tax credit for children’s television next year, and expand them when possible

Labour:

No Mention

Lib Dems:

No Mention

Greens:

Reduce VAT to 5% for live performances

UKIP:

No Mention

SNP:

We support the creation of a Creative Content Fund for the games industry to encourage the formation of new studios and also back the retention of the Video Games tax relief.

Plaid Cymru:

No Mention

Sinn Fein:

No Mention

SDUP:

No Mention

Alliance Party:

No Mention

IP

Conservatives:

We will protect intellectual property by continuing to require internet service providers to block sites that carry large amounts of illegal content, including their proxies. And we will build on progress made under our voluntary anti-piracy projects to warn internet users when they are breaching copyright. We will work to ensure that search engines do not link to the worst-offending sites.

We will ensure remote access to e-books, without charge in Libraries and with appropriate compensation for authors that enhances the Public Lending Right scheme.

Labour:

No Mention

Lib Dems:

Support growth in the creative industries, including video gaming, by continuing to support the Creative Industries Council, promoting creative skills, supporting modern and flexible patent, copyright and licensing rules, and addressing the barriers to finance faced by small creative businesses.

Greens:

Make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible, and prevent patents applying to software.

Limit the censoring or takedown of content or activity to exceptional circumstances, clearly set out with a comprehensive legal framework.

 

UKIP:

No Mention

SNP:

No Mention

Plaid Cymru:

We also continue to oppose the EU-US free trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We are concerned that it puts too much power into the hands of international corporations, threatens to weaken our democratic institutions and undermine hard-earned improvements in public services, intellectual property, food safety, health and environmental standards.

Sinn Fein:

No Mention

SDUP:

No Mention

Alliance Party:

No Mention

Broadband

Conservatives:

We will secure the delivery of superfast broadband in urban and rural areas to provide coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017, and we will ensure no one is left behind by subsidising the cost of installing superfast capable satellite services in the very hardest to reach areas.

We will also release more spectrum from public sector use to allow greater private sector access. And we have set an ambition that ultrafast broadband should be available to nearly all UK premises as soon as practicable.

Labour:

Labour will ensure that all parts of the country benefit from affordable, high speed broadband by the end of the Parliament. And we will support community-based campaigns to reduce the proportion of citizens unable to use the internet and help those who need it to get the skills to make the most of digital technology.

Lib Dems:

Complete the rollout of high-speed broadband, to reach almost every household (99.9%) in the UK as well as small businesses in both rural and urban areas.

Greens:

Give BT and other public telecom operators an obligation to provide affordable high-speed broadband-capable infrastructure to every household and small business.

UKIP:

No Mention

SNP:

In government we are working to maximise the availability of high-speed broadband across Scotland and are also providing funding of £1.5 million to increase free provision of Wi-Fi in public buildings.

Our aim is to deliver a future-proofed infrastructure that will establish world-class digital connectivity across Scotland by 2020, including tackling the digital divide.

That is why we are investing in Superfast Broadband, so that at least 95 per cent of premises across Scotland will be able to access fibre broadband by the end of 2017.

Plaid Cymru:

We want to see an improved broadband connection, getting everybody online so that people can do business from home, with a target that all parts of Wales have access to speeds of at least 30Mbps

Sinn Fein:

No Mention

SDUP:

Ensure full expansion of the high-speed broadband network in order to eliminate the digital imbalance across the North.

Alliance Party:

Support the development of broadband, 3G and similar telecommunications projects in such a way that ensures all parts of the UK benefit from this technology. This will include a specific duty to roll out high-speed internet and telephony outside of large cities.

Telecoms/Mobile

Conservatives:

We will hold the mobile operators to their new legally binding agreement to ensure that 90 per cent of the UK landmass will have voice and SMS coverage by 2017. We will continue to invest in mobile infrastructure to deliver coverage for voice calls and text messages for the final 0.3 – 0.4 per cent of UK premises that do not currently have it. We will ensure that Britain seizes the chance to be a world leader in the development of 5G, playing a key role in defining industry standards.

Labour:

We will work with the industry and the regulator to maximise private sector investment and deliver the mobile infrastructure needed to extend coverage and reduce ‘not spots’, including in areas of market failure

Lib Dems:

Extend the principle of ‘gainer led’ switching, where your new provider organises your switch for you, into new sectors, including telecoms.

SNP:

We will seek additional investment to support a more rapid roll out of superfast broadband and 4G across Scotland and to support wider and affordable access to the internet in our most disadvantaged communities, and for a Universal Service Obligation to be applied to telecoms and broadband providers ensuring everyone is able to access the communications they need.

Plaid Cymru:

 

We want to ensure that mobile phone operators provide a better service in all parts of Wales.

Sinn Fein:

No Mention

SDUP:

Want better mobile phone coverage to stop the ‘digital divide’ that disadvantages those in rural areas.

Alliance Party:

Support the development of broadband, 3G and similar telecommunications projects in such a way that ensures all parts of the UK benefit from this technology. This will include a specific duty to roll out high-speed internet and telephony outside of large cities.

 

Sport [Non School and general participation related.]

Conservatives:

We will support new sports in the UK, in particular through greater links with the US National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, with the ultimate ambition of new franchises being based here.

We will lift the number of women on national sports governing bodies to at least 25 per cent by 2017.

Labour:

Football clubs are an important part of many people’s identity and sense of belonging. They are more than just businesses. But despite their importance in the lives of their members and supporters, too often there are no effective means for fans to have a say in how their clubs are run. Labour will provide the means for supporters to be a genuine part of their clubs. We will introduce legislation to enable accredited supporters trusts to appoint and remove at least two of the directors of a football club and to purchase shares when the club changes hands. We will also review the role of fan participation in other sports. We will ensure the Premier League delivers on its promise to invest five per cent of its domestic and international television rights income into funding the grassroots.

Lib Dems:

Give football fans a greater say in how their clubs are run by encouraging the reform of football governance rules to promote engagement between clubs and supporters.

Require the Sports Ground Safety Authority to prepare guidance under which domestic football clubs, working with their supporters, may introduce safe standing areas.

Greens:

No Mention

UKIP:

No Mention

SNP:

It should also be for the Scottish Government to decide which sporting events in Scotland should be included in the list of those that are free to view in Scotland.

Plaid Cymru:

We want to see a Welsh international cricket team that can compete in ICC events.

Sinn Fein:

No Mention

SDUP:

No Mention

Alliance Party:

Support bids for major sporting events to be held in Northern Ireland where a credible business case exists

DP/Privacy/Cybersecurity

 

Conservatives:

We will keep up to date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data – the ‘who, where, when and how’ of a communication, but not its content.

Our new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming gangs, even as technology develops.

We will maintain the ability of the authorities to intercept the content of suspects’ communications, while continuing to strengthen oversight of the use of these powers

Labour:

We will need to update our investigative laws to keep up with changing technology, strengthening both the powers available, and the safeguards that protect people’s privacy.

This is why Labour argued for an independent review, currently being undertaken by David Anderson.

We will strengthen the oversight of our intelligence agencies to make sure the public can continue to have confidence in the vital work that they do to keep us safe.

Lib Dems:

Introduce a Digital Bill of rights: Enshrine the principle that everyone has the right to control their own personal data, and that everyone should be able to view, correct, and (where appropriate and proportionate) delete their personal data, wherever it is held.

Forbid any public body from collecting, storing or processing personal data without statutory authority, and require any such legislation to be regularly reviewed.

Give increased powers and resources for the Information Commissioner and introduce custodial sentences for egregious breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Ensure privacy is protected to the same extent in telecoms and online as in the offline world. Public authorities should only invade an individual’s privacy where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or where it is otherwise necessary and proportionate to do so in the public interest, and with appropriate oversight by the courts.

Ensure that privacy policies and terms and conditions of online services, including smartphone apps, must be clear, concise and easy for the user to understand.

Uphold the right of individuals, businesses and public bodies to use strong encryption to protect their privacy and security online.

Make it clear that online services have a duty to provide age-appropriate policies, guidance and support to the children and young people who use their services.

Oppose the introduction of the so-called Snooper’s Charter

Establish in legislation that the police and intelligence agencies should not obtain data on UK residents from foreign governments that it would not be legal to obtain in the UK under UK law.

Greens:

Support EU’s proposal to strengthen data protection laws.

Oppose privatisation of government data that should be open to all, such as postcode address file.

Oppose the sale of personal data, such as health or tax records, for commercial or other ends.

Introduce a more satisfactory law on so called malicious comments made on social media than the blanket and crude section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

UKIP:

Invest in new technology such as communications equipment and personal CCTV to combat crime
Ensure Britain’s police forces comply with the law and do not retain booking photographs, fingerprints, DNA, or biometric data of individuals who have not been convicted of a crime

SNP:

We do not support Tory plans for the reintroduction of the so-called ‘snoopers’ charter’, which would see all online activity of every person in the UK stored for a year.

Instead, we need a proportionate response to extremism. That is why we will support targeted, and properly overseen, measures to identify suspected extremists and, if necessary, examine their online activity and communications

Plaid Cymru:

We will bolster cybersecurity defence capabilities to increase security and prevent cyber-attacks.

Sinn Fein:

No Mention

SDUP:

No Mention

Alliance Party:

Alliance is committed to personal liberty, privacy and civil rights. We believe that these help to ensure that individuals are able to exercise their own choices and that the state acts fairly. As a party which respects the rule of law, we know how important it is to ensure civil liberties are protected. In order to do so, Alliance will:

Continue to apply an approach to the most difficult issues in Northern Ireland which balances civil liberties and human rights.

Oppose any proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act.

Initiate a comprehensive review on protecting privacy and personal freedom from surveillance. This must include a reaction to the PRISM mass surveillance programme by rewriting our data protection regulations. The rules should ensure that people’s right to secure data is strengthened and that national governments have greater oversight of security agencies’ use of data-mining software.

Oppose the expansion of governmental power to monitor phone and email records without suitable oversight. As part of this we would support a lessening of the provisions in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act and oppose the introduction of the Communications Data Bill in its current form.

Propose the establishment of a statutory Civil Liberties Forum to advise government on issues around civil liberties and human rights.

The tortured artist explored in Anna North’s latest novel

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
Anna North
Orion Publishing Group
W&N
Pub Date:  May 19 2015
Order/Buy: Amazon UK

“I think I’m like one of those crabs, where it builds itself out of parts of other animals”

Anna North’s second novel arrives next month with some big name praise. Emma Donoghue, author of booker nominated Room, has described the novel as “Not only a dissection of genius and the havoc it can wreak, but also a thunderously good story.” On reading the book it’s not hard to see evidence of what so impressed Donoghue.

As the book’s title says, it is about the Life and Death of Sophie Stark, an acclaimed film-maker,  as told by six people who knew her in some capacity: a lover/actress, a school crush, her brother, her husband, a film producer, and a film critic. Each has a story to tell about Stark, stories than in some cases were used by Stark in her film-making. As her brother says at one point “Sophie was often accused – rightly, in many cases – of stealing other people’s stories, and now she was letting us tell hers”

The picture they paint of Stark is one of someone who has difficulty expressing her feelings. She can be cold and brutal. She feels like an outsider, unable to fit and an understand those around her. This leads her to explore ways of making sense of other people and herself, first through drawing, then through photography and finally through film. Stark makes films said to be ‘more like life than life itself’. But like many film makers each film only acts as a disappointment as whilst they sometimes satisfy her artistic requirements they often hurts those around her through her unflinching determination to make what she considers the best film, regardless of whether to do so she must manipulate those close to her or choose a tone that may upset those closest to her and the stories.  So whilst each step is meant to be a step closer to connecting with life and bringing her closer to other people she herself concludes “nothing has driven me further away from people than moving making”.

What emerges is an interesting examination of how our lives (or at least how they are perceived) are often based on the perceptions of those who know us, perhaps even more so for those in the public spotlight. In this case we see a driven and talented artist with no people skills who cannot find a way to ‘fit’ into the world in which she lives. It is as if the more she tries to understand life the more she fails to do so. She doesn’t understand people, but at the same time she can see through people. She immediately identifies that Allison (Lover/actress) is lying about a story she is telling because of her body language and stance. There is an undercurrent of metal instability and yet the  book never asks if Stark  is depressed or bi-polar, although as readers these thoughts may arise throughout the book.

But the book is more than just about Stark. The book is also about these six individuals recollecting Stark too. They all have their own stories to tell – some of which were purloined/exploited by Stark for her films. It is also clear that each was drawn to and liked, in some instances, loved Stark too. She has affected all their lives in some way and left a deep impression, something that always seems to be enhanced when someone dies young. As her husband says when asked why he married her: “a life is a heavy burden and imagine if someone just carried it for you for a while”. I beautiful sentiment.  Indeed, by the end of the novel, we probably know more about most of these six narrators than we do Stark, which is perhaps the point. All are troubled in their own way, most have suffered a traumatic experience that has shaped who they are, and it is this emotion that Stark seems to feed on, in the hope that it will lead to her own  sense of emotional fulfilment.

As an aside, and  as someone who reviews things and who used to review films quite regularly it was funny to read a section where Ben the film reviewer relays how he has been told by his publication that he has to start to award films ‘stars’ [not a practice I am particularly fond of myself] and says he awards the film in question 3,468,994.2 stars [then there is an Editors note: *** ] This made me smile.

North, who works and writes for the New York Times, has with The Life and Death of Sophie Stark created an emotionally layered and enjoyable novel which is both about ‘the tortured artist’ but also about loss and trauma and how we are shaped and affected by the presence in our lives of unique characters. Well worth a read.


Review copy provided by Orion Publishing Group / Netgalley

Manifesto watch: Adoption and Social work

So what are the national parties pledging to do about adoption, social work etc

Conservatives

We have made progress in reforming our adoption system, but there is more to do.

We will introduce regional adoption agencies, working across local authority boundaries to match children with the best parents for them.

We will continue to raise the quality of children’s social work, by expanding training programmes, such as Frontline, and creating new opportunities to develop the next generation of leaders in the field.

We will freeze working age benefits for two years from April 2016, with exemptions for disability and pensioner benefits – as at present – as well as maternity allowance, statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay, statutory adoption pay and statutory sick pay.

________________________________________

Labour

We will increase the proportion of the mental health budget that is spent on children, and make sure that teachers have training so they can identify problems early and link children up with support.

We will double the current two weeks of paternity leave to four weeks, and increase the amount of paternity pay from £140 to more than £260 a week.

We will promote the care and educational achievement of our most vulnerable children and we will introduce mandatory reporting of child abuse.

We will increase support for children in kinship (family and friends) care and their families, a group too often overlooked and undervalued.

We will continue to support Frontline and its innovative approach to training social workers, and teachers will receive better training for working with children with special educational needs and disabilities.

________________________________________
Lib Dems

Liberal Democrats have long championed early intervention to prevent problems before they arise, but we also need to make sure we equip social workers with the skills to address these complex issues and ensure children’s safety. Where children do have to be taken into care we must make sure they find a loving home with as little disruption and instability as possible. We have done much in Government to be proud of in helping children in care and to improve social work, but we can still go further.

We will:
• Continue to invest in early intervention, further expanding the Troubled Families Programme and building on the work of the Early Intervention Foundation to spread evidence of what works.
• Expect Local Authorities to set out a clear purpose for the care system: to promote emotional wellbeing and resilience, provide a secure base on which children can be supported in their development and provide individually tailored help with recovery.
• Raise the quality and profile of children’s social work, continuing and expanding the Frontline programme – which is fast-tracking the brightest and best into the profession – to at least 300 graduate recruits each year.
• Tackle delay and instability in foster care, with better support and training for foster carers, including on mental health issues.
• Continue to make it easier for children in care to find a loving home, through the national Adoption Register and the new national gateway for adoption, a first point of contact for potential adopters.
• Prevent looked after children and young people being drawn into the criminal justice system unnecessarily by promoting restorative justice.

________________________________________

UKIP

UKIP will reform the care system so the 68,000 children in care in the UK (including 3,600 under the age of one) can find stability through fostering and adoption in a faster, more efficient way. We will extend the provisions of the Children and Families Act 2014, which gives children in care the choice to stay with their foster families until they turn 21, to children in homes, so they too have the same opportunity.

We will also review the Family Court system, with the intention of implementing independent lay oversight of Family Courts, to ensure that necessary confidentiality does not prevent proper scrutiny in this and all areas of Family Law.

A misplaced sensitivity to issues of race and religion, combined with fear, has been shown to have stopped many investigations into the abuse of children. There is also concern among the public at rising levels of ‘forced’ adoptions. Some of those charged with protecting children in care are letting serious cases of abuse and maltreatment slip through the net. Our children’s wellbeing lags behind many of our European neighbours and we are seeing alarming rates of self-harm and poor mental health.

________________________________________

Green Party

Ensure that the Uk’s child protection systems are effective at tackling child neglect and abuse early on, including changing the law so that emotion abuse is treated on a par with physical abuse and giving the police and child protection professional clear guidance to help them work efficiently.

Manifesto watch: Libraries

So, what do the parties have to say on Libraries?

Conservatives

We will continue to support local libraries

We will help public libraries to support local communities by providing free wi-fi. And we will assist them in embracing the digital age by working with them to ensure remote access to e-books, without charge and with appropriate compensation for authors that enhances the Public Lending Right scheme.

Labour

Nothing

Lib Dems

Support local libraries and ensure any libraries under threat of closure are offered first for transfer to the local community.

Create an innovation fund to help keep local GPs, post offices and libraries open

Green Party

Increase government arts finding by £500m a year to restore the cuts made since 2010 and reinstate proper levels of funding for local authorities, helping to keep local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open.

Also connected to this is a promise to:

Provide £10m a year uplift in local authorities budgets to help local authorities restore essential services

UKIP

Nothing

I’m sure some will be amused by the Conservatives promise to ‘continue’ to support local libraries.

A visit to Vallerosa brings a wry smile

The Museum of Things Left Behind
Seni Glaister
HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/4th Estate/The Friday Project
4th Estate
Pub Date: May 21 2015

“Please …. Visit …. Research …. Success …Duke of Edinburgh ..5 June ….for one month.’

When postmaster Remi decides ‘both for the sake of his career and for the sanctity of his country – to assume (a letter bearing the stamps of the Queen of Britain) was not just-a-letter but an official communique’ he cannot know that he has set in motion a set of events that will have a lasting effect on his small country of Vallerosa. Vallerosa is a picturesque country, situated between Austria, Italy, and France and surrounded by lush valleys and verdant mountains. It is a place some of its neighbours think of as a poor province of their own country and the others have not noticed its existence at all.

Elizabeth (Lizzie) is an English student arrives in the country, ready to do something worthy as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. As she later comments: “The British are brought up to believe that everywhere they go people they meet will be somehow inferior – financially, emotionally, culturally, religiously – and, as such in need of our help”. She is looking to volunteer to help in an orphanage or the hospital, only to find they don’t have the former and the later is already well staffed and maintained.

This is a country run by an elected dictatorship, with President, Sergio, a man who inherited the post from his father its leader. Other cabinet members have similarly come by their posts the same way. They have a procedure and a form for everything. It is a country where you need to make an appointment with an under-secretary to make an official appointment with that under-secretary to make an appointment with the secretary. A country where you need a meeting to decide on committee name for organising an official visit, and a committee for organising a spontaneous celebration ‘Do you think I’d leave something as important as this to chance?’, President Sergio states. And yet it seems a very benevolent dictatorship. Everyone in the country seems to know there place in society and they all seem to be happy and content with their lot.

On arrival Lizzie is surprised to find she is treated as if she were an important royal visitor, which she soon discovers she is, if only in error. She is soon persuaded to maintain the facade of being British Royalty to help save the face of the Government. Lizzie’s presence and unique position allows her to both cut through the red tape of bureaucracy and also entrance the ordinary populace of Vallerosa, whether it be giving the local bar owners and baker a purpose at last reminding them they’re I the service industry, or by figuring out how a dance can solve the problem of the broken clock.

She also noticed the government is full of men, all the local businesses and shops are run by men. Where, exactly, are all the women? Why is a man protesting against being given a free education? Why is the main town’s clock broken, and why has it not been fixed? Why is Sergio starting to get paranoid that a revolution is being planned; and why have the government – whose country’s current import and export levels are zero – been convinced by an American (Chuck Whylie ‘Access to credit is a human right’ ) to convert all their land, including gardens, to grow tea for exporting.

Seni Glaister’s book is a light but cleverly satirical tale of a country that has been self sufficient and content and has, as a result, held back the tide of global capitalism. It challenges the assumptions that to exist in the world you need to play by the World bank’s rules, despite the lack of logic for doing so. “It’s not fashionable on a global level, to simply sustain yourself”, Angelo, the President’s right hand man says at one point to his observation that ” If we’re not importing anything, and we’re going to sell everything we’ve got, and all we’ve got now is tea, what are our people actually going to live on?”

It makes you think. Like many south American, central American and African countries have found to their cost their governments often get in hock to the World Bank and others with ‘deals’ that involve them having to produce enough export crops – sugar, cocoa, bananas, coffee etc – to provide then with finance to import other goods. The result is taking countries that previously were often self sustaining ones for food and turning them into ones totally dependent on one crop and the wonder that is global capitalism. Even we in the UK fall foul of this – without being forced into one export crop. We currently could only produce around 60% of food needed to feed ourselves yearly.

It also questions what lengths you should go to to put your name on the map and encourage tourism, and one of the books funniest moments is a discussion when the ministers for Tourism and Recreation explain to Lizzie how they are two very, very different things, completely and utterly different, and certainly not things anyone could confuse.

The Book’s title comes from the country’s national museum – a collection of things left behind by visitors. Initially all Lizzie sees it as a like a lost property office, but to Vallerosa the items are more found than lost, as this “gives them back their purpose.” The Country’s soul seems in danger of being lost too, but with a little help from the women of Vallerosa the country can get its own purpose back.

I may be starting to make this all sound a bit too serious. When you cut to the chase, most of all, it’s huge fun. It’s sweet, heart-warming, and farcically funny. I had a smile on my face throughout. The workings of government were straight out of the Marx Bros, and Duck Soup with a little bit of Capt Spaulding in Animal Crackers thrown in for good measure. I was reminded on an exchange in that film between Groucho and Zeppo: “Put it in a box. Put it in a box and mark it, uh…”fragilly.” Mark it what? Mark it fragilly. F-R-A-G… Look it up, Jamison, it’s in the dictionary. Look under “fragile.” It’s a conversation that would not be out of place within Vallerosa’s government.

If you were going to look for faults you might point to fact that it’s a book populated with a cast of ridiculously nice people (evil capitalist American’s aside) but this is a minor niggle that doesn’t really spoil the enjoyment of your time in Vallerosa.


Glaister’s day job is CEO of TheBookPeople. On this evidence her day job should certainly be fiction writing. Add to my growing pile of impressive debut novels for 2015.


Review copy provided by HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/4th Estate/The Friday Project  / Netgalley


 

Tidal puns ahoy and rich music stars ‘save’ streaming music

So Jay Z and a lot of other wealthy pop stars have launched Tidal, a new streaming music service.

TIDAL is the first high fidelity, lossless music streaming service with 25 million tracks, 75,000 music videos, and expert editorial from experienced music journalists. TIDAL is the prerequisite for all who appreciate quality on any level and want to enjoy music the way it was intended to sound by the artists

It’s going to a service run by the artists -Coldplay, Rihanna, Daft Punk, Alicia Keys, Calvin Harris, Jack White, Madonna, Usher, Arcade Fire and more already signed up.

So, it’s a modern day United Artists – the film studio founded by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford almost a century ago. The talent trying to take control over their own product. Only, it isn’t as most of the artists have no control over their product and have to do whatever their record label says. So in this instance, Tidal need to persuade the record companies that sign up to grant them some form of exclusive – perhaps a windowing that allows Tidal to have content for a week or two weeks before other streaming services get it.

But, hey they’ve promised to pay double the normal streaming royalties that Spotify pays … IF you’ve signed up to the £19.99 Looseless streaming option, for the basic £9.99 option they’ll pay the same. So if you’re a minor artist not really going to be any better off here unless major numbers start parting with £19.99 a month. Not going to happen. But, t is another destination for people to stream your music if it’s available and that will potentially help you. Those rich stars that have bought in as owners, if it succeeds, they’ll make plenty.BUT, Spotify isn’t in profit yet, so I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

I wish the service well. It will need it. Whilst I like the idea of at least offering a Looseless streaming option, most people listen to music on the move through cheap shitty headphones (me included) so unless you have a high quality amp/speakers set up at home not going to get any real extra benefit quite frankly. Still, you can give that and the £9.99 option a free trail for a month.