Swift fever – a hopeless case

ST ALBANS, April 24 – Forget the election, there are far more important matters afoot cross the heartlands of Britain right now. Spring is bursting all around us in a riot of natural vigour. And it has been a good one so far this year with masses of blossom.

Above all though, the swifts will soon be back in our skies, screeching their hearts out as they zip around like happy banshees.

So here is a little curtain-raiser to their arrival. I hesitate to quote from my own writing but confess that the cockayne of heady expectation has me in its grip. I have a bad case of swift fever, no less. It happens every year at this time.

And so, this from the first chapter of ‘One Swift Summer’, by yours truly:

‘They’ll soon be back. The swifts that is.

What did you think I meant…not the tourists, surely not the tourists? Though they will be winging in as well soon from your Osakas, Maines and Melbornes, though not to nest – entirely different migratory patters and purposes – though a good number will certainly mate while they’re among us.

Meanwhile, here we are, you and I, thrown together on the cusp of summer, you with your camera, me with me pad and pencils, watching, waiting, wanting, set apart from life’s mainstream by our curiosity perhaps. A curious thing curiosity. I wonder what you are looking for? Do you even know? Are you a question or an answer?

The first swift. That’s what I’m looking for. And he’s getting closer as we speak, arrowing through the blue over Spain perhaps, sharp wings slashing the air. Look at that sky. I sense it’s going to be a vintage swift summer. This deckchair weather’s perfect, mercury rising, sky full of food, aerial plankton. When I look at the sky I see life, which is why the early May sky is the most becoming of skies with all its inspiring freshness and promise. Two more days to May and I can come alive again…………’

Best not give too much away.

You will find the full story here:  myBook.to/OneSwiftSummer  – thank you.



Getting on in the literary world, circa 1937 – George Orwell

ST ALBANS, April 17 – It is always easier to read a good book, a real book, than waste time blasting out spam on Twitter and Facebook about the radiance of one’s own literary efforts. Spamming is demeaning to anyone with any sense of decorum.

And so I found myself re-reading George Orwell’s THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER this week. And enjoying every page of it because of the sheer clarity of his writing, his acute insights into how things were in 1930s Britain, and his common sense political analysis.


And then I came across this passage in a chapter on the effects of the British class system with its self-reinforcing status quo:

‘For it is not easy to crash your way into the literary intelligentsia if you happen to be a decent human being. The modern English literary world, at any rate the highbrow section of it, is a sort of poisonous jungle where only weeds can flourish. It is just possible to be a literary gent and to keep you decency if you are a definitely popular writer – a writer of detective stories, for instance; but to be a highbrow, with a footing in the snootier magazines, means delivering yourself over to horrible campaigns of wire-pulling and backstairs-crawling. In the highbrow world you “get on”, if you “get on” at all, not so much by your literary ability as by being the life and soul of cocktail parties and kissing the bums of verminous little lions.’


No change there then. These days, of course, it is is more the potency of your ‘author’s brand’ and the sheer vigour and volume of your tweeting and the analytical cunning of your metadata that really matter. And your ability to muster an army of drones to ‘like’ your Facebook pages to death.

Of course, this is all merely sour grapes as my ‘wire-pulling’ skills are limited to slicing the odd lump of cheddar cheese on a board. As for my ‘backstairs-crawling’, well, what can I say? I don’t know the name of a single commissioning editor in London. So I would not know which stairs to crawl up, were I inclined to. That said, there is probably a list to be had somehow, somewhere – names, emails, mobile numbers – at a price.

You can be absolutely sure that a great many wannabe writers would pay handsomely for such a list. As to the quality of their writing… Best not ask. And what does it matter anyway? With the right plugging campaign any old tut can be catapulted into some listing or other. Then all the ‘best selling’ writer has to do is watch that algorithm go bro!

Not that I am jealous, mind.

By R J Askew – myBook.to/OneSwiftSummer 


Buzzfeed through your teeth – at London Book Fair

(PG – contains mild swearing in in the final graph.)

ST ALBANS, Apr 10 – Hurrah, big Publishing will be in town next week for the London Book Fair! Picture the scene: thousands of suited-n-booted gatekeepers and shabby chic gatecrashers, smiling, smirking, slavering and slurping.

Beware the the stampede of the desperate for the roped off pen where literary agents be a-sitting in speed-dating judgement. It’s a cage fight. The Indians (Indie Authors) have been planning for weeks. Pitches – oh those killer pitches! – pitches fly like rocket-propelled tomahawks. Carnage, sheer bloody, caffeine-fuelled carnage, dahling! Love it!

london book fair 1

Most will be swept aside like gnats in a cyclone. ‘Is that Becks? And Victoria? Surely not! Yes, yes it is. David! David! Got a five book deal! A ten book deal! Thirty book… SPLATT.

Meanwhile, our shabby chic wannabe has an agent’s card tucked away in her purse. And is now free to live the dream – and trawl the stands for freebie ebooks. (Odd how ebooks get made into pbooks? And why an ebook still need a cover. But who am I?)

london book fair

Observe how said wannabe’s London Book Fair branded plastic bag is starting bulge with stuff and nonsense. But this is how it is. So it is. Ach, such is the weight of bookage her ego-thin heel snaps and there she lies and dies in an ego-thin heap in a fine layer of sushi spam in the rock record of life as we know it.

And so it goes. Well-spoken Swiss salesmen will press a bzillion hands and still look immaculate at three p.m., as they evangelise on and on and on the subject of toothpaste with content. You hadn’t heard? It’s all the rage. You clean your teeth and get Buzzfeed through your gums. No? Step this way! We at Pishtaken Press -no arse knowingly unlicked – have something big, bold, and beauteous for your E-go-a-go-go.

Oh, erm, and by the way, I almost forgot, my pitch: myBook.to/OneSwiftSummer 

Books + candle

An English April Villanelle

ST ALBANS, April 3 – I’ll be brief. You have better things to do. A villanelle is a nineteen line poem, often on a pastoral theme. That said, I’ve deviated slightly in the repetitions here. Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do no go gentle into that good night’ is a villanelle.

The hawthorn is traditionally known as the May bush. But with the seasons advancing as they are, it sometimes blooms earlier. That said, that said, the white to be seen in hedgerows at this point in April is more likely to be blackthorn. Still, there’s no harm in looking forward to a little hawthorn blossom . The verse is below the blossom…


An English April Villanelle


We walk beneath our hawthorn tree

Its blossom of a pinkish white

We blink and find that we are free


It feels so right, it feels so right

To feel this touch of spring sunlight

We sit beneath our hawthorn tree


There is a beauty in this sight:

A song thrush lands upon our knee

We smile and think that we are free


O, hark you! hark you! sing to me

Of what it is to truly be

We rest beneath this hawthorn tree


It feels so right, it feels so right

To feel this touch of spring sunlight

We sigh and feel that we are free


There is a beauty in this sight

This blossom of a pinkish white

We dream beneath our hawthorn tree

To  fly on wings of verse made free

by R J Askew