Thursday, 27 August 2020

Bodies in the Library


I am very pleased to announce the publication of Flame Tree Publishing's new anthology, Bodies in the Library. It contains my short story 'The Last of the Perivales'.  

The fourth case for my Victorian detectives MacAndrew and Smithers, this latest mystery begins with the discovery of a corpse in the otherwise empty library of a London gentlemen's club. The victim is unknown at the establishment and wearing outlandish fancy dress but, nevertheless, he apparently entered without being seen by anyone. 

Who is he and how did he die?  Ably assisted by the forensic skills of his wife, Annie, The Old  Red Fox of Scotland Yard is again on the hunt for clues and yet again he is led down unlikely avenues of inquiry.

 

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

A Rainy Day at St Bartholomew's



I'm very pleased to announce that the third story in my steampunk series about the Victorian detectives MacAndrew and Smithers is now available in the current issue of Curiosities.

A Rainy Day at St Bartholomew's finds Smithers getting wet at a wedding. This might not be considered too surprising until we find that it's raining inside the church!

You can find out why, and how our intrepid heroes cope with yet another encounter with the abnormal, in the

Curiosities #7 Quarantine 2020 Paperback


And if this leaves you with a taste for more Victorian mayhem, the fourth MacAndrew and Smithers adventure is coming soon in a new hardback anthology from Flame Tree.



I've recently finished a fifth episode, for which I'll be seeking a publisher soon, so I hope you won't have long to wait.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Holier than thou

Over a century ago, Booker T Washington pointed out that a number of those engaged in the race question in the USA had, in fact, no interest in solving it, since it was the continued existence of the problem that gave them their employment and their public profile. If you have no interest in solving a problem, then the last thing you want is rational debate.

Political correctness is a totalitarian ideology that (so far) differs from earlier forms of dictatorship only in degree, not in kind. So many people are continually on the lookout for ways to be offended. They are greatly offended simply by other people having the nerve to disagree with them. Their own views are so viscerally-held that they cannot entertain rational debate and seek every opportunity to close it down.

The largely, but not exclusively, leftist modern fashion for identity-based, rather than issue-based, politics is the same fault that Washington discerned, but now elevated to an industrial scale. The elimination of victimhood would eliminate the protest industry based upon it, so if it should, by any chance, happen that some particular emancipatory objective were accidentally achieved, it would be necessary immediately to identify a new objective in order to preserve the perceived victim status and with it the platform for the group’s self-appointed advocates. That reorientation would involve mental effort and is to be avoided if possible.

It has been correctly observed that politically-correct intolerance regards disagreement as not just rationally wrong but morally bad. Since any given principle of the activist is self-evidently true, it follows that it needs no rational defence. Those who do not hold it are therefore guilty of wilfully disregarding the obvious and thus evil. Since everyone with the welfare of society at heart would necessarily agree with the activist, dissenters must have foul personal motives, especially their own gain or sadistic pleasures.

Thus, failure to support a campaign for a particular group of ‘victims’ is equated with opposition to that group. We have acquired a whole lexicon of neologisms ending in ‘phobic’ or ‘ist’ which are thrown around like confetti on social media. The objective in every case is to stifle rational discussion by the use of pejorative labels. Abuse, rather than rational engagement, has become the first response to opponents.

The denial of platform movement, which is ostensibly the desire to 'protect' other people against being offended, is a particularly egregious offence against freedom of speech. The politically-correct also see no reason not to pursue those who disagree with them into their homes or workplaces. Dissenters have no right to a family life or employment; they must be publicly shamed until they are forced to recant by the sheer weight of opprobrium heaped upon them. Torquemada would be a hero today, provided he chose the politically-correct side.

John Stuart Mill made the limits of freedom of speech clear a century and a half ago in On Liberty. There exists absolutely no right not to be offended. People who claim to be offended by the peacefully-expressed views of other people are out of order. People who claim the right to be offended on behalf of other people by the peacefully-expressed views of another person are especially out of order.

Freedom of speech is vital to civilised society. Reasoned debate is important; the rational clash of ideas brings enlightenment; recitation of dogma destroys initiative; universal conformity is the enemy of progress. I believe it may have been Alfred P Sloan who once commenced a board meeting at General Motors with the words, “Gentlemen, I take it we are all agreed on what has to be done here.” Receiving nods of assent all around the table, he continued, “Then I propose to adjourn discussion until we can find some reason to disagree, and then we shall come back and talk about it sensibly.”

Once upon a time I stood as a Liberal parliamentary candidate. I am a long way from being a right wing populist. Yet even I have found myself quailing before the all-consuming passion and aggression of the self-righteous. Since I am advancing my view peacefully and rationally, I am in order. And if my view offends anyone, then that person needs to think more and emote less. Those who want to shut down the sort of moderate debate they get from people like me, inevitably invite eventual repayment in their own coin.

Friday, 12 June 2020

The Picton Statue Controversy

Should the statue in Carmarthen be taken down?

There is a whole town named after Picton in New Zealand. He was held in very high regard as a soldier, despite his well known excesses in Trinidad, for which he was tried and convicted at the time, though the verdict was later overturned on a matter of law.

Wellington knew perfectly well that Picton was a hard bastard, but he also knew that hard bastards have their uses. There are times when you are grateful they are on your side.

Nothing typified this more than the crucial role played by Picton and his division during a pivotal moment at Waterloo, which as many will know was a battle that could easily have gone either way. Picton had already concealed the fact that he had been badly wounded at Quatre Bras, two days earlier. At Waterloo, he was killed during his division’s successful efforts to hold the allied line which was threatening to break. If it had broken, British history would have been very different.

The Carmarthen memorial was erected by public subscription and a grateful nation also erected a memorial to him in St Paul’s. I suspect, were these not there, no-one would be having a debate about Picton today, and that would be a pity, because if ever there was an example of a very severely flawed yet redeemable human being, Picton was it. If you say that the undeniable bad in his earlier life invalidates all his later service to his country, then you say a sinner is never capable of redemption. His contemporaries thought otherwise, and that should give us a certain pause today. (I appreciate that not everyone values the contribution to society of the armed forces, but it is probably still a majority who do).

There are few real saints and few real devils. Most of us fall somewhere in between, and Picton offers an example of someone capable of improving. As such, he should be talked about. Take down his statue and such talking will be confined to the tiny proportion of the population who visit museums. That would be a pity.

Please don’t bother to tell me I don’t understand how young people feel. I was, needless to say, never young myself.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Ghost Writer

A second story published in a single week? What's happening?

Ghost writer is hybrid fiction, using both the science fiction and the supernatural genres. Appropriately therefore, it appears in Hybrid Fiction magazine #3, April 2020.

Unfortunately, I can't show you the cover picture.

So here's something relevant.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Second Coming

I'm pleased to report that my story 'Second Coming' received an honourable mention in Issue #35 of the On the Premises magazine competition.
The photograph on the left, needless to say, is not a royal palace in Egyptian Thebes, but it sort of gives you the idea.
I am indebted to Messrs Sigmund Freud and Ahmed Osman. The former first suggest that Moses was an Egyptian rather than a Hebrew. The latter has produced good evidence to support the specific Egyptian identity that I eventually settled on.

The challenge for this edition of On the Premises was to write a story about a situation in which there is more than one of something there should be only one of.

Well how about Ruler of the World?

Thursday, 19 March 2020

The Last of the Perivales

I'm delighted to report that my story 'The Last of the Perivales' has been accepted for inclusion in Flame Tree Publishing's forthcoming 'Bodies in the Library'Anthology.

This will be my fifth story accepted by Flame Tree, who will now take the lead in the informal "Let's publish as much work by Philip Brian Hall as we can!" competition.

For those who have enjoyed the previous scientific and supernatural investigations of my Victorian sleuths Sergeant MacAndrew and Constable Smithers, this is the fourth story, though it may or may not be out before the third, which has been accepted by Curiosities but for which I don't yet have a publication date.

This time the Old Red Fox of Scotland Yard attempts to solve the case of a corpse in 17th century Restoration attire, found murdered in the library of a London gentlemen's club in the 1860s.

Naturally, nothing is what it seems and nothing is ever simple in MacAndrew's world!


Saturday, 14 March 2020

My first story in Galaxy's Edge: Cadmus P. I.

I'm delighted to record my first story to make the prestigious pages of Galaxy's Edge. 

Cadmus P.I. tells the story of the man who may very well have been the Ancient World's very first private detective as he sets out to trace a kidnap victim.

Strangely enough, this story began life as an informal competition between fellow competitors in Writers of the Future to write a story in a weekend featuring three random objects.

My three objects, if I remember correctly, were a dragon soft toy, a miniature portrait and a bag of rubbish.

I shall leave it to the reader to decide whether I made a good job. If you think I did, then thanks must go to Rebecca Birch for thinking up the competition.

If you think I didn't - well, you don't have to tell me, do you? I'm just so pleased to have reached one of my long term writing goals.

I was not to know at the time that this was also to be one of the last stories selected by the celebrated Mike Resnick, whose role in helping other authors make career progress cannot be overstated.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Labour's Proposal to Abolish Private Schooling in the UK


I was born poor, but smart. I was lucky. I was educated in a grammar school. I won a scholarship to Oxford. Two scholarships actually, since I won a commercial one as well as the college one.

After ill health obliged me to leave the Diplomatic Service I ended up as a teacher, first in state schools, then in a private school. I took this last job because I needed the money, but I soon discovered I had little chance of returning to the state system, since my qualifications had been negated by my willingness to take a job in the private sector.

The prejudice I encountered in the employment market is the same that fuels this policy of state monopoly. It is a policy that has already destroyed the ladder I climbed and would like to tear down alternative ladders as well.

The children in private schools are children. They are lucky children, as I was, but they are still children. They are not suitable for use as political footballs.

In my judgement, we should not be asking ‘Why should some children have good education and not others?’. We should be asking ‘Why should not all children have good education?’

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Sheffield Wednesday 0: Manchester City 1
(FA Cup 5th Round 2020)


I'm pretty old. I remember some real glory days and wonderful Wednesday teams. And if we were still the force we once were in English football we would, of course, have played a completely different game to the one we played last night.

But at the end of this game, I felt proud of being a Sheffield Wednesday supporter again. Here’s our team on a desperate run of form, shipping goals against weak opponents as though defence had gone out of fashion. And along comes one of the world’s best teams, turning out pretty much a full strength side that has, this season, put 8 past Watford, 6 past Villa and 5 past West Ham. Plus they’ve done the double over Sheffield United this season. Plus they’d scored 4 in each of the previous Cup rounds. On Owlstalk, a supporters' forum, I’m reading predictions of double figure disasters.

And we witness a team performance in which absolutely every one of our players ran his guts out and gave it his best shot.

Look, no-one can do better than their best, whatever level that happens to be. If we had a world-beating team today we wouldn’t be half-way down the Championship. But on occasions a whole team can lift each other to something way beyond what we thought was possible.

Was it perfect? Of course not. Did everyone play like Messi? Of course not. But was there anyone out there not playing as hard as he was able for the honour of Sheffield Wednesday? Absolutely not.

It makes me sad today that such negative suggestions are even being made, let alone insisted upon.

There are many, many criticisms that can be made these days about Wednesday. I respectfully suggest that last night’s efforts did not deserve to be included among them.