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.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Scottish independence: the question of currency

Strictly speaking, a country only has rights over its currency within its own boundaries. Any country may use as its own currency a portion of any other country’s money supply that is available externally. Panama, for example, uses the US dollar, as did Zimbabwe for some years.

There is, therefore, nothing to stop an independent Scotland using the pound sterling, the yen or the Zambian kwacha except the difficulty of getting hold of enough money supply to serve all her economic needs.

However, a problem that arises for countries without their own currency is that they cannot create additional money supply for themselves and so they must run a balance of payments surplus (acquire more money supply) before they can expand their economies other than by the short term expedient of running down their foreign currency reserves.

In passing, it should be noted that Scottish banks already need to back their note issue with sterling on a 1:1 basis, but it is unlikely that this licensing arrangement would survive independence, so all notes circulating thereafter in a Scotland still using sterling would probably have to be Bank of England notes. Of course, the great bulk of money supply is not notes anyway, but bank deposits, etc. The principle is essentially the same.

A second problem is that there is absolutely no obligation on the country of origin of the currency to take account of the needs of the unofficial user when setting its own monetary policy. This effectively enforces fiscal rectitude on the secondary user, which cannot simply ‘print’ money, unlike a country that has its own currency. Quite often this is the reason for using a foreign currency: a country which, for political reasons, finds it hard to control its spending and thus risks severe inflation can force itself to ration the available money supply if it can’t make any more.

So, whilst no-one could force an independent Scotland to abandon sterling, a consequence of retaining it would be allowing monetary policy to be dictated by the UK government and restricting fiscal deficits to the size of available new sterling supplies. That’s not very independent, frankly. In fact, it’s probably less independent than the present degree of Scottish devolution.

On the other hand, starting a new currency involves a lot of irrecoverable sunk costs. These may be one-off, but they still need to be financed. And borrowing in the new currency would initially have to be very cautious, because otherwise its forex value could be volatile.

I don’t want to get started on the consequences of adopting the Euro. No, seriously, don’t ask.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Why are we still talking about a 'no-deal' Brexit?

I find it interesting how the term ‘no-deal Brexit’ is being redefined. It originally meant the UK leaving the EU without a leaving deal.

Now that we have a leaving deal, this apparently does not count as a deal and the definition of ‘no deal’ has been switched to refer to a trade deal.

It is worth pointing out that the UK leaves the EU on January 31st. Despite arguably flouting the wording of Lisbon Article 50 by so doing, the EU declined to discuss trade relationships before the UK left. Therefore, under the trade agreement definition of ‘no-deal’, there was never any prospect of the UK leaving the EU any other way.

We are not leaving the EU on December 31st. This is the date of the expiry of the transition period, a euphemism for a period when, although outside the EU, the UK continues to observe all EU rules.

This period was originally scheduled to run from April 2018. The various parliamentary delays prevented the UK leaving the EU on schedule in March 2018, but did not extend the transition period. Hence there is less time for trade negotiations than was intended. This is arguably a good thing, but that’s beside the point.

Brexit means leaving the EU. It does not mean subsequently securing a trade deal with the EU. The UK cannot change its mind about leaving if a trade deal fails to materialise by December 31st because we shall by that time have been out of the EU for 11 months.

So whatever happens in December, it will not be a ‘no-deal Brexit’.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Is the rise of ‘English nationalism’ in part down to the Scottish independence demands of the SNP? (Quora)

Any state larger than a few square miles is likely to have richer areas and poorer areas. In a single economy using a single currency, this will necessitate fiscal transfers from richer to poorer so as to mitigate the inevitable tendency to higher unemployment in, and internal migration away from, the latter. As long as a single community spirit pervades the state, the richer areas will accept the need for this and it will appear so normal as to be unworthy of notice.

The reluctance of Germany to make such transfers to Greece exemplifies how far the EU has still to travel to become a unified polity. The willingness of richer US states to see federal redistribution to poorer ones is something of a bellwether for community spirit in the US.

The rich south of England has long been accustomed to make such transfers to all the relatively poorer areas of the UK, including Scotland. Very briefly, during the North Sea oil boom of the 1980s, this flow reversed.

A feature of this brief period was the rise of a sense of grievance among a minority of Scots that ‘their’ windfall was being squandered. This sentiment was a major contributor to the rise of Scottish nationalism, which came to see the relationship with England as an oppressive one.

A more accurate interpretation of history would probably have been that the rich of the UK have a history of exploiting the poor of the UK (including both English and Scottish poor) until relatively recent times.

The politicisation of this sense of grievance included the invention of the concept of ‘Westminster’ which has, in current mythology, become a foreign occupying force instead of the legitimate government of the whole of the UK.

The UK has, after all, had a disproportionate tendency to appoint Scots to the highest offices in the land, which makes it difficult to complain about ‘English’ exploitation of Scotland. Given the relative populations of England and Scotland, it is inevitable that total English representation in parliament will be larger, but it was always possible for Scots to obtain English seats in parliament because Scots historically tended to be more politically active and the English didn’t mind voting for them.

Unfortunately, the complaints, which culminated in the referendum of 2014, attracted attention to the financial flows from England to Scotland under the Barnett Formula. Prior to this, I suspect few had actually heard of this arcane feature of our system. Now, nobody likes to see something that can be interpreted as their generosity (even if they had no choice) flung back in their face, and it generates resentment against the complainant. Hence, to a small extent, the SNP has provoked an anti-Scottish feeling in England.

However, I agree with those suggesting that a far larger influence on English nationalism has been the denigration of patriotism by modern political correctness. There is, in working class communities (and I come from one myself) a not unreasonable pride in one’s country and a determination to defend its interests against assaults from whomsoever, internally or externally. This was hailed by Gilbert and Sullivan in the song ‘He is an Englishman’, by Flanders and Swan in ‘The English are Best’, and today the English working class cares nothing for skin colour or religion but cares a whole lot about whether a person is loyal to his country. Someone who isn’t loyal is contemptible.

It seems to me that much so-called English nationalism is no more nor less than patriotism. In some ‘progressive’ circles patriotism is very unfashionable.

But I’ll be obliged if you don’t run down my country in my hearing, and I suspect a lot of the folk whence I came feel the same.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Detective Mysteries

 The new Flame Tree anthology 'Detective Mysteries includes my story 'No Head for Figures',  the second of what has now become four adventures for my Victorian sleuths MacAndrew and Smithers.

The Scottish sergeant, known as the Old Red Fox of Scotland Yard, and his English constable, first appeared in 'The Man on the Church Street Omnibus' in the inaugural edition of The Sockdolager.

In this new story, the two policemen are presented with a bodyless head and a headless body. Unfortunately, the two don't belong together.

These lovely hardbacks from flame Tree make good Christmas presents, so if you're still looking....

Thursday, 12 December 2019

The Family Demon Review Copies

For the next month, I have some free copies of The Family Demon to distribute to those willing to write a review on Goodreads or the site of your preferred bookseller. Reviews need not be lengthy.

If you are such a person, please contact me for details.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Detective Mysteries

I'm delighted to say that my story 'No Head for Figures' features in the new Flame Tree Publishing anthology Detective Mysteries.

For those who remember 'The Man on the Church Street Omnibus", this is the second tale of my Victorian detectives MacAndrew and Smithers, who are developing something of a talent for encountering the weird and wonderful. This case, however, is more supernatural than scientific.

The contemporary authors featured in this anthology are: Daniel Brock, Elliott Capon, Philip Brian Hall, Tina L. Jens, Tom Mead, Marshall J. Moore, Pat Morris, Amelia Dee Mueller, Trixie Nisbet, Patsy Pratt-Herzog, Michele Bazan Reed, Lesley L. Smith and Cameron Trost.

Classic authors include Margery Allingham, Robert Barr, Anthony Berkeley, Matthias McDonnell Bodkin, William Evans Burton, G.K. Chesterton, Carroll John Daly, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Eustace and Edgar Jepson, J.S. Fletcher, R. Austin Freeman, Jacques Futrelle, Susan Glaspell, Anna Katharine Green, Thomas W. Hanshew, E. and H. Heron, Herbert Jenkins, Maurice Leblanc, L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace, Arthur Morrison, Baroness Orczy, Catherine Louisa Pirkis, Melville Davisson Post, Edgar Wallace, Hugh C. Weir, Mrs Henry Wood.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Scotland, the pound and the euro

Tobermory, Mull, Scotland
After independence, either of these options effectively involves Scotland using a foreign currency as the domestic currency.

Europhiles will tell you that the Euro is the domestic currency of all its members. This is theoretically true and for all practical purposes absurd. In practice, the Euro is a DMark-lite and the German economy is hugely more influential in determining its Forex value, monetary policy and ultimately fiscal policy than any other member.

A country that uses a foreign currency as its domestic currency forfeits the right to determine its own monetary policy. It is not possible to set a monetary policy for several countries at once unless those countries form an Optimum Currency Area (OCA). This means (inter alia) that there must be no significant obstacles to labour and capital mobility between the members, there should be wage flexibility between the members, and the members have more or less synchronised business cycles. Where these conditions do not obtain, there will be a need for a mechanism of fiscal transfers between the members to mitigate the damage that an inappropriate exchange rate and monetary policy will do to the weaker economies.

At present, the Eurozone lacks a number of features that enable an OCA to function effectively. Hence every few years we have a Eurozone crisis from which one or more weaker economies emerge worse off.

Scotland could be considered to be more of an OCA with the rest of the UK than with the EU. Language is always an important barrier to labour mobility; another is the portability of pension rights. Currently, Scotland has both of these links with the UK, with which it also does almost four times as much trade as it does with the EU. The UK business cycle is regularly out of step with the EU business cycle because, unlike almost all other EU member states, the UK does more trade outside the EU than within it.

As a member of the UK, Scotland has been marginally disadvantaged by using the same currency as the rest of the UK but has received compensating fiscal transfers. This has avoided excessive unemployment or depression of wages compared to the richer south.

(To forestall political objections to the foregoing sentence, let me point out the simple fact that it is less cost-efficient to buy and sell in low population densities, which is much more typical of Scotland than England).

Once it is a non-member of the UK, such fiscal flows to Scotland would presumably cease, unless a transitional agreement with the UK were to be negotiated. Moreover, there would be no obligation upon the UK to consider the impact of its monetary policy upon Scotland. Continuing to use the pound after independence in these circumstances (without the above mitigations) would probably lead to additional downward pressure on Scottish wages and employment, but not so great as the impact of joining the Euro. (Consider the impact of the latter upon Greece, Italy, and Spain for example.)

I have suggested elsewhere that the UK single market could survive Scottish independence. This would be to Scotland’s considerable advantage. However, the UK single market could not survive Scottish membership of the EU single market, which requires ring-fencing. In the latter circumstance, Scotland, like any new EU member (not to be confused with existing members who have exemptions) would be required to join the Euro. So not only would there be a hard border with England, but there would also be a change of currency at the border. This is a really bad idea unless you want Scotland to be poor.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Family Demon - Ebook now on sale!

The Family Demon e-book is now on sale.

Here's a small sample:

“Fred, I’m sorry to hear about her loss,” I interjected, “And I’m even sorrier to hear how badly it’s affected her. But not only is there no case here requiring my so-called special talent, there’s no case here at all. Death by natural causes followed by hysterical depression on the part of a thirty-two-year-old woman who thought she’d been rescued from the shelf only to have happiness snatched away. Tragic but nothing requiring investigation. I’ll lay odds the police closed the case the instant they received the autopsy report.”
“They did,” Fred confirmed.
“So? What makes you think there’s anything I can usefully contribute?”
“Perhaps the fact,” he said slowly, “that this is the seventh time something like this has happened.”
“I suspect it’s more common than that,” I replied. “I don’t know whether anyone keeps statistics on honeymoon fatalities but you do read about them from time to time in the tabloids. Human interest stories, you know. Bridegroom dies in earthquake; new bride eaten by shark, that kind of thing. Heart attacks on the wedding night can’t be that rare.”
“No, you misunderstand me,” Fred was speaking even more slowly as though explaining to a child. “This is the seventh time something like this has happened to Sarah.”

Monday, 28 October 2019

A Taste of The Family Demon

I’m attracted to older women. Young women, like young wine, are fruity but unsophisticated. They may quench my thirst or accompany a meal, but I’d never think of opening a bottle at the end of a hard day just for the pleasure of drinking it.
Sammie Chalmers wasn’t really an exception to my rule. Though she'd been only twenty years of age in her latest incarnation, she’d aggregated around three thousand years inclusive of all her past lives. Now she was dead and gone, at least from the present one. It took me a couple of years to accept what had happened.
Maybe that explains why I like my women to be older. After a few lifetimes, you’re instinctively tired of going back to adolescent immaturity and starting again, even if you can’t actually remember doing it before.

The Family Demon on Amazon

Monday, 21 October 2019

The Family Demon - paperback

For those reluctant to wait three more weeks for the ebook, or who prefer paperbacks anyway, I can announce that the paper version of The Family Demon is already on sale on Amazon.

Philip Brian Hall's new novel 'The Family Demon'

In Philip Brian Hall’s second Toby Le Tocq novel, the reincarnation of Solomon looks into the disturbing case of his business partner’s niece. Seven successive boyfriends have died suddenly, the most recent on their wedding night. After a nervous breakdown, the young woman is confined to a mental hospital. A number of seemingly-ordinary local residents, led by a powerful witch, take violent exception to Toby's investigations, and before long he finds himself framed for murder. Along with his allies Judith and Asa, Toby plunges into the frightening shadow world of vengeful demons and their human acolytes.