Saturday, 6 February 2016

Rummel, Inquisitor's Niece

Yes, I’m reading the final proofs of my forthcoming novel, The Inquisitor’s Niece, the story of a taboo relationship between a Jew and a Christian, set in inquisitorial Spain. Here is a teaser:

Public executions always fetched a good crowd. People craned their heads to see the expression on the faces of the trio of heretics, an old Jew and two youths - his sons presumably - bareheaded and shirtless, their backs bloodied by the lash, their hands and feet shackled. They were transported in an open cart for all to see, to be vilified, cursed and spit on. The crowd was in a holiday spirit, merry and boisterous. Boys were hawking chestnuts, dried fruit and sugared almonds. A band of blind musicians was playing their guitars. A juggler performed tricks with coloured balls. Harlots were doing brisk business.
The crowd was jostling for the best spots from which to watch the spectacle. There was excitement in the air when the heretics were dragged to the pyre and tied to the stake.  A joyful shout went up when the executioner put a torch to the kindling, and for a moment the cheers and jeers drowned out the agonized shrieks of the men at the stake. The crowd watched them writhing as the smoke and the licking flames enveloped their bodies, and the fumes and the pain overcame first the old man and then his companions. Their bodies slackened, the roaring fire ate through the ropes that tied them to the stake, and they dropped to the ground. For a while an up-drift of air made it look as if they were waving their limbs in desperation, then the bodies turned into a darkly glowing heap, shapeless lumps seen through a curtain of fire.
The flames had hardly died down before souvenir-seekers started raking the hot ashes for keepsakes and carried off the bones to grind up and hawk as magic powder. Alonso watched them in cold horror. The spectacle made Alonso’s skin crawl. It was an evil omen. Was this the fate that awaited his father?

You can pre-order the book from the publisher at:!inquisitors-niece/co4k

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

#AMREADING EDITH WHARTON, THE REEF. Americans in Paris, 1912.
Edith Wharton
An American in Paris: It’s not quite clear whether he lives in Europe in order to cultivate an art, or cultivates an art as a pretext for living in Europe.

Being ladylike: What were all her reticences and evasions but the result of the deadening process of forming a lady? Passion was completely absent. She was sure that if anything of the kind had occurred in her immediate circle, her mother would have consulted the family clergyman.

Getting used to beauty: He was wondering whether to a really fine taste the exceptional thing could ever become indifferent through habit, whether the appetite for beauty was soon dulled and could be kept alive only by privation.

The company of a good-looking woman: He knew the primitive complacency of the man at whose companion other men stare. She had a responsive temperament, and he felt a fleeting desire to make its chords vibrate for his own amusement.

Unhappiness: She had been unhappy before, and the vision of old miseries flocked like hungry ghosts about her fresh pain.

A stolid friend: She found refuge from unhappiness in her friend’s unawareness. She guessed no more than one chose, and yet acted astutely on such hints one vouchsafed her. She was like a well-trained retriever whose interest in his prey ceases when he lays it at his master’s feet.


Sunday, 17 January 2016


Los Angeles from the Griffith Park Observatory

Taking the Universal tour  and visiting Disneyland –a sequence of habitable fantasies, the set for a film that was never ever going to be made except in the mind of the visitor.

Westwood and UCLA campus. Because academics apparently drive much less than most Angelenos, there seems to be a solid and insatiable demand for certain middle-class accommodation that make the area pretty well stable socially.

The shopping mall: a crucial type of pedestrian precinct, like Oliveira Street. What began as a civic gesture is now little more than a tourist trap, but a very good and colourful tourist trap.

The flatland of Los Angeles from the Griffith Park Observatory – one of the world’s great urban vistas for its sheer size and sheer lack of quality.

Dingbat – a type of idiot? Yes, and also a type of two-story walkup apartment building from the 50s still common in L.A. The dingbat is the true symptom of Los Angeles’ urban Id trying to cope with the unprecedented appearance of residential densities too high to be subsumed within the illusions of homestead living.
Dingbat apartment in L. A.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


I am in Los Angeles. What better place to read Reyner Banham’s classic Los Angeles.The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Some memorable phrases:
Brown Derby. martinturnbull.files. 
  • In 1925 Santa Monica used more pianos than any other city of its size. Meaning? It was no longer a resort. It had become a home city.
  • The Pacific Coast Highway is lined with oil pumps, their orange-painted heads nodding tirelessly and always out of synchronization with each other.
  • Lee Shippey’s list of Californian tradition is to speak in superlatives, to live out-of-doors, to tell tall tales, to deal in real estate, to believe what isn’t true, to throw dignity out the window, to dress dramatically, and to tackle the impossible. Unlike the Arts and Crafts houses, Greene’s wooden houses are perfect in visible spaces, but in hidden spaces it’s the usual old US carpenter’s crudwork.
  • Mountain cropping to provide flat space for a housing development proposes a new kind of ecological disturbance. Such large-scale trifling with an earthquake prone land is more than a lost ecological amenity.
  • The hamburger – a pretty well-balanced meal ..that one can eat with one hand—has achieved a kind of symbolic apotheosis in Los Angeles. Like the hamburger, the architecture of the hamburger hut is something fantastic, a symbolic assemblage, its functions repackaged in a Hansel-and-Gretel image.
  • The Tahitian Village Restaurant, especially, strikingly and lovingly ridiculous…sums up a general phenomenon of US life.
    Tahitian Village Restaurant.

Saturday, 9 January 2016


                                 NOT YOUR TYPICAL NEIGHBOUR AT THE PUMPS