Blog : Posts tagged with 'fiction'

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Romantic

In which FP wonders where the romance of IT has gone


A quick news story from last week: A chap called Dr Brendan Kelly has analysed 20 random medical romance novels and spotted that they are all written to a very similar template. If you’re a romance novelist and want to bash out another, all you apparently have to do is change your characters’ names, and you’re set.

Dr Kelly noted that the heroes of these novels are generally handsome, arrogant surgeons with a traumatic past; you don’t tend to get handsome, arrogant psychiatrists popping up, for some reason. Never mind about psychiatrists, though. Where are the handsome, arrogant IT technicians? Never mind saving the lives of patients with mysterious illnesses just when you thought all was lost – where are the romance novels about data rescue and mysterious ARP caching? The world needs, clearly, an IT romance novel. I’ll let you know when I manage to get a couple of scenes down on paper.

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Percentages

In which we make some numbers up


According to Martijn, 47% of all blog posts consist of links to other blogs.*

Well, according to new research by the FP Militant Invective Laboratories, an entire 0.3% of current blog posts consist of links to blog posts about the proportion of blog posts which just consist of links to other blogs.

No, really. Honest. No, I didn’t just pull that number out of thin air. What sort of person do you think I am?**

* well, actually, he made it up. But it could be true.

** Oh, OK, I did really. But you never know.

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Books I Haven’t Read (part seven)

In which we fail to read “Victorian Railway Days” by Francis Bennion


I haven’t read Ian McEwan‘s novel Atonement. It is fetching a lot of publicity at the moment, because McEwan has been accused of copying phrases from the biography of wartime nurse and romantic novelist Lucilla Andrews. He, of course, says the claims are ridiculous, and that all he did was normal research. Other people have said the same thing, noting that he has acknowledged his large debt to Andrews.

I haven’t read Atonement; nor have I read No Time For Romance, the book he is accused of cribbing from. This post, though, is about neither of them. It’s about another book they reminded me of, a book that I read some time ago, but was unable to finish, because I felt the author had gone rather closer to his source material than he should have. It’s not a book you’re likely to have heard of, either. It’s by a top lawyer and Oxford don* called Francis Bennion, and it’s called Victorian Railway Days.

It’s an episodic novel about the social changes wrought by the arrival of the railways in the 19th century, owing quite a bit in its style to Charles Dickens’ Mugby Junction stories. I found it in my local public library when I was a teenager, and took it out. I didn’t get very far into it, though, before I found a passage that I recognised, about the importance of the railway station to rural village life. It’s quite long, and I’m not going to quote it. But I am going to quote something very very similar.

The Jones’s who don’t associate with the Robinsons, meet there. Mr Jones would not like the stationmaster to touch his cap to the Robinsons, and pass him without notice, so he sends the stationmaster a hare. The Rev Mr Silvertongue is always wanting to take a party somewhere at single fare for the double journey, or some other concession, so he honours the stationmaster by conversing with him, as an equivalent for concessions. The old lady with her dog would not, on any account, have the little dear put into that dreadful dungeon of a dog box when she travels, so she sends the stationmaster a basket of plums once in the year […] ‘My lord’ knows he has no right to bully at the railway station, so he brings a brace of pheasants, and thus adds Mr Station Master to the train of his servants.

That quote is from an obscure Victorian autobiography called Memoirs of a Station Master, by Ernest Simmons. Obscure, yes, but republished in the 1970s by Leicester University Press courtesy of the historian Jack Simmons.*** It’s the sort of thing that would be vital research material for anyone writing a book set at a Victorian railway station. Moreover, the same passage was also quoted in a well-known book about railway history, The Country Railway by David St John Thomas;**** and that book is definitely one I’d expect Bennion to have read when researching his own.

So, when I came across an extremely similar passage in his novel, I was rather disappointed in it. It was extremely similar indeed. I can’t remember, now, if it was indeed a word-for-word copy, but the basic structure was very clear, and it closed in a very similar way indeed. I wish I’d been able to find a copy of Victorian Railway Days to write this post, so I could put them side-by-side for a comparison.***** I was so disappointed to read something which seemed to my teenage eyes to be such a blatant lift, that I stopped reading immediately, and put the book aside. I’m not going to accuse Professor Bennion of the P-word. For all I know, his echoing of Simmons’ words may have been entirely unconscious. It was enough, though, to make me stop reading. Victorian Railway Days remains another book I haven’t read.

*with a long list of personal achievements – drafted the constitution of Pakistan, formerly ran the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, drafted the Sex Discrimination Act, managed to put Peter Hain on trial for his anti-apartheid protests, and get him convicted, and chaired Oxford United FC, among other things.

** because I don’t actually have a copy of it to hand

*** no relation, as far as I know.

**** originally published in 1976 by St John Thomas’s own publishing company, David & Charles, although the copy I have is a Penguin paperback edition from 1979.

***** I suppose I could always buy one from Bennion’s website and revisit this post another day.

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Books I *have* managed to read

In which FP finishes something for once


This week’s Book I Haven’t Managed To Read was going to be about a Neal Stephenson novel, The System Of The World. However, that’s been postponed, just because I wanted to brag about finishing another Book I Haven’t Managed To Read.

The book was one many, many people have read with no trouble at all. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. However, the first time I read it, in a hurry, I’d just tried to read two other Harry Potter books very quickly too. I got as far as Chapter Three of Goblet Of Fire, stopped, and didn’t pick any J K Rowling books up for a few years.

Anyway, last week, Colleague M said: “what? You’ve only read three Harry Potter books?” So, I picked up Goblet of Fire again, and read it. I didn’t get stuck. I didn’t forget where I was. I read it and I finished it. Hurrah!

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