Friday, March 24, 2017

Music in my books...Not

I was just thinking how curious it is that there's hardly any mention of music in my four published books: the two most recent ones: The Disenchanted Wizard and The Blood Secret don't even mention the subject; there's one brief mention of it in Grimhilda!, and three passing ones in Diary of a Prostate Wimp. This is surprising to me, now, because music is as much a part of my life as writing. I've played piano for more than sixty years, and been involved in a lot of amateur shows as well as accompanying soloists in competitions and concerts. I was even a professional musician for a couple of years.

The old journal from the 90s that I'm typing onto the computer, however, has lots of references to the music work I was doing at the time, sometimes quite long sections, as when I was describing a trip to Wellington with the St Kilda Brass Band, where I not only accompanied some of the soloists in the solo competitions, but also played a percussion instrument in the full band's competitions.

Plainly, in the next book I write - if there is one - I'll have to be include music a good deal more, to make up for the lack of it elsewhere in my writing.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
I'm more of a old-school pianist, and play classics and popular music from the earlier part of the 20th century in preference to more recent stuff. (So I don't have much interest in bass guitars at But one of the teachers I play for about once a month has introduced me to more recent popular music, from shows I'd never heard of until I came to play a piece from them (such as Matilda). My education is sadly lacking in knowing what shows are current on the big stages these days, or what movies appeal to kids so much that they have to sing the songs from them. (Moana and Frozen, for example.)

Anyway, it's good to learn new things, and to contend with the trickier rhythms in these 21st century songs. Talking of new things, I'm working hard to learn how to play the vocal score of a new opera that's going to be performed here in Dunedin, in July. It's called War Hero, with music composed by John Drummond, who's written a number of short and full-length operas, several of which have been performed here, and even had their premieres here. This will be the premiere of War Hero as well.

It has an all male cast, which is probably not surprising, since it's set in the First World War, and it deals with the well-known pacifist, Archibald Baxter, and the virtual torture he went through because of his beliefs. I think it'll be a powerful piece on stage. The music isn't too difficult, now that I'm getting the harmonic world into my head. But it doesn't take concentration!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

2nd review of Disenchanted Wizard

In yesterday's post, I mentioned a riot in Castle St, in 1990. I should have also mentioned, being a writer, that I used this fact in a novel I wrote but never finished. In the novel the narrator and his son found themselves trapped in Dunedin's main street, with students smashing windows of shops and generally vandalising. The narrator and his son go into a nearby jeweller's shop. The jeweller locks the door behind them, afraid of the vandals. He lets them out the back door, where coincidentally they met the narrator's wife, from whom he was now separated, and who, for some reason I can no longer recall, didn't recognise them. I'll have to go back and see why!

That's what happens to novels when you aren't working on them. You forget the details. I've just had a review of The Disenchanted Wizard sent to me by a friend and in it she quotes a line from the book. I looked at it and thought, I don't remember writing that! But of course I had, though in the context of the book it's possibly a little less wise than it seems in the review!

Anyway, for those who don't want to go to the trouble of checking out the review on Amazon, here it is:
Here's a great quote from this book: "Libraries are always safe. Unless you read the books." And - having just read this exciting and action-packed fantasy - I can add, "And unless you end up trapped inside a magic map!" Della and her cousin Harold see strange things on the antique map, but when they show Della's father he turns white and rushes out of the house. Della and Harold follow him and become involved in a nightmarish plot to take over the minds of the city's residents. A succession of dangerous pursuits and escapes ends with an awesome finale at the local football stadium. A suspenseful read for fantasy fans aged about 9 to 12. 

The review was written by Lorraine Orman. She's the author of a number of books herself, mostly in the young adult range - some of which I read a number of years ago. I can't remember how we came to know each other, but we had quite a bit of contact at one point by mail and later email. We met up once, in Auckland, over on the North Shore, and we've loosely stayed in touch since then. She's a member of a writers' group on Facebook that I belong to as well. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bob Jones and a riot in Castle St

I'm currently putting onto computer the typed journal I wrote back in the early 90s. It's fascinating stuff, covering the complications of family relationships, the beginning of our journey with our current church, now called Dunedin City Baptist, discovering people who would become long-term friends; my successes and failures with writing - a number of small-scale articles getting published, and the work I was doing on a young adult's novel; and the highs and lows of running a Christian bookshop.

Every so often there's also a bit of news beyond these circles. For example, on the 16th April, 1990, I wrote:

The students are well and truly in the news today: a drunken riot in the Castle St area, with 1500 involved in some form or other; a garage collapsing under the weight of about twenty student spectators; furniture being dragged out into the street to be set alight; and further through the paper, we have Bob Jones in his column berating some engineering student in Auckland for writing [that] the study of the humanities was a waste of time because it was non-productive. Jones gives him a real going-over, saying that it's the humanity students who learn to think, compared to the engineering, legal, commerce and so on students who shouldn't even be at University at all, but in separate tertiary institutions, since they are only learning how to use facts. Quite an interesting piece of writing from his lordship, who usually manages to come up with some commonsense dressed as nonsense! Often what he has to say would be fine if he wasn't so bumptious with it. For once, his subject is allowed to speak and Mr Jones is kept in the background. 

A little explanation is required for those who don't live in Dunedin. Our University campus is relatively self-contained over several large blocks, and many students live within those blocks or on their borders. Castle St, over the last few decades, has become one of the more notorious areas for such events as I'm describing here. Couch-burning, which has always seemed to me to be a pretty clueless occupation given the toxic fumes many couches give off, is still done, though it's been
After the balcony collapse - courtesy of Radio NZ
frowned upon severely by police and Proctor alike. Riots are less common, I think, though not large gatherings of students. And in the last couple of years a balcony outside a flat collapsed (harming those underneath more than those on it) when too many students stood on it at once. 

But the other interesting thing about this is that the University itself is tightening up on the Humanities Departments by cutting back on staff, and reducing them in size. Naturally there's been a considerable outcry, but to little avail. Obviously whoever is in charge of such actions thinks along the lines of the Auckland student mentioned: the humanities don't 'contribute' therefore they should be demolished. 

Bob Jones seldom made friends because of his bumptious attitude to a great number of things, and people - in fact I'd already mentioned him in the journal because of this. But here, for once, he makes a solid point, at least as far as the humanities are concerned. These are the areas where people learn to think. That's not to say there are no thinkers in the other departments (the lawyers might be most offended at his statement) but in general these other departments take known facts and work with them, developing from there. The Humanities go beyond this, study what's been written before, what's been thought about before, learn how to think about these things, and then can apply their thinking to other situations. That's a very rough view of what they do. But their value, though not always obvious in profit and loss terms, is of value in looking at how society thinks and trying to get it to think clearly and honestly and wisely. 

Monday, March 20, 2017


I'd never heard of the word, luthier, until I went looking for something about Greg Bennett and acoustic guitars. Apparently Greg Bennett is a luthier, which means he designs and makes stringed instruments - in his case, generally guitars. 

The word luthier is obviously related to the word lute, and lutanist and so on, but it has a kind of lisp sound about it, as though someone was trying to say the name Lucia. 

Okay, that was totally irrelevant, and I shouldn't make fun of anyone who has a lisp. However, the word lisp has a long history, going back before the year 1100 at least, and connects the Middle English words, whlispen or lispen, to the Old English word āwlyspian, and is like the Dutch word, lisp and the German word lispeln. There you go, didn't know you were going to get a lesson on the origin of words. 

You can find out more about Greg Bennett guitars here:

I assume the man in the picture is Greg Bennett, and not just some model smiling and holding a Greg Bennett guitar...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Typing up the past

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Back in 1989 I began to keep a journal on my computer. It wasn't the first journal or diary I'd kept, by any means - another (handwritten) one was produced alongside it most days, but that was more focused on my spiritual life, and how it was going.

But this 1989 journal was different in the sense that not only was it being written on the computer, I was printing it out as I went. Which was just as well, as the computer I was using, an Amiga 500, didn't keep much information itself; you had to back-up everything onto disks. A tedious process, but essential; a story I wrote, and thought had potential, got lost when it wasn't backed-up. (In every other respect, the Amiga was great.)

The back-up disks survived long after the Amiga had been sold on when we got a new computer, but of course they were no good without the Amiga system. Fortunately, as I said, I'd printed the journal out, regularly, and by the time it came to an end (I went onto a different system on a computer that backed up stuff of its own accord) there were seven volumes of it, the first alone amounting to 120 pages printed out on an old dot-matrix printer, with about 700 words per page.

Feeling some concern at only having one printed copy of the journal, I spent some of my hard-earned cash one day and got the whole thing copied by a local printer I knew through my work. Now I had two copies, but what to do with the second one? Where to store it for safety? I considered a safebox of some sort, but didn't have the finances at that point to keep on paying for the storage. I asked our friendly family lawyer, but that didn't work out either; it wasn't the sort of thing they did. (At least not without payment.) In the end I gave the second copy to my son, so that at least both copies weren't in the same house.

Now, having recently finished the book I've been writing over the last couple of years - The Disenchanted Wizard - I decided it was time to do something I've been intending to do for some time: type up the printed copy of the journal onto my current computer, where it'll automatically be backed-up onto the Cloud. And that's what I've been doing for the last two or three weeks: I'm currently up to page 70 of the first volume, making pretty good progress, and discovering all sorts of stories and events within the family that I'd forgotten about.

There's a lot about writing in there, too. In 1988 I began a writing course by correspondence, and when the journal opened I was coming towards the end of the course and making some progress with the writing: getting articles published, a short story read on the radio, and another short story for kids printed by the School Journal. 

I had a thought a couple of nights ago that I could use the writing sections of the journal in another book, and started some preparatory work towards that. Time will tell whether that eventuates. After all, who needs another book on writing?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

50 Books All Kids Probably Won't Read Before 12.

There's no doubt, that without lists, many magazines and even newspapers would struggle to keep their readers interested. Yes, people read the news, and articles, but put the 'Ten Best' or '50 something you should do before you something else' at the top of a piece, and it will almost guarantee that it'll get read.
But I have a feeling that what turns up on these lists makes the items self-perpetuating. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I've just come across a list 50 Books All Kids Should Read Before They're Twelve. To begin with, there are some 'magic' words in this title: 'all,' 'should,' 'before'. All relatively innocuous words, common words. But look at the effect they have here. Our attention is immediately grabbed by them. If all kids need to do this, then my kids need to do it. And they need to do it before they're twelve! Wow!
But look at the list. You'll find a great many of the titles on other lists of children's books. Not only are these books already well-known, but every time they get on a list like this they become more well-known. We have to remember this is one person's opinion, and they probably put the list together one day off the top of their head.
Remembering that this is a list for children not yet aged twelve, so look at some of the titles. The Hobbit sits next to Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing (by the wonderful Judy Blume). I am Matala and Revolution is Not a Dinner Party are only a few books apartBoth pretty earnest sounding titles, and seemingly there to broaden the child's social consciousness. I don't think I even had one of these until I was in my mid-twenties.
The Diary of Anne Frank is also there, a book that I'd think was a bit too adult in many ways for even a 12-year-old - unless it's an abridged version. And then The Fellowship of the Ring. Man, I've read this twice, and the second time I found it harder going than the first. This title is followed by The Hunger Games. Crikey, that's a very strange book, with its strong focus on killing innocent people, and its concerns seem a bit beyond even mature 12-year-olds. At the end of the list, To Kill a Mockingbird, which, while it's a great story, is also very longwinded. It certainly has children as the central characters, but it's not truly a kids' book, even though thousands of American schoolchildren have found it on their reading lists.
I've just had a look at another list, 50 New Zealand Books Every Kid Should Read by Age 12. This is quite a mixed bag, and even though I've grown up in NZ, and so have my children, many of these books are unfamiliar to me. The compilers don't claim any authority on this list, which is good, and as it should be. At the end of the day, children are all different and their reading levels will vary enormously, as will their emotional experiences in terms of reading particular books.
I think, personally, that we should follow the Alan Jacobs' approach and read on whim. That's certainly what I did as a child, and continue to do as a nearly-seventy-two-year-old. Claiming that there's any definitive list is probably more of a media approach than a real one.

By the way, you can find some discussion - from a NZ online newspaper - on the first list I've mentioned above, including some reservations about some of the choices.

And a second BTW: I don't see any of my books on these lists. That surely must be an oversight...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

First review of The Disenchanted Wizard

Beatrice Hale has sent me a review of my most recent ebook, The Disenchanted Wizard. She's really enthusiastic about it. This is an abridged version of the review. 

This is a beauty of a story! It’s a hugely intriguing adventure story of discovery where people are ‘folded’ and put in The Map, and have all sorts of adventures trying to get out of the map. It’s a story of the goodies and the baddies, and of course the goodies win, eventually.

What did I like? The fantasy, obviously, of The Map and the wizardry which came with it. The pace was lively, dialogue was great, characters good and clear, and what got me most was the detail in the descriptions of the events:  the Antiquarian Bookshop, the ‘folding’ experience, the books coming off the shelves, the wolves scrabbling and howling, scrambling and scrabbling up the chimney with ‘shapes’ hurtling round, the wolf biting into a box, and the final chapters of the soccer match with the pin-up hero Xanadu Whitworth (what a name!) being revealed as a good wizard and on the right side, as pin-ups ought to be.

Favourite bits?  I loved the words: ‘Vertical and horizontal dimensions/to both of these you pay attention.’ Fun! And think of ‘Fold In, Spiral Out’ -  a picturesque view of movement.

The story for me was on different levels. Beneath the fantasy origami stuff of being folded up into small paper shapes and ‘put into the map,’ imprisonment, baddies and goodies, is a story of children learning to think their way through a situation, to look for solutions, to try things out, and to keep on trying.

Just suspend your reality, move into the next world – and ENJOY!

The book is on sale at various ebook outlets. Here are some of them: 


Wednesday, March 08, 2017


We've been watching a series called Fauda (Chaos) on Netflix over the last week or so. Very intense and often extremely suspenseful.
It concerns the ongoing war between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In this case the focus is mostly on a crack group of soldiers set up to infiltrate the Palestinians and undermine their terrorist attacks. All the soldiers in this group speak Arabic like natives and can pass for Arabs. Their main target is a terrorist who was supposed to be dead - in fact the main character of the series had understood that he'd killed him a couple of years before. But the terrorist is alive and well, and is almost killed (again) early in the piece, only just escaping once again. In the process, however, a wedding is disrupted (the terrorist's younger brother is the groom) by the soldiers (in disguise as the waiters providing the sweetmeats) and tragedy occurs. From then on it's a question of who will win: the soldiers, who want to rid the country of the terrorist, or the terrorist, who is planning a massive attack on the Israelis.
Because the series is made by Israelis, we're rooting for them even though they don't necessarily come across as full of integrity at every point. They're not out for revenge, they just want to keep their country free of a terrorist who they thought they'd already finished off. The Palestinian side is well-presented even though it's hard to empathise fully with them because their cause isn't just revenge, it's outright slaughter. But they come across as human beings, caught up in a seemingly timeless war between two peoples, in which they are basically carrying on a fight that has gone on for centuries in one form or another.
There are a host of characters, several of whom don't survive the crossfires for various reasons. There are some wonderful big set-pieces, and scenes of considerable anguish (from both parties to the war). The Palestinians (many of them played by Israelis - though the terrorist himself is actually a Palestinian actor) tend to present a kind of thinking that is so imbued with hatred that it's hard to empathise fully with them. On the other hand, the behaviour of the Israelis isn't always the best, and there is some laxity in the sexual department between some of the main characters. This didn't seem necessary to the plot, for me, but since a second series is being made, perhaps these elements affect what is yet to come.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Third book in my fantasy series for children

The Disenchanted Wizard - number three in the Grimhilderness series - is now available in ebook format. You can order it from Kindle and a variety of other outlets online: see the list at the end of this post.

The Disenchanted Wizard has had a long, long gestation. Check out innumerable posts on my blog in which I go from joy to despair to frustration to tearing-out-hair, and so on. Some of the delay has been due to other work getting in the way; some of it to procrastination (though not much); some of it to disagreements about the book with my editor-cum-co-writer; some of it has been the fact that large chunks of it have been rewritten. And in some cases rewritten again. As my co-whatever-she-is has said regularly, You can do better.

I won't go again into the considerable changes that have occurred during the course of this book. Suffice to say that only the main characters survived the gruelling process: Della, the 12-year-old at the heart of the story, and her father, Archie; Harold, her younger and sometimes smarter cousin; the curious Mr Crinch - who spent much of the process being an ambivalent character, one we weren't quite sure about: was he was on Della's side or not? You'll have to read the book to find out.

And then there was the wizard himself, originally known only as the Dog (at one time, The Moorish Dog, in fact), but later more often known by his real name, Evan Hoyle. In the very early stages he was Grimhilda's rogue brother. That idea went west. The other character who managed to survive the purges was Xanadu Whitworth, a name that popped into my head before the first draft was written, and which appealed to me so much it stuck. His name sounded so much like that of a footballer's, to me, that that's what he became.*

Anyway, here's the synopsis as it appears online, just to give you an idea of the story:

Della's enthusiasm for soccer, and for the famous player, Xanadu Whitworth, is knocked sideways when her younger cousin, Harold, brings his latest map to show her. The map has strange drawings on it, and within minutes she and her cousin are shocked at what happens with one of them. Worse, when Della's father sees the map, he plainly recognises it from his past, and goes into a panic. Shortly afterwards he rushes out of the house to find someone who can help. But who is this person who can help, and what exactly can they do?

Before the evening is out, Della and Harold˗˗accompanied by the puzzling Mr Crinch˗˗will be thrust not only into a different world, but into a series of terrifying situations. They will have to face the wizard, Evan Hoyle, once known by the nickname, The Dog, and must stop him not only from attacking Xanadu's soccer team, but from taking over the city.


*To see what might have happened to some of the characters who didn't make the cut, check out this the flash fiction story I wrote on the subject, back in 2015. You'll find it on this page: just search by my name, Crowl. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Amp me up, baby

I've written about amps before, usually with tongue considerably in cheek. My relationship with amps has usually been through our church, where for a while the size of the amplifiers seemed to increase every few weeks. Which just made things louder rather than more subtle.

When we did the New Zealand opera, A Christmas Carol, about three months ago, the four keyboard players and the conductor, tore their combined hair out on a number of occasions during the later stage of the rehearsals in the theatre, because it seemed no one was actually in charge of sound (a surprising omission) and yet we had sound to deal with. Keyboards don't sound good without amplifiers, as you'll know.

Thankfully, our assistant stage manager used her wide-ranging brain to bring the amplifier that we did have in-house under control. Initially it seemed as if all the sound from the keyboards was blasting its way around the orchestral pit. But gradually we worked out how to get some control, some subtlety and the audience heard a great sound, and those on stage heard more than enough to be able to sing along with.

All of which to introduce Bugera Amps, a kind of amp I'm not familiar with, but which are apparently available in all shapes and sizes, to suit all sorts of musical ears. (And probably a few unmusical ones.) The little stay-at-home-put-my-grand-composition-on-the-computer type to the I'm-playing-the-biggest-gig-I've-ever-played-so-this-amp-better-do-the-job type. Good old Bugera!

Art movies

 I dipped into Pauline Kael's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang again recently, and came across the following quote in her review of Ingmar Bergman's film, Persona

It may be that an open puzzle movie like this one, which affects some people very profoundly, permits them to project into it so much of themselves that what they think the movie is about has very little to do with what happens on the screen. This kind of projection ˗ which we used to think of as the precritical responsiveness of the mass audience ˗ is now common in the educated audience. People can be heard saying that they ‘didn’t worry about whether it was good or bad,’ they ‘just let it happen to them.’ And if the educated audience is now coming around to the larger audience’s way of seeing movies, I would suggest that they are also being sold in the same way as the larger audience, that advertising and the appearance of critical consensus it gives to certain movies are what lead people to ‘let’ certain prestigious movies ‘happen to them,’ just as the larger audience lets an oversized musical spoof like Thoroughly Modern Millie happen to them. The idea is that ‘art’ should be experienced, not criticised. There seems to be little sense that critical faculties are involved in experience, and that if they are not involved, advertising determines what is accepted as art.

If what I understand Kael to be saying is correct, it means that much of what is claimed to be 'art' in movies, as in 'art house movies', is merely movies that are 'sold' that way. These movies can be obscure, strange, full of peculiar and unrelated incidents, sometimes badly filmed, and often have next to nothing in the way of a story. There was a great trend for these sorts of movies back in the sixties: Bergman brought the Swedish approach, Fellini and Antonioni the Italian one, and there were a bunch of awful French movies that made virtually no sense at all, such as those by Jean-Luc Godard. They were the 'new wave.' 

Some of these directors were masters of cinema-making, but not of story, and they brought oddball movies to the screen that were more about mood and emotion and possibility - or the lack of it. Great actors appeared in them, and sometimes must have wondered what on earth they were supposed to be acting. Certainly audiences must have often wondered what they were watching, but in the mood of the times it was considered trendy to make a great noise about these films often more because of who they were made by than for any other good reason. Viewing Bergman today, you can still get the impression of a great mind at work, though increasingly the films seem to be distant from us. Unlike many films that have endured, they lack the means to affect us emotionally. Watching Fellini's 'masterpiece', La Dolce Vita, we get to the point where we wonder if it's ever going to end, even though a lot of what goes on is very watchable. But there doesn't seem to be anything to really grasp in it, and this became increasingly the case with his movies. Antonioni's films always seemed to be saying something you couldn't hear. Godard's movies were strange radical things in their day, full of unexpected violence, yet even then they seemed to have no heart (Fellini at least had a heart), and Bergman's films can come across as cold (though in some of his earlier movies we can empathise with the characters more readily). 

Were these films great or were they sold to us as great? I think the moviemakers themselves were great artists, but they tackled things from a strange mental viewpoint. 

Simple names

Remember the days when a musical instrument had a single name (or at most two, like the spuriously-named, French Horn)? Yes, some of the names might be odd, like a Serpent or the Theremin, or the Aquaggaswack (yup - see the picture on the right), but they were easily remembered. (Well, maybe Aquaggaswack isn't easy to remember, or spell.)

But now we have instruments and add-ons to instruments that come with names like the Eventide h9 Harmonizer Guitar multi-effects pedal. Looking at that name I'm not even sure where to start in terms of deciding which is the most important element. Sure, 'Eventide' is obviously some kind of brand name, so - with all due respects to the makers - you could cut that out. The 'h9' is presumably some kind of class of pedal, and I guess that's kind of important. Relatively. What the 'Harmonizer' aspect is I'm not sure; I suppose it's the electronic part that makes sure everything else works together. Or not.

The 'Guitar' - well that's easy, except that most likely it's an electric guitar of some kind, so it's not quite as straightforward as the Aquaggaswack. 'Multi-effects' makes me quake. We have a young feller at church who uses a few 'effects' on his guitar. One of them sounds mostly like static. Not so pleasant when you're trying to sing over it, though I guess it has its place. Somewhere. Maybe on a rock band stage, in performance, when you can wear earplugs.

And finally 'pedal.' Well, we all know what that is: it's a word that covers a multitude of appliances, mostly worked with the foot. Three of them in some cars, two in others. One on grandma's sewing machine, two on a harmonium (and jolly hard work they are, too).

Which brings me back to my point. It's taken three paragraphs to explain a single instrument, or a single instrument's add-on. I guess we could just call it an 'h9' and be done with it, but it's not quite as interesting as a 'bikelophone' or a Didjibodhrán.