Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Trick is Not Minding it Hurts

I have always admired The Outsider, or what Albert Camus called L'Étranger in his 1942 novel, the one that was different to the rest of the herd – not unlike the Englishman TE Lawrence eponymously of Arabia, or a young lady from India, who as a girl battled adversity while schooled in America.
Priyanka Chopra was born in Bihar, Northern India, where my own family originated from.
At the age of thirteen, Priyanka Chopra moved to the United States to study, living with her aunt, and attending schools in Newton, Massachusetts, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after a stop in Queens, New York, as her aunt's family also moved frequently.
While in Massachusetts, she participated in several theatre productions and studied Western classical music, choral singing and Kathak dance.
During her teenage years in the United States, Chopra sometimes faced racial issues and was bullied for being Indian by classmates.
She has said, "I was a gawky kid, had low self-esteem, came from a modest middle-class background, had white marks on my legs ... But I was damn hard working. Today, my legs sell 12 brands."
Sometimes it’s the ability to overcome adversity that is the making of us, as is the fear that surrounds us when we are children.
Read More >

For she overcame adversity and helped others to face their fears, and troubles, as this video indicates. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Peter May’s I’ll Keep You Safe

January is always an ‘interesting’ month, for as a new year commences - we all trudge back to our work, following our Christmas / New Year / Winter holidays.

Cognitively it can be hard to mentally re-adjust after the extended break. For bibliophiles we often look to our reading to keep us safe from the vagaries  [and randomness] of reality with its dark edges - as our thoughts from time to time create existential problems, as we contemplate existence [……as worthy as this all sounds……].

The last few years I have found award-winning novelist Peter May’s writing schedule rather helpful, for he has launched a new work each January. Peter’s writing is elegant, and for me a distraction from existential problems, as his narratives are always deeply layered with insight and compassion that cuts through the darkness, and the gloom that comes packaged with the two faces of Janus.

So it was a delight to join Karen Robinson of The Sunday Times, Jon Coates of The Express, Jake Kerridge of The Telegraph with writer / literary commentators Barry Forshaw and Nick Clee for lunch with Peter May.

Peter May’s latest work “I’ll Keep You Safe” sees a return to the Scottish Islands, like the work he’s most renowned for, The Black House Trilogy, which has garnered many international awards. Reviewers and literary commentators often comment on the evocative nature of the backdrop that May uses; making the location as vivid in the reader’s imagination, as the author’s characters.

As Peter’s new work “I’ll Keep You Safe” is released on 11th January 2018 in the UK and Ireland and on March 16th 2018 in US from Quercus Publishing, we’ll share what readers have in store; to help manage The Two Faces of January.

Husband and wife, Niamh and Ruairidh Macfarlane have come a long way with their cloth company, Ranish Tweed, from their small Hebridean home to the world of high fashion. But on a business trip to Paris, cracks in their relationship start to appear. When Niamh receives an anonymous email informing her of Ruairidh's affair, she is distraught. Only hours later Ruairidh is killed by a car bomb, leaving Niamh’s life in ruins. And when the police declare Niamh as the prime suspect in her husband’s death, her life as she knows it ceases to exist.  When Niamh is allowed back to her home on the Isle of Lewis to return her husband's remains, she is followed by French detective, Sylvie Braque. As Braque digs deeper into the couple’s relationship and Niamh replays her life with Ruiairidh, distant memories resurface and past feuds are reignited. As the past and present move closer together the two women find themselves drawn to a killer who will not back down.

We should point out the novel contains a very useful glossary of Celtic / Gaelic pronunciation to assist the reader.

Peter’s readers will be familiar with the high level of research that goes into his work, as well as how prescient much of his imagination is, and he kindly provided some background to his latest work –

In relation to the criminal element of the story, I explored the so-called Dark Web.  This is the flip side of the internet we all know and use.  It is where you will find society’s creepy-crawlies when you take a peek into the shadows that lurk beneath. The Dark Web, however, is not really that dark.  It is a collection of publicly visible websites that hide the IP addresses of their servers.  Anyone with a modicum of IT know-how can access it by downloading a special anonymity browser called Tor.  Suddenly you have access to sites selling illegal goods and services in secure anonymity - child pornography, weapons, drugs, and the services of hitmen.  Payment is made, again anonymously, with the use of Bitcoins whose derivation and destination are untraceable.  Who knew it was that easy?

I delved into the world of ground-breaking forensic technology, where newly developed techniques allow investigators to recover fingerprints from bomb-blasted particles.  Previously both criminals and investigators believed fingerprints were obliterated by bomb blasts.  That was indeed the case with conventional fingerprints.  It meant that bomb-makers were unconcerned about leaving fingerprints, on the basis they would be destroyed anyway.  However, a new type of fingerprint has recently been discovered.  It is left by the oily residue of the fingers which when exposed to extreme heat reacts chemically with metal, effectively etching itself invisibly into the casing of a bomb. Undetectable by conventional procedures, these fingerprints can now be recovered by applying a powerful electrostatic charge to the piece under examination, then dusting it with a fine carbon powder.  And bingo!  There is the fingerprint which had previously been so undetectable.

Ruairidh’s death in a car explosion means there is very little of him left to repatriate for burial.  I wanted to explore the practicalities of this.  A consultation with my pathology adviser, Dr. Steve Campman, introduced me to the complex set of international rules and regulations that govern the transportation of human remains by commercial airlines.  What was left - a limited number of pieces of charred flesh and bone - would be vacuum sealed in plastic bags following examination by a pathologist.  A State-approved undertaker would supply the requisite paperwork once he had sealed the bags in a leakproof container. Only then would an airline accept the remains for transportation. These are the awful practical mundanities in the aftermath of such a death, and I thought it was important for Niamh to be seen dealing with the shock of them.  There was also the question of burial when the box was flown back to the island.  The French investigators would not allow it, but also there are no crematoria in the Outer Hebrides. So I went to visit the only funeral director on the Isle of Lewis, Alasdair Macrae. He suggested the tiny coffin containing Ruairidh’s remains would be placed within a normal-sized coffin and braced to prevent movement when the bearers carried it to the grave. I was also keen to respect island tradition in my portrayal of the burial itself.  When I first went to the islands nearly thirty years ago, women did not go to the graveside and usually they would not even take part in the procession.  However, I was fortunate on the day I went to the cemetery at Dalmore Bay on the west coast of Lewis - where the burial was to take place in the book - there was an actual funeral in progress.  I witnessed a rare occasion, where the female mourners led the procession to the graveside carrying flowers, while the men followed on with the coffin. It was perfect for the circumstances of the burial that I planned to write, allowing me to break with island conventions describing events at the cemetery.  I watched with fascination as the male mourners then picked up shovels to fill in the grave themselves.

My research took me to numerous island locations, including the home of Harris Tweed Hebrides at their Shawbost Mill; the independent mill at Carloway, only recently rescued from closure; the Grimersta Estate, with its impressive fishing lodge and complex water system. And of course the impressive Scottish baronial castle at Amhuinnsuidhe on the Isle of Harris, where I stayed overnight to absorb its distinctive and rarified atmosphere. On my final day on the Isle of Lewis I visited a legendary location; a stone bothy built into the cliffs of Mangersta, on the south-west of the island, by the parents of aid worker Linda Norgrove who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and died during a failed rescue attempt by US forces. The bothy rests perilously on a ledge just below the top of towering cliffs of granite and gneiss that are hundreds of feet high, standing resolute against the relentless assault of the Atlantic.

My location research also took me to Paris, around the Place de la République, where only fifteen months earlier terrorists had rampaged through boulevards and alleyways.  The aftermath of those attacks were still very much evident in the nightly gathering of armed police and vehicles along one side of the square. I also visited the world famous Paris cemetery, Père Lachaise, where I had the unsettling experience of coming across a full-sized bronze figure on the grave of French journalist, Victor Noir, who was shot dead in 1870 by Prince Pierre Bonaparte, the great nephew of Napoleon. The reason I found it so unsettling was that the face of this figure was the spitting image of myself as a young man.

In a search for authenticity I conducted in depth interviews.  I had long conversations with the young island entrepreneur, Iain Finlay Macleod, whose Breanish Tweed became the inspiration for my fictitious Ranish Tweed. Gaelic actor and broadcaster, Derek Murray, showed me the arcane world of teenage island boys who, by tradition, steal the gates of their neighbours on Halloween.  I also journeyed across the sodden moorland of north-east Lewis to the remote ruins of a house and church built by a pioneering baptist called John Nicholson.  I picked this as a crucial location in the book, where the denouement is played out on its storm-lashed cliffs.  The ruins of Nicholson’s house are also the basis for the book’s iconic cover image.

In closing it is worth noting Harris Tweed is the only cloth in the world to be defined by Act of Parliament, and is described in the 1993 Act passed by the Houses of Parliament in London, as “handwoven by islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides”. All Harris Tweed must also be examined by an inspector from the Harris Tweed Authority, and stamped with the famous cross and orb once it is established it has met all legal criteria and standards of quality. Through my connections with Harris Tweed Hebrides, I gained access to Première Vision, the twice-yearly fabric fair in Paris. Thousands of stalls are enclosed by lit plastic walls arranged in rows that criss-cross, in the giant exhibition halls of the Parc d’Exposition. This vast fair has cloth-makers from all over the world exhibiting their fabrics for designers and manufacturers ahead of the seasonal fashion shows which will determine what some people will be wearing in the spring or the autumn.

And remember Peter May commences the Promotional Tour shortly, and as he is a most amusing raconteur, so we urge you to attend one of his events, not only to grab a copy of his latest novel, but also to gain some insight into this author and listen to his tales.

The Full Tour details are available by Clicking Here

I enjoyed finding myself at lunch with Peter May and my bibliophile colleagues, who like Peter have many amusing asides with anecdotes and reflections which are life affirming when confronted by Janus. All of us are journalists, writers, commentators – and so with a glass of wine in hand, there was much mirth over a fine lunch.

Though Barry Forshaw made us all laugh like Hyenas when the topic of deadlines came up, something that as writers we all fear. As apart from Peter May’s latest work, Barry Forshaw has his Historical Noir coming shortly as does Bookbrunch’s Nic Clee look at the literary award process.

More information about the work of Peter May CLICK HERE

More information about “The Booker and the Best” by Nicholas Clee CLICK HERE

More Information about “Historical Noir” by Barry Forshaw CLICK HERE

So after thanking Jon Riley Publisher, and Hannah Robinson Publicist [Quercus Publishing], and of course Sophie Ransom for an excellent lunch, where the laughter was as infectious as Peter May’s anecdotes – we all headed back into a chilly London; but were all energised, as only the company and laughter of Bibliophiles / Raconteurs can provide when there are bottles of wine.

Clutching my copy of Peter May’s “I’ll Keep You Safe” – suddenly The Two Faces of Janus / January didn’t feel as depressing as it did when the alarm clock sounded on the 2nd of January.

You can get a copy at a heavy discount from this link from the Book Depository, with free delivery worldwide.

Photos © 2018 A Karim [and Nicholas Clee]

Friday, October 27, 2017

The use of dark humour to cope with the tragedy of existence

I was fortunate to chat with Peter Capaldi last night at the 2017 CWA Dagger Awards in London; but not about Dr Who, but about his portrayal of the Spin Doctor from Hell - Mr Malcolm Tucker, a character created by writer Armando Iannucci.
Malcolm Tucker follows the British Tradition of making comedy from the grotesque, the very odd and pompous, like Captain Mainwaring [Dad's Army], David Brent [The Office], Alan Partridge, Leonard Rossiter's Rigsby, Frank Thornton's Captain Peacock, John Cleese's Basil Fawlty - to name some of the most outrageous exaggerations of the Eccentric British Bloke.
Though for me, Malcolm Tucker as played by Peter Capaldi is seated at the apex of the absurd - sheer genius.
I thanked Peter last night for making me laugh so loudly, so deeply, when i watched the BBC "THE THICK OF IT", and the feature length film version IN THE LOOP, which satirized the British / American special relationship, and the commencement of the Iraq War.
Sometimes comedy is how we cope with tragedy, and someone has put IN THE LOOP onto Youtube, in HD - and the link is below [so if you want a deep belly laugh, as well as understand how weird our world is, see link below]
IN THE LOOP is probably one of the greatest political satires, so brilliantly written by Armando Iannucci, but how Peter Capaldi crafted Malcolm Tucker......sheer absurd genius.
Pater Capaldi was amused when I told him, that my own vernacular and use of colorful Anglo-Saxon expletives was heavily influenced by his portrayal of Malcolm Tucker.

And as Brexit [UK leaving the EU] is in the opinion of many people [me included], the supreme folly, a self-inflicted wound, economic & bureaucratic hell - an example of how some people can be manipulated with miss-information, lies and pandering to base emotion, not logic - then in this very British tragedy I turn to Armando Iannucci and to Malcolm Tucker as he debates Brexit with an equally absurd creation of Iannucci - Mr Alan Partridge.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Remembering The Duomo, Florence

Some people comment and query upon how come I have such a good memory. The older I get the more important an active memory becomes, for memory is a critical aspect of thinking, cognition, and therefore how we see the world. It also helps manage (for me) the Anxiety of Existence; the randomness of 'Being' and combatting negative, depressive and dangerous thinking.

The process of cultivating a sharp and extensive memory is not easy, it requires effort and an organisation of the thought processes. This effort, this cultivation, & activation of 'Memory' not only requires the managed and lucid recall of 'good & insightful' past events, but also the management of bad ones too. It also requires constant maintenance, as well as an awareness of how the memories we keep, morph and distort as we reflect, re-interpret as well as rationalise what we construct as reality, our existence, and who we share it with.

Ultimately memory also helps explain 'who we are' - by the context of our existence from our memories.

I smiled many years ago when I stumbled upon a book by Jonathan Spence, about Matteo Ricci. At the risk of emitting a loud clanging name-drop; I came across this work from my correspondence with Thomas Harris many years ago, when I asked him about Dr Hannibal Lecter's ability in drawing (with charcoal) The Duomo [The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore], from Florence (from Memory as he didn't have a window in his cell) while incarcerated in Baltimore. Harris told me that Dr Lecter's Memory sprang from this book on Ricci, which he would later name check in the footnotes of 1999's much misunderstood (and from some quarters much maligned) HANNIBAL.

This Sunday morning the house is silent. My wife Muriel is at the Gym. Our eldest daughter Sophia has gone into work of her own volition, as like all the Karims' - we work hard. Our Son Alexander is in Malaysia to view the upcoming Grand Prix with friends and our youngest daughter Miriam spends her first day at University, in Hall.
I am alone in bed, with my thoughts.

Last night we hit traffic (Sophia, Muriel and I) returning back from moving our youngest daughter to University. There were road closures, diversions, it was bad biff. We argued in the car as we were tired and after a long and emotional day, we were stressed leaving the youngest Karim to fend for herself in this weird reality we share.

At one point while bypassing the Sat-Nav (which had gone rogue) Sophia said 'Dad you are weird, you think weirdly' it made me silent as that observation made me ponder.

Yesterday our youngest daughter Miriam presented me with a gift from her recent travels in San Francisco - as we ate a meal, part of the ritual families do when they part, she passed me over a gift, a small square piece of plastic, with a microchip embedded beneath the surface.

The gift was a device called ‘Tile’ that links your keys, IPhone to a computer. It attaches to your key-ring and has a button that makes your phone ring if you've misplaced it, so you can find it. Miriam said 'so it will help you, if your memory fails'

I smiled at the word memory.

Sure, I touch my bulky key ring (which also acts as a defence tool) many times in the day, feeling its comfort in my trouser leg (during the day) and now (thanks to Miriam's gift) it can help me locate my IPhone, if I misplace it.

The 'Tile device' is small and attached to my key chain, so i feel the white plastic gift from my Daughter all the time, and I mean all the time. So several times of the day, I will think lucidly about our youngest Daughter Miriam Karim, because of this 'Tile', now part of my defensive key ring - something I see and feel throughout my 'conscious' day, as it comforts and is a tangible part of my realty; and makes me think about Miriam when I see or feel it.
Though Miriam thought that she gave me a practical gift (from her vacation in San Francisco) to ensure I always remembered my Iphone, but in reality it will be my way of thinking about her every day, and several times, having the comfort that there is in what we remember; in our Memory.
I also have items on my person, that remind me of my Wife, my Eldest Daughter, my Son as well as my Mother, Father and two Brothers.
This memory technique, the solidification of memory (the recall of days now passed) by physical touch / association to provoke thought - (among other techniques) was noted in the book that Jonathan Spence wrote, based on the life of Matteo Ricci; the same book that Thomas Harris told me about; the same book that helped him flesh out the character of Dr Hannibal Lecter - his remarkable memory.
So as I pondered upon the comment my eldest daughter Sophia said last night as we battled traffic adversity 'Dad, you're 'Weird' and which my Wife added 'Yes, you do think in a weird way' - I now smile, as I'm glad I think the way I do, for with our thoughts, we make the world as Buddha once conjectured and Rene Descartes confirmed, for 'I think, therefore I am'
I like weird; enjoy your Sunday, and perhaps some of us may purchase a charcoal stick and draw an image, something that resonates, something from what we term a memory, of a day now passed, perhaps of that Duomo, that Dr Fell would later view after fleeing Baltimore - and perhaps we'll fold it and place in our wallets, to remind us of the beauty contained in this world; to protect our thoughts and distract them roaming over all that scares us in this random and weird place.
"Typhoid and Swans, Officer Starling, they come from the same place"
Dr Hannibal Lecter, Baltimore, Maryland
More information about THE MEMORY PALACE OF MATTEO RICCI by Jonathan D Spence available Here

Monday, July 24, 2017

Gone Baby Gone

“There are so many more important things to worry about than how you're perceived by strangers.” 
Dennis Lehane

I have some sad news, due to a personal decision I had to take [several weeks ago] and one that makes me very sad - but first let me share something that made me very happy this weekend, during this year’s Theakston’s Crime-Writing Festival [hosted in the wonderful city of Harrogate in England].

Some know of my early championing of the writing of Dennis Lehane back in the 1990s. I recall vividly the attention his 1994 debut A Drink Before the War gathered including winning the Private Eye Writers of America [PWA] Shamus Award for best PI Debut. But it wouldn’t be until his second novel landed on my desk Darkness Take My Hand that I realised that a writer of considerable power had arrived.

Incidentally his British Publishers at the time Bantam / Transworld used the ‘as good as Thomas Harris or your money back’ line as a marketing tool which first attracted my attention to Darkness Take My Hand.

Incidentally, I spoke to Lehane about this remarkable sophomore work, as well as the significance of titles in general a few years ago –

Ali        I heard one of your earlier novels Darkness, Take My Hand was originally titled Cold, Cold Heart but you changed it because of a novel with the same title by James Elliott [a pen name of J.C. Pollock]. Have you had other changes of title? 

Dennis       Yes, well spotted. I’ve had a few title changes, for instance Shutter Island I was originally going to title The Barrens, then I found out that Joyce Carol Oates had a book out with the same title. The Given Day was originally going to be A Country at Dawn, but I decided that title sounded a little pretentious, however I discovered that The Given Day has been published in several countries under that title, such as France; my French publishers liked that title.  

Read More Here

During that time, I devoured his work finding merit especially in Gone, Baby, Gone; Prayers for Rain and Mystic River; Shutter Island -  for they provoked deep thought, as they told their exciting stories examining morality and acting as mirrors to view our own thinking; our own value systems. My enthusiasm for Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro PI series was very high so I used to write to Dennis via his wonderful literary agent Ann Rittenberg who kindly passed my letters to him [as did Morton Janklow earlier when I used to correspond with Thomas Harris]. Dennis kindly signed bookplates for me as I would buy many paperbacks of his work, and glue the signed bookplates inside [to motivate reading] and pass them to friends, family and colleagues as gifts – as I love sharing work that moved me, and wanted to spread the word, supporting the best of the best.

Dennis Lehane was a writer that helped me get through some interesting periods of my life. The Irish Catholic backdrop of Boston mirrored my own experiences in Dublin, as my family has links to Southern Ireland, so I felt some resonance in his work.

Years later, work such as Mystic River, Shutter Island, The Given Day would spark my cognition and that of many other literary commentators, with the moral dilemmas that their denouements presented the reader as part of the narrative journey unfolding and challenging the reader’s value system.

I felt the same feelings toward his latest work Since We Fell when I read this interesting novel, for it promoted deep thinking and it also challenged my own liberal value system -

There are sections of writing in Since We Fell that stop you in your tracks; make you contemplate your own life and situation and that of others, for Lehane’s narrative is peppered with insight and questions. There is humour but it is cloaked over the veils that cover the characters.

Read my full review HERE

Dennis was over as one of the Guests of Theakstons Crime-Writing Festival, during which he was in conversation with Mark Lawson. Though it would be the opening comments that Dennis made to the packed audience that made me realise that not only is he one of my favourite writers of literary thrillers, but also that he is a very decent human being, and one brave enough to speak his mind, articulate what some of us feel about the new American political regime, under Donald Trump.

Mark Lawson after introducing Dennis Lehane to the Harrogate crowd, opened his questioning with “so as an American, let’s get the obligatory Donald Trump question out of the way – so Dennis, what are your thoughts about Donald Trump as US President?”

Dennis laughed, and made his feelings clear about Trump and his cabal who reside in Washington. He added that he feels most sadness [and I quote] at what the people with Brown Skins are currently experiencing thanks to what Trump and his people are doing.  There was much clapping by the audience at Lehane’s candid response, which later would touch upon many aspects of what Trump, Bannon and the so-called ‘alt-right’ have whipped up in terms of making some feel free to be unpleasant to others - who do not have white skin.

He said though he knows that America will survive this period, as he believes in the principles that the country stands for, and despite all the flaws – America will survive Trump.

Later that night I chatted with Dennis privately, and thanked him deeply for being a brave man, and standing up for some of us who feel anxiety with Trump and his supporters feeling they have been issued a mandate to be hateful to others. I know many writers who avoid mentioning their feelings about Trump publically, for fear of alienating their readership, as many people voted for Trump, and may secretly agree with some parts of what he stands up for.

“Bring Back Coal” – yeah, right. We are indeed in a strange time.

But not Dennis Lehane – he is fearless for in a packed room, he spoke up for the underdog. In a crowd that looked close to a Thousand [or maybe more] there were less than a handful who wore Brown Skin, like me, but he spoke up for us. There are other writers who share via social media the propaganda from Breitbart, FOX and other right wing ‘news’ outlets, throwing in epithets to stir up fear and hate - and I know some privately share the same views as Trump [….I’m not a racist, but……].

In a democracy, freedom of speech is something I applaud; but enjoy it while you can for Trump is an Oligarch, not one who celebrates the democratic process and will attempt to dismantle it, like he is trying to destroy healthcare for millions.

I realised after Harrogate, that not only is Dennis Lehane one of my favourite writers, but he’s also a very good man – for as Anglo-Irishman Edmund Burke once said –

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

So I come full circle.

Following the magnificent Theakstons Crime-Writing Festival, many were asking me in person [as well as on social media] “so excited for Bouchercon Toronto and planning to meet-up” – for which I smiled, though I have told only a few people that I will not be attending. It took a long time to make this difficult decision – namely to not traverse the North Atlantic for the foreseeable future.

I know a great number of people, so am sad at missing Toronto Bouchercon and this decision was one that I did not take lightly.

This is very sad for me, as I studied in North America and loved the country despite all its imperfections as it struggles to live up to its ideals; but now my love affair with North America is on hold. My decision is not related to religious issues as I am a fervent atheist, but it is all to do with the issues I have endured over the years at American Airports which my various friends and travel companions have witnessed. I have always remained good natured, laughed off indignity with the people who have jobs to do, but knowing that some appear to enjoy some aspects of their roles a little too avidly.

I totally understand the serious need for enhanced security at places of mass transit, especially commercial passenger aircraft, but when enhanced background checks are available, each and every time I wish to cross the Atlantic Ocean, I get additional attention and experience unpleasantness.

I have put up with the casual as well as not so casual racism [including physical violence] since childhood, and usually get over unpleasantness retaining my dignity and moving on and not dwelling on the hatred in the eyes of some.

But no longer, because some people who share this reality feel that now we’re in the era of Trump and Brexit [“we got our country back”; yeah, right], there are some that feel they have a mandate to be hateful to people who are not White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant. There have been cases at Airports, words and actions I have witnessed that have made me come to this difficult decision. I’ve seen people pulled off flights, detained or held for questioning because of something ‘others’ may have said.

During the flight, when you have brown-skin you feel self-conscious going to the toilet, or when you need to get another book from the overhead locker – you see people’s faces, and their eyes tell you much, and then there’s the overt unpleasantness, spoken just loud enough so that the speaker ensures you’re within earshot to hear the comment.

I used to laugh it off, and smile ignoring the hostiles and ignorant among the crowd.

At my age now, I am not prepared to put myself in a position where the opinion of a random stranger can embarrass or hurt me, or result in me missing a flight or result in detention while ‘we check things out’ - because as Dennis Lehane once said “There are so many more important things to worry about than how you're perceived by strangers.”

The level of ignorance I see around me is baffling as the ranks of the under-educated and manipulated grows. I don’t wish to embarrass or put my travel companions in an awkward position – when they see what’s going on as I get pulled from the queue, or what to say when they hear an unpleasant epithet uttered with the brown skinned bloke within earshot.  Many times my travel companions have waited for me at the airport, as I have been detained, my luggage swabbed and much else on both entry to the US, as well as returning to the UK, or overheard the unkind words from some, as well as feeling self-conscious on the flights.

The most unpleasant was an episode at Baltimore Airport in 2008 on my return to London that was witnessed by my travel companion at the time Roger Ellory; and which I wish not to detail here as dignity is a keyword to me. Some close friends know the tale, which I highlighted the absurd and amusing aspects – to hide the fear of what could have resulted.

I totally understand today’s need for robust security, and as I am no longer prepared to go through this again; it posed a huge dilemma for me. I am a Board Member of Bouchercon, and have been since election in Long Beach in 2014 and I enjoy the relationship with my colleagues on the Board who are all very decent, hardworking people, all supporting the genre on a pro-bono basis as Bouchercon is a non-profit fan organization.  

We all pay our own way.

So I have decided to cease transatlantic travel for the foreseeable future, despite the video-conference calls – I do not feel I could fulfill my obligations to the Board by not attending annual Bouchercons as I have done for some time now.

So last month with a sad heart I composed my letter of resignation to David Magayna, Chair of the Bouchercon Board, as well asking him to share my letter with the wider Board. I passed personal apologies to Janet Costello and Helen Nelson the co-chairs for Bouchercon Toronto 2017 as I had paid my registration [and I know this year the event is being held in Canada not America] – however I have decided for the foreseeable future I would not be taking North-Atlantic journeys.

The personal messages I have received from my colleagues on the Bouchercon Board since my resignation have moved me; including some that brought me to tears as I feel sorrow at not being with the team – But they all know where I am, and my helpful nature should any of them need any help from me in the future.

Please understand, I am not being a prima-donna ballerina; I totally get the need for robust security at Airports - but at my age, I am not prepared to put myself though the hell of mass-transit when as a brown-skinned person, I’m open to be vilified by the ignorant around me – as there is an agenda out there, and some of us do not feel welcome; because I do not require validation by strangers, as I like to ensure my own dignity is maintained.

So from now on my travel will be restricted to Europe, for when it comes to visiting North America, I’m “Gone, Baby, Gone” to quote Dennis Lehane, an insightful and elegant writer, but also a very decent person.

And I have a family who worry about me, then a deadline on a current novel project to complete by October, books to read and evaluate from other writers & publishers, as well as comment upon; because for every Dickie Greenleaf, there is a Tom Ripley in the shadow.

I only wrote this as I know so many folk who attend Bouchercon annually, and who I enjoy meeting up with, and I wished to explain why I won’t be coming to Canada this fall / autumn.  

Ali Karim
27 / 7 [July] / 2017

Gone, Baby, Gone

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shock and Awe: The Horror of our Situation

It has been reported in both psychological as well as medical research that a feeling of awe; a sensation of wonder helps our immune systems. It also promotes a sense of well-being [physical as well as mental]; it also increases our empathy toward others – as it makes us think about our place in this reality, and question our existence and that of others.

“That sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” They point out that people commonly experience awe in nature, but also feel a sense of awe in response to religion, art, music, etc.”

Read More Here

Though, as life is a cognitive sine-wave for we have to manage the ups and downs in our lives – the highs and lows of our experience of reality – there is an opposite to our sense [or feeling] of Awe – namely the feeling of dissatisfaction. This has to be managed too, as it also has an effect upon our immune systems, as well as empathy toward others, but negatively.  

Having a once-in-a-lifetime peak experience can lead to an unexpected blasé feeling of dissatisfaction. Peggy Lee sums up the malaise you can feel in the aftermath of a peak experience in her song, "Is that All There Is?" The song was inspired by the existential story Disillusionment by Thomas Mann

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Managing the sine-wave of our feelings can at times be tricky, for after an intense period, or after a feeling of Awe, it can be hard to manage cognitively – for often we feel a vacuum within or a feeling of disillusionment in consequence.   

Recently I have been awed [in fact stunned would be a better word] by three films though marketed as Horror; the real horror within these movies comes from what I term, the Horror of our situation in this reality; and the fear of what we don’t understand. These three films are examinations, reflections of being human in a scary reality, where the horror comes from our situation, and is often cloaked in the shadows and within our imaginations. They also provoke deep, deep thought and contemplation.

The test of how deeply a piece of film has affected me is usually how long I remain in the cinema, or when the DVD finishes how long I sit immobile and lost in my thoughts - as the credits roll.

The following three films held me, lost in deep-thought as the credits rolled as I contemplated the significance of what I just experienced – bathing in the sense of awe with my thoughts swirling. 

The effect of these films [like last year’s Midnight Special by Jeff Nichols] remain within me; that feeling of awe with no sensation of disillusionment – for they are food for the mind.


Get Out is a 2017 American horror film written, co-produced and directed by Jordan Peele, in his directorial debut. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, LaKeith Stanfield and Catherine Keener, and follows a young interracial couple who visit the mysterious estate of the woman's parents.


It Comes at Night is a 2017 American psychological horror film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. It stars Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Riley Keough. This claustrophobic tales centers on a highly contagious disease that has ravaged the outside world. Paul, his wife Sarah, and their teenage son Travis have secluded themselves in a country home. One night they are awoken by the sound of someone [or something] trying to break into their fortified home in the dark forest.


Personal Shopper is a 2016 French psychological thriller film written and directed by Olivier Assayas. It stars Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graia, Nora von Waldstatten, Benjamin Biolay, Audrey Bonnet and Pascal Rambert. It tells the story of Maureen [Kristen Stewart] a personal shopper in Paris for Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), a celebrity. She travels to European capitals to shop for her, buying clothes, accessories and jewels. Her twin brother Lewis recently died from a heart attack; they shared the same genetic heart problem. They were both interested in spiritualism and believed they had connections to the spirit world.

With an honourable mention to a film from last year that I still think about from time to time.


Midnight Special is a 2016 American science fiction film written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and produced by Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. The film stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher and Sam Shepard. The story revolves around Roy Tomlin and his biological son, Alton Meyer, escaping from both the government and a cult, after discovering that Alton has special powers.

These films are like lucid dreams, they remain within my mind and I think of them and their significance from time to time – for they gave me a sense of awe, one that that made me think deeply as well as reflect upon something Stephen King once postulated in his book “On Writing” -

“Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.”