Hi I'm Philip Newey, author and editor. Here are some thoughts, ideas and other nonsense. I may, at times, express some views that offend some readers. I make no apologies for that. Read on at your own risk. Be sure to also visit my writer's page: http://philipnewey.com. I also run a manuscript services business called All-read-E: http://philipnewey.com/All-read-E.htm
I have not posted anything on here for several months now. I thought I might use it to occasionally air some poetry. Like most of my writing, this doesn't come easily to me, so don't expect me to churn the poems out.
Here's one I prepared earlier 😀
There is, in the breaking of an arm,
In the breaking of an arm of a small boy,
A small boy who falls to the ground laughing,
Laughing until the sound reaches his ears,
His ears, like petals on the side of his head,
His head tipping back as tears flow,
As tears flow down each cheek,
Each cheek now pale and bloodless,
Bloodless like the marble statue against which he lies...
finally finished this. Although it took me a long time, it was surprisingly
easy to read. Bear in mind that it was published in 1749, and I expected to
have more difficulty with the English. A few words were oddly (and variously)
spelt, but otherwise the language was almost entirely modern. Only a few odd
words and phrases failed to yield their meaning within the context.
course, the book is written in a style which most modern readers would not
particularly like. The author frequently addresses the reader directly,
imposing himself upon the narrative, offering opinions and engaging in lengthy
digressions from the central narrative. The novel is divided into several
books, each of which is subdivided into chapters. The first chapter of each
book is presented as a kind of prologue which, rather than progressing the
plot, usually involves some kind of philosophical/ethical discourse.
plot is complex, peppered with larger than life characters and improbable
scenarios, with elements that we would recognise as farce. It is, however, of a
somewhat more literary character than much of the farce that appears on the
stage, particularly in the English theatrical tradition. It is, at times,
hilariously funny, occasionally moving, and always insightful. Despite the
fashions and styles of the times, the characters and situations are not so very
far removed from what we might witness today.
many modern readers would struggle with the style in which this novel is
written, it is perhaps worth pointing out that what we today consider to be the
'proper' form of the novel is itself but a passing fad.
not presume to give a book which is still being read 268 years after its
initial publication a star rating.
Last year was a
fascinating year in many respects, especially politically around the world. I
haven’t commented about much of it. Plenty of others have done that. To be
honest, I’m not sure what any of it means, or what the long term consequences
I am aware, though,
that human beings have an incredible (and not always helpful) capacity to
adapt. It does not take long for us to ‘get used’ to things, to accept things
as the new ‘normal’. This can take truly extreme forms. People can ‘get used’
to living in prisons or detention camps; or living under constant bombardment.
This adaptability is useful in one sense: it is necessary for survival, at
least in the short term. In the longer term, though, it means that we cease to
fight. That’s understandable. Fighting is exhausting.
This, of course, is
what oppressive regimes (whether they be oppressive governments, oppressive
government agencies, or oppressive private corporations) depend on: that we
will tire of the fight; that we will not, in fact, be able to maintain our
And few of us can, for
any length of time. Life goes on. It all becomes ‘normal’, all too quickly.
I’m feeling some of
this tiredness myself. Apart from anything else, the ‘enemy’ is difficult to
pin down. There are conservative and reactionary forces pummelling us from
every direction. Unfortunately, they distract us from what are probably the
most important issues facing us today.
The most important issue facing us is climate change, but it remains
difficult to convince people of that. It is very difficult to maintain this
fight because, to be honest, I think the battle is already largely lost. Even
if we were to stop introducing CO2, methane and other greenhouse
gases into the atmosphere today, mean global temperatures would now likely
continue to increase for decades; and that does not even take into account any
critical cascade events that may be precipitated. There is next to no chance of
keeping the increase below 2 °C. The consequences of this are unimaginable. And
perhaps that is the problem. It does not seem real to us. It will be real
enough to our children and grandchildren.
Unfortunately, we will
probably get used to this too.
Anything we do now is
probably far too little, far too late. This will no doubt be the next argument
of the forces that oppose action again climate change: it’s too late to do
much, so why bother doing anything?
But I won’t buy that.
Everything we can do, we must do.
Let’s do our best to
maintain the fight, to maintain our rage. Let’s not get used to the new
Almost four years ago now I reviewed a collection of short
stories by Matthew W McFarland entitled Fifty/Fifty and Other Stories. Among those stories was what is
now (more or less) the opening chapter of this novella. It was also called
‘Defenestration’, and I gave it 4.5 stars. The question is, does this novella
measure up to its namesake?
The short answer is: almost. There was a simplicity and
elegance to the prose of the short story which made it a pleasure to read. For
the most part, that quality of writing is maintained here. The events of the
short story remained largely unexplained. The reader simply experiences the
defenestration [for those unfamiliar with the term, it is the act of being
thrown from a window] from the first person point of view of the defenestratee
(a word I have probably just invented). The absence of a context or explanation
for this event is no shortcoming at all for this short, elegant piece.
This novella provides the background, context and sequel to
The plot emerges slowly from the narrative as characters are
introduced and stories told. I was very impressed with the way the different
streams of the narrative and the characters they featured were gradually woven
together into a very pleasing tapestry. I would urge those who prefer stories
with a faster pace and more action to exercise patience here. It is not a long
book, and if you put in the effort and spare the time I hope you will
appreciate the skill of the weave and the elegance of the prose.
As interesting as the plot is, as much as anything this is a
series of character studies of a number of mildly to extremely dysfunctional
people living in present-day Belfast. Each of the characters is well drawn,
although it did take me a little while to sort among the different female
characters. Melanie is as delightfully twisted a character as I have
The central male character, Adam, who is ostensibly the
narrator of this tale, is lacking in detail until well past the middle of the
book. We know nothing about him: his age, family relationships or profession.
Large sections of the book are virtually a third person narrative and, although
we are aware that Adam is the
narrator, he is not really present in the story at those times. I remained
somewhat confused about his age. At one point, reference is made to his ‘old
age’, yet he elsewhere appears as a potentially suitable match for one of the
young women in the story.
The author uses a clever device to enable the narrator to
relate events at which he is not (ostensibly) present—I don’t want to give away
the plot by being more specific. However, this device breaks down in at least
one scene towards the end of the story where it can no longer operate. It
involves a prison visit of which the narrator cannot be a witness.
The only other misgiving I have about this novella is that
the author has a tendency at times to slip into a somewhat didactic and
self-conscious philosophical/social commentary. This was a little too direct
and obvious for my taste.
A sharper eye for editing would have picked up a few obvious
errors here and there.
McFarland is an excellent writer, with a facility both for
writing elegant prose and weaving together a good story. I hope to hear more
from him in the future.
Tzippy is the story of a vain, self-indulgent, superficial, pampered
and narcissistic 80-year-old woman, at the head of a dysfunctional family. She
lives in Florida with her live-in, African-American maid. In her latter years,
she is in a relationship with Stan, a long-time friend of the family, and
especially of her late husband.
This is a well-written and well-edited story. The prose is
crisp and concise. Scenes are created vividly, but with a minimum of excess. At
times the writing has an almost journalistic feel. Even during Tzippy’s periods
of introspection the author refrains from hyperbole and excess. Nevertheless,
Tzippy’s feelings, thoughts and worldview are perfectly apparent to the reader.
Only in Chapter 18 did I feel that the writing faltered a little, becoming
somewhat stilted and hurried.
In the course of the narrative, various of her
children—Shari, Bruce and Naomi—and their spouses and partners come on stage,
but the main thread concerns Tzippy’s relationship with her younger daughter,
Shari, forty-something and an alcoholic. In her younger days—and perhaps
still—Shari suffered from anorexia-bulimia. It becomes Tzippy’s late-life
crusade to do what she can to heal this relationship and repair some of the harm
she has done to the daughter.
Tzippy also has to face two other issues in her life. She is
addicted to benzodiazepines, although she does not at first acknowledge this.
The author walks a fine line here, and some readers might think that she
overplays the irony as Tzippy reflects upon her daughter’s excessive alcohol
consumption, while at the same time popping another pill.
The other issue Tzippy has to deal with is her proneness to theft.
She is caught on this occasion and has to deal with the humiliation. At the
same time her maid of many years—Angie—is caught stealing money from Tzippy.
Again, the irony may be a little overplayed; but, again, it is a fine Iine.
The narrative is related exclusively from the intimate,
third-person point of view of Tzippy. She is very much centre stage. This lends
her an almost celebrity status: she is very much the star of her life, and of
the scenes that play out. This is true even when she seems to be focused on the
well-being of others. No matter how much she tries to reach out to others,
somehow the story is always still about her. There is a tension here, because
it is clear that at times Tzippy really does want to be less selfish and less
self-centred; yet, somehow, she is never far from the centre of the narrative, or
from her own concerns.
The other characters are mostly well drawn. Shari, the
younger daughter, is interesting and complex. Even at her most down and out
there is an attractive vulnerability to her. The reader also suspects that she
knows very well how to use this to her advantage. She has learned manipulation
from a master manipulator. The characterisation of the maid, Angie—an
overweight African-American woman with a love for caftans—flirts with
caricature, but perhaps just avoids it. Tzippy’s love interest, Stan, seems
rather shallow and ineffectual, although I think the author’s intention is to
present him as practical, down to earth and balanced. Perhaps he is, but
against the bright colours of the other characters, he seems somewhat pale and
But Tzippy is the centre here. I confess that I found it
difficult to like her, as is perhaps evidenced by the opening sentence of this
review. I found it difficult to take seriously the problems of this pampered
and privileged woman. Nor am I sure whether the author wants us to like her. I
did have some sympathy for her. She clearly recognises her own superficiality
and selfishness. But I couldn’t help feeling that even this was part of her
‘game’, this need to ‘make things right’ and live a deeper, more satisfying
life. I can only echo the words of the judge before whom Tzippy appears
following her theft: ‘Mrs. Bryer, go home and stop this nonsense.’
There has been a lot
of talk recently in Australia (with a federal election on the way) about the
meaning of a political mandate. When a party is elected into power, does that
mean it has a mandate, a right, to put into place all the policies which it
took with it into the election?
The answer is NO, and
the reasons are quite simple.
When I go to the
polling booth I have to make a choice between parties which have proposed a
whole raft of policies. Some of those policies I will agree with; some I will
not. This is true on both sides of politics. If I decide (for example) that
Party A’s economic agenda is, on balance, slightly better than that of Party
B’s, and I decide to vote for them on that basis, that does not mean that I support all their other policies. I might not
agree, for instance, with their policy on the environment or towards asylum
seekers. Just because I decide to vote for a party on the basis of one or a few
issues this does not mean that I do, or am obliged to, support all their
policies. Nor do I believe it gives them an automatic right to implement those
Democracy does not
begin at 8 am and end at 6 pm on polling day. Democracy requires that I and
every one of us continues to advocate for the things that are important to us. It
also demands that the government of the day be perpetually answerable to the
people, and not just on one day every three years or so.
Just because I voted
for YOU does not mean that I believe in everything you stand for; and I will
continue to speak loudly and irritatingly about those things I think you have
My overseas readers
may not know what ANZAC Day is. It has to do with the Gallipoli landing during
the First World War. It is a very big day in Australia, and seemingly becoming
bigger every year.
It is almost sacrilegious
and possibly even considered treasonous to say anything that might be regarded
as a criticism of this day. Few in Australia regard Christmas or Easter
celebrations with anything approaching religious reverence. ANZAC Day is the
only holiday in the Australian calendar that attracts this kind of reverence,
from the religious and non-religious alike.
I write the next
paragraph with some hesitation, because I suspect many in Australia might find
its fairly mild wording offensive. Here goes:
‘Today (25 April) marks
the anniversary of the attempt, during the First World War, by the allied
forces, including Australia, to invade that well-known enemy of Australia,
Turkey. The attempt was ill-conceived and disastrous. Unsurprisingly, the Turks
vigorously (and successfully) defended their territory. In Australia we commemorate
this event as ANZAC Day. I’m not sure how they commemorate it in Turkey.’
Whatever is going on
around ANZAC Day in Australia is a little strange and perhaps also a little
frightening. Whatever it is, ANZAC Day is not simply a day when we commemorate
and honour those whose lives have been lost in war. We have Remembrance Day—or
perhaps you know it as ‘Armistice Day’: November 11—to do that. At least that
marks the end of the First World War: a suitable time, one would think, to
remember the cost of war. ANZAC Day commemorates an attempt to invade another
country for strategic purposes: to control the Dardanelles, a strait providing
a sea route to the Russian Empire. It is, of course, tragic that so many people
lost their lives in that pointless exercise. The Turks who lost their lives during
that campaign (does anyone know how many?) were defending their territory. The Australians
who tragically died were not defending Australia—despite the propaganda that surrounds
ANZAC Day. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the dictum that attack is the
best form of defence: easily used to justify any form of aggression.
I am all in favour of
remembering the horrors of war, and commemorating the tragic and often
pointless loss of life. Remembrance Day is a perfect time to do that. I am less
comfortable with the mythology that continues to build around the commemoration
of ANZAC Day. I in no way want to belittle the price men paid at Gallipoli—allied
troops and Turks alike. But it is a stretch to claim that the Australians (at
least) gave their lives in defence of Australia. It’s sad but true—and no fault
of theirs—that they gave their lives in a much less worthy cause.