Sunday, 25 October 2009
A few weeks ago (17 September) I wrote about the tragic loss of screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin. The loss would have been more tragic still if it wasn't for the substantial legacy of great drama he left us, much of it now easily available on DVD. ¶ These wonderfully useful silver discs enabled me to pay my respects to Kennedy Martin by launching my own personal retrospective film festival. I started by watching the six episodes of Edge of Darkness. A gloomy masterpiece. ¶ I then planned to dip into Kelly's Heroes — sheer joy, a World War 2 high octane black comedy with a Lalo Schifrin soundtrack. But I changed my mind and decided to watch Reilly Ace of Spies instead.¶ If, after reading this, you decide you want to follow suit, then you're in luck. The unwieldy six disc DVD set I paid through the nose for a few years ago (utterly devoid of extras, too, he said bitterly) has recently been replaced with a sleek, streamlined three disc edition which nonetheless still contains nearly 640 minutes of undiluted Reilly — and Troy Kennedy Martin's genius. ¶ Reilly Ace of Spies was the most ambitious production ever by Euston Films, perhaps the most presitigious producer of British television drama, famed also for The Sweeney, The Minder and the fact that they failed to hire me as a script editor. ¶ Actually, by the time I went for my job interview at Euston the firm was well in decline. The presiding geniuses' current big idea was to replace Minder (a humorous crime series about a likeable, plucky working class underdog) with Capital City (a glossy soap drama about unsympathetic rich young city bankers). I never got my chance to tell them what I thought of that particular strategy, unfortunately.¶ The big script brains of Euston, in the shape of Verity Lambert and Linda Agran were long gone by this time. (I later had a job interview with Linda Agran. She didn't like my rucksack.) But in the days of Reilly, Lambert and Agran were very much in evidence and it's unlikely that without women of their taste and perception at the helm that a writer of Troy Kennedy Martin's distinction and talent — and eccentricity — would have been allowed loose on such wonderful material, and with such profound and memorable effect. ¶ In short, Sydney Reilly was a sort of a precursor of James Bond, operating from the early part of the 20th century until the early days of the Soviet regime. He was a real person, although the story of his adventures had probably been considerably sensationalised before Troy Kennedy Martin got hold of it and made it more sensational still. ¶ Some commentators are sniffy about this departure from the facts. Personally I think it's great. Nobody tells a more enjoyable story than Troy Kennedy Martin and I wouldn't want to see a writer of his ability strait jacketed by mere facts. ¶ In the 12 episodes of the serial we follow the adventure of Reilly (Sam Neill is satanically sauve in the title role) from manoeuvrings over oil supplies, an alliance with arms dealer Basil Zaharov (Leo McKern), the Russo Japanese war and spying in Germany through to the Russian revolution, an attempt to bump off Lenin (Kenneth Cranham), tommy gun battles in New York and Reilly's execution in a snow covered forest outside Moscow. ¶ The last mentioned incident was particularly harrowing and as I watched this final episode (Shutdown) last night, I kept hoping against hope that Reilly would somehow escape the Cheka (the Russian secret police). ¶ This is a fascinating period in history and Troy Kennedy Martin's account of it left me wanting to learn more. Some of the details are just amazing. For example, Reilly's nemesis is the head of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky (pronounced Dijinksy) played by Tom Bell. ¶ This is a man so fiendishly clever that he protects the Bolsheviks by creating the Trust, a supposedly anti-Bolshevik organisation which he can use to monitor and manipulate his enemies. This scam is so successful that the enemies of Communism are soon contributing millions of dollars, supposedly to overthrow the Bolsheviks but actually providing all the money needed by the Reds to fund their counterintelligence! Incredible stuff, and Troy Kennedy Martin does full justice to it. ¶ The cast of the show are also top drawer, including all the aforementioned luminaries plus Alfred Molina as a Social Revolutionary assassin; David Burke as Stalin, whom Troy Kennedy Martin brilliantly introduces us to eating sardines out of a tin at his desk, and who in his murderous Georgian paranoia will dismantle the Trust, leading to the downfall of Dzerzhinsky and the death of Reilly; Laura Davenport as Pepita, the last of Reilly's many wives; and Clive Merrison, with whom I worked briefly on Doctor Who as Savinkov, Reilly's friend and the head of the anti Bolshevik movement. ¶ Approaching 12 episodes of story and over ten hours of viewing may seem a bit daunting and you might be tempted to just dip into a few episodes intitially (this was certainly my approach). So, let me reccomend a couple of episodes in particular. ¶ Visiting Firemen is a gem, with Reilly stealing plans from a German weapons plant. It features memorable black humour, a nail biting confrontation atop a high crane, breathtaking ruthlessness on the part of Reilly, and the gorgeous Joanne Whalley, who would later make such an impression in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective (illustrated here because, criminally, I couldn't find any images of her in the Reilly episode). ¶ The other standout episode is After Moscow, which features Lindsay Duncan (later in Simon Moore's Traffik) as the Plugger, a guntoting meretrix who eats cornflakes with champagne and shares Reilly's dangerous life in London after fleeing from the USSR with a death sentence on his head. ¶ The same story features Joanne Pearce as Carryl Houselander, the psychic whose love for Reilly will result in her exhibiting stigmata during his brutal beatings at the hands of the Cheka in the final episode. Unforgettable viewing.
Saturday, 26 September 2009
Thanks to its naked greed and breathtaking business acumen, my local yoga centre decided to respond to the credit crunch last year by doubling its prices. This proved to be the absolute definition of a blessing in disguise when, monumentally ticked off with these jokers, I quit the centre for good and began practising yoga at home — every day. ¶ The net results of this new regime was not only that I made more progress in six months than I had in the previous six years (look Ma, I'm doing the full wheel!) but I also I found myself listening to a solid, and enlightening, seven hours of internet radio a week, while practising said postures. ¶ The latest fruits of this routine have included an outstanding dramatisation of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five on BBC Radio 3. I only just caught up with it and it will only remain available for another two days (click here) but if you miss it, don't despair. A work of this quality is bound to be repeated and I will keep you posted. ¶ Admirably adapted by Dave Sheasby, the novel works surprisingly well on radio. But what struck me most of all was how beautifully written, casually profound and bitterly funny the book is ("Anti-war novel? You might as well write an anti-glacier novel"). ¶ There's a full cast of Vonnegut's regular characters in attendance, including Eliot Rosewater from God Bless You Mr Rosewater, which I think was the first Vonnegut novel I read; Howard J Campbell Jr from Mother Night, which I re-read recently, and which was another compact masterpiece (also an excellent film starring Nick Nolte); and of course the pervading presence of hack science fiction writer and fellow peddler of casual profundity, Kilgore Trout (a name which is an obvious play on Theodore Sturgeon, though unlike Trout, Sturgeon writes very well). ¶ Listening to the radio play also brought back startlingly vivid memories of seeing the movie with my mum. At the cinema in Grant Park Plaza, I believe. Mum enjoyed the movie, but she was a little upset by the cruelly pointless death of Billy Pilgrim's sweet, loving wife, Valencia. So it goes.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
In my, admittedly idiosyncratic, view the three greatest British screenwriters to work significantly in television (Dennis Potter is a near miss) are Nigel Kneale, Simon Moore and Troy Kennedy Martin. This week I was saddened to hear that Kennedy Martin had died. The only up-side of his loss is that we might get a BBC4 retrospective devoted to his work. ¶ I first became aware of Kennedy Martin's writing, although I was already an admirer without knowing it, through Edge of Darkness. When I started working at the BBC as a script editor in television drama that influential six part serial had only recently been made. There were still posters on the wall and scripts lying around the offices in Shepherds Bush. ¶ I never met Troy in person (we'll use his first name to avoid confusion with Ian Kennedy Martin, his brother, creator of The Sweeney and another considerable British screenwriting talent) but after Edge of Darkness I watched everything I could find by him. I mentioned above, somewhat cryptically, that I'd been an admirer of his without knowing it. That's because I'd seen and appreciated Kelly's Heroes, the Clint Eastwood feature which Troy had written. ¶ His other famous movie, from much the same period, is the cult favourite The Italian Job. Both Kelly's Heroes and The Italian Job are marred, in my view, by undistinguished direction which encouraged some broad slapstick and hammy performances. But both films rise above their deficiencies and the essential brilliance of Troy's writing shines through. Add to these The Sweeney 2, a crackling, sardonic and salty big screen version of the police TV series his brother created, and you have the best of Troy's big screen work. ¶ His other feature credits consist of co-writing the Walter Hill mismatched buddy-cop movie Red Heat (a proficient and engaging thriller fatally compromised, I think, by some questionable casting, while the great character actor Peter Boyle languishes in a minor role), adapting the South African suspense writer Gillian Slovo's novel Red Dust (an intelligent and mature but strangely under-powered script) and The Jerusalem File (an obscure thriller which I have never seen; roll on its DVD release). ¶ The highlights of his later television work are Edge of Darkness and Reilly Ace of Spies. I can't tell you about his early TV dramas, because with exception of one episode of Z-Cars (which he created) I haven't seen them. Fingers crossed that the BBC4 retrospective materialises soon. A big screen adaptation of Edge of Darkness is in the works, starring Mel Gibson, but Troy did not have a hand in the script and I suspect it will have as little resonance with his original as the recent Italian Job remake. If you want to catch the original, classic version of The Italian Job it's worth noting that the latest DVD has a new commentary featuring Troy Kennedy Martin himself. There are some interesting website postings about him here and here.
Saturday, 12 September 2009
Paperbacks used to be called pocket books. (Stick with me kid and you'll learn something.) This was for the very good and simple reason that they were of a size to fit comfortably into the pocket of a jacket. ¶ You could carry the book around with you and read it whenever you wanted, cancelling out those mind numbing waits for (or on) public transport. Such books had been specifically designed with this in mind. ¶ So, the lucky reader had the choice between these frangible pocket books, or paperbacks if you will, and hardcover books. The latter were more permanent and durable than our easily destroyed little paperback friends, but also a lot bigger and heavier, and wouldn't fit into the pocket of even Andre the Giant's jacket. But that was cool, because you always had the paperback option. Then some marketing genius got the idea that there was money to be made in making paperbacks bigger and classier (and more expensive, natch) and altogether more like hardcover books. ¶ These mutant aberrations were called trade paperbacks. This scam, I regret to report, worked only too well and today most paperbacks are these bloated hybrids. The point I'm getting at — they won't fit in my fershlugginer pocket any more! So when I head out on public transport I always go through my vintage paperback library (and baby, it's quite a library, believe me) and select a proper pocket book. Sometimes it might even be a Pocket Book. ¶ Recently, as regular readers of this blog (both of you) will know, my pocket-stashed reading has been William Golding's Lord of the Flies. I'm very familiar with this book, having read it more than once over the years and seen the film what seems like dozens of times when I was a kid. That film, written and directed by Peter Brooks, made quite an impression. ¶ But it is a perhaps feeble shadow of what might have been if Nigel Kneale's adaptation had got made. The creator of Quatermass, Kneale was a stone cold genius, a formidable screenwriter and a dangerous mind. In his version of the film there would have been both girls and boys stranded on the island, a more valid microcosm of society. It's a tragedy that film never got made. Anyway — I thought I was familiar with the story. But I was in for quite a surprise. ¶ My first impression of the book was that Golding is a very good, vivid writer. He has a strong visual sense and a good turn of phrase. His tropical island is also very convincingly evoked. So much so that, knowing he'd served in the navy during World War Two, I assumed he had been posted to the Pacific and encountered such places at first hand. ¶ In fact, a bit of painless research (very painless, since Peter Carey's biography of Golding was serendipitously serialised on the radio recently) revealed that the author had in fact spent his war service in cold Atlantic waters. Which makes his achievement all the more laudable. So far so good. ¶ My problems with Lord of the Flies, and they are substantial, begin with the Beast. Allow me to back track. As I opened my battered Penguin Modern Classics copy (nice cover by Andre Francois) and began reading it, sitting on a train bound for Waterloo, I had a clear idea of how the story went — or at least, I thought I did. ¶ It begins with an admirably terse and eliptical reference to a nuclear war that has swept the globe. A passenger jet full of schoolboys, refugees, has crash-landed on an isolated tropical island. Soon they begin to descend into savagery, ending up finally pursuing one of their own number in a hunt to the death. Well, in all of those particulars I was correct. ¶ But I'd completely forgotten about the whole stupid "Beast" subplot. Which goes like this. Some of the smallest kids ("littluns") have bad dreams at night, and believe a menacing beast stalks the island. ¶ The older kids poo-poo this. But then one night, unseen by any of them, a dogfight takes place in the sky over the island. Two jet fighters duelling to the death. (This is all quite nicely and economically described. Golding, I'm sure he'd be pleased to hear, can write.) Then one of the pilots comes floating down from the sky on a parachute. The trouble is, he's dead. ¶ He lands on the highest hill top of the island, where the boys try (and often fail) to keep a signal fire going. Some of the kids spot the strange, billowing, vaguely supernatural shape of the parachute, which has snagged on an outcrop. In the darkness they think they've seen a monster, and flee. Powerful and convincing? Nope. Sorry William. It's bunk. ¶ And it gets worse with a couple of other encounters between Gullible Kids and Parachute Corpse. Soon word on the island is that the Beast really exists. All this nonsense about the Beast is contrived and thoroughly unconvincing and seriously damages the book. ¶ It's like all that crap about Vietnam and Daffy Duck in Alex Garland's The Beach (I notice it was the first thing that screenwriter John Hodge filleted out when he adapted the book for the screen). I wish some editor had had the brains to say to Garland, "This is a great book, just lose all that tripe about Vietnam and Daffy Duck. Oh, and do try and think of an ending. There's a good chap, Alex." Because that's the way editors talk. ¶ And I wish even more emphatically that someone had said to Golding to lose all the Beast bollocks. The worst part is, he kind of uses it as a device to explain, or at least hasten, the degeneration and growing violence of the kids. I'm all for a powerful account of the descent of civilised children into murderous savagery. Bill, you're playing my song! This is the most powerful and enduring aspect of the book. But you don't need the boring bloody Beast to justify it. This subplot weakens and diminishes the whole book (it sold a mere ten million copies. Imagine how many copies it would have sold if he got it right!). Good book, though. ¶ Anyway, having just finished the book and reflecting on this, I sat down for coffee (hot chocolate, actually) with Phil O'Shea, a writer buddy of mine from Dark Knight days and all round nice chap. Phil knows that I'm a vinyl nut and always ordering LPs (mostly jazz) from all over the world. These LPs arrive in specially designed LP boxes and, because I have what some would call an unwholesome penchant for music, there are a lot of these lying around the place at any given time. ¶ And any given time is usually when Phil O'Shea turns up, with a bag of pastries to bribe me, and takes away my precious boxes. He uses them to ship the records (mostly classic rock) he sells all over the world. This is a sideline of Phil's and at the moment there is probably more money in it than there is in writing for television. End of digression. ¶ As I sat there with Phil, sipping the superb hot chocolate I'd made for us, kvetching about writing, he happened to mention this new biography of Golding. And he told me that the original draft of Lord of the Flies had apparently been full of quasi-supernatural doings and accoutrements. Oh, and that beautifully terse and elliptical reference to the nuclear apocalypse? Apparently in the original there was reams of stuff about this war and its aftermath. But, thanks to the cleverness and taste of Charles Monteith, a tyro editor at Faber, most of this stuff was cut. How fascinating. If only Monteith and Golding had gone that extra mile, and got rid of the Beast, too. Still, it provides a nice excuse for that Andre Francois cover. If you look carefully you can see the face of the Beast looming in the background over the boys, cleverly composed of the signal-fire smoke which is such an important element in the story.
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
I am a profesional writer so I spend a good portion of my life hunched over a laptop, madly typing away. I's important to be comfortable as possible while I'm doing this. I don't have to sit at a desk — that's one of the nice things about working at home; instead I sit on a sofa with the laptop, yep, in my lap. But you can't actually use a laptop like that. There is the issue of painful overheating, plus lambent paranoia about what the buzzing overheated electronics are doing to a fella's reproductive capability. ¶ So you need to set the laptop on something. You could always use a cushion or a pillow — yes, you could always do that if you wanted your computer to overheat and seize up in a terminal and very expensive disc crash. Or alternatively just burst into flame. ¶ The solution I arrived at was to use a pillow but to put a large book on top of the pillow (I mean a very large, but very thin book, a solid hardcover. For some reason I used to be fond of using A Pictorial History of Sex in the Movies by Pascall and Jeavons, Hamlyn 1975) and place the laptop on top of that. This provision of a hard flat surface for the computer allows its vents to 'breathe.' This is an adequte, but not an ideal solution. For a start, when you invite half a dozen actors around for a reading of your latest play, and they spot the book, they might laugh scornfully at your explanations to account for its presence on your sofa. Also the angle for your wrists when you're typing on this set up is far from perfect. ¶ I used to dream of commissioning a precision engineering firm to install one of those tables on a hydraulic arm which can be swung in and out, like they have to hold the instruments adjacent to the chair at a dentist's. Such a device fastened to the wall beside the sofa would, I imagined, hold my computer and be adjustable so I could set it at just the right height and position for typing. Colour me thunderstruck when I discovered that Ikea, of all people, had come up with a budget version of just such a mechanism. ¶ Yes, I have gone and purchased an Ikea Dave laptop table. And I like it. I like it a lot. Lest this become an encomium, though, let me list what I don't like about it. The only frustrating real design flaw so far is the painfully knurled adjustment knob which digs into my shin. I sit cross legged while I'm typing (did I mention on a sofa? While listening to jazz. Specifically Count Basie at the moment, as it happens) and presumably the ergonomic tests didn't allow for such an eccentric (indeed potentially subversive) posture. ¶ Also, it shakes while I type. Causing the screen to dance annoyingly. This is only a pain when I'm concentrating on something small on the screen. About the size of this font as I type this entry, as it happens. ¶ And then there is the slight problem (compounded by the shaking) that the laptop on which I'm typing starts to slide gradually off the table. You can't quite see from the picture at the top of this entry, but the table tilts to a convenient angle for typing. This angle combined with the almost but not quite brilliantly designed matte high-friction non-slip surface of Dave send my MacBook on occasional excursions over the precipice.
Monday, 10 August 2009
I've just finished a new play called The Lift. I've given it to friends to read and luckily my friends include some terrific writers and also Conrad Blakemore, a terrific director. So the feedback is always very high quality, though I must say sometimes a trifle tardy in arriving, gentlemen. And often very useful. ¶ The Lift looks now like it's in good shape. So of course I'm now casting about for what I'll write next. First up is my novel Operation Herod, a spy thriller. ¶ This marks the debut of Rupert Hood, my 007 for the twenty first century. I'd put a link to Ian Fleming here but I'm sure nobody needs that. They do? Okay. Now, the two most important things about a James Bond story are the villain and the big action set piece at the end. So I had these criteria in mind, along with the character of Rupert, when I set about writing Operation Herod. I completed the novel and since it was powerful and moving and funny as an escapist paperback thriller should be, I sent it out into the world. Then of course I came up with a way of improving it. ¶ A simple but powerful improvement. I did this before, on The Wise. The Wise was my first novel and it was about this brilliant shrink who falls in love with one of her patients who thinks he has strange powers. The complication is that he does. Boom boom. I finished the book and sat back in my favourite armchair listening to Miles Davis. Then a nagging thought assailed me. I sat aside my glass of Appleton Estate twenty one year old rum, a spirit as fine as any great brandy. I pondered the idea... What if I just added a little vignette, a little teaser chapter at the beginning? To introduce the shrink. To warm her up as a character, so to speak, for the reader. To get the reader to engage with her. ¶ So I wrote this nifty prologue in which she lost a patient. "If you're a psychiatrist and you're working with schizophrenics, one of the problems is that you're going to have a certain number of suicides. It just happens," said the shrink from north London I spoke to. Rather alarmingly, he'd had two that week. ¶ So anyway I gave this situation to my character in The Wise, in a taut, grim little vignette. Then, mind at rest I resuming listening to jazz in my armchair. My then editor at Virgin books, Rebecca Levene was so impressed that she almost bought me lunch. In fact she did buy me lunch, on a number of occasions, bless her. "It has transformed the entire beginning of the book," she didn't say. "It makes you feel completely different about the the character," she didn't add. But she did say words to that effect. As well she might.¶ End of flashback. So now I propose to apply the same procedure to Operation Herod. Back to work.I sigh as I rise from my armchair and change the music. Steely Dan I think, this time. Listening to this and other nutritious sounds I wrote a brief (five page) teaser prologue. My thinking behind this is that the book as it stands takes a while to get to the action and suspense, and a little vignette at the beginning will serve to instantly give a mission statement, so to speak. The prologue in place I also decide to set about making a few other deft revisions, mostly small cuts, to further turbo-charge the book. ¶ Having done my novel writing for the day (there goes the morning) I turn to my next play. A big new project. Yes, another stage play. I love writing these. The scale is so different from a film or novel. There is an intensity and immediacy which is unique. And you can riff on dialogue. ¶ Anyway, I was casting around for a new subject for a stage play and this light bulb went off over my head. ¶ A few years ago I wrote a film script which attracted a lot of attention and was even optioned. The rights have now reverted to me and it's just lying around. But last week I suddenly realised it would make a great stage play. In fact, it's more naturally a stage play than a film.
¶ This was a real moment of revelation. As I said, I was convinced I'd hit upon a great idea. And what was even better, it gave me something to do while I was sitting on my sofa listening to Raulzinho's International Hot. But then began the ticklish business of changing from one medium to another. Physically this was quite easy to do. I discovered that if I just cut and pasted the film script into a play script, the software I use (Final Draft) automatically reformatted it so that it now looked like a stage play. Great. The wonders of the computer. If I was doing this in the days of a typewriter I'd need a bottle of laudanum and revolver. ¶ Next I went through and cut out any material that obviously was wrong for a stage play, was obviously only for the big screen and that I was never in a million years going to use in a play. ¶ Then I realised much of this stuff was actually perfect for a play and and had to restore it. Ah the creative process has begun! ¶ My next order of business was to bring the characters down to a reasonable number. In a modern stage play the absolute maximum is about eight. My first play, End of the Night, had eight actors and I'll never do that again. They were all great actors, and engaging characters, but the fact that there was so many of them indicated a tyro's brio in the writing, and also frankly some poor planning. Still, as I say, it was my first play. ¶ My second play, Under the Eagle (which Conrad Blakemore directed; great job there Conrad!) had six characters. So that was moving in the right direction. ¶ Then Authenticity, my stage thriller (not yet staged) has four. Now The Lift had two. So logically, the next one should have none. Could be difficult. Wait a minute. Didn't Beckett pull it off? ¶ In fact, with a little work pruning, I soon had it down to five or six characters plucked from the movie version who could effectively express the story (essentially the same story) on stage. At this point I stalled. Because most of the characters (not the central character, luckily) were subtly wrong for the stage play. And it was very difficult to make the necessary alterations without losing them altogether. When you tamper with characters there's a danger they'll vanish in a puff of smoke, so to speak. ¶ Yet the five or so main characters in the play needed to be substantially the same as the main characters in the film. They were good characters. They required small yet crucial changes to be right in a stage play. This I was finding, ahem, challenging. ¶ It's a bit like making mayonnaise. If you get it right, it thickens nicely into something delicious. If you get it wrong it separates into a runny mess. (You sigh and gaze ruefully at the half litre of fine olive oil you've just wasted.) ¶ But today was a turning point. Having got the prologue for the novel done I sat down and started on the first scene of the new play. This would introduce the basic situation and four or five of the main characters. I really got into it and it went well. It runs about 15 pages, which means a substantial portion of Act 1 completed. For anyone who is appalled by the swiftness of this I would modestly cite the example of Alan Ayckbourne and Noel Coward who would happily write play in a weekend. And some of their stuff turned out okay he said in a tone of ironic understatement.¶ Of course I'm not that quick but the beauty of a play remains that a big scene can come together quickly. ¶ This is what is happening now and the best thing about what I've written is that it really is a play, the characters are living in a play and it's not a film any more. ¶ Also, it's funny. Which in a comedy always helps. Yep, it now looks like this new play is viable. I'll keep at it.
Sunday, 9 August 2009
One blog is not enough. I find it telling that the first blog I created was about the music in my life and only the second one was about writing (and reading). But then writing and reading come under the heading of work as well as pleasure, whereas music is for me pure pleasure. ¶ I guess it would be different if I was a gigging musician. Instead I'm a gigging writer and that's what I'll be writing about here. And also what I'm reading, which at the moment is William Golding's Lord of the Flies. A nice old Penguin Modern Classic paperback edition. It lives in the pocket of my jacket and gets read on trains. ¶ Recently I was reading with trepidation the scene where the increasingly feral schoolboys, armed with spears, attack a sow suckling its piglets. Having speared the screaming piglets, the boys are chasing the sow through the jungle of their tropical island. As a well known animal lover, I was frankly dreading this. ¶ The boys finally corner the sow in a forest clearing. As they prepare to close in for the kill, Golding describes the uncomprehending desperation of the sow. And he says the clearing is full of "sweat and noise and blood and terror". At which point I began to chuckle, utterly jolted out of my discomfort. Golding, you chump! Pigs don't sweat. They don't have sweat glands. ¶ What a relief, to have what promised to be a gruesome prose experience converted so smoothly to a mirthful moment of chuckling superiority over the author. I guess you can say the spell was broken. A big relief for a pig lover like me. Now where is that Milano salami sandwich...