In Praise of Extraneous Detail

There is a difference between a short
Story and a novel beyond merely
Length. Whilst Polonius said “Brevity
Is the soul of wit” Hamlet’s author sought
Laughs contrasting this sagacious effort
With extraordinary prolixity.
It isn’t boring that the irony
Requires his speeches be so finely wrought.
The short story is of necessity
Spare, no time, space or scope for digression
It can read like an excerpt from something
Longer. But novels want no such paucity.
They need to fulfill our expectation
That i’s are dotted and all t’s crossing!

Sensory Overload

The dunes assault my senses. The divine
Wild fennel fills my nostrils, vying
For attention with fresh seaweed lying
Discarded by the waves at the tide line
To dry out as the sun and wind combine
To reduce it to leathery kindling.
I squint against the sunlight sparkling
On the sea rippling to the sky-line
And beyond. There’s a buzz as if thousands
Of bees are busy gathering nectar and
Pollen, but neither bees nor flowers do
I see. It remains a puzzle. No funds
Will be found to research it since off-hand,
None need to know. So who knows what is true?

Text of my Rita Lee Chapman Interview

This week it is my pleasure to interview David Melville Edwards. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers and share something about your life.
The mother of one of my colleagues once remarked, apropos her 25th Wedding Anniversary, that “You serve less time for murder”. So what does that make me after 41 years? Now my four children have grown and (mostly) flown I have replaced them with a demented mother. Fortunately as an Information Technology Consultant/Software Developer I am able to work from home. With only one completed novel and a handful of poems published I hesitate to describe myself as an author, but perhaps when the sequel to “The Spirit of the Age” hits the shelves I will be able to overcome my reticence.
When did you write your first book and how did it come about?
I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. Journalism was suggested to me as a career at University, and once I’d left I wrote some doggerel and started a novel that, due to my then limited life experience, lacked the filtered real life that I myself delight in when I read books for pleasure. So I put them aside in favour of indulgence of my taste for creative writing in the technical reports that I have been delivering for the last forty years, to the occasional amusement of my peers, if not my masters. (The suggestion that only the most self-flagellistic of Service Delivery Managers would want to go live with an especially undercooked Enterprise Resource Planning system was particularly poorly received, as I recall.) You can read a lot of books and analyse a lot of systems in thirty five years, and without really thinking about it a novel of my own took shape in my mind’s eye; a synthesis of all the things I have enjoyed reading, a book that I knew that I at least would enjoy.
For a number of years I worked on IT systems for Penguin Random House, and it was this exposure to the non-creative aspects of the publishing industry that led me to knuckle down and write my novel.
Do you always write in the same genre or do you mix it up?
My poems are immediate responses to events that provoked a reaction in me. Does that constitute a genre? They either tend to be Twitter-friendly ‘haiku’ (3 lines; 5 syllables, 7 syllable, 5 syllables giving 17 syllables in total) or made up of 14 line stanzas, 10 syllables per line, rhyming scheme ABBAABBACDECDE. I’m strict about the rhyming scheme and syllable counts, because I want to hear rhythms and rhymes when I recite them, but I make a point of not aligning the sense with the lines, since I’m not trying to ape Keats and Shelley.
My single completed novel is a satirical contemporary metaphysical paranormal romantic pastoral literary fantasy murder mystery, so I guess I have all the bases covered!
When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?
I start with characters and a scenario, and play them forwards and backwards in time, bouncing them off each other. I work a chapter at a time. It’s much as I was taught to write software; the modular approach to novel development.
Would you like to give us a short excerpt from one of your books?
It’s quite tricky to choose a coherent excerpt that wouldn’t be a plot spoiler, but here goes …
At two o’clock, Reverend Sheila got a phone call from a number she didn’t recognise.
“Hello, Sheila Michael”, she answered briskly, “how can I help you?”
The response was desperate, incoherent, “It’s me, Silas Gutbucket. We met at the cricket on Saturday. We don’t have much use for vicars, us Gutbuckets, but it’s Pa, you’ve got to come. Now. Please!”
“Where?” asked Reverend Sheila.
“Sorry, Lygood Farm. It’s just off the Wenham Road South of Grockelworth.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
Reverend Sheila closed and locked the windows of her chocolate box cottage, and went out the back, to the bottom of the garden, where her Toyota Avensis Estate was parked up in the un-picture-postcard prefabricated concrete panel, asbestos roofed garage. This was a larger car than might have been expected to be driven by a single middle-aged woman living alone, but the duties of a Church of England Vicar may require disabled parishioners and their carers and wheelchairs to be ferried about, hence her aged but still reliable motor. She bumped down the unmade track to the road, and turned left to Grockelworth.
Through Grockelworth, she started looking out to the right, and spotted an incised wooden sign; ‘Lygood Farm’.
She turned onto the track beside it, and initially went up hill, with a larger hill topped by a copse to her right. As she progressed she became aware of a disgusting smell.
The track reached the saddle, and she could see the wreckage of a farm laid out before her; broken down buildings, abandoned machinery, and a vast swamp contained by earthen banks, that filled most of the ground between the track and the sea. Only the track and hard standing, some stationary vehicles, the central farm house and a cottage at right angles to it looked serviceable.
In the yard in front of the house, she recognised a Co-operative Funeral Service hearse. I’m too late for the dead, she thought, but I’m here for the living, and she pressed on.
She parked next to the hearse and walked up to the house. A voluptuous beauty with auburn hair and tear-filled eyes opened it. Hang on, your hair was black last time I saw it, she thought inconsequentially. “Hello, Cicely isn’t it, Sheila Michael. I saw the hearse; am I too late?”
Cicely shook her head mutely, and gestured to Sheila to follow her down the hall and through the door to her left.
“Silas, the vicar’s here”, said Cicely, as she passed through. Before Sheila could follow, Silas stepped smartly into the hall, and closed the door.
“Sorry if I’m too late”, began Sheila, “I saw the hearse outside”.
Silas shook his head. “The hearse is for Ma. She had a stroke yesterday evening. The Doctor said she may have been dead before she hit the floor. That’s all right. She was old and infirm, and we’ve all got to go some time. But Pa. He’s just given up. Says he’s lost his great pal, and there’s no point in going on. Cicely, Mabel and me, the Doctor, we’ve all tried to talk to him, but he just sits there, don’t eat, don’t drink, and he’s fading fast. Speak to him, please!”
Silas turned, opened the door, and went back in to the sitting room. Sheila followed him through.
Inside, she found herself in a large room with a window overlooking the farmyard on her left, a huge fireplace on the wall opposite her framed by a pair of free-standing Staffordshire dogs, bare orange terracotta floor tiles, and a disparate collection of sofas and arm chairs against the walls, between which were curio stands piled with the detritus of a life-time’s visits to English Seaside Resorts. On a sofa between the fireplace opposite and the window sprawled the husk of a man, translucent skin, wearing a long white night shirt, and not much else, if she was any judge. His eyes were closed, and he breathed heavily.
“Hello Pa, here’s the Vicar to see you.”
Farmer Gutbucket’s eyes blinked open, and they brought Reverend Sheila into focus. “Cor, Vicars are better looking now than they were in my day”, he observed, before closing his eyes once more.
If it works, don’t knock it, thought Sheila. “Hello Mr. Gutbucket, your son Silas tells me that you’re waiting to die!” No sense beating about the bush.
Farmer Gutbucket’s breath came in gasps, but he spoke. “My Elsie and me, we was together more’an sixty years. Took us a long time to have kids, but my Silas, Cicely, Mabel, they done us proud. They took us to the cricket on Sunday. My Silas, he did good against the toffs, and Mabel and Cicely, they took care of us. I used to play cricket, you know. But it don’t matter now. Sunday was a good day, and my Elsie’s upped and left me, not her fault, she don’t choose when she goes, but Sunday was a good day. But I lost my great pal. So no use hanging around further.”
“Silas, Mabel, Cicely would like you to have more good days”, ventured Reverend Sheila.
“Arr, they would, they would right enough, they’re good kids, but Mabel needs to get a life, and me, see, I’ve had my fill of good days. You explain it to them. Here, would you do me and Elsie’s Funerals?” And with that, he fell silent, sagged further in to the sofa, and died.
Silas, Mabel and Cicely rushed forward, and grabbed his arms, but to no avail. Reverend Sheila leaned over them, felt his neck for a pulse, and closed his eyes. “Is the Undertaker still here?” she asked.
Silas stood up. “He’s upstairs seeing to Ma.”
“Better fetch him”, said Sheila. “Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”
“We won’t keep you”, said Silas, “I know we dragged you away from whatever you were doing, but can you do the funerals, and fulfill his dying wish?”
“Of course”, said Sheila. “Saint Grockelberta’s?”
“We got plots there booked”, said Silas. “Any particular day next week?”
“You’ll need to sort it out with the Funeral Director, but Tuesday works for me if I have the choice”, said Sheila, and she left them to their grief.
Who is your favourite character and why?
I don’t have a favourite character. I like nearly all of them, and I hope that this comes through in my writing.
Which of your books gave you the most pleasure to write?
That’s easy, because there is only the one, “The Spirit of the Age”. But in general, I wouldn’t disagree with Sir Terry Pratchett when he wrote that “Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself”.
What is the best marketing tip you have received?
Since I am not one of the select few who have sold millions of copies of any book, I’m not sure I’m qualified to judge, but in terms of generating exposure, I can safely say the most effective free strategy which I have seen in action is to band together with fellow writers on Twitter.
How would you describe yourself?
The last On-line Personality Test I took categorised me as a Commander. I’ll settle for that.
What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
Write software, promulgate promotional material, care for a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease, take photographs, indulge our taste for travel with my wife … I’m not short of things to occupy every waking hour.
If you could holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
Anywhere I haven’t been yet! That still leaves me plenty of choice; the whole of South America, the Antarctic, Russia, China, most of Africa, the Silk Road … It’s sad that the politics of the Middle East make the cradles of civilisation too dangerous for tourists.
If you have owned pets, do you have a funny story you would like to share with us?
How about a poem?
The gravel path spares footwear from the wet
That slickly glistens to the right and left
Pooling twixt the mole hills, plotting the theft
Of any boots that chance to stray and get
Stuck in the mud. But Bertie doesn’t let
It cramp his style, he bounds around the cleft
Tree felled by winter’s storm, his path the weft,
The warp the avenue of bare trees set
On either side. As he weaves snuffling,
Bushy tailed grey squirrels slide around
Trunks and run up, or slip under threadbare
Rhododendrons, silently shuffling
Out of sight. But Bertie is no sight hound.
The squirrels might just as well not be there!
What is the biggest factor for you when selecting a book to read?
I’m a sucker for further books from authors I have read before and enjoyed. I’ll allow them one rehash or a couple of duds before giving up on them. Once I’ve given up, it takes a lot to win me back, but it can happen. John le Carré for instance. “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” was brilliant, “The Looking Glass War” less so, and I found “A Small Town In Germany” just plain tedious. But Alec Guinness in the BBC dramatisation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” got me started again.
I used to browse books in bookshops to find new authors. I remember discovering Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt and Julian May this way. However, now my children are grown up it’s mostly word of mouth. In other words, books bought by close family members that I’ve borrowed and enjoyed, then followed up.
Do you have your own website?
I have a blog, (This one!). One third of its visitors last month appear to have been Russian hackers. Thousands of them! Weird, really.
Are you working on a new book at the moment?
Yes. It’s the sequel to “The Spirit of the Age”. I’ve set it against the backdrop of Brexit, so I haven’t been able to finish it!
Do you have any events or book promotions coming up that you would like to tell us about?
Who knows, now Boris Johnson has declared his firm resolve to leave the EU on the 31st October 2019, the sequel to “The Spirit of the Age” (title as yet undecided) might finally be coming available!

Does Voting Leave in 2016 Predict Your Imminent Demise?


In June 2016, the UK voted in an advisory referendum to leave the European Union.

As soon as the result was known, there was interest in the factors that correlated with voting intentions. Lord Ashcroft carried out research that suggests age was a good postdictor of voting choice.

Although the referendum was advisory, not mandatory, David Cameron said his Government would bind itself to the referendum result. However, no UK government can bind its successors, and he immediately resigned.

Then in 2017, we had another election in which no party won an overall majority, and during which the two largest parties offered radically different visions of Brexit.

Referenda haven’t been used much in the UK. After the 2017 General Election, and even more so after the 2019 European Elections, I asked myself the question, how might you decide the shelf-life of a UK referendum mandate? We don’t allow dead people to vote, and since it seems that 2016 Leave Voters tended to be older than Remain voters, I wondered if it might be possible to work out when the number of 2016 Remain voters surviving outnumbered the surviving 2016 Leave voters.

Here are my conclusions.


Sir John Curtice writes occasionally for the BBC Website, and he published graphs showing his research into how voting intention had correlated with age, and how participation correlated with age.

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes:

  • UK Population Details, men and women, segmented by age, in one year segments.
  • UK Death rates, men and women, segmented by age, in 5 year segments.

I used the figures for 2015.

First, I applied Sir John Curtice’s graphs for participation and likelihood of voting by age to the ONS population segmentation to come up with a prediction of what the Brexit vote would be.

I got an answer of 17.6 million, which is pretty close to the actual 17.4 million. Bear in mind I haven’t ‘tuned’ the model at all. I was frankly amazed, and decided there was no need for anything more sophisticated (see e.g. for some very interesting detailed analyses).

I then applied the ONS segmented death figures to my modelled Leave numbers by age to arrive at a prediction of the number of first year deaths, and got a number well over half a million (the bar effect on the graphs is because the age segments are 5 year bands, whilst the population segments are years).

Predicted First Year Leave Voter Deaths against age.

Obviously you can only die once, so I turned the number of deaths into a likelihood of a 2016 Leave voter surviving 1 year, which turns out, on my model, to be 0.97. Three years of this, and 1.5 million 2016 Leave voters have died.

Annual deaths in the UK are around 600,000. Subtract the dead Leave voters, and you’re left with 100,000 deaths, to be shared between Remain voters and ‘Did Not Vote’. ‘Did Not Vote’ includes all children under 18 who have a low chance of dieing, but I have not modelled them at all. Remain voters outnumbered Abstainers of voting age, 5 to 3, most deaths would be in people of voting age, the Abstain age profile is similar to that of the Remain age profile, so I would guess that perhaps 60,000 2016 Remain voters have died each year.

So the cross over point, when the number of living 2016 Remain voters exceeds the number of living Leave voters, must be sometime around now.

Should anyone wish to carry this further, here is my model, in the form of a LibreOffice spreadsheet.