Tale of a Russian Hero

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Today is the last of my short posts regarding the characters in my newly released book, Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel. So far I have covered Ivan III Vasilyevich, Marfa Boretskaya, Princess Zoe (Sophia) Paleologos, and Ivan Kokoshkin. The last person on my list is Oleg Menshikov, right-hand man and best friend of Dmitry Boretsky, leader of the Novgorodian army and eldest child of Marfa Boretskaya, Novgorod’s mayoress. His name – Oleg Menshikov – is after one of my favourite Russian actors, also called Oleg Menshikov, star of such films as the Russian classic Burnt by the Sun and the all-star European movie The Barber of Siberia. My Oleg Menshikov is a man full of love and honour for his country, as well as loyalty in abundance for those close to him. In the book we can observe how he thinks and acts less selfishly than the greedy Novgorodian leadership and boyars, who only ever think about their own gain. In some ways he seems anachronistic for the times, a man more suitable living in the Romantic eighteenth century, a Russian warrior Byron or Keats, focused on the goodness in man in a time when human life was of little importance.

In one scene from the novel, just before the battle of Andrushevo, Menshikov turns to an old soldier:

Menshikov dismounted and walked over to one of his soldiers. The man, in his fifties and small, looked the antithesis of Menshikov’s rugged masculinity. He had in his hands a pitch-fork. His face, dirty but intense and concentrated, looked like it had seen blood and carnage before.

What’s your name soldier?” Menshikov asked him, putting his hand on the man’s shoulder.

Pavel Grigoryovich Kuznetsov, General.”

And the outcome, Pavel Grigoryovich, will we win a great victory?”

The man looked at his general with respect, almost bordering on worship – but it wasn’t quite that, only almost – that was reserved for God, who was their God. Although Menshikov – not a god but its nearest equivalent on earth for them – deserved the reverence. At Shelon, thousands had lost their lives – wasted lives, in Menshikov’s opinion. He was a wonder with a sword, but hated using it. He had gained his reputation through words and the respect other people had for him. All his soldiers sensed this and knew it.

We will beat them, General… You’re our commander so I can only see us winning.”

It is in scenes like this that show Menshikov’s humanity and emotional intelligence. His only wish is for his country to survive the Muscovy onslaught and that he has a long and happy life with his wife and children – will this happen? You’ll have to read the book to find out. But let me say this, of all the characters in the novel, Menshikov is by far my favourite.

The book’s now available in all Amazon stores, as well as in Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and a few more for only 99c/77p! If alternate history with a medieval bent is your thing, and Russian history interests you, then I feel this is a perfect read for you.

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New Book Release!

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The second volume of my crime fiction/black comedy from a planned six Napoleon Clancy books, Cuyahoga Blues, is now available for $2.99 here or for £1.85 here and at all other Amazon stores worldwide, as well as soon in the B&N Nook store here also for $2.99 To celebrate the new release, I am giving the first volume, Spaghetti Junction, away for FREE in Apple here and Kobo here though in all Amazon and B&N Nook stores the price will remain at 99c/77p until they price match it. However, the FREE ‘price’ may still take a few days to show up in the Kobo store, unfortunately.

All reviews, however good or bad, will be greatly appreciated.

Happy reading!

The Inspirational Bill Hicks

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I first saw the late, great Bill Hicks – once dubbed “the most dangerous comedian in the world” – on The Tube, a late night British programme on Channel 4, in 1992, and I was immediately hooked. His humour was altogether something else: It was clever, made you think, and above all was funnier than anything I’d ever seen in my life. Before Hicks, my favourite comedian had been Dubliner Dave Allen, whom my father and both grandfathers loved; but though Allen was funny, his humour was a bit old-fashioned for me and lacked any of the funky, youthful rebel-rousing nature content that Bill Hicks was famous for. The Arkansas native followed in the footsteps of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin: both these comedians spoke of taboos that very few other comedians would talk about, yet Hicks did. Like Bruce and Carlin before him, Hicks was a comedian’s comedian, a man bent on comedic self-destruction for the sake of his art. The supreme iconoclast of American culture in his day, he died too young at the age of 32 in 1994.

One of the funniest sketches I ever saw him perform was about UFOs. This was off the back of a reported UFO sighting in Fyffe, Alabama in 1989. You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1MuT_KSOo4. The piece was off his Relentless album and basically makes fun of Southerners and Alabama. I used this as one of the plot themes in the second volume of my Napoleon Clancy PI books, called Cuyahoga Blues. In the book, Napoleon ‘Nappy’ Clancy and his sidekick Barry Fanning make their way down to Alabama in an attempt to rescue Clancy’s kids from some rough and mean bikers.

On the way to Alabama, Clancy and Fanning have a conversation about comedians:

“What are you laughing at?” I say to Barry as he’s cracking up at something on the internet.

“Jaysus, kiddo, I’m just readin’ on Wiko about this Bill Hicks… Never heard of the fella before.”

“You’ve never heard of Bill Hicks?” I say with amazement.

“No, honestly.”

“He was some comedian.”

“It’s very subjective, though, comedy, yer know wha’ I’m sayin’?”

“How do you mean?”

“It’s just very subjective… Take Monty Python, for example… D’yer like Monty Python, Nappy?”

“They’re all right, yeah.”

“Well I have to say I don’t understand it at all… Now I’m not tryin’ to tell yer I’m a thick shite an’ the jokes just fly passed me, because they don’t – I understand them, it’s just I don’t appreciate them.”

“Why’s that then?”

“I don’t know. It’s unexplainable.”

“So who do you like?”

“Dave Allen. Tommy Tiernan. Jarlath Regan. Dermot Morgan was gas too before the fella went an’ died on us, God rest the poor man’s soul.”

“But they’re all Irish, Baz.”

What of it?

“Well, I don’t know – what about the Americans and the British comedians?

“Like who?”

“Adam Sandler. Chubby Brown-”

“Chubby fuckin’ Brown’s the biggest perverted shitehawk tha’ ever walked the earth,” Barry gasps, “an’ as for Adam Sandler, no comment.”

“What about Denis Leary – Irish-American, can’t be bad?”

“Too crass.”

“Okay, but if you were going to rate your top five, who would they be?”

“Allen, Tiernan, Regan, Morgan an’ err, Podge an’ Rodge.”

“But you’re missing my point, Baz… Of all time… And anyway, you chose six.”

“I chose five.”

“Podge and Rodge make it six.”

“Ah, they’re only muppets anny way, so they shouldn’t at all count.”

“Nah, but serious – who’s in the top five. You’ve got to count stand-up, film comedians and all that.”

“Hard question tha’.”

“Well just have a go.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start – an’ yerself?”

“Charlie Chaplin’s got to be on the list somewhere.”

“I don’t think Charlie’d count, kiddo.”

“Why not?”

“He wasn’t a comedian.”

“Yeah he was.”

“He was a silent film actor.”

“Still a funny bloke.”

“I’ll tell yer wha’ I’ll do, I’ll put it in Wiko to see wha’ comes up… Grea-test… com-ed-ians… of… all… time,” Barry says as he’s hitting the keyboard. “Ah, here we are. We’ve got: One-hundred greatest stand-ups of all time… The ten best comedians of all time… Ah, I’ll go with tha’ one… Jaysus, I don’t believe it,” Barry then says.

“What is it?”

“Bill Hicks number one. Louis C.K number two. Richard Pryor number three. George Carlin number four. Bill Burr number five… an’ a black fella’s number six called Patrice O’Neill, a Paddy no doubt.”

“But is that for stand-up?”

“No. For sit down.”

“You’re boring, Baz.”

“Well, none of these fellas would be on me list… Well, maybe George Carlin an’ yer man Ricardo Pryor.”

“Pryor was a really funny bloke.”

“Yea’, especially in that film Bulger’s Millions.

Brewster’s Million, Baz.”

“Well, whatever the title, gas film all the same.”

“Carlin was a bit hard to understand.”

“Clever fella – made yer think at the same time yer were crackin’ up.”

“Check to see if you can find anything on Bill Hicks and UFOs in Fyffe?”

“All righ’, kiddo… Ah, here’s somethin’ on YouTube… Here… Bill Hicks UFO’s… Listen to this:”

And then I have the funniest three and a half minutes I’ve had in all my time since I’ve been here, listening to Bill Hicks take the piss out of poor Fyffe, Alabama… And I know, I know, I shouldn’t be cracking up and laughing and having a good time at the expense of Fyffe, Alabama, because my kids are in the hands of some loony who wants to sell them off to some paedophiles.

“Fuck me, Baz, that was funny,” I say with tears in my eyes.

“Jaysus, wasn’t it – maybe I’ll have to put Mr Hicks in front of Mr Allen on me list?”

“Yeah, I think you’ll have to, mate…”

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Now, if you want to know what happens, you’ll be able to read Cuyahoga Blues very soon, as it will be available at Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and the Apple iStore, though I’d recommend you first grab a copy of Spaghetti Junction here at Amazon.com, here at Amazon.uk, here at the Apple iStore, here at the Barnes & Noble Nook store, and here at Kobo for 99c/77p before you do that, the first volume in a six book series on the pair of private detectives.