Saturday 2 October 2010

Do you believe in angels?

Increasing numbers of people say they do. Is a dyslexic pensioner from Ireland responsible?

Ever since she was a child Lorna Byrne has been able to see and talk to angels. For years she kept this a secret (the angels told her to), but then she wrote a book about her experiences (once the angels had told her it was OK). That book became the kind of word-of-mouth sensation that publishers drool over. Half a million copies in 48 countries and a film deal later, Byrne is sitting in a hall in Euston, North London, in late September waiting to address an audience of more than a thousand people.

Though Angels in My Hair was ridiculed by the one journalist who reviewed it when it came out two years ago, the book’s unexpected success has provoked a debate of sorts (even The Economist joined in): just why do so many people in Britain believe in angels? The accepted, often-quoted and never disputed figure taken from a Mori poll in 2009 is that 46 per cent of people (58 per cent of women and 34 per cent of men) believe in angels. The only comparable survey, also taken by Mori 11 years earlier, implied that a puzzling cultural shift had occurred in the intervening decade: the number of people who believed in angels had increased by 17 percentage points. (Belief in God had remained static, at 65 per cent.) Is Byrne responsible? The man interviewing her on stage works at Alternatives, an events company “that hosts world leaders in spirituality and personal development”. To kick off the evening, he asks: “How many people in this room believe in angels?” Almost everyone raises a hand. Byrne is sitting beside him, a slim, pretty woman in her sixties, with a dreamy, some say innocent, charm, which may or may not be the result of a sheltered life in Ireland.

The man on stage announces that Byrne’s new book, Stairways to Heaven, is already at No 1 in Ireland, outselling Tony Blair’s A Journey. It was, he says, “written with the guidance of Archangel Michael, isn’t that right?”. Byrne nods and concedes that writing books is a particularly astonishing feat considering that she is practically illiterate: “But the angels always told me I would write a bestseller.”

The facts of Byrne’s life are well known to the now rapt audience, who read all about it in her first book: the daughter of a bicycle repairman, she grew up poor in Ireland and suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia. “I was put at the back of the class. But you have to remember I had the angels playing with me all the time. And making me laugh.”

The angels swore her to secrecy about her gift, but she did tell a boyfriend on their second date. “I always remember sitting in the car with him and saying, ‘Look Joe, I can see angels’.” Joe replied: “Ordinary people like us don’t see angels, Lorna.” Nevertheless, she married him, had four children and didn’t mention it again until he was close to death — which she had foreseen because the angels had told her. When she saw Joe’s guardian angel embracing his soul, she knew: “No man dies alone. Your loved ones are there as well.”

And, of course, the hall is filled with angels that nobody but Lorna can see. “There’s a beautiful angel down there, right by where the clock is,” she says at one point, as everyone in the room crane their necks. “He has a male appearance, I don’t know whether he has done that for all the women here.” Everyone laughs. There follow some more details. The angel seems to be standard Christmas-card issue: he is golden, beautiful and has enormous wings. He is giving Byrne a feeling of compassion and love. Can she see any guardian angels? Yes, she can. Everyone in the room has their guardian angel behind them. She can see the angels’ hands on their shoulders.

There are men here, but more women, of various ages and backgrounds. Very few appear to be cranks. As Byrne speaks — about what Heaven was like when God took her there (lots of white mist and a library) and about how she saw Martin Luther King in a previous incarnation, (“You know what was surprising? He was white”) — some of her audience have their eyes closed or their faces buried in their hands with concentration. Most are familiar with Byrne’s story, but nearly all of them say that their interest in angels predates reading her books. “I had an accident and I saw an angel,” is a common theme.

Sharon has seen her late mother in a dream and wants to know whether she could be an angel. Mary sees her husband’s late wife “actually in our home; she’s called Sheila”. Christine is here from Hertfordshire with her meditation group. A crucifix dangles around her neck. As a Roman Catholic, what persuaded her to make the journey to London to see Byrne and not, say, the Pope? “My relationship with him is more antagonistic,” says Christine, who disapproves of what she says is the Holy Father’s failure to discipline paedophile priests, among other things. Elaine, who has given up a high-powered job to become a healer after she became ill, thinks “to talk about some souls being less valuable than others is absolutely sacrilegious”. But faith in God is a prerequisite for believing in angels? “I think so, yes,” she says. Her husband, Gerald, a journalist, thinks that the “solidly Catholic language and imagery” that Lorna experiences in her visions would be hard for an atheist to accept. People such as Byrne appeal to those who have faith but perhaps cannot get on with the Church. “It’s a highly individualistic age,” Gerald says. “There is comfort in ritual. But people feel alienated from a hierarchical, highly centralised organisation that requires unquestioning obedience.”

Sitting in the front row is Mark Booth, her editor. And not far from him is Jean Callanan, Byrne’s agent. Booth is well known in publishing — he has worked with Auberon Waugh and Derek Jarman; he also persuaded Katie Price to write novels while he was still at Random House, where he signed Byrne. When he moved to Coronet, Byrne tells me, “the angels told me to follow him”. Booth and Callanan seem to be central in cementing Byrne’s reputation. It was while Booth was at Random House that someone there commissioned that Mori poll on angels.

Booth says that he was sceptical about Byrne, but then during one of their early meetings Byrne told him that something was wrong with his insides. A few months later he had a hernia operation. He is fascinated by the way that everything she says “checks out”.

“In our society we’re very shy about our mystics,” he says. “A phenomenon like this would be much more accepted in India, for example.” Before Byrne wrote that first book (dictated to Callanan, who gave up a job marketing Magnum ice cream at Unilever to represent her) “tout Dublin would seek her out for advice”, says Booth.

Byrne spends the second half of the evening taking questions from the audience. Does life on other planets exist? Yes. A woman is worried that a dream she has had seems to indicate that she will die young. Byrne reassures her: “You have a long life, OK?” A man wants to know why God doesn’t let the angels appear to more people. Lorna says: “I ask the angels, ‘Why me?’, and they say, ‘Why not you?’. I don’t know why He always does that — pick one person.” This open-ended response doesn’t seem to bother the audience too much. By the time that Byrne is bustled off backstage, people are dispersing contentedly. Byrne gives them hope and a sense of peace, they say; something that the Church, in many instances, has been unable to do for a long time.

Friday 6 November 2009

Dave does god – now, there’s a surprise!

Our imminent new PM, Dave Cameron, was interviewed by the Evening Standard today about....Osborne, Afghanistan, VAT, Europe, Crossrail and....god: Dave said that he prayed regularly but did not fell he had a “direct line” to God. “If you are asking, do I drop to my knees and pray for guidance, no”, he said, adding that he had been a “questioning Christian” who struggled with tenets like the virgin birth. “But I do have faith and is it important, yes.”

Now, I didn’t have to think too hard to recall who that reminded me of....

Of course, our previous PM/war criminal/future Pope!

So, we’ll have the likely spectacle of Dave having his ‘beliefs’ influencing policy making – such as sending thousands of allied stormtroopers into an ‘infidel’ sovereign country in the guise of defeating terrorism. Hey, Dave, there is no evidence to support the God hypothesis whatsoever; to believe in something that has no basis in fact is futile.

So...this Blair-clone will continue to send more cannon fodder into Afghanistan in an unwinnable cause and wring his hands as the casualties mount up.

This all summons up one word....


Sunday 26 July 2009

Now, what's all this about self-publishing?

Although Mrs R remains wonderfully positive about Murphy the merdog, I’ve got a nagging feeling that Murphy has not been received well. (I’ve had similar feelings about past work – a sitcom at the BBC) Surely, if my agent thought Murphy was great he would have been on the phone.....”Hey, Refugee, this Murphy is bloody amazing, I just couldn’t put it down, had to reread it and passed it immediately to Lars Von Trier...and he wants to start filming it next month...oh, and I’ve got a 10-figure book deal for 6 more Murphy books”.

So, I’ve been thinking....
Maybe I should think about self-publishing.
In my limbo hours I’ve looked at 4 different websites that publish books. I narrowed the sites down to 2 –
iUniverse and Lulu.
There is a major difference between these 2 companies. Whilst you pay up front for iUniverse to print your book, Lulu only prints ‘on demand’. I’ve looked at the Lulu ‘process’ for getting a book published – including getting an ISBN code and a listing on Amazon – and it looks fairly simple.

I’ll wait another week or two – when the illustrations/book cover have been completed.

Thursday 16 July 2009

No news is good news....maybe!

After three weeks and further word from my agent...I’m not sure if that’s....
a) Bad news, or,
b) Good news.

The wait is rather daunting.
Mrs Refugee, who was the second person to read Murphy the merdog, remains unshakeably positive – what a brick she is!
Mrs R’s critique was...”very good indeed – it should be a film”.
I suppose I'd better get another couple of bars of Green & Black’s for Mrs R!

Saturday 11 July 2009

The title is...’Murphy the merdog’

Murphy, the novel, has now sat with my agent, Ian, for a couple of weeks and, as a copyright is now implicit, I can reveal the title of the book is.....MURPHY THE MERDOG.
I had a short reply from Ian upon receipt of the book which made my heart sink – the publishing business is in a real funk and Ian had flagged up a couple of issues on the first 2-3 pages....gulp!

In the past week, I’ve also mentioned the title to a dozen friends now and....only about half of them ‘got’ the title of the book and understood the implications of a merdog. (Three remarked that Murphy was a ‘murdering’ dog!) In fact, it’s quite satisfying that some people didn’t realise what a merdog is. Which brings me to the cover illustration......

I’ve commissioned a superb illustrator, Cathy Balme, to execute the cover and, other work allowing, she should finish it by the end of the month.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Big problems with Dragon software

My Murphy revision is being hampered by my spending far too much time trying to resolve the problems with my Dragon software.
Despite online Help – or lack of help – from Nuance I’m persevering with the software; if the formatting switch can be activated then it will be a major aid to my work...but it’s not looking too good.

I’ve been doing a rewrite of the first 2 chapters – both difficult chapters to get just spot on. There are a dozen major characters and they have to be introduced quickly and precisely; there is also a fast-moving, changing situation that needs to be factored in.

Friday 13 February 2009

‘Speaking in’ Murphy

I’ve started ‘speaking in’ the Chapter One and I’m having trouble with the Dragon software.....
I’m able to do just about everything that the software says should be accomplished within a Word document, except....that Dragon is not formatting correctly.
I tried reinstalling the software and starting over but the problem remains. phone Nuance (software company) to see if they can help.

I’ve had to abandon the first revision as soon as I’ve begun!

Thursday 12 February 2009

First revision of Murphy and...Dragon

Whilst working on Murphy I’ve been starting to use Dragon Naturally Speaking software.
With a great deal of typing to carry out, not being able to touch type and a deteriorating nerve problem in the neck, I decided to take a slight chance and buy the software.
I set it up a few days ago, which was quick and easy to do, and I’ll start ‘talking in’ the first revision of Murphy.

I’ll keep an update on Dragon software but....I’m initially impressed.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Happy Birthday

Yesterday was my Birthday and it was just great to have finished my first draft of ‘Murphy’.
So we had and enjoyable family day and I felt quite satisfied.

Monday 9 February 2009

The Final Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter 32

Sarah and Bella leave home at the crack of daylight.....
Moriarty, the Prof and Herman leave to track Murphy....
Kate wakes up to find Bella and Sarah are missing, but they have left a note....
Kate phone Nick – he will return home immediately....
Moriarty and the Prof are in a plane, Herman and Blackie are in a 4x4....
Nick heads home in unconventional transport....
Archie drives Kate to the coast....
Sarah and Bella arrive at Horseshoe Cove....
Moriarty scours the coastline for Murphy....
Kate scurries to Horseshoe Cove to find the girls in trouble with the weather rapidly closing in....
The main players are converging at Horseshoe Cove.....
Sarah is swept into the sea – and is rescued by Archie, as Nick arrives....
Bella is knocked off her rock by a massive wave....
There is no sign of Bella under the sea...the weather relents and the sea calms...
There is a dramatic resolution!

The End!

14 pages : 3125 words

Friday 6 February 2009

Chapter Thirty-One – Murphy disappears...completely!?

Chapter 31

Sarah and Bella hatch a plan...
Moriarty hears the bad news about Murphy...
And now, Murphy has disappeared...completely!?

4 pages : 1200 words

Thursday 5 February 2009

Chapter Thirty - Murphy sends the Prof into ecstasy

Chapter 30

The Joshuas post flyers for the safe return of Murphy...
The Professor’s tests on Murphy send him into scientific ecstasy...
Kate phones the police...
The prof’s final test end in tragedy.

3½ pages : 1060 words

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Chapters Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine – Murphy is missing

Chapter 28 and Chapter 29

As I’m now reaching the final 3 or 4 chapters of the book it’s important that I can only relate the sketchiest of details from now on. Sorry!

The Joshuas find Murphy missing, BUT Murphy has gone walkabout before...
Murphy is in the kidnappers’ lair and he is being examined...
Scarlett admits to losing a photo of Murphy...
Kate phones Nick in Scotland to say that Murphy is missing.

6 pages : 1845 words

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Chapter Twenty-Seven – A mad French professor

Chapter 27 kidnap Murphy.

Enter a mad but brilliant French professor.

6 pages : 1820 words

Saturday 31 January 2009

Thoughts on John Martyn 1948-2009

The Scene: The Apollo Victoria, 2 November 1980.
The time: 11 pm.

I’m standing offstage having just photographed two hours of the John Martyn Band in concert.
Martyn walks triumphantly off stage, nods perfunctorily at me and walks backstage.
The rest of the band follow him off.
The final member, drummer Phil Collins, bounds off and beams a smile at me and stops to talk.
COLLINS: Whaddya think then?
ME: Bloody amazing!
COLLINS: Get any good shots?
ME: Hope so.
COLLINS: D’ya wanna join us for a drink?
ME: Umm......I have to get these rolls to Melody Maker.
COLLINS: Beats standing on a street corner.
MARTYN: ‘Ere, Phil.
And Collins walks away to join Martyn , leaving me feeling...... (missed opportunity) bloody stupid!

I photographed many concerts, over a four-year period – some concerts I worked for the money; some concerts I worked, because I liked the artists; and this concert was one of those most rare concerts where I would’ve crawled to it. In fact, I recall that I did something I rarely did whilst snapping....I stopped numerous times during the gig just to look at/listen to Martyn’s extraordinary guitar work.

Fast forward to sometime in 1987.
The Scene: Chelsea Arts Club.

I walk in with my friend Charlie to meet our mutual mate Laurie, an Arts Club member.
I walk over to the bar to order drinks – standing there is John Martyn.
We get chatting and I recall the Apollo gig and how I missed the opportunity to have a post-gig evening with him and Phil Collins. He roars that fag-and-drink laden laugh of his and buys me a drink. And the same again on the next couple of occasions that I visit as well. A delight to know.

There are certain artists who mesmerise you with their brilliance – Richard Thompson, Jimi Hendrix, Nick Drake and Sandy Denny – and Martyn, from that first time I saw him in 1970 in Brighton with erstwhile wife Beverley, is in that hallowed band.
He was totally unique, a true visionary and the music resonates with amazing power.

(As I don’t have any prints of that show available I’ve had to use my contact strips to 'blow up' a couple of prints - apologies for the poor quality)

Friday 30 January 2009

Chapter Twenty-Six – A devilish plan is hatched

Chapter 26

Nick has a 5-day photo-shoot in Scotland after which the rest of the Joshuas will go up to join him for a week’s holiday.

Meanwhile, Moriarty plots with Herman to......

4 pages : 1175 words

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Chapter Twenty-Five – Archie has his job back

Chapter 25

Scarlett is upset at losing Murphy’s photo and preoccupied with trying to find it, but she doesn’t tell anyone. Archie arrives at the Joshua House to thank Nick.

3 pages : 910 words

Friday 23 January 2009

Chapter Twenty-Four – The Village Fete

Chapter 24

It is a glorious summer’s day and the Village Fete, which is held on Moriarty’s land - is opened by guest of honour Janet Street-Porter. Archie is helping Nick with his photo stall/auction and Kate and Sandy are looking after the organic fruit and veg stall. Sarah and Bella are walking Murphy round the show and stop at Herman’s ferret-racing stall.

The fete is doing incredibly well with record numbers of visitors. Nick’s photo auction is going well but the climax is a stunning photo of Moriarty’s land: Moriarty believes he will get this photo at a knock-down price but...he doesn’t count on a surprise bidder. Moriarty storms off.

Meanwhile, one of Herman’s ferrets has escaped and causes untold damage after a chase through numerous stalls. The ferret ends up in the children’s fancy dress parade. Scarlett is knocked over and loses her photo of Herman. The chapter ends with a confrontation between Nick and Moriarty at which Nick is delighted to gain the upper hand.

10 pages : 2640 words

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Happy Obama Day

A most welcome day. I enjoyed watching every heart-uplifting minute of it and in particular Bush’s cringed face when Obama tacitly punctured every Bushism of the previous regime. There may troubles ahead but there should be confidence that there is now a President of intelligence, integrity, passion and charisma. And to top it all, after 8 years, we have a President who can speak English.

Well, Barack, YES you can!

Monday 19 January 2009

Chapters Twenty-Three – Kate’s mum arrives, Archie is sacked

Chapter 23

Kate’s mum, Ruth, arrives for a week and Nick ensconces himself in his darkroom printing photos for the Fete. When Nick goes for a break along to the village store he finds Archie looking disconsolate: he’s been sacked by Moriarty. Nick feels both responsible and furious.

4½ pages : 1240 words