Heather Morris (2021) three SISTERS.

I’m a reader. When I open a book magic happens. Or in Heather Morris’s case magic doesn’t happen. When God said to Moses, you cannot look—directly—at me, but when I pass you might see my glory. When I read a book if I don’t see God’s face, I’m not too disappointed. After all, even international and bestselling authors are only human. I’ll wait for the glory to pass.  And I don’t go very many places. The best writers transport you.

Where are we?

The three sisters, Cibi, Magda and Livi, sit in a tight circle in the small backyard of their home. The oleander bush their mother has tried so hard to coax back to life droops disconsolately in the corner of the small garden.

Livi the youngest, at three years old, leaps to her feet: sitting still is not in her nature.

‘Livi, please, will you sit down?’ Cibi tells her. At seven years old, she is the eldest of the siblings, and it is her responsibility to chastise them when they misbehave. ‘You know, Father wants to talk to us.’

‘No,’ three year-old Livi pronounces and proceeds to skip around the seated figures, giving a pat on the head as she passes, Magda, the middle sister, and five years old…

This is the prologue to three SISTERS. The reader knows who they are. They’ve been named. And the reader has been told twice Livi is three-years-old.

I ask again. Where are we? What are we?

‘Just keep walking. Livi. Stay in Line,’ Cibi murmurs to her sister.

Once they are through the gates, the girls are led down a tree-lined street, the first flush of sapling leaves waving in the cool breeze. Heat emanates from the harsh overhead lighting and Cibi is ironically reminded of a warm summer evening. They pass a grey concrete building, meeting the blank stares of young men and women who gaze back at them, expressionless, from the window.’

The first paragraph of the book has a tag attached, so the reader doesn’t confuse it with somewhere else, somewhere interesting: Vranov and Topl’ou, Slovakia.

The second tag tells the reader, what year it is, because it could be anytime, but it is June 1929.    

The second paragraph transcribed, Chapter 7, Auschwitz, April 1942.

The narrator is Cibi, as she takes a stroll through the gates of Auschwitz, the gates of hell. She tries for irony, but finds only repetition, ‘blank stares,’ and ‘expressionless’ faces.

I do not see God passing. Nor do I see fallen humanity. Take out all the tags and I guess we could be in California, sunning ourselves on the beach, before nipping off to the local supermarket, which happens to be in a rundown part of town.

Heather Morris, international bestselling author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Her other works include Cilia’s Journey, which I’m glad to say is a journey I’ve made in abbreviated form, and Sources of Hope, which I have read in fuller form, is a writer who bumps along on the page dragging cliches behind her. But she must have something. I’m not quite sure what. I’ll not be reading any of her work again. You might think differently. Feel differently. Read on.  

Barry Woodward (2009) Once an Addict.


This was one of Bob’s book, I inherited. The second evangelic one I’ve read that somebody obviously had given him. A message inside the flyleaf: ‘Be Inspired!’ I guess Bob was looking for something. We all are. I had to have a coming-out party, when people found out—yes, I was a writer. And yes, a second coming-out party when I admitted I believed in God—well sometimes, more often than not, but not very often. Ned Flanders in The Simpsons is the archetype do-gooder and believer and you’ve got to just say, wow, to all things Godly. I was never much good at being good. I wanted to be in the same place they put the bad women and if that was hell then I was quite willing. If there was a dog to be kicked, I was the man for the job. But I wasn’t really bad, more sad than bad. That’s usually how life plays out, especially when you get older. Bob was more sad than bad. He could never bear to be alone. Books like this are honey for a bee. But I doubt he ever read it.

Barry Woodward was a no-good cunt. Then he found God, or God found him and he was saved and became an evangelic and preaches [present tense in the before-and-after story] the word of God.

I could list all the drugs he took when he was part of the Madchester scene. He was really into music and built his own deck and played music night and day for months of end. He learned how to mix decks and never really slept. He wasn’t the kind of neighbour I’d like. I’d have probably have a falling out if he stayed anywhere near me. I wouldn’t really have cared if he took heroin and speed and crack cocaine and smoked dope. That would have been his business. Not mine. If he died of these things I’d just be relieved it was quiet. But inside that the chrysalises of maximum volume noise were voices that spoke to him. Psychosis.  When he flushed the toilet the voices spoke to him. When he was in the shower, they kept him company and dragged him down. More drugs didn’t still their voices.  Bob was like that too.

Ironically, Bob was more at ease when he was in Greenock Prison than outside. Barry when he was inside had all kind of ruses to get his stuff in the old Strangeways. His girlfriend played pass-the-parcel when they kissed and he’d swallow and shit it out. Anything to get a hit, to be normal.

When God directs Barry it’s quite funny. He ends up naked hiding from the police in a stream he tries to dive into but is little more than a puddle. The police woman is nice and tempts him out with a scratchy blanket and kind words. He’s marked down as just another nut- job, taken to the local nick and locked up again, before getting sentenced for other misdemeanours.  

When your psychotic voices in the head are part of the terrain. But there’s little to tell between Barry’s experience and Joan of Arc telling her fellow countrymen to rise up and the English to go back home. Moses talking to a burning bush. Saul being blinded and walking with scales on his eyes, only for them to fall away when he recognised the risen Christ. The trick is to make others believe the voices are real. Barry Woodward turned his life around. God bless him for that. Bob never got the chance. God bless him for that too. The voices no longer haunt him.  

Anne Rice (2007) Called Out of Darkness. A Spiritual Confession.

Anne Rice, as most people know, is a novelist. Her bestselling work includes her first novel, Interview with the Vampire. This is the only novel of hers which I’ve read. It made her who she is. Gave her financial freedom. The blurb on the cover tells the reader that she has written twenty-eight novels. I’ve a dim memory of trying to read another one of these, but quickly put it down. I could run my finger down the list, but honestly I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one it was. And this is a book about honesty. That’s the one trait I look for in a writer. This is an honest book, with many of the milestone cognizable to me. Well, that’s if you exclude the smiling face of Anne Rice on the inside of the back cover. It’s tagged ‘Anne Rice as a young girl’. Ahem. Ahem. A gentleman never says what age a lady looks.

I paid ten pence for this book. I’ll let you decide whether it was worth the money. I’ve shortened it considerably and put it into poetic form for ease of digestion. If you read beyond this you owe me five pence.

Fool’s crown in my hand

Haunts this barren land

Yet here we stand

Wait at the bus stop of fate

Why is it always running late?

On this our first date

Then you shut the gate

Mankind can always wait

 

Nervous and narrow are the streets

Nervous and narrow are my feet

My way of seeing –into infinity

Old-school can sometime be cruel

In the milieu which we grew

We don’t seem to meet

I seek God in geography.

 

Pray, what today?

Crows the beggars of my youth

As a shroud

In the heart there’s a start

Grace breaks free

God was

God is – liberty.

 

Capricious spirit lies and wails

Torn away Veronica’s veil

A secret voice whispers

-pray

My daughter, my son, my one

Voice of conscience

Voice of doom

Belong in separate rooms

Do you believe?

I sigh

There’s no reason why

But if the music of violin sings

I’m full of broken strings

If Giotto and Rembrandt

Speak of God

I give a little nod

In a mausoleum of clay figurines

God’s words seem obscene

If there’s universal love

Let’s be clear

Every day is new year

 

Get up- go- before it’s too late

Wait and see if He’ll come to me

Miracle of love complete

Over there – take a seat

For the strong and free

That’s the truth of youth