May 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
  books monthly
     The back page... Two men who inspire me - Gareth Malone and Harry Billinge.


Previous Back Page features:
DECEMBER 2021 - Enid Blyton's Little Noddy
JANUARY 2022 - The Whiteoaks of Jalna
FEBRUARY 2022 - Leslie Charteris's The Saint
MARCH 2022 - The Passion Flower Hotel
April 2022 - The Tiger Comic

The year is 2007 and there's an exciting new programme on BBC One entitled The Choir...,


...I am fortunate enough to have lived through so many decades of brilliant music and literature, much of which has inspired me. I believe it was Noel Coward who inspired me to put pen to paper, or rather typewriter ribbon to paper and write my first play, one which I sent to the then head of BBC Drama, John Tydeman, who held on to it for several months and then reluctantly returned it to me saying that he had been unable to think of a way of putting it on the radio, but that my writing, especially the interplay between my youngest characters, was terrific and that I should carry on writing. I drifted away from writing plays and started to write short stories instead, and had some initial success in that overcrowded field, with an Irish women's magazine, Women's Way, accepting one of my stories and actually publishing it! From short stories it was a short step to full-length novels, and in 1998 I was fully conversant with the upcoming craze of personal computers - I was kitted out with an IBM PS2 with 64Kb of RAM and a piece of software called RapidFile, which included a word processor, which I played around with and started to write straight onto the computer. My output was prolific - I estimate that from 1998 - 2001 I had written over two million words of fantasy and crime fiction. None of it was publishable, although my crime stories always went to one specific publisher who took on amateur writers and nurtured them. None of my stories satisfied them enough though they always read them and gave me solid reasons for their rejection of my manuscripts.

By this time, the WWW was well under way and one of the first things I discovered was the programming language HTML, with which people were creating and maintaining their own websites. Working out how to create web pages using HTML (and later an HTML editor) was easy, because you could look at the code behind the web pages, make subtle but easy changes to it and then see the difference. In November of 1998 I had a monthly magazine ready to upload, written in HTML and all I had to do was to find a host, which came in the form of Fortune City, who offered free web page hosting. The first issue of my magazine, comprising articles, short stories and the first episodes of my longer fiction, was posted late November 1998, approximately 25 years ago this coming November - Phantazone was born! My inspiration for this was another short story and book review magazine, Quantum Muse, the editors of which were happy to help me with tips and tricks on how to make the HTML code work better for me. We find ourselves inspired to do something by observing other people.

So this month's back page is about inspiration. I have lived through seven decades of extraordinary inventions, discoveries, writers, artists, musicians etc., etc., and I can say one thing for certain - I am not inspired by any politician. They are a breed of human being for whom lying comes easy, evasion of straight answers comes easy, Politicians are, by and large, a shady lot. Some are worse than others - for example, I am in tune with Liverpool when they hold up a banner at a football match saying "Never Trust a Tory". I am a left wing socialist, and it seems to me that Labour's only means of getting into power is not through their own endeavours, but by the appalling and costly mistakes the Conservatives make. It is to be hoped that the forthcoming elections see many Tory politicians ruing the day they voted for an overweight serial liar to lead their party and, by default, the country. Under Boris Johnson I am frequently ashamed to be British - he doesn't speak for me, he doesn't speak for the country, he speaks only for Boris Johnson and of all the politicians that have ever served this country, lying has come easiest to him - he is a serial liar, he can't help himself. He has no shame and no morals, and it is a savage indictment of Eton that they have helped to bring to power a series of evil, lying people who have not served their country well at all. Cameron, Osborne, Gove, Johnson - all evil people because they say they have the public interest at heart but just by saying that, they are lying through their teeth. Although I adore boarding school stories, Eton would be the last place I would ever want to go - they teach their pupils to lie.

So, if I'm not inspired by politicians, who then? Writers? Of course! I'm inspired by people like Bernard Cornwell, Stuart MacBride, Stephen King (my top three living writers); by Enid Blyton (naturally). These brilliant writers inspire me to write - I may not be as good as them, but I write because I like what they write, and they inspire me to write my own stories and to publish them in the pages of Books Monthly. They won't be there forever, because when I stop publishing Books Monthly, the website will cease to exist... By composers? Of course! I am inspired by composers like Mahler, Bruckner, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Prokoviev, Beethoven, Brahms etc., I am inspired by musicians like the Beatles, Jeff Lynne, Bobby Darin, Acker Bilk, Harry Nielsen, Frank Sinatra, Randy Newman... they inspire me to think good thoughts, they bring me closer to my God and to my beliefs. Their words inspire me to love. By artists? Not so much, at least, I am inspired by people who can paint, not by the Emperor's New Clothes artists, whose Turner Prize offerings look like something worse than Picasso ever turned out, and you'll gather from that that I am not inspired by modern or abstract art, which seems to me to be absolute rubbish... modern jazz has the same effect on me, and the least said about popular music since the late 1970s the better!

Am I inspired by other people? Contemporaries of mine? In some cases, yes, but two people stand out from a gigantic crowd. They inspire me to be a better, more courageous person, and courage doesn't necessarily mean physical courage - it can mean having the courage to stand up and talk to a crowd of people - public speaking can be daunting. Watching one man since 2007 inspired me to conquer my fears and to stand up and address council meetings, and to help groups of men (with whom I worked) from a sales force charged with taking new products out on the road and selling them to shopkeepers. The man that inspired me to do that was Gareth Malone. We watched all of his programmes avidly, and I remember saying to my wife that I found Gareth one of the most inspirational and bravest people I had ever seen. Not only was he fearless in the face of overwhelming doubt, he was unafraid to go back time and time again and try to persuade a group of youngsters that it was cool to sing, cool to stand up and give a solo performance, knowing they were good enough but previously unable to commit to performing because they were afraid of failing. He inspired thousands and thousands of people to conquer their fears and to sing. And singing, as we all now know, is in itself inspirational and comforting, and joyous, and just great! Gareth Malone is also immensely musically gifted. He is one of the most inspirational teachers I have ever seen, and I rejoice every time I see him on TV, unless it's on one of those dire programmes I simply can't watch because it is utter rubbish, such as The Wheel, that pointless vehicle for the dubious talents of Michael Macintyre...

The second man whom I found inspirational for an entirely different reason, was Harry Billinge, the WW2 veteran who campaigned for most of his adult life to get a memorial built in Normandy to the soldiers who died in the Normandy Landings in 1944. Harry died last week aged 96, and I'm pleased to say that BBC Breakfast had extended pieces on how he had captured the hearts and minds of the people of Britain with his smile, his attitude, his love of life and his undiminishing love of the men who had fought with him on the Normandy beaches and who, unlike him, never came back. He insisted he was not a hero, that the men who died were the heroes, he was the lucky one, he survived, he came back. But at what cost? Losing his beloved comrades inspired him to do something about a memorial to them, and he succeeded. He didn't raise the kind of sums that Captain Tom did, but for me Harry was the more important of the two men - both were inspirational, but Harry Billinge will remain in my heart and my memory for much longer than Captain Tom, mainly because of his simple humility and his amazing philosophy. Like Gareth Malone, Harry Billinge made you sit up and take notice, he made you want to cry because of his personality, his attitude, and his love for his fellow man and for what he had been through at such a young age. He inspired me to remember my own fallen family members, grandfathers I never got to meet; and my faith, my belief that we never really die when people remember us, and that there is something for each and every one of us after this life. This is why I believe that all of my doggies will one day see me again; that my Mum, my Dad and my sister Jean will one day see me again; and why Holly, my border collie, is my guardian angel... Harry Billinge, I salute you.

Football managers like Jurgen Klopp inspire their teams to play well in order to win matches, competitions and trophies; classical music conductors inspire the musicians in their charge to play specific pieces of music to the best of their ability; teachers inspire children to learn in order to better themselves; I was inspired at school seventy years ago by Miss Paige and Mr Rossiter - but that was a long time ago, and although I've not forgotten them, I've needed further inspiration as I've got much, much older. Gareth Malone and Harry Billinge are two inspirational people that I have never met but who I feel that I know, or knew. They are my two overwhelming inspirations for the reasons I've given above. They are important to me, and that's really all that matters... Until the next back page!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.

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   Fantasy & Science Fiction

   Nonfiction Books


   The Silent Three

   The Four Marys

   Growing up in the 1950s

   Living with Skipper

   Pen and Sword Books

   Sundays with Tarzan

   The Back Page

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