Johnsson Beharry VC
Published by Sphere
Verdict: 5/5 – Why haven’t you got this yet?
Some people know Johnson Gideon Beharry as the guy from ‘Dancing on Ice.’ He is, however, much more than that, being the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross in over thirty years. Personally, he is also my greatest living hero. The term ‘hero’ is used for popstars, filmstars, footballers and even reality celebs. Some of theses do have talent, but are not heroic in the way that every British soldier is, and the VC recipients are like gods among heroes.
The book ‘Barefoot Soldier’ is the autobiography of Johnson Beharry, detailing his childhood, early adulthood and the action he saw in Iraq which led to him gaining the VC. I have read the book before so I knew what to expect, and I also knew that I would enjoy it.
Ishould start with the negatives. It took me a while to think of these but I don’t want to sound like a sycophant. The book could do with an update now; I am not sure if this has happened, but since the VC, he has married, had children and been on ‘Dancing on Ice’. I would love to know more of what direction his career has now taken. After becoming a VC what does a guy do next?
That is possibly the only downside, as the book tackles the trials that Beharry went through all of his life, from an alcoholic father, a slide towards womanising and drinking to some tough times in the army. The book is not an ego trip – Beharry has character flaws as we all do, and he mentions them. He sometimes skived, he drank, he may have turned out worse had it not been for the army. He is modest, as many VC winners are; “just doing my job”.
Being written first person, it delves into Beharry’s mind, something that is missing in history books, news reports and biographies. We get to learn more of who Beharry is and what drove him on. We learn he is really a normal guy who wants a simple life and somehow became a hero.
Who is the book for? I would love everyone to read the book; we can be proud of our British armed forces and the heroes that make them up. He should inspire British children but also the poor and ethnic groups. There is a discussion in the UK about there not being enough black rôle models – here is one of the greatest black heroes I can think of (please don’t argue the point, I write, not discuss race!). Politicians should also read the book to learn about our fantastic armed forces that they seem intent on destroying.
To rate the book, I would have to give it the full marks, and recommend it to everyone and if there are any directors out there, make this into a biopic.
by James Herbert
First Published 1988
The book follows the simple idea of a haunted house. David Ash is a psychic investigator who uncovers fake hauntings and has doubts as to the existence of ghosts. His sceptical view stems from a dark childhood secret. He travels to Edbrook, a remote country house, to investigate a haunting and stays with the Mariell family and begins to unravel their family secret.
Ok, so I have not read James Herbert for a while as I was getting fed up with his books. I got this book cheap in a charity shop, which is the best place to get books in my opinion. Or at least until I am an author and my royalties are affected. I had an open mind. Maybe with the passing of time, I would like his books again, maybe I had just read several duff books and this would be the one to bring me back.
The blurb in the dust cover promises that ‘he has taken on the haunted-house mystery story and re-forged it in his own uniquely brilliant and terrifying way.’ Sadly, the book is different to other haunted house stories in that James Herbert uses all the themes that he uses in all of his books, as well as every theme that haunted house films and books have used since, well, since houses were haunted.
James Herbert has very limited characters, which was the main reason that I was alienated from his books. All of his major characters in his books are late thirties to early forties, at least in ‘feel,’ if not implicitly stated. The character is always male, heavy smoker and drinker, hiding a bad past. The first pretty female encountered WILL end up in bed with said male character. She will have little character development and be very two dimensional.
Then there is the haunted house; it is like a check sheet of what to include. Murky pond haunted by a girl, having life-threatening experiences happen, then suddenly they are not. The house owner hiding information about a dodgy past to the hero, crazed people hidden from others, the violent dog, the ghost detectors that are not set off, child-like giggling, seeing someone, look again and they are gone. Telephones not working, the local pub knowing something dodgy happens at the big house. Ok, you get the picture; there is nothing original in here at all. We’ve seen it all before!
Then there is the mitigation. James Herbert has the skill to form the story. He does not resort to mindless bloodshed, bludgeoning his readers over the head to force the point that this is horror; he molds the words to be psychologically horrific. His words leave deep impressions and vivid images. I did keep reading it; there were interesting parts, sadly not enough, and not enough originality. The haunted house is done to death, and it would take an incredible idea to revive it. Sadly, ‘Haunted’ does not deliver.
Vedict: Unoriginal and disappointing.
This is a short story with a religious theme, hope you enjoy
The crash took me by surprise, and I checked myself over. There were a few cuts and bruises, but I felt fine. I crawled out of the car through the window and onto the road, mum and dad were already there.
“Are you ok?” mum asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, although I was shaken.
“Sit at the side of the road for a moment, I need to ask you dad some questions.” I obeyed without arguing, I was too stunned.
The car was a wreck in the ditch, but I did not look too closely, rather sat on a hillock as mum and dad spoke in hushed tones together. In time they returned with half smiles.
“We’re going to wait in the woods for the ambulances and police to turn up,” mum said. Dad led as we crossed through a gap in the trees to where there was a clearing.
It was a gentle place, the sun filtered through the leaves, sending dappled warm light on a the lush green grass where Christmas Roses and Columbines grew. There was the sound of birds calling and singing among the trees, and an aura of calm. A gentle hill marked the edge of the clearing, and a metal bench was opposite, set against the trunk of a large cedar tree. Mum sat on the bench, and I went to the hill.
I saw there was a large animal hole and I peered into it and saw it trailed off into the distance of the mound.
“Dad, we could fit in here, shall we see what’s in here?” I asked. I expected him to say no. We did not know what animal would live in such a large hole.
“Sure, but you go first,” he said. “There may be a monster in there,” he joked.
“Are you coming, mum?” She shook her head.
“You go. I may be along later.” I did not think mum would come, she was not really into getting dirty and would be quite happy sitting in the gentle clearing.
I went first, crawling on hands and knees, I entered the tunnel. I felt a surge of excitement. Although the ground was damp cool mud, it was firm and comfortable. The smell was pleasant, and roots had formed around the walls of the tunnel, but none barred our way. We said nothing as we made out way along the tunnel. Finally I saw some light ahead.
“There’s light ahead,” I mumbled with a furrowed brow. Dad said nothing. I was not even sure he was still with me, but the tunnel was too narrow to look back.
The light was from the end of the tunnel, and I emerged into the forest, although I knew instantly that this was not the same woodland.
The air was cool, the sky deep blue, and the first tree that I saw was a huge elm tree, but about it were fir trees. There was an old woman sat on a rocking chair before a thatched timber framed and roses surrounded the low doorway. She looked up as I emerged from the hole and put aside her knitting.
“I have waited many years for you,” she said, unsurprised at my appearance from the hole. I looked about and saw dad was beside me, smiling broadly and I thought I saw a tear in his eye. The woman seemed familiar, although I was not sure where from. “And you,” she continued, pointing at me, “you have become a handsome young man, like your dad was at your age. How old are you?”
“Fourteen,” I said. She nodded, and looked at dad.
“Over there is Paul, he will show you the way to the castle.”
I saw now a man holding a staff and was dressed in purple and blue. He was short, with a long hooked nose, a bald head and eyes brows that met. He smiled on hearing his name, and I saw that his eyes, although red rimmed, were gentle and kind. The sun was behind him, shining about his head.
“Come, follow me,” he said with a heavy accent. As we followed, the trees dropped back, and I saw a wide range of mountains.
There were beautiful snow capped mountains stretching into the distance, and birds soared high above. A castle was in the distance, tall turrets thrust skyward and pennants fluttering in a gentle cool wind.
Shortly along the path we passed a house that was a simple wooden home, low fronted with large doors on an annex which were thrown open to reveal a workshop.
“Dad, that’s like your ideal house there. You always tell mum you would love a simple life with a workshop so you can make things.”
“Yes, it’s a wonderful home there,” he said. Paul paused and turned to us, a gentle smile on his lips. We said no more, but continued our way. Paul walked quickly, despite having crooked legs and in time we reached the gates of the castle.
There were two large doors, but they were open. The walls of the castle were white; a christogram of IHS was carved into the stone above the gateway.
Inside, the entrance hall was large with golden stairs rising up either side. There was a table, covered in delicious food. I could hear constant singing, and it was so beautiful. The song went deep into my heart, making me smile as I heard it, warming me to the core. Dad was smiling too.
“It is fantastic here,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied, “there is nothing wrong at all.”
“Please,” said Paul, “eat your fill. Even you, Jack, can have the wine.” It never occurred to me that Paul knew my name, for I was too interested getting a glass of wine. At home, I had only been allowed wine at Christmas.
I took a plate of food and a glass of wine, and sat to eat with Paul and dad. Then some other men came in, and there were ten others. They all looked wise but friendly and normally I was shy, but they quickly set me at ease.
As I spoke to Paul on my right and dad on my left, I overheard some snippets of conversations;
“He will arrive soon. The king is coming.” I was about to meet a king. I thought I must be dreaming, for the place was surreal, but if it was a dream I did not mind, for the place was too wondrous.
After a feast like none other that I have had, I stepped outside with Paul and dad. I looked out across the endless mountains, where forests nestled around the foothills and snow capped their peaks. In the far distance I could see the tops of a city and it seemed to glow as if made of gold. There was no sun, but it was warm and light. I glanced at my watch and saw that it had stopped.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Soon it will be time to meet the king,” Paul replied. I frowned at his answer, but he continued. “We should go back to the house.”
I was a little disappointed, but I knew we had to get back to mum. We took the short journey back along the path, but stopped at the wooden shack. The old woman was there now, waiting.
“You go in, son, get the kettle on,” dad said. I went to the front door, it was open slightly but there was no handle. Dad would be able to fix that easily. Inside, it was surprisingly comfortable.
There was a stove in the corner, although it was not lit, with a pile of wood in a basket alongside. A table in the middle had six chairs, and the wall had a hanging. There was clutter all about, and I passed from here into a kitchen. It was neat, and I saw an Aga cooker. Taking the kettle, I looked for a tap, but there was none. Instead I looked out of the window and saw that there was pump.
“Dad should buy this place, it’s so rustic,” I said to myself. I was about to leave to get the water when I heard a knock at the door.
“Come in!” I called, but the reply was another knock at the door. Placing the kettle on the table I saw a figure at the door.
I opened the door and saw a tall man with long dark brown hair, a full beard and piercing kind brown eyes. He wore all white and the light behind him illuminated his head as it had Paul’s.
“Hello Jack,” he said. “You know who I am.” His voice was gentle and although he spoke, the words seemed to be in my mind and heart as well.
“Yes,” I replied, although I had never met him before, “you are the Lord Jesus.” Stunned I stepped back, “come in.” And as he stepped into the room, so it was that light followed him, I looked about the room again.
I noticed that there was a shelf with a picture of me, dad and mum. There was a pair of boots in the corner that were dads, and on the table, his cup that I bought him at father’s day. In front of the now lit stove was a black dog, and I knew it was Kruger, our Great Dane, who had died two years ago. He and dad had been inseparable.
“You have let me in, and now you see the Truth,” Jesus said. “Come.” He took me outside, and dad and the woman were waiting, Paul had left. I looked to the sky and saw that they were not eagles soaring high, but angels in many colours, although with human faces they were beautiful beyond words.
“Dad, what is going on?” I asked, tears in my eyes.
“You know where we are,” he said.
“Heaven? That means I am dead.”
“No, Jack, not you. Sorry, but I never walked away from that crash.”
I had tears in my eyes, and was sad, but also I was not sad. There can be no sadness in Heaven.
“I wanted to show you that I will be fine. One day we’ll be together again.”
“The tunnel, we came through that together.”
“I was not with you. My tunnel was filled with light until I got here. Now you must go, mum needs you.” I threw my arms around him, a great tight hug, tears spilling down, but with a warmth knowing he would be happy.
“Let me lead you back to the tunnel,” Jesus spoke. So it was he led me, along the path, past the thatched cottage, to the tunnel.
“So it is,” Jesus spoke. I entered the tunnel, and moved quickly along it. When I emerged, mum was still sat on the bench. I could see through the trees, the flashing of ambulance lights. Mum rose from the bench and took my hand.
“Come on, let’s go home,” was all she said. It was all she needed to say.
©Copyright Alan Grace 2014
How I came to writing…
This is a muse on how I came to be a writer, where it all started and what influences I have.
It all began long ago on a stormy night… ok not quite, but it was a long time ago for me. When I was only four years old, my mum took me and my brother, three years me senior, into the newsagent, (we called ‘sweetshop’) to choose a comic. I chose the ‘Dandy’ while my brother chose the ‘Buster’ (both, sadly, now defunct).
Only four years old, I was not able to read well, but the fantastic pictures made me want to read, and so, with school, badgering my mum, and my own pig headedness, I learned to read. I grew up without a television, so the ‘Dandy’ and ‘Buster’ were a constant companion for cartoons. In time, my brother decided that the quality of ‘Buster’ was declining and he swapped to ‘Dandy’s sister comic, the ‘Beano.’
For many years, ‘Dandy’ and ‘Beano’ were an obsession, with competing arguments over which was better, but also sharing the two between us brothers. After we read our own, we would swap and read each others. A box at the end of my bed was filled with ‘Dandy’ comics, and the bookshelf filled with annuals that aunties would buy every Christmas, along with other annuals of ‘Beezer’ and ‘Topper’ (also defunct ). While my friends were mad on ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’ I was more interested in the weekly exploits of Korky the Cat or Desperate Dan.
In primary school, I was assessed at my reading level and was judged to be level G. The levels went from A through to O, and G for a starting level was quite good. It was here that I was introduced to Sheila K. McKullagh’s books of ‘Tim and the Hidden People.’ These were about Tim, who finds a key and while he has it, can see a whole collection of people, such as Wind Witches, a cat, called Tobias, Melinda the White Witch and many others. Later, Tim was replaced with Jessica and Arun. The authoress also wrote books about a boy called Nicholas who went into a picture to join some Buccaneers. All of these books I lapped up, reading the entire range. I loved cats at the time (strange, I know, but hey, I had no telly!) and read ‘Pyewacket’ by Rosemary Weir.
During the first year of primary school at aged seven, having been to an infant school, the teacher had us write a story every Monday. I enjoyed this greatly. Sometimes he would bring in an object for us and we would write about it. I remember him bringing in an unusual bottle, but he dropped it, so told us to write a story while he cleaned the broken glass up. Another time, he had a note, deliberately obscure, so we would write a story as if we had received that note and what it meant. The note read; “Bill of Portland Echo Cave Bring gem 1.30 Thursday” Now my taste for writing was beginning, but something magical was about to happen.
I was nine years old, third year Junior School (year five now) and the teacher told us to write a character. Her original idea was to be a little devil, but she then allowed many children, including myself to write other characters. I chose a Gnome. We wrote a profile, such as age, height, weight, eyes, etc – a process I still use when I have new characters to this day. It was from this exercise that Cedric the Gnome was born, He was forty years old and seven centimetres tall, with a green jacket, red hat (with bobble on) and white chinos (yay 80’s fashion!)
Every week we would write a new adventure with our little creature. I loved it so much, I would write more at home, even miss playtimes to write more. While other children wrote stories a few pages long, I would write and write. To this day, I have the stories with fantastic 9 year olds artwork within. Maybe I should scan them into here.
I knew then that I wanted to write books. But things were changing. My main toy had been the castle range of Lego, but then I began to play ‘Hero Quest.’ I had begun to get involved in fantasy. ‘Hero Quest’ led to ‘Advanced Hero Quest,’ to Games Workshop’s ‘Warhammer Fantasy Battle’ and ‘Warhammer Fantasy Rôleplay.’
As my years turned to teens, I read avidly, absorbing any writing on ‘Warhammer’ like a nerdy goblin. I created my own armies and then my own races. At school, I had entered secondary school, and relished the few times we were set stories to write.
We were studying mythology in English in first year (year seven now) and had to write a story about a knight. I made a character who would become a lead character in the fantasy novel that I work on now. Later, another story saw the first appearance of my lead heroine. At home I worked passionately on early plans for my novel. The map I drew in a rough notebook is the same as I use now for the novel, although many more locations have been added and names have been changed as I disliked them.
About the same time, I was playing Bullfrog’s ‘Syndicate’ game, about four agents who carry out special missions in a dystopian future. They are enhanced by cybernetics. A new idea for a novel was forming. One surname they had, I loved, so he became my lead character for the novel.
My writing was simple, influenced by places I had seen, with rough characters and I realised too that I was taking too much influence from the ‘Warhammer’ universe. I began to work on taking my fantasy away and making it my own. Names sounded awkward or just plain rubbish. Some names even sounded like food colouring when they were meant to be names of nations. I worry about names of races and places even now.
At college, I joined a writing group and it was fantastic. I wrote so many short stories that when it came to the end of the year and they put together a collection of the group’s stories they called the book ‘Alan and Co.’ Here I made many advances in my writing, including many restarts of my novels.
The older I got the more I read wider and wider. At about eleven I read Ian Fleming’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,’ then at thirteen I read Tolkien’s ‘Hobbit,’ closely followed by ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Now I will read anything, even material I do not agree with. I like to read wide, especially if it is something that I care about. So I have read news on the ‘Daily Mail’, ‘Sun’, ‘Telegraph’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Mirror’ and BBC. I visit political groups sites as diverse as Sinn Fein or BNP. I read any stories I get hold of, and even as a child would read the stories in ‘My Weekly’ and ‘Bella’. I feel that to read widely is always good, and besides, you never know where the next story will come from.
So over the years, I have tried several times with my Cedric. Once loved, never forgotten. He looks the same, but has changed much. One day I will return and try again with him. My fantasy world has been expanded, more races discovered, the gods written about and I know the characters as well as many people I know in the real world. Yet the basic map and many character names remain. The sci-fi story still has the same basic storyline, although now more developed, and researched. The baddies have changed from enemy agents to Al-Queda to IRA.
I always wanted to write a swashbuckling pirate novel, and in my early twenties began one. Sadly, my computer died on my and it was all lost, along with my background for other novels, short stories and poems. How I cursed the computer. Although I put that novel on a backburner I managed to recover enough to resume my fantasy and sci-fi novels.
Once, while at work, it was late and quiet. I sat down and began a horror novel. I saved it, and e-mailed it to myself, so that when I got home, I would have it. Then the computer died on me! I had an external hard drive in case the computer went wrong, but instead the external hard drive got a virus and so I lost all my writing again. This has thrown my back, and yet again, I am trying to rebuild my novels. Next time I will back the stuff up. I wish I knew more about how computers work.
©Copyright Alan Grace 2014