Adam Bird

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Thursday, 14 June 2012

A Dark and Broken Heart

My Ellory Collection

Long term readers of this blog will know how much I enjoy reading and that my current favourite author is a writer named Roger Ellory. He is the author of nine previous novels and three novellas, most of which I have reviewed through the pages of this blog. Last night I turned the final page of his latest novel “A Dark and Broken Heart” and in keeping with blog tradition - I share with you my thoughts.

On the inside cover of the book is the usual synopsis, which is repeated on Amazon as the book description. It is deliberately vague, gives nothing away, but a small taster of what we eventually learn through the first few fast-paced chapters about the main protagonist Vincent Madigan and his debt to the local drug king, SandiĆ” who rules the roost in East Harlem and Madigan’s plan to finally get his life back on track.

Vincent Madigan has a simple idea, take four hundred grand from the thieves who stole it in the first place. But this is literature and so things go inevitably wrong - spectacularly so. Madigan is forced to kill his co-conspirators and a child is shot amidst the carnage that ensues. Now not only is SandiĆ” after him, but the might of NYPD are too.

Just like the book cover and just like Amazon, that’s all I am going to give you. Because what happens next is a thrilling rollercoaster of shock and surprise, twists that hook you in from the off and doesn’t let you go until literally the last word of the book.

As a crime thriller, that is all you ask for, all you need, the reason why the genre is so universally popular.

But as with any of Ellory’s previous novels, there are bigger questions buried within the plot. About man, about human nature, about the nature of evil and what drives people towards unspeakable deeds.

Last time around, in the novel Bad Signs, we had Elliot Danziger, a man that was just plain evil and questions were left asked; are people naturally born bad, or does something break inside, like a switch? Whereas this time, the issue is not quite so black and white, more of a deep expanse of grey.

We are as readers, when the back cover has shut, are left in conflict. Just like we were in A Quiet Vendetta with our dear old friend Ernesto Perez.

Is Vincent Madigan an evil man or a victim himself, of life, of the system, of decisions that were made at the time that with the benefit of hindsight were later proved wrong? Deep and searching questions which will divide opinion in each one who reads it, but another set of questions that are left on purpose by an author whose intricate weaving of brutal realism vs the very nature of what drives human behaviour has become something of a trademark.

Another reviewer commented on A Dark and Broken Heart, called it “classic noir” and it is. A Dark and Broken Heart is a deeply dark and penetrative view into the underworld. The action is violent in places with dialogue as gritty and harsh as the New York environs descriptively brought to life by the author - which is a tribute by Ellory to all of the things that interest him; American history, American literature, music, film and television with subtle references throughout the novel in homage to those very things that inspire him to write.

How that inspiration can manifest itself in people and what they achieve just by taking the lead from something or someone they have enjoyed or listened to is incredible. After ten novels, ten very different stories and an vast array of memorable characters that live long in the memory, Ellory continues to be a master of his craft.

As a long term fan of his work it has been a great privilege reading and championing the books that he has written. And whilst writers in general inspire me, I’ve a particular respect and affinity for Ellory’s work that is difficult to explain. But what I need to do now, just like he has with his own work is take that inspiration and turn it into something real and tangible.

I’ve my own ambition to write, a very different style and a very different story. But it’s not there yet and it’s nowhere near it, but all the time there are people out there showing that it is possible, with graft and craft and no shortage of talent - anything is possible.

In the meantime, do yourself a favour, visit a bookstore, online or on the high-street. Buy a damn good book from a damn good author and tell the next person all about - just as I have.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Case Study (Part 6) - kings-medway.co.uk

King's Church Medway

On Sunday, 3 June 2012, amidst the pomp, pageantry and celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. King’s Church Medway were having a minor celebration of their own - a launch party of not just one, but three brand new websites which concluded four months of hard work and effort by  everyone involved in the project.

If you have followed the journey through my series of case-study blog posts, you will know that I asked to be involved after seeing a new website launched at the beginning of the year by the existing media team and publicly advertised by my Uncle Matthew, who is pastor of the church.

I felt that the website was of insufficient quality, that it suffered from a lack of direction and a confused message. It was also blatantly clear that it had been built by someone with little experience and who had gotten by with a huge amount of commitment and enthusiasm.

You’ll also know that I started this project by understanding more about the work done by the church, by its people and discovering that they are not just confined to a place of worship - meeting once a week on a Sunday. They are a community of people whose lives intertwine, mixing socially whilst working to provide a better future for the underprivileged in Medway and even further afield than that - right across the globe.

My mission then was simple, to take that commitment, that enthusiasm and raw attitude of “anything is possible” and blend it with a vision of my own, whilst equipping them with the means to carry the project forward with a more professional mindset and structured methodology.

So then, Sunday, I was asked to stand in front of my Uncles congregation and present to them the three websites that we had built:

www.kingschurchmedway.org.uk
- The site built for the church, for the people of the church. Learn more about them as a group of people, as a group of Christians and how King’s Church Medway binds them together individually and collectively in their everyday lives.

www.caringhandsuk.org.uk
- The site built for the homeless charity that the church founded. Learn more about the services that they provide, see evidence for yourself of how peoples lives have been changed and how you too can help make change happen.

www.lightthewayuk.org.uk
- The site built for the overseas mission team that operate out of the church. Learn more about their work across the globe; in India, the Philippines and next year’s mission to Guyana in South America. Learn about volunteer opportunities and how to contribute to a mission in other ways that will benefit them and the people they aim to help.

Initial feedback has been very positive. When I brought each site up onto the screen during my presentation there were audible sounds of “ooh” and “ah”, which was highly encouraging. People I spoke to afterwards were also incredibly complimentary about the websites and the work that had been done.

I personally am very proud of everything that we have achieved to date and I am looking forward to spending some more time with the media team establishing the websites and the roles of the individuals involved as the project continues to evolve and move onwards.

Working with family can perhaps be difficult, the professional boundaries that you wouldn’t cross ordinarily simply don’t exist - so you can be more open about any issues that may be faced.

During the entirety of this project my relationship with my uncle has always been nothing but brilliant, indeed with all of the people at King’s Church Medway. They have been receptive to my views, to my ideas and taken on board most of my considerations and have understood the reasons why I might want to, not put a damper on their ideas, but see things in a different, more professional light.

The one main sticking point we had throughout was in the execution of the Caring Hands in the Community welcome video. I personally felt the messaging was slightly cloudy, elements had been added for the sake of adding them, when perhaps they were at the ultimate detriment to the end product. However, having voiced my opinion they considered their own and moved forwards with how they saw fit. It is never a case of one party being right, the other being wrong. It is about taking on board advice that has been given, in the intention that it was intended and stepping back for a minute and looking at the bigger message and asking “does the message make sense?” And “Is it being told in the clarity that is required?”

Building three websites from scratch, from a blank piece of paper takes time and effort, mistakes will be made along the way and adjustments will need to be made to ensure their ongoing effectiveness. One of the reasons for blogging about the process is learning to identify where I can improve and what lessons I can take with me into my next project.

Working with people who make not share my knowledge has been easier than I believed it to be. It isn’t testament to my ability, but testament to the people I worked with and their determination to listen and take on board what is being taught. I’ve learnt that inundating people with messages when things don’t go right is not the way to communicate effectively - not working in the same building as the people you are working with has its limitations, and it is managing those limitations which proved to be the hardest challenge of the project.

By condensing my thoughts into a single email, or presenting them at a hastily arranged meeting is easier than sending multiple messages and expecting someone at the other end to immediately understand my viewpoint - let alone take the correct action from them.

One thing that is for certain, whatever happened during the journey, we’ve all learnt something - which sometimes is a greater gift than the end result.

But the real hard work starts now - in keeping the websites maintained in the manner in which they were built. Ensuring that the integrity remains the same and that the high standards are kept.

Over the coming weeks I hope to run a series of workshops which will enable everyone involved to learn some of the things needed to keep that integrity in place, how to blog effectively, how to use Social Media with an identified tone of voice and for the media team how to manage the website without the long sought after CMS in place.

So finally, there we have it! Four months, three websites and one point of view - my point of view. It’s now over to you!

Please have a look at the three websites yourself, share anything you may like, connect with King’s Church Medway, Caring Hands in the Community or Light the Way on any of their social channels and most importantly let me know what you think!
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