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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: The Cuckoos of Batch Magna by Peter Maughan + Q&A

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna
by Peter Maughan

Genre: Contemporary, Humor
Publication: First Published March 2004
Format: Kindle Edition, 308 pages
Source: ARC
Connect: Website
When Sir Humphrey Miles Pinkerton Strange, huntin' shootin' and fishin' Squire of Batch Magna, goes to his reward (doubtless to find God as true-blue British as his more recent but equally worthy ancestors), his rambling but rotting estate passes to distant relative Humph, a hapless dollar doodler in New York.With $$ in his eyes, Humph decides to make a killing by transforming the sleepy backwater of Batch Magna into a theme park image of rural England - a vacation paradise for free-spending US millionaires.But while the village's threadbare businessmen see the plan as a windfall, the tenants of the estate's dilapidated houseboats are above any consideration of filthy lucre and stand their ground for tradition's sake . and because they consider eviction notices not to be cricket.Each disgruntled faction sees the other as the unwelcome cuckoo chick in the family nest!So, lead by randy pulp-crime writer Phineas Cook and Lt-Commander James Cunningham DSO, DSC and Bar, RN (ret) - a man with a glass eye to suit every occasion (and all painted with naval battle scenes where the Union Jack flies triumphant) - the motley crew takes on Wall Street . broadside to broadside.

I received a copy of this book from the author to provide an honest review.

Truthfully, The Cuckoos of Batch Magna wasn’t really the kind of book that I’ve always read. But I decided to give it a try, when I heard that this was going to be a humorous book. 

Sir Humphrey inherited an estate in England from his distant relative whom he never met. He wanted to turn the estate into a theme park, but the villagers were against it. When Sir Humphrey met and came to know the villagers, he began to like them.  I love how the villagers each have an interesting personality, like the Commander and Phineas. And I think it’s exciting to see how Humphrey came to like the village.

I have to admit that at first I was a bit confused on what the book was about. And the synopsis wasn’t really helping. I thought that there were too many characters introduced in the earlier chapter. But as the story progress, I found that the story wasn’t that bad. It was quite an enjoyable read, even though it wasn't my cup of tea.

Q&A with Peter Maughan

Q: Please tell us about this book
It's a Kindle edition called The Cuckoos of Batch Magna. It's what might be described as a feel good book, set in the mid-1970s in a river valley in the Welsh Marches, the borderland between England and Wales. The death of the  squire of the village leads to the title and what's left of his estate being left through the ancient law of entailment to a distant relative. And so it is that Humphrey Strange, or Humph, as he likes to be called, an amiable short-order cook from the Bronx, finds himself most remarkably to be the 9th baronet and squire of Batch Magna. Manipulated by his Uncle Frank, a small-time Wall Street broker with his eye on the big-time, and a new girlfriend with her eye on the title, Humph is persuaded he  has plans for the old place: the entire estate is to be turned into a theme-park image of rural England - a vacation paradise for free-spending US millionaires. 

The tenants of the  dilapidated houseboats on the estate's stretch of the river are given notice to quit - and it's then that Humph's problems begin. 

Each faction sees the other as the cuckoo in the family nest, so led by randy pulp-crime writer Phineas Cook and Lt-Commander James Cunningham DSO, DSC and Bar, Royal Navy (ret), the motley crew run up the Union Jack and battle ensign and prepare to engage. 

Q. Can you tell us about the journey that led you to writing?
Well, I started out as an actor, and worked as a fringe theatre director and as a script writer (scripts for pilot films for independent film companies). I had quite a few short stories and non-fiction writing on the English countryside published, and a novel  seemed to be the next logical step. And I was helped by that background – actor, director, script writer, I am all of those when writing. I write the script, see the scene through the eye, as it were, of the camera, and then act it out on paper.

Q. What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Getting down on the page – I write in longhand first –  what I, the director, ‘see’. Somerset Maugham said that there were three rules when it came to writing a novel – the  trouble is, that no one knows what they are. Well, as far as I am concerned, there is one rule that if not kept will leave your story on the page, when it should take on a second life in the imagination  of your reader (because reading should also be creative; should be more than mere intellectual comprehension). And it is this: you must ‘see’ the scenes you are writing – or, to put it more actively, you must ‘watch’ them happening, as they happen (particularly necessary I think for thrillers and crime novels, and noticeable when it’s absent).

Q. Do you have a musical playlist you listen to while writing? If so, what kind of music?
No. I need silence. I need to concentrate, to fully see and hear that life on the other side of the camera (‘Quiet please!’ on the set.)

Q. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I don’t think I have one. I’ve read about other writers arranging their pens or paper in a certain way before starting, and can only wonder at their evident neatness.  I write in a blitz of paper, yesterday’s work waiting to be typed up, scraps of character details, bits of dialogue, notes on future scenes, etc.     

Q. Do you plan any subsequent books?
The Cuckoos of Batch Magna is the first in a planned series. I have two sequels finished and waiting their turn – and that particular hiatus is, in part, the reason I left my last publisher to go solo.

Q. Please tell us your latest news (book-related or not!).
Interest (and so far it is only that) shown by a UK independent film company in the novels.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Yes: thank you. And to add that I have had quite a few references in reviews and other feedback to Batch Magna being a place people have enjoyed visiting and were reluctant to leave.  I find that extremely satisfying, the thought that I have taken those readers out of themselves, given them, as feelgood books/films should, for that short while another  world to live in. That, as a writer, will do me.

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