Writer, reader and online wanderer from South London
Author: Richard Holliday
I'm a Creative Writing graduate from Kingston University and run richardholliday.co.uk - my writing specialises in popular fiction, especially thriller and science fiction but am currently exploring horror. Authors I admire and am influenced by include James Herbert, Lee Child, Stephen King and Michael Crichton.
It’s unprecedented times right now, and we’re all concerned about what’s going on. However, to find a positive in this troubling world, I have found some time to work on some creative endeavours. I’m pleased to announce therefore that I have posted a new short story Growing Storm, on my site and you can read it right now!
This started as a short story I’d initially wanted to release for Halloween 2019 but that didn’t happen for many reasons, but I’ve finally finished the story. It’s a “spooky sea shanty”, another experiment into horror/sci-fi writing that takes a lot of inspiration from one of my favourite novels, The Day of the Triffids, while hopefully doing its own thing.
Please let me know if you what you make of the story!
In strange times like those we’re currently experiencing it’s important, I think, not to let ourselves be consumed by what’s happening in the world and allow ourselves some escapism – if anything it’ll alleviate the boredom of a long spell at home! I hope my short story – and the others here on my site help with that!
In my quest to read more non-fiction; buoyed by last year’s acclaim for the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, I took a recommendation to read Midnight in Chernobyl.
I had previously attempted a non-fiction book about the Chernobyl disaster, Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy – however I’d stalled on that one, and thus I found Midnight in Chernobyl a bit of a daunting proposition. History seemed to have a slightly dry, disconnected prose style that didn’t quite resonate – even now I struggle to quite put my finger on why that book hadn’t struck home.
However, Midnight proved considerably more engaging. It is a visceral, technical and compelling account not just of the disaster that took place on April 26th 1986 at 1:23:45AM but the moves that made disaster seem inevitable – missteps and mistakes that combined to create the nuclear disaster of 1986, but also the monumental, and initially misguided efforts to mitigate the disaster.
Midnight in Chernobyl, for me, succeeds because it reads much more like a story than an account. There’s a compendium of characters – including Reactor 4 itself – that all combine to make the chilling effects of the disaster what they proved to be. And the prose is chilling, intense and compelling – I found it difficult to stop reading, wanting to read on to find out what happened next.
Midnight in Chernobyl is clearly assiduously researched; but it also reaches from the late 1980s as the Soviet state begins to implode to today, with some punchy references to characters we’d come to know throughout the story reflecting back. The book is technical, which I liked, but it’s also not unapproachable. It seems to apportion the bulk of the responsibility for the accident primarily, not to the reactor operators (who made some reckless, crazy decisions) or necessarily the deficiencies of the RBMK reactor design that made it inherently dangerous, especially in the wrong hands, but on the Soviet system that pushed all these elements together.
Take for instance, ludicrous, imposed timescales and deadlines: not just to get Reactor 4 running “before the end of 1983” or to complete the botched test that caused the explosion but even to lay the first cubic feet of concrete for the whole plant. These deadlines, politically motivated for some misguided sense of prestige led to construction faults and operator errors that ultimately led to accidents.
This same system placed individuals ill-qualified but for their party affiliations in prominent positions of management, regardless of their skills – the chief engineer of the plant being a factory worker who took a correspondent’s course by mail on nuclear physics, who seemed to be in post more for his buttering-up of the local Communist Party than perhaps due to his competence; indeed, he was asleep at the time of the test. The system’s rigid expectations from its staff – reduced, essentially, to automatons to simply fulfil the Party and State’s will – led to reckless corner-cutting from construction to the fateful test itself.
But the most grievous trait laid bare is a system mired in paranoid secrecy – from whether to evacuate the nearby city of Pripyat to even understanding the true nature of the accident. But the worst example of this broken system is that the accident was completely preventable: the power excursions that came about from the design flaw in the control rods in the RBMK reactor – a fault that would make the emergency shutdown button at Chernobyl “a detonator”. Even the “official” inquiries tried to bury the truth with the reactor under tons of lead, boron, cement and lies.
The chronic mismanagement of the entire Communist system comes out as the biggest villain – not only did it lead to the disaster through a tragic series of isolated events that combined, it made the initial management of the accident ineffective, and hampered the international response in the misguided pursuit of “prestige”. Ultimately the disaster, one the Soviet economy was ill-prepared to cope with, played a major contributory role to the eventual collapse of the USSR.
I was discussing the book with the friend who recommended it, and he summed it up ina way I couldn’t put any more eloquently: “You start off feeling it’s inevitable and come out amazed it wasn’t worse.”
Indeed, Midnight in Chernobyl is not just a visceral, assiduously researched account of the disaster but a prism through which to observe a regime in chaos. It’s a gripping story that doesn’t overwhelm, and I’d highly recommend it!
World Book Day happened last week and I was pleased to see so many children getting involved in dressing as their favourite characters. World Book Day is a great day to champion quite how magical reading a good story can be and the levels of participation seen across the country.
Callum’s story really got to me as I do relate very much – even from my own secondary school days, reading was an almost weird activity to admit to enjoying. Perhaps that’s due to secondary school being the domain of adolescents with other more physical pursuits that leaves those content with nestling away with a book in the library seen as “abnormal”.
As a secondary school kid myself back in 2001 I found it very difficult to fit into the cliquey nature of secondary school as I didn’t really share many of the more “mainstream” interests in sport, nor did I find socialising with my peers at an all-boys school particularly easy because I didn’t share those core, keystone interests that boys bond over. For some reason, then and now, boys who don’t seek the pleasures of sport – or the opposite sex – aren’t seen as “normal” boys.
Is this because of a predilection to assume masculinity in this country (and perhaps the Western world generally) does not promote intellectual prowess as a key trait? Perhaps it keys back to prehistoric times where physical strength was valued as a survival trait?
Both of those questions are a little beyond the scope of this post but both pose interesting questions about how boys are raised in this country, on a societal level. Maybe World Book Day is seen as a more “childish” thing, so reading in general is lumped in with that?
But getting back to the point of reading, I feel that there are very few male role models in Western society that seem to champion the power of thought. Most boys have sporting icons as heroes and the few that seemed to exist (the Doctor from Doctor Who, prior to 2018 at least) seem to have largely fallen by the wayside.
Therefore, I understand the mindset of those that cruelly tormented Callum for his love of reading, but pity it immensely. As an adolescent myself I recall I had to be very select about who I shared my “esoteric” interests – history, computer games that weren’t the usual “boys” staple, like The Sims and SimCity, and books – and it’s this that likely made me the very private person I am today. It’s something I’m attempting to shed as a characteristic in my 30s now because I’ve stopped caring, frankly.
That said I think this perceived anti-intellectualism that pervades society to look strangely at readers continues. When I joined Facebook in 2008, a disappointing number of people listed things like “I don’t read” in their favourite books section. Even now, researching this post, 78,000 people have this on their page as of 2020. It’s sad and heart-breaking because it’s such a missed opportunity.
I also apportion some of the blame for this sentiment to mass media – shows like Love Island, Geordie Shore and The Only Way is Essex are harmful as they actively promote a “it’s cool to be stupid” air to them. It’s a race to the bottom, and society seems to be dumbing down.
Even back in my more formative years, shows like Big Brother catapulted people such as Jade Goody to public consciousness. While what happened to Jade at the end of her life was awful and not something I’d ever wish on someone, was Jade quite the person to be front and centre of British society like she was? I was sceptical at the time and remain so.
Of course, I don’t propose we bring up kids on a diet of Radio 4, classical music and Tolstoy. These shows, the most egregious I think being Love Island, actively promote this apparent “bimbo” culture – if you have a “hot bod”, it doesn’t matter that you know nothing. You will succeed on no discernible “talent”, but on how marketable your image is. Indeed, there’s already some consternation about the hidden toxicity of the show right now.
It’s a superficial culture that seems to actively promote a lack of thought, a shallowness that I find, personally, distasteful. While I would never begrudge these people their “trash TV”, I do find its prevalence in a race-to-the-bottom worrying. And as we’ve seen with Love Island recently, the brightest candles burn shortest.
But let’s get back to the more positive nature of World Book Day. I think it’s wonderful to see so many kids celebrating their love of stories. I think reading is a magical activity – you stare at ink on a dead tree and imagine things. It’s totally engrossing and I’m so glad my own reading has taken up this year, I am very much enjoying it. More and more people should take the time, challenge themselves to a book and they’d realise too what an engrossing and amazing experience getting lost in a good (or bad) story can be!
Very recently I was privileged to show the final cut of the Doctor Who fan-film I’d made with friends Mark and Gary, Reverence of the Daleks, on YouTube – even more exciting, we held a YouTube Premiere so fans and friends could tune in and watch it live together. This was a neat way of building up the excitement, and we picked the timeslot of 7PM on Saturday 8th February to honour the traditional timeslot for the show.
It was great also to utilise the relatively new YouTube Premiere feature on our new channel Wonder Strike Media as it allowed for viewers to get ready to watch together as the film went out in public for the first time, really felt like there was a buzz to proceedings. We managed a peak of 14 viewes throughout the live broadcast which I’ll chalk up as decent considering we had some last minute production issues that delayed the link going live!
I’m really happy with the reception to Reverence so far – over 400 views and counting as people share it to friends and family.
It’s been a project I’ve been intimately close to – as part of the production team and as a long-term fan of Doctor Who and it’s so great to finally let this loose on the world! I’m immensely proud of all the hard work everyone involved put into it.
If you fancy battling Daleks and seeing the end-result of nearly 3 years work then please check out the embed below!
I’ve lots more to say about my role as Writer and Producer of this film in future posts so please follow my blog to see that insight once it hits press!
Once you’ve watched Reverence it would be fantastic if you could fill out this Audience Survey if you’re so inclined – click herefor that!
Also, you can listen to the original score to Reverence of the Daleks as featured in the film, composed by Simon Norman (featuring a new arrangement of the theme tune) on his site here! It’s great!