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Class with James Bradley, bestseller author of ‘The Resurrectionist’ April 15, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, On Writing.
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Last night for our narrative class we were fortunate enough to have Australian author James Bradley speak to us about his international bestselling novel The Resurrectionist and the writing process.

The Resurrectionist is Bradley’s third book, and it tells the somewhat morbid story of a young anatomist in early 19th century London who spirals into grave-robbing, and eventually, murder.  Inspired by the real life “Burke and Hare” murders, The Resurrectionist was shortlisted for The Age “Fiction Book of the Year Award” and the “Christina Stead Award for Fiction” at the NSW Premier’s Awards.  However, it wasn’t until the book was included as one of Richard & Judy’s Summer Reads in 2008 that it really took off, going on to sell over 250,000 copies and was translated into various languages.

Anyway, the first thing that struck me about James Bradley was how young he looked!  Mid-to-late thirties was my estimate, though I found out from Wikipedia that he’s actually almost 43.  From the parts of The Resurrectionist I had read, I imagined the author to be an old eccentric with silver hair, a hunchback, and possibly a goiter.  For some reason, I always picture authors who write period novels as oldies, especially those that can write elegant prose and seem to have a way with words.

James Bradley

Bradley began his talk by telling us how he came to write The Resurrectionist.  He had been fascinated by the Burke and Hare murders and the period in which they took place (the 1820s), where people lived in crowded, suffocating slums, and life had little value.  Even though the story was set in the past, given the horrors of today’s world, it does have a contemporary edge to it.

In the book Bradley sought to examine two universal themes: (1) what happens to people when they do terrible things? and (2) how much of our past can we truly leave behind?

The most fascinating part of the talk for me was when Bradley discussed his research techniques for The Resurrectionist.  Research for the book was a must, not just from a historical standpoint, but also because Bradley needed to know what corpses and body parts looked like, and how people handled them.  Accordingly, Bradley went to observe dissection classes with medical students, but the staleness of the preserved bodies didn’t feel realistic enough for him.  And so he went and observed live autopsies, and the image of the coroner peeling off the face and removing the brain, he says, is one that sticks with you forever.

I also found it interesting that even writers as successful as Bradley have incredible amounts of self doubt.  He kept saying how horrible he thought his latest drafts are for his new book (he currently has two new novels in the works, Black Friday and The Penguin Book of the Ocean) and how he hates his characters right now, which I thought was rather amusing.

Here are some other writing pearls of wisdom Mr Bradley dropped during the talk:


  • Voice is imperative to a story.  Once you figure out the voice, everything becomes easier.  Changing the voice could change the book completely.
  • There are a few things in every story that a writer knows he/she has to get right, and in order for the story to work, needs to get right.
  • Good writing comes from taking risks.
  • Write what you think is interesting.  People may often find what you think is interesting to be boring, so if even you think it’s boring, there’s not much of a chance others will find it interesting.
  • Write honestly — don’t tailor your writing to suit a particular market.  Write what you want and hope it finds a market.
  • Write about what you want and what you believe it.  Otherwise you may lack the motivation to finish it.
  • There is a moment a writer just knows that their book is complete, whether it’s adding a scene, taking out a scene, or something else.


  • It always helps knowing in advance where a character will end up.
  • Create characters you don’t ordinarily meet in real life, or put characters in situations that they don’t usually find themselves in — but most importantly, make them feel real.


  • Do enough research to make yourself confident enough to write about the subject, but not too much to the extent it restricts what you want to write.  It doesn’t have to be completely realistic — the important thing is to make others believe it is realistic.

Lastly, just a few of interesting factoids.  First, Bradley writes on a computer and not by hand (for those who keep wondering whether writing by hand is always advantageous).  Second, Bradley was a lawyer before becoming a writer (like me!).  Third, The Resurrectionist was rejected by Bradley’s publisher and he lost an agent because of it.  Now, it’s by far his most successful book.  As he told us last night, “You just never know.”

[PS: Ever since I read the first chapter of The Resurrectionist for our class readings about a month ago, the book has been on my “to read” list.  There was something about the detailed yet detached descriptions of very confronting images that captivated me.  After last night, I may have to move it up the list.]

[PPS: For more information on the book, click here.  Also, check out James Bradley’s WordPress-based blog, City of Tongues.]

[PPPS: The Burke and Hare story is being adapted into a new feature film, a black comedy starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as the murdering duo, set to be released in 2010.  Interesting they have it as a comedy.  I guess we’ll see.]

Day at the Museum(s) (British and London) July 29, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
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Here’s a short post I wanted to put up ages ago but didn’t have the time – my visits to the British Museum and the Museum of London while I was still in the UK.

British Museum Outside

The totally free British Museum

According to TripAdvisor’s Best and Worst of Europe, there’s not much good about London, except it has the most free attractions.  That I can agree with.  And two of the best free attractions are the British Museum and the Museum of London.

British Museum

If you do a quick stroll-through you can probably do it in 3 or 4 hours, but you probably need a full day to properly appreciate the British Museum, one of the best museums in the world.  I went there twice, but could have easily gone a couple more.  It’s not as classy or stylish as say the Louvre in Paris, but it’s absolutely free (except for the occasional temporary exhibit).  And it is stacked with priceless artifacts from just about every culture you can think of.  Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, just to name a few.

But this is the British Museum, I hear you say – well, the one thing the Brits were incredibly efficient at back in the day when they were the world’s pre-eminent power was to take stuff from other countries and cultures.  ‘Take’ is probably a very kind way of saying it.  Consequently, the British Museum holds some artifacts from countries that don’t have anything nearly as valuable themselves.  For instance, the interior of the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens – there’s a whole room filled with fragments of its walls.

The thing that amazed me the most was the size of the things the Brits took back to England.  Gigantic monuments.  Whole sides of buildings and temples, broken down into fragments and reassembled.  It really is a fabulous collection of the world’s treasures.

British Museum Inside

You can take all the photos you want inside!

The place is huge and it’s free.  Some of the rooms could use a little refurbishment and air-conditioning in the summer, but I’m nitpicking.  My number one must-visit in London.


Museum of London

The hugely underrated Museum of London actually has two museums, with one located at London Wall and the other (newer) one at Docklands.  I only went to the former, which is free, but the latter charges an admission price.

Currently it is a small place, one you can explore in a couple of hours, but it is incredibly rich in history has plenty of fascinating and interactive exhibitions.  I say currently because it is under renovation and will not be complete until Spring 2010.  However, it is still worth a visit right now if you are around in London.  The current exhibitions detail the history of London from pre-historic times to present day, and covers highly interesting events such as the Great Fire of 1666 and the Black Death.  I was surprised to learn so much in so little time.

Highly recommended.


Thoughts on TripAdvisor’s Best and Worst of Europe May 6, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
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The results of TripAdvisor’s annual European travel survey are out!  The full list of results can be found by clicking here.

Having been to most of these places on this list by now, I’m going to share some of my thoughts on these results.  Bear in mind, these are based on personal experiences, so I can only speak for myself.

Cheapest/Most Expensive

London was many lists, both good and bad

London was on many lists, both good and bad

The ‘best bargain‘ cities were Prague, Amsterdam and Istanbul.  Having only been to the first two, I must say Prague was very cheap indeed, certainly cheaper than any of the other European cities I have been to.  However, it depends on what you eat.  If you eat at vendors on the side of the street, you can get away with barely spending anything all day, but if you go to touristy restaurants on the main streets, you won’t necessarily be saving all that much, especially if you’re not careful and get ripped off by sneaky waiters who add extra charges!  The local transport is also relatively inexpensive, though you have to buy half-tickets for your luggage, pram etc.  I didn’t notice Amsterdam being particularly cheap, but perhaps those surveyed were talking about weed or prostitute prices!  I did think Rome prices weren’t unreasonable.

The most expensive was London, followed by Paris, then Venice.  When I first arrived in the UK, I was stunned by just how expensive everything was.  You feel like you’re overpaying for everything, largely because the quality does not correspond with what you pay (transport, food etc).  But once I stopped converting, it wasn’t too bad.  With the value of the Pound the way it is now, I don’t think the survey results are totally accurate.  Didn’t find Paris or Venice to be extraordinarily pricey – the one that stood out for me as especially expensive were the cities in Switzerland!  Everything there is ridiculously expensive.  Like 12 Swiss Francs for a medium McDonald’s meal!



Bruges was said to be underrated but I thought it was overrated!

The top 3 overrated were Paris, London and Dublin.  I’ve been to all three and I didn’t find them overrated at all!  There are so many things to do in Paris and London (how can you overrate a place with the Louvre or the British Museum?).  I guess it depends on your interests and your expectations.  I had high expectations for Paris and London, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Dublin is much smaller and there’s a lot less things to go, so I can sort of understand where people are coming from, but if you are a lover of writing, you won’t be disappointed.  Dublin’s Writers Museum was a highlight (see my post on it!) when I went, and there’s plenty of other ones I didn’t get to visit.  In my personal opinion, I thought Prague was hugely overrated.  I even devoted an entire post to it.  The other place that disappointed me a bit was Bruges.  People rave about how it is a Medieval city, and while it is pretty, it’s been largely reconstructed and you can see similar architecture in a lot of other places throughout Europe.

The top 3 underrated cites were Krakow, Bruges and Edinburgh.  Having only been to Bruges (which I thought was overrated), I can’t speak for the others.  In my view, the most underrated place I’ve been to is Munich, which was really sensational.  Surprisingly, Berlin was also very good.

Friendly/Least Friendly

This wasn’t a surprise.  The least friendly cities were Paris, London and Moscow.  I haven’t been to Moscow, and I speak English, so I rarely need help in London, but I didn’t find Parisians rude at all.  When we were there, every person we spoke to was extremely friendly and willing to help.  Many even offered help to us voluntarily.  If you’re polite I think you’ll be surprised how friendly French people are.  The only city where I encountered unpleasant behaviour was Prague.  Unfortunate but true.  My Prague post discusses this in some detail.

The friendliest cities were Dublin, Amsterdam and Edinburgh.  The people in Dublin and Amsterdam were quite friendly, but didn’t really stand out for me to be honest.  I thought people in Vienna were quite willing to help.


Brussels is a dirty place! (and apparently boring too)

Brussels is a dirty place! (and apparently boring too)

London, Paris and Athens were the top 3 dirtiest cities in Europe.  London I can definitely understand.  Whenever I come back from London and blow my nose, it’s guaranteed to be all black.  Same as when I wipe my face with a tissue.  It’s disgusting.  I think it’s the soot in the Tube stations or something.  Paris felt a lot better for me, not sure why it was so high up on the list.  Athens I will be visiting in a month or so (after exams!).  From memory, Brussels could be quite dirty in some parts of the city, and yes, Prague also had that dirty feel to it (seems like I’m picking on Prague, but it’s just the truth!).

The 3 cleanest cities were Copenhagen, Zurich and Stockholm. Haven’t been to any of these yet, but I am heading to Copenhagen and Stockholm after my graduation!

Best Food/Worst Food

Being the pig I am, I was very interested in the results of this one.  The 3 best were Paris, London and Rome, whereas the 3 worst were London, Moscow and Warsaw.  I think this simply shows that it depends where you go to eat.  I’m sure you can find awful food and great food in all of these places, but not everyone knows which places to go.  The only suggestion is to do your research beforehand and find out which restaurants are popular or have good reputations.

Most Romantic

Venice, Paris and Rome rounded out the top 3 of the most romantic city.  I totally agree with the first 2 at least.  I know Paris is supposed to be the most romantic place on Earth, but I was surprised when I visited Venice by how romantic it truly was.  Must be the water in the canals or the narrow pathways or the warm-coloured buildings or something.  Rome just felt like a lot of fun to me, didn’t really see it as a particularly romantic place.

Best Free Attractions


La Sagrada Familia is one of the many Gaudi-inspired attractions in Barcelona - free from the outside but have to pay to get in

Another one I agree with.  The top 3 were London, Rome and Barcelona.  Of course, all of these places also have a lot of great attractions you have to pay for, but in general I agree with the top 3.  Most of London’s wonderful museums are free, and in Rome, there are heaps of attractions (churches, monuments, artworks etc) you can just wander up to and take a look at without paying any money.  Barcelona has a lot of weirdo Gaudi buildings there you can take a look at, but honestly I can’t remember there being lots of free attractions (as we had to pay for a lot of them!).

Most Boring

Brussels, Zurich, Dublin.  The top 3 in probably the worst thing to come tops in – boring.  To some extent I agree that Brussels doesn’t have a whole lot going for it in terms of attractions other than Mannequin Pis.  We stayed in the town centre around Christmas though and the streets were quite lively and there were light shows in the town square and so forth, so the couple of days we were there were actually quite pleasant.  But certainly spending more than 2 days there would have been excessive.  As for Dublin, see above.  I thought it was pretty good (because of my love for the great writers from Dublin).

Best and Worst Dressed

Why does anyone care about these categories?  Really, who notices these things.  Usually the worst dressed are the tourists anyway!

There’s a few more other ones, such as Tourist Traps, Night Life, Architecture and Public Parks.

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