Saturday, May 28, 2022

Does Size Really Matter?





Or, considering today’s topic, perhaps I should say Satyrday.


Virtually all the news these days is saddening. At least that’s how I see it. Name any subject of existential concern and I sense us closer to its nadir than at any other time in our lives. No need to list examples, we all know them far too well.

But this coming Tuesday, after far too long away, I return to Greece and its promise of the sort of fresh perspective it always brings to me. Yes, Greece shares many of the same threats as the rest of our world, but it also offers upbeat distractions and a sense of peace I cannot find elsewhere.


Among those distractions are moments of serendipitous instruction by the ancients on how to navigate decidedly modern challenges. My most recent experience in that regard suggested a different way to take on the online cyberbullying scourge often aimed at the size or shape of another’s body. 


The targets are most often teenage girls, and for many the experience is deeply troubling, inflicting long lasting traumatic effects on their lives. Social media, the commercial media, and entertainment in general are often pointed to as fueling the crisis, what with their penchant for glorifying some body types, while ridiculing others.

Well, I just read an article offering comforting insight to all genders that how the world now happens to view our respective physical attributes is a historically nuanced matter of fashion, not substance.  Each of us can now point with pride to eras glorifying our natural physicality over what might now be considered the “in” shape or size.


The subject of the writing that brought on my epiphany is the modern male’s most scorned/adorned/forlorn body part and how it may be gaining a new measure of celebrity–both literally and figuratively. 


The following story appeared under the byline of Tasos Kokkinidis in The Greek Reporter, a Greek news organization for Greeks around the world. The article’s title should be enough to grab most folk’s attention: “Why Greek Statues Have Small Penises: Woman’s Lecture Goes Viral,” but for those looking for a bit more enticement, there are its subtitles, e.g., “Small penises in Greek statues ‘a sign of virtue, of civility,’” and The small penis was consonant with Greek ideals of male beauty.


[Ed note: In the course of my research, I came across an earlier article appearing in Artsy by Alexxa Gotthardt titled, “Why Ancient Greek Sculptures Have Small Penises,” covering (or uncovering) much of the same material. I guess one could say there’s a groundswell of activity out there on the subject.]


And with that introduction folks, here’s the article:


A woman’s explanation of why ancient Greek statues have small penises has gone viral on TikTok.

Even a casual glance at classical sculptures in a museum will reveal that the penis on marble depictions of nude gods and heroes is often quite small.

Ruby Reign took it upon herself to look into the matter. “Have you ever wondered why so many of the ancient Greek statues have colossal muscular physiques and yet a tiny package?” she asked in a video shared on her TikTok.

“What I wasn’t aware of was that the Greeks often presented their enemies, the Egyptians, the satire creatures, and even fools in comedies as having large appendages – so it was quite a negative thing to have, which is quite different today.

“So actually, what I discovered was that big D’s bad and small D’s good in ancient Greece. But why was this? This is obviously different to today.”

Ruby claimed it is all to do with how perceptions have changed. She explained: “Turns out that in ancient Greece, having a smaller package was considered a sign of virtue, of civility, or self-control or discipline.

“Meanwhile, having a bigger one was a sign of lustfulness, of gluttonous appetites and barbarism, which is quite interesting because it’s different to today.”

Together, Ruby’s clips have racked up more than four million views, Lad Bible says with many people in the small willy community delighted by the lecture.

One person commented: “Remember lads we were on top, now the Barbarians have taken over.”

Another said: “We definitely gotta return to our roots.” A third added: “I was really born in the wrong generation.”

Ruby concluded that our changing perception of size illuminates the fact there is no such thing as objective beauty.

She said: “I just think it’s interesting to compare the perspective back then that smaller is better with the view today that, sometimes people think bigger is better.

“And it just goes to show that our beauty standards, our ideals, are all a social construct and we shouldn’t get bogged down feeling bad about ourselves.”

In the ancient Greek world of around 400 BC erect penises were not considered desirable, nor were they a sign of power or strength.

In his play The Clouds (c. 419–423 BC), ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes summed up the ideal traits of his male peers as “a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick.”

Historian Paul Chrystal has also conducted research into this ancient ideal. “The small penis was consonant with Greek ideals of male beauty,” he writes in his book In Bed with the Ancient Greeks (2016). “It was a badge of the highest culture and a paragon of civilization.”

Lustful, depraved satyrs, in particular, were rendered with very large, erect genitals, sometimes almost as tall as their torsos. According to mythology, these creatures were part-man, part-animal, and totally lacked restraint—a quality reviled by Greek high society.

“Big penises were vulgar and outside the cultural norm, something sported by the barbarians of the world,” writes Chrystal. Indeed, across many an amphora pot and frieze, well-endowed satyrs can be seen drinking and pleasuring themselves with abandon.

Mykonos here I come….


Friday, May 27, 2022

The Roman Baths

The Roman Baths in the city of Bath, Somerset, England. Somewhere we had wanted to visit for a long time. I had been before as a very small person, all I can remember is the dreadful stink.

There has been a spa on these premises since Celtic times, obviously because that happens to be where the water pops up after its long meandering journey underground, getting warmer over the millenia. 

For our purposes, the original construction of the spa was around 65 AD. It was a case of 'This is what the Romans did for us!' Non Monty Python fans can ignore that bit.

The thermal waters led to a temple being built, which then led to the small Roman urban settlement, Aquae Sulis around the site. The public could use the baths for bathing, and they were in use right up to the  end of the Roman  occupation of ….well most sites state 'Britain', but there were a lot of bits of Britain that Romans couldn’t be bothered with. The  natives were smelly, the weather was awful or there was just nothing to be gained by invading the lands to the north of Englandshire.

On and off through the history, the spring waters have attracted people, including the 1.4 million visitors a year. You can walk round the museum. It’s a very good experience, the tickets are timed and restricted so that there's not too many people in the small underground chambers at once. There's a lot to see and read. The beautifully constructed displays were  marred slightly by the  screaming 2 year old that decided to accompany our visit. They were timed differently to us but had been late. It’s educationally immersive but not literally so, except for that wee kid who came close a few times. I felt a novel coming on more than once.

There’s the usual audio narration, plus another narration of various bits by Bill Bryson; he’s fascinated by the fact that the water emerging from the spring  fell as rain in the Mendip Hills about 10 000 years ago. Also, that the Roman soldiers here had a type of funeral fund between them so they got a decent funeral away from home. There was a trade union amongst them.

On its journey through the hills,  geothermal energy raises the water temperature to as high as 96 C (or 204 in real money).  On my previous visit, as an extreme youth (  I didn’t scream the place down, or I’d been put in a cupboard ), I  could smell the waters – and I can still recall the stink. I knew  my dad told somebody that it wasn’t the baths that were stinking, ( rotten eggs was the aroma that came to mind)  it was because there was a drought and most of the south of England was smelling oddly. 

In 2022, my other half, having little sense of taste, had a sip of the water at the drinking well- he pronounced it warm and  slightly musty, ‘not nice’. The water contains lots of sodium, calcium, chloride and sulphate.

 As a slight sub story, a girl died in October 1978 after swimming in the water,  having contracted meningitis, tests showed Naegleria fowleri, a deadly bacteria in the water.  Now customers can experience the waters via a modern spa nearby where the water comes from recently drilled boreholes.

The whole site is really a place of worship for a Celtic goddess Sulis who became Minerva when the Ropmans arrived.  There’s a story I liked of  some ancient King and his herd of pigs being cured of leprosy after bathing in the water.

The baths at the height of their popularity with the Romans  included a caldarium ( where one would be scalded?), a tepidarium ( lukewarm?), and frigidarium ( freezing ??).  These have been long lost to silting up, flooding, leaking and generasl disrepair.

Here are a few pictures;
The main bath. 
                    The rather regal sites overlooking the baths. As a city, it's all a bit crammed together.

The models were fabulous, even wee dogs running around, children playing.

The kids on the model were seen and not heard.
The entrance to the Temple of Aqua Sulis, or the remanants thereof.
A projected image fills out the  missings bits. Every item on that image dispicts something of importance. Dolphins and owls for water and wisdom.
The underground water emerges. Would you like a glass?
The thermal underground system of the Romans.

Underfloor heating in those days.
Filmed depictitions of what it would have been like then.
As they are now. Busy, full of tourists.

I wonder if the guests are more relaxed then? Or now?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

A month of adventure!

Stanley - Thursday

First, apologies for being AWOL last Thursday. I was floating down the Danube after Crimefest with spotty to no internet connection. Having a lot of fun may also played a part.

I am now in Bucharest in Romania with decent connectivity and will give you a glimpse into my fortnight of adventures.

First, Crimefest!

And what an adventure it was. Getting to hang out with people I haven't seen for a long while was so energising and entertaining. Zoē and Caro were there, as was Yrsa Sigurdardottir, who was a Murder is Everywhere blower for a long time. Our UK publisher, Karen Sullivan, was there with a number of her authors.

Caro was there.

Adding to the entertainment was Eurovision, which a large crowd watched after the gala dinner. Yrsa and I have a long history of watching it, always in different locations, texting each other with our take on each performance. For the first time, we were in the same room. Yrsa always dresses up for Eurovision evening, and this year was no different, although she was very subdued by her standards.

Yrsa in her glamorous silver Eurovision dress

I moderated one panel, titled Divided Society: Hate Crimes and Social Factors with panelists Kia Abdullah (Next of Kin), Antony Dunford (Hunted), Sarah Sultoon (The Shot), and Holly Watt (The Hunt and the Kill). The discussion ranged from the ethics of news gathering to rhino poaching; from access to medicines to the stresses between women with and without children. I recommend all of the books mentioned above, not only because they are good reads, but also because they raise very uncomfortable issues. 

I also had the good fortune to be on two other panels: one about writing two series and the other, moderate by Zoē, on the world of thrillers. 

A highlight of the conference was the gala dinner - for two reasons. First, Zoē was Toastrix and did a superb job of managing the evening with class, panache, and a few groaner jokes (“Never date an apostrophe. They’re so possessive.”). Well done, Zoē. You were great. Second, Caro was my date. 'Nuff said! 

Toastric Zoë

I am a great fan of Crimefest. It is small relative to Bouchercon and has a wonderful sense of community. Even if it is your first time, you will be warmly welcomed.

One side note: one of the organisers of Crimefest, Adrian Muller, had warned the manager of the conference hotel that crime writers enjoy a tipple or ten. Unfortunately, when that manager left his position, he neglected to pass that information on to the new manager. Guess what? The hotel ran out of booze! The situation was so dire that the new manager had to go foraging at local supermarkets to find more wine. The situation was saved, but I would hate to have been around the following night (Sunday), when a large group of people was going to check in for an event.

Second, the Danube!

Throughout Crimefest I was exceedingly careful due to COVID. I haven't had it, as far as I know, and the river boat trip promised testing every day. I definitely did not want to be isolated in the engine room or thrown overboard if I tested positive. 

I had a scare just as we started down the Danube from Budapest - about four days after the gala dinner in Bristol.  I started to get a sore throat, runny nose, sneezes, etc. I spent much of the day worrying that I was going to test positive. Fortunately I didn't, and my malaise turned out to be nothing more than a nasty cold.

So what are my big take-aways from my river trip that started in Budapest and ended in Bucharest? 

First, the Danube is bigger and longer than I realised. It is 2850 kms (1777 miles) long in total, second only to the Volga in Europe. It is wide, sometimes reaching 5 or 6 kms across; and it is narrow, slimming to less than 200m in the Great Kazan Gorge in the Iron Gates region. I was also surprised that most of it is tree-lined.

Great Kazan gorge - narrow and fast-flowing

Rock sculpture of Decebalus - 55 metres high (18-0 feet). Romania's Mount Rushmore

Second, I was astonished at how many places on the southern bank were hilly, while on the northern side there were vast flat plains. These reminded me a lot of the area of East Central Illinois where I lived for many years - miles and miles of flatness with rich, black soil.

Flat, flat, flat

Third, the trip highlighted my ignorance about most of the countries that Danube flows through. I know a little about Germany and Austria, but virtually nothing about Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine, I didn't know much about their immediate histories, let alone their long-term past. Nor did I know much, if anything, about their populations, major crops, industries, and so on. It was a real eye-opener.

Fourth, I started understanding why there have been so many conflicts in the countries around the Danube. For thousands of years, the Danube has provided access to what is now Europe, to its riches and to its soil. Everyone who was anyone thought they should have a share and so invaded. East met west along the Danube, both culturally and with respect to religion. Christian versus Muslim; the Austro-Hungarian empire versus the Ottoman Empire; Western influence versus Eastern influence.

Fifth, I learnt more about the role the Soviets played after World War II and how despised they generally were. It is astonishing in so many of these countries how many grey apartment buildings there are - ugly and very poorly built. Many times I heard people remark that during Soviet rule, all people were equal, but some more equal than others. The more-equals lived in beautiful homes expropriated from the haves. Yet there are people who still hanker after the old times, when they were looked after. A poorly constructed flat is better than no flat at all. Like South Africa, these countries will be better off when people my age die off. We need youth running countries, not old, usually-white, male fuddy-duddies.

Sixth, I was very impressed by Budapest, Belgrade and Bucharest. I had expected to like Budapest, which I did, but not these other two cities. 

St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

Buda Castle complex on the Buda side off the river

Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest built by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu

I am running out of time again - have to catch a plane back to Copenhagen. Here are a few more photos. If you haven't spent time on the Danube, I highly recommend that you do. It is a wonderful. eye-opening part of the world.

Dohány Street Synagogue, Budapest

I struggled to keep my yarmulke on

Church of St Sava in Belgrade, Serbia

Gigantic interior of Church of St Sava

I made it to the airport in Bucharest and am awaiting my flight to Copehhagen.

I also learnt about the various Christian Orthodox churches and the differences they have with Roman Catholic Churches: for example, people stand, not sit; singing is always a cappella; there is no person with equivalent powers to the Pope; and all the various Orthodox Churches are basically the same. So the Greek Orthodox Church is the same as the Serbian Orthodox Church. And so on.

And there were lots of castles and forts and palaces everywhere, some in use, some repurposed, and some derelict. Maybe pictures another time. Maybe not.

Whoops, our flight has been called. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022



Writing is always an exercise in getting better. Authors continuously learn from both good and bad experiences, and from their editors and readers. Here are some of the lessons I've learned in the approximately twelve years since my debut Inspector Darko Dawson novel in 2009, WIFE OF THE GODS.

1. A bigger publisher isn't necessarily better

In 2012, CHILDREN OF THE STREET, my second novel in the Inspector Darko Dawson series had been published. It didn’t do well, following the traditional pattern of the “second-semester slump” in which the second novel, unlike the first, crashes so badly that it's barely noticed. Compared with the glitzy WIFE OF THE GODS debut, it was a painful letdown for me, and Penguin Random House (PRH), the publisher, wasn't happy about it either and chose to drop me from their author list.

Although PRH’s action seemed catastrophic at the time, it turned out to be a good thing, because my agent then found Soho Press, who took me on. Soho is a much smaller press with high production values and meticulous editors. I’ve met them all in person, which might never have happened if I had still been with PRH. Soho is very loyal to its authors and allows them to stretch the span their wings and fly.

2. When writing, follow every thread to the end

In my first draft of WIFE OF THE GODS, I introduced Darko’s beloved son Hosiah who had a congenital heart disease. And then I just dropped him from the story. The “Reader,” someone who does a screening read-through of the book to see if it’s worth passing up the chain to the editor, pointed out that everyone reading the novel will want to know what happened to the kid. Follow that storyline through to the end. It’s an appealing part of the story.

3. Make every character count.

Even “minor" characters must have some relevance to the story. If it looks like two characters play a similar role in the plot, consider combining them into one. When I say “character,” I don’t just mean the name of someone we meet in passing in the narrative. To me, a character is someone who matters now and will likely matter later. In my latest novel, LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ, which is going to galley soon, a character who appeared earlier popped up toward the end without my planning it, suddenly opening up an entire new dimension. I had been at risk of having that character disappear somewhere midway through the novel.

4. On the other hand, don’t let a character eclipse your protagonist!

As I was writing WIFE OF THE GODS, I noticed that Dawson’s assistant, Chikata, began to seem more interesting than Dawson. Chikata, who smoked marijuana, was rough around the edges and sometimes engaged in beating suspects up, i.e. police brutality. I transferred both vices to Dawson, who then began to seem more complex.

5. In murder mysteries, sex is controversial.

Frankly, many mystery devotees just don’t like sex in crime fiction, especially that involving the protagonist. A hint of sexual desire is okay, but not the act itself. [Colin Dexter did that well with his character, Inspector Morse]. During a book-signing for my novel MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS, one reader came up to me to object strongly to a sex scene in that story and told me “not to do that again.” I guess her admonition didn’t work because sex keeps showing up in my novels. I feel that the modern crime fiction landscape has changed from the “old days” and allows for some of these “rules” to be broken, e.g. I believe it was Chandler who said a detective or PI should never be married. The fact is that readers do want to know about the protagonist’s life outside of detective work, and in the same fashion, movie and crime shows in which the hero has a complex background life are always the most interesting

6. The [my] first draft is always crap.

I’m echoing Ernest Hemingway, who famously said, “The first draft of anything is s**t,” but I think the draft for the upcoming novel LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ tops them all in the Department of Crappiness. I tried to stuff too much story into one and tried to do it too quickly. It takes place in three different countries and there are something like twenty major characters. Thankfully, as painful as it was rescuing LSIL from the figurative trash, it’s now just about ready to go.

7. The publishers will ask the author if they approve of the jacket design . . .

but if the author doesn’t like it, the chances of the design being changed are slim to none. Stick to the writing, bro.

8. Rely on your readers to spot any errors/typos post-publication.

They will do it anyway, so be gracious about it and thank them. This way, the error can be fixed for the paperback. We see continuity errors in even some of the best movies, so it’s not such a big deal. It happens.

9. Apparently, I can’t completely conquer dangling modifiers.

“Walking down the path, the sky became dark with rain clouds” is a simple example of a dangling modifier--it’s not the sky walking down the path, so the sentence that comes before that is “dangling.” Nowadays I look for them in my drafts with the eye of a hawk, but the editors always get me on at least one! Grrr!

10. Darko’s cult following

I suppose I didn’t realize there was a hardcore group of “Dawsonites” who were dismayed by Darko’s near-death/death? at the end of DEATH BY HIS GRACE. The scene was somewhat ambiguous, but most took it as the death of Darko, and it was not well received. Dawsonites howled with protest and demanded the return of Darko, à la Sherlock Holmes. FYI, Darko isn't dead, but to be honest, I’m not sure when he’ll return. If only I could write as fast as Cara Black! *wistful sigh*

11. Book clubs are dope!

Whether virtually or in person, I encourage authors to join book clubs in their discussions of their novel. Book club discussions are great fun. There will be insights you, as the author, hadn’t perceived before, even some about your protagonist. Women make more incisive observations than men about a book or its characters, so listen to the women. For instance, one measure I took after attending a book club was to include a map in my subsequent novel, because the club members gave me the feedback that they appreciated maps in the first pages of a novel. Also, if the novel includes a significant degree of local languages other than English, as mine and Michael and Stanley’s do, a glossary is essential.

12. The author doesn’t need to know or understand everything about their protagonist.

Without comment, I’m throwing out that possibly controversial notion for discussion!