Thursday, June 14, 2018

Christina Hollis—Radio Gaga?

I've always assumed most readers of Tote Bags 'n' Blogs are American, and probably living in a built-up area, rather than the countryside. As I'm English and live in the middle of a bluebell wood, thinking of what to blog about on here is sometimes tricky.  

Not this month! This weekend, I took a challenge and I'd be interested in your reaction to it. 

When I'm not writing, I've usually got the radio on. This Saturday, I listened to Shadowbahn (a dramatisation of Steve Erickson's 2017 novel) while I had a baking session. With the Twin Towers materialising in Dakota as part of a dystopian vision of the (dis)United States in 2021, the play was part of BBC Radio 4's Dangerous Visions season of science fiction.

I've got wide-ranging tastes, but initially Shadowbahn didn't appeal to me at all. I only listened to it because my instinctive reaction was to wonder how anyone could take the tragedy of the Twin Towers and weave it into science fiction. It felt jaw-droppingly insensitive—but then, the only reason my husband didn't die in 2001 is because 11th September is our wedding anniversary. He rescheduled a business meeting and stayed at home in England, so we could spend the day together. If he hadn't, he'd have been at the heart of what became Ground Zero. 

A Shadow Presley
My first impressions of Shadowbahn were terrible, because of the way I listen to radio. I was popping in and out of the kitchen to fetch fruit or other ingredients, concentrating on scaling up measurements, or calculating cooking times. As a result, I couldn't make head nor tail of the play. In fact, I hated it so much, I decided to give it a second chance. 

This morning, I stuck a "do not disturb" sign on my office door, called up the podcast and settled down to concentrate. After a straight run of 56 minutes with no interruptions (which must be a record in this house) my feelings about this play have changed. First, the good news. This production showcases radio at its best. The use of music and sound effects really does create better "pictures" than staring at a television screen. It encourages listeners to use their imagination. I loved the choice of music, and a world where water is contraband and vigilantes roam the streets is only too believable. 

A Real President
I still didn't care for the story itself, though. It may well be a work of genius, but I don't have enough background knowledge to decide. I've never been to America. Everything I know about the country's popular culture could be written on the back of an Amex card, and still leave room for the Gettysburg Address. I love M*A*S*H, The Big Bang Theory, The Goldbergs and Young Sheldon, but there are always a few references in each of those shows which go straight over my head. 

The problem I had with Shadowbahn is that almost the whole play was beyond my comprehension.  It was like presenting Minnie Mouse with a dissertation on plant pathology. The references to various states, politicians, historical events  and geography meant nothing to me. As a result, I didn't know how much of the story was invention. I really didn't like that. For example, I know next to nothing about Elvis Presley, but I thought he idolised his mother. To think she might have screamed at him in the same way she belittled poor Jesse in Shadowbahn for being the surviving twin disturbed me. 

This is where you come in. Have you read Shadowbahn, or listened to the play? You can try it here. If you live in the US or know the country well, what did you think of it?

Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written eighteen contemporary novels, sold nearly three million books, and her books have been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, walking her dog, or beekeeping.

You can catch up with her at, on Twitter, Facebook, and see a full list of her published books at

Her current release, Heart Of A Hostage, is published by The Wild Rose Press and available at  worldwide.


dstoutholcomb said...

Not familiar with it at all.

As for the Goldbergs...a lot of the references mean more to me because I grew up near Philadelphia. Wawa is a real place, well, lots of places. Convenience store chainfamous for their hoagie sandwiches, and now they have gas stations. Any other questions, hit me up!


Christina Hollis said...

Thanks, Denise! The question that most fascinates me about the US doesn't have an easy answer— when a country is so vast, how on earth can one person (whether they be Republican or Democratic) keep tabs on everything? And I assume your school children's history lessons are based mainly around their states, plus the major, US shaping events. The sheer amount of information available about their homeland must be staggering.

dstoutholcomb said...

We have a wide variety of news outlets nationally, plus there are 3-4 network tv stations in a lot of larger towns. Print media is still available locally.

As for the kids, there's usually one year when they focus on the home state history, somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade. Each state has their own requirements, and within each state there are a lot of school districts which pick their own curriculum, and those have to meet minimum state requirements. The school year in most states is 180 days.

Over the years of Kindergarten though 12th grade, the kids will learn US History and World History in various ways. When they get to high school (9th-12th), it is a lot different because the kids pick their own classes and can take different levels of classes, some can earn college credits, and they can pick a path which may be something related to what they want to study when they go to college/university. They also have to pass minimum standards in order to graduate, too.

It sounds more complicated than it is, but it's probably a lot different than most other countries.

Christina Hollis said...

That's fascinating—thanks, Denise. When you grow up within a system it's far easier to understand it, or so I thought until my son reached 17, and we were faced with so many options: college, an apprenticeship, or university. They all looked equally good, but he chose university in the end.

dstoutholcomb said...

We use college and university interchangeably here when referring to a 4-year undergrad degree. Though in the US, a university is made up of several "colleges" on the same campus--all are part of the same institution. Examples of colleges within a university system could be: business, humanities (arts & science), engineering, hospitality, nursing, education, etc... A lot of it is based on accreditation. But, there are free-standing accredited colleges which are not universities.

We also have junior colleges and community colleges with 2-year degrees, and some have partnerships with larger universities for students to go on and earn a 4-year degree under the umbrella of the university.

apprenticeships are usually reserved for the trades: electrician, plumbing, masonry, mechanics, and some of those require a 2-year degree. Some of the cosmetology schools work on an apprenticeship, too.

dstoutholcomb said...

My two older boys are at universities. One has completed his BA (private university), and is now working on a DTP--Doctorate of Physical Therapy (another private university). The middle son is working on his BS and Masters at the same time in an accelerated program at a state university in another state (public university). He's in the Honors College and Business College at his university.

Youngest is still in middle school in our county's public school system.