Posts tagged ‘Seneca’

My Glorious Publishing Career Part 1

I have now made all of my books into ebooks, so it’s a good time to look back and reflect on my illustrious publishing career. It’s been an interesting ride so far, and I hope it continues. Book six is about to come out, and I think it’s going to be a bit of a breakthrough.

For the record, my first 5 books are: The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, The Spiritual Teachings of Seneca, The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao, The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga and The Living Wisdom of Socrates. The new one is called I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp and is coming out in September.

I started writing by accident. In 1997 I thought it would be a great thing to make an audio of The Tao Te Ching, the 2300 year old Chinese Taoist classic. And one day it just happened. I visited Martin Palmer in Manchester and told him this was a book I would love to record. He told me that he made religious programmes for the BBC and maybe he could arrange a recording studio. But who would read it? I hadn’t thought that far ahead, so I needed to think about good actors who could handle the text. Ideally I hoped to find someone who knew the book, but failing that, I needed someone sensitive to ideas and feelings. I settled on the late Nigel Hawthorne, who didn’t know the work but threw himself into the project with great enthusiasm. He did a remarkable job, responding very well to Martin’s directions regarding the meaning of the sometimes inscrutable text. Once we added music to Nigel’s voice, we had a very fine recording of the classic.

I now needed distribution to get the audio (it was a cassette at that time) into shops. Someone introduced me to Rupert Lancaster at Hodder and Stoughton and after he listened to the tape he offered me a deal. A year later, he rang to ask if I had any other audio ideas. It just so happened I did (or at least I did once he put the idea into my mind). I gave Rupert four ideas and he responded best to the notion of recording The Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius.

To be continued (possibly).

August 26, 2014 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

Standing On Others’ Shoulders – Part 1- (don’t hold your breath for Part 2)

I think it’s time that I started standing on my own creative feet and stop standing on the shoulders of others. In my case that means old philosophers – both east and west.  My first 5 books were all about philosophies or philosophers: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Taoism, Yoga and Socrates. I explained the ideas behind the philosophy, followed by key texts I had referred to.

My latest book – I Survived A Secret Nazi Extermination Camp – is entirely different. The first part of the new book is a short introduction to  the little known but infamous Nazi death camp called Belzec. In this isolated, forested camp in SE Poland,  the Nazis killed an estimated 650,00 Jews and Gypsies.  The time between arrival by freight train to death in a gas chamber was only two hours. Rudolf Reder, a Polish Jew, managed to stay alive for four months as a worker in the camp, before making a miraculous escape. By the end of the war, Reder was the only survivor of the camp, and he gave a Witness Statement recounting his experiences.

It is this Witness Statement of Reder’s that forms part two of the book. He recounts the horrific, pathetic and harrowing events that took place in Belzec, and the cruel and criminal acts of the Nazi and Ukrainian guards.  It is a difficult account to read – one man recounting the hell that the Nazis’ madness had created, and which he saw first-hand.

Part three is an account by me ( a kind of memoir ) about how and why I came across this Statement of Reder’s. It’s partly about my family and partly about my relationship to the holocaust, and its victims.  A few years ago, I decided to search for my Grandparents’ roots online via JewishGen which led me to discover hundreds of ancestors. This search ultimately led me to Lublin, and it was on a visit to the Majdanek Concentration Camp that I found Reder’s Statement. At the same time I learned the fate of my grandfather’s family – those who he left behind had been sent from their homes in Lublin to be killed in Belzec .

How is this book different to the other 5? Of course it’s much more personal. I am not writing about dead philosophers but about the terrible fate of my own (newly discovered) family. It’s about history, but told in a personal way. I’ve set out my reflections on what I was learning, and my own memories were part of this discovery.   Obviously I am not a survivor of the camps and no known relative of mine had been one either. We were Americans, not Europeans. All my grandparents emigrated to the USA in the early 1900s, and my parents and all of our family had been born in America. Growing up, I never realised that my grandparents had left family behind – parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. It is the fate of those family members that my search revealed, and my memoir reflects how I came to terms with this dark knowledge.

June 28, 2013 at 9:26 pm 1 comment

Seneca on Adversity and Fortune

Seneca, the Roman philosopher and statesman, had a lot to say about adversity and how to deal with the strange twists of Fate. This wasn’t just philosophical musings either, because Seneca’s life was full of extreme highs and lows of fortune. He experienced times of debilitating loss as well as periods of great power and wealth. As a young lawyer he was exiled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius because of his skill at oratory- Claudius was envious of his eloquence. He sent him to Corsica, then a barren, barely populated island, for 8 years. Just before he was taken away, his young son died and while in exile his wife also died. Seneca’s life was at its lowest ebb.

When Claudius married Agrippina, she convinced the Emperor to bring Seneca back to Rome to become tutor to her son Nero. She eventually made him a Consul, a powerful political position. When Nero finally became Emperor, Seneca found himself at the centre of Roman power and he parlayed that into the amassing of great wealth, becoming one of the richest men in the Empire.

This life of extreme ups and downs gave Seneca plenty of material for his writings. He was always wary of Fortuna, the God who was behind the changes of fate. He believed you always had to look at the dark side of possible events (the bottom line). This was his reality principle:

Never give in to adversity

Don’t dare trust prosperity.

The blow you’ve anticipated

Will do the least harm.


None of us can make promises about what is to come. Even what we hold slips through our fingers; and accident cuts short the very hour we have in our grasp. Fear keeps pace with hope, like a prisoner and his escort

He claimed to have welcomed poverty when he was in exile:

Those of us who are on good terms with poverty can count ourselves rich.

The person who is truly impoverished is not the one who has little but the one who yearns after more.

Of course as a rich man he was accused of being a hypocrite for writing lines like this:

Society is unanimous on the subject of Greed- it wallows in it. People look up to money, they pray for it for themselves. They offer it up as if it were the noblest profession they could possibly have.

But Seneca the philosopher also talked about the value and importance of the soul:

Riches are not where we pile them up. It is the soul, not the safe, that we need to fill.

Seneca’s life, with its rollercoaster highs and lows, its grandeur jutted next to fears and anxieties feels very modern to me, even though he lived 2000 years ago. He is an example of how we can fall abruptly from high position and status but also can rise again from the ashes. There is hope in this. Things continually change. Nothing stays static.

But in the end, Nero forced Seneca to commit suicide, because he knew too much about Nero’s transgressions. However Seneca went down in history as having a ‘good’ philosophical death.

(Quotations from The Spiritual Teachings of Seneca by Mark Forstater and Victoria Radin)

April 17, 2009 at 3:28 pm 3 comments

The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.