Sunday, 19 October 2014

million sellers

J_F_cover_US_1 


Cover scan of Jacob's Folly





I loved Jacob's Folly. The top cover above gives you a decent sense of it. I think it's the American one. The second cover is the British one I saw, and it's made me think it was a book not aimed at me. Over time, I got over the judging by cover, but it was over time. If I had seen the top cover I'd have read it ages ago. It is by no means anything within a million miles of what looks like the slightly pappy book of the second cover, and I wonder if lots of readers have found that surprising. I should check, maybe. Not now, I have other fish to fry.

I am periodically riveted by huge bestsellers no one today has heard of. My friend Matthew told me about the incredible Peter Cheyney the other day, who grew up in the East End, fought in the Great War, dictated dozens of thrilling tales, shot, golfed, jiu-jitsued and etc., etc.

Among other things, assuming Wikipedia to be correct: Cheyney wrote his first novel, the Lemmy Caution thriller This Man Is Dangerous in 1936 and followed it with the first Slim Callaghan novel, The Urgent Hangman in 1938. The immediate success of these two novels assured a flourishing new career, and Cheyney abandoned his work as a freelance investigator. Sales were brisk; in 1946 alone, 1,524,785 copies of Cheyney books were sold worldwide ... Cheyney dictated his work. Typically Cheyney would "act out" his stories for his secretary, Miss Sprauge, who would copy them down in shorthand and type them up later.

Ernie Hudson played Winston in Ghostbusters and wasn't that well treated in sequels and didn't voice the cartoon. Was race a reason? Well, in this interview, he seems like more or less the gracefullest man on earth. I think of him as Cousin Ernie, increasingly.

What happens when you find a way to beat Vegas because Vegas has screwed up the programming of its machines? Well, among other things, Vegas doesn't like it one little bit, and Vegas is bigger than you, so it takes you to court. Vegas, basically, is the baddies. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

yikes

I hadn't heard of Gamergate until last night and the story of a gamer saying he'd massacre people if a woman spoke about tropes games perpetuate against women.

Of course, it's just the usual load of hate-filled bile, and to say this is representative of gamers is like saying ISIS is representative of muslims and so on. But I'm glad to know about it, all the same. And I was already going to link to this great story by Naomi Alderman about British women who were early computer coders because when they started doing it, it was seen as women's work. They started businesses made a lot of money, which totally is and should be part of the story.

Friday, 3 October 2014

almost there

What do I do every day? If you are asking this question about any of the last eight days, I get up, open a script I'm writing, re-plan the relationship of a pair of secondary characters called Banjo and Googoo, feel hopeful that this time I've cracked it, draft between one and all of their scenes, decide that I will have to start again tomorrow.

Also, the internet. For instance, did you know Steven Soderbergh has done a black and white, re-scored cut of Raiders of the Lost Ark? I'd love to watch it in the cinema pictured above, which I walked past in a village in France last month.

Anthony Kim might be fit to play golf again, but his eight figure insurance pay-off might stop him.

American football news: if you can read the cute bits of this story, which you'll know when you get to them, and not be heartwarmed, then you have a heart of stone. (Bonus cute: child asks astronaut about what happens to Voyager if it breaks down.)

Other American football news: I love the series Breaking Madden, in which Jon Bois plays with the settings of a frighteningly lifelike computer game to produce absurd results. One of the best things about it is that it's not entirely predictable. Here, one of the characters Jon has tweaked seems to develop a weird disfunctional artificial intelligence. (Also I love the tiny men running into the giant men.)

The recent This American Life episode on the takeover of a New York school board by Hasidic Jews who don't send their kids to public schools but still have to pay for it is vvg.

Also, I find these posters funny every time I walk past them. Does that make me someone with a heart of stone? Can't I both feel sorry for the dog and the owner AND find the poster sort of hilarious in various ways? I think that's the situation I'm in.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Boutique Nationalism is Undemocratic

Oh God, Scotland. I really don't want to get into it. I'm not going to persuade anyone. Anything I say will just be screeching into the void. And yet. I haven't got another voice. I've almost never written anything up here because I can't bear not to say it.

The first country I had any form of relationship with was Scotland. I was five, my family supported Scotland in the five nations, I was Scottish. I still am, and I still do. My brother was married in a kilt, which surprised people, but he was brought up Scottish, whatever he sounds like and wherever he lived. That's allowed in Britain, especially if you weren't born in England. I am British, and the subset of British I am is Scottish.

I was born in Zimbabwe of parents who'd been in Africa for generations after their families had, mostly, gone out from Scotland. Identity and nationalism aren't rational.* My identity could disappear and I don't get a vote and it makes me feel utterly sick, and angry, and miserable, and weird.

Of course, there's no way I can divorce this from what I like to think are my more reasoned arguments that Scotland should stay part of the union. It  comes down to this, though: I believe that the rise of me-me-me boutique nationalisms like 'Scottish', where people try to redraw borders so they can pick and choose only the things they like or agree with, is fundamentally anti-democratic. Democracy is not living somewhere where everyone agrees with you, it's having as loud a voice as everyone else in the place where you live.

It's a sort of national version of the Great Sort, and although there are arguments on both sides, I think that in countries like the UK - which are by every rational measure free, democratic and highly functional - it is solipsistic and frankly a bad example to the world to claim that you are being oppressed/victimised/whatever because your democratically elected government doesn't happen to agree with you.

But I am also incredibly upset because if Scotland votes Yes, I don't know what I'll be then.**

* I supported Zim against England too for a very long time, although I've gone kind of agnostic now, for Mugabe reasons. I'm not trying to pretend all this is simple.
** I know some people think that doesn't matter, and countries are bullshit. That's fine, they're allowed to. I'll never change their mind and I'm not trying to.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

watch this, watch this


Inexplicably, I had never seen this brilliant thing until @helenlewis posted it on twitter. If you are in the same unhappy position...

Some people say that the new Apple ad (see it here) is a rip off of the latest amazing Ok Go video. Some of those people are OK Go. They are obviously right. Of course other people have done similar things, but the timing means the Apple guys were just copying, and they clearly would consider themselves creatives. Lots of adverts are like this.

Of course, the OK Go thing is a thousand times wittier and more charming.


I am a big fan of the Stanford University mascot - a tree whose inhabiter gets to to design his or her costume every year. My favourite bit from the Wikipedia page:  In February 2006, then-Tree Erin Lashnits was suspended until the end of her term as the Tree after her blood-alcohol level was found to be 0.157 (almost twice the legal driving limit in California) during a men's basketball game between Stanford and Cal. UC Berkeley police observed her drinking from a flask during the game and cited her for public drunkenness after she failed a breathalyser test.

This year's tree has got a hilarious/awful costume. I can't find a picture of it, but this gif is worth a click.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

the spy who loved another spy

Woo hoo, I am going on holiday. I have finished a decent draft of this year's Christmas show; I have done a draftier draft of Bond episode 2 for Tall Tales on 24 Sept; I have watched the rains, the rains, the endless gloomy rains of August.

I have also learnt that, in his later life, Lord Salisbury took to riding a tricycle for his health. He beavered around the grounds of Hatfield House in a purple velvet poncho. A footman would jump off the back of his tricycle to push him up hills and remount for the downhills. This, and there will be plenty more to follow, I guess, from The War That Ended Peace, by Margaret MacMillan.

For the Dazzle sequel, I went back into the twenties, and reminded myself that I'd downplayed the craziness, if anything. My new favourite is Gerald Tyrwhitt, Lord Berners. He wrote a very hard-to-get-hold-of book called The Girls of Radcliff Hall, satirising his homosexual circle through the medium of a boarding school parody with what might be the greatest title in all literature. The Telegraph obituary says:

... "distinguished" is not quite the right word for Berners. Distinguished men do not normally drive around their estate wearing a pig's-head mask to frighten the locals.

Nor do they place advertisements in The Times announcing that they wish to dispose of two elephants - and, when rung up by a diary column, pretend to be their own manservant and explain that one of the elephants has been sold to Harold Nicolson (who took the joke badly).

Enough for now. I'm out of here.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

archbishops

I read Death Comes to the Archbishop and The Table of Less Valued Knights last week. They are very different, excellent books.

Some excellent sportswriting in Grantland this week. Brian Phillips takes on the hideous Ray Rice mess (Rice and his wife walked into an elevator; he dragged her out, seemingly unconscious; she apologised for causing trouble; he got a tiny little wrist slap from the league authorities). Phillips - well, you should read the whole thing for the sensitive way it tries to understand the knots people have got themselves into over this. It's an exercise in genuine empathy: Internet comments defending Rice and the NFL are — well, many of them are genuinely and chillingly misogynistic, but I think more of them are primarily concerned with protecting football from mainstream cultural norms: Don’t take this away too. Men who post smug explanations of league suspension policy may be secret domestic-violence enthusiasts, but more likely they’re simply trying to keep any trace of sensitivity from softening their cartoon war game. What they’re talking about isn’t precisely what they’re talking about. They don’t support the problem; they just don’t want to think about it. They refuse to be collaterally enlightened.

That last sentence is brilliant.

Michael Weinreb, in a very different piece which has its core a similar attempt to get at just what it is we love about sports, even when so much of it is easy to criticise, writes: at heart, the reason we prefer college football to the pros is that we are sentimental nostalgists, wishing we could retreat back to the time when we felt like maybe we had the potential to be great, too. He's totally convincing, and he knows it has to change because it's built on a system of (racial) peonage.

Back to Elizabeth Gilbert - being a fan is loving something more than it deserves. That's such an excellent insight.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

tabs

I know almost precisely nothing about Eat, Pray, Love and the description of it doesn't appeal. I listened to Mike Pesca interview Elizabeth Gilbert, its author, last week. I really, really liked her (and her new novel does sound up my street, she will be delighted to learn). She was wise and gracious about being a one-hit wonder, whatever the hell that means, and fandom (loving something more than it objectively deserves). It's here.

Some French dude wrote a book in ten minutes and can't stop selling copies. I also really like him. Sample quote: “It is no effort,” he smiles, his blue eyes flashing. “Words come out of me like water from a tap. I write largely on my mobile phone as I move about and queue in the supermarket. I’ve written on chewing gum wrappers and even on my shirt.” 

I think Alexa Meade's photos of people who look like paintings are fun. I don't know whether they are a bit hokey when you see them for real, and I am not sure I want one, and the web is no place to make judgements, but I am, to no purpose, a fan.

Monday, 4 August 2014

peter o'toole

I didn't know that Peter O'Toole loved cricket so much. He played with Omar Sharif while filming Lawrence of Arabia and, aged 50, qualified as a coach so he could teach his new son properly. He coached kids at Cricklewood and Brondesbury Cricket Clubs.

I already liked him.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

the game's afoot


It might be, anyway. We'll see. I'm having a meeting about the game, and if it's afoot, it will be so afoot I probably won't even have time to tell you.

I also, probably, and this will be really annoying, won't have time to write Episode 2 of my thrilling new Bond adventure before September's Tall Tales. We did Episode 1 last night and I thought it went well, in my biased way. In my less biased way, I loved the rest of the dudes in the show. I've started saying dudes a lot. I'm not sure why.

I knew nothing about online/real world harassment in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. I do now.

Who was Cliff Young? He was an Australian potato farmer[2] and athlete from Beech Forest, Victoria, best known for his unexpected win of the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon in 1983 at 61 years of age. Also, says Wikipedia, In 1997 at age 76, he made an attempt to beat Ron Grant's around Australia record and completed 6,520 kilometres of the 16,000-kilometre run, but he had to pull out because his only crew member became ill. In 2000 he achieved a world age record in a six-day race in Victoria, and Young was a vegetarian from 1973 until his death. He lived in the family home with his mother and brother Sid. Young had remained single throughout his life, but after the 1983 race, at 62 years of age, he married 23-year-old Mary Howell, 39 years his junior.

Primary producers get exploited. We all know that. The romantic stories are about farmers, like Cliff Young. It's much less hard to feel pity for sportsmen and artists, and I'm not asking for it because my life is brilliant. However, I've read some great stuff recently, and re-read, about paying comedy writers and about Amazon vs Hachette and how neither is the author's friend, whatever they pretend.

Sports. I'll tease you in with Cheerleaders, because that's always interesting. Clue: they're totally exploited. Then I'll say that the owners of US basketball franchises have done a brilliant job of negotiating salary caps. A racist owner forced to sell his bad team still made a huge fortune while star players are congratulated for taking voluntary pay cuts in order to make teams stronger. Then I'll say that colleges make hundreds of millions out of sports while paying a pittance (scholarship) to top players who aren't allowed to sell their labour on a free market. These players are then lowballed when they get into professional football, basketball or whatever. If you're one of the footballers playing running back, your best five years are played, basically, for tiny fraction of what you're worth You might get one decent contract after that but you're already well on the downside of your career.

Monday, 21 July 2014

oops

Sorry, it's been a while. I know, because I have access to snooping tools barely less powerful than the NSA's, that there are not three million of you waiting avidly to hear whatever I come up with next, but I I have been providing an even worse service than usual, I realise.

I'm busy, is the obvious reason. I'm getting the first episode of a new radio thing ready for Tall Tales next week, which means a lot of writing, crossing fingers in the usual way that somehow, miraculously, this time I will have learned to plan something so that it doesn't need at least two radical rewrites, re-read, realise that the miracle hasn't happened, and so on. And also plan a musical I'm writing in the next couple of months, hopefully in such a careful way that I don't need at least two radical rewrites.

And also, at the same time, I am slowly working out the best way to rebuild slash redesign this blog, and maybe Listen & Often, which doesn't need it, exactly, because it was designed by someone who knows what they're doing, but I might try to put them on the same overall platform, along with my website (I worry that I might be boring you by now) and what might very possibly become a new podcast that I've been working on with Marie.

Also, therefore, I've been learning podcasting. I didn't have to learn podcasting for Listen & Often because Toby did all the work. It turns out that if I have to be relied on to do all the work, things take longer.

So, that's where I am. I have an annoying list of open tabs waiting to be turned into posts, so it's me who's suffering, really.

(If you want to audience at next week's Tall Tales, please email talltalesnight@gmail.com so we know you're coming.)

Monday, 7 July 2014

how the rich young live now

On Saturday night, I went to a restaurant on Saturday which had a large private room which was holding an evidently very posh eighteenth birthday party. Of the hundreds of eighteen year olds (the eighteenth birthday parties I went to were in people's gardens) a huge proportion spent a lot of the evening outside smoking.

When I was eighteen a lot of my friends smoked. Ten years ago, it seemed that many fewer people that age did. These things go in waves, blah, blah, blah. But what I wondered about, in addition, was this: is smoking for rich eighteen year olds a sign of conspicuous consumption? It's so much more expensive than it used to be that I can hardly imagine how even my comfortably off eighteen year old friends would easily have afforded it. Is this a thing like fat is a sign of wealth when there is no food?

(Interestingly, while eighteen year olds are conventionally supposed to look amazing by virtue of being eighteen, these eighteen year olds looked an absolute shower.)

(If I wanted to be able to afford to send an eighteen year old child of mine to a massive party like this, I would set up an chain of tattoo removing salons. Literally every fashion looks ridiculous twelve years on. I'm really looking forward to this one.)

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Clearing tabs

The least graceful thing in public life is rich, white, Christian, western men trying to pretend they are victims or underdogs. See also Amazon.

Fancy dress, fascism, gay men, Churchill. (Philip Hoare is brilliant.)

Why Britain can't do the wire. Excellent, especially on writers, but I would also say that it's easier-slash-more locative to go for niches in America because the niches contain so many more people. I do think UK telly culture is not as bold as it should be. But I would.

What is the really important thing about Bitcoin? It's the way it moves information. That's how it will change the world, says Virgin, which is a very odd-feeling source for one of the most interesting things I've read about Bitcoin.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

David Sedaris is the bombYou can tell where my territory ends and the rest of England begins. It’s like going from the rose arbor in Sissinghurst to Fukushima after the tsunami. The difference is staggering

Luis Suarez biting some guy who's spent an hour kicking him: biting a guy in football is definitely different to kicking him or elbowing him in the head, even though the latter are objectively more likely to cause lasting damage. Partly it's that there's no excuse and so it's incredibly easy to judge, and judging things, as Rebekah Brooks knows, is hard.

(By the way, do you know how many criminal defendants get privately paid barristers? A vanishingly small number. Proof is hard when you have lots of highly paid lawyers (not better lawyers, necessarily, but lawyers with all the time they need to make their case). It's what financial criminals depend on.)

Anyway, Suarez should get a ban, but I've seen worse things on sports fields not get punished just because the players could pretend they were part of the game. To be fair, sometimes it has been Suarez doing them. You should still read Brian Phillips on him. And this is good too, from Colin McGowan: Surely, we’re smart enough to enjoy Su├írez — to like him, in a way — and to also know he’s a spectacular jackass. 

I'm very busy at the moment.

A book about monsters appearing on mediaeval maps? What's not to like?