Wednesday, 31 December 2008

ego-surfing news: kilburn of the rising sun

Typed '"robert hudson" kilburn' into Google to see what other booksellers might have picked it up. Pleased to see that Amazon (.co.uk), after being nowhere, is the top hit. Then come the blog and a feature I wrote for the Observer Sport Monthly. Then three losers of some kind, and then comes Amazon-in-Japan. I love that it's Japan and not France, America, Oz, Canada or wherever.

dynasty

US dynasty politics is hilarious. That is all.

(Okay, not all. Is there a comparative study of dynasticism in democracies? I think one would be very interesting. I know some pretty good statisticians. I might see what would be needed in order to model this properly.)

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

steven gerrard vs phil collins

It is not funny that Steven Gerrard has been charged with affray after allegedly beating up a DJ in Southport for not playing Stevie's choice of music.

The funny thing, as every newspaper in the world will repeat, is that Steven Gerrard's all-time favourite artist is Phil Collins, and he also likes Coldplay. If you were writing a sketch, these are choices you would probably think we're a bit too on-the-nail to be funny. I certainly was boggled. I mean, Coldplay is a perfectly plausible answer, however much it has become an association you use to call something risibly bland (hard on Coldplay - who I've always thought were a bit boring, for the record, but fine - but they can count their stately homes, etc.), but Phil Collins? I mean, most footballers won't have heard of Phil Collins. He would have been the joke answer in 1990.

My first thought: has someone been teasing the Guardian writer responsible for the story I was reading? An older wag in the office might have told innocent young news reporter Helen Carter that this was a fact, and she might have just repeated it. I mean, it was late last night, and so on. Phil Collins is the sort of gag a hack my age might have come up with.

My second thought was this: I have a tiny Google-window. Every news outlet on earth, and every other commentator also, is going to have fun with Phil Collins. He is going to be what gets Steven Gerrard on Have I Got News For You. Thus, if I want to see if there is an ur-text, I need to find it before it is swamped. And lo, there it was, already being crowded to the bottom of the front page.

Coldplay is in his stereo, Phil Collins is his all-time favourite, and The Office is his favourite television show. The eagle-eyed amongst you will also have noted the age of this interview. It talks of him as Liverpool's 'new' captain. Thus, it is five years old.

What do we take from this? Well, if we are me, we think: The Office is a good choice. And five years ago, Coldplay were obvious enough, but not risible. Phil Collins was, though. It was a well-established joke tied to the philistinism of footballers. Stevie G is not an idiot. He and his Liverpudlian mates are very keen to describe themselves as jokers. I would not be at all surprised to find - in fact, I think this is the most likely scenario - that Stevie was having a little fun when he talked about Phil Collins. He probably has bigger problems to deal with than putting that right just now. And anyway, he might be a Phil Collins fan. And, who knows, making jokes about it might be something that lands you in hospital.

Sideline: I always found Phil Collins pretty boring too, but I bet this encomium ends up doing him good, what with all the eighties revivalism. And I hope it does Genesis some good, because I liked them.

(I support Liverpool. I have been trying not to get too excited about them being top of the league. This story has proved useful in that regard.)

Monday, 29 December 2008

golden age silver screen 1

A few years ago I reviewed a pair of books about Cary Grant and Tallulah Bankhead. The Tallulah one was full of amazing stories, but I can't find it for some reason. What I mainly remember the books for, though, is this description of Cary Grant's face (it is just possible the author was joking, but it is more likely, given the rest of the book's purple prose, that he was not):

...the camera quickly discovered and magnified the perfection of his features, the beautiful dark and sharp eyes that sat carved beneath his thick black brows, the handsome nose, the flawlessly smooth skin, the thick, slick hair always perfectly cut and parted, and that remarkable cleft in his chin, whose two smooth and curved bulges resembled nothing so much as a beautiful woman's naked behind while she was on her knees in sexual supplication before the godlike monument of his face.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

aslan livingstone-ra

I've got a cousin with this name, who lives in London, where I live, who I never see. If he ego-surfs, maybe we will meet up for a drink some time, and maybe we will not.

Experts: Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is a psychopath

says Pravda. I never tire of it. Among today's other highlights are, 'Weird hairy females seduce hot-blooded Caucasian men,' and 'Chinese homosexuals exist.'

Friday, 26 December 2008

what is the solution

to the issue of crime and punishment? I literally don't know, and apparently I am not the first person to think it needs attending to.

On the radio after Liverpool's pleasing Boxing Day victory (go Liverpool): an eighteen year old man (man!) hanged himself in prison yesterday or today - he was serving seven years for kidnapping and GBH. He might have been an unbelievable horror, this kid, and I'm sure society was safer for him being off the streets, but what I wanted to know when I heard the story was: how come he found himself locked up for these crimes at this age AND THEN how come he was so miserable that he hanged himself? What specifically happened to him, and will it help me understand how people get brutalised by prisons, or will it make me think it's good that people are stuck in them? Basically, I want to know his story.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

man bites dog

'Rom com starting with one night stand with a priest via stag do'

You will doubtless be delighted to learn that my printer seems to have got over its reluctance to use all the paper in its tray. One result is that a load of old scrap I was using to fill the bottom of the tray has reemerged on the back of the first draft of Damsel. Various notes to self, including the above. Other treats are:
- 'God is man's attempt to communicate with the weather' (I like this. I wonder where I heard it?) (Google suggests it's an old saw, and usually Religion is quoted, instead of God. I still like it.)
- 'Belladonna, an action witch'
- 'Rocky the Zebra Saves the World'

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

best reply ever

No good reason for few days lay-off. Combination of finishing off show, being tired and panickingly realising that there is no time for being tired because the Gershwin script has to be done for the start of 2009 and that if I don't start proofing KSC then that will turn into a late January monster.

I have quoted these two poems forty million times to everyone I know, but just in case there are any readers out there who happen not to know me, this is at least about the best response to anything I have ever heard:

Frances Cornford (nee Darwin), 1886-1960 wrote in 1910 "To a Fat Lady see from the Train"

O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the field in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering-sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much.

G. K. Chesterton, in 1933, wrote "The Fat White Woman Speaks"

Why do you rush through the fields in trains,
Guessing so much and so much.
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?

(I have got The Man Who Was Thursday to read over Christmas, if I get time. I hope I do. I love Father Brown, and the cover quote - 'the most thrilling book I have ever read', Kingsley Amis is v. encouraging.)

Friday, 19 December 2008

the killburn social club

Funny typesetter's error on page i of the proof copy of KSC, which arrived today. Print out looks very handsome.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

easy target no.1

Under my most recent 'Frequently Bought Together' headline from Amazon, I learnt that of those who buy McMafia by Misha Glenny (Paperback), 19% also buy McMafia, by Misha Glenny (Hardcover). Admittedly, they have different subtitles, and Amazon doesn't help by saying you can buy these frequently-bought-together items together at the click of a button, so I can imagine how a few people might blunder, but 19%? That's a lot of dozy people, people. I certainly think it is worth considering a different subtitle for my paperback. I mean a subtitle.

Oh. Wait. The book is at 359,000+ in the sales rank because it is still pre-release. Ok. I think I might have reacted too quickly, and only about four people have blundered.

If I can get this embroiled about the Amazon stats and recommendations for a book I know merely the title of, things don't bode well for next year.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

musicals i will write if science makes me immortal, no. 2

Supreme! - the story of a liberal who spends his entire working life living a lie so that he can be confirmed as a conservative Supreme Court judge.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

the midsomer conundrum

One thing that can be a problem with series crime fiction is the Midsomer Conundrum: a protagonist will get involved in a crazily colourful set of adventures over time. How a character fits into this bloody world is an issue different writers deal with differently, and differently well. There is one series I cannot go back to, even though I otherwise enjoyed the three I have read over the years, because in every case the crime was somehow linked to the hero, and not for reasons growing out of the specifics of the crime, but just for coincidental reasons - he was the only person who could solve the crime because his daughter happened to witness something, for instance.

I am reading my first Michael Connelly. (Annoyingly, even though I looked at the list of titles and picked the top one on the list in the jacket, so I would start at the beginning, I picked the most recent. I normally check date as well. Whatever.) I am coming to it late. Obviously, a lot of stuff has happened to Bosch and his partner Rider in previous novels. There is a genre-classic passage early on where these things are dealt with for newbies. Here is how it goes, in realtime:

'I think it's better that all the families know and we clear all the cases. It's like with my sister. We wanted to know.'
When Rider was a teenager her older sister was murdered in a drive-by shooting. The case was cleared and three bangers went away for it. It was the main reason she became a cop.
'It's probably like you with your mother, too,' she added.
Bosch looked up at her. His mother had been murdered when he was a boy. More than three decades later he solved the crime himself because he wanted to know.

Monday, 15 December 2008

wowzers, anne robinson

Just flicking past Weakest Link two minutes ago. I didn't hear the line before or after it, but Anne Robinson said, 'Why do you bother to repair council houses? They're only going to smash them up again, the people living in them.'

horrible buddhists

Was just re-flicking through James Palmer's excellent The Bloody White Baron this morning, and was reminded how much fun it was. It's all about a psychotic Baltic-Russian aristocrat taking over Mongolia and bathing it in blood. His name was Roman Ungern von Sternberg, and when he was a scary child he tried to strangle his neighbour's owl.

Ungern's story is great, but the eye-opening thing for me was the portrayal of Mongolian Buddhism in the first quarter of the twentieth century - its venal, voluptuous monks, whose monasteries were the focus of temporal as well as spiritual power, are not straight out of mediaeval Europe, but the analogies are there for all to see.

We get too used to a fluffy bunnies, spiritual-but-not-religious, modern Western idea of Buddhism. We don't know about Mongolia’s pantheon of vengeful deities, such as Palden Llamo. She had a cup made from the skull of a child born from incest and her horse's saddle was made from the flayed skin of her own child. She gets airbrushed in the West by people claiming that gods with bloody swords stamping on fields of corpses represent the mind’s triumph over materialism. (Funny Palden Llama fact: the Tibetans thought Queen Victoria was one of her incarnations.)

The most enjoyable monkish leader was the Bogd Khan, was a gross, drunken whoremonger who teased pilgrims with a rope wired to a car battery that he hung over the palace walls. He laughed when it shocked pilgrims who thought the shocks were blessings from on high. He was too fat to ride a horse without falling off, so he got soldiers to ride on either side of him to hold him up. Poor horse.

He also had a zoo, with 'giraffes, tigers and chimpanzees preserved in a miserable half-life of teasing and desperate cold.' He had an elephant looked after by a seven foot six inch tall giant. The giant's name was Gongor. He had a collection, which you can still see, of stuffed animals, including puffer-fish, penguins and elephant seals. There were mirrors with 'intricate drawings of a most grossly obscene character,' but these have been removed.

Ungern’s own religion - since you are so interested - was a personal stew, supposedly Lutheran but taking in soothsayers and fuzzy pan-spiritualism. He heeded the Buddhist myths of Shambala - a hidden kingdom from which a king would emerge in the darkest days to usher in a Golden Age, but his chaotic army was more shambles than Shambala. He executed thousands of ‘traitors’ and wanted to exterminate the Jews. He had one man whipped daily for months until his bones showed and he went mad; others were pulled apart by bent trees; some were made to spend naked nights on frozen rivers. One group of such men fought off wolves with their bare hands. Half of them did, anyway.

I've read a lot of books about nutjobs, and the good ones are good because you feel in safe hands with respect to psychological truth. This is one of those - Palmer's Ungern made total sense to me. He was a loner whose parents divorced. He rebelled against authority, and built escapist fantasies about glamorous soldier forebears with nicknames like The Axe and The Brother of Satan. He never learnt what made other people tick. He taught himself esoteric theology and Eastern mysticism. He believed his shallow reading had revealed deep truths, and his success in battle gave him the power to follow through on his whims. Palmer is also very strong on torture and murder - he knows they are common in war, and that ‘extreme violence has a shocking playfulness,’ but he knows that each case has its own precedents. Ungern’s brutality grew out of the corporal discipline of the Russian Army and the graphic hell scrolls of the Mongolian monasteries.

The Bloody White Baron is great. Buy it for your friends.

(In the spirit of Robert McCrumb: I do not know James Palmer.)

(Yes, yes, keen readers of my match reports will have some of this information already, but only some of it. Like I say, they are my best work. And I am very busy this week.)

Friday, 12 December 2008

musicals i will write if science makes me immortal, no. 1

'A Midsummer Night's Scream!' - Shaun of the Dead meets The Blair Witch Project in a zombie horror love story Shakespeare mash-up.

old material

Some of you may have forgotten about Geoff Pyke. Always worth being reminded about Geoff Pyke. He's mainly remembered for experiments with pykrete, a sort of wood-pulp infused super ice which doesn't melt easily and is incredibly strong, and out of which he wanted to make an aircraft carrier during the war, which would be a huge, cheap floating island and almost impervious to torpedoes.

As Cabinet Magazine explains:

In late 1942, Lord Louis Mountbatten — the British military's Chief of Combined Operations — paid a visit to Winston Churchill at his official country home, Chequers. Mountbatten had with him a small parcel of great importance. A member of Churchill's staff apologized that the Prime Minister was at that moment in his bath.

"Good," said Mountbatten as he bounded up the stairs. "That's exactly where I want him to be." Mountbatten entered the steaming bathroom to find Churchill in the tub. It was generally not a wise thing to interrupt Sir Winston in his bathtub.

"I have," Mountbatten explained, "a block of a new material that I would like to put in your bath."

Mountbatten opened his parcel and dropped its contents between the Prime Minister's bare legs in the water. It was a chunk of ice.

Rather than bellow at his Chief of Combined Operations, Churchill stared at the ice intently — and so, standing by the bathtub, did Mountbatten himself. Minutes passed, and still they looked into the steaming depths of bath water before them. The ice was not melting.


The resulting project produced HMS Habbakuk (mispelling by a clerk of the biblical Habakkuk*) which sort of worked, but never got followed through on because we started winning the war.

Some other good stuff about Pyke:

- At the start of WWI he blagged his way over to Germany as a war correspondent and was imprisoned as a spy. He did some statistics on failure rates of escapes and decided a daytime run-for-it was his best bet. He escaped and the story of same was a big scoop, and he lectured about his experience.
- He set up a school, funded it via investments, he lost his money (some of the more exciteable accounts out there say that as an early futures trader, he once controlled a quarter of the world's tin supply).
- He did some private opinion polling to try to understand what Germans really thought of the Nazis. His questioners posed as golfing tourists.
- After WWII, he had the idea of powering trains with muscle-power. Twenty-thirty people on bicycle-like contraptions powering a cycle-tractor (as Wikipedia calls it - I don't know what a cyclo-tractor is). Pyke understood that this was distasteful, but the energy in sugar was similar to that in coal, and Europe had people and sugar rather than coal, so, in calorific terms...


*Habakkuk is one of the more unknown prophets.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

for real

I know that this is nothing to do with space aliens or aparnoid anti-Americanism, but it is, as a friend of mine has just written to me, straight out of Agatha Christie.

('Arpanoid' is a new word I am working on. I have high hopes.)

er, slightly less funny

Top story in Pravda today:

Black House of the United Socialist States of America
The day when Barack Obama won the election has been ironically dubbed as ‘Black Tuesday.’ It brings up the idea that the White House in Washington might be renamed soon too. As a matter of fact, red is the best color that fits America today. If things continue to develop like that, the country’s new name will the USSA – the United Socialist States of America. Americans have reached the highest point of hypocrisy in their self-complacency and confidence. It may at times be very close to absurdity. Just imagine that Governor Schwarzenegger bans words ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ from California schools just because of the fact that the words supposedly discriminates gay families.

Those Russians.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

hellish hairy sea monster cast ashore

If, because like at least one of your fellow readers, you are so interested in medical matters that you follow up the story about sexy nurses or whatever that one was, you get a page which leads you to the following stories:

Russian scientist: 'USA is a pyramid that has to collapse'
People drop sink down to shut car alarm up
Woman plays Santa Claus for 45 years

(The sea monster, incidentally, was washed ashore in Guinea. It had long fur, four paws, and 'The scientists who examined the creature said that they had already seen such animals before, but they have no clue to their definition.')

dog gives birth to mutant creature that resembles human being

I hope you check out Pravda from time to time. It's the best newspaper site on the planet. Among the headlines on today's by no means atypical front page are:

Pregnant baby girl born in Saudi Arabia
Hungry beavers cause energy crisis in Russia
Russian women tries to smuggle 1,170 parrots*
Soviet cosmonauts conceal truth about UFOs
Nurses make medicine most sexual science of all
Amero to become USA’s new currency when dollar collapses

and my personal favourite, the enigmatic, almost wistful, 'And there will be no need in sperm'

Pravda means 'truth'.


* Alongside a picture of budgies

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

about a fish



This is a very faithful, not brilliantly recorded version of a song by the Growling Old Men.

Monday, 8 December 2008

I'm less tired today




It's the sheer number of pictures that gets to me. The All-Ireland Irish Dancing Championships, won by Jillian Oury from Trinity, Illinois, is obviously a much bigger thing than one might imagine.

The picture-in-two halves features Kaitlin Thomson Woodgate from Brampton in Canada and Bernadette Devereaux from Broesler, New Jersey. Oh no, wait a second. I think they're in another diptych, and these ones are Simona Mauriello Maguire-O'Shea from London and Claire Greaney Hession from Galway. The picture with what can't be one girl kicking another girl in the stomach features Nadine Martin and Margaret McAleer from Doncaster or Kate McMahon and Jackie O'Leary from Meath, or Nadine Martin Margaret McAleer from Doncaster and Kate McMahon Jackie O'Leary from Meath, or some other people, but the thing I can work out almost for certain is that they are doing a 'light jig'. If this is light, these are athletes.

Now, the excited cynics out there are thinking that this competition should be turned into a mockumentary, but vade retro, cynicism. Enthusiasm kicks mockery's ass, and I would love to see a proper documentary on this thing. Spellbound beats Best in Show.

(I really want to see the hairdressing scenes, and follow the girl who does the dance in a bob. If such a girl exists. It would be like Strictly Ballroom. Except not in a mocking way. Not that I didn't love Strictly Ballroom and A Mighty Wind, but Spellbound and Stuff the World are the model I am thinking of, if you are a top television executive.)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Best in Show

Tell me this isn't funny. I'm too tired to really pay attention to the details, but it is either an Irish hairstyle competition, or some other competition in which a rulebook specifies the hairstyle.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Grooks

I couldn't love Grooks more. They are short poems by a Danish polymath called Piet Hein, who wrote them in English. My dad had a book of them, and periodically I realise that I know about forty by heart. Here are a couple:

TIME AND ETERNITY
Where the woods and ploughlands
of tradition and modernity
run into the never-ending
deserts of eternity,
there I have my daily task
while time smoothly passes,
spooning the eternal sands
into hour glasses.

THE UNTENABLE ARGUMENT
My adversary's argument
is not alone malevolent
but ignorant to boot.
He hasn't even got the sense
to state his so-called evidence
in terms I can refute.

Friday, 5 December 2008

One Day as a Tiger

I bought this in my more splurgy book-by-cover days, and my copy features the prettiest picture of a sheep ever seen by human hand. You can't get the same design now, so far as I can tell. I don't remember much about the book, but when I look at the passages I marked, I find four which seem almost perfect. I obviously should find some more Anne Haverty:

'This kind of statement marks me out as an outsider, a dilettante. Personal likes and dislikes should not come into one’s reactions, as a farmer, to such an important matter as the weather. A farmer approves of the weather because it’s seasonal, not because it’s a thing or cheer or of solace.'

But all those moments end in the present moment and my present is not worthy of that past.'

'Etti is not, strictly speaking, what you could call a looker. But she was somehow simply my ideal, girl-wise. Or there was something in me that insisted she was.'

'Carried along on a wave of riposte...'

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Ongoing sex news

The GenderAnalyser, after earlier highly male readings, has settled into a confident mid-60s female judgement. I thought the chessboxing might have made me manlier, but no dice.

Right hook! Checkmate! Take that Mr Hitler!

Maybe you don't watch Trans World Sport. As well as skipping through normal sports stories, it gives weekly (or monthly, I don't know) insights into the world of lesser known games and pastimes. Yesterday, which was literally not April Fool's Day, I learnt about the new but noble art of Chess Boxing.

The concept was invented by Yugoslav-born (that's what it says in Wikipedia - I am not making any point about the Balkans) cartoonist Enki Bilal in his 1992 graphic novel Froid Equateur. A Dutch artist called Iepe Rubingh decided to stage some matches as performance art 2001. Iepe decided that chess followed by boxing was impractical, so he made up some rules based on alternating rounds. Find the details on Wikipedia. Competitors may win by knockout, checkmate, a judge's decision or if their opponent's twelve minutes of chess time elapses.

Things kicked off, not literally, and now there's an association and everything. The Trans World Sport commentary said that the big issue is that testosterone really affects your chess. Thus, after some boxing, people start being rash. Sounds logical.

The match that the telly focused on was the bad-blood-full grudge rematch between Exeter's Andrew 'the Rock' Costello and podgy German Wolfram von Stauffenberg, who defeated him in a controversial game in Cologne earlier this year (The Rock was ahead, but adjudged to have hit his opponent in the back of the head). Pictures here, and video here. The Rock checkmated von Stauffenberg, a descendent of the guy who tried to assassinated Hitler, in the third round.

The game is apparently a fine balance between the two disciplines. If you want to do some, the London Chessboxing Club is based in Bethnal Green, and there are classes on Saturdays and Tuesdays.

My favourite chess boxing nickname at the moment is Gianluca 'Il Dottore' Sirci.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Elementary, Watson, it's lupus.

I find House episodes very relaxing if I have an hour before bed, and I am in the middle of season three. A few episodes ago, House, who is addicted to Vicodin, pulled out some pills he had hidden in a hollowed-out lupus textbook. Foreman said, 'You stash your drugs in a lupus textbook?' and House replied, 'It's never lupus.' I presumed this was a joke because lupus - an autoimmune disease - is constantly being raised as a possible diagnosis, but it is never the culprit.

I wondered if this was a call-out to the House fan community, who I imagine have been making the lupus gag for years. I looked up, 'It's never lupus' on Google, and found this. There are plenty more where that came from. How could I not have noticed House/Holmes and Wilson/Watson? How could I not have noticed the similarities in formula? The drugs? Only interested in the extraordinary? Can see the extraordinary in what others regard as commonplace? Music is his private release? Arrogance, blah?

I am not angry with myself for not being Holmesianly observant enough to notice that House lives at 221B on whatever street. Or that the guy who shoots House, who I don't think is named in the episode, is credited as Moriarty.

(My other House question, for top telly executives only: is it deliberate that his three sidekicks have different numbers of syllables in their names? Does this kind of thing help easy differentiation on a subliminal level in the same way that their being white male, black male and white female works on an unsubliminal level? I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that this level of thinking takes place, or that it doesn't.)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Uncle Dynamite

Another one of the Uncle Fred books. Haven't read it for ages. Going to. Noticed this passage was marked. Can see why:

A pang of pity shot through Pongo. Nothing that he had seen of Constable Potter had tended to build up in his mind the picture of a sort of demon lover for whom women might excusably go wailing through the woods for, but he knew that his little friend was deeply attached to this uniformed perisher and his heart bled for her. He was broad-minded enough to be able to appreciate that if you enamoured of a fat-headed copper and obstacles crop up in the way of your union, you mourn just as much as if he were Gregory Peck or Clark Gable.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Adrian Tomine

In fact, all of Adrian Tomine's New Yorker covers have been reading-focused. I remember and have enjoyed them all (which I enjoy, but which was from a New Yorker I never saw), except the Tourist one. I remember this one being particularly bitter-sweet for an author between book-sale and publication.

bookshops

Bookshops are a sticky wicket. On the one hand, I love browsing in bookshops. I love finding new books and taking a chance. I'd like to buy everything from Queen's Park, West End Lane, Crockatt & Powell, Daunt and the others I get to from time to time, but if a book is three pounds cheaper on Amazon, then that's where I'll buy it.

I had exactly this conversation today with the guy at West End Lane. I said that when I went to his shop, I tried to find something I would never pick up anywhere else, either because of the breadth of the list, or because of a staff recommendation shelf, or for whatever other reason. Today, I picked up Halting State, by Charles Stross. I have no idea what it's about, but I like the cover, and I feel it's important to take a punt as an act of faith that people might take a punt on my book (this doesn't hold much logical water). When we spoke about this, and I said that one of my reasons for favouring West End Lane over the others in this list is that it has The Great American Novel always, which is my favourite Philip Roth book, he pointed me at another baseball novel - The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., by Robert Coover - which I couldn't resist.

There's a place for all the types of book shop, and I think it does West End a lot of credit that they didn't look at me like some kind of criminal when I told them I buy cheap books elsewhere, but they also know what their strengths are and they play to them.

(My favourite bookshop cartoon ever is this New Yorker cover by Adrian Tomine.)

I can barely type my own name

This is the only conclusion any sane person will draw from the fact that I had to be told by a friend of mine that The Kilburn Social Club is on Amazon etc., in that way book sites have of putting up books ten months pre-publication. The only other possibilities, revolving as they do around things like lack of vanity, are implausible.

The fun thing about the Amazon entry is this phrase: "All listed prices on applicable products sold by Amazon.co.uk now include the new, reduced VAT rate of 15%. This has been applied automatically to the price of your item so you don’t need to do a thing." That is so kind of Amazon! It must have been such a hassle! The book costs £12.99 after the inclusion of this new, as they so nicely point out, reduced rate, so that means the original price would presumably have been (don't check my maths) £13.27.

(Obviously, in case it is unclear, I am excited about these continued signs of the book's progress through the process.)