Thursday, 31 January 2013


Obviously, publication is supposed to be this incredibly thrilling moment, and so on. But I sort of still have next Thursday in my head, because that was the original date, and it only got switched to today three days ago because I was on - am still on thanks to iPlayer - Open Book and obviously it was sensible for The Dazzle to be available.

But I am having a party next Thursday. And I have Tall Tales tonight, which I am absolutely not prepared for. And I am, because of the general way writers work, by now right in the middle of another massive thing. So it is hard to be focused.

BUT The Dazzle was published today, officially, and I'm very proud of it, and it took me years, and it has a fantastic cover. I advise you to buy it from a small bookshop, if you can, and from Amazon, if you can't. It does me good on Amazon if people buy it and review it there, loads of good, but obviously they are a terrible bunch of tax-dodging rogues.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

My new house

I have written a book set in Scarborough. Logically, using logic, the most logical place I should live, is therefore Scarborough-on-Hudson. This house looks very nice, and can be had for about the same as a 3-bedroom flat in West Hampstead, so maybe I'll move there when I can afford one of those. What else is interesting about S-on-H? Well, it's near a lot of the old Long Island estates owned by Vanderbilts, and it's also next to Sleepy Hollow Rd. Woooo.

Yes, yes, I have seen the long Boing Boing article on giant squids.

The following advert, from a series Camel did featuring fishermen, including Zane Grey as referenced in my tediously-frequently-referenced book. (See more clearly here.)

Monday, 28 January 2013

in media res

1. Depending on how obsessed you are with being a Hudson completist, you can listen to Open Book with me discussing The Dazzle, by going here; and, if you are reasonably quick, you can sign up to this Thursday's Tall Tales by emailing talltalesnight at hotmail.

2. Many writers, of all different stamps, fetishise Donald Westlake, and particularly the Parker books. This isn't because he is the greatest novelist, but because he is an absolutely fantastic craftsmen. Let's not get into craft versus art - the former is much more fashionable at the moment, but you always need both to be really good - but do read Michael Weinreib's take on him here. I have never read Westlake's comic novels. I really want to, now.

My favourite Parker opening, and I've not read half the books, and it's not a flashy one or anything, is from The Green Eagle Score:

Parker looked at the beach and there was a guy in a black suit standing there, surrounded by all the bodies in bathing suits. He was standing near Parker's gear, not facing anywhere in particular, and he looked like a rip in the picture.

3. And while we're in a Grantland mood, this is Brian Phillips on beautiful athletes. I bloody love Brian Phillips. I love this essay. But I don't quite agree with it. He says that Beckham is always defined by his beauty and needs people to stare, even in the midst of the game. Sharapova sometimes isn't, and doesn't. I don't think Beckham is this self-conscious. Also, I think that our aesthetics see sweating exertion as fully in keeping with male beauty but not really with feminine beauty.

4. Did you see Africa last week? How come the whole world is not talking about the kingfish section? I am not sure I have ever seen anything as crazy on a wildlife documentary. In case you missed it, David A chatted a bit about giant kingfish, otherwise giant trevally, and said they were mainly solitary apex predators, the size of a man, but they periodically gathered in groups and swim up big rivers. Ok so far. I mean, we know about salmon. They plod up, rather sedately, in a school. Then, at a certain point, they stop and start swimming in circles.

They are not doing this for mating purposes, and they don't hunt. We have absolutely no idea what they are up to.

A hundred massive fish swimming in neat circles, and then swimming back down to sea? It's incredible. Are they aliens? Are they being controlled by aliens who want to see if humans' capacity for wonder is all used up? What is going on here? I really, really want to know. The programme just pootled on with a 'it's just one of those things' line. Even more downplayed than that. Well, I have thought of little else for the two days since I saw it.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Also known as...

Have you seen this? It's amazing.

I have been surprisingly productive this morning, given that Federer and Murray are playing. The main thing I have noticed about them is: they are so puny! This is what a sportsman should look like:

This is Martin Ruane. He was 6'11" tall, and he sometimes wrestled at 48 stone. You might possibly know him as Giant Haystacks, which was his UK wrestling name. If you are American, you might know him by his US wrestling monicker: The Loch Ness Monster.

He was not from Loch Ness. He was born in Ireland and raised in Salford, where he worked as a bouncer before someone suggested wrestling. He called himself Luke McMasters, then Haystacks Calhoun (my personal favourite), then Giant Haystacks.

As you know, wrestling is all made up, and he was what is known as a 'heel'. He was a tag partner of fellow heel Big Daddy (later a 'blue-eye' of course), before they became antagonists in the glory days of British wrestling.

He was The Loch Ness Monster in Canada, and just Loch Ness in the USA, where he was a member of the Dungeon of Doom along with The Man With No Name, The Shark*, Meng (Colonel Robert Parker's bodyguard) and Big Van Vader. The Dungeon feuded with Hulk Hogan, the all-time greatest 'face'. As you would imagine Ruane was a devout Christian who refused to fight on Sundays.

* The Shark, also known as The Avalanche, was Canadian John Tenta, who had a brief career in Sumo in the mid-eighties, where his sumo name of Kototenzan meant 'heavenly mountain harp'.**

** Although, for obvious reasons, he was sometimes known as 'the Canadian Comet'.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Video can't kill me because I am not a radio star

I will, however, be on Radio York on Friday 8th, the day after The Dazzle is launched, at two in the afternoon, for an hour, live. An hour! This is a thrilling nightmare for all concerned, and I am looking forward to it. In preparation, I have to provide Radio York with four favourite pieces of music (stressful, since I want to be a) truthful and b) appear cool, eclectic and accessible (all of which I am, but which four pieces of music express that perfectly?)); and also with six little-known facts about myself.

Hmm. There are more than six little-known facts about myself but I don't think Radio York can possibly mean those ones. What they are requesting, perfectly reasonably, is a list of 'Six things our skilful presenter can somehow talk about for an hour in case it turns out that your publicist is a big fat liar and you are some kind of monosyllabic dugong.'

You might think that I won't be at my best the day after my launch. Well, the day after the last one, I ran halfway across Twickenham to be in time to interview one of the brightest and most impressive men I have ever met for two hours. This will be a doddle.

What are the best pictures of story arcs you have ever seen? Are they better than these? (Via Slate's Political Gabfest.)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Fourteen points for a Q? But what about equity value?

Some boffins have been looking at Scrabble tiles and working out what they SHOULD be worth. As Stefan Fatsis points out in Slate, the thing this shows is just how great the original game design was. (I recommend Word Freak, his book on Scrabble, by the way.)

Sure, the numbers don't exactly relate to lexical reality, but knowing the market inefficiencies and so on is part of the skill of the game - every good game has better and worse strategies. It's a game, with luck, not just a simple test of anagram skill, and that makes it better. Also, I love the use of sports-stat terminology, such as a tile's VORT (Value Over Replacement Tile).

Further on Te'o. There's loads of stuff everywhere. Probably none better than this, by Chuck Klosterman and Malcolm Gladwell at Grantland. I like it for lots of reasons. I think the root one is that my PhD was about how people keep telling themselves the same stories in the same language even when the facts change.

This week I am going to be interviewed for Open Book. This is excellent news for everyone who wants The Dazzle to be discussed on Open Book.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

this is a weird, sad, amazing story

If you're American, you might know it already. Yesterday, it emerged that Manti Te'o's girlfriend didn't die. Wow. I mean: this is incredible.

Except you are maybe British and thinking: 'What? Who? Etc.?'

Manti Te'o was one of this year's best college American footballers. Do not confuse this with being a university player here - he is a major national sporting figure - and in a world of hyperbolic reporting, where some guys get heroised and others get villainised, he is emphatically a hero. Not only is he devout, humble and a devoted student, all his teammates valorise him and his leadership. And there is also A Significant Story: just hours after the double tragedy of losing his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day (9/11 last year, no less), he led his team, the once-mighty-but-recently-undewhelming Notre Dame, to victory as part of a season during which it reclaimed its old place among the elite.

Except no-one checked the story. Until Deadspin published this yesterday. Wow. So, the girlfriend didn't exist!

Now Notre Dame are saying he was hoaxed rather than hoaxing. And you are left with the possibilities that, as this article puts it.

Either he made it all up, or the girlfriend he really loved and mourned was somebody he'd never met. Not sure which one is sadder.

My friend Emily tweeted back the truth:

Yes you do.

Yes, I do.

Yes, but what I thought straight away (and why am I speculating wildly when we will all know soon, maybe?), and other people are thinking it too, is that this is a Mormon sports star from Hawai'i and there seem to be all kinds of reasons he might make up a girlfriend in Canada who gets out of hand. And that is incredibly sad in a different way but I want it to be true so that he can come out in a really amazing fashion. Because that is the way the sad thing could have a happy ending and I am a sucker for those.

(This and Lance Armstrong ON THE SAME DAY!) 

** UPDATE ** In spite of Te'o and Notre Dame saying the girlfriend wasn't real, this guy says she was. Is there a joke anywhere in 'notre dame'. Oh, yes, there is. Not A Dame. Should have used as a headline. 

** UPDATE 2 ** Remember this differently but almost equally weird story? Should have linked to it earlier.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

what is the best dutch poem written in english?

It is this one, by Dr. Gerard Nolst Trenité, by miles. You may already know it. I didn't before two hours ago, when it was sent to me by my soon-to-be-sister-in-law.

You might also be interested in reading the greatest letter ever written to an agent. Unfortunately, I am not sure what that is. I bet there have been some good ones. But if this one, by Joe Eszterhas, isn't up there, I would be shocked. Link via @someoneontwitter.

It is possible that everyone on earth saw this lipsync wedding proposal before I did. It is fantastic, even though I fundamentally disapprove of public proposals.

Ten years ago I reviewed Andy Miller's book, Tilting at Windmills, about a non-sports guy getting into crazy golf. The most gripping passage was an interview with a pro wrestling boss saying that he wanted control of snooker - all you need to do, he explained, is fix the results. Then you can have a great piece of theatre, with characters and storylines.

What Barry Hearn wants to do with ping pong is not the same, but it has some similarities. I really hope it works, because pre-sponge ping pong was a great spectator sport, and the post-sponge game, which can't turn back the clock for sponsorship reasons, simply is not.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

silicon populist

Another long read today. Jaron Lanier is a sort of digital guru. He's not as Ur-geeky as ESR* but he's proper and this is a piece about him as the old school conscience of Web 2.0 (typing that makes me feel old, but it is a reasonably accurate description). He's maybe a bit too pat, because if you're a guru you end up with a schtick, but he's very interesting:

I think it’s the reason why the rise of networking has coincided with the loss of the middle class, instead of an expansion in general wealth, which is what should happen. But if you say we’re creating the information economy, except that we’re making information free, then what we’re saying is we’re destroying the economy.

* This is a reference for maybe one reader of this blog to enjoy. Maybe none. But if you want to read about Wiccans and the tea party, go here. Beware though. ESR can be a rabbit hole.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

the great agnostic

Happy new year. I'm busy.

I've been meaning to post something about this long article about Robert Ingersoll for ages, ever since I heard about it on Slate's Political Gabfest. He toured America in the late 19th century lecturing to great crowds about the importance of science and the necessary split between church and state. But really what leaps from the article is that he seems to have been a great guy. This quotation from the article is long, but you'll live:

Ingersoll was better at making and spending money than he was at saving it, and although he did not die in debt, he left nothing like a fortune to his wife. He was fond of entertaining, and he and Eva gave legendary parties in the succession of Manhattan townhouses where they lived for the last 15 years of his life. He also gave away a good deal of money to freethought causes, the arts, and impecunious relatives and was, as he was the first to acknowledge, an inept investor. In a letter to his brother John, he wrote, “I have a positive genius for losing money.”

Ingersoll’s generosity elicited a disapproving tut-tut from the Times in its obituary. “He earned great sums of money, both as a lecturer and a lawyer, but he let them go like water,” the newspaper reported. “It was his habit to keep money in his house in an open drawer, to which any member of his family was free to go and take what was wanted.” Since all the members of Ingersoll’s immediate family were women, one suspects that what really shocked the obituary writer was the reckless dispersal of cash to females.
Perhaps because of his refusal to play the role of tightfisted Victorian paterfamilias, Ingersoll by all accounts (including his own and those of his wife and their two daughters) had had an extraordinarily happy marriage and family life. This abundance of creature comforts and domestic happiness did not sit well with orthodox believers, who thought that the evil of questioning the existence of God should be punished in both this life and the next.

This is from another obituary:

Had not Ingersoll been frank enough to express his opinion on religion he would have been President of the United States. Hypocrisy in religion pays. There will come a time when public men may speak their honest convictions in religion without being maligned by the ignorant and superstitious, but not yet.