Saturday, 22 February 2014

our ancestors were crazy

I was gazing over an old bookshelf the other day at the family estate in the wild westernmost corner of commuter-belt East Anglia and I noticed for the first time in many years my father's collection of books by John O'Hara.

Among the reviews on the covers: John O'Hara is the greatest living novelist, New York Times. Moreover, lots of his books have been released as modern classics by different imprints, although I bet that very few people I know have read any, and nor have I although I am going to start.

His first book was Appointment in Samarra, and that's one of the two I know something about, the other being BUtterfield 8 (sic. - the capital U is there for reasons to do with telephone exchanges but it looks so bad that publishers almost always capitalise the whole world). Anyway, what I'm saying is John O'Hara was posh, and his reviews were often very excellent, and they came from places like the New York Times.

I have partly blethering on at length so that you will be surprised by the staggeringly dreadful covers which are far enough down the page for you not to have seen them yet. And I have started with the one that isn't quite so bad so I can preserve that surprise.

My wife would let me sit next to her reading Dorothy Dunnett books (see previous post) every day if she could avoid sitting next to me reading the below edition of Hellbox (which is the book, staggeringly, with the NYT quote of the cover). Another edition of Hellbox on Amazon has the slightly less appealing line above the title: All of the passions, sacred and profane, etched in acid by one of the great virile authors of our time! I think Ourselves to Know is the worst of these, but it's a grim collection.

This is what posh books looked like in the seventies, people. It beggars belief. Ten North Frederick is a Penguin Classic.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

cover up

My wife is (obviously) not a very judgmental person. However, there are some books which she really doesn't want me to read when I am sitting next to her on the tube.

Dorothy Dunnett is one of my favourite writers. It is hard to describe her books without them sounding much worse than they are. I spent two months in 2002 obsessed to the point of mania with her fourteen book epic historical romance cycle (not really my genre). And her Dolly books are the cleverest, subtlest and best-written detective thrillers I know. They are not well-served by their covers. Here is a fullish collection.

Above is the exception. The one truly good cover any of the books has. Most of the books were reissued with different titles when Dolly and the X Bird made them look as if they were something they weren't. The reissues are boring but, in the context of a tube, acceptable. So, Bird of Paradise is the same as Tropical Issue.
Now we come to the covers that my wife despises. I particularly love them, partly because they are so deceptive, which actually suits the books in various ways but I can't help feeling it's counterproductive. In each of the following cases, the second is paired with the first.

Ah, I don't have a copy of boring-covered Roman Nights / Starry Bird. Here's a picture of one from a different series of these books - the only series I don't own a cover of. They're not bad, actually. I would definitely be allowed to read them on the tube.
Dolly and the Starry Bird (aka Roman Nights) (aka Murder in Focus) (Johnson Johnson, Bk 4)
The next pair are a bit different. Instead of the boring cover, I have another Nanny Bird cover which is, I think, even more horrifying than the original. (It is also the prelude to another upcoming set of old book covers.)

Rather miserably, by the time DD wrote her final Dolly book, the titles had already been changed, so there is no Bird version. Therefore, I picture the American edition. They had ANOTHER set of different titles, and this one is fun, isn't it?

I've spent the last few years saving them up and reading them in the sun on a summer holiday. I only have Moroccan Traffic to go. I'm a bit sad about it, but I will get by.

Friday, 14 February 2014

faster pussycat, krill, krill, krill

Big fish are getting smaller. Here are some great pictures courtesy of Radiolab. The end of the article points out that we're also eating smaller and smaller species of fish, chasing the disappearing biomass. Apparently there's a Dallas aquarium which serves jellyfish peanut butter. Yum, krill.

In other links:

The Flappy Bird story is crazy and there must be more to it than meets the eye.

Friday Night Lights reunion! Crucifictorious!

The problem with bad writers is that they don't know they are bad. Yeah, ok, this is all true, it absolutely is, and of more things than writing. But it's only true up to a point, but the problem with publishers and producers is often that they aren't prepared to take a risk on things which are good but which don't conform to their pre-existing ideas of what will sell.

I love this rant about David Cameron saying, 'We're a wealthy country, money's no object,' when the Thames Valley gets flooded, but not under lots of other circumstances.

Monday, 10 February 2014

a finnish sort of dead earl, and michael sam

1. In the 1980s, Matt Nykenen won the ski-jumping. Here are some excerpts from his Wikipedia page, which are very funny, and quite sad.

Nykänen met millionaire sausage heiress Mervi Tapola in 1999, and they were married from 2001 to 2003. They were divorced in 2003, and remarried in 2004.

In the summer of 2009 Tapola (then Tapola-Nykänen) petitioned for divorce a 14th time, but cancelled it

On Christmas Day 2009 Nykänen allegedly injured his wife with a knife and tried to throttle her with a bathrobe belt. He was charged for attempted manslaughter

On 24 August 2004, Matti Nykänen was arrested on suspicion of attempted manslaughter of a family friend after losing a finger pulling competition

When Nykänen's ski jumping career was drawing to a close, a group of businessmen proposed to make him a singer. His first album Yllätysten yö was released in 1992 and sold over 25,000 copies … The next album Samurai (1993) was not as successful.

At the end of the 1990s, due to serious financial problems, Nykänen worked as a stripper in a Järvenpää restaurant

In November 2009 Nykänen began to present his own cooking web series Mattihan se sopan keitti

He's also says a lot of half-intentionally funny things: 'And if one thing is for sure, it is quite sure,' 'What is not done cannot be undone,' and, 'I am a marriage adviser these days. If things are going well, then call me. I can fuck it up In seven seconds.'

(Mostly I file colourful people under 'dead earls', in case you are new here. It's just so I can find them quickly.)

2. If you read The Kilburn Social Club, you can probably guess I was pretty excited by the news that Michael Sam, a top college American footballer who will be drafted into the NFL this Spring, has told the press he's gay. He'll be the first active gay athlete in one of the main American team sports.

My favourite bit of the story, and the most important, is that he came out to his teammates before last season and there were a few bumpy bits of ride but it was fine. General Managers are harrumphing, as are some players, but at some point they, like the gay marriage deniers, have to see that demography isn't going to help them on this one. A team of young black athletes was more accepting than a load of old white Christians. (I bet the young black athletes were also Christian, by the way.)

Friday, 7 February 2014


Oops. Missed the fact that The Dazzle came out in paperback yesterday. The Sunday Times liked it too, which is great.

I am bad at these updates, mainly because I find them excruciating. I don't really know why. I am perfectly happy to tell the world I am a brilliant auctioneer. In my first attempt at auctioneering last night I sold a £25 beauty salon voucher for £35. In your face, Bargain Hunt.

I think it's at least partly because by the time things come out, they are so much a part of your past that it's slightly hard to refocus. I finished The Dazzle three years ago. That doesn't mean I'm not proud of it, or that I don't want it to well. I am and do, very much, but I've written a couple of radio series, several spec scripts, a musical, fifteen short stories and another book since then.

I do hope that if you haven't read it, you will. I personally would have waited for the paperback since that is much my favourite reading format.

(If you are in Australia and you are having trouble getting hold of it, then the following libraries have copies: Armidale Dumaresq Council War Memorial Library, Brisbane City Council Library Service, City of Gold Coast Libraries, John Anderson Municipal Library, Gosford City Library, Marrickville Library, North Central Goldfields Regional Library Corporation, Stonnington Library and Information Service, Toorak / South Yarra Library, Dee Why Library, Western Riverina Libraries, Griffith City Library. I am pretty sure these are the main libraries in Australia.)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

osprey fanboy

I love Osprey. I am sure that other companies make good kit, but I did an awful lot of research before I bought my Osprey Talon 22 rucksack four or five years ago and it has been brilliant - comfortable, bigger than advertised and incredibly well-thought out. It's got side pockets and loops which let me carry a hockey stick. It's got a stretchy panel which I thought was pointless but which is invaluable for stuffing a book into when commuting. It's got a whistle. Seriously, a whistle!

I got my wife and her friend to buy them in different sizes for an expedition. They love them too.

I'd never heard of Osprey before I researched and bought mine but you see them around London more and more. I think they might be on the verge of being mainstream, which might almost upset Ospreyists because they get really culty. I've also got the Sojourn luggage (again amazing, again I have persuaded about five other people who have borrowed it or seen me using it to buy their own). I've got the hydration pack which attaches to a little magnet on the strap of the rucksack with an immensely satisfying little click.

I've used the Talon 22 very heavily. This happened:
Well, fair enough, I thought. Osprey do offer a lifetime materials guarantee, though. This has to have some clause for reasonable wear, which this has definitely had. I sent an email saying that I loved my pack and I presumed that I was out of any possible warranty. Osprey replied within an hour saying that they didn't have a new suspension system (the straps, basically) in blue, but they could send one in black and was that ok? It arrived a day later.

This feels like a very boring story, but that's only because you aren't a Cultist. If you join the Cult then you will enjoy it and others like it. It's great being in a Cult.

(For info, you should also buy a Contigo Double-wall vacuum mug and an Arc'teryx Atom LT hoody.)

Monday, 3 February 2014

so long and thanks for all the warhorses

Hi. Marie and I were upset that Warhorses of Letters had to end, mainly because we loved doing it but also because I don't suppose we'll ever write anything so easily again. Once we'd had the idea, and worked out how to turn it into something that worked (which took several years of assuming the idea was funny but pointless and not thinking about it), each episode was a matter of us emailing each other once a day in character and it was all done in a week, pretty much in our spare time.

It was easy because, on a certain level, it was so fully and instantly what it was. Short bursts of two specific horses, who were real, and who we would use as vehicles to tell the story of a romantic relationship. By the time we were planning the third episode, we knew that we had covered the ground it was natural and sensible to cover, and that if we tried to eke the idea out we would be facing repetitions and diminishing returns and we wouldn't be being true to our characters. There would have been ways to do it but they would not be good ones artistically. If radio paid like television we might have been tempted to bite our artistic tongues and find a way but it doesn't so we didn't. It's similar, in some ways, to how John Finnemore has written about finishing off his brilliant sitcom Cabin Pressure.

And so we knew, from the start of this series, exactly where we were going, and we hope things made sense. I do miss it, though.* I'll especially miss doing it at Tall Tales.

* We would quite like to do a book of all three series. If no one bites our arm off publishing-wise, we might do it ourselves. You just see. I mean, how hard can it be?