Friday, June 30, 2006

A friend of the Friends of Highgate Library.

Last night I met up with the Friends of Highgate Library and a very enjoyable evening it was.

It was, I have to say, a small, intimate gathering. But as John, one of the FOHLs, said: "Quality not quantity."

I quickly abandoned the written notes I had, which I'd only cobbled together to help me get my thoughts in order. We just sat around and chatted. Two of the Friends had read the book already (Richard and Enid). John was about 50-60 pages into it.

The discussion was lively and friendly, with lots of great questions. Enid, who's the treasurer, was very enthusiastic about the book. She was wholeheartedly recommending it to the Friends who hadn't read it. As she said to me beforehand: "I didn't think I was going to like it but I did." Richard, the Vice-Chairman, had also read it but I got the impression he was less enthusiastic. "It gripped me," he admitted. "I had to keep on reading." But he used the word "dark" quite a lot, in a way that suggested that was not a quality he appreciated in a book. And I think he might have been a bit disapproving of the behaviour of some of the characters.

I have to say I was slightly intimidated by John, who is a journalist and has interviewed all sorts of novelists, including Martin Amis and Margaret Forster. He said that the opening of the book frightened him. And by the look in his eyes I think he meant it. But he was very complimentary about it, saying that it had really pulled him in and that I had written an opening that many TV writers and dramatists would envy.

One of the other friends, Andy, another journalist, wanted to know about my professional background (I'm a copywriter) and how this had influenced the book. Crikey, you see. A handful of people in the room, and two of them turn out to be journalists! I can't remember Andy's exact question, but it was very perceptive. Basically, if, in some sense, the book is critical of consumerism and identifies a spiritual void created by the desire for and comfort taken from possessions, how do I square that with my day job as the devil's lackey? It was something along those lines.

I took a deep breath and said that I thought writing the book was somehow a kind of purging.

Enid and Richard both thought it would make an excellent film, which is something other people have said. John thought there was a play desperate to get out, which was interesting. I said that if someone wanted to make it into a film that would be fine by me, but I probably wouldn't want to be involved in the process. In other words, I would be interested in having someone else write the screenplay, because they would have more distance. At that point, one of the other FOHLs, a lady whose name I didn't catch, piped up, saying that she knew the perfect person to do it: Christopher Nolan.

I think I must have given her one of those "Right, yeah" looks, because she became rather insistent. "No, really. I know Christopher Nolan and I shall talk to him about your book."

Imagine that. The director of Memento reading my book. We shall have to see.

So there you go, two journalists, a personal friend of Christopher Nolan, an enthusiastic reader of the book, a gripped but slightly disapproving reader of the book, a Green Party councillor, and another gentleman called Bert. Such are the Friends of Highgate Library.

If I were a building, I'd like friends like these. Quality not quantity indeed.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Better than Frank Skinner?

I was at a day-job related shindig last night. A few clients were there. Some of them had read my book. They all said they enjoyed it. Of course, it would have been hard for them to say anything else to my face! But it was nice to hear anyhow.

One guy, David, confessed that he doesn't read a lot of books. In fact, he was most emphatic about that and claimed that the last book he read was ten years ago. 'I don't read books, but I read yours!' he told me gleefully. 'I read it all the way through. It kept me reading. It's better than Frank Skinner's. I started his and gave up on it. I read yours instead. I really enjoyed it.'

I didn't honestly know that Frank Skinner had a book out. Before you scoff, I find David's response really gratifying. To think that I've written a book that can be read - and enjoyed - by someone who isn't particularly into reading gives me a great deal of satisfaction and, strangely, hope.

I go through phases when I completely lose confidence in the book and think that I won't try to promote it any more. Just let it be, and let people be. It's not going to be to everyone's taste, I think. I don't really have any right to push it on people. I have to admit I was in one of those troughs over the last few weeks, I think because I had another reading approaching. (Tonight at Highgate Library.) I do find the idea of standing up in front of a roomful of strangers incredibly stressful. And when I read from the book I feel very exposed.

So David's comment has given me a little boost actually. Tonight I'll be thinking, if David liked it, then maybe someone else will. And though I may not be as funny as Frank Skinner, at least I've written a book that people can finish.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Friends of Highgate Library.

I'll doing one of those talk/reading/mumbling-type things at Highgate Library on Thursday, at the invitation of The Friends of Highgate Library. Maybe it's just me, but I find the idea of a society called 'The Friends of Highgate Library' incredibly touching. I imagine the members calling Highgate Library up and saying, 'What are you doing this weekend? We're having a bit of a barbecue. It'd be great if you could come. Just bring a packet of sausages or whatever you want to eat.' And the other friends of Highgate Library, when invited to the same barbecue, would say, 'Is Highgate Library coming? Great! I haven't seen old Highgatey for ages. What's he been up to?' 'Well, come along and you can ask him yourself.'

Maybe they would even indulge in a bit of match making and invite another building along. Of course, being the only buildings there, they might feel a bit self-conscious.

Anyhow, I'm glad I've got all that out of my system before Thursday so I won't feel tempted to make any stupid jokes to an actual Friend of Highgate Library. And being in the library, I wouldn't want to hurt the library's feelings.

I'll be talking, mostly, about this book, which starts at Highgate Tube Station. Hmmm, I wonder if Highgate Tube Station knows Highgate Library. They might even be friends.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What an editor does.

In my last posting I used the phrase 'He's da man' when referring to Will Atkins, the new editor-in-chief at MNW. Will has kindly contacted me to tell me that the O.E.D. prefers 'He da man'. I have duly made the change.

And there were those who dared to suggest that MNW books would not be properly edited.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Interview with an editor.

Following on from my previous post, there's an interview with the new head honcho at MNW, Will Atkins, over on WriteWords.

He da man.

He talks about this book, amongst other things. Apparently, I'm becoming something of a cult. Be careful how you say that. (Apologies to Peter Cook, who once made a similar joke about Dudley Moore on Parkinson.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

News from Macmillan New Writing.

We always knew it was going to happen, and now it has. I learnt on Friday that Mike Barnard, aka Mr MNW, has brought forward the date of his retirement and has handed over the reins of Macmillan New Writing to Will Atkins. As an executive board director of Macmillan UK, Mike was effectively the founder of Macmillan New Writing. It was his vision, his business plan, his expertise, energy and enthusiasm that made it happen.

As a publisher, Mike has shown great imagination and courage, not to mention good taste. Hey, he published my book, didn't he?

Mike once told me he had one simple rule: he would only publish books he believed in.

I know he is proud of Macmillan New Writing, as he should be.

There was some other news in the email that Mike sent me: Macmillan have now secured North American distribution for the first six MNW titles. This means that from Spring '07 (in the US) and January '07 (Canada) Taking Comfort will be available for any American visitors to the plog to buy. You know who you are. And now you have no excuses.

Friday, June 16, 2006

I'm wearing shoes...

... over on Jennifer Prado's blog.

And I'm talking about the book, of course. What else?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

See you next Tuesday.

Remember the very clever review of the book in the style of the book? Kathryn Koromilas, who wrote it, has got a story appearing in the sex-themed anthology See You Next Tuesday. That's right. Sex-themed. Sounds like a winner.

From the publisher's blurb:

The recipe for our new anthology is simple: Sex, 50 stories, 1,000 words each, written by 50 authors from all over the globe. A scandalous fusion of literary traditions, See You Next Tuesday is the exclusive and hyper-unusual mishmash of never-seen sex-texts, exploring the inevitable and always poignant cross-sections of human existence and sexuality.

Kathryn's own story is called A Silly Little Thing, which sounds intriguing.

There are a few other names I recognise in the roll call of authors. (Take a bow, Don Capone and Alicia Gifford.)

Check it out then buy my book.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A little game.

Go here and play.

Mumble mumble mumble.

Got some feedback from the joint reading gig I did with Cate Sweeney in Northampton. Some very positive comments though it seems there was a problem with volume. People at the back had trouble hearing us. I suspect I was the main culprit as Cate has a great delivery style. And she was clever enough to stand up.

One of the people who attended, and bought a book, was Tony Judge, who has been kind enough to post his thoughts on the book on the WriteWords website. He's given me permission to quote from his review on the plog. But why quote when I can post the whole thing:

I recently finished Taking Comfort and it is indeed a rewarding read. The plot unfolds with subtlety and some flashes of dark humour. One of the main themes is the psychological impact of different brands and the way that we take comfort from them as familiar signposts in a maelstrom of everyday choices. The author's observations on working life are deadly accurate and should bring a shiver of recognition to anyone who has ever been caught up in venal office politics. The main character, Rob, uses trophies to 'protect' him from random urban violence and an ill-defined but ever-present sense of threat, which pervades the book. The nature of the threat is unspoken, but the book is suffused with the fear of terrorism and other anonymous crimes.

The use of multiple viewpoints is well-handled - the female characters are equally as convincing as the males - and gives the reader a strong sense of the wider context of the main character's increasingly bizarre experiences. The prose style of Taking Comfort has an edgy, experimental feel to it, which complements Rob’s strange process of disintegration. Repetition is used to great effect, building complex insights from simple and direct language: a prose analogue of minimalism in music.

Oh, and there’s a terrific twist at the end. So what are you waiting for, go out and buy a copy!

Tony Judge.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Miming suicide in Class 3.

On Friday, my eight-year-old daughter Claire took a copy of my book into school to show to her classmates. Naturally I was interested to know how it went.

'So, Claire. You took my book in. Did you show it? How did it go?'


'So what did you do? You just showed everyone the book?'

'I read the blurb.'

'You read the blurb? Really?'

(Here's the blurb in question, if you're wondering: It's Rob's first day in his new job. On the way into work, he sees a student throw herself under a tube train. Acting on an impulse, he picks up a file she dropped as she jumped. Over the next few days, he's witness to other disturbing events, some more serious than others. From each one he takes a 'souvenir'. As his behaviour becomes increasingly obsessive, he crosses the line between witnessing disasters and seeking them out, and events begin to spiral out of control.)

'Uh, okay... And how did that go down?' I asked nervously.

'The boys loved it. They started doing this.' Claire executed a quick star jump and gave a silent scream.

'You mean they were pretending to...?'

'Throw themselves in front of the train. They thought it was really cool.'

'And what did your teacher say?'

'Thank you Claire, you can sit down now.'

Yes, I bet she did. Through clenched teeth, no doubt.

I only hope I haven't started a new playground craze.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday is showing day.

My daughter Claire has taken the book into school this morning for a 'show and tell'. She's been wanting to do it for a while now but we keep forgetting.

Of course, it's not really suitable for eight-year-olds. In fact, it's not at all suitable for eight-year-olds. I hope the teacher doesn't decide to read them a passage. Especially not something from the Sloggi Midi Briefs chapter.

But I am extremely touched by the fact that my daughter is so proud of something I have done that she wants to show it to her class.

Panic over.

I had a moment of extreme panic just now, after seeing the kids off for school. I came back in to put the coffee on and start a morning of writing. Imagine my horror when... I could find no coffee in the fridge.

I searched frantically through the shelves, pulling out the pots of yoghurt, scrag ends of cheese and fragments of Easter eggs (hope that's from this year, not last), oh and the packets of filled pasta. So much bloody filled pasta in our fridge. We buy it as an emergency food. But keep forgetting we already have some. So our store of filled pasta increases every week, as we never have the necessary emergency that requires us to actually eat it.

I knew there had to be some coffee in there. I'm the only one who drinks the stuff (Rachel claims she has an allergy to it, but I doubt this; I don't see how anyone could be allergic to coffee) and I knew I hadn't finished off the last pack. In fact, I had the feeling that there was a generous amount left in it. So where was it?

The more panicky I got, the more desperate my searching. It was only the thought that I might have to resort to instant that brought me back under control. That and some deep breathing.

I decided to conduct a systematic full fridge evacuation. The good stuff had to be in there somewhere.

It was at the back of shelf two. I can't describe the rush of relief and anticipated pleasure that I experienced. It's brewing now. In fact, I think I just heard the last gargle of the espresso pot. I may have to go now.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Six degrees of something or other.

I'm honoured indeed that the great, and widely read, Grumpy Old Bookman has added a link to this here humble plog. I couldn't help noticing that I share a position on the GOB's blogroll with Richard Charkin, the ceo of Macmillan. As cheeses go, they don't come much bigger.

I followed a link from one of Richard Charkin's recent postings to this article in India's Daily News and Events newspaper.

Where I find myself mentioned, and even quoted.

Amazing thing the internet, isn't it?

Unfortunately, they forgot to mention the title of my book. (Oh. it's Taking Comfort. Nearly made the same mistake myself. As if.)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The other Bob's books.

We all know that Bob's Books is the most important literary website on the planet. (You know, Bob's Books. The website that ran both a review of my book and an interview with me.)

Well, you may not be aware that there is another Bob's books. I'm talking about Robert Dagg Rare Books, of San Francisco. I have two reasons for mentioning Robert Dagg Rare Books. One is because Bob (i.e. Robert Dagg) and Di (his wife) are very good friends of ours. Di was recently in London and we went for a fabulous meal at the Parsee in Archway. She bought a copy of the book, which I had to sign in a specific way, following precise instructions from Bob. That's book dealers - and collectors - for you.

The other reason for mentioning Robert Dagg Rare Books, is that it's featured in my novel, Taking Comfort.

That's given me the idea for my first ever promotional competition. There'll be a special prize of a Cadbury's Twirl mug* (also featured in the book) for the first person to leave a comment with the number of the page Robert Dagg Rare Books is mentioned.

By the way, the Twirl mug pictured here is not the same as the Twirl mug in the book. Perhaps there's another competition there, a prize for anyone who can tell me the difference.

*If I can get one. If not, a promotional mug for one of Cadbury's other bars.