Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dostoevsky on 'literary types'

From The Demons (aka The Devils, or The Possessed):

"She invited literary people, and they were immediately brought to her in great numbers. Then they began to come on their own, without invitations: one would bring another. Never before had she seen men of letters like these. They were impossibly vain, but very openly so, as though that was their duty. Some (though by no means all) would even turn up drunk, but they seemed to see this as evidence of some beautiful, special truth that had been discovered only the day before. All of them were strangely proud of something. On all of their faces it was written that they had just discovered some extremely important secret. They would abuse each other, and reckon it their honour. It was rather difficult to determine just what they had written; but critics, novelists, playwrights, satirists and specialists in exposes were in attendance."

(I don't know how to do an acute accent on the second e in "exposays"..)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Last Words compiled by Claire Cameron

Toronto-based writer Claire Cameron, author of The Line Painter, compiled a collection of last words uttered by executed prisoners in Texas. Her piece ran in the New York Times here. I thought it was incredibly affecting and weirdly poetic.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Keanu Reeves’ pint pot

I was meeting a friend for a drink in the Compton Arms in Islington last week. As I was waiting for him to turn up I overheard a conversation between the barmaid and a punter.

“That’s Keanu Reeves’ pint pot,” said the barmaid, nodding towards something wrapped in a plastic carrier bag.


“Keanu Reeves. He was in here the other night. Must have been filming nearby and he came in for a pint of Guinness. They like to try things, don’t they?”

“Who do?”


“Is he a celebrity then? I’ve never heard of him. What’s he called?”

“Keanu Reeves. He was in The Matrix.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a film. Well, there are three of them. Matrix One. Matrix Two. Matrix Three. He was in them all.”

“Any good?”

“Yeah. Well, it depends if you like that sort of thing.”

“I don’t know. Never seen them.”

“He’s been in other things.”

The punter absorbed this news in silence.

“Well, anyhow, he was in here the other night. Had a pint of Guinness. He left a bit in the bottom and Alan said ‘Do you dare me to drink that?’ So Jack said he’d put three quid in the charity box if he drank it. So he did. Then Tom said we should auction it off, for charity. Keanu Reeves’ pint pot. We got ten pounds thirty for it. So thanks to Keanu Reeves, we raised thirteen pounds thirty for charity. Mike bought it, but he forgot it, so it’s waiting for him, the next time he comes in. So there it is, Keanu Reeves’ pint pot.”

The punter gazed inscrutably up at the pint pot wrapped in a plastic bag. “Thirteen pounds thirty?” He shook his head incredulously, as if for him this was the most amazing part of the whole affair.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My kids mocked my website

I made the mistake of clicking on my website in front of my son (aged 9). He howled with derision and called his sister (11) over.

"No, Dad, no! Colour clash! It's so amateurish! You should have got us to do it! That's terrible!" All this was accompanied by much laughter, and the occasional patronising "Aww" at a particularly inept bit of design on my part. It comes to something when you're patronised by your own kids.

It was quite hurtful. I mean, aren't our kids supposed to look up to us at that age? Isn't it only when they're teenagers, and work out they can beat us in a physical fight, that they're supposed to start treating us with the contempt we deserve? I was hoping I had a few more years of uncritical admiration to go yet.

At least my wife was on my side. She had to be, as she had approved my original design. Though now I am beginning to wonder whether her "Yes, dear, very nice" at the time was quite the ringing endorsement I was looking for.

Anyhow, their main problem with it seemed to be the colours of the typeface. I had bright red and bright blue contrasting vibrantly. A bold statement, I thought. They claimed it hurt their eyes. So I toned down the colours.

This is the revised version. I haven't shown it to my kids yet. I don't think I can stand the humiliation.

Humble apologies to any commenters

Oh God, I feel awful about this. I just discovered that I had 22 hidden comments waiting for me to moderate. I had been wondering why I hadn't been getting any comments recently. The truth was I had, but I just didn't know they were there.

I must have switched over to moderating my comments and then immediately forgotten that I'd done so.

God. I'm so crap. And sorry. Sorry sorry sorry.

I promise that I will keep an eye open for comments from now on.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Rapping with the rap sheet

Michael Jacob, who with his wife Daniela de Gregorio is one half of the crimewriter Michael Gregorio, has written up the recent event I did in Perugia for the Rap Sheet.

I finished reading Mike and Daniela's latest, A Visible Darkness, at the weekend.

It's an intensely dark and gripping tale, grotesque, atmospheric, full of candlelit twists and the fetid stench of the past - a bit like picking your way through an old, labarynthine castle. The Prussian amber industry on the Baltic coast, taken over by Napoleon's occupying forces, provides the setting, and as always Mike and Daniela's grasp of the historical situation - and their ability to bring it vividly to life, to imagine it from the inside - is extrememly impressive. This is what it must have been like, you can't help thinking. And a grim and grinding time it was, though beautifully evoked by Mike and Daniela. It's the third in their series featuring the Prussian magistrate, Hanno Stiffeniis. If you haven't discovered the series already, a treat is in store for you. Buy it here or here. Or you can start with the first in the series, Critique of Criminal Reason.