Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Lauren Child | Charlie and Lola's creator on a new kind of detective | Ruby Redfort

Ruby is on the case

Lauren Child, the creator of those loveable, well-spoken siblings Charlie and Lola, is at her best when she tells stories that fold in on themselves.
In Beware of the Storybook Wolves, fairy tale creatures emerge from the pages of a book to cause havoc.
In Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Book?, little Herb actually falls into a collection of fairy stories, and has to run for his life from the Ugly Sisters, the evil stepmother and a very shouty Goldilocks.
For her new project, Ruby Redfort – Look Into My Eyes, Child delved into one of her own books for inspiration: Clarice Bean, That’s Me.
Clarice is a sassy, streetwise Londoner with a big, fun family, whose adventures have spanned both picture books and novels. Along the way her fans have become familiar with one of her own, fictional heroes.

Charlie and Lola 

“I invented Ruby Redfort for the first Clarice Bean book,” Child explains.
“Clarice would quote her: but it was always just absolute nonsense. Clich├ęd stuff like: ‘Gee Rube, you think there’s something in that?’ It was meant to be stupid and pulp fictiony.
“I did it partly because of the debate around children’s literature: that things have to be worth reading, have a message. I get asked that question all the time: what is the message in my books? But I think it is fine to be reading something simply because you enjoy reading.
“Then I started getting emails from Clarice Bean fans asking where they could get Ruby Redfort books, because ‘they sound really good!’”

As the clamour for Ruby grew, Lauren started to think of how she might give shape to what was really just a comic aside.
“I realised you couldn’t write them in a trashy way, because it would be too boring for everyone including me. So they have to be a bit more complicated,” she says.
“I’d never had to make anything I’d quoted from the Ruby books make any sense. But when you write it, it has to work like a real crime plot, however silly it is it. I realised how difficult it is to write plotted crime fiction like that. It is really hard.”

Child drew on Raymond Chandler, her childhood love for Agatha Christie, as well as modern crime giants Lee Child and Stieg Larsson for inspiration to create a world in which an 11-year-old girl with an active imagination could be a detective who fights crime.
With one character called Clancy Crew, I wondered if she was also thinking about another girl crime fighter from a different era: the clean cut American heroine, Nancy Drew.
“I didn’t even think about that, I really didn’t,” she laughs, sounding genuinely surprised by the similarity.
“I never actually read the Nancy Drew books but my sister was a big fan and I was very aware of them. I was certainly thinking about that whole thing of what was interesting about Nancy Drew for my sister. I imagine the name got embedded somewhere in my brain.”

* Ruby Redfort – Look Into My Eyes, is our now in hardback. Harper Collins £12.99  

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Killing | Forbrydelsen | Interview with Sofie Grabol who plays Sarah Lund

I have a feature in the Big Issue next week on The Killing, BBC4's brilliant Danish whodunit, which returns for a second series on Saturday (tomorrow).

As well as speaking to thriller writers Val McDermid and Denise Mina about the significance of the series as a crime drama, and in terms of Lund being a female detective, I also got to speak to Sofie Grabol, who plays the heroine.

I'll post more next week once the mag is out but as a taster here's an exceprt from the interview.

Was it strange, following a break, to return to the Lund character to film series two?
"It was actually very strange. When we finished the first series I had no idea they had thoughts of a second series. To me it was beautifully finished - I loved the open ending of the first one. So when we came back it was really strange. For me everything was so familiar. The character and the dark universe of The Killing. But no one else was. My boss was the only one who came on from the first to the second [series]. I remember feeling it was as if I was in a band and I was standing there with my bass guitar but all the other musicians were new so nothing sounded the same."

What about the jumper?
[laughs] Ah, the jumper: I tried to get rid of it but it was too strong it came back.

It turns out that it is in fact an expensive Faroese jumper, a designer item. How could a character like Lund, on a police salary afford it?
I was really sorry that came out because the reason we picked it, why I thought it was so perfect, was that  I thought it looked home knitted. It looked like something her mother had knitted, it didn’t look like a big designer item. But then the jumper has been huge in Demnark and Britain and people have discovered it is espensive. But for me it is something her mother knitted.

Do you see her as a feminist detectve?
No, I never did.

Why not?
Basically its not where I start. When I start working... if I label, if I sit down and calculate an agenda or a message which should be put through then I think I’m in debt creatively. The whole thing [that is] interesting for me as an actor is the investigation.

* The Killing is on BBC4 on Saturday at 10pm

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tintin The Movie was great | But I still love Herge

A certain kind of purist would have you believe that to like Stephen Spielberg's new Tintin movie is tantamount to taking a big bucket of blue blistering barnacles and throwing it down on Herge's memory.
It isn't.
Spielberg's films can be frenetic, over sentimental and strangely hollow, but he knows action better than anyone. Tintin, as I keep trying to tell people, is action personified. He has no 'story' except for what he does. He is a Robert McKie tutorial in 2D form. If Tintin isn't running somewhere, driving something, flying, climbing, swimming or escaping, then he isn't.
In that sense, it makes sense that Spielberg would have loved Tintin so much when he belatedly discovered the comic books (according to Time, this was around the time he was in Europe promoting the first Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, apparently).
The Secret of the Unicorn has a lot in common with Raiders. It's a rollercoaster ride which whips you from the Brussells docks to the Atlantic, to the Sahara, to Morocco and back to Europe. It isnt entirely faithful to the books but as a mash up of Unicorn and Crab with the Golden Claws -- the comic book in which Tintin meets Haddock for the first time -- it is a first rate effort. My only disappointment was getting to the end and realising they weren't going to have time to introduce Calculus and head off on a proper treasure hunt with a shark submarine.

The animation was always going to be the thing that offended Tintin fans so familiar with Herge's drawings. I have to say, it didn't take me long at all to forget about it and to immerse myself in its strange technicolor world. Not all the characters are entirely successful: Haddock is scottish, well ok, but he is also weirdly thin and slight. While Tintin looks a bit too bland. But I was very impressed with the voice actors and the way the script wove what is really a new story through Herge's old one.
It's a huge thumbs up. I hope they make the sequel.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Killing | Miss Marple to Sarah Lund

The Killing is coming  back. Excited? You should be.

There's an item in the Telegraph which caught my eye, you can read it here via this link.

The writer makes some decent points, but I was taken with her female detective genesis. First comes Cagney and Lacey (80s US cop show), then comes Miss Marple.

Huh? Marple was created by Agatha Christie in the 1930s -- earlier? Yes she was lovingly brought to life on television after Cagney and Lacey had made their bow, gee shucking their way round Manhattan, or was it Brooklyn, but even so. Can we see a line of evolution through Cagney, Lacey and Jane Marple, then on to Jane Tennison, as the writer suggests?

Her point is to  place Sofie Grabol's character, Sarah Lund, as the latest in a long line of female detectives. She is a sort of Feminist Homo Sapien to Miss Marple's smart but downtrodden Australopithecus. Lund is different because in her the female detective has evolved to the point that she is no longer a woman, merely a detective, able to function in her job as well as a man.

The fact that Lund's battle is not with sexism is refreshing for TV drama and one of the reasons why the series struck a chord. But let's not get too carried away. It is hardly a surprise either. The workplace has changed since Helen Mirren played Tennison and since the mere presence of Cagney and Lacey in the detective office worried the wives of their male colleagues.

Detectives reflect the world they live in. Some more accurately than others. That Lund, a product of sexually liberated, equatable Denmark, appeals to Brits in 2011, suggests that perhaps a large slab of the population is over the 4 inch heel, dress to impress, X Factor nonsense we've been spoon fed for so long. But then: The Killing is BBC4, not ITV on a Sunday or a Saturday night. When they start wearing that jumper on The Only Way Is Essex, we'll know that something big has happened.

Emma Donoghue | Interview | The Sealed Letter

Victorian society was scandalised in 1864 by the divorce of Vice-Admiral Henry Codrington from his wife, Helen. The case dominated the columns of The Times and The Telegraph, which gleefully reproduced the innuendo and evidence, gripping polite society.
Such cases of a wife cheating on her husband wouldn’t even make it in front of a judge these days. But when Emma Donoghue stumbled across a reference to it – in a footnote to a “dull poem” – she knew she had found the subject worthy of a novel.
What struck her while writing The Sealed Letter were the similarities between the trial and modern day court room dramas from OJ Simpson murder trial to President Clinton’s near impeachment (the Codrington case also features a stained dress). But it was the contrasting fortunes and personalities of the people involved which really drew her in.
“It was in a collection of poetry by women in the Langham set, the early feminists. They mentioned this court case into which Emily Faithfull got dragged,” Donoghue explains.
Faithfull, known to her friends and in the book as Fido, was a leading progressive who campaigned for women to have such novel things as the vote, a career and the chance to study at university.
“The Langham group were very tense about their public image, often snappy and critical of each other [in their letters]. They didn’t hesitate on purging Fido from their ranks as soon as she got drawn in. They weren’t hippies. Not a bit. In order to get taken seriously for their views on getting women the vote or accepted to professions they had to be starchy in other ways.
“Fido went on to have two long term pairings. You can never know whether these relationships were sexually consummated. It is odd, you can’t quite tell with heterosexual marriages either. But Fido did go on to share her life with one woman for a long stretch and then another woman for a long stretch.”
The fallen woman in Donoghue’s story, Helen Codrington, a mother of two girls, was quite different. Raised away from England you get the sense that this is a woman who saw nothing wrong with taking a lover or two. And she’s prepared to lie in order to protect her interests, which drew Fido into some very murky waters.
“Here was a very starchy social reformer getting dragged in to testify on this mucky divorce case about affairs among the military – I thought that was irresistible,” the author adds. “I loved the shape of the triangle: these three very different characters.”
She was surprised to find her sympathies ultimately lay with the one person you might think was the villain of the piece: the Admiral, who used the weight of the law to jettison his wife.
“We always assume that Victorian women were miserably locked up while the men had a wonderfully free time,” she says. “But you know, he couldn’t move an inch. Victorian upper class men, if you think of those pointy collars, they literally couldn’t bend their heads.
“They had to stick to a very limited range of behaviours and Admiral Codrington had suffered for so long before finally trying to divorce his wife. I don’t think he had any idea that it was going to become such a mortifying public scandal.”
Donoghue, who wrote The Sealed Letter - it was released in Canada and the US but not previously in the UK - before last year’s Booker shortlisted best seller Room, says the Codrington novel is more typical of her approach to writing.
“What’s funny is that in the case of Room, people kept asking me about the real life sources. But in fact Room, bears a very indirect relationship to any case,” she says.
“What I took from the Fritzl case was just a one line idea. I often write stuff that is very based on fact. I just love the puzzle of working with real facts and working out what really happened.”
Donoghue is adept at bringing to life an era we think of as being familiar. Yet her Victorian London has a freshness you don’t expect: it is a smart but stressful place, not unlike our own cities, and she scatters intriguing details throughout the narrative: from references to tea shops to the smell of the underground.
“They say that life changed more radically for the Victorians than it has for us. London was a very modern place, a stressed out place. They had a postal service far better than ours – we have email, they had the post,” she explains.
“I thought not getting a telegram was a very Victorian way of finding someone out – like now a husband might check his wife’s cellphone.
“At the same time, I really tried not to slow the story down with descriptions of London. There are no passages there just to give you flavour of what life was like. But the details I have included, they have to be good.
“You do the research 100 per cent, but you throw 99 per cent away. The one per cent you are left with though, it is far better, more vivid detail.”
·         The Sealed Letter, published by Picador, £16.99, is out now. This interview appears in the November 7 edition of The Big Issue

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Harry Potter murders | Ten characters JK should have killed off

So, now we know that JK Rowling was considering giving Ron the chop.

It made me wonder which of her characters I would have liked to have seen her kill off during the series. The Harry Potter books were increasingly awash with the blood of wizards (and elves) we had grown to love. And yet some characters survived I personally would have liked to have seen killed off, either because they deserved it, because they were annoying, or because it would have served the story better.


Here then, and in no particular order, is a top ten of Potter characters JK should have killed...

1) Dudders. Harry's cousin is a thug with few redeeming qualities. Harry grows up noble in the Dursley household, Dudders grows up horrible. JK gives him some humanity at the end -- he is concerned about what Harry is facing - but it is not enough. JK should have let the Dementors take him in Book Five.

2) Filch. Every hero needs an enemy, every school needs a caretaker. But I wish Filch had retired to a cosy cottage somewhere after Book 3 and JK had come up with a new janitor. A limited, foolish, cowardly man his presence at the end of the sequence is puzzling. Is he Slytherin sympathetic? Is he for the dark side? A defender of Dumbledore's memory? Or is he just a pain?

3) Malfoy snr, the haughty, arrogant Death Eater turned into a snivelling, hapless nonentity by the end of the series, while his wife and son took a more active role in the plot. JK should have put him out of his misery after the fiasco at the Ministry for Magic.

4) Grawp, because I'm with Ron on him. What a monster...

5) Madam Hooch, the Quidditch teacher. I thought the writing was on the wall when Warners dropped Zoe Wannamaker from the films (she only appeared in #1). However, she is a constant in the books while never having a proper story at all. Is she even there at the end? Was she in the sky marshalling an airborne cavalry? I really don't remember.... JK should have had her killed off by Voldemort instead of the 'muggles studies' teacher. No one knew who the muggles studies teacher was, so it was hard to care...

6) Lavender Brown, because she's Lavender Brown...

7) Pansy Parkinson, similar to above, but because she was Pansy Parkinson.

8) Great Aunt Madge. JK's muggles are always far more cartoonish than her wizards. Madge might have been plucked from the pages of a Tom Brown's Schooldays book, or created by Steve Bell. Aunt Petunia only gets saved because there was a story point to her survival...

9) Viktor Krum, not because he is a bad guy, but because, what's the point with him? Step up to the plate, big fella, defend liberty, or die a hero's death. One of the many characters in the books you expect more from, but they fail to deliver...

10) The Whomping willow.... aaach, stupid tree.

Monday, 31 October 2011

JK Rowling admits she was thinking of killing off Ron Weasley - Telegraph

Makes you wonder. Might not have been a terrible decision, of course, but it would have changed the books considerably, and probably opened up a Harry-Hermione romance no one would have been satisfied with.

But what is the point of Ron anyway? Apart from being the slightly uncool, hopeless foil?

Could Harry have completed his horcrux mission without him?

(I love questions like this....there's never a right answer....just lots of speculation...)

Under the Skin | Michel Faber's dark story | why I'll never go hitchhiking

Beware: Plot Spoilers

There's a lot of excitement in Scotland right now related to the fact that we've seen a series of biggish Hollywood films being made here.
Movies mean well groomed A-list stars, and after Brad Pitt and the zombies in the summer, some are getting into a froth about Scarlett Johansson, who is over here filming Under the Skin, a movie based on Michel Faber's 2000 novel.

If you know Crimson Petal and the White (2002) but not this earlier book, you should read it simply for the shock value. this is a sparely written, contemporary yarn which does something a lot of publishers dream of. It transcends genre. No really, it does.
It starts off feeling like a literary thriller and turns into a sci fi. But with a sort of Hannibal Lecter element that many will find hard to stomach.
It is a hugely enjoyable read. Faber writes with economy and if the plot lacks a genuinely substantial subplot, this doesn't matter all that much. It races along for most of its just short of 300 pages. My one complaint is that I could have done with one or two fewer hitchers in the first half. But really, it isn't much of a complaint at all. The book works as it is.
Johansson plays Sisserley, the lead character in the book. It's hard to talk about this novel without committing spoilers so turn away now if you really don't know anything about the story. Sisserley, we discover fairly early on, is an alien. But the author is clever in the way he introduces this fact and the nature of her alien-ness.
She has been surgically transformed to look like an attractive female -- to lure male hitchers into her car. Scarlet is far better looking than most people assume Sisserley is in the book, but you can see Hollywood's point. Even in the novel she is meant to be sexually alluring, and as this is a film, you'd hardly cast an unattractive actress for such a role.
If the film is a success it will bring a lot of readers to the novel, deservedly so. But I wonder how many will see it as sci fi or as something else. Sci fi has a dodgy image. Many serious readers are turned off by characters from other planets called Vess or Esswiss. And yet, if the book is well executed, the genre shouldn't really matter...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Carmen Reid | The Jewels of Manhattan | Video

Carmen Reid talks about her new romantic comedy, The Jewels of Manhattan, in this video.

Not only is Carmen a brilliantly funny writer, she also happens to be my wife. I recommend that you all order Jewels of Manhattan straight away.

Carmen has written five Personal Shopper and six St Jude's novels, but this is a stand alone crime caper with a romantic twist. It's a huge amount of fun and will probably end up in the cinema one day starring Anne Hathaway. Well, we hope it will anyway.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Emma Donoghue | The Sealed Letter | A Booker bonus

I've just been speaking to the Irish author Emma Donoghue about her novel The Sealed Letter. It has just been published in the UK as a follow up to her big selling, well reviewed, much nominated Room, which came out last year.

Room made the Booker shortlist. I asked her what she thought of the Booker controversy this year and her answer was I think quite sensible.

"There is no God of the Booker," she pointed out. "You can't predict what the judges will like. there's no guarantee an academic judge will love only academic novels or that a TV personality will only like light reads."

Donoghue points out that she has been on a number of judging panels herself and that she has always been amazed by the range of opinion a single novel will inspire. So really, it isn't any surprise that in any one year a thoughtful book by Alan Hollinghurst might be overlooked in favour of something else by a writer neither Hollinghurst or his agent had at that point never heard of. She suggests judging the award over a period of a decade, not any one year, and points out that the last ten winners are an intriguing mix of the extremely literary and the extremely readable, often in the same volume.

Tintin and the Critics of Doom | You'll never please everyone

Film critics have a gilded life. I know, I used to be one - sort of. I never actually reviewed but for a few years I was on the film junket circuit doing interviews with A-listers, directors and some actors and actresses I'd not heard of at the time and not heard of since. It involved hanging out in five star hotels a lot eating far too many miniature pastries.

This gilded existence generates a sense of importance. The longer a film critic is a critic, I suppose, the greater the danger that this sense of self importance will become overbearing, out of proportion with reality. In other words, the more likely they are to start talking absolute rot about everything all the time.

Which brings me to Mark Kermode. The doctor, as he styles himself on Radio Five Live. Now, don't get me wrong, I love Kermode. Never met him, but I have over the years enjoyed listening to his rants, enjoyed his insights and often appreciated his point of view.

Today I heard him give one of the worst reviews of all time to the new Spielberg Tintin film. He didn't say it was awful, you understand. What he instead did was give it a sort of audio version of a shrug of the shoulders. It was all right ish.

I'm still looking forward to seeing the Tintin film, but the number of writers and critics rushing to pour cold water on the experience is beginning to mount up. I know the media works this way, and yet I can't help but wish they'd all just shut up and let me decide on my own, for once. If I enjoy it, does that make me a ninny?

Some films don't make sense to critics, but the public get. I'm not sure there is a critic working today who really gets cinema. Many are great cineastes with a knowledge of the art form greater than mine. But show them a fun example of slapstick and they walk out of the theatre cold. Kermode was, rather amusingly, being criticised today by listeners who loved Johnny English -- and I mean LOVED Johnny English, which he'd dismissed as unfunny. Johnny English isn't unfunny, it is a laugh. But if it was your twelfth film that week I can see how you might get a bit irritated with it.

It doesn't really matter of course. Critics are over, they've been killed off by the Internet. The ones we have are merely the rump, slowly rotting on the fence post. They'll be gone soon, replaced by blog aggregators or Rotten Tomato apps.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Booker bingo winner is Julian Barnes | Readable, worthy or both?

During BBC2's Newsnight interview he responded to the debate over the quality of this year’s shortlist by saying “Jane Austen – what is she if not readable?”
The Booker isn’t just Bingo, of course, it is a cultural frontline. It is one of the few nationally recognised prizes the truly eggheaded claim to be their own and - like The Proms and Book at Bedtime - they are damn well not about to give it up.
Winterson's argument is heartfelt, if a little bizarre. She has the grump that the Booker chairman this year, Stella Rimginton, is a former head of Britain's spies. She was an odd choice -- Rimington's books are hardly literary. And there were comments by the judges: Susan Hill saying she didn't mind experimentation if it came from genius, Chris Mullin saying books should 'zip along'. For the true literati, these were ominous utterings that bordered on Richard&Judyism.
As if books were meant to be enjoyed! Tsk. You must read a book that makes your head hurt and your stomach churn, otherwise you are just wasting your time and might as well be listening to MoneyBox on Radio Four.
And then of course, so many early favourites didn't make the shortlist. Alan Hollinghurst and Smith were the most notable. Talk of a new Literary Award to rival the Booker grew out of this rebellion -- but don't hold your breath. There is more to mounting a lit award than a few agents and publishers moaning about quality. There's money for one thing.
But ultimately, what use is the Booker?
Below is a list of past winners. I'm struck by how few I've read (reflecting perhaps my chippy northerner habit of not reading what I'm told but reading something else I just fancy the look of). I wonder though how many of them will be considered worthy of consideration ten or fifteen years from now.
One issue I've long had with the Booker, which hasn't been mentioned this year, is the fact it is limited to British and Commonwealth writers. Canadians feature but not Americans. Indians but not French. It is the last bastion of Empire.
For any award that claims to be about what is best in literature this strikes me as a surprising flaw. I can understand limiting it to English language novels... but many of the best writers in the last 20 years have been from the US.

Man Booker prize, complete list of winners

1969 – Something to Answer For, P.H. Newby
1970 – The Elected Member, Bernice Rubens
1971 – In a Free State, V. S. Naipaul
1972 – G, John Berger
1973 – The Siege of Krishnapur, J.G. Farrell
1974 – The Conservationist, Nadine Gordimer
Holiday, Stanley Middleton (shared)
1975 – Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1976 – Savile, David Storey
1977 – Staying On, Paul Scott
1978 – The Sea, the Sea, Iris Murdoch
1979 – Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald
1980 – Rites of Passage, William Golding
1981 – Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
1982 – Schindler’s Ark, Thomas Keneally
1983 – Life & Times of Michael K, J. M. Coetzee
1984 – Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner
1985 – The Bone People – Keri Hulme
1986 – The Old Devils, Kingsley Amis
1987 – Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively
1988 – Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey
1989 – The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
1990 – Possession: A Romance, A. S. Byatt
1991 – The Famished Road, Ben Okri
1992 – The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth (shared)
1993 – Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Roddy Doyle
1994 – How late it was, how late, James Kelman
1995 – The Ghost Road, Pat Barker
1996 – Last Orders, Graham Swift
1997 – The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
1998 – Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
1999 – Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee
2000 – The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
2001 – True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey
2002 – Life of Pi, Yann Martel
2003 – Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
2004 – The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst
2005 – The Sea, John Banville
2006 – The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai
2007 – The Gathering, Anne Enright
2008 – The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
2009 – Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
2010 – The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson
2011 – The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes


“Lost Man Booker Prize” – 1970 – Troubles, J. G. Farrell (awarded in 2010 by public
vote to a 1970 novel, as a rules alteration that year meant books published that year were not eligible for the 1970 award)

“Booker of Bookers” awarded in 1993 to 1981 winner (Midnight’s Children, Salman
Rushdie), title of best winner in award’s first 25 years

“The Best of the Booker” awarded by public vote in 2008 to the same book, to
celebrate the award’s 40th anniversary

Peter Carey and J. G. Coetzee are the only authors to have won twice

Three winners have gone onto win the Nobel prize for literature – Nadine Gordimer in
1991, V. S. Naipaul in 2001, J. M. Coetzee in 2003

Several winning books have been made into film adaptations: Schindler’s Ark
(Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List), The Remains of the Day and The English

Schindler’s List and The English Patient both went onto win an Academy
Award for Best Picture

Man Booker International prize established in 2005, awarded bi-annually to a writer
2005 – Ismail Kadare
2007 – Chinua Achebe
2009 – Alice Munro
2011 – Philip Roth

Friday, 14 October 2011

iPhone4S | hey, what is that noise? oh, it's people talking to Siri on their iPhone

The streets around Britain, nay, the world, were today choc-a-bloc with enthusiastic Apple upgraders out to ensure they got their new iPhone4S before anyone else could.
Some stayed out overnight to book their place in the queue. Others crept from their bed in the early hours clutching a warming vacuum mug of coffee, in the hope that their local O2 shop or Apple Church, sorry, I mean Store, wouldn't be too crowded out.
Was the wait worth it?
Well, I can reveal to you now that I do not have an iPhone 4S. Nor am I likely to. And yet my life has nevertheless significantly improved over the last 24 hours.
Now, if ever I need to know the weather I simply shout out, hey what's the weather like. And, lo and behold, one of up to a dozen iPhone 4S users sitting nearby shout back a response. Sometimes, if I get my voice pitch just right, their phones shout back for them.
This has been a HUGE development.
The key thing to remember is that although on the outside my life looks just as it did a day ago, inside it has been completely overhauled.
My vision is better (possibly because I've been eating a lot of carrots).
I'm a lot faster than I was (I put this down to my new trainers, but only partly).
In terms of desirability, well we've seen this improved by 300%. Women just goggle at me now, some even walk into walls they are so distracted by the hidden improvements and extensive apps they know lie just below the surface.
I am not advocating that any of you refrain from buying an iPhone simply because my life is enhanced without it. But I will say, if you do buy an iPhone, and it is quite neat... will you please keep it to yourself? The rest of us are waiting for a lovely shiny Android Ice Cream Sandwich.
Or not.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Top100Books - 5 books to read before you die - Big Issue

Sylvia Plath

There's a weekly column in The Big Issue you check out if you can (you need to buy the mag, it's not online).
Every week a well known author is asked which five books people MUST read before they die. It's a pretty good basis by which to consider which books you think should be included in our Top100Books survey too.
Last week Jackie Kay, author of Red Dust Road, suggested these:

  1. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  2. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
  3. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  4. To the Island (trilogy) by Janet Frame
  5. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

The week before a very different female writer, Jodie Prenger (a judge in the Mills and Boon New Voices talent search) suggested this five:

  1. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
  2. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  3. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  4. A Safe Place by Lorenzo Carcaterrra
  5. Flirting With Intent by Kelly Hunter
That last is a Mills and Boon. A publisher I'm guessing who won't make everyone's top five list, or even their top 1,000.

The Scottish poet Liz Lochead was the picker from the week before. Her list is equally fascinating, equally disparate.

  1. Selected Stories by Alice Munro
  2. The Rattle Bag edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney
  3. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  4. Poor Things by Alasdair Gray
  5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
What are your top five? And send your top ten list to Top100Books@bigissue.com. The list should be ready sometime in January.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Wolf Hall | A (belated) review of Hilary Mantel's epic Booker winner | So what was all the fuss about?

Some books are like Mayflies. They are published and die in a day, their demise unnoticed by the greater world around them.
Others are more like giant tortoises, able to lumber on, chomping up the vegetation and enjoying the limelight for decades. Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is one of those kinds of books.
When it won the booker in 2009 it was the bookies' favourite to do so -- and the bookies are almost never right with the Booker. It went on to become possibly the highest selling winner of all time (bone of contention: has it surpassed Life Of Pi, by Yann Martell, yet?).
Mantel wasn't a household name when Wolf Hall was released, not by a long shot. She had been nominated for the Booker once before and had built up a small but loyal following - a rare thing in modern literary publishing. Although her books didn't sell hugely, they did sell and were well received by the critics. She was known for dense but satisfying narratives.
Wolf Hall was considered a daring project. I don't think it is that daring.
It focuses on Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's 'master secretary', a blacksmith's son who rose to be the most powerful commoner England had ever known -- eventually his Lord Chancellor and elevated to the Earl of Essex.
Far from being revolutionary, this throws us into familiar territory: Henry's affair with Anne Boleyn and the consequences for England. Modern day Britain has an obsession with Tudor England which matches Henry's obsession with 'the lady Anne'. Mantel herself describes it as a great historical soap opera and this I think is apt. Her novel skews the familiar story, telling it from an unlikely perspective.
From this point of view I couldn't help but compare it with Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl (also a  film, of course). The overlap in terms of events is huge: Mary Boleyn is significant to Thomas Cromwell, Mantel has her flirting with him and even suggesting marriage. In Wolf Hall there is also a proposal that she marry Cromwell's son.

What I found surprising was that I found myself thinking more highly of Gregory's work as I read Mantel's, whose prose truly is dense. The problem is, I'm not sure how satisfying I found it. Cromwell is certainly intriguing, but there were times when I wondered if she couldn't convey his complexity a little more, er, simply. What really surprised me was that the narrative gets bogged down in the history. I thought Mantel would have avoided that. And there are times when the blizzard of names -- aristos tend to have at least two -- becomes overly confusing. Added to that is the use of 'he' to denote Cromwell... this is one of the most preposterous and frankly pretentious aspects of the book.
I finished the book admiring Cromwell, but far from loving him. He is a ruthless man in ruthless era.
The real oddity is the story arc. Someone can perhaps explain it to me: the book takes in Henry's marriage to Anne, the birth of Elizabeth, her failed next pregnancy, Mary Boleyn's decision to flee the court (where she is effectively being kept as the king's concubine) and ultimately the fall of Thomas More -- who is executed on charges Cromwell comes up with.
Yet It felt oddly like a fragment rather than a completed narrative (though at 650 pages a very big fragment).
Mantel is apparently planning at least one more book to take us up to Cromwell's own execution in 1540, six more years, but at this rate she might be writing another ten. I wonder how many Wolf Hall buyers will stick to the end of her story: I'd say a fraction.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Dr Who | The Wedding of River Song

The Wedding of River Song

Oh come on, it was fab. Dr Who fans are never happy, though, are they? They've been flocking to the internet chat rooms all weekend to gripe about the holes in the plot that brought back to life a doctor we had been assured was dead in episode one.

Actually, I was surprised how good it was. Dr Who flirts too often with the deus ex machina endings. But here everything was spelled out for us and anyone who had been paying attention, really paying attention, was likely to have guessed the body double gimmick.

For the rest, the sheer pace of Steven Moffat's second full season in charge of the Tardis kept us all guessing. He closed it with plenty of questions - including the big one, Doctor Who? But resolved all the major issues.
A good man goes to war...and a good woman too

Perhaps the most remarkable thing, when you think about it, is how he has managed to keep the River Song story not just going but interesting and intriguing. When she first appeared, in the David Tenant episode Silence in the Library, she was an exciting novelty. For a series that is essentially about time travel, Dr Who had seldom actually explored time travel. When they gave Moffat the keys to the spaceship, he made it his business to make time his main theme. The result has been storytelling of the highest order.

Looking forward to the Christmas special already. And really, are people really thinking Downton Abbey might eclipse it this year? I don't think so...

Friday, 30 September 2011

Wikileaks reveals conversations over Assange memoir | The Bookseller

The Julian Assange autobiography that isn't an autobiography looks like a story that will run and run. The latest instalment comes here in the pages of The Bookseller: Wikileaks reveals conversations over Assange memoir | The Bookseller:

Canongate have clearly taken a calculated risk with this book. I'm fascinated by this story, not because Assange is particularly interesting to me, but because he is not. I can't see why anyone thought he was worth the amounts being offered and talked about. But Jamie Byng, who has proven himself to be adept at making money out of books, and who is when all is said and done a bold player, if nothing else, did.

Then there is the mess left behind by the book not being delivered... well, let's be honest, this is a publishing car crash and few could resist slowing down and craning our necks to see who is splattered across what windscreen.

I wondered last week whether this book might endanger Canongate. Right now I doubt that will be the case: the numbers being talked about are damaging but I doubt they'll be fatal.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Asterix forever | Uderzo hangs up his quill, but the series will continue

Asterix and Obelix are dead. Long live Asterix and Obelix.

Albert Uderzo, the longstanding illustrator of the books starring the Gaulish heroes, is hanging up his quill after a long illustrious career. He is 84 and has outlived his partner, Rene Goscinny, by more than two decades.

Goscinny's death in 1977 might have been it for Asterix, but Italian born Uderzo is clearly the pragmatic sort and remains against killing off either of the indomitable duo. He pressed on by himself, bringing to the series a quality that hadn't been there before His stories were often blunter, less subtle, and frankly whacky. Suddenly a series which played fast and loose with history was mixing it up with aliens while characters suddenly changed, not always for the better. I still remember, as a youngish kid, reading Obelix and Co and thinking to myself, hold on, that isn't quite right... Not even Anthea Bell, the translator who is also responsible for WG Sebald's Austerlitz in English, who injected Asterix with a playful intelligence that may or may not have been there in the beginning, could raise those later books up to the heights of Goscinny at his best.

That said, I am delighted to hear that Uderzo is going to make sure that the series continues without him. Asterix could indeed go on forever. the prospect of more writers having a go at bringing Asterix, Obelix, Getafix and the others to life is an appetising one. Think of what the likes of Neil Gaiman were able to do with clapped out old superhero franchises. Perhaps Asterix will not simply carry on, but be reimagined.

"I've decided that there should be some continuity, and I want it to carry on for generations and generations," Uderzo told RTL radio.

Herge famously decreed that no one should be allowed to draw Tintin after he died. His will didn't cover Hollywood turning the world's most famous two dimensional Belgian into a highly profitable computer game platform, but we will leave that to one side for the moment. There have been no more books since Herge died and the one he was working on when he passed away was left unfinished.

Uderzo has gone the other way. His reasoning is that Asterix is his legacy and that other writers and artists should be trusted with the task of drawing him in the future. With 350 million books sold so far,a theme park and multi-million euro sponsorship deals, you can see why he might want this. It is quite a family business.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Roddy Doyle | A Greyhound of a Girl | book review

Scholastic, £10.99 in hardback

Brilliant. A little gem of a book.
Plus I cried. Not just once but for about thirty or forty pages. A bit wimpish of me, I know, but still. It was heartfelt.
Doyle's latest is billed as a children's novel but adults will get a lot out of this. Perhaps more than the kids because it is about loss, the past, moving on, and saying goodbye to loved ones. Things we grown ups are more used to doing than the young uns.
The story is charming and simple. Mary O'Hara's granny, Emer, is dying in hospital. She and her mother, EMer's daughter, Scarlett, visit regularly and they know her time is coming. At the beginning of the book a stranger approaches Mary with a message for Emer: It's going to be grand. the stranger's name is Tansey and, as it turns out, is the ghost of Emer's mother.
Emer never knew her mum: she'd died of the flu when Emer was just three years old. But in Doyle's story Tansey stays on in this world to watch over Emer and wants to speak to her before she dies, to reassure her everything will be fine. But she needs Mary and Scarlett to help her because she can't just walk into a hospital. Well, that's obvious.
There is whimsy to this ghost story. There is a lot of fun. But mostly there is heart. I found myself, as I said, filled with emotion while reading this book and found it hugely satisfying.

Roddy Doyle

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Wikileaks autobiography leaked | What Julian Assange and David Beckham have in common

I saw a tweet this morning from the London agent Johnny Geller: What do David Beckham and Julian Assange have in common?
The answer is: Neither of them have read their autobiography.
The situation Canongate are in re Assange's memoirs is extraordinary. They agreed a $1 million deal to publish them, along with Knopf in the US. They paid half up front. They got Assange a bluechip ghost writer - Andrew O'Hagan. They obviously put in a lot of work. But then Assange, clearly a difficult bloke to work with, suddenly got cold feet and decided he didn't want to publish.
Fair enough, pay back the advance. But the Wikileaks founder is up to his digital oxters in legal fees thanks to the various legal actions he has been facing and couldn't pay back the advance. The money has already been signed over to his legal team.
Although I am a journalist with left of centre leanings, I'm not sure I have a lot of sympathy with Assange: a cyber scarlet pimpernell who skits about the Internet attempting to do good.
He seems too fond of grandstanding and of being the story to be a truly credible investigative journalist. And his scoops aren't really investigations: he acquires things and chucks them out there. To see what will stick. The 'embarrassing' embassy cables for instance told us little we didn't already know.
I'm all for openness but every journalist knows that sometimes you have to be responsible: both with your sources and with the consequences of your story.
Bradley Manning, Assange's big source, alleged source - he has never confirmed it - is currently sitting in a prison in the US and was until quite recently under strict, frankly inhumane solitary confinement. Hardly something to boast about.

Bradley Manning
Assange apparently decided not to publish the book because he felt that 'all memoir is prostitution' and because he feared it would give the US authorities fuel to do what they want to do: which is extradite him and put him in stocks in Time Square.
In other words, despite signing a contract and taking the money and spending hours and hours with O'Hagan telling him his life story, he has realised he would have been better of staying quiet.
But considering this, what of Canongate's decision to recoup their outlay by publishing? Is this purely a commercial decision? Knopf have cancelled publication in the US. What are we to make of O'Hagan's decision to have his name removed from the book? Do they genuinely feely this book is essential reading, and that suppressing it will harm democracy? The jury is out on that one.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Madeline Miller's top 10 classical books | Books | guardian.co.uk

Obviously I love a list, which is why Madeline Miller's top 10 classical books | Books | guardian.co.uk: caught my eye.

A top ten! Classical Greece! A winning combination. Throw in a crisp cold bottle of French viognier and it would be a perfect date.

But wait a minute: Homer only makes no 4. Are they mad? ARE THEY MAD?

And who the heck is Philoctetes when he is at home? Oh COME ON! GIVE US A BREAK....!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

How the Crowd Is Shaping the Future of Storytelling

There's an intriguing item on Mashable, the tech website, about crowdsourcing and storytelling.

The original source is Book Country, an online community for genre fiction writers. The author is Mollyh Barton, the president of Book Country -- but someone who is also a VP at Penguin Group USA.

There's an ebook, self publishing agenda here. It seems very American: the idea that writers can turn their back on publishing giants, on New York and London, and form their own communities, online, which will develop -- through workshopping and an exchange of ideas -- the next generation of storytellers.

It's a vivid image: E-books as a sort of wild west frontier, where an independent man (or woman, of course) can carve out a life for himself with just his two hands, and a laptop. Literary Davy Crocketts in touch with real folk, tainted not by big city capitalism or commercialism.

Barton's position at Penguin USA makes you wonder though: she obviously sees an angle for traditional publishers too, in this brave new world of electronic campfires and online writing groups. I imagine it will be them collecting the cream...

How the Crowd Is Shaping the Future of Storytelling:

'via Blog this'

Friday, 9 September 2011

BBC News - Waterstone's to launch e-reader

Good to see that the new guy at Waterstones is finally starting to get the dinosaur into the 21st Century.

We'll wait and see if another e-reader is the right way to go. The way the tablet market is going, who knows? There might be a million iPad like devices out by Christmas, what would another ereader really mean.

No word what he's going to call it tho... after the nook maybe he'll use the famous W icon and come up with Wook. Or what about emphasising the e-electronic aspect: the Eeek sounds good to me. Or is that just the sound publishers are all making right now looking at their profit and loss columns?

BBC News - Waterstone's to launch e-reader:

'via Blog this'

Stieg Larsson | Interview with the girl who kicked up a fuss but got no money |

My interview with Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson's long term partner, has just been posted on the Big Issue Scotland website.
For those of you who perhaps don't know -  perhaps you have just emerged from a long term retreat in a  Buddhist monastery - Larsson is the Swedish author whose Millennium trilogy has re-written the rule book in terms of what a crime novelist can and should do to grab an international audience.
Poor Larsson died before his first novel was even published. But his work has become a global phenomenon and earned millions. Money which his partner - in Britain she would have the status of a spouse, a wife - has not seen a penny of because of the oddness of Sweden's inheritance laws and a family dispute with Larsson's father and brother.
You can read all about it by following the link above or below. Eva is a compelling speaker, a wronged woman it is hard not to feel sorry for. But as with Larsson's novels, you sense that there may well be more to it than first appears.
And while you are on the Big Issue site, remember to look up the Top100Books challenge and to send in your own ten best loved books.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Book pilfering | who would you steal?

Oh come on, you know what I am talking about. What book would you steal, rather than buy? You want to read it, but perhaps you are a bit skint. Or perhaps it is in a gorgeous hardback and you can't quite bring yourself to pay ten, twelve whatever quid for it. [Dollars, if you are so inclined...]

Personally I'd have love to have a hardback collection of Everyman classics. But can I justify the cost? Would I ever even read them? They'd just sit there, on the shelf, looking pretty.

But sometimes that is enough.

So come on, what books would you steal?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Booker Shortlist | Patrick De Witt, Pigeon English, Jamrach's Menagerie

Good to see Patrick De Witt's The Sisters Brothers make the Booker Shortlist.

The full list is:

Jamrach's Menagerie, Carol Birch (Canongate)
The Sister's Brothers, Patrick DeWitt (Granta)
Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman, (Bloomsbury)
Snowdrops, AD Miller (Atlantic)
Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan (Serpent's Tale)
The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape)

Top 100 Books | What would be your criminal top ten? | Crime

Crime pays: it is the one genre that you can rely on to get decent sales. For most aspiring writers it is the first stop on the road to get published.
It's popular. But it is also serious. There's nothing funny about serial killers, crimes of passion or revenge murders. As a result, crime writers tend to get feted in a way romance writers don't - and while often this is unfair, you can see the reason why. Crime is a serious business.

It is also ubiquitous. There might not be mansion house mysteries every second week a la Agatha Christie, but murders do happen at a relatively frequent rate. Our news broadcasts are full of them.
The typical murder tends to be horribly banal: a drunken argument in which someone grabs a knife. We get a lot of that in Scotland.
But others are something else. You have the domestics: fathers taking revenge on their wives in the most horrific fashion. You have the criminal: gangland hits. And you have the premeditated crimes of passion.
Anyone who thinks the extraordinary only happens between the covers of a Henning Mankell novel should reflect on the Raoul Moat case - the inquest into which is currently underway. Moat was a broken hearted body builder armed to the teeth on a rampage round sleepy Northumberland. Definitely one from the you couldn't make it up category.
I'm not a crime geek by any means - there are some embarrassing gaps in my knowledge of the genre - but here's my top ten favourite crime books of the moment. I've numbered them one to ten, but they are not in any particular order. And yes, perhaps I've been a bit loose with the genre definition.

Changed the rules as far as crime fiction is concerned. Brought supermarket lists to the heart of the narrative. A lot of frozen pizza.

A glorious Gothic narrative set in the Victorian underworld.

3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie
Christie excelled herself with this one: the narrative broke all the rules of the day and still reads in a startling modern way.

I came across this after a recommendation. Brilliantly clever, historical detective work.

Seriously dark, exciting and well written.

I might have picked one of several other Christies too, but this one has it all: the location, the plotting, the characters...

If you've not read it, buy it right away. Brilliant, pacy, intelligent thriller which was turned into a movie, in France oddly enough, that was just as good.

Slightly marred by the fact that I can't help think of Sean Connery as Brother William of Baskerville, but a brilliant piece of medieaval monkish detective work just the same.

Gripping book from one of the masters.

Ellroy at his best: fantastic depiction of an America steeped in corruption.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Skellig writer David Almond on his new book |the True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean | Penguin | Author interview

Sometimes even writers don’t know what’s going to happen next. When David Almond was working on the first draft of his multi-award winning debut novel, Skellig, he found himself surprised by the events unfolding before him as the lead character, Michael, discovers the strange creature of the title in the family garage.
“He put his hands round Skellig’s back and I remember thinking bloody hell, he has got wings,” Almond says. It was only at that point that Almond realised the ‘creature’ was a fallen angel. “To my own astonishment,” he adds.
Ten years later, the Northumberland-based, Newcastle-born author was inspired by a similar sort of self-discovery to write the follow up, My Name is Mina. It came after he watched an impressive performance in the latest stage adaptation of the original novel [Sky TV also turned it into a film].
“Mina was being played by a fantastic young actor called Charlie Sanderson; I learned a lot speaking to her about what Mina was like,” Almond says.
“In Skellig, Mina had just jumped into the story fully formed. But watching her on stage I realised she must have had a troubled past and that a lot of her attitudes came from insecurity. She became someone I needed to know more about.
“Then when I sat down to write her it was almost as if she was there inside me saying ‘Aha! What took you so long? You’re here to write about me now!’”
Something similar seems to have happened in the case of Almond’s latest and most challenging work, The True Tale Of The Monster Billy Dean. Almond’s writing has long appealed to both children and grown-ups readers, but this new work is arguably his most adult to date.
This time, it was a voice which kept pestering him, demanding to be noticed: a voice that spoke in his own north of England accent, only more so. As Almond explains, it took him a long time to settle on writing the book.
“I knew I had this boy jabbering away in the back of my brain saying ‘write me, write me,’” he says. “And each time I sat down to write it I realised it would take a lot of time and energy to get it right and I knew I had to clear some space and time to get it properly. But it was the voice that did it. The language on the page had to match the voice I was hearing in my head.”
Billy’s story turned out to be a dark one – inspired, Almond admits, by real events: stories of children who had been hidden away by abusive adults. The author’s fascination for this subject runs deep, predating the recent case of the Austrian girl Natascha Kampusch.
“There is a Herzog film, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser [dating from 1974] about a boy kept in darkness for the first twenty years of his life. It had an enormous, shattering affect on me and I think since then I’ve been trying to write that movie,” he says.
“It is also very influenced by ‘the wild boy of Aveyron’, a true story of a French boy who grew up in the woods before they brought him out and tried to civilise him [he was discovered in 1797]. So it drew on those stories, people from the past who were brought up in darkness.
“There have always been stories about wolf children and kids who grew up with monkeys so it is using that idea but in what begins as a very ordinary northern town. You think: what will happen if these things happen there?”

Friday, 2 September 2011

Dark week for indies as four close | The Bookseller

Christopher Robin's bookshop among a clutch of independent closures in a bad week for the traditional book trade....

Madonna | W.E. movie trailer | someone laid an egg

Good ol' Madge. You can always trust her to come up with something genuinely surprising. Of course, it has been a while since she was regularly coming up with nice surprises. Good singles, for example. Interesting music videos. These days it's mainly bad surprises: children's books of shockingly low quality; movies that should never have been made... that sort of thing.

Of course perhaps W.E. will be wonderful. But you just know it won't be. The Cannes audiences have been watching it with their jaws dropping open. And certainly this trailer isn't making me think: 'must go and spend a tenner at the cinema to watch that!' It's making me think: adults made this?

The Guardian's Xan Brooks certainly isn't impressed (click here).

Waterstones | Three for Twos | Pack Men by Alan Bisset

Follow, follow Rangers

Waterstones are having a management revamp following their purchase by, someone or other. It's just been leaked that they are dropping their three for two offer - cue thousands of people rushing to their local branch in order to stock up on 'freebies' before the offer is withdrawn altogether. I'm not rushing myself, you understand. Three for two is catchy but it's bloody annoying. The free one is always the cheapest. And how often have you stood scratching your head wondering what third book would be worth picking up, just so you can take advantage? Discounts on individual books would suit me better and might help them take on the online giant.

I was in Waterstones on Sauchiehall St, Glasgow last night. So were about a hundred other people to watch a local author, Alan Bissett, launch his new novel Pack Men.

Alan was nervous. The book is about Rangers fans who get mixed up in the drunken riot that took place in Manchester the day their team played in the UEFA cup final there in 2008. (That bit at least isn't fiction: Scottish teams did used to do quite well in Europe as recently as 2008...) Alan is apparently a little concerned how the Rangers fans will take to the book. Surely they will see it as criticism. I imagine some of them will. But Bissett feels that sectarianism and football are under-written-about topics in Scottish literature and he has decided to rise to the challenge. Good luck to him. The extracts he read out had some wit.

I was slightly amused - make that bemused - when I arrived for the reading, which was to take place in the Waterstones basement. The staff had erected a barrier across the stairs with a sign saying the basement was closed for the evening, and it came with the usual apologies. There was no mention that I could see of a reading event at all: an utterly strange and perplexing state of affairs. Myself and a small huddle of people stood by the sign for a few moments before deciding to totally ignore it, stepped to one side of the barrier and headed to the basement. No staff challenged us as we did this or tried to explain what was happening which struck me as a bit sloppy. Bissett sold quite a few books though, despite this... so well done him.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Melvin Burgess | Kill All Enemies | Author interview

I'm really impressed with Melvin Burgess's book Kill All Enemies.

The YA author did extensive research speaking to teens and staff involved in PRUs, pupil referral units before writing the novel. It's a portrait of Britain's underclass, to a degree, a timely reminder post Riot Britain that teenagers behaving badly is not a black and white issue, a simple issue, but often very complex.

I've just interviewed Melvin and will post an extract in due course.