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 |

Obviously I love a list, which is why Madeline Miller's top 10 classical books | Books | 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.