Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A Hurrah for Book Publishing

The slow, tumoric spread of e-readers seems inevitable. The arguments against them have been well-rehearsed: they are nasty, selfish things that cannot be lent or signed or inscribed; once you have read an e-book, it vanishes into the calculator-like memory so that you cannot take it out again and handle it and remember it. Sensation is such an important part of reading - in fact, almost the most important part.

There are no distractions on a book. I find it difficult enough to sit down and read or write if there is a computer even in the same room - I must check my email every half an hour, just in case there is something important - so if there were an application which connected to the internet next to what I was reading, I can't see myself being able to concentrate long enough on my novel, when there was a possibility that a message from someone important might come in (although I never learn: there is always the aching sense of disappointment when one presses 'refresh' and in comes spam).

It is a lament, and a long one. I can only hope that children, who grow up still thankfully reading hardback picture books, will make the jump to their parents' collections of Puffin classics, as I made the jump to my father's 3 shillings and sixpence copy of E Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet, and his beautifully bound copies of The Coral Island, Moby Dick and A Tale of Two Cities.

But there is a corollary to the vanishing world of books: a greater appreciation of the object. Guerilla Books, owned and run by Jason Beacon, publishes hardback books which have the tenor and weight of the ages. They are not too heavy to hold, and have a solid, satisfyingly red cover with a simple design. I can only hope that many more books will follow the first (Beacon's own novel, The President, The Terrorist and The Torturer), and that other firms, too, will follow.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Me Tarzan! You...

I recently read Tarzan of the Apes for the first time in my life. Here is a link to my review: CLICK HERE

It is, really, a reimagining of the story of Romulus. References to the story abound. There are plenty of moments of comedy, and of great excitement and action. Tarzan rules over a lost, primeval world of Iliadic values - the scene where he dispenses justice amongst the apes reminded me of nothing less than Agamemnon and Achilles. He is a hero - a demigod - a version of Achilles, of Hercules, even of Aeneas (he has a natural piety). The film poster for Greystoke even depicts him as a Christ like figure, which is pushing it....

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Review of The Liberators in The School Librarian

A quick note to say I have stumbled across a quote from a review of The Liberators in The School Librarian:

'Gripping and powerful...Hugely enjoyable, intelligent and exciting' --The School Librarian

Financial Times Summer Reading

I was immeasurably pleased to discover that The Liberators has been chosen as one of the Financial Times's summer reading picks, along with Celia Rees's The Fool's Girl and Chris Riddell's new series, Wyrmeweald. There is something so satisfying about the FT - its classic lines and formal layout are a joy to behold and read. I would, of course, much prefer my readers to gaze upon an actual physical copy of the paper - but if that is impossible, here is a link to the website, for which one must register.


Ferdinand Mount Interview

Here is a link to my interview with Ferdinand Mount about his new book, Full Circle.


Friday, 25 June 2010

Philip Sidney and tennis

The longest tennis match in history came to an end at Wimbledon, in front of the Queen, this week. I was rooting for Nicolas Mahut - feline, messy-haired, Gallic - as against the bland, buff American Isener. Mahut looked as if he was playing in a black and white film, with an overcoat hunched up around his shoulders and a cigarette with the filter cut off in his mouth; whereas Isener resembled someone who spends a lot of time listening to motivational tapes. But alas, it wasn't to be. The Frenchman lost. As a match, it was incredibly uninteresting to watch, and yet there was a strange, hypnotic intensity to it which kept me glued to the screen. Back and forth they went, aceing each other, never gaining the advantage: until finally Mahut gave up, in existential despair. They hugged, briefly, at the end. I wonder if we well ever hear of either of them again. It reminded me of one of my favourite Philip Sidney quotes, from the The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia: 'We are tennis balls tossed by the racket of the higher powers." But at least there was a purpose to the longest match, even if the gain is only fleeting.

How to Write A Children's Bestseller

Here is a link to a piece I wrote for The Daily Telegraph, which argues that successful children's books don't have to be well-written, as long as they contain certain elements: the poet Ted Hughes, for instance, used to say that one should 'kill a cat'; Roald Dahl thought the villain should come to a gruesome end.

Click HERE

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Adam O'Riordan - In The Flesh

I have just received Adam O'Riordan's debut collection of poetry, In the Flesh, which is full of beautifully constructed poems about love, loss, sorrow and life. Here are the ghosts of forebears, the shadows of lovers; a deep-rooted sense of place, and a careful exploration of the mind. My particular favourite is Blossom, in which a 'knuckle' of petals is used to wake a sleeping beloved as 'a burning feather / might revive a castaway.' There is tenderness and toughness at work throughout these verses. An evocative, haunting work.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

New York, New York

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is not a film that had come across my (admittedly rather book-filled) radar recently, but on Saturday night, casting around rather desperately for something to watch post-Doctor Who, I found it and was enthralled to such an extent that I actually shouted at the television screen, which is not something I do regularly (except when it's University Challenge and I know the answer).

The story itself is simple, the vicissitudes of a pair of hipster kids in New York city who spend a night trying to find a band and each other. It was charming and refreshing. And what really made it was not only the cityscapes, with those metallic, minatory towers spiking the skyline; nor the sleepy, monotoned Michael Cera; but also Kat Dennings, who, I have decided, is basically the most beautiful girl in the world, and sweet and funny and intelligent to boot. Her presence was luminous. More from her, please, and why have I never seen her in anything before? It also set me to thinking how hard it would be to make such a film in London. You would immediately have the class problem (which, though Nick is 'bridge and tunnel' and Norah a Jewish 'princess', doesn't seem to matter so much as they have the same tastes and accents). And London just doesn't look so cool at night. The metropolis at midnight conjures up scenes of ladettes vomiting outside Leicester Square tube, not cool indie types jumping in and out of taxis. And somehow, Nick and Norah made even drunkenness look cool: Norah's drunk friend popping out of a Christmas tree at a gay version of the Nativity (long story) was priceless, and one couldn't help but loving her, despite her total trollyedness. So that's a challenge: to make a hip, funny, unpretentious film set in London. Let's do it!

In literary terms, it has been a lackadaisical week: I have read most of John Updike's last book of short stories, and found them (mostly) mesmerising; although one story, in which an old man (and in this collection, they are all old men) goes back to his home town and then to a country club to have dinner with some old friends, I did find myself slightly flicking to see how many pages there were left. But on the whole, elegiac and effective.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Bree Encounter: Stephanie Meyer Limerick Competition

A Midwestern Mormon called Meyer
On viewing a Vampire Slayer,
Screamed 'Buffy's too sexy!
And all anorexy!
She's really disrupting my prayer!'

I open a competition, here and now, for the best Stephanie Meyer limerick. There is no prize, just a grim sense of satisfaction.

Here is a link to my review of what you might call her new book, if you had never seen a book before: STAKE THROUGH THE HEART

Tales of Terror: Oxford Drama School

Swiss Cottage was the unlikely, faux-bosky setting last night for the Oxford Drama School's production of new writing, Terror Tales, in the Michael Frayn Space. It's a theatre so cosy that watching a play in it is a bit like being in your own living room, although without any convenient cushions to hide behind. However, I found that a glass of red wine performs a similar function: you just have to remember not to sit on it when you've stopped being frightened.

There were seventeen young actors, and not a weak link among them. The stage set was uncluttered, boxy, with a slight hint of suburban claustrophobia. The general theme was normal situations twisting into darkness: a girls' night in morphs into a possible murder scene; an interview with a nanny shifts into something altogether more sinister.

One of the strongest scenes was when two flatmates discover a burglar and tie him up. Charlie and Graham had a tender relationship, with Graham as the protector (Charlie, a B and Q worker, is so hapless that he can fall over a leaf.) Andrew Gower was a superbly timid Charlie, with Daniel Hallissey as a waveringly cocksure Graham. Hubert Hanovic (in one of many well-played, slightly creepy roles) was the hostage. At one point Graham grabbed a kitchen implement to threaten the intruder. 'If I was made of soup that might work,' said the hostage. It was a wooden spoon.

Also very strong was a scene between a beautiful young teacher who calls in a student to 'help her with iTunes' (now there's a new euphemism if ever I heard one). Pandora McCormick struck an excellent balance between sexual confidence slipping into abject despair; at one moment strutting slinkily around the stage, the next her head in her hands, all her future hopes destroyed. The most interesting in terms of staging was an interrogation which initially appeared to be between a detective and a murder suspect: the two actors, however, faced the audience. This direct approach had the effect of involving the audience and making us feel that perhaps we too were on trial.

It was an excellent production (directed by DryWrite), and it is heartening and immensely spiriting to see a batch of fine talents enter the world. The last scene, which took place on the tube, began as a derivative, almost slapstick zombie attack, but as the cast gradually succumbed to the voodoo spell and turned on the audience, I suddenly became very glad that I had a few gulps of wine left in my glass.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Literary Review Children's Round Up

That most wonderful of all literary magazines, Literary Review, contains this month (that is, June 2010), my twice-yearly children's round up. In it I review the following ten books:

A Web of Air by Philip Reeve
The Boy Who Climbed into the Moon by David Almond
Quicksilver by Sam Osman
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
Halo by Zizou Corder
Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper
Beswitched by Kate Saunders
Frightfully Friendly Ghosties by Daren King
Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner

They are a sweetly varied bunch, ranging widely in style and content, and mostly containing a great deal of wit and charm (surely the two things that any children's book should have, at least in part). My particular favourites were Daren King's zippingly zany little book about massively over-polite spectres, and the beautifully rendered Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner. I challenge you to read it and not be totally gripped. The review is unavailable online, so I suggest that, if you wish, you beetle on down to your local newsagents and demand a copy.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Other Elizabeth Taylor

Yes, there is another one, and she was a novelist of taut power, capable of delineating the finest emotion and of drawing things to satisfyingly ambiguous, powerful conclusions. I have had the pleasure of reviewing her novel, The Soul of Kindness, about a beautiful, supposedly generous woman who in fact (without knowing it) causes more damage than anybody else. Here is a link to the review on the Telegraph website:


The Soul of Kindness

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Henry Underground and the Short Second Life of Stephanie Meyer

It's been quite a while. I have been caught up in the intermittent whirlwind that sometimes attends my existence: I have been riding bareback in Cornwall, dancing all night in Zurich, and attending myriad launch parties. One was for Ferdinand Mount's excellent new book, Full Circle: How the Classical World Came Back to Us , which took place in Daunt's in Marylebone. The book is a warm and wise account of how our supposedly modern mindsets are much closer to those of the ancients than we know.

There was also the private viewing of Henry Hudson's show, Crapula! I wrote a story for him, which was splendidly calligraphed and nailed to the wall (see picture) at the entrance next to a cast of Henry's head (which contains lots of human hair picked up on the underground, hence the title of the story, 'Henry Underground'.)

I have also had the misfortune (although some might disagree) of receiving an embargoed copy of Stephanie Meyer's new novella, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (Twilight Saga) (it's about four pages long, so that's pushing it). I am not a fan. I have always been a fan of vampires (although Lord knows why) and particularly enjoyed the recent film about Max Schreck, Shadow of the Vampire. But I think Meyer is just too inept a writer. Watch this space for a review.