It’s a year since our Charity Book Day for the Ben Williams Trust. A gaggle of author friends joined in last March at South Harting School, raising money to provide support to children with arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) and their families.
That was just one of the events last year in which I worked alongside talented performers and organisers. It’s been an exciting twelvemonth for me, and I’d like to take this chance to amplify my thanks to all.
For many a frolic, many a fest,
I donned striped trews and old mauve vest.
Verbs voiced with vim, nouns zounced with zest:
Thanks, friends/writers, for your literary largesse.
Thanks to Gilly Williams, Lucy Prosser, Emily Rackstraw, Caroline Sutton, Jenny Hinton and Johnny Culley at Harting School;
to James Schillemore, Gareth Toms, Diana Bretherick, Charlotte Comley, Matt Wingett, Zella Compton, Dee Kirkby, Christine Lawrence and all who contributed to The Ben Williams Trust Charity Book Day;
many of whom also weighed in at Day of the Dead in Portsmouth BookFest, alongside Tom Harris, Geoff Allnutt, Alan Morris. Lynne Blackwood, Margaret Jennings, James Bicheno, Jack Hughes, and Jelly & Elphinstone; and thanks to Steve Hender at the Square Tower;
thanks to Sarah Cheverton and the ever-expanding Portsmouth Writers’ Hub;
thanks to Jo West at Blackwell’s and Diana Bretherick and all who came to our fantastic Portsmouth Devilish book launch complete with Victorian cocktails and devilled eggs, and to Nina McIlwain for photos and Jennie Rawlings and Elise Brewerton spreading the word;
to Noel LeBon and Caroline Lambe and all who mucked in at my Waterstones bash,
to Zella Compton for organising Gosport Ever After, at the Alver Arts Festival, and Martyn Baldock for amazing photos,
to Denyse Kirkby and friends for our Love Southsea market appearance,
James Schillemore for getting us into Victorious,
Charlotte for inviting me to her Lovedean Writers Group,
Lucy Flannery and Havant Literary Festival,
Matt Wingett for Writers to Watch book and event,
Jack Hughes and the Tower Workshops,
to Dom Kippin, and to Maricar Jagger,
to Lindy Elliot, Clare Forsyth, Dave Percival and Portsmouth BookFest;
and further afield, to Greg Klerkx and Sam Holdsworth of the ReAuthoring Project,
SJ Butler, Chris Tinniswood and Lounge on the Farm,
Sarah Salway, and the Canterbury Festival,
to Neil Baker, to Kay Hadwick, Guildford Library and World Book Night,
to mad jock James Law, and Steph Broadribb, Crime Thriller Girl,
to Ruth Downie, and to CrimeFest,
to Lucy Jackson, my co-conspirator at Hall Grove School,
to Caroline Lambe, super-publicist of AngryRobot and Exhibit A Books
and finally to Emlyn Rees and Phil Patterson, my editor and my agent,
and looking forward to working with Bryon Quertermous on my new book.
Lawless and the Flowers of Sin, due for publication August 2014. Time for our hero to enter a different sort of underworld.
“Love. Who will not, at the sound of that word, lay aside the tawdry jogtrot affections that fill our workaday lives and dream instead of passion?”
Fun @GuildfordLib for World Book Night 2013.
I’ve finished the first draft. Six weeks of intense work: late revisions, post-it notes, chapter reorganisations, inspirations in odd places, few outings, 4am wakings, no washing up, frustration, excitement, manic outpourings, last minute checks.
The research black hole.
Crucial chapter, typewriter reams.
Light at the end of the tunnel.
The final post-it comes down.
Lawless & the Flowers of Sin is now with my agent and with my editor at Exhibit A Books. Excited, proud, and tired. *collapses for a week*
Thank you one and all at the redoubtable Book Swap
It’s not the Costa or Booker, but, man,
In terms of cake it is the top.
Marie collects questions to ask;
Scott conducts the revels
For Gareth’s book on Billy Parks
And mine on Euston Devils.
So if you want to tip the top
Of this literary nation
You can cream an inpirational crop
Down at the Firestation.
It’s not your conventional book event when you are served a cup of tea live onstage lounging in front of a panoply of home-baked cakes.
I love the Firestation Book Swap. I’ve been along every year to their Portsmouth Event and was chuffed to be invited to the mother ship, in Windsor’s Firestation Arts Centre, on Thursday. Despite floods in biblical style, a creditable audience turned up with some excellent books to swap. I came away with Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (in return for Larkin’s Collected Poems), while Gareth gave away Life and Fate (throwing in a copy of his own first book) to get Alone in Berlin.
The audience, as well as baking cakes and bringing books to swap, are asked to contribute questions. So, in contrast to the book panels at festivals, you can have little anxiety about preparing for questions such as:
What animal would you like to be?
(Blue Whale, Dolphin with puffer fish addiction)
Beer or wine?
If you could travel in time (not in the Tardis), would you travel forward or back? (a question written on origami-folded paper)
General warmth and bonhomie pervades, goaded along by the lively abuse between hosts Scott Pack and and Marie Phillips. Oh, and we did talk about our books, I suppose.
Gareth Roberts’ Whatever Happened to Billy Parks is an engrossing examination of a life: warm and searching, it explores the melancholy of bygone talent and squandered youth through the prism of age and illness, with a fond portrait of the 1970s.
I gabbled on about my own Lawless & the Devil of Euston Square, with its uncertain watchmaking detective, mixing social critique with steam punk, and enough specialist knowledge of the underground system to know that the Leinster Gardens tube façade in Sherlock’s final episode is, just about, real enough, built to accommodate the turntable that turned the engines at the Paddington end of the original Metropolitan Line.
And cake. Oh, cake.
Long live the Book Swap. I shall return.
News from the redoubtable Scott Pack:
The first Firestation Book Swap of 2014 will be on Thursday 16th January.
(The Book Swap is a rather shambolic literary event Mr Pack hosts with novelist and comedy writer Marie Phillips. In short: bring a book to swap, meet some great authors, eat some cake. It is great fun. You should come along.)
Sitting on the author sofa will be Gareth Roberts and William Sutton.
Gareth’s new novel, Whatever Happened to Billy Parks?, tells the story of a washed-up ex-footballer who is given the opportunity to go back in time and play in a match that could change his life. It is sort of a British take on Field of Dreams. The Sun called it ‘an engaging story of wasted talent, second chances and the beautiful game’ and according to a five-star review in Four Four Two it is ‘a unique tale of football redemption’. Thursday night is official publication date for the book so help us celebrate with plenty of cake.
William Sutton has been a regular audience member at our annual visit to Portsmouth BookFest and was our guest last year now that his debut, Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square, has been unleashed. We are big fans of his and his work so wanted to drag him along to one of our Windsor swaps and he has kindly agreed to do so. Fans of Victorian crime fiction will love his book.
Firestation Book SwapThursday 16th January at 7:45pm
Firestation Arts Centre, Windsor
£5 on the door or free if you bake a cake
You can RSVP here if you like.
And a quick heads up that there’ll be two Book Swaps at the Bath Literature Festival in March. More anon on those.
In the meantime, hope to see you next week.
- See more at: http://meandmybigmouth.typepad.com/scottpack/2014/01/new-year-new-book-swap.html#sthash.TklX8URr.dpuf
TALKING TO Philip Jeays
Philip Jeays has been called one of the UK’s best songwriters. His unusual ‘chanson’ style and dynamic performances have attracted many fans. He took time off from finishing his new album to speak to me for Go! English magazine. He’s also recently appeared in Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People.
GE: How did you take your first steps in songwriting?
PJ: I went to live in the south of France in 1980, and I started hearing songs by a Belgian called Jacques Brel. I loved what he did. When I came back to England, I asked my mum, an opera singer, if she would teach me how to sing. I started writing songs in the style of Brel. Slowly I got up the courage to go and sing them to people in clubs.
GE: What can you tell us about that style?
PJ: It’s called “chanson”. It’s a style of songwriting which is very much about telling stories and expressing opinions, funny or angry or bitter or sarcastic. It was huge in France, and seems to be making a comeback, but it never really took off in the English-speaking world.
GE: How is it different from pop music?
PJ: What it isn’t is dance music. This is music that you need to sit down and listen to, listen to the words and watch the performance. It tends to be quite literary. You have to pay attention. Whereas a lot of songs, especially pop songs, you’re under no obligation to listen to the words, because the story is so simple, or there’s no story at all, it’s just a sort of impression.
GE: Your songs create a character: the morbid, malignant, mythical Mr Jeays. Is that creation influenced by other artists?
PJ: I think the character is me. It’s an exaggeration; I hope it’s an exaggeration. Something I loved about Brel was that every time you heard a song, it helped to build a picture of the man. When I started playing with a guitarist, Max used to say, “We should have a band name.” I was against that, not on egotistical grounds, but purely because I knew how important it had been to me with Brel to feel like you were hearing one man’s views on the world.
GE: Are there any English language songwriters who do it?
PJ: Tom Waits. Some songs from his early years are story songs, and very evocative. Jake Thackray, who was influenced by Georges Brassens. Dar Williams, an American singer-songwriter. It’s difficult to pigeonhole people. Chanson is just storytelling in song. A song like ‘Common People’ by Pulp, that’s chanson, crossed into pop. It tells a story and comments on society at the same time. It’s a perfect song.
GE: How do you write a song?
PJ: I wait till someone breaks my heart. [laughs] Sometimes I want to write a song about something. When I was stopped by the police once, this phrase kept coming into my head – ‘Idiots in Uniforms’ – and that inspired a song. Generally the words and music develop together. It’s like painting a picture. You start off with an image in your head, then you think, I could move that there and paint that a different colour. You end up with a different picture. That’s the joy of the creative process, that you don’t know where it’s going to take you.
GE: What part of that process do you enjoy most?
PJ: I like least being on the stage. I get a real kick out of writing. Forming a song and finding the right words: that can be thrilling. I don’t dislike performing. I just find it stressful.
GE: What has been your best musical experience?
PJ: The most exciting thing was doing a song with the Godless shows. Terrifying but hugely exciting. It was a variety show that involved comedians and musicians, as well as scientists, to change the myth that atheists couldn’t enjoy Christmas: a rationalist, humanist show, started by comedian Robin Ince in 2008, with a lot of famous people, including Jarvis Cocker from Pulp and scientist Richard Dawkins. The final night was at the Hammersmith Apollo, which holds 3,600 people. Exciting. Scary. Enormous fun – once it was over.
GE: Tell us the story behind your song ‘Arles’.
I arrived in Arles in 1980 with £80 in my pocket. I thought I would find some rustic inn with lots of artists, because Van Gogh had stayed there. But it’s a commercial town. It was boiling hot. A big man, Henri, asked where I was going. His hotel had no sign, but it was 28F a night, the cheapest in Arles. Every night I’d count out 3F50 and order pastis. When people came to eat and their table was ready, they would leave their drinks on the bar, so I could drink free all night. Every so often, a piece of pizza would appear. If it hadn’t been for Henri’s kindness, I wouldn’t have stayed, I’d never have heard of Jacques Brel, and I wouldn’t be doing this now. Years later, I found the hotel boarded up. Henri explained, “The police shut us down. They’re saying I’m using the hotel as a brothel.” It dawned on me that explained a lot: about the maids who would do my room, who weren’t very good at being maids, but perhaps had talents in other directions.
GE: Tell us about the new album.
PJ: The new album is called My Own Way. It’s the first album where I have been able to arrange the music exactly the way I want it, because of the technology now available. I can’t read or write music, but I have an idea of what I’d like, I can add orchestra where I want it. It gives a different feel.
GE: What do you think of the way people listen to music, find and share music these days?
PJ: It’s good that you have instant access to music. It doesn’t make making a living out of music easier…or maybe it does. At my level, the fact that people can find what you do so easily on the internet is a bonus. People making music can do so much on their own, in their own homes. They don’t need record companies, or people telling them what they can or can’t do. They just put it out exactly the way they want. That’s good artistically.
GE: Do you have any advice for young musicians?
PJ: When you write, never imagine your song being heard for the first time by somebody listening on a CD with the words in front of them in a little booklet. Always imagine you’re singing to somebody in a live situation where they can’t rewind it. Ask yourself: are they going to understand this song when they hear it for the first time? Will it mean something to them? That’s songwriting.
GE: What ambitions do you have?
PJ: My ambition is always just to try and write a better song than the last one. To achieve a certain level of notoriety through my songs. That would be enough for me. No great ambitions as to world domination or conquering America. [laughs]
GE: Thanks, Philip. Look forward to the album.
More at: www.jeays.com
Scientists say brain function is boosted ‘for days’ after reading a good novel. News via @Independent
But as pointed out to me by @HedgehogBooks, we would like to know more.
The researchers chose Pompeii, by Robert Harris, for its page turning plot. “It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.” But that sounds a little like they only wanted to find what they already expected. “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
How good is good? What happens when you read a slower-paced book? Must the book be paper or may it be virtual? Fiction only? What happens when you read comics, or listen to audiobooks? There’s a lot of space to research brain activity on people actually doing things they are already doing, rather than taken into a lab.
Lawless/Orpheus: an original shilling shocker
My publisher AngryRobot presents favourite authors with Christmassy stuff. They’re also bringing you our books at only £1.
Today is my day. I’ve contributed an original Lawless shilling shocker short story.
Victorian “shilling shockers” were a winter tradition in their periodicals and newspapers, much as today’s Christmas Dr Who episode. They included such ghostly tales as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Christmas Carol.
It’s called Orpheus and the Nymphs of the London Underworld. It features Lawless, Worm and an extravagant musical narrator named O’Fahy, whose relationship style is not all he claims it to be.
This is a peep into the world of the second Lawless book, Lawless and the Flowers of Sin.
And here’s the offer on my novel:
2. Add the book(s) you’d like to buy to your shopping basket
3. Add the magic word ‘tinesel’ to the ‘coupon/voucher’ box
4. Click the ‘update basket’ button and the discount will be applied