last updated Sunday June 21, 2009
new home ~ about ~ blog ~ all my own work ~ sa4qe ~ grocer of despair ~ ~ france ~ shop ~ archives ~
profiled in the Independent... Robert
Harris is interviewed about his new book Pompeii... Martin Amis’s
Yellow Dog is extracted
in the Guardian Review... Amis’s nemesis Tibor Fischer is articulated
in the same organ... and poet Simon
Armitage has written the lyrics for a weird musical porn documentary
which promises to be the most sexually explicit programme ever seen on UK
TV – and if that doesn’t get people buying poetry, clearly nothing else
There's a cringe-making Martin Amis interview in today's Guardian. After three or four paragraphs (and the opening one had better end up in Pseud's Corner or I will sue) spent burying the "Amis is UK's Greatest Living Novelist" myth ("McEwan has won more awards; Rushdie more notoriety, Ishiguru greater success in Hollywood... Tibor Fischer calls his new book 'terrible'... Elements of Yellow Dog are ridiculous... You can spot the sentences that did for Fischer"), the mind boggles as to how journalist Emma Brockes could look the guy in the eye, especially when Amis says stuff like, "Every now and then at a book signing your eyes meet with a reader and they have a stoned look and you know that they've had a great time with you, and it's very moving and nice." I didn't learn anything about writing in this piece, and certainly not anything I didn't already know about Martin Amis. How disappointing.
Martin Amis Guardian interview quiz
Without reading the article, which of these quotes from Amis's new book do you think is cited there as "brilliant" and which as, er, not so brilliant?
1. "a boobjob of a raindrop gutflopped on his baldspot"
2. "The contrails of the more distant aeroplanes were like incandescent spermatozoa, sent out to fertilize the universe"
3. [bad sex is] "like someone doggedly trying to shoulder his way through a locked door"
4. [the husband of a distinguished woman exists purely for] "the radiation of quietly relentless approval"
For the answers, read the interview...
The Guardian elsewhere reports on Tony Blair's testimony at the Hutton Inquiry yesterday, in which the PM insisted that the controversial BBC report undermined "'the credibility, I felt, of the country, never mind the prime minister. It was a very, very serious, charge,' he said, adding that nothing less than a BBC retraction would satisfy him." Apart from being very resentful of Blair's lumping-in of "the country" into his own defence, as if he never noticed millions of marchers protesting against the war earlier this year and late last, I feel the BBC should definitely not be tempted to make any such retraction, for one reason: if the allegations made against the Government that the dossier was "sexed-up" were actually lies, the Government would have sued the arse off the Beeb ages ago. The fact that it hasn't is just more grist to the BBC's mill.
Something else that irritated me about Blair's testimony was the following quote: "It is important to recognise that the September dossier was not making the case for war. It was making the case for the issue [of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction] to be dealt with, and our preferred alternative was, indeed, to deal with it through the United Nations route." All of which are empty words when everybody knows full well in retrospect, and suspected strongly at the time, that the dossier was just one of Blair's steps along the road to war.
I'm very pleased to read on the Guardian website this afternoon that Alastair Campbell has quit. About time too, and I hope a few more resignations follow toute de suite.
Elsewhere in the Guardian today, Tony Blair is reported to have finally put himself "online", enabling the public to email him about areas of concern. "The prime minister will not read each one - or reply to any," reports the paper, "but officials will screen out the abusive, submit the most pertinent, and compile regular reports on the contents of the rest". Sounds less like an email system than a Big Brother manifesto. And it's not even a proper email address - one screen gives you a list of possible subjects (interestingly, "Iraq" isn't one of them, while the obviously more essential "This email system" and "Internet" are), and then you get a box and a submit button with which to "send your email". All looks fittingly Blairian to me.
"Woody Allen has made a good film," Fiachra Gibbons enthuses about the maestro's new movie Anything Else elsewhere in the Guardian, as if this was some kind of exclusive. According to her, Allen's last masterpiece was Crimes and Misdemeanours, some 14 years ago, and everything else is "dross". What about Bullets Over Broadway, or Sweet and Lowdown? Come, come, Fiachra. Can't wait to see the new one, though - that is, if the poor guy can even get a UK distribution deal for it, as this article in the Independent reports is doubtful.
Meanwhile, HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAHAHAA!!!!! Teenage author of Blaster computer virus identified, reports the Guardian.
The Independent carries an interview with US magician David Blaine today ahead of his planned stunt next month to "climb into a glass box, suspended above the Thames" and attempt to "survive for 44 days, in full public view, with only a water drip to sustain him... Effectively, he will be performing a very public hunger strike that doctors have warned him could lead to permanent physical or mental damage." Hmm. His previous endurance tests of standing on top of a pole for several hours and being encased in ice for a few days were impressive in a weird kind of way, but I have to admit I find this suspect. If it was a trick, then fair enough, but otherwise I have no idea why he's doing it. The trailers for the stunt on Channel 4 and elsewhere show him to have larded himself up for the part so he's got a good chance of lasting the full 44 days. But if a human body (especially a fat one) can go without food for that length of time, what is there to prove except "Hi, I'm David Blaine and I'm a nutter"? There are people around the world who really do have to go without food for days or weeks at a time, and they don't have the chance to pork up beforehand like Blaine. Equally, what are the people who have gone on hunger strike to protest against human rights abuses and so on going to think? Or what will the public perception of real hunger strikes be in the future when some rich American entertainer has done it for no reason whatsoever? If he was giving a few quid to Amnesty International or someone instead of just selling the TV rights to Channel 4, then it might mean something. Otherwise it's too hideous to contemplate. Who's going to want to watch a guy waste away in a box above Tower Bridge? Blaine is clearly a desperate man who's run out of card tricks.
Having said all that, Thoughtcat's Auntie Elizabeth responds: "On the one hand I definitely agree with you about it being lame to make a big deal of going without food when so many people have no choice, but on the other hand, fasting and spiritual enlightenment go together in many traditions, and I suspect that's at least partly where he's coming from. If I'm remembering correctly, there's some Judao-Christian idea of seeing visions after 30 days of fasting. Richard, if you look on the bright side, maybe David Blaine will have something interesting to say afterwards about going without food and maybe it'll get people thinking more about what/how they eat, whether they've ever gone hungry, who in the world is going hungry, etc. Some people might try fasting themselves and gain some insight or empathy."
Elsewhere in the Independent today, Margaret Thatcher's favourite author Frederick Forsyth does a "You ask the questions" piece. He and his books have never really appealed to me, although I have to say I've always loved the movie of The Day of the Jackal, which must have one of the best screenplays ever written. However, he says a couple of interesting things here. Asked whether it's the BBC or the Government who's lying about the Iraq dossier, he replies, "The politicians, I am afraid. Millions went to the polls and put their trust in politicians. They owe us honesty. In my experience journalists can be vain, petty, incompetent, slap-dash, inaccurate and stupid. But they rarely deliberately lie and no news editor or editor worth his (or her) salt would tolerate such a liar on the staff. Journos can also be rigorously upright, talented, truthful and courageous. But at the moment I believe, with deepest regret, that we have a government that lies as it breathes." Then again, Forsyth is a renowned Tory, but he does also maintain here that "I could vote for a Labour leader I respected and against a Tory one I believed to be crooked." Then again again, he does say he plans to vote for Iain Duncan Smith next time because "he is genuinely honest and Tony Blair is genuinely not". Hmm.
Incidentally, looking up Forsyth on the Internet Movie Database turns up a suitably espionagian black silhouette in place of a photo...
Forsyth: come on, IMDb, he's not a real man of mystery.
"The Office" star Martin Freeman is interviewed in today's Independent. He makes an interesting comment on the nature of celebrity: "Fame is not about achievement anymore - it's about having been on TV for more than two hours, whether you're Fred West or someone from Big Brother. I don't give a shit about being famous. I don't respect that world of trying to get as many column inches as possible." I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in this perception: does anybody else get the impression that more people are famous these days simply for being famous, regardless of talent, than ever before? It's like Robbie Williams selling out Knebworth a few weeks ago. Ten or fifteen years ago it would have been someone really talented, like Prince, and ten years before than it was Led Zeppelin or whoever. The way things are going in a few years it'll be Geoff Hoon filling Knebworth.
"More Americans have died in Iraq since President Bush declared the end of combat operations than were killed trying to topple Saddam Hussein," reports the Times today. "His May 1 speech, delivered from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, spoke of work still to be done. But it was delivered under a banner saying 'Mission Accomplished', and the event had all the trappings of a victory lap." Tragically premature for everyone involved, George.
Here's something I missed from the Independent on Sunday: "A holidaying family from Coventry was sailing off the Australian coast last week when a humpback whale jumped clear out of the water and landed on their yacht, much to the distress of mast, sails and sailors. Of all the oceans in all the world, the whale had to fall into theirs. What are the chances of that happening? There are 135 million square miles of ocean and the boat was only 30ft long." The whole article goes into some more bizarre coincidences, including a great one about Anthony Hopkins finding a lost book.
I was very sad to read in the Independent this morning that Beatles scholar Ian MacDonald has died. The author of one of my Desert Island books apparently committed suicide following years of depression.
His masterpiece Revolution in the Head is one of the most brilliant, engrossing, fascinating, entertaining and enjoyable books I've ever read. I first came across it in Hatchards in Kingston when I was at college there several years ago. It was one of those moments you never forget: by that time I was already a big Beatles fan but knew little about exactly who played, wrote and sang what on the records, and had certainly, for example, never read a detailed musical and technical analysis of the White Album tour-de-force Happiness is a Warm Gun, which took the band 95 takes to complete. Although MacDonald can be opinionated (an annotation about Bob Dylan maintains he never regained his brilliance after his motorcycle accident), he is generally extremely fair in the book about all the songs and all four Beatles, unusual in an area which has inspired much partisanship. I've always been a Lennon kind of a guy myself, for instance, and always found McCartney, for all his genius, a bit of a prat, but MacDonald, while agreeing McCartney was wrong about a lot of things (Maxwell's Silver Hammer, for instance), doesn't buy into abject Macca-knockology and Lennon-canonisation, pointing out for instance that Lennon's dicking about with the Let It Be album was "nothing less than sabotage". He also credits Harrison's sublime Something ("if McCartney wasn't jealous, he should've been") and Long, Long, Long ("at last, the real George") and Ringo's drumming on tracks like Something and A Day in the Life. What makes the book even more interesting are several essays about the social, political and cultural environment of the 1960s which give essential background to the Beatles' achievement and influence. One of the best things about Revolution in the Head though is that despite owning it for a decade, I still don't think I've read all of it - it's a dip-inner par excellence, the better for the feeling that it, just like the fascination with the Beatles and the praise for this definitive book, will never end.
Ian MacDonald 1948-2003
Revolution in the Head... if you only ever buy one book about the Beatles, make it this one
Worse for verse as young poets get the chop, reports The Independent on Sunday today: "Fewer young poets are being published than ever before, according to new figures from the Poetry Society," runs the report. Apparently, "just" 28 of the poets published by the UK's eight major imprints are under 40. OhmyGodhowterrible!!! What a disaster for those lines that don't reach the edge of the page! "Simon Armitage's [excellent - TC] debut collection, Zoom!, sold 12,000 copies - yet even he is nearly 40," James Morrison goes on. Armitage nearly 40??!!!!? Heavens, heavens! But what's he supposed to do exactly - retire? Good poetry is good poetry no matter how old you are when you write it. It doesn't follow that the younger the poet, the more interesting or appealing he or she or their work. If you're truly good enough, you'll always get a break. Besides, Brian Patten, Benjamin Zephaniah and John Cooper-Clarke are young-at-heart poets who are well over 40 now and show no signs of giving up or getting old. Anyway I hope the news doesn't prompt any more buttock-clenching attempts among the 40+ bunch to "make poetry trendy", as evidenced most recently in Andrew Motion's "rap with a silent C" poem celebrating Prince William's 21st birthday. (TC notes: The fact that I am a sometime young poet myself and despite seeing a few poems in magazines never managed to get a book published does of course have no influence on the opinions expressed in this item.)
Okay, things appear to be back on track tech-, thought- and cat-wise. Apologies again to anyone who may have tried to log on yesterday and found half a page, a frame missing, an image missing, an image in the wrong place, half a frame, no frames at all, a walking frame, or indeed a fan site for You've Been Framed. As Basil Fawlty once said, "There have been a lot of cockups today, and I'm very happy to say that if you have any queries my wife will deal with them. Thank you so much!"
Just a few quick links today... the Times reports in Re- virus. A threat to your PC or licence to print money? that people are getting angry with anti virus software firms for having a vested interest in the bugs sweeping the world's PCs... the Independent carries an article headlined Charlotte Rampling- Magnetic, depressed and creative - an actress of our times, in which Woody Allen is reported to have once said that she and Franz Kafka were his two fantasy dinner party guests... a letter from Thoughtcat has been published in the Guardian Review about Steven Poole's pretentious review of Paul Morley's new book last week... the Review also publishes an exclusive extract from JM Coetzee's new novel Elizabeth Costello (if you enjoy it, you may wish to buy it from Amazon for £10.49)... Paulo Coelho, not usually my kind of writer, has written a very inspiring piece about inspiration and creativity in the Review called The soul's harvest... and 26-year-old novelist Adam Thirlwell has written a really dreadful article in the Guardian magazine called Only when I laugh which purports to discuss the different types of humour in writing and examine what makes things funny, but may as well have been headlined "Never explain a joke" for all the laughs it generates. Perhaps (hopefully) aware of his own unfunniness, he writes, "Laughter is overrated as an index of comic value", which sounds a bit like an excuse for a piss-poor article to me. Come on, Adam, stop namedropping (Kundera, Nabokov, Roth, and even Thirlwell himself are among the people he quotes from) and get serious. And a haircut, come to that. And a night's sleep. AND A SENSE OF HUMOUR.
Thirlwell: is laughter "overrated as an index of comic value" or is he just not funny?
Launched today! A new site hosted by Thoughtcat...
collection of REAL funny names...
They say pride comes before a fall. Well, in my case, pride at
finally catching the MS Blast virus last week has led to my PC falling apart
almost completely, and along with it half my software. The jury’s still out on
whether the virus was directly responsible, especially since I downloaded the
necessary patch, but seeing as my PC was perfectly fine before some bastard
wreaked the thing on an unsuspecting world, I blame them. For the time being I’m
updating the site on another PC using Word 2000, which I haven’t got the brain
power to work out how to implement with a frames page, so while I can type what
you’re reading now, we’re having to stick with the same thought and the same
cat as last week (although they’re a pretty good thought and a very nice cat,
it has to be said, even if I say so myself). Eccentricities in Word mean you may
also find rolling the cursor over some hyperlinks won’t always give you a “hand”
cursor, but the links should work anyway. Best just to try clicking on
everything really. For everyone still awake, you may now continue reading the
week’s blog. Not that there’s much to it, actually, as I’ve had a very
productive week on the short story-, novel- and freelance-writing front as well
as putting the finishing touches to the new Loyd’s
Names site, and haven’t done a great deal of surfage. So apologies for
neglecting anybody, I mean I know you sit with bated breath for Friday lunchtime
(that’s enough “apologies” – Ed.)
There’s a very interesting and revealing article
by the author of the screenplay of the Sylvia Plath biopic Sylvia
in today’s Guardian about how the script was put together, revised, taken
apart, thrown across the room, and finally made into a film with Gwyneth Paltrow
playing the tragic poetess. I’m not entirely sure that scriptwriter John
Brownlow doesn’t come across as slightly shallow and crude from time to time
in the piece, but that’s Hollywood, I guess.
Brazilians have been deported after failing “the Beatles test” while
attempting to visit a Fabs festival in Liverpool, reports the Times today, in
what must be one of the cheesiest news reports I’ve ever read – not to
mention one of the most patronising. “Six of the  new arrivals ignominiously failed their impromptu
examination,” writes Robin Young. “There [sic] answers, frankly, were here,
there and everywhere. They had never heard of Yoko Ono, they thought Ringo Starr
was dead, and believed Sergeant Pepper was a condiment.” All of which is
ironic when it often seems that some of the people presiding over the UK’s
immigration policy probably don’t even own a stereo.
not big on science fiction personally but the Independent today has published an
new Brian Aldiss short story about Mars.
slamming chick lit!” says Jenny Colgan,
according to a report in the Guardian. The author of Working Wonders and
Amanda’s Wedding complained at the Edinburgh Book Festival
the "hairy-leggers" in the critical establishment were
perpetuating the idea that anything in the genre had to be no more than
pulp fiction, and
chick-lit slur meant “not a single man” will buy her new novel Looking
for Andrew McCacthy “because it has a pastel cover" – despite the
fact that the novel is about a bloke. Er, in that case perhaps she should
refer the matter to her publisher’s marketing department rather than the
hairy-legged critics? Unless that department is staffed by hairy-legged
critics, that is, in which case we’re all in trouble.
don’t judge a book by its cover
the Guardian has an excellent report on some of the pathetic
testimony from the civil servants at the Hutton Enquiry. “Yesterday
was a day of evasion,” writes Oliver Burkeman, “of hairsplitting and
nitpicking and distinctions without differences. One imagines the sign on the
desks of Sir Kevin [Tebbit] and his colleagues: ‘The buck? Well, no, it
doesn't stop here, exactly. And I'm not sure that I am entirely comfortable with
the word “buck”, which, I would emphasise, was your word, not mine...’”
Meanwhile, an email from one civil servant about the Iraq dossier was revealed
to read, "Can we insert a few quotes [to] demonstrate that he [Saddam] is a
bad man?" Another said, "I think we need a device to convey that he is
a bad and unstable man." How very English, all of it. Yes, Minister would
never have stooped to such depths.
Hutton Inquiry website
Awl meanwhile points TC to the strange
story of the Thai man who died while laughing in his sleep. “I’ve
never seen a case like this before,” said the doctor who pronounced the poor
man dead. I could think of worse ways to go though.
“From struggling through Mr Duck the Postman,” says the
Guardian, “to searching for Paradise Lost, from puppeteering to selling her
first short-story collection... This is the transcript of AL
Kennedy's talk at this year's Edinburgh Books Festival, 'On Being a Writer’”.
TC’s Auntie Fiona provides a link to a story in the
Guardian today about a
new “extreme sport” called free-running. “While most of us stride
calmly along the [Paris] pavement,” writes Amelia Gentleman, “the
free-runners leap from bollard to bollard, vaulting over benches, scaling up
tree trunks. Not content with merely turning corners, they swing around
lampposts. Where most pedestrians will avoid a road barrier, they jump on it, do
a headstand and dangle themselves from it upside-down. Walking, in its
traditional form, is dismissed as a bourgeois convention.” Quite right too.
The article also has a glossary of free-running terms, of which clearly the best
has to be the Cat Jump: “Run towards the target, place both hands on the wall,
leap through them - with the legs through the middle of the arms. Land on both
feet.” I’m not sure even Thoughtcat could manage this feat but if I can do
it mentally I shall post documentary evidence on the site forthwith.
free running website
Taking a break from novelling today
for Thoughtcat (not vanity at all, but essential web research, you
understand), I came upon a new result pointing to an
unofficial site for the 1994 Spider-Man movie – specifically, a list of
“Spider-Man related websites”. Without wishing to seem ungrateful, I did
wonder how on earth TC ended up on that. The answer? Of course: one of the
entries submitted to TC’s very own Noel Gallagher Four Noun Autobiography
Title Game (see 4 nouns in the left-hand frame) is “Diet
Pepsi and Veggie burgers, Arachnophobia and Spider-man: The hypocritical
life of Sean Hennessey, Portland, Oregon”. And a very good title too, I have
to (belatedly) say, Mr Hennessey. I doubt however that linking to a Spider-Man
website was what you had in mind, but this is the way of the web, you see.
Incidentally, I guess it may have helped that the Spider-Man website which
listed TC as a related link was itself “enhanced by Google”.
universe is fading away,”
says this report in the Guardian, quoting an astronomical character called
Professor Heavens. This melancholy news reminded me of the scene in Annie
Hall when 11-year-old Woody prototype Alvy is sitting in the psychiatrist’s
office, depressed. “The universe is expanding,” he explains, “and one day
it’ll break apart and that’ll be the end of everything.” “What is that
your business?” says his mother. “He’s stopped doing his homework!” “What’s
the point?” says the kid. Great stuff.
I received a very nice email today from David Thair at a new BBC website called Collective being very complimentary about Thoughtcat and asking if I’d be interested in posting a link to a new Jake Arnott interview. Of course I would. The piece is quite short but the author of The Long Firm and new novel truecrime says some interesting things about the important differences between research and writing from the imagination. It’s also great to see Thoughtcat is being read by a Beeb personage... no chance of a job, I guess??
Meanwhile, crime writer PD James is interviewed at the Independent. The paper had invited posers from readers for the Baroness for one of their “You ask the questions” pieces several weeks ago, but nothing seems to have come of it – perhaps the questions submitted, such as my own (“Presumably you can afford to employ a team of lawyers to research the legal aspects of your plots, but is there a more affordable alternative you can recommend to less well-off writers such as myself?”) just weren’t interesting enough. Anyway, I’m not bitter. She doesn’t say a huge amount about writing in this article but one interesting comment is that writing is, for her, less an exercise of wish-fulfilment than a matter of “trying to make order out of disorder”.
I post less and less about the news on Iraq these days
because it’s all so depressing, and to do justice to all the injustice
involved would take up a whole website, which is done perfectly well by other
websites like the Guardian,
but for some reason I was particularly angered to read in today’s Times that
has acknowledged it had killed
TV journalist Mazen Dana
after soldiers had “mistaken
his camera for a rocket propelled grenade launcher”.
He was no less than the 17th news organisation employee to be killed
in the war. Although this figure pales in comparison to the minimum 6,113
civilian Iraqi deaths (according to
it’s still outrageous.
The Booker longlist has been announced and, as the Guardian reports, much is being made of Martin Amis's inclusion in it for his already-controversial Yellow Dog. The Times covers the story with a fantastic picture of fellow longlistee Francis King in his Kensington home, which I just had to filch and post here. How bohemian can you get? King has been around for decades but laments the difficulty he now finds in getting published. "This is a country in which, if you are old, you become invisible," says the 80-year-old author. "People only notice you if you’re taking up too much time at the check-out, or if you fall over in the street."
That Booker longlist in full
Click on a title to buy it at a discount from Amazon
Today's Guardian Review meanwhile has a very interesting profile/interview of former Booker winner Pat Barker.
When it comes to music, I prefer guitars to synthesisers, and The Beatles to Kylie. I also quite like Paul Morley, although I think he is sometimes pretentious. What I don't like are ridiculous generalisations about art and audiences, like Stephen Poole's in his review of Morley's new book "Words and Music", also in today's Guardian Review. He concludes: "There will ... be readers who claim to find Morley's extravagant prose experiments 'pretentious', but since anyone who can use this violently resentful, very English word with sincerity has already committed to the idea that it is better not to try than to try and fail, that clever and creative people should in general shut up rather than try to provoke an audience out of its aesthetic complacency, and that art overall has no business attempting to be transcendent, such readers may be well advised to stick with their grubbily thumbed Nick Hornby collection." Poole clearly fails to understand that countless geniuses have created transcendent art without once being pretentious. It is for this reason that audiences recognise them as great artists.
In any case, all this is rich coming from a guy who writes: "[Morley's new book] begins as it means to go on, with a yoking together by violence of two heterogeneous things, which he claims are his current favourite pieces of music ever. One piece is Alvin Lucier's 'I am sitting in a room', a piece of 1960s experimentalism featuring spoken-word tape-loops: this confirms the author's intellectual status (as he disarmingly confesses: 'I fancy myself for liking it'), and foreshadows one story the book tells of how pop music grows directly out of the experimental side of classical music, from Erik Satie to Steve Reich. The other piece of music is Kylie's hit 'Can't Get You Out of My Head', and anyone who feels unable to acknowledge this song's genius had better look away now, because Morley's project is in part about stripping away the Nietzschean ressentiment that lurks in the dank indie bedroom and celebrating those rare moments when art can intersect beautifully with commerce; when, as he puts it, we can recognise pop's 'occasional odd shine of mind-changing art'."
The words "shut" and "up" spring to mind. Which doesn't mean Poole is either "clever" or "creative".
Yes! At last I've caught a virus. At the risk of getting bombarded with the bloody things now, I seem to have managed to avoid all the previous ones, which left me feeling rather left out. But this week I contracted the MS Blast virus without evening knowing it. Things kept disappearing, crashing, dropping off, falling apart and generally collapsing - and that was just the PC. Most annoyingly, my cut, paste and drag functions conked out, and as they say, you never know what you've got till it's gone. For a while, little suspecting I'd caught a virus ("I'm a good girl, I am!!!"), I was considering buying a new hard drive or even a new PC altogether. I should probably do this anyway, of course, but at least it appears there's no need for such drastic action quite yet. However, I did manage to rid my PC of the Blast worm with the aid of this extremely helpful article from yesterday's Guardian, which contains a link to the Microsoft patch and instructions for how to delete the guilty files. It also has a very useful link to a firm called Grisoft who are offering a free virus-detection program.
Anyway, the upshot of having the virus is that my PC has been down for most of the week so I haven't had a chance to update the site, look at the web or do much writing. I'm coming to the conclusion that the news is too ridiculous or tragic to even comment on half the time (I mean, Arnold Schwarzenegger running for office in California and a comedian dressed as Osama bin Laden managing to set off seven alarms while gatecrashing a royal party and still get in pretty much makes deliberate irony redundant). However, a few interesting bits and pieces I have managed to pick up on over the past few days include an Ingmar Bergman article in the Guardian, an Irvine Welsh interview in the Independent, a profile of Martin Amis and his new, much-criticised novel in the Independent (curiously listed under the "enjoyment" section of the site!), another piece from the Independent about lad lit (never heard of it), an article from ZNet about an agreement between the European Commission and the US federal authorities allowing personal information about holidaymakers to the States to be communicated, without their consent, by the airline company to US Customs (thanks Fionacat), and most interesting of all, some exclusive extracts from my favourite writer Russell Hoban's new novel "Her Name Was Lola" from the Bloomsbury website ahead of its publication in November - the first chapter of which has the brilliant title "Not a Dog, Not a Cat" (thanks to Dave Awl for that one). Phew...
Meanwhile, dedicated Thoughtcateers will have noticed that the main URL now goes to a general front page advertising Thoughtcat's various services, with a link at the bottom to the main site. As you can see, nothing substantial on the blogzine has changed except the URL (the direct link is www.thoughtcat.com/blog.htm), but I am in a position now where I need to be slightly more serious and generate a bit more business, so if any of you out there require freelance writing or a bit of web design, please let me know.
Blimey. Ever got back from a writing course in Wales to find your website has been taken over by your two "virtual aunties"? Everything's different, you can't find anything, cats have become squids, and you've been mixed up with a nudist rambler... I ask you. Anyway, before you get to all that, a word or two about the course, "Starting to Write Fiction", tutored by novelists Mavis Cheek and Paul Sussman: in short, it was excellent - a great mixture of students (15 in total) from all over the UK, of different ages and backgrounds, whose experience of writing fiction ranged from none to authorship of three unpublished novels. Among the students were a psychiatrist, a sound recordist, a retired music teacher and an ex-policewoman. The standard of the writing was superb throughout, and the motivation of both tutors and students was consistently high. Mavis and Paul put us at our ease and were tirelessly enthusiastic, and despite the variation in their teaching methods, writing styles and experience of publishing (Mavis is currently writing her 11th novel, Paul his second), they proved fantastic foils for each other, and the course was much more interesting and enjoyable for such a good combination. I had bags of fun, whether writing, listening to other students' pieces, chatting to other people or playing "Mafia" (rules available on request), and emerged very stimulated and encouraged about my own work. I think the phrase we all went away remembering was "You must give yourself permission to fail." Strangely liberating, despite an apparently negative thought.
The course was held near Criccieth, North Wales, a small coastal town in Snowdonia on the Llyn Peninsula, in Ty Newydd, a beautiful old country house that once belonged to David Lloyd George (he supposedly died in the library, or his bedroom as it was in those days). The peaceful setting was perfect for a writing course. Students slept in rooms either in the house itself or in adjacent outbuildings. After a self-service breakfast (together with lunch and dinner, this was included in the course price), at about 10 every morning we drifted down to the old beamed dining room, complete with original fireplace, for a three-hour group writing session, all 17 of us sat around one enormous table. We'd be given an exercise, drift off to all corners of the house and gardens to write for half an hour or so, and then come back and read aloud what we'd written to the rest of the group. The exercises were all very stimulating, and both writing them and listening to everyone read theirs aloud was consistently entertaining and interesting. My favourite of the exercises was writing a dialogue between two people stuck overnight in the cafe at the summit of Mount Snowdon during a storm, and another piece inspired by images from art postcards. Some of the things people thought up for both of these were brilliantly unexpected. After lunch, meanwhile, we were free to do what we wanted - most students spent the time writing a short story for reading out to the group at the end of the week. We also had intensive one-to-one tutoring sessions with both Mavis and Paul, a reading by Welsh writer Jo Mazelis from her excellent short story collection Diving Girls, and some superb dinners, each cooked by four of the students (with a lot of help from the fabulous centre director David).
The whole thing was excellent value for money (I paid £335 for a shared room), and I would strongly recommend Ty Newydd to anyone interested in a UK residential creative writing course. But get in quick - the centre is being closed for refurbishment for much of 2004. Click here for details of current and future courses.
Ty Newydd and the back garden
Tutors Paul Sussman and Mavis Cheek
The dining-cum-school room
Horse pebble sculpture on Criccieth beach (10 minutes through the fields from Ty Newydd)
During my week in Wales I didn't read a paper, watch any TV, check my email or surf the net. And I didn't miss any of it at all. What a joy to get away from it all and spend the week writing (even if you do return to 196 emails, of which 164 are spam). I only found one story of much interest in today's papers, concerning a severely disabled 16-year-old woman with "locked-in" syndrome who's won a scholarship to Oxford. Hero Joy Nightingale runs a website called From the Window and has managed to cajole Melvyn Bragg, Kofi Annan and Stephen Hawking among other luminaries to write for it. Thoughtcat wishes her congratulations and the best of luck.
From: Auntie Elizabeth
Date: 09 August 2003
To: Auntie Fiona; Thoughtcat
Subject: Oh, a "writing seminar", eh??
Walker Continues British Trek by ED JOHNSON, Associated Press
LONDON - Wearing little more than sun screen, socks and boots,
Gough Richard Cooper is walking the length of Britain to celebrate the
joys of nudity. Efficiency isn't one of them.
His 847-mile trek has been hampered by eight arrests, an examination at a psychiatric hospital and several nights in jail. This week, he's starting over after Scottish police shipped him back to his starting point in for a court appearance.
father of two 32-year-old writer is undaunted and spent Thursday
hitchhiking his way back to Scotland - though he did wear clothes to increase
his chances of getting a lift.
"I am celebrating myself as a human being," said Cooper. "We have all been brought up and conditioned to think our body is something to be ashamed of. We are made to feel bad about ourselves and that is damaging society. I am determined to carry on."
Cooper left Land's End in southwest England on June 16 bound for John O'Groats in the far north of Scotland, hoping to cover around 20 miles a day on foot.
One day and 15 miles later, he was arrested in St. Ives and charged with breach of the peace. The case was abandoned after magistrates found he had not committed a criminal offense.
Three days later, he was arrested in the Cornish coastal resort of Newquay and charged with offending public decency. He appeared - stark naked - in court Monday. The court forced him to wear a blanket but did not impose a fine.
"It has taken a week out of my walk," said Cooper, whose bare backside graced the pages of The Independent newspaper Thursday. "But I have had a bit of pubicity."
The intrepid rambler insists he is not a nudist, but a person who wants to "enlighten the public, as well as the authorities that govern us, that the freedom to go naked in public is a basic human right."
Apart from being beaten up in Ty Newydd near Snowdonia in Wales on August 5, and being told by a his Aunt Fiona to "put on your trousers this instant, you perverted fiend!" Cooper said public reaction had been largely positive.
"Probably a third of walkers have been OK and courteous," said the hiker, who dons clothes at night to keep warm. "Some people have really been enthusiastic and stopped to talk to me. I have even had people give me money."
Cooper said he first became "involved in all this naked stuff" 10 years ago when he visited a nudist beach and "thought it was nice how people wandered around nice and relaxed. Also, I enjoyed watching the giant squid splash around naked in the sea. More than anything else, it's the frolicking naked squid who inspire me. There's something indescribably alluring about them, especially the female ones."
his attraction to naked female squid eventually alienated his wife Koy, the
mother of his children aged 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12.
"She says she won't have anything to do with me until I put my clothes back on," laments the aspiring novelist, who hopes to finish his trek by September - barring further run-ins with police.
There is no law in Britain against public nudity, although there are laws against indecent exposure - which requires proof of intent to insult a woman - or any behavior likely to cause "harassment, alarm or distress."
According to the British Naturism Society, there are some 2 million naturists, or nudists, in Britain.
"Some people think this sort of walking is damaging to naturism," said Sue Piper, research and liaison officer for the 18,000-member society. "Others think it is really very brave of him and he is bringing naturism to the forefront. Personally, I think he looks quite sexy in the altogether."
"I support his ideals, although generally speaking I prefer to keep a rather lower profile," said Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer-songwriter and chairman of the 300-strong Singles' Outdoor Club which was founded in 1981 and organizes nudist walks between March and October.
"We never really have any trouble. We normally get a cheerful word or a smile," he added. "Sometimes attractive women even come up and tickle me on the naughty bits. I like it when that happens."
Steve Gough's site is at http://www.nakedwalk.alivewww.co.uk
From: Auntie F
Date: 08 August 2003
To: Auntie E; Thoughtcat
Subject: Squids and things for Thoughtcat
Dear R and E,
Actually it's just squid, giant ones and not 'things' that I thought you should know about for your Thoughtcat columns Richard. There's an article in last week's New Scientist on giant squid entitled 'Monsters of the Deep', concerning more recently discovered super-giant squid, yet more recently found colossal giant squid and, possibly, impossibly huge super humongous giant squid too, plus other as yet undiscovered major monsters lurking in the deep! It makes fascinating reading, for instance this choice sentence from squid expert Steve O'Shea: "This is an animal with a 20 gram brain. It's not very bright and it is trying to coordinate a metre-long penis. He's going to get confused." I'll say! The females of the species aren't too bright either and are apt to get hopelessly muddled during mating too, which can be bad news for the male. But read all about it! The New Scientist is only available on subscription but there is a report on the article (headlined "Scientist to use scent to attract sex-crazed giant squid"!) on www.stuff.co.nz at http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,2589632a11,00.html
It's still bloody hot. I'm on my own today so am leaving now and going to have a nice cool shower when I get home.
to you next week,
From: Auntie E
Date: 07 August 2003
To: Thoughtcat; Auntie F
Subject: FW: If women ruled the world
These are TOO funny! I will have to forward them to at least a dozen people.
I'm glad you're back safe and sound and I will look forward to hearing all about your Swiss adventures, unless of course I tell you about them myself first.
Richard, I also hope you are having a good time in Wales and managing to behave yourself. I want to hear all about it when you return. I want to know what hot writing tips you've gotten from Ms. Cheek. Which reminds me, there are a couple of hot writing tips I've been meaning to share with you.
The weather here has been hot and muggy and awful, sometimes with rain. But I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as what you've been having over there, which sounds horrendous. I can't imagine how unhappy I'd be living in a really hot climate. I'd never be able to concentrate on anything.
Well, I'd better go irrigate the cat. We had good news at the vet's the other day: Floyd's blood urea nitrogen is down to 55. (Normal is about 24, but his had been as high as 109.) According to our vet, the goal is to keep it under 60, since kitties seem to feel significantly more comfortable then. So I feel better knowing that his health isn't quite as dire as it was a few months ago. Renal failure isn't curable, but it can be managed for a while. Thank heavens our petsitter knows how to administer subcutaneous fluids, so she'll be able to do it while we're away in the first week of September (Montreal film festival).
Well, more later..... I do wish I knew how to work the digital camera and had it rigged up to my computer so I could send you pictures of all these creatures of mine......
From: Auntie F
Date: 06 August 2003
cc: Auntie E
Subject: FW: If women ruled the world
Richard this attachment is for wimmin only, I'm trusting you not to peek at the attachments. But I know you won't you're a good boy! Aren't you? AREN'T you?? Hope you're enjoying your stay in Wales and that it's a little cooler and fresher than the cook-house London is at the moment. How is it in Vermont, E? It's closing in on a 100 degress fahrenheit here and no swimming pool to lounge beside and no hunky waiters to bring me Pimms on ice or nuthin.
O.K. I'm back and safe and had a great holiday but haven't time to say more right now - will report fullerly anon. Uncle J is still in Switzerland and is coming back next Sunday.
All for now me dears,
Love and Swiss chocolate kisses,
Attachments follow: "If women ruled the world..."
Date: 04 August 2003
To: Auntie Fiona; Auntie Elizabeth
Subject: Catch you later...
Hi you girls,
Just a quick one to say I hope you had a good holiday Fiona, and your cats are okay Elizabeth, and I hope you're both busy Googlewhacking by the time you get this. I won't be able to update Thoughtcat this week as I'm attending the Ty Newydd creative writing course in north Wales and won't have time, so if either of you spot anything in the news you think should go in then by all means bring it to my attention. In fact, rather than disappoint Thoughtcateers around the world with no update next weekend, maybe you two would like to write this week's content between you? Just email me whatever comments you have on whatever you think would be fun/relevant/irreverent/ironic etc and when I get back I'll paste it in and apportion blame, sorry, I mean attribute it all to Thoughtcat's Aunties. In fact maybe I could call it The Sex Life of My Aunties...
Don't worry yourselves if you haven't got time, and have a great week in any case,
Lots of love,
Your virtual nephew
The Guardian magazine today has a real treat - a bumper fiction issue featuring nine new short stories by Dave Eggers, Ali Smith, Haruki Murakami, AM Homes, Julie Myerson, Michel Faber, Arthur Miller, Jackie Kay and Alan Warner.
As a longtime guitarist, I send my best wishes and congratulations to teenage Brit axemistress Zoe McCulloch, who, judging by this report in today's Independent, appears to have "cracked America" despite the fact that she's more or less unknown over here. Funny old world, etc.
Gorman: Likely not insolvent.
Pachyderms: "Insolvent? Us? You're having a laugh..."
Thoughtcat's Man in Nam (Glos.) emails me thus: "Have you been to see/had any experience of/heard about the latest stage offering from Dave Gorman, one of these youngish British comedians who use obscure (and slightly contrived) bets to go round the world, meet people and do zany things (apologies for that word, it just seems that that is what they are trying to be)? He is appearing at the Everyman in Cheltenham in Autumn (and on tour around the UK, including the Edinburgh Festival) doing a show called Googlewhack. I can do the usual web searches (very appropriate in this case) but wanted a respected opinion. Any thoughts?" Well, Thoughtcat, being flattered (although circumspect) to be considered respected, went straight to, er, Google and, well, didn't get off it for about the next four hours. As Gorman explains on his site, Googlewhacking is the trick of finding two words which are so rarely juxtaposed that when entered as search terms on Google they return only one result - for example, ambidextrous scallywags or insolvent pachyderms (both taken from the incredible Googlewhack site, where you can register such unlikely pairings). Given that entering almost anything on Google tends to return at least 136,374 web pages (of which you only ever look at the first 4 and hardly any are any use anyway, but that's another matter), it's easy to see how hard it is to produce "a whack". At one point in the annals of the internet, "Dave Gorman" was apparently itself (or himself) a Googlewhack, although entering those two words now returns some 81,000 websites, so evidently the boy (or maybe all boys called Dave Gorman) dun good. Thoughtcat, being slightly on the sleepy side of Bagpuss, has only now caught up with this phenomenon and had a whale (or at least a cat) of a time trying to "whack Google", finally coming up with tenebrific arse (from a non-TC-endorsed page discussing Thom Yorke of Radiohead... don't ask, especially if you're Thom Yorke). The only complaint I have about Googlewhacking is that it takes so long to find a "whack" that constantly looking for whackful search terms, failing and then clicking back on the Google search box to try two more gives you dreadful RSI. Then again, if you're going to get RSI, you may as well have a laugh while you do it, eh? And it is an addictively fun game, although what's just as entertaining is entering what any sane person would think would have to be a Googlewhack, only for it to turn up several hundred (or even thousand) results. Here are some of my favourite Non-Googlewhacks That Should Be:
number of results
Meanwhile, Thoughtcat congratulates Felix Baumgartner on his Icarustastic flight across the Channel yesterday, a feat so bold and imaginative it would be cheap to make a silly comment on it. And anyway I can't think of one.