Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bloodied, Broken And Everything Else

There’s a scene in The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson where there is a large queue of customers, none of whom wish Barney to cut their hair, and they all sit and shake their heads as he desperately tries to get one of them to acquiesce. It’s a slight exaggeration of a scene I witnessed in my local barberhsop a long time ago.

In the middle of scene there is the following line: Beaten, but not yet bloodied, Barney nodded.

I noticed this yesterday whilst proof-reading. Beaten but not yet bloodied? What does that mean? That he’d had a heart attack but at least there was no blood? Obviously I’d meant to write bloodied but not yet beaten.

At first I presumed I’d copied it wrongly when I’d been transcribing the book into its current form. However, a quick check of the Piatkus edition showed that it’s been there all along. So I originally wrote the line in the summer of 1995, tucked away from the African heat in the air conditioned Arctic circle of our apartment on Boulevard de la Republique in Dakar. I read the book who knows how many times back then and never noticed. I re-wrote it a year later and never noticed. It was picked up for publication. The editor never noticed. The copy editor never noticed. The proof reader(s) never noticed. Maybe some readers noticed and thought, this guy’s an idiot... And then I converted the book back to its original state and didn’t notice. And now, on my fifth, and last, proof read, I finally noticed it.

In itself, it’s a point of little significance. The worrying thing is how many more there are out there. The Long Thomson of Barney Midnight, coming to a shop near you.

There was an item on the Yahoo news page the other day headlined, Man Reads All 59million Words Of Oxford English Dictionary. I stopped myself clicking on it. It’s the kind of story that you start reading, then halfway through you stop and think, I’m reading this... Without reading it I thought - because I was still thinking about it - that maybe there was some other remarkable feat attached to it, such as he did it underwater holding his breath the entire time, or he did it while sailing solo across the Atlantic in a sink. As headlines go it seems to be on a par with those little personal headlines that make up everyone’s life on a daily basis. Man Burns Toast. Man Goes Two Days Without Shouting At Kids. Man Falls Asleep Watching TV.

I finally cracked and read the story. It was a story about a guy who’d read the whole of the OED. The nub came at the end. He’d written a book about it... Man, 38, Reads Long Non-Narrative Book, Writes Own Book.

There’s the thing. It wasn’t actual news. It wasn’t a story about a guy who’d read the whole of the OED, had just finished it that day and wanted everyone to know. It was a story about a guy who’d written a book. Another ten seconds’ research revealed that the book had in fact first been published in July this year.

So why is it being presented as news in the second week in October? Why were some of the news stories - I ended up reading more than one - saying that he'd spent the last year reading it? The guy hadn’t just read the OED, he’d obviously read it long enough ago to write a book about it, get the book edited, copy edited, proof-read etc. (hopefully better than The Midnight of Long Barney Thomson), placed into the schedules, printed, distributed to bookbuyers and reviewers, published. The dude didn’t finish reading the OED this week.

The only answer is that this is how news works. Publicists write copy, they send it to news organisations, the news people pick stuff up and put it out as news because they’re so strapped for time that they can’t check for any actual stories, and before you know it, Bob’s your Builder.

Man Writes Blog About Man Writing Book About Reading The Whole of The OED.

Friday, October 03, 2008

1 of 800,000

I was discussing blogging with one of my ethnic Polish friends (EPF) - actually, I only have one EPF - and she suggested that I could write about Poland. During the course of the discussion, I realised that in many ways I'm not cut out for blogging. I don't want to give strong opinions, to try to provoke a reaction; I'm very wary about writing a blog on a subject about which someone out there is going to know more than me. I don't have the inner spunk to cope well with someone writing to tell me I'm an idiot. It wouldn't take many e-mails like that to have me retreating to a dark cave to hide for months amongst the troglodytes of pusillanimity.

(So, for example, when I wrote my blog about how the Israeli/Palestinian conflict could be solved if America gifted Israel a large part of Texas, so that Israel could move to North America, lock stock and religious artefact, freeing the land for the the rest of the Middle East to fight over, well, I just deleted it...)

So, I always end up writing about subjects that I'm guaranteed to know better than anyone. My kids, my books, the way I work, what kind of marmalade I had on my toast that morning. Writing with a giant safety net. (Which is probably pusillanimous in itself.) Someone can still write to tell me they think my blog is mince or that I'm a fat bastard or that I can't string two sentences together. But they can't say, no way did your kid say that, or Thick Sliced Olde English, pull the other one, chief!

So, for the moment, I will probably just stick to doing what I do. I'll write about Poland one day. One day in the near future. However, back on my home planet...

Spent yesterday morning working on a reading to put up on YouTube for Lost in Juarez. However, after a lot of fruitless tinkering at the Mac, I ditched it all. A few hours down the stank or all part of the process?

I first of all created a nice introduction for it using the start of Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, the song where the Juarez lines comes from. Managed to fade the song out and blend in a suspenseful backing track, almost like you'd get in a movie. However, the next bit, the reading, was rubbish. And of course, I couldn't use Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues anyway, because I'd get sued. If anyone ever noticed it. But it would be pointless to do it of no one noticed it, and then costly if they did. So I ditched Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues and replaced it with the ring of an old-fashioned telephone, which then blended into a creepy, suspenseful backing track. It kind of worked, but not as well as Tom Thumb. But then the reading was still rubbish, so I ditched it all anyway.

If I'd used the actual Dylan line for the title, the book would have been called Lost In The Rain In Juarez, which isn't nearly so snappy. Have just listened to the Nina Simone version, and interestingly - (well, this is probably stretching the definition of interesting) - Nina doesn't mention the rain in Juarez, she just sings When you're lost in Juarez... and changes the phrasing so it fits.

I may have another go at the reading next week, but I feel that this was a small window to do it, before an avalanche of other things require attending to, so it probably won't happen.

Off to Krakow for a long weekend, to play the How Many Drunk Brits Can You See In The Old Town Square game.

That was sort of writing about Poland.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Laws of Gravity

TPCKAM bought a magazine at the airport this week in case the chic-lit she'd taken to read on the plane was mince. She brought the magazine home last night. National Geographic Adventure. Tag-line: Dream it. Plan it. Do it.

There's an advert in the middle somewhere, a full page, at the centre of which is a photo of a mountain biker, at least thirty yards off the ground, obviously having just ridden off a mountain, with the sun setting behind him. The line at the top reads, The laws of gravity don't apply to euphoria.

Hmm, wonder what that could be an advert for. A bike? Too mundane. An adventure holiday? Not even close. Some illegal performance enhancing drug perhaps?

It's an advert for a biscuit. Well, an energy bar, but the effect is much the same. It is apparently, the energy bar nature intended. The energy bar nature intended has been registered, so you can't go using that phrase at home or you'll have an east coast lawyer on your tail.

The laws of gravity don't apply to euphoria. May be. But I bet they apply to energy bars.

Which brings me to The Final Cut. Started the long process of re-writing the book today. Didn't actually do any work on it, but I did download it onto my laptop, which will allow me to start it at some unspecified date in the very near future.

The story, first written as Limited Edition, is set amongst a firm of marketing executives in London, bright young things who come up with lines such as the laws of gravity don't apply to euphoria when they're talking about biscuits. At the start of every chapter there is a small piece of marketing copy for some imaginary product, which may or may nor be related to some product discussed in that chapter. Having read through these again, four years after I first wrote them, I'm kind of disappointed that they're not as funny as I thought they were in the first place. And certainly, there's nothing as stupid as the laws of gravity don't apply to euphoria when talking about a biscuit. I have some work to do.

Nevertheless, here's one that I still like:

Winnie The Pooh
Your kids have seen the films, they’ve watched the classic animated tv shows, they’ve watched the puppet tv shows, they’ve watched the computer generated tv shows, they’ve read the books, they’ve played with the soft toys, they’ve used the toothbrushes, they’ve worn the t-shirts and pyjamas and trousers, they’ve ruined your PC whilst using the CD-Roms, they’ve played with the gazillion or so cheap plastic toys, they’ve eaten the food, they’ve eaten off the plates, they’ve eaten with the cutlery. Now, Rolls Royce, in conjunction with the Disney Corporation, introduce the new range of Winnie The Pooh Heavy Engineering Equipment, including generators, diggers, plant machinery and power tools. Starting from the low low price of $17,000, Winnie The Pooh Heavy Engineering Equipment is all you’ll ever need around the building site.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Edinburgh Fringe

Contemplating taking Barney Thomson to the Edinburgh Fringe next year. Having said that, I've contemplated taking Barney to the Fringe on several previous occasions and have yet to do it, however it could be that the time is right.

I did the official Edinburgh Book Festival in August 2002. TPCKAM wrote to the director, Catherine Lockerbie, and asked if they'd take me. I'd been interviewed by Lockerbie for the Scotsman when the first Barney came out, and it may well have been her who wrote their review with the wonderfully quotably line "Gleefully macabre...hugely enjoyable black burlesque." I've used that one a few times since.

I appeared with Chris Brookmyre and Mark Billingham, and I was definitely the undercard, but it was fun. I didn't think I was too mince, however they haven't had me back. I ask every year, the first time they said no, but since they've just ignored me. I guess I don't blame them, it's not like they don't have a host of magnificent authors queuing up to appear. I need them a lot more than they need me. Still, it's hard not to harbour a grudge, and if ever the situation arises where I turn out to be the bad guy in a Bond movie who steals a nuclear submarine and targets somewhere populated with a nasty missile, I'll probably stick Charlotte Square on my list of potential destructees.

Anyway, in an effort to rise above petty jealousy and thoughts of reprisal, every year I contemplate doing the Fringe. Now, I don't contemplate sitting in a seat, reading from a selection of my books, while the audience - if there is one - doses quietly in the cheap seats. Although reading is obviously what I did at the Festival all those years ago, the thought of listening to an author reading his own book just seems slightly barmy to me, and really not a lot of fun.

My idea for the Fringe would be to perform The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson as a one man, one hour show. I'd narrate some bits, play all the parts when appropriate and when action was required. I think it would work as a show. Whether I'd be able to pull it off, thespianly, I'm not sure, but it's something I'd feel I'd have to try for myself.

The thought of appearing on stage for an hour doesn't scare me particularly, but it doesn't excite me too much either. I'd be doing it as a career move, to try to advance the Barney Thomson franchise, to make it more marketable. And so, every year, I talk myself out of it on the basis that if at some point in the six months between me booking the hall and actually having to perform the thing, something interesting like a movie deal or big publishing deal came up, I'd be stuck doing something that I didn't want to, and didn't need to.

There comes a time, however, when I have to give up on the big movie or publishing deal. Face the unacceptable facts. The movie might happen, but it's not around the corner. The publishing deal just isn't going to happen. If Barney's going to advance from the Lower Blue Square South 5th Division, then I'm the one who has to try to generate the interest. And so, once again, as I regularly do at this time of year, I'm contemplating the Fringe.

Contemplating spending a few months working on a stage adaptation, contemplating several months rehearsing, contemplating getting up on a stage for a week. With no people in the audience. There's a thought, and another thing to cultivate my inhibitions every year.

This time, though, I might just do it. For the moment, however, I'll probably just have a cup of tea and think about it for a bit longer.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Long Rewrite of Barney Thomson

Working through the final proof read of The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson. Have announced the publication date of the new version - 15th November 2008 - and placed the order at the printers. Now all I need to do is get the text straight and get the cover... The cover is due any day, apparently. I'm protected from writing to my cover designer and asking for an ETA by the fact that she doesn't speak much English and any e-mail would likely just lead to confusion. So I do my bit and will have to wait for the cover before I can do the high-budget promo for YouTube.

Have disconcertingly found rather a large hole in the plot, which I've never noticed previously. Well, not so much a hole in the plot. More of a goof. In the beginning everyone is talking about the serial killer who's on the loose. However, the killer has just announced him/herself by dispatching a body part of the victim to their family. With the obvious exception of the family who get their son's head returned to them, how does anyone actually know that any of the victims are dead? There are no bodies, obviously, as they're all hidden in a freezer somewhere. There might be a reasonable presumption that the victims are dead, however it's not a presumption in the book, it's taken as fact.

So, having spotted this, it would be an easy enough thing to alter for the re-release. However, despite changing the tense and the dialect, I feel that this would be going too far. Having written two film scripts based on the book and investigated all sorts of different plot threads, I could completely rewrite the entire thing.

I had this great idea of making Barney's mum much more of a Nigella type character, with a great joy in food and recipes and taste. She would get Barney to taste test all her stuff, maybe she'd even be a celebrity chef. Only with hindsight would we realise that Barney had been taste testing human flesh, and even then we wouldn't be absolutely sure that was what he'd been doing.

I love that very cinematic idea, which would also have been great for the book. The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson is a good story, but it could have been developed much more. However, I have to draw the line somewhere, and when deciding to reprint, long ago made the decision to draw that line at changing the story in any way.

And so I will treat the minor goof regarding the presumption of death on the part of the police and the media in the same way and leave it as originally written, as I will with anything else that occurs to me as I go through.

And so sadly, 'Is this your husband's penis?" the great first line of the film script that will never be made, will also not make it into print.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Amazing Fusionman

So Fusionman just flew across the Channel dressed as Buzz Lightyear. He was going to do it yesterday but had to say, 'Not today, Zurg,' because of the weather.

Fusionman. Hmm. And this guy is a grownup. As if jumping out of a plane at 8,000 feet and flying isn't cool enough. Because it is. What he is did is cool beyond words. I couldn't even do a stupid bungy jump. Millions of people wouldn't even consider doing a bungy jump. This guy jumps out of planes and flies, in a way that no one has ever flown before.

And yet, it's not enough. When someone says, 'Hey, that was incredible, who the fuck are you?' he can't just say, 'The name's Yves.' He looks them in the eye, straightens his shoulders and says, 'I'm Fusionman,' for all the world like Michael Keaton in Batman. (Apart from the fact that Michael Keaton obviously said 'I'm Batman' not 'I'm Fusionman'.)

What is he thinking?

Maybe, I'm thinking to myself on this sunny day in early autumn - (it's finally stopped raining in Warsaw. After dumping eight feet of water on the city, all in drizzle, in the last ten days, the clouds are empty.) - maybe, I'm thinking, this is what I need to get some respect. I don't mean professionally, it's too late for that. Too late for AuthorMan or The Amazing Mr Write. I mean, as a Dad.

Maybe the kids would have more respect if, rather than just being plain old Dad, or Daddy, or Oi You, Can I Have Another Sandwich, maybe if I had a supercool name everything would be better. There might be some respect around the house, rather than disdain, discord, accusation and war.

DadMan probably won't cut it. Neither will Mr Dad or Major MiddleAged. The Incredible Captain Dad stands a better chance. I might go for that one, if I can get it all on a t-shirt. I could try a few out, see which one works best. I could be BreakfastMan before school, Commander Lift Home after school, and The Amazing GetToBedAndStopTalkingGuy after dinner.

And then there's the outfit. I'll be turning up at the school with a big pair of red y-fronts over my trousers. Well, that'll get me the respect of my kids.

Fusionman, at least, kept his y-fronts in their rightful place.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gel Scissors Quaff Perm

As I wrote last week, the original title of The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson was The Barber’s Surgeon’s Hairshirt. I confess that I arrived at the title The Barber Surgeon’s Hairshirt by going through the dictionary, writing down every word that I could find that related in any way whatsoever to hair or barbershops, threw them up into the air and picked the ones that looked the most interesting when they landed. (In the end it was between The Barber Surgeon's Hairshirt and Gel Scissors Quaff Perm, and I went for the former.)

The entirely arbitrary nature of its conception aside, it’s a pretty good title, which I only ditched as I was sending the book to publishers who had already rejected it, and I wanted the manuscript to pass the initial check against a database of Rejected Mince From the Slushpile. (Actually, I don’t know if publishers keep a database of Rejected Mince From The Slushpile, but I was working on the basis that they did.)

So when the second Barney Thomson book came around I used the title again. This time it actually had some relevance, given that Barney ended up in a monastery, he was consumed by remorse, and the subject of hairshirts even came up without it being a stretch. Piatkus didn’t like it however, and asked for a new title.

The obvious title would have been A Prayer For Barney Thomson. Unfortunately I didn’t think of that as a title until the third book in the series, which was odd given that the reason I thought of it was because I had read, years earlier, A Prayer For Owen Meany and really enjoyed it.

Piatkus asked for a title that included Barney Thomson and referenced hairdressing in some way. Oh for God’s sake, I thought at the time, you don’t have to treat the audience like they’re that stupid. But I didn’t say that. I went away and thought up twenty other titles and sent them an e-mail. I can’t remember most of those titles, although I knew that they were all rubbish. Thirty-Three Murders and A Funeral I think was one of them. Genocide of the Monks, that was another. They would have been terrible titles. In the middle of all this mince, I threw in The Cutting Edge of Barney Thomson. I thought it was terrible as well, but I knew they’d take it, as it met the conditions. Which they did.

Should I ever need to publish another edition of Barney no.2, I think I'll go back to my original intention and call it The Barber Surgeon’s Hairshirt. That’s a title worth keeping.

For that second book someone at Piatkus did actually suggest the name The Final Cut. We rejected this, as The Final Cut seemed a bit premature for the second book in the series. I’m now using it for the seventh book, which makes more sense. This book, when I originally wrote it for the German market, was known as Limited Edition, as the story is set amongst marketing executives in London.

I thought of all this today when I saw in the shop just along the road from our house in the Warsaw suburb where we live, a packet of beer flavoured crisps, marked Edycja Limitowana.

Beer flavoured crisps. The culmination of thousands of years of civilisation. Must be time for First Contact.