Wednesday 29 December 2010

Ashes to ashes

‘For all the time I have lived in England, during my so-called adult life, it seems that the English have been losing. Yet they go into each game with such gleeful enthusiasm, wagging their tails.’ – Jennie Walker, 24 for 3.

That was written in 2007. Time for a new edition? Trouble is, it’s the underdogs she tends to go for; there’s no fun in supporting a team that’s expected to win. Bangladesh, maybe. Tamim Iqbal.

Thursday 23 December 2010

A seasonal tradition

Put some logs on the fire, sit yourself down with paper and pencil and ‘your nine drinks lined up on the side table in soldierly array’ (Donald Barthelme, ‘Critique de la Vie Quotidienne’), and turn to page 27 of this week’s TLS – where you’ll find the annual TLS Christmas quiz, compiled by ‘Tony Lurcock of Oxford’ (author of Not So Barren or Uncultivated, published by CBe this month).

Who received seventeen gentleman callers on one Sunday afternoon? Who ‘almost always killed his game, but now and then he killed his dog’? ‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ – the first line of which book? Only 97 more questions to answer.

Saturday 18 December 2010

This is not a blog

Yesterday’s The Review Show on BBC2, in which an assembly of horse-racing correspondents – sorry: erudite authorities – sprinted through the whole cultural year, included a shot lasting 1.5 seconds of Andrew Motion turning the pages of the CBe edition of David Markson’s This Is Not a Novel – there it goes, above, flashing by; quick, press the pause button, or buy the book – and also a firm thumbs-up for Markson from Paul Morley. This Is Not a Novel was chosen by Geoff Dyer in the Guardian Books of the Year issue: ‘It felt like a book one had unconsciously been waiting to discover.’

The winter issue of The Author, the Society of Authors’ journal, is out. It answers many questions you might have been wondering about, including: How do authors avoid headlice when doing school visits? Which are the most popular titles in the prison library at Guantanamo Bay? What was the asking price on eBay for J. D. Salinger’s toilet (‘uncleaned and in it’s [sic] condition when it was removed from Salinger’s old home’)? In case you’re also wondering why CBe books are usually listed on Amazon as ‘out of stock’, that too is answered, in a piece by me on CBe.

The cricket. Jennie is more relaxed. The men of England have less of a swagger about them and are reverting to type: sweaty palms, bitten fingernails, a glumness in the eyes.

Thursday 9 December 2010


To Oxford yesterday, for coffee with the man who runs the Albion Beatnik bookshop in Walton Street and wine at a gathering for Tony Lurcock’s ‘Not So Barren or Uncultivated’ – which is not, as he pointed out, about his allotment – and more of the same at the pub afterwards.

Most mainstream publishers would consider the potential readership for a book about 18th-century British travellers in Finland (or, say, new translations of the prose poems of Francis Ponge) too small to bother with. Which is why a small press might want to publish these books. There’s little point in me publishing a novel, children’s book, etc, of the kind that bigger places publish; there are already so many of these for readers to choose from, and the bigger places have better distribution and marketing. But for a book that may be of interest to only 150 readers in the UK, I’m your man; all 150 will want a copy; my only problem is finding them.

It’s quite possible that Tony knows personally most of the potential buyers of the Finland book, or at least knows of them. Five arrived on the website today. I wish they didn’t all live in the Finland or the US; or rather, I wish people ordering from afar would notice the thing on the website suggesting the use of the Donate button for contributions to postage.

The solution to that may be – as the Albion Beatnik man suggested yesterday – to increase the price of the books. If the 150 people interested in Finland or Ponge or an experimental US novelist really do feel they need the book, they’re going to buy it whether it’s priced at £7.99 or £12.99. But that would put off the unconverted, and ideally I want some of them too, not just the already converted.

Tuesday 7 December 2010


Jennie (Jennie Walker, that is) is in a state of mild shock. We met over the road, in the Queen Adelaide, this evening. And what happened in the early hours of this morning in the other Adelaide, over in Australia, she has yet to come to terms with. This is not how the men of England, as she’s come to know them, go about things. The odd flash of genius or luck, yes; even the occasional victory, when it doesn’t count because the whole thing’s been settled already; but to roll over Australia in such a comprehensive, professional manner was simply not on the cards.

Muddle, administrative incompetence, a lot of running around and shaking of heads – this is what she’s used to. The World Cup exit in the summer she found wholly unsurprising. To date, it’s been the gap between the hype, the possibility, and how things actually play out that has held her interest. Now she looks at the men walking into the pub with a cock-of-the-walk swagger and she’s not sure about this at all. Don’t panic, I tell her, there are still three games to come. But I can see why she’s worried.