the state of things
Monday 27th April 2009
by Douglas Lindsay - 08:21 on 27 April 2009
A Dementor At My Table
Just back from my annual foray to the London Book Fair. When I say annual, I mean that in the sense that this was the first time I’d ever been. So not really annual, but the potential is there.
From this position of virginal visitation, it was impossible to tell what effect worldwide economic devastation is having on the business. Perhaps the fetid scent of suppressed desperation which hung sadly in the air like the gnarled aroma of an actress as she fades into obscurity, is always present. Maybe people are always desperate at the London Book Fair. Maybe no one was desperate and the fetid scent of desperation was just me.
I walked around not talking to anyone. I had three appointments in three days, unlike the agents and commissioning editors who have three appointments every thirty seconds or so, and who dash around in a frantic rush, talking about money and the next big thing and the new Dan Brown. There’s a skill to walking casually up to a book stand and making conversation with someone you’ve never met before. Some people have that skill; and some people are completely incapable of opening their mouths and letting a coherent thought cross the threshold. I’m the poster child for the latter collective.
I’m contemplating exhibiting next year. I have a vision of a bright and shiny Barney Thomson stand, sparsely but elegantly furnished, and in the middle of the stand, a bespoke fountain, with blood continually running from a pair of scissors. And in this vision, the agents and the commissioning editors and rights dealers of the London Book Fair are so fascinated by the fountain, because there’s never been a blood spewing fountain at the London Book Fair before, that they are forming an orderly but excitable queue halfway around Earl’s Court, crying things like, Good God, this is amazing! Let me give you huge amounts of money! while others shout No! No! Take my money, not his! His is tainted by the blight of tv celebrity biographies!
I didn’t see anyone famous except Boris Johnson, and I’m not entirely sure that he counts. We arrived at Earl’s Court on Wednesday morning at the same time, and were within two yards of each other. I suddenly had the thought of reaching into my bag and thrusting a copy of Lost in Juarez into hands, but before I could reach into my bag the moment had passed and he was gone. Which was probably just as well, as had his security detail noticed a shifty Scotsman reaching into a bag as he walked quickly up towards Boris, I would likely have been gunned down in a brief but bloody hail of bullets.
I had a drink with three crime critics one evening. (That would be critics of crime novels, as opposed to critics of actual crime. Here, you, what kind of way is that to beat someone up? Do it like this...) I probably didn’t make a great job of selling myself. (See above.) I also had to explain that I never read crime novels, and this seemed to cause some surprise. Attempting to show that I could actually read, I said to one of them that I was currently in the middle of Bulgakov’s Russian classic The Master & Margarita. The woman then started talking strangely. Well, the individual words made sense, but collectively they seemed to be on a totally different subject matter.
About half a minute in I suddenly realised that she’d thought I’d explained away my not reading crime novels as a result of the fact that I was doing a Masters in something or other. I sat in horror as she talked gravely about the difficulty of combining studying for a degree with a full-time job. It was too late to interrupt and correct her, so I sat there, my pint of Strongbow warming gently in my hand, as I contemplated the awful moment that would come when she asked me what it was I was studying. And there and then I decided that it was too late to tell the truth and that it would have to be Mathematics. She spoke for another couple of minutes, and when she finally finished her tale of having to combine work/study, and just before she could ask the inevitable question about my studying subject matter, I suddenly shouted credit crunch! by way of a subject change, and the conversation headed dramatically off in another direction.
I returned to the Book Fair the next day, and continued my peregrination from the stands abuzz with frenzied commissioning editors, to the one-book stands with old women doing Sudoku and showing no pretence at frenzy. There was a live cooking stand. Chefs were doing live cooking for an audience. I’ve never been to a live cooking event before. Apart from in my kitchen every night. I mean, I’ve never watched someone cook for entertainment. There was a character called Tom Kime who might well be famous, but I wouldn’t know. He cooked Afghan food. Then there was a Swiss bloke who didn’t seem to realise that he should be talking to the audience. Maybe it was just some guy making his own lunch.
To further avoid engaging with anyone, I sat in on a couple of lectures on the forthcoming ebook tsunami that will sweep hardbacks and paperbacks into oblivion. Everyone in publishing is talking about the coming ebook phenomenon and how all publishers are going to have to get ready for it. The London Book Fair gave the ebook concept its full respect, by siting the digital area at the farthest corner of Earls Court 2 and providing enough seating for six men and a dog.
In the end I spent most of my time in the cafeteria upstairs. In fact, the check-out guys saw so much of me that one of them asked me to be best man at his wedding next week, and another made me godfather to his second child.
And then, as soon as it had all begun, the London Book Fair was over, and we could all go scurrying back to our offices, licking our wounds and thanking God that it’s done for another year. Perhaps me and my bespoke blood-spewing fountain will be there next year and perhaps we won’t. Or perhaps I should just cut to the chase and set up a stall full-time in the cafeteria.
I could sell food.
5 Things To Try This Week
5. Buy a packet of Weetabix or Oatibix, and try to get one of the biscuits out of the packet and into the bowl without spilling ANY crumbs on the table. When the guys at Nike came up with Nothing Is Impossible, they hadn’t tried that. You’d think that when the Weetabix people invented their oat product, that they would have taken the opportunity to address this fundamental design flaw. But no, they couldn’t be bothered.
4. Listen to Gordon Brown’s speech when he apologised for the Number 10 smear debacle, and consider this: is the phrase "I take full responsibility for what happened; that’s why the person who was responsible went immediately" implicitly an oxymoron, or is it only oxymoronic because the Prime Minister hadn’t already fired himself.
3. Get the new Bob Dylan album, Together Through Life, out today. Rolling Stone gave it 4 stars. There are some out there in Bob Blogland who think Rolling Stone are demented, and who are also saying that Together Through Life is absolutely abysmal. Don’t listen to any of them. It’s Bob. Check it out, make your own mind up. Listen to a track here.
2. Declare your house and garden an independent republic, stop paying taxes, and see if you can get at least North Korea, Cuba or Iran to recognise your sovereignty.
1. Buy some Nike shoes, try something absurdly stupid that is bound to fail, and then sue them for making you believe that what you attempted wasn’t impossible. Do the same with Adidas.
Barney Thomson News
Work continues on finishing off Book 7, copy editing book 2, re-writing book 3, and proofing Books 4, 5 & 6, getting them all ready for a major re-launch. Unfortunately, as this work has not been contracted out overseas, and is all being done in-house by the one-man team, things are beginning to fall a little behind schedule. However, the official release date for Book 7 has not yet been changed, and hopefully won’t have to be. It remains on course to hit the stands on 1st September. Hopefully 1st September 2009, and not 1st September some other year.
Strange Case Update
Formative acoustic rock band The Strange Case of Solomon Green are in the recording studio this morning putting the final touches to their upcoming debut album, Untitled. After lengthy legal discussions and several band splits, the band name is likely to be shortened to Strange Case.
The untitled album should be available by mid-June. Strange Case are due to take the music world by storm some time in the middle of 2011.
Engaging the Borg
I was walking through the forest yesterday with the kids. The Parent Currently Known As Mum is back in the UK, so it was one adult and two children, appalling odds in favour of the spawn. As One of Two had spent a week in the Netherlands at Easter, I was asking if she’d learned any Dutch. She then displayed her astonishing linguistic talents by counting to one and saying the word for a castrated donkey. This somehow turned the conversation to genitals, and before I could do anything about it, I had been sucked into a discussion on vaginas. It started innocently enough with me helping them out with the spelling of the word, but before I knew it they were asking about the vagina’s primary function and its general strategic objectives as a body part. It was at this point that I feigned an aneurysm and called an ambulance.
Sandy Lyle Watch
Just over twenty years ago Sandy Lyle was the number two ranked golfer in the world, had helped Europe win the Ryder Cup, had won two majors, and looked set for a long and glorious career. He started the 1989 season playing in America, with three top-3 finishes. Then he had a couple of bad tournaments, missed a couple of cuts, and so he arrived at the Masters in April to defend his title, a bit out of sorts. He failed badly and missed the cut. Then, rather than sleeping on it and letting his problems pass, like he had in the past, he started to mess with his swing. And he never recovered. He won a couple of more tournaments in the early 90’s, but since that early 1989 season his decline has been swift and complete. This morning he is ranked 609 in the world. 609. Seriously, there are not 608 golfers on the planet who are better than Sandy Lyle, even now.
There are many of us still out there, Sandy Lyle fans. And here’s the thing. If the man’s mercurial genius could desert him more or less overnight, is it not also the case then, that it could return overnight? And so we watch and wait and hope.
Earlier this month Sandy finished tied for 20th at the US Masters, his best finish in the tournament since he won it twenty-one years ago. His world ranking was a lot lower before then. And so today begins the Sandy Lyle Watch, when every weekend we will follow the fortunes of the Greatest Golfer Never To Win Three Majors, in the hope that we will all be there if and when the genius finally returns.
Having hit the age of 50 last year, Sandy generally plays against old men on the US Champion’s Tour. It’s not going very well. Best finish so far this year, tied for 12th. This past weekend was one of those show tournaments where a couple of old fellas play in pairs. After a good start, when they briefly led in the clubhouse after their first round, Sandy and Ian Woosnam drifted off the pace and finally finished tied for thirteenth.
Success at the US Champion’s Tour, should it ever come, won’t help his world ranking, but those of us who inhabit the netherworld of Sandy Lyle Optimism have to hope that his game improves while he plays the tour, and it draws him back into playing more regular tournaments.
20 Reasons Why The Last Fish Supper is Better ThanThe Da Vinci Code
# 1 Both The Da Vinci Code and The Last Fish Supper are absurdly ludicrous pieces of fiction with no basis in reality. Only one of the two books realises it’s an absurdly ludicrous piece of fiction with no basis in reality.
Next week, Reason #2...
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