Thursday, 31 March 2011

Transformation & Revelation, Cardiff

On Saturday I went with my daughter to see the 'Transformation & Revelation' exhibition of set design in Cardiff at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

We nearly got caught up in a drama of entirely the wrong sort as there was a football game at the Millennium Stadium between England and Wales, and we were swept along for a few hundred yards in the crowds of intimidating middle-aged white men with close cropped-hair and matching red and white acrylic scarves who had crossed the Severn Bridge in coach-loads to chant and jeer and piss up the walls of Cardiff Castle. It wasn't that we thought they must be going to admire the drawings and model boxes of the 200 world-renowned designers on show at the College ("how well-attended this exhibition must be, who says people don't care about the arts?"), just that we mistook our way for a short while.

The compensation for walking in the wrong direction was that we saw a bra hanging from the branches of a tree, and I insisted Lauren take a photo of it. This is just the sort of kooky, quirky photo that I would like to post on my blog all the time, except that I never see anything like that usually, Brixton being a more demure place than Cardiff on a weekend.

It was a black bra hanging in the brown branches of the tree so I played around with the hues and reversed black and white in the photo so it would show up a bit better in the thumbnail on this blog. I know it's still difficult to make out the detail so if you prefer to imagine it from my description, it was a sturdy black lace bra with a large cup size caught about 15ft from the ground in the bare branches of a tree just outside Cardiff Castle.

The exhibition was very interesting. It's free and it runs until 16th April.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Two New Books from Brilliant Writers - Recommended

Acclaimed British author Serena Mackesy has just released her scary supernatural thriller, Hold My Hand, for the Kindle. I started reading it last night and it's a compelling, well-written story with an intriguing set-up. It's available for $3.99 in the US and £2.83 in the UK Kindle store:
It seems like the answer to their prayers: a cash-in-hand residential job in a part of the country where no-one knows them – and no-one can find them.To single mother Bridget Sweeny and her daughter, Rospetroc House means sanctuary and a fresh start, with new names and new hope for the future. But the isolated manor on Bodmin Moor guards its own secrets: a history of high staff turnover and a disturbing reputation in the village. Strange things begin to happen: furniture moves by itself, Bridget hears whispers and footsteps in the empty corridors, and often has an eerie feeling that she is being watched. And Yasmin has made a new friend, Lily, but no-one in the village has ever heard of her. Meanwhile, Kieran – Yasmin’s abusive, obsessive, father – is doggedly seeking ways to track them down...


The first book I read on my new Kindle was The End of the World by award-winning British playwright Andrew Biss, which I finished last night. It's a surreal, clever, literary story with plenty of funny lines. Though it's much shorter than A Confederacy of Dunces (and priced accordingly, at 99 cents in the US or 71p in the UK), if you have read that book or The Third Policeman and enjoyed them, I think The End of the World will appeal to you:

Valentine's parents have decided that the time has come at last for their son to make his own way in the world. Valentine, accustomed to a life of cosseted seclusion, isn't so keen on the idea. But go he must, and soon he finds himself venturing forth into the vast world beyond. His new adventure is soon drawn to a halt, however, when he is mugged at gunpoint. Frightened and exhausted, he seeks shelter at a bed and breakfast establishment run by the dour Mrs. Anna. Here Valentine encounters a Bosnian woman with a hole where her stomach used to be, an American entrepreneur with a scheme to implant televisions into people's foreheads, and a Catholic priest who attempts to lure him down inside a kitchen sink. Then things start getting strange.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Abominable Seaman - Not All Publicity is Good Publicity

On Friday I recommended Big Al's Books and Pals review blog here because Al had kindly reviewed my book, Three Sisters. Yesterday his blog went viral with more than 50,000 hits in just a few hours. Coincidence? Well, yes.

A few days earlier Al had given quite a nice 2* review to a self-published book called The Greek Seaman - he thought the story was good but the grammar and spelling made it difficult to read and he suspected many readers wouldn't be able to finish the book.

Jaqueline Howett, the author of The Greek Seaman, responded robustly in the comments section of Al's blog, insisting that the reviewer should have downloaded the 'emergency copy' of the book that was available on Smashwords, and eventually resorting to Fuck Off! (twice). After receiving a few emails and comments from the author last week, Al wrote a post called A Word on Negative Reviews. He also left a comment on his review of The Greek Seaman illustrating the sort of language he found difficult to read in her book:
"She carried her stocky build carefully back down the stairs."

"Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance."
But the attacks continued: "Look AL, I'm not in the mood for playing snake with you, what I read above has no flaws. My writing is fine."

It's interesting to track her reaction - which is unpleasant, confrontational and ungrammatical - and just as instructive to see the reaction from readers and other self-published authors, some of whom take the opportunity to try to get a few sales for their books by putting the boot in to JH. One typical response was on Twitter where a self-published author linked to the blog, calling JH's comments 'the most abominable behaviour you'll ever see from an author'. Misguided, yes. Entertaining, yes. Ungrammatical, yes. But abominable?

It's also rather sweet to see other book review bloggers weigh in. Many of them have had similar abuse from other authors via email. A reviewer and editor with a popular blog, Red Adept, has said previously that she has had death threats and vehemently abusive emails from self-published authors for giving their books 'only' three star reviews on her blog, or for declining to write a review for a book that she had been unable to finish.

From reading JH's blog, it seems that she has travelled all over the world and had an interesting life, including a career as a artist. She is in the middle of a shit storm of her own making, fuelled by Twitter (yes, I linked to it, too) but hopefully she has someone at home telling her to step away from the computer and let it pass. At least she has her art.

Al has closed the comments now but you can see what all the fuss is about here.

p.s. The internet traffic to Big Al's Books and Pals has been so impressive that I'm considering abandoning my musings on vomit in Shoreditch and other subjects of scant interest to international readers in order to write a series of in-depth articles on this blog entitled 'I Knew Al Before He Was Famous', 'Big Al is My Pal' and 'Fuck Off!'

Monday, 28 March 2011

Sometimes a pile of vomit is just a pile of vomit - except in Shoreditch

I have been out and about taking photos of London street art in the hope of finding possible clues to the mysterious disappearance of my time-travelling friend, Araminta Claremont, who is stuck in the future somewhere.

Before she went missing she hadn't found a way of transporting objects between the present and the future, so she doesn't have her mobile phone with her. I also suspect she's in danger, and being watched. She'll need to try to communicate her location to me without giving anything away to whoever is stopping her from coming home, and I think she will do it by scrawling some obtuse message on a wall somewhere because that's what she told me to do if I should ever get stuck in the future and I wanted her to come and rescue me.

Whenever I visit Shoreditch - usually for poetry readings or art exhibitions, but also once for an underground dance party - it seems to be a very cool place full of bohemian young people in hats and unflattering trousers. A few Sundays ago I visited early in the morning and took photos of all the lovely graffiti painted on the walls in the area by street artists.

I live in Brixton and we have several impressive large community-minded murals on the walls, and lots of nuisance tags left by vandals with spray cans - nothing that compares to the inventiveness and creativity of the street artists who use Shoreditch as their canvas. However, although Brixton is a lively place with a lot of shouting (most of it about God, through loudhailers), most people go about their business without vomiting in the street on a Saturday night. Clapham High Street is nearby and, since I moved to the area nearly 20 years ago, it has reinvented itself as south London's Faliraki, with a lot of drunk young straight people in skimpy clothes roaming around in large groups, intoxicated and smoking fags and crossing the street without looking. Even they don't vomit much.

So far as I can tell, this photo of a pile of vomit in Shoreditch juxtaposed with the words 'We're all in it together?' spraypainted on the pavement holds no clue to Araminta's disappearance. Sometimes a pile of vomit is just a pile of vomit. But I like it because it suggests that even Shoreditch is really common sometimes. On the other hand it may be that Shoreditch is just so cool that for one visitor needing to express their feelings of alienation on a Saturday night, only a pile of vomit would do. It may even be that an activist first spray-painted the slogan - which appears to be political and anti-Government in tone - and then barfed nearby as a form of non-violent protest. In that case of course, it would be very cool, not common at all.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Saturday Showcase - books, plays, stories

Various friends are doing exciting things. I thought I'd celebrate them here:

Donna Fasano is an award-winning romance writer who has sold 3.5 million books worldwide under the name of Donna Clayton. I have read her romantic comedy The Merry-Go-Round and really enjoyed it. She is slowly releasing her backlist under her own name and this week she released Taking Love in Stride in the US and UK Kindle store for only 99 cents/70p. She has just started a blog here.

Jason Arnopp has written the Dr Who Audio book, Gemini Contagion, read by Meera Syal. It features Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond in a new adventure. Jason has also written and produced a new feature film called Stormhouse which is due for release this year. More on that another day. But for now you can read updates on his blog.

David Eldridge's new play, The Knot of the Heart at the Almeida, is getting superb 4* and 5* reviews. David is already well-known in the theatre world, and is a very good friend to other playwrights. There's no doubt that he will be a household name in five-ten years' time.

Kathryn Simmonds' story for Radio 4, Everyone Who Lives Here, was broadcast on 23rd March and is available on the BBC iPlayer for a few more days if you live in the UK. Kathryn won the Forward Prize for Poetry and was shortlisted for the Guardian first book award for Sunday at the Skin Launderette, a beautiful book of poetry.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Friday Reads - 25th March

Books:
The Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway - his years spent in Paris as a young man. Reading it, I was struck by his self-belief, his easy access to famous writers of the time and the horror of his first wife losing all his early work in a suitcase at the Gare du Nord. Loved the trip with Scott Fitzgerald. I have just finished it - highly recommended.

Fresh Powder by Susanne O'Leary - romantic comedy about two Irish girls who meet by chance in a French ski resort after falling out ten years previously. I'm about a quarter of the way through. Very enjoyable.

Lanark by Alasdair Gray - I bought it after seeing this link from @P_DSmith who also linked to Scaffoldage, below. I'm a couple of chapters in. Very good so far.

Aliens - latest Granta anthology. I saw one of the contributors, Mark Gevisser, read at Polari - a moving piece about his wedding in South Africa. So far I have read the contributors' biographies and one story, and admired the cover. I'm looking forward to dipping into the rest of it over the next few weeks.

The Dukan Diet by Pierre Dukan - I have lots of readings lined up, including some in New York in six weeks so, you know...

Kindle books
I got a Kindle last weekend. It's already loaded with lots of lovely books. I'm looking forward to reading them but for now it's 'too nice' to use so I'm keeping it as an artefact and getting on with reading paperbacks.

Blogs:
Scaffoldage - skeletal archiporn: beautiful photos of scaffolded buildings
Miriam Elia - Artist, writer, performer. I met her at Literary Death Match and I love her
Christopher Fowler - Novelist, critic, screenwriter. I met him at Polari and I love him too
Spitalfields Life - fascinating blog about people, places and history of Spitalfields, London
Boite Verte - brilliant photos and internet ephemera
Colganology - Illustrator Stevyn Colgan. Posting 365 doodles, one a day this year.
Daily Cheap Reads UK - I've got a Kindle now. This site lists ebooks under £6
EreaderIQ.co.uk - Lists free ebooks and recent price drops. You can set up alerts for favourite books
Big Al's Books and Pal - book review blog, recently reviewed Three Sisters
Coffee and Literature - book review blog, recently reviewed Being Light
The Motherlode - book review blog, recently reviewed Alison Wonderland

Articles and links of interest on the internet:
Regretsy found a Royal Wedding mug with a photo of Harry and Kate on it
Telegraph - chickens are capable of empathy
Youtube - Uptown Downstairs Abbey Comic Relief spoof Part 1 and Part 2
Telegraph - Eva Braun in blackface and other rare photos

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Hum of History - Amanda Holiday

Last night I went to the private view of my friend Amanda Holiday's exhibition, the Hum of History. It's at the cueB Gallery, 325 Brockley Road, south London. It runs until 29th April.

The year before last, Amanda drew a floor-to-ceiling picture of an Ark and put various friends on it, including me. The people aboard swapped stories about what was happening to us via a Facebook page and at one point I was put off the Ark with my dog Jessie in a rowing boat with a stolen microwave oven. Unfortunately the Ark sank in the Mediterranean in August 2009. Fortunately the picture remains.

Catalogue from Amanda's exhibition below:

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Lovely Literary Event - Oxford

I'll be at the Albion Beatnik Bookstore for the Oxford Fringe Festival on Monday 4th April. There's a Facebook page here.

The line-up includes:
Lucy Ayrton, slam poet extraordinaire and Hammer and Tongue regular

Penny Goring, commander-in-chief of the New Libertine movement, author of the forthcoming collection of shorts and poems zoom zoom

Anna Hobson, star of Oxwords’ No Reading Alone and the life force of Oxford Creative Writers

Dan Holloway, Literary Death Match winner, author of The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, contributor to transgressive anthologies

There will be music from the fabulous Rabid Gravy

It's 6-8pm and it's free.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Happy Monday - What are You Reading?

Thanks to everyone who signed up for the book giveaways on my blog over the weekend. Thanks, too, for following my blog and my Facebook page.

The winner was chosen at random using random.org. Congratulations, J C (who is on Facebook as A G).

The giveaway was part of a worldwide book giveaway hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Books Complete Me. Thanks to them for organising it - if you signed up to win something from all the participating blogs, I hope you came away with something at the end of it.

I'm sorry if you didn't win but I'll be doing regular giveaways here and on my Facebook page. If you were hoping for a copy of Imogen's book, Faustine, please sign up to her page on Facebook as she does lots of giveaways there, too.

Over at the Book Journey blog Sheila is asking 'What Are You Reading?'

In paperback I'm reading Ernest Hemingway's Moveable Feast. It's a short memoir that was written in the last years of his life about the years spent living in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife. It's rather like reading one of the interviews in the Paris Review of Books interview collections which I really love. I'm about a third of the way into it and I'm struck by his self-belief. At the time of writing he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature which must have helped to colour his view of the past, but even when reflecting on his early years, he talks about writing as 'working'.

When, in the first chapter of the book, he mentioned 'coming home from work' I assumed at first that, as he was young and at the start of his career, he meant that he was employed in a cafe or restaurant like George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London. I know quite a few professional writers, including some best-selling novelists and acclaimed playwrights. Though they all consider writing to be work, I don't think I have ever heard any of them call it anything other than 'writing'.

Over the years I have often wondered how to discourage acquaintances from interrupting my writing to ask me to do stupid errands for them - anything from walking their dog to mowing their grass to jump-starting their car. Years ago I would just abandon my work to go and do their bidding. More recently I have started to refuse. Sometimes I might say that I'm 'on a deadline'. At other times I invent mysterious appointments that cannot be missed. Even the most selfish person, who would not think twice about asking me to abandon work on my literary masterpieces - for which, until completion, I do not get paid - would not ask me to rearrange an appointment with a gynacologist, astrologist, dermatologist or dentist. Anyway, I might take my cue from Hemingway and say, in future, that I'm working.

I have just got a Kindle. Until this weekend I have been reading ebooks on Kindle for PC, a free app for computers. I have several ebooks lined up ready to read, including Heads by Eddie Stack and Virtual Strangers by Susanne O'Leary and Ola Zaltin. Both are currently on offer at 99 cents/70p.

Last year I read The West: Stories from Ireland by Eddie Stack and loved it - it was one of my favourite books of last year. From reading the description, I hope that Heads will be like early Joseph O'Connor - J O'C is one of my favourite writers and I like the early books as much as his later historical novels.

I recently met Susanne O'Leary for lunch in London. She is Swedish by birth and is married to an Irish diplomat. After being posted all over the world, she and her husband now live in Ireland. Susanne has reverted the rights to her backlist and is publishing her books on the Kindle. She is also publishing some original work on the Kindle, too - Virtual Strangers is one. We have never met so when she mentioned that she was coming to London I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to meet her.

Since starting this blog nearly four years ago I have made lots of friends through it. It sounds a bit weird to anyone who doesn't have a blog but after exchanging comments on other blogs, meeting in person feels like meeting an old friend. Susanne and I chatted as if we had known each other for years. She gave me a paperback copy of Fresh Powder, which was a best-seller in Ireland and is now selling very well internationally in ebook format. It's a very entertaining romantic comedy and I'm enjoying it immensely.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Book Giveaways - Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop

2011 has been a brilliant year for me so far. I have been commissioned to write a new play and I have signed with a new publisher. I have also been invited to appear at lots of interesting literary events in the UK and the US. Yay!

So it seemed apt to share a little love by participating in the Lucky Leprecaun Giveaway Hop, organised by book bloggers Books Complete Me and I Am A Reader Not A Writer.

Blog hops are a way of discovering new blogs and/or picking up some lovely prizes. 269 blogs have signed up for this one.

I am giving away one bundle of the following (international - no restrictions on entry):

*a digital copy of my cozy mystery Three Sisters to be read on your ereader or computer: Amateur sleuth Emily Castles investigates a murder at a party in the big house at the end of her street in south London. A 70 page novella suitable for readers of all ages.

*a signed paperback copy of my history book, Grave-robbers, Cut-throats and Poisoners of London: Delve into the fascinating history of London's criminal past. Suitable for children aged 8-12.

* a signed paperback copy of my off-beat mystery novel, Being Light:
When Sheila's husband doesn't come home, she begins to suspect he has been abducted by aliens. But the truth is far stranger. (Contains some strong language. Not for children.)

* a signed paperback copy of my friend Imogen Rose's new Young Adult book, Faustine: With her life in danger, Faustine must learn to follow one of Bonfire Academy's most important rules: Trust no one.

To enter, please follow this blog via Google Friend Connect (the box on the right) and send an email to tygerbooks[at]btinternet.com before midnight on Sunday 20th March.

For an additional chance to win - and to keep up to date with future giveaways - please join my Facebook page.

Here's the list of participating blogs for the Lucky Leprecaun Blog Hop. If you visit every one between March 17th and March 20th to sign up for a prize you have a good chance of winning something. Good luck!

Lovely Literary Events - London

Literary Death Match returns to London tomorrow night (18th March) with all proceeds going to Comic Relief.

Tickets are £8. Doors open at 6.30 pm. Show starts at 7.45 pm. The party goes on until 2.00 am. You can buy tickets for £5 for the party only: 9.00 pm - 2.00 am.

It's at Concrete in Shoreditch.

From now until midnight on 18th March I'm donating all royalties for my books sold on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk to Comic Relief. I have reduced all my ebooks to £1 for Comic Relief.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Royalties from my books to go to Comic Relief for Red Nose Day

It's Red Nose Day on Friday 18th March in the UK, a fundraising day held annually to raise money for a charity called Comic Relief to help change the lives of disadvantaged people around the world.

I'll be donating all royalties from my books sold at Amazon UK and Amazon US between now and midnight on 18th March to Comic Relief.

Since 1985 Comic Relief has raised more than £650 million (more than $1,000,000,000 = a billion dollars) to help people in 76 countries around the world.

UPDATE: TV composer Sam Watts who composes the music for the BBC's Dr Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Aventures and other TV programmes, including a TV project I'm involved in as a writer, has devised a fabulous auction for Comic Relief: he will write a personal theme tune for the winner. It sounds awesome, doesn't it? If you're rich, eccentric - or you just need a theme tune - please bid here.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Lovely Literary Events - London, New York, Oxford

I have been invited to appear at lots of lovely literary events in 2011 - in London, New York, Oxford and elsewhere.

I have set up an events page on this blog and I'll be updating it as news of each event is finalised.

Don't worry about missing any of them, though - I'll be sure to post about it here when dates are confirmed and tickets are available.

You can also join my Facebook page to be kept up to date with events and giveaways.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Advice for Writers





I have written a guest post over at Kathleen Valentine's popular Parlez-Moi blog. Kathleen blogs about cooking, knitting, graphic design, publishing and writing.

You can check out my post here.

Kathleen is currently suffering from tendonitis in her hand - which is a nightmare if you're a writer, a knitter or a graphic designer. Kathleen is all of these so I wish her well and hope she makes a good recovery.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Who is Faustine?

My friend Imogen Rose has a new book out: Faustine. It's the first book in the new Bonfire Chronicles series.

With her life in danger, Faustine must learn to follow one of Bonfire Academy's most important rules: Trust no one.

Sounds great, doesn't it! Imogen's Portal Chronicles series is a bestseller in the US but you don't have to live there to enjoy her books. Imogen is Swedish by birth and now lives in New Jersey but she lived for a while in London - she was an immunologist at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington - and her books are partly set here.

Faustine is available in ebook or paperback format at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble.

I'll have a signed paperback copy of Faustine to give away in a bundle with some of my books as part of the Lucky Leprecaun Giveaway Hop, 17th-20th March, so please check back here for details of how to enter on 17th March.

If you like giveaways and you're on Facebook, please sign up to Imogen's page - she hosts lots of giveaways there. And while you're there, you can always sign up for mine!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Lovely Literary Events in London

I'm looking forward to 'All About the Girl' at Brixton Library tonight - readings and a Q&A with Monica Ali, Rebecca Chance, Stella Duffy, Lisa Jewell and Sophie Kinsella to celebrate International Women's Day.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

World Book Night Books for Prisoners of Conscience

I have been giving out copies of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark for World Book Night. Each 'giver' was allocated 48 copies of one book that we had chosen from a list of 25 titles available to give away. It's amazing how 48 copies of one book can go a very long way. After giving 20 copies to the exiled writers group I mentor at The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and 21 copies at random to people in Brixton, I decided to send my remaining seven copies to prisoners of conscience abroad.

I'm a member of English PEN, a charity that promotes literature and human rights. English PEN campaigns for imprisoned and persecuted writers around the world and its members - who are all writers - are encouraged to correspond with writers in prison.

I sent my remaining seven copies of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to the following prisoners of conscience (click on the links for more details about each person):

Eynulla Fatullayev – editor serving an 8 ½ year sentence, Azerbaijan

Lapiro de Mbanga - musician serving three years in prison, Cameroon

Pedro Argülles Morán - one of three journalists in prison, Cuba

Teresa Toda - writer, journalist and member of Basque PEN serving a ten year term, Spain

Ragip Zaragolu - publisher on trial several times over a period of years, Turkey

Mamadali Makhmudov - writer serving a 14-year sentence since 1999, Uzbekistan

Trân Khai Thanh Thuy - journalist, Vietnam

If you would like to write to these people or anyone else who has come to the attention of the Writers in Prison Committee at English PEN, or send books to prisoners, you can contact Cat Lucas here: cat@englishpen.org.

If you'd like to celebrate International Women's Day by writing to a woman in prison, then Cat can put you in touch. Both Trân Khai Thanh Thuy and Teresa Toda are women journalists in prison.

And if you'd like to join English PEN, take a look at the details here.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Show Off! New York Style Piano Bar in London

Yesterday I went to see Madam Butterfly at the King's Head in Islington - billed as "London's little opera house", with prices to match, and with a talented cast and accomplished musicians who somehow gave us Puccini's music with only a piano, a violin and a clarinet. The OperaUpClose team has four operas in repertory there. I saw their La Boheme at the Cock Tavern in Kilburn last year and it was fantastic. It's up for an Olivier award next week - quite an achievement, considering that the other nomination is for the Royal Opera House.

Later I went to the first anniversary of my friend Sue Knox's Show Off! Piano Bar night which had ventured from its usual home at Cafe Koha just off St Martin's Lane in London's theatre district to the Green Carnation in Soho. You have to look hard to find a bar or restaurant in Soho that doesn't claim some kind of connection to Oscar Wilde, however spurious, and the Green Carnation is 'inspired' by his life and work which seemed only to mean that a selection of his aphorisms were to be found stencilled, Linda-Barker-of-Changing Rooms-style, on the walls. Still, it was very nice - and proved to be an exceptionally apt venue for last night's celebrations when the bar tender was persuaded to get up and gave a word perfect rendition of a show tune, accompanied on the piano (as was every other participant last night) by musical director Nathan Martin.

Sue used to live in New York and loved to hang out in piano bars where people could get up to sing, taking their turn with cast members of musicals who had dropped in for the night. She couldn't find anything like it in London and so, exactly a year ago last Sunday night, she had the inaugural night of Show Off!

The night now runs every two weeks, usually downstairs at Cafe Koha, with a rotating schedule of hosts. It's usually extremely entertaining. Last night there was the usual mix of talented theatre students, talented 'amateurs', cast members on a night off from a show (last night I spotted someone from Children's Hour), friends of Sue and people who will one day be friends of Sue - most of the regulars now know each other. If that sounds cliquey, don't be alarmed. There are plenty of 'ordinary' people there like me who don't sing - and plenty of opportunities to forge new friendships if you do: last night two people who had just met decided to do a duet.

Without wishing to offend anyone, including the talented barman and everyone else who got up and sang last night, I have to say that the highlights of the night, for me, came from two brilliant, witty women: Chicago's Shelly Goldstein (who sang several songs, including Super Callous Homophobic Hateful Legislation, her gay marriage equality parody song) and our very own Susie Blake (who sang Someone's Been Sending Me Flowers).

Congratulations, Sue - here's to another year!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

World Book Night - Brixton

Back in December or January I signed up to be a 'giver' for World Book Night. There was a list of 25 books available and I had read and enjoyed most of them (and given some of them as gifts to friends and family in the past). However I signed up to give away 48 copies of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark on World Book Night. I love her books and I think that they're likely to appeal to people of any age, whether male or female. Jean Brodie is an interesting character. She's a teacher who lives in Edinburgh in the 1930s-1950s and we discover her as her pupils do - first seeing her as fascinating and glamorous, and then seeing her flaws. It's a short, clever, witty, thought-provoking book with some interesting historical details and lots of memorable lines.

The idea of World Book Night is for people to share their love of reading. One million books were printed and 20,000 people signed up to give them away. At its simplest level, it's wonderful to be given a gift, and a book is a pretty nice gift to be given. There's also the hope within the publishing industry (who paid for the books and put their resources into distributing them) that people will discover new authors and buy more of their books, or remember how nice it is to get a book as a gift and go out and buy one of their favourites for someone they know. If they haven't read a book for a while, they may even rediscover a love of reading.

I decided to do my giving in two ways: I volunteer as a writing mentor at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I'll be giving some of the books to members of an exiled writers group there, and doing a follow-up workshop in May. Some of the pieces that are written in response to Muriel Spark's book will be published in an anthology in the summer. The Medical Foundation is an amazing charity that is funded mostly by private individuals who donate via their salaries or by holding fundraising events. Supporters range from ordinary members of the public like me to celebrities such as Michael Palin. The Medical Foundation is also sponsored by companies such as Random House - who made it their charity of the year this year - and The Economist.

As well as giving some of my World Book Night books in an organised way, I loved the idea of serendiptious giving. Tonight, on World Book Night, I walked from my house down to Brixton tube station and gave out books along the way. Did I give you a book? I had no way of knowing whether you'd be someone who reads regularly, or someone who used to read but now prefers to watch films or TV or do something else with your time, or even someone who doesn't read much but might give this short, lovely book a try. At the very least I hoped you'd be pleased to get a gift from a stranger. I thought it might be one of those nice odd things that sometimes happen to people that you could talk about to your friends or family. I also hoped that, whether or not you liked the book, sooner or later you'd pass it on to someone else in the same spirit.

I gave out books at Brixton prison, Negril restaurant, the White Horse pub, The Ritzy Cinema, the public safety station in the square run by Brixton police, and the Satay Bar. Mostly, I wanted to give out the books to people who were working on a Saturday night, though I also gave some to customers who were drinking in the bar upstairs at the Ritzy, and to members of a party who were having dinner at the Satay bar.

I have lived in Brixton for many years and always found it to be a friendly place with a 'live and let live' attitude. Sure enough, everyone was very nice to me when I approached them and handed over their World Book Night book. I felt slightly embarrassed to be giving the book to a stranger - and also thrilled to be able to do it. I got such a good reaction from everyone, by the end of the night I wished I could have given away a book to everyone I passed.

I think that the World Book Night website will be very busy tonight and in the next few days as a million books are given out and thousands of people try and register at the same time. But please persist when things have quietened down and register your book so we can track its progress as you hand it on to the next person.

I have kept back a couple of books to give away tomorrow. I wanted to reflect on the giving process to see if there was a better way I could have done it. But the idea of giving a gift to someone who is working seems to be a good way of passing on my World Book Night books. There are a couple of shops and restaurants/cafes near me that will be open tomorrow and I will hand out the remainder of my non-Medical Foundation books to the people there.

When the time comes to pass on your book, I hope you get as much pleasure out of giving it as I did when I gave it to you. Thank you for participating in World Book Night. Here's to the next one...

Friday, 4 March 2011

World Book Night Launch Trafalgar Square

I just got back from the launch of World Book Night in Trafalgar Square - it was a great evening. Thanks to everyone who organised it and participated in it, including the authors and actors who gave readings from their favourite books, and Jamie Byng, the publisher at Canongate Books (pictured with me, left).

The event was hosted by Graham Norton and there were were readings from Monica Ali, Margaret Atwood, Alan Bennett, Nick Cave, Rupert Everett, Tracy Chevalier, Hayley Atwell, Mark Haddon, John Le Carre, Edna O'Brien, David Nicholls, DCB Pierre, Philip Pullman, Lemn Sissay, Suggs, Stanley Tucci and Sarah Waters. Alan Bennett provided the soundbite of the night when he said that the closure of libraries was "child abuse". Photos here, here and here.

I was delighted to be on stage throughout [photo, left, by tiny_tear], on a comfy sofa between Harriet Spicer, one of the founder members of Virago who will be giving Beloved by Toni Morrison to a group of teenagers she mentors in east London, and Candy, a writer who will be giving Seamus Heaney's poems to people in deprived areas of north Kent. Others who were fortunate enough to be on stage for the readings included Keith, who'll be giving The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time to people in St Albans; Grace, a storyteller who'll be giving Half of a Yellow Sun to various groups, including a women's refuge in Ealing and a school; Pat, who'll be giving The World's Wife to sixth formers at a school in south London. Also present were Sandy of the Reading Agency who coordinated the involvement of libraries for World Book Night, and Julia Kingsford of Foyles who was on the panel responsible for choosing the 25 books available. She's one of the originators of World Book Night and she'll be driving around in a Foyles van today giving out copies of five books. One million copies of 25 books have been printed by Clays to be given out today.

I'm looking forward to giving out Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie tomorrow, 5th March. Some of the books will go to members of an exiled writers group at The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture where I volunteer as a writing mentor. Other copies will go to random people in south London, where I live.

Thanks to everyone who has organised World Book Night. It is an extraordinary achievement. If you get a book, please read it and then pass it on. You can track it via its unique reference number on the World Book Night site.

If you're visiting from She Writes - welcome!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

World Book Day and World Book Night Launch - Trafalgar Square - 4th March

It's World Book Day today. Happy World Book Day! Are you doing anything special to celebrate? I have just finished re-reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in preparation for giving away 48 copies of the book for World Book Night on 5th March. I'm also writing a stage play based on another book by Muriel Spark and as my book, The Miracle Inspector, is featured at Kindle Nation Daily today, I'm expecting to sell lots of copies in the US and the UK. Reading, writing, selling books... actually, every day is World Book Day for me.

I'm honoured to have been invited to take part in the launch of World Book Night on Friday 4th March. I'll be interviewed on stage in Trafalgar Square by Graham Norton about why I signed up to give away The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, and who I plan to give it to. As some of you know, I volunteer as a mentor with an exiled writing group through the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I'll be giving about half of the books to them - and doing a special follow-up workshop in May, once they have read the books - and giving the rest away in the Clapham/Brixton area of London, where I live.

The World Book Night launch event on 4th March is hosted by Graham Norton and will be filmed for the BBC, and a new arts channel called Hibrow TV. Margaret Atwood is flying over from Canada to read from her book, and other authors will be there on the night to give readings and support the event, including DCB Pierre, Alan Bennett, Nick Cave, John le Carré, Rupert Everett, Mark Haddon, Hanif Kureishi, Edna O’Brien, Philip Pullman, Lemn Sissay and Derek Walcott.

World Book Night was the idea of Jamie Byng, publisher at Canongate Books, and is supported by BBC2, Betrams, Clays, the CPI group, FSC, Gardeners, Hibrow, Holmes Paper, Pentagram Design and Stora Enson. The World Book Night event in Trafalgar Square tomorrow is sponsored by Sony and its Sony Reader, and Waterstones.

World Book Night is a brilliant, ambitious initiative that has been conceived by an industry in crisis. Rather than putting up prices or sticking pages of advertising into books, or giving up and applying for jobs elsewhere, they are giving away a million books in a celebration of reading. They are hoping to foster a love of reading among people who don't buy books, and get people who do buy them to talk about their favourites and share their love of reading more widely.

It seems like a clever idea to me, and I can't understand the carping from some independent booksellers and some authors - as if, by giving away one copy of a book to someone who would otherwise not read it, those participating in World Book Night are somehow depriving book shops and authors of their profits. It's not as if people will only buy one book a year. If this was World Car Night and they were giving away a million cars, I could understand why the motor industry might protest.

As a writer, I'd love more people to buy books. As a reader, I'd love people to read more books. World Book Night is a great way to encourage them to do it. Isn't it?

Happy World Book day!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Translator, Poet

My profile is up on the new Modern Poetry in Translation website. I am listed as 'translator, poet'.

I had always thought I would like a quote from Who Framed Roger Rabbit to go on my headstone: 'Only when it was funny.'

Now I see that I'd prefer to have the listing from Modern Poetry in Translation: translator, poet. I hardly deserve it but I'm honoured to see my name there, along with poets I admire such as Seamus Heaney. His contribution to Modern Poetry in Translation series 3 issue 12 was on the page after mine and F. Mehrban's. I told you that already, didn't I?

If you haven't come across Modern Poetry in Translation before, it's a quarterly anthology of translated poetry that was founded by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort in 1965. It is now edited by David and Helen Constantine. David Constantine, as you may be aware, won the prestigious BBC short story prize in 2010.

World Book Night - Update

World Book Night is taking place on 5th March - one million books will be given away in the UK and Ireland. I have been selected as a 'giver' and I'll be giving away The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. I'm re-reading it now in anticipation of talking about it to potential recipients.

There's an event in Trafalgar Square in London on 4th March for people who have signed up to donate books or give them away on 5th March. Margaret Atwood is flying over from Canada especially to attend. The list of authors attending is as diverse and inclusive as the list of books available to be given away - Rupert Everett, John Le Carre and DBC Pierre among them.

I love it that the rules for giving away the books are not prescriptive - the idea is to foster a love of reading among those who might not normally buy books. Some people will be handing them out on public transport or in the street. Others will be going house to house to visit neighbours. Some people who are involved in charities or local schools will give them away there. Others are planning to give away the books at their workplace.

I'm going to give away about 20 Muriel Sparks to a group of exiled writers I mentor through the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. These are literate people, many of whom have published work in their own language. Some have studied English literature, but others have not read many books in English and often ask for recommendations. I'll be doing a follow-up workshop with the members of the group in May after they have had a chance to read the book.

I also like the idea of serendiptous giving - I'll be handing the remainder of the books out at random on 5th March. I picked them up from my local book shop, Clapham Books, which is a collection point for 43 givers. There are stickers on the backs of the books which I hope will lead recipients to the book store to buy other books by authors they have discovered this way, or just to support a local independent bookseller. I will also be putting Book Aid bookmarks into the books - these were supplied by Brixton Library, another supporter of World Book Night.

I have made contact with some other 'givers' on Twitter and via some book forums I visit, including Amazon.co.uk and MobileReads. I did a TV interview about it yesterday at Finsbury Library, and a short piece about why I signed up and why I love books will be appearing in Print Week.

I'd love to know what you're doing if you're involved. Let me know!