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Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

William S. Burroughs and the Torso Murderer – Talk

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Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs

Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs is one of The Scribbler’s staple authors. To read his work is to understand our mission. Which is why we were so excited to hear about a discussion forum taking place this weekend on the famed beat author.

The Last Tuesday Society, of 11 Mare Street London, hosts Oliver Harris, Professor of American Literature at Keele University for a night entitled: William S. Burroughs and the Torso Murderer.

Burroughs once wrote: “…in this life we have to take things as we find them as the torso murderer said when he discovered his victim was a quadruple amputee.”

To coincide with the publication of a new, 25th-anniversary edition of Burroughs’ second novel Queer, Harris has finished reediting the early trilogy of novels preceding the notorious Naked Lunch.

The story behind Queer starts in the early 50s in Mexico City when the fledgling author and heroin addict, accidentally shot and killed his wife, Joan, in a drunken re-enactment of William Tell.  The experience served as a catalyst awakening a creativity which produced the masterpieces The Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine.

This week’s talk follows a trail of evidence from letters, manuscripts, photographs, Shakespearean references, Plato, pulp publishers, vaudeville acts, and a torso murderer (a reference to the infamous Cleveland Torso Murders of the 30s which were investigated by the same police officer who successfully convicted Al Capone).

Burroughs was hailed by Norman Mailer, novelist, journalist and innovator of the non-fiction narrative, as  “The only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.”

Over the years Burroughs’ work has been a major influence by musicians and artists like Lou Reed, Joy Division, Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Kurt Cobain. Oliver Harris is the author of seven books and several articles on the Beatnik writer. He has also edited Burroughs’ early trilogy of novels for Penguin Books including Junkie and Queer.

Buy tickets for the William S. Burroughs and the Torso Murderer talk on November 19 at The Last Tuesday Society here >>

Watch a trailer for the new film William S. Burroughs: A Man Within below:

Discussion:
Will you be attending the Torso Murderer talk? Do you feel Burroughs is rightly labelled as one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century? Favourite book? Go on…tell us.

Words: Dean Samways

Afghan war book deal for Rolling Stone writer

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Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings

Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings

The journalist who broke the story of General Stanley McChrystal‘s ill judged words on the US’ involvement in Afghanistan has a book deal.

Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings is now working on a book about the conflict with publishers Little, Brown and Company, it was announced on Tuesday.

According to the publisher, the book will provide an “unfiltered look” at the war and those men and women fighting it.

As of yet a release date has not been set and the book is currently untitled.

Hastings’ Rolling Stone article featured the much publicised remarks made by McChrystal and his aides about President Barack Obama and his administration. McChrystal was replaced as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan by General David Petraeus following his highly criticised comments.

Read the original article, The Runaway General, here >>

Watch an interview with Michael Hastings on Democracy Now! below:

Discussion:
What do you make of the article? Is Hastings the contemporary journalist of modern times? Will you be reading his book?

Words: Dean Samways

Toby Young – A Master of nothing?

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Toby Young, author of How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

Toby Young, author of How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

To celebrate the DVD and Blu-Ray release of ‘How To Lose Friends and Alienate People’, The Scribbler talks to the author of the book that became one of the funniest movies of last year.

In an exclusive interview Toby Young talks about how he got into writing, what nurtured his talent and how the transformation from book to film transpired.

Enjoy our little chat with one of the most sought after writers of the twenty-first century below and leave a comment:

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THE SCRIBBLER: When, where and how did you first discover your flair for writing, and how was it nurtured early on?

TOBY YOUNG: Both my parents were published authors so, for me, writing a book wasn’t a particularly huge leap. Growing up, it was always something I thought I’d do. In addition, my father was always quite encouraging. From a very early age he used to tell me that I was a natural writer.

TS: What was it about working on The Danube that drove you to follow a career in journalism when you were, at the time, studying very different subjects?

TY: I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics as a student — a subject known as PPE — and that is considered a typical degree for a journalist to take. I think a more pertinent question is why I didn’t go into current affairs journalism, why I tend to do the softer, more personal stuff, and that was something I fell into by accident. It was just easier to get published on the features page than the op ed page and, having come up that route, that’s the path I’m still on. But as I get older I find myself drifting more towards news and current affairs.

TS: You mentioned that as you get older you feel drawn to current affairs, how has that transition in writing styles and subjects been for you?

TY: I just mean that I enjoy appearing on programmes like Newsnight and Question Time – not that it happens very often!

The Sound of No Hands Clapping

'The Sound of No Hands Clapping'

TS: Can you describe the move you made from journalism to fiction writing? What differences exist between the two disciplines in terms of having to change your methods? Did you come across any difficulties and how did you overcome them?

TY: I’ve published very little fiction. My two books – ‘How To Lose Friends and Alienate
People’ and ‘The Sound of No Hands Clapping’ – are both non-fiction.

TS: While your two books are non-fiction some creativity must have gone into them, even if it was just finding ways of making scenes sound as colourful as possible.  How did you approach writing books like that? Are they not just mammoth features?

TY: I’ve read quite a few books on screenwriting and done Robert McKee’s screenwriting course a couple of times. I found that very helpful when it came to writing books. I think the principals of storytelling are universal, regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction.

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

'How To Lose Friends and Alienate People'

TS: How did ‘How To Lose Friends and Alienate People’ come about? Can you briefly describe the writing process of such an auto-biographical book. Was it as much fun writing it as it is reading it?

TY: I worked on the proposal for ‘How To Lose Friends’ for a couple of years, but, after I’d sold the book on the back of that, it only took me about six months to write. I’m not sure “fun” is the right word to use. Hunter S Thompson said, “I suspect writing is a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don’t do much giggling.”

TS: To the majority of readers it would appear you’ve led quite the lifestyle. How do you intent to follow your two books? Do you think you’ll have to turn to fiction to convey the same messages and humour?

TY: Well, my life is certainly less exciting now that I’m married and have four children. I want to write more fiction, but it’s hard finding the time between all my other commitments.

TS: During the film making process of HTLF&AP was it difficult to let some of the book go in the production reasons? How much input did you have in the process?

TY: No, I didn’t find that at all difficult. William Goldman, the novelist and screenwriter, once told me that a writer has to learn how to murder his babies, but that came naturally to me. The producers of the film were initially a little wary of me because they thought I’d fight to preserve every last scene in the book, but when they realized I wasn’t going to do that they were much more open to my suggestions. I knew that if the book was going to be turned into a film it would have to be very different.

TS: Are you happy with the finished piece? Has is inspired you to do a bit of screenwriting?

TY: Yes, very happy. It’s a very entertaining film. On the screenwriting front, I caught that bug about twenty-five years ago and I’m still plugging away. Being involved in the making of a film hasn’t put me off in the slightest.

TS: As the hype over HTLF&AP the movie pipes up again with the release of the DVD what are your plans for the future?

TY: I’d like to keep writing books, plays, movie scripts, etc, but be paid a lot more for doing it.

TS: You’re a bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to writing. Which discipline do you enjoy dabbling in the most and why?

TY: I like comedy writing the best, particularly devising comic scenes. If you can pull that off, it’s very satisfying, particularly when you hear people laughing in the theatre or the cinema.

TS: I was able to contact you quite freely without having to go through publicists or PR. Do you usually work with them?  For the budding writers out there, what are the pros and cons of working with such professionals?

TY: I worked with a PR company on How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, but generally speaking I don’t. As far as I can tell, the only advantage of forcing people who want to interview you to go through a PR company is that they take you more seriously.

TS: The Scribbler is dedicated to inspiring and advising would-be writers to get their material published. What is the best piece of advice you could give them, or you have ever been given concerning your work?

TY: When I was about 19 I bumped into Clive James at an airport and told him what a big fan I was of ‘Unreliable Memoirs’. He reciprocated by giving me a piece of advice that I’ve found very useful: Keep it personal. The important thing is to find your own voice, to write in a style that is unique to you. Once you can do that, the rest is easy.

TS: Just how personal are you prepared to go in your writing?  How much of yourself do you dare put into your work?

TY: I like to think I’m pretty open and honest, but it is easy to delude yourself about just how open and honest you’re being. That is to say, many people who write about themselves and their reactions to things claim to feel what they think they ought to feel, but which, in reality, they don’t. I don’t think they’re being straightforwardly deceptive – it’s more that the lies they tell themselves spill out on to the page — but it still has the smell of dishonesty about it. The really hard thing about personal writing is to be completely faithful to who you really are and not pretend to be the person you think you ought to be.

TS: What you up to at the moment?

TY: I have a few irons in the fire, but experience has taught me not to talk about anything until you’re ready to unveil it before the public because, so often, these projects come to nothing.

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Find Toby Young in cyberspace:

Watch Toby Young interview Simon Pegg (and vice versa) for The Culture Show below:

Discussion:
Are you a fan of Toby Young’s writing? Does the movie do HTLF&AP justice? Post your views, comments and start discussions in the comments box below.

Words: Dean Samways

Writer and creator of The Wire back on the beat

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David Simon, creator of The Wire

David Simon, creator of The Wire

Celebrated creator of the much loved hit US police drama The Wire (The Guardian’s live blog on all five series) has returned to his journalistic roots to investigate crime in Baltimore, the setting of the HBO series.

Writer and journalist David Simon was reportedly unhappy with the Baltimore Sun‘s coverage of a police shooting which reported that “one old police reporter [Simon] lost his mind and began making calls” following a handful of unsatisfactory stories.

You would have thought the Baltimore police would have learnt it’s lesson after five series of The Wire but Simon was denied the face sheet of the shooting report.

David Simon said: “I tried to explain the Maryland statutes to the shift commander, but so long had it been since a reporter had demanded a public document that he stared at me as if I were an emissary from some lost and utterly alien world. Which is, sadly enough, exactly true.”

Have a look see what Charlie Brooker thinks of The Wire below:

Discussion:
Has the Wire inspired anyone to try their hand at screenplay writing? Does anyone enjoy writing about crime, and why? Let us know what you think of The Wire.

Words: Dean Samways

Booker Prize and Costa Awards judging panels announced

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Aravind Adiga with his Man Booker Prize winning novel White Tiger

Aravind Adiga with his Man Booker Prize winning novel White Tiger

The organisers behind two of the biggest book awards have announced the judging panels for their 2009 awards. The Man Booker Prize and The Costa Book Awards are some of the most respected in the literary world and anyone asked to judge these awards must see it as a great honour.

The judging panel for The Man Booker prize has been announced with the powers that be opting for a more ‘serious’ line-up. Heading up the critics is Today Program (BBC Radio 4) presenter Jim Naughtie providing some serious journalist clout and is definitely a more suited judge than last year’s choice Michael Portillo.

The remaining seats on the judging panel will be filled by literary editor of The Sunday Telegraph Michael Prodger, the writer Lucasta Miller, who has written a critically acclaimed book on the Bronte’s. Every literature judging panel has to include the token celebrity personality and this year that great honour has fallen to Sue Perkins of Mel and Sue fame. Check out the full panel right here.

The Costa Book Award has announced its judging panel (already touched on by The Scribbler) leaning towards a more broadcasting friendly collective. The judges include world renowned reporter Michael Buerk and comedian/actor Alexander Armstrong. The panel is headed up by columnist and broadcaster Matthew Parris. To see the full line-up and biographies of the judges click here.

Watch last year’s Man Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga talks about his award winning book White Tiger:

Discussion:
Are the personalities listed here qualified enough to decide which piece of writing should win over another? Who would you like to see on a book award judging panel?

Words: Seamus Swords

DBC Pierre to appear at Live Literature

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DBC Pirrer
‘Dirty But Clean’ Pierre

Modern literature’s L’Enfant terrible is set to make a rare live appearance at the Live Literature event in Manchester on 15 December. Infamous literary villain turned Booker Prize winner DBC Pierre will be discussing his life and career which has included stints as a film-maker, designer, photographer and cartoonist. He is most famous for his book Vernon God Little, which won the Booker prize and was included in GQ Magazine‘s 100 Best Things 2006.

DBC Pierre’s reputation has a tendency to overshadow his writing; after receiving The Booker Prize for Vernon God Little he is quoted as saying he’d be spending the money on repaying debts to his unfortunate victims. After a lavish upbringing in New Mexico he suffered a somewhat fall from grace involving drugs, debt and illegal money making.

Putting his past behind him DBC Pierre will be reading extracts from his new novel which isn’t due for release for another year.

The reading and Q&A session will be taking place at the Martin Harris Centre for Music & Arts on 15 December.

Have a look below at part one of ten of The Last Aztec, a documentary by DBC Pierre on his ancestoral roots. To see the other nine installments visit this YouTube channel.

Discussion:
Is anyone planning on attending the event? Are there any Vernon God Little fans out there? Is it one of the best novels in the last 10 years? Discuss debate and share your views in the comment box.

Words: Seamus Swords

…and the Guardian first book award goes to…

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Alex Ross, winner of this years Guardian first book award (Guardian)

Alex Ross, winner of this years Guardian first book award (Guardian)

The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross was named this year’s Guardian first book at a ceremony in central London last night.

The overwhelmingly in-depth history of 20th century music, embracing classical through to contemporary, was the undisputed winner of the £10 000 first prize.

Chair of the judging panel, Guardian literary editor Claire Armitstead, said: “In some quarters this book has been seen as not having a popular appeal. Our prize – which, uniquely, relies on readers’ groups in the early stages of judging – proves that, on the contrary, there is a huge appetite among readers for clear, serious but accessible books.”

Another judge said: “Where Ross lifts his book above the ‘expert’ and impressive to the ‘good read’ category is in the way he wears his learning lightly, never clutches for false or contrived ways of explaining music, and never dumbs down in order to explain.”

Waterstone’s reading groups up and down the country also helped with the judging process. One member said: “Every time I felt overwhelmed by the technicalities, along came a sublime metaphor or simile that would light up the prose.”

The Guardian’s website describes Ross’ book as ‘a lifetime’s enthusiasm and learning distilled into a rich narrative of musical history, setting the works of Mahler, Schoenberg, John Cage and the rest into their cultural and political contexts – but also giving a vivid sense of what the music he describes actually sounds and feels like’.

It goes on to say: “Of all the artforms, modern and contemporary classical music is often seen as the most rebarbative. Ross brushes aside the mythology of 20th-century music’s “inaccessibility” as he charts its meandering histories. Along the way, fascinating connections are made: hip-hop has more in common with Janacek than you might think; Arnold Schoenberg and George Gershwin were tennis partners; Gershwin, in turn, was an ardent fan of Alban Berg and kept an autographed photo of the composer of Lulu in his apartment. If there is an overarching idea to the book, it is perhaps contained in Berg’s pronouncement to Gershwin: “Mr Gershwin, music is music”.”

The current music critic of The New Yorker Ross, 40, was born in Washington DC. He was an enthusiastic teenage musician but it wasn’t until studied English and history at Harvard when he became interested in journalism and became a student broadcaster. Ross began writing music criticism after university and was appointed to his current role at The New Yorker in 1996. He also has a blog which he uses to great effect in transmitting his work around the globe.

The media reception of for The Rest is Noise has been phenomenal. The New York Review of Books said: “by far the liveliest and smartest popular introduction yet written to a century of diverse music”. The Economist noted: “No other critic writing in English can so effectively explain why you like a piece, or beguile you to reconsider it, or prompt you to hurry online and buy a recording.”

Former Observer music writer Nicholas Kenyon said: “At a time when people are still talking about 20th-century music as if it were a problem, here is a lucid and entertaining book about what I regard as some of the greatest music ever written. It’s a wonderful way to advance the cause of 20th-century music to an ordinary, intelligent general reader. It’s the ideal mix of enthusiasm and information.”

The judging panel for this year’s Guardian first book award was made up of novelist Roddy Doyle; broadcaster and novelist Francine Stock; poet Daljit Nagra; the historian David Kynaston; novelist Kate Mosse and Guardian deputy editor, Katharine Viner. Stuart Broom of Waterstones‘ spoke as the representative of the retailer’s reading groups.

The other books shortlisted for the award were Mohammed Hanif‘s A Case of Exploding Mangoes; Ross Raisin‘s God’s Own Country; Steve Toltz‘s A Fraction of the Whole (also put forward for the Man Booker prize) and Owen Matthews’s Stalin’s Children.

Previous winners of the prize have most notably included Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters (2005) and Zadie Smith‘s White Teeth (2000).

See Ales Ross talk about The Rest is Noise in an interview below:

Words: Dean Samways