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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction / News’ 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

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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

French check out girl becomes bestselling author

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Anna Sam working her day job when shes not writing

Anna Sam working her day job when she's not writing (The Times)

A novel can be created from any subject as one French supermarket checkout girl has discovered after her everyday trials and tribulations have been documented and converted into paperback form.

Les Tribulations d’une Caissiere (The Tribulations of a Checkout Girl), has sold near on 100,000 copies and is set to be translated into English. There’s also talk of a film adaptation.

Starting a part-time English Literature diploma Anna Sam then went onto to start her own blog in January which quickly became a overnight literary sensation.

Ms Sam describes her job next to a conveyor belt as ‘one of the most desirable vantage points from which to enjoy the full panoply of human idiocy’. Her observations range from the ridiculous lengths some go to shoplift (‘thieves will think nothing of stuffing CDs into camembert cheese’) to the seedy attempts of flirting she faced on a regular basis. Predatory male customers are also a constant problem. The writer has a particular dislike of those who ask ambiguously “are you open?”, or “are you available?”

Ms Sam’s usual reply was: “I am not but my till is.”

Anna has created a secret hidden world which she has viewed from her checkout for the last eight years. Ms Sam writes: “You would be astonished by the number of kisses stolen in the aisles (even in the toilet paper department), the languorous looks exchanged between the charcuterie and fish counters, the bottoms and breasts felt in the frozen food department.”

Ms Sam is now hoping to put the checkout behind her and make it as a writer or try and get a part time job in a bookshop. Even if her efforts to become a writer do not come to fruition Anna Sam has proven that inspiration can be found in the most boring 9 to 5s.

Discussion:
What everyday events or occupations can you or have you taken inspiration from? How do you turn an ordinary tale into the extraordinary? Have you got any tips to do so?

Words: Seamus Swords

Economic downturn makes for unhappy reading

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Not even the boy wizard could help Waterstones profits last year (Waterstones)

Not even the boy wizard could help Waterstones' profits last year (Waterstones)

Waterstones today announced figures that suggest the book market has been effected by reduced customer spending during the current economic climate.

The retailer’s parent company HMV saw Waterstone’s like-for-like sales drop 3.1% in the 26 weeks between April and 25 October. The comparison showed a 1.4% fall when adjusted for the phenomenal impact of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on 2007’s result.

The report also shows HMV has suffered market deterioration since the end of October which is in line with the well-documented downturn in consumer confidence. It is quoted in saying the book market has seen a ‘marked deterioration’ in the five weeks to 29 November.

Waterstone’s operating loss before exceptional items increased in the first half year to £9.3m from £8.9m in 2007.

According to HMV the book market as a whole shrunk 5% during the period and had been particularly hit by poor performances by non-fiction publications.

What is perhaps more worrying is the continued work with year-on-year losses. Before tax losses for the group were £27.5m, against £28.7m a year earlier.

Of course this doesn’t mean that novel writing has to be unprofitable. Self-publication can be a fantastic way of getting your work read by a wider audience and earning money on the side.

The Scribbler will be looking to publish advice and guidance on the best means of self-publication in early 2009.

Keep it here for all the best news, reviews, features and interviews on the literary industry.

Take a look at a book launch that really should have peaked Waterstones’ profits last year. The irrepressible Russell Brand and his Booky Wook in Waterstone’s Piccadilly:

Discussion:
Has the credit crunch stopped you buying the number of books you would normally like to? Have you resorted to library loans? Aspiring writer? Would you consider self-publication if publishers begin a campaign of turning authors away due to the economic climate? Let us know below.

Words: Dean Samways

…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

How to talk to girls – Tips from a nine-year-old

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Can all men learn something from lil Alec Greven?

Can all men learn something from lil Alec Greven?

There are many difficult subjects for writers to tackle, but a nine-year-old boy getting to the bottom of the eternal mystery of nine-year-old girls seems to be a unique one. The pre-teen version of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus (boys are from the climbing frame and girls are from the sandbox anyone? – Ed) started out as a school creative writing project for young American Casanova Alec Greven.

The hand written pamphlet proved to be a surprise hit at his school’s book fair and the story was picked up by local news. The leaflet soon turned into a full-blown called How To Talk To Girls. Alec was then invited onto a US TV chat show which led to a publishing deal with HarperCollins. The hardback is now available across the the United States.

In an interview with the New York Post he revealed his inspiration for writing the book. “I saw a lot of boys that had trouble talking to girls.”

The book includes some very eye-opening pearls of wisdom. In an extract from chapter three he writes: “Stop showing off, go easy on the compliments and be wary of ‘pretty girls’. It is easy to spot pretty girls because they have big earrings, fancy dresses and all the jewelery. Pretty girls are like cars that need a lot of oil.”

His mother has put Alec’s success down to the fact he is an avid reader.

Here is the boy himself talking to the New York Post about his book:

Discussion:
So have you learnt anything from lil’ Alec? Are all the pretty girls the ones with big earrings? Case in point, Jackie from Hollyoaks. What will Alec’s next work be? A Mills & Boon tribute?

Words: Seamus Swords

Popular figures on books they just couldn’t put down this year

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The Guardian website yesterday published a very interesting article about the favourite books of some of Britain’s top public figures and literature critics.

To celebrate the final month of the year the piece talks to journalists, politicians, broadcasters, military types and many more who, collectively, make a very diverse and colourful cross-section of society. The chosen novels also throw up some intriguing results.

We’ve selected the best celebrity top books for your reading pleasure. To see the entire list click here.

Richard Curtis with fellow bookworm Stephen Fry (BBC)

Richard Curtis with fellow bookworm Stephen Fry (BBC)

Richard Curtis – Film director

“Now that Kurt Vonnegut has smoked his last cigarette, John le Carré is my favourite living author. A Most Wanted Man (Hodder & Stoughton) is full of classic le Carré delights – the plots that sneak up on you, the wonderful, compromised Englishmen, the richness of the writing, strangely allied to the feeling that he is just recording documentary fact. When I first started reading le Carré, his middle-aged British men reminded me of my schoolmasters and my father’s friends – now they’ve turned into me.”

Alistair Darling – Chancellor of the Exchequer

“The book I’ve enjoyed most this year is Ian McEwan‘s On Chesil Beach (Vintage). It’s a thoroughly evocative novel from one of the best writers of his generation. Reading it was a great escape from the Treasury.”

General Sir Mike Jackson – Soldier

“The British armed forces are much in the news and it is important that we understand what is being asked of our military. Lieutenant General Sir Hew Pike, one of my oldest comrades-in-arms, knows as much about the human dimension of soldiering as anyone I know, and in From the Front Line (Pen and Sword) he has put together a wonderful description of this human dimension as seen through the letters and diaries of the soldiers of his family over four generations.”

Andrew Marr chews the fat with PM Gordon Brown

Andrew Marr chews the fat with PM Gordon Brown (BBC)

Andrew Marr – Political journalist

“No question – the non-fiction book of the year is Richard Holmes‘s Age of Wonder (HarperCollins), not only beautifully written, but also kicking open a new perspective on the Romantic age, as scientific and artistic thinking began to diverge. But please let me also mention The Legend of Colton H Bryant (Simon & Schuster) by Alexandra Fuller, which is brilliant, moving and almost a new form – factually true fiction. And for fiction, a newcomer, Andrew Nicholl’s The Good Mayor (Black &White), a story of love, dreaming and loss, magical realism from Scotland. You will not be disappointed.”

David Miliband – Foreign Secretary

Counselor (HarperCollins) by the late Ted Sorensen, Kennedy‘s long-term adviser and speechwriter, is a reminder of the best instinct of American liberalism. Self-deprecating (which is touching), and in awe of everything JFK (which is less so), it shows how small-town America (in this case Lincoln, Nebraska) can produce people more like Michael Palin than Sarah Palin. Equality, hard graft and the frontier combine to produce something special. Barack Obama inherits its optimism.”

Michael Palin – Actor

“The surprise of the year was a modest gem of a book by Raja Shehadeh, called Palestinian Walks (Profile). Ostensibly a celebration of a lifetime spent walking the hills around Ramallah, Shehadeh’s book is also an elegy for a lost land, and an inventory of a natural environment that has been slowly whittled away by an ever-expanding Israeli state. Shehadeh’s love of his homeland and his naturalist’s eye make for a poetic little book that has big things to say.”

Jeremy Paxman with one of his larger books, we hope (BBC)

Jeremy Paxman with one of his larger books, we hope (BBC)

Jeremy Paxman – Television presenter

“I’d not expected to like Sebastian Barry‘s The Secret Scripture (Faber), of which I imagine the talkSPORT synopsis might be ‘an old woman inside an Irish loony bin tells her life story’. In fact, I found it mesmerising. It is a simultaneous narrative, in which a doctor attempts to discover why an elderly woman was committed to a Sligo asylum, while she confides her life story to a secret memoir, in which she tells, in intimate and moving detail, how the tides of modern Irish history washed against her life. Climate, countryside and a malignant Catholic priest are all brilliantly rendered. Barry’s prose is brisk and vivid and at times terribly moving.”

John Prescott (blog) – Politician

What Does China Think? (Fourth Estate) by Mark Leonard is an excellent analysis of the current debate under way in China regarding its future development. An especially important read for all of us concerned about finding global solutions to global problems.”

Kirsty Wark – Television presenter

Kate Summerscale‘s non-fiction whodunnit The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (Bloomsbury) reads like a thriller. She researched a famous murder in 1860, of a three-year-old boy in a country house whose inhabitants were siblings, parents, a governess and servants. But what gave this book such an edge was the author’s meticulous detailing, down to the weather on the day of the murder. Toni Morrison‘s latest novel A Mercy (Chatto) goes back to the 1680s and the chaotic beginnings of slavery. In her vivid story centring on one young slave, Florens, Morrison reveals the tragedy of slavery and how it also involved Native Americans and even whites.”

Vivienne Westwood – Fashion designer

“In The Road (Picador) by Cormac McCarthy – actually published last year – a man and his son are ‘on the road’ in a world where nothing lives except for a few human beings. The two must keep going to find food and to avoid groups of cannibals. This is a story of love so total that it shines like a beacon on our human resources for good. Though harrowing, it’s great literature.”

Toni Morrison also gets a special mention from President-elect Barack Obama as he and John McCain talk about their favourite books in a CBS interview below:

Discussion:
Later on today we will be posting a topic whereby you will be able to discuss your favourite reads of 2008 so be sure to come back for that, but right now let’s have some fun. What famous people would you like to think read what books? For example, the editor would like to think George W. Bush’s favourite book was Where The Wild Things Are (an easy one we know). Post your suggestions below and let’s all have a giggle.

Words: Dean Samways