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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

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Literature, Interrupted

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Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

The offending article: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

A school in America has committed a cardinal sin of the literary world by tearing out pages of a classic piece of modern literature because it contained sexually explicit material.

Susanna Kaysen’s bestselling memoir Girl, Interrupted, which was made into a major motion picture starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, was judged inappropriate for students by the senior staff at New Rochelle High School, New York.

The story tells of the writer’s time in a psychiatric hospital. The incriminating scene is believed to be one in which a girl is encouraged to engage in oral sex, thus acting against hospital policy regarding sexual intercourse.

The pages were initially removed from the set texts in 2001. A member of staff teaching a 10th grade course in mental health and conformity decided the sexual content was not appropriate for pupils between 15 and 16 years of age.

The term ‘censorship’ was only used this year when the bowdlerised versions were used to teach 12th grade film students. When the amendments to the literature were made public there was widespread criticism from organisations, which promote and protect the freedom of expression and local residents alike.

Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression said: “This is a very glaring instance of censorship.”

“No kid reading that book is going to not notice that pages have been pulled out,” said Rebecca Zeidel, programme director of the Kids’ Right to Read project, a joint initiative between the ABFFE and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Zeidel is currently working on a formal response to the school on the issue.

Angry residents of New Rochelle have voiced their concerns on a local message board, describing the school’s actions as ‘a blatant attempt to keep US teenagers in the dark, something US schools appear to be notorious for’, and an act, which ‘takes us back to the Dark Ages’.

The local education board said it had not been told about the alteration and it has since instructed the school to replace the vandalised books.

Cindy Babcock Deutsch, president of the board, told guardian.co.uk: “Censorship is wrong and will not be allowed by the school district.”

In a statement Richard Organisciak, superintendent of schools, said the district would carry out a review of policy and practices on book selection following the upset.

“I certainly understand that the word ‘censorship’ can arouse strong public feelings, and is an issue to which public schools must be sensitive.

“At the same time, I think many people will agree that some material should not be endorsed, or made mandatory, in school curricula. I hope we can all recognise the context, namely, how do we expose students to a wide range of ideas, often provocative or disturbing, without exposing them to materials for which they may not be ready, or which their parents may find highly objectionable?”

The more alarming thing about this story is that it is not a unique occurrence.

“While this is a very glaring instance of censorship, we have hundreds of censorship challenges in schools every year,” said Finan.

Zeidel said the majority of censorship cases were on a local level rather than national: “It’s in red states and blue states [Republican and Democrat] – all over the country. To date there have been 45 titles in 15 states challenged this year, not including Girl, Interrupted… In most cases most books are challenged by a parent or student who will complain about a book.”

But she pointed out that a ban or the distribution of altered texts may have the opposite effect. “Booksellers will frequently see a rise in sales when a book is banned because people want to read it – they want to know why it’s banned.”

A sign of Middle American fear or actual concern for child wealth?

Watch the trailer to the Girl, Interrupted film below:

Discussion:
Should this kind of censorship be accepted? Can you think of any instances where this sort of thing is justified? No? Neither do we.

Words: Dean Samways

Lost beat novel ‘not worth the wait’

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And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tankes by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tankes by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs

The US press has been hard at work this weekend dosing the flames of hype that have been rising around one of the literary world’s most anticipated releases ever.

As previously reported on The Scribbler a long delayed novel co-written by beatnik founding-fathers Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs is finally available to buy.

The writing of and originally planned release of And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks was surrounded by scandalous mystery. Over 60 years ago, when Kerouac was 23 and Burroughs 30, the scholars were arrested by the New York Police Department for helping a friend cover up a murder.

After they were released and cleared of the charges the pair decided to collaborate on a novel based upon the case. While Kerouac was pleased with the work American publishers unanimously disagreed.

While some sources cite this as being the reason why the book was so delayed, others state a pact was made between the writers and the real killer, one Lucien Carr that the novel would not be published until Carr passed away in an attempt to protect his name.

Thus the manuscripts were locked away and remained unpublished until this month when Grove Press did the right thing and treated it to some long deserved daylight.

Associated Press writer Bruce DeSilva this weekend damningly wrote: “The characters are aimless, intellectual wannabes who spend most of the book engaging in vacuous conversations while wandering from one seedy apartment and bar to another in pursuit of sex, drugs and whiskey.

“It is impossible to work up much concern for what will happen to any of them.”

DeSilva also added: “The crime, with its bohemian characters and hints of paedophilia, was a lot more interesting in the newspapers of the day than it is in the novel.”

The said crime was one of passion. Carr, the son in a well-to-do family, had become the object of obsession for the victim David Kammerer who met Carr years earlier in St. Louis while working as his Boy Scout leader. Kammerer reportedly followed Carr to New York where the older man met his demise at the end of Carr’s scout knife. The murderer then filled his pockets with stones and sent him to the bottom of the Hudson River.

Carr quickly confessed to Burroughs and Kerouac who in turn did not call the authorities, in fact it is claimed Kerouac helped get rid of the murder weapon. Eventually Carr was brought to justice and was found guilty of second-degree murder but was only given a two-year sentence after his lawyer argued that the crime was committed in self-defence from homosexual, paedophilic predator. Carr served his term and later led a successful career as an editor. He died in 2005.

William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac relaxing

William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac relaxing

DeSilva believes while the crime caused a sensation in 1944 New York and gave the writers a lot to write about ‘they failed to do much with it.’

Describing the book, DeSilva said: “The story is plodding, the characters uninteresting and the writing listless, with few hints at the innovative styles that would later make these writers icons of the beat generation. Perhaps the book will be of interest to literary scholars, but Grove could have posted it on an obscure internet site and spared the rest of us.”

DeSilva goes onto to protest: “Kerouac and Burroughs changed the names of all the characters, including themselves. Inexplicably, they also changed the murder weapon, turning the delicious detail of the scout knife into a hatchet. As ‘Mike Ryko’ and ‘Will Dennison’, the authors take turns narrating the story in a hard-boiled style, trying to write like Mickey Spillane and making a mess of it.”

Kerouac and Burroughs may have made a mess of the book in one reporters eyes but fans of beat writing and contemporary literature should remain enthusiastic about a release by two of the world’s most renowned authors that has been a closely kept secret for some 60 years. Posthumous releases are always something to look forward to.

Keep it The Scribbler Blog for a review of the novel in the coming weeks.

To buy your own copy of And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks click here.

There’s a 71 minute documentary on Jack Kerouac below if you have the time and the patience to watch it, we did:

For a William S. Burroughs video cast your eyes below:

Discussion:
Has anyone read the book? What is your opinion of it? Is it on a par with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, regarded as one of the best pieces of crime writing ever produced?

Words: Dean Samways

Father Ted writer bags an Emmy

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Graham Lineham - creator of Father Ted and The IT Crowd

Graham Lineham - creator of Father Ted and The IT Crowd

The comedy genius behind Father Ted, Irish writer and director Graham Linehan (blog) picked up an Emmy in New York this week for his Channel 4 show The IT Crowd (blog).

The sitcom, starring Irish actor Chris O’Dowd and set in the IT department of a fictitious British company, picked up the International Emmy for Best Comedy

Linehan is the writer and director of the hit comedy series.

His previous successes include Black Books, starring Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey (blog). Linehan teamed up with Moran to pen the three series about a surly London bookshop owner. During it’s run Black Books won two BAFTAs for Best Situation Comedy in 2000 and 2005, and a Bronze Rose at The Festival Rose d’Or of Montreux in 2001.

The 36th International Emmy awards gala was held on Monday night at New York’s Hilton Hotel. The winners were chosen from 40 nominees from 16 countries.

These prestigious awards recognise excellence in TV programming produced outside the States.

British broadcasting dominated the awards, while Argentina and Jordan celebrated their first Emmy victories.

Argentine production Television Por La Identidad won the award for TV Movies or Mini-Series. It tells the story of the country’s ‘disappeared’ pregnant women from 1976 to 1983, and their resultant search for their children.

British television won most other competitive categories topped off with gongs for David Suchet and Lucy Cohu who won the top acting honours.

Suchet, best known for his role as Agatha Christie’s Poirot, won for his performance as the doom media mogul Robert Maxwell in the BBC’s Maxwell and Cohu collected her award for Forgiven, in which she played a suburban housewife who discovers her husband is sexually abusing their daughter.

Britain’s take-home also included Best Drama Series for BBC show Life on Mars and the Arts Programming Emmy for Channel 4’s Strictly Bolshoi.

Nick Park’s creation Shaun the Sheep won Best Children’s and Young People’s Programming while mountaineering disaster epic The Beckoning Silence was named Best Documentary.

Click here to read The Guardian’s piece in praise of The IT Crowd.

To see Chris Morris‘ (Smokehammer blog) funniest bits from The IT Crowd have a gander below:

Discussion:
Are you fans of Linehan’s work?  Is anyone out there working on a comedy script at them moment?

Words: Dean Samways