Oh, now this is getting embarrassing. After years of having everything I sent them sent back (albeit with their wonderful ‘Sorry, no thanks’ compliments slips), I score two Private Eye submissions in a row with a contribution to their Order of the Brown Nose column of a recent item in the Guardian. There seems to be no online version of it, but every Saturday at the back of the main paper the Grauniad has a ‘Pleased to meet you’ column in which a reader talks about their love for the paper. This is fair enough in itself – newspapers, TV programmes, radio shows, even websites (occasionally) do give people something to hold on to in their lives, and can thus generate Real Love. But this one was nauseating – two flatmates claimed that their own passion for the Grauniad was such that, if there was no food in the house on a Saturday morning but they had £1.40, they would forego breakfast and spend the cash on the paper. I could almost have stomached it if the pair in question had been destitute – I’m a longtime fan of the oriental proverb about buying a lily and a loaf of bread with your last penny – but come on, these are employed, fortunate, middle-class people, for God’s sake! Anyway thanks to this latest display of media desperation (on behalf of both the paper and the readers in this case) I received another cheque for £10 from messrs Pressdram Ltd this week. If I keep on at this rate I’ll be a millionaire in 961 years.
Finally my name appears in Private Eye… although sadly not in Pseuds’ Corner (or, alas, Me and My Spoon). I’ve been sending hysterical stuff to the magazine for years without ever seeing it appear (they must simply run out of space really quickly!) but the current issue’s Luvvies column has this great quote I saw on (grr, Murdoch-owned) MSN.com from American Idol personage Paula Abdul: “I have never missed a live show,” Abdul notes. “Even when I had surgery on my hand (for an infection caused by a botched manicure in 2004), I left my hospital bed to go to the show.” What a trooper! And I’m £10 richer to boot – cheers Paula!
This reminds me of an incident a few years ago (before I started blogging, in fact). I was on the tube one time and saw a rude, but very funny, poem about Richard Branson that someone had graffiti’d on a Virgin advert. Thinking that this would appeal to the Branson-baiting Eye, I scribbled it down and sent it in, intending it for their letters page. To my surprise and delight it turned up in the next issue – but on the news pages, and without my name anywhere on it. Feeling this a tad unfair, I wrote in to request that they either (a) print a note to the effect that the story came from me personally, (b) pay me the going rate as a freelance journalist, or (c) give me a job. I even included my CV. A little while later I received a cheque in the post for about £40 – evidently union rates for such a contribution. I was of course disappointed that they hadn’t gone for the “gissajob” option, although the Eye being something of an old boys’ club, in seriousness there was no chance of this. My name still didn’t appear anywhere in the mag but I was quite happy with my money, thankyouverymuch. (Since then, when something I’ve sent in doesn’t appear, it often makes me wonder whether it’s because they remember this incident and are trying to claw back their £40 through not printing my hilarious stuff… I can’t decide whether this is vanity or simple paranoia.)
The other funny thing about getting the Luvvies item in print is that the £10 cheque came with a compliments’ slip saying “Please bank this cheque within 1 month” – curmudgeonly or what?! Actually I know they are a grumpy bunch, because on one occasion years ago when I submitted something hysterical by post I received it back a week later with an almost identical comps slip, this one saying simply: “Sorry, no thanks.” Fantastic 🙂
Further to my last post, I was happy to read this week that Charles Webb has now signed a publishing deal for the sequel to The Graduate which should both clear his debts and sort out his legal problems as regards the film rights. Interesting that it was Random House who came forward with the deal; nothing to do, I suppose, with a suggestion of that nature by a reader who posted a comment on this Times news blog page..?
Thoughtcat’s Man in New Zealand, Chris Bell, recently wrote a very good short story called Kind of Blue: A five-part seduction fantasy, which not only looked to the great Miles Davis album for its inspiration, theme and structure but, in a nod to the way jazz records are made, the first draft was also “improvised” along to the record in real time. Even though, by his own admission, Chris did revise that first draft a few times before he was happy to unleash it on the NZBC blog to which he is a regular contributor, the idea of approaching a short story “[without] a preordained plot and a line of action, [trying] to get most of it down during one sitting, beginning with a sketch, and attempting to capture the spirit of discovery with no unnatural or interrupted strokes” was, I thought, a great idea. My imagination captured, with Chris’s permission I’ve started The Great Kind of Blue Story Challenge, which invites Alan Sundry to beat Chris at his own game. The “rules” are, basically, to write a story, about anything you like, in a single sitting, while listening to Kind of Blue, then email the result to us. So come on, then, if you think you’re ‘ard enough…
A few weeks ago I had an email from a journalist on a weekly free local newspaper called the Informer, asking permission to include Thoughtcat in “London Blog”, a regular feature profiling bloggers from the area and printing typical extracts from their blogs. I’d never seen the article before (I think the paper gets delivered to my address, but so do a couple of others, and in honesty they generally all end up being recycled before I even register what they’re called) and I was initially suspicious, doubting that a local free paper would really be interested in blogs and thinking one of my mates was winding me up. However, the journalist’s email address was kosher and he said he’d found the blog from a credible source (London Bloggers, a stylish directory I’d joined some time ago), so without further delay I wrote back to say I’d be delighted. He asked for a bit of background, including my age and location, and a photo. I provided him with some info on Thoughtcat and, not knowing the layout, asked if he just wanted a small close-up of my whiskers or a full length shot of me (which, thinking about it, wouldn’t actually be much different in size, but there you go). I also offered him a few suggestions for “typical extracts” from Thoughtcat, since I modestly assumed finding such a thing amid three years’ and 50,000 words of blog posts might be difficult. However, said journo then vanished for several days, leaving me unsure whether he’d actually written the article or had gone off the idea, or still needed the photo, so – now paranoid once again that this was in fact an elaborate practical joke – I gave him a nudge. A few days later he reappeared and said the feature was out, illustrated with a photo he’d found on the site, and if I gave him my address he’d send me a copy. I did, and waited.
I was still nervous about the result: would it be a hatchet job? A tabloid stitch-up? A honey-trap preying on my vanity? I imagined myself imagining a glorious write-up, newspapers banging on the Thoughtcat-flap begging me to write for them for real money, little suspecting the reality – a huge photo of me looking ridiculous, a picture I’d put on the site years before and forgotten about, with a quote twisting my carefully-chosen words to paint me as a bizarre nimbyist eccentric, a closet nazi living with 17 cats, spending his days self-publishing insane pamphlets calling on McVities to bring back Dad’s Cookies and the local council to bomb McDonald’s – or worse, claiming I was a Tory voter.
Thankfully, having now received the paper containing the feature (it’s the 31st March issue, local folks!) none of that is the case, and although the majority of the article is composed of my own words I hope I’m allowed to say I think the results are excellent. It is still a little eccentric, but that’s probably appropriate, and in any case it’s fascinating to see how you come across to people: From his small flat, cat-obsessed [am I??] Richard Cooper (pee-Cooper to his friends) [what this must sound like with no Thai context God only knows] muses on everything from sausages [where?!] to political scandals. The novelist-cum-biscuit taster [apart from sounding faintly disgusting this omits to mention I have never been either, at least on a professional basis] flirted with fame after becoming embroiled in a row over authorship of a book called All My Own Work [this will come back to haunt me!], after he based his title on a poem by Ted Hughes [surreally, this makes Hughes sound as if he was the aggrieved party in the AMOW debacle]. Click and you arrive at: Lord Profumo, Albrecht Durer, Mince Pies, Mobile Phones, Blues, Leonard Cohen [yay!], Basil Fawlty [true, but only I think in the context of ‘Don’t mention the war’ from last summer’s election], InterRail [hmm, I’m impressed – the journo’s had a look around the main site and found my account of our French InterRailing trip!], Buena Vista Social Club [it gets better], Randy Newman [again a one-off, but can’t be bad] and Russell Hoban [double yay! – whether Russ will appreciate it in this dubious context I don’t know, but I’m honoured to be responsible for even the smallest press mention of his hallowed name].
So far, so weird – but it gets weirder. The blog feature itself is right at the back of the paper, sandwiched between adverts for a plumbing and heating company and the Modhubon Tandoori (“Eat as much as you like for £4.95!”), and just overleaf from a double-page of classified ads divided equally between man & vans and escort agencies (“Za Za… Irish fire cracker… Japanese goddess”). The rarefied company I find myself in is infinitely enhanced by a huge picture of Bob Dylan c.1966, as I realise with delight (and some relief, when I think of some of the possible alternatives) that the blog post the journalist has chosen to represent Thoughtcat is the recent one about Dylan snubbing the UK Music Hall of Fame awards. DYLAN DISHES IT, runs the headline. Richard says Bob Dylan has the right idea about music award shows, says a caption beside my photo, which turns out to be the one of me from my about page wearing a THAILAND t-shirt and eating a bowl of my wife’s best green curry. “What’s the point in giving an award to an artist who’s been around for decades?” bewails a quote splashed in white letters across Dylan’s black jacket, while the main image is captioned BOB’S YOUR UNCLE: Dylan the legend (obviously just in case anyone’s unsure of who it is, or that it may be me).
The rest of the page is composed of the blog entry, reproduced fairly faithfully, albeit with the original Blair-unfriendly ending excised in favour of a cynical comment on the Eurythmics’ Christmas greatest hits cash-in. In fact it’s interesting that, although Blair does get a mention elsewhere, it’s not a critical one, and you wouldn’t guess from reading the feature that I can’t stand the man; did the Informer get cold political feet, despite it being quite clear that the article represents the personal opinion of one slightly bonkers local blogger? Whatever the truth, just to put the record straight, I CAN’T STAND TONY BLAIR. (In seriousness I must curtail this habit of beating Blair with any stick I can find. I mean, for God’s sake – when you’re writing about Bob Dylan and the ludicrosity of music award shows, to still manage to squeeze in a Tone-moan just looks facile and opportunistic – not unlike Blair, in fact, the bastard!!!)
Blair or no Blair, if I say so myself, the profile of Thoughtcat appears to represent a cultural high for at least this edition of the paper. Headlines on other pages include:
LICENCE TO KILL: Is our under-fire prison system putting killers on YOUR street?
Leak hotel fined
Anger over repair demands
IT HAPPENED TO ME: I built a Viking ship in my garden shed
Hotel in riverside clean-up
and, best of all:
NOT EVEN A ‘DENT’: Gordon’s car tax rise is a joke say Chelsea tractor haters.
I should mention at this juncture that this edition of the paper is technically the London Informer, covering the areas
of Hammersmith, Kensington and Westminster; there seem to be scores of local variations on the Informer title, and I know of at least one edition, the Richmond & Twickenham Informer, which also carried the Thoughtcat piece, albeit in a black & white and slightly reduced-size version which ends in mid-sentence, not even getting in the bitter remark about the Eurythmics, let alone Tone.
Perhaps the strangest thing about this whole episode is that it has taken some extracts from Thoughtcat to be reproduced in a “real” printed medium to make me see what the blog is really like – and, by extension, what I’m really like. The blog has been around, as I say, for over three years now, but this is the first time it’s seemed “real” to me – and I’m not sure I like all I see. Perhaps I saw myself as a bit more serious than my casual remarks might suggest. Then again, you can’t take blogging too seriously, can you?
There is, fairly obviously, no online version of the article, but clicking on the image above will open a JPEG which is more or less readable, while clicking here instead opens a better-quality PDF version. And if you can get your hands on a copy of the actual paper, hold on to this unique Thoughtcat collector’s item! It surely can’t be long before they start appearing on eBay.
“New writing is blossoming on the internet”, writes Ben Hammersley in the Guardian, listing a dozen sites that promote fiction by obscure and/or unpublished writers. Anything that encourages writing has to be a good thing, but I have my doubts about whether, as he optimistically maintains, the next Dickens will be discovered online. It’s not that the quality of some web writing isn’t good – although a lot of it is, frankly, crap – but more that anything that is good enough to be published in conventional paper form surely will be. Also, the author of a real book actually gets paid for his or her work, and rightly so, whereas there don’t seem to be many instances of new writers making money publishing exclusively on the web – even Stephen King couldn’t do it with his online-exclusive serial The Plant. I do have a general fear that people are becoming too conditioned to the accessibility of the web, both in the sense of anyone being able to write almost anything on it and, by and large, not having to pay for any of it. Is it just a conspiracy theory that the world is being groomed by big business to become used to not having to pay for web content, only for us all to be royally shafted one day when the same businessmen demand payment for something we now can’t do without? Er, okay, it probably is actually.
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A lovely interview with comedian, writer and actor Dylan Moran in the Independent today. I especially liked his rant against the current swathe of reality-meets-personal-improvement TV shows: “There is a constant Gatling gun of nitwits being fired at you, programmes where they come and tell you you’re fat and your house is shit. Where else can it go? Celebrity critics turning up at Margaret Atwood’s house and telling her to write better novels?” Moran himself adds that he has been working on some prose. “It could turn out to be a novel… or a long and difficult-to-follow laundry list.” Sounds a bit like the thing I’m writing at the moment. Incidentally, there is a rather eccentric Atwood site at http://www.owtoad.com/ which features, among other items, an interesting piece aimed at potential authors called “The Road to Publication”.
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The Guardian reports that Stephen Glass, a 25-year-old journalist who was sacked from New Republic magazine for making up websites, conventions and companies to back up his stories, is to publish a novel about a young journalist called Stephen who works for a New Republic-type magazine and, er, makes stuff up. The Fabulist is published next week by Simon & Schuster.