An old mate of mine, we shall call him George, for that is his name, once told me a story about his childhood. His family was a long way from wealthy and foreign holidays were not on the agenda, but his aunt once made a trip abroad to Austria and returned to Glasgow with a gift for George.
He opened his parcel it to find, to his horror, that it contained a pair of lederhosen. To his even greater horror, his mother made him wear them to school the next morning. He had been hoping to get through the day by keeping a low profile but it wasn’t to be as his form teacher dragged him up in front of the class and made him model his outlandish attire.
“Look everyone,” she said. “George is wearing genuine Tyrolean Lederhosen.”
Lots of debate this week as to whether authors should be paid for their appearances at literary festivals.
It’s come about because acclaimed author Philip Pullman took the principled decision to step down from his role as Patron of the Oxford Literature Festival over its failure to pay authors for appearances. Here’s the full story on that in the Bookseller
My view, for what it’s worth, is a big cheer for Pullman and a big pantomime boo for the Oxford festival. I can’t make the basic point better than Pullman did himself. The Oxford festival isn’t some new event, it’s well established. And it pays everybody else involved in the thing. It pays for the marquees it uses, the electricity, the catering, the drinks receptions. It pays salaries to administrators, and publicists and to the people who design and print the programmes.
I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions as a rule. For the usual reason that I tend not to keep them beyond about the third week in January. In fact, for the most part, I suspect that making a resolution in public is a good way to ensure it is doomed.
I read an article somewhere which suggested that psychologically you are more likely to achieve aims you keep private. The theory is that by expressing your intention to other people you assuage your need to achieve it to an extent and so weaken your resolve. So scientifically, making a public resolution is probably something of a schoolboy error.
I don’t read that many bad books, I take no pleasure in them. People sometimes talk about how they are going to gorge on book-junk as though a bad novel is a messy burger and there is a special joy to be gained from swallowing it. Not me.
I like many kinds of fiction and there are great writers in any genre, but I would rather seek out the glittering best of any given type rather than read that which is merely mediocre or indeed plain awful. So I do some research, take advice from people whose taste I trust. Hence I read very few bad books.
One of the curious side-effects of the publication of my latest book has been that it’s made me an accidental agony uncle.
The Pick-Up Artist is what might be called a sex-comedy, though there isn’t really any sex in it. It’s a mostly light-hearted book about relationships, what the Americans call ‘dating’, which is a nice neat term which covers a multitude of sins.
I doubt there’s anyone less suited to the role of dishing out advice in this arena than me since I can’t remember the last time I dated, having been happily married for about a thousand years.
I’ve been reading The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, the case notes of the recently departed neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks. It’s a fascinating book and deeply humane, dealing with the amazing curve balls our complex brains can throw at us when they go wrong.
It’s also very well written by someone who was clearly a great story-teller as well as a great scientist.
Literature festivals seem to be increasingly popular in the UK – big ones attracting thousands of punters, little ones popping up like mushrooms.
Over the last few years, as an author with a couple of books out, I’ve appeared at both kinds – and the first thing I want to say is that I think they are a force for good. Anything which encourages people to cherish books is on the side of the angels in my view. And the ones I have attended have allowed me to flog a few copies of my own books – what author wouldn’t like that?
But something has struck me about literature festivals in this country which is that, increasingly, they don’t bother too much with literature.
Let’s face it – things are always special the first time. But hey, the second time can be pretty good too. It’s fair to say nothing beats the thrill of getting your first book published. A publisher finally saying yes, the first time you hold a copy in your hand, seeing it in a store. It’s all very lovely for those of us who have dreamed of being published authors. But – there’s something to be said for the second time around too.
Here are three ways it’s different with your second book:
Why did I choose to call my book The Pick-Up Artist? It has the potential to be controversial after all and has been associated with all kinds of negative emotions. And who wants that for their book? It also has the potential to be misunderstood.
For those who don’t know, the pick-up artist movement is a real thing and can be pretty misogynist. Adherents claim to be able to attract women using psychological techniques. So you could say it’s essentially about conning women into doing things they don’t choose to do. Morally dubious at best.