Monday, October 29, 2007

E-demand comes to publishing

According to the London Telegraph newspaper, it'll soon be possible to download books to the new Apple iPhone. Not to mention that The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) is coming to the UK in 2008, allowing you to order and print off rare and discontinued books direct from a terminal whilst you wait (or sip a latte next door).

The latter project is the brainchild of publisher Jason Epstein, long a prophet of change in the industry. Is this the way the (overstuffed) world of books is going?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Carnage in the genteel world of books

It's the number one dream job. So say the opinion polls. We all want to produce one, and we all think we can retire to the sun after doing it.

Yet, as the stark reality shows, if you write a book for money you may as well work for the local supermarket.

As this fascinating Observer piece from the Frankfurth Book Fair shows, writing is the least important thing taking place in the over-stuffed world of books, agents and supermarkets demanding fewer titles and with higher sales.

And what dominates this year is the collapse of my own agency, PFD, due to some sort of bungled incompetence that has led all its agent to walk out. Leaving us writers, as ever, trailing in the wake of the refuse and shaking our heads, waiting an uncertain future.

this year, at least, everyone's been unanimous about which back to stab: the dying corpse of what was once the biggest and one of the most prestigious literary agencies in Britain, PFD.

It's a business that's been all over the broadsheets and the gossip columns in the last few weeks, and before I leave home I talk to Joel Rickett, deputy-editor of the Bookseller, who tells me: 'Nobody's talking about anything else! They're all vicariously transfixed by it. It's complete carnage.' And it's certainly a rollercoaster of a story fuelled by rumour and counter-rumour: in 2001 CSS Stellar, a sports agency, bought PFD, a literary, theatrical and actors' agency; then, earlier this year, the agents attempted a management buyout, which CSS rejected, following which several key agents resigned, including Pat Kavanagh, agent to the great and the good, celebrated doyenne of the literary scene, and wife of Julian Barnes.

And then, parachuted into the heart of the story as new boss at PFD, came Caroline Michel, ex-head of the William Morris agency and before that HarperCollins, one half of a media power couple (she's married to Lord Evans, former chairman of Faber & Faber) and usually accompanied in newspaper articles, particularly those that happen to be written by men, by adjectives such as 'fragrant', 'glamorous' and 'charming'. Just not charming enough, it has transpired, to prevent all 85 members of PFD staff from resigning.

It is nothing short of a blood-bath. And in the middle of it all are the tug-of-love children: the writers, whose fate is being fought over but who nobody seems to be actually talking to.

Writing a book is great. It's just the rest of the crap that comes along that spoils the party.

My latest articles and reviews in The Express

You can read a selection of my regular reviews, and occasional double-page spread features, for the UK's Daily Express newspaper up at this URL.

For example, see the lead review of Ken Follett's new novel, World Without End. Or catch the horrendous tale of the 1,400 British prisoners-of-war who were shipped off by the Nazis to Auschwitz.

My reviews are normally in the Friday or Saturday edition of the paper; my paperback columns appear in the Sunday paper.

Friday, October 12, 2007

[Extract] Chasing The Dragon

A small extract from my book on London, a work-in-progress:

Chasing The Dragon

His eyes fluttered, butterfly-light. The finger tips of his small hands danced across his lap, mapping out, perhaps, some unseen land. The acrid scent burned the back of my nose and I felt it. I lurched. Then it hit.

The Dragon.

Redz had told me to meet him by the betting shop. It was grey. A carpet of people swept over the gum-strewn streets of Whitechapel. They swarmed over its steps, past the Chinese selling their fake DVDs, the Albanian cigarette smugglers, the Cockney stallholders who now swore in Bengali as fluent as their East End patois. It swept you up like a tide, this crush, and it bore you down past the Blind Beggar and its haunted memories, towards Vallance Road and the Krays.

Smoke, hashish, cursing and calling; hijabs, niqaab reflected in the plate glass of a new bar. Russian corruscating off Arabic, and the looming bulk of the Royal London and its ghosts of the Elephant Man, John Merrick.

I fetched up by the statue of the angel, left behind by the Jewish community to their dead King in 1911. I fetched up and held on. I looked about me. And smiled.

"Yo, s'up bruv?" Redz said hesitantly.

"Asalaam Aleikoum, habibi," I chuckled, ribbing him about his lack of true Arabic.

"Why you speakin' Arab for man?" he accused. "You ain't even Muslim". And he sucked through his teeth, disrespectfully.

"I enjoy it my friend - why, you have a problem with that?"

"Nah .. s'just stoopid innit." He looked at me with contempt ... or perhaps eagerness. "You got it?"

His voice was demanding. Hesitant. The child flicked behind the thin face and I could see, in jail, he had earned his name.

I nodded. He strode off, taking me on a winding course through the fat and the small, the short and tall of Banglatown, as we went to buy him his wrap.

Play Harry Potter ... and get sued

JK Rowling's lawyers hits the warpath against kiddies in India this week, according to The Scotsman newspaper.

A COMMUNITY group in India is being sued by JK Rowling for breach of copyright after it recreated Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for a religious festival.

The group is accused of erecting a huge structure in the shape of the fictional building, where Harry Potter learns magic.

Lawyers representing the Edinburgh-based author and Warner Brothers, who hold the rights in India, yesterday confirmed a petition had been filed in the Delhi High Court but refused to comment further.

Organisers said a mock steam train was also being constructed next to the set, which is intended to resemble the Hogwarts Express, as part of the Hindu festival of the Goddess Durga. It celebrates her killing a demon and the victory of good over evil. [conts]

Well, as a writer I'm all for protecting copyright. In this case, however, it seems the US legal approach (sue everything you bastards) has gone a little too 'full tilt' and will probably end up turning more of the sub-continent off the four-eyed wiz-boy rather than help sell his name.

Turkey Still Light Years Behind Europe

... for its treatment of journalists.

The media and writers are still being threatened with imprisonment for the archaic law of 'insulting Turkishness'. This coming hot on the heels of the 'controversy' by the House Foreign Affairs Committee finding that the massacre of hundreds of thousands (perhaps over a million) Armenians in 1915 was genocide.

Here's the latest bit of forward thinking from the Turkish prosecutors:

Turkish newspaper editor Arat Dink and newspaper owner Serkis Seropyan have been found guilty of ‘insulting Turkishness’ under the country's controversial penal code.

Dink, the son of the murdered journalist Hrant Dink, is executive editor of the Armenian weekly, Agos, in Istanbul. His father, Hrant Dink, former editor in chief of the same newspaper was murdered, allegedly by ultranationalist Ogun Samst in January this year. The murder trial is continuing.

Dink and Seropyan were charged for republishing an interview Hrant Dink gave to British press agency Reuters in July 2006. In the interview Dink referred explicitly to the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire that has never been recognised as genocide by the Turkish government.

Both newspaper men were also accused of the same crime for having published a petition in Agos entitled ‘A signature against Article 301’ designed to raise pressure for the repeal of the article. The men were found guilty under the penal code and sentenced to a year in prison but the sentences were commuted because they have not committed any previous crimes.

When my friends cry about freedom of speech and Big Brother, I tell them to visit our near-neighbours... Read the piece here. and see The Independent's Robert Fisk give his own take on the Armenian Holocaust here.

No Surprise, But No Excuse

Reading the UK Refugee Council's blog today, I caught the story carried in The Independent newspaper about failed asylum seekers being beaten up and routinely abused by private security firms tasked with their deportation.

One of the cases of alleged abuse is that of Armand Tchuibeu, a Cameroon national who claimed asylum in the United Kingdom in February 2000. His application was refused last year. He was then arrested and prepared for removal.

On 29 January 2007 he was collected from Tinsley House removal centre in East Sussex by four escort officers who drove him to Heathrow to catch a 9pm flight to Cameroon, as pictured on the front page from CCTV footage inside the van.

He claims handcuffs were applied to his right arm. Mr Tchuibeu says he told the guards that there was no need to handcuff him as he had no intention of obstructing his removal. But he alleges that officers started to manhandle him and, while his arms were held, one of the officers punched him in his ribs and on his neck and told him words to the effect "You will go to your fucking country today, we will fucking show you what illegal people deserve in our country". Another officer is alleged to have held his head down so they could apply a leg strap.

Eventually, Mr Tchuibeu convinced the escort officers he had been injured and the deportation was aborted. Mr Tchuibeu was taken to the Hillingdon Hospital where he was examined and treated. His knee was placed in a cylinder cast which he wore for four weeks.

Mr Tchuibeu appears to be far from an isolated case.

Milton Apollo Okello, 25, who was tortured by the Ugandan security services, claims that, after his asylum claim was rejected, he was frogmarched on to a plane and tied to his seat by British guards.

But when word came through that he had won an eleventh-hour reprieve, Mr Okello claims he was taken to a van and beaten and racially abused. Mr Okello said: "The driver opened the sliding door and I was pushed into the middle of the seat. Two of the officers got on one side of me and the others came in on the other side. Officer A then punched me hard in the face and he said "These black monkeys don't want to go back to their country ..."

Dr Frank Arnold, a volunteer doctor with the Medical Justice Network, who has examined more than 100 detained asylum-seekers, says many of the injuries suffered during removal are not taken seriously enough by the British immigration authorities.

He said: "Some of these injuries have been so bad that police officers who saw them appear to have been genuinely shocked. But it is my experience that medical staff who examine asylum-seekers when they are taken back into detention have greatly underestimated the severity of the injuries, including fractures and nerve damage from forcible traction on handcuffs."

It ain't liberal wishy-washy to say that when folks are removed - perhaps rightly, in some cases - they don't need a slap from some skinhead wannabe as part of their 'goodbye' to this country. I hope the goons that did this get their just deserts, and the companies employing them severely fined.