Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Brilliant Matt Thorne


OK, this is another shamelessly narcissistic post, so as a reward for wading through my self-publicity guff, here's a pic of some nuclear missiles I saw in Utah last month.



Those Reviews Again

Shucks, I can't resist posting in full the Matt Thorne review of my book, from today's Independent on Sunday. I know, I know. My excuse is that the review is quite funny in itself. It is also, of course, entirely and startlingly accurate, apart from the bit where it is slightly critical.

Yertiz.



Millions of Women, reviewed by Matt Thorne in the Independent on Sunday



On the cover of my proof copy of Sean Thomas's non-fiction account of his adventures on the internet-dating scene, Millions of Women Are Waiting to Meet You, there is a jokey warning that "this book reveals how men really think." This isn't true. Sean Thomas may believe himself to be a normal man, but in the course of this book he decides a woman named "Bongowoman" is an appealing person to go on a date with; describes how his first sexual experience (at 12 years old) involved him flashing at his parents' cleaning woman; reveals that he can only go out with women who are shorter than him (he describes such women as "sit-on-my-lap girls"); fakes suicide to impress a girl who's broken up with him; suffers from several bouts of serious impotence; catches crabs from an Australian woman; boasts about the TV celebrity he used to date, a relationship which began when he shoved his hand up her skirt; gets so addicted to internet porn (particularly "Bernie's Spanking Pages" and "extremely convoluted scenarios where submissive Danish actresses are intimately shaved by their dominant female doctors in the shower") that he masturbates himself into the hospital, where he ends up on a saline drip; goes into a 15-page explanation of why he doesn't want to sodomise a woman who's begged him to do so, before deciding that he will do it after all; explains how when he was 30 he made his 17-year old schoolgirl lover have an abortion; gets a blow-job from his best friend's girlfriend on Bayswater Road in full view of the public; performs oral sex on a woman moments after she has finished having sex with his friend in the other room; goes to a strip club in Thailand so often over a three-month period that one of the strippers writes messages to him with a pen clenched in her vagina; has an abortive threesome in Russia which ends with him prematurely ejaculating over the carpet, and in one of the book's most flabbergasting chapters, mistakenly believes he's impregnated a prostitute and considers throwing everything in and starting a family with her.

Now, Sean, that ain't normal. It is, however, hilarious. I can't remember reading a book that's made me laugh out loud as much as this one. Thomas must be extraordinarily brave to reveal so much about his personal life, and this book truly ups the stakes for the male confessional genre, offering an even more intimate insight into one man's mind than Toby Young's How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which previously seemed as far as comic self-abnegation could go.

But, while Thomas is unbelievably open about his sex-life, by being quite so down on himself he misses a couple of tricks. He presents himself as a loser who "reviews Lego for Amazon", only occasionally disparagingly referring to his past career as an author. But he is a very good novelist, whose last book, The Cheek Perforation Dance, was a brilliant account of the darker extremes of sexual desire.

Here, he mostly plays the biographical details that clearly inspired this fiction for laughs, acknowledging this side of himself but trying to fit it into a conventional romantic scenario. Also, when towards the end of the book he talks about his difficult relationship with his novelist father (D M Thomas), he uses it to explain his problems with women, which seems an inadequate use of material that would perhaps be more suitable for a different sort of memoir.

I thoroughly enjoyed Millions of Women Are Waiting to Meet You, but I hope the easier sell of confessional literature doesn't distract Sean Thomas from continuing with his career as a novelist, especially now he has got this out of his system

Reviews of my Book


How good is this writer (i.e. me)? Debate rages. Ish.


OK, further to my thoughts on the unreliability of reviewers (see below) my memoir (Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You; Bloomsbury Books, £10.99 (but cheaper at Tescos!)) has received two reviews, today, in Britain's quality press.

The first is in The Observer. It's by one Polly Vernon. She is notably unimpressed. She begins by saying there is already too much confessional literature in the world, which is a bad start. She admits my book is 'not awful' but then asserts that it is nonetheless 'a bit trite'. In a surge of lukwarm niceness she manages to confess that she found my book 'mildly diverting', she even says it is perked up by some 'gems of affecting insight' but on the whole her review gives me a C minus, at best.

Intriguing.

The other review is by Matt Thorne in the Independent on Sunday. He, by contrast, thinks my book is 'hilarious'; indeed he 'can't remember when he last read a book that made him laugh out loud so much'. He also believes the book is 'extraordinarily brave', and even finds one chapter 'flabbergasting'. He concludes that the book is thoroughly enjoyable and adds that I'm a 'very good' writer whose last novel was 'brilliant'.

Quite a difference, I think you will agree.

So who's right? Matt Thorne of course. Fer feck's sake.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Flagging


Thankyou, Ralf Chadirchi. We'll be in touch.


New Flags for Old


Remember the new Iraqi flag? Two years ago this month, London and Washington, working with the ‘governing council’ of Iraq, proudly unveiled a brand new design for a national Iraqi standard. The flag, it was said, had been chosen in a competition from thirty ideas. The winning idea came from the shaky pen of septegenarian London-based Iraqi artist, Ralf Chadirchi. There's his design, up there.

You can see why the Coalition, and the Baghdad bigwigs, wanted rid of the old green and red flag. It had way too many associations with the hated Saddam regime - indeed Saddam himself had added the inscription ‘God is great’ to the national flag, in 1990. By contrast, the design of the new flag, with its big white spaces, its benign sea-blue crescent, and its soft yellow and blue stripes (representing the Tigris and Euphrates), was thought to be much more ‘inclusive‘.

Unfortunately, not everyone was as keen on the new flag as Bush, Blair and the Baghdad government. The first hitch came when some Iraqis said the faded blues and whites made the flag look like ‘the Jew flag’ - the Star of David.

So the light blues were darkened. But then the Iraqis started demonstrating - and petitioning - against the whole idea of a new flag. Who chose it? Were the people asked? The governing council, beginning to panic, offered to turn the crescent red, or gold. Or tartan.

The final straw came just a few weeks later, when the flag was lampooned in the Onion, the US satirical mag. The Onion claimed that the two blue stripes represented Uday and Qusay, ‘who were totally fucking killed’, it added that the flag was rectangular, 'to represent flagness', and that the white spaces were meant for the logos of future corporate sponsors.

The flag was dropped. These days the Iraqis fly a slightly a stretched version of, yes, their old flag. Cynics might see this as sadly metaphorical of the whole country.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Modern Novels are Bollocks: Discuss


Is this crap? Or is it just me?


I'm afraid this may be a wittering and silly post. It's 11pm and I'm slightly drunk. But anyhow.

Here's a conundrum. My last novel, The Cheek Perforation Dance, got pretty damn good reviews ('powerful, poetic and compelling' - the Times) and sold about six copies. My new memoir, Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You, is getting sniffy and snide reviews* (apart from India Knight in the Sunday Times - bless) and is number 15 at Tescos etc., and has already outsold all my other books put together (not that this is very hard).

What's going on? Who's right and who's wrong? Are reviewers just talking out their arses? Or maybe the general public is stupid?

I'm starting to tend to the former opinion. I have, in recent years, read so many wildly praised novels - White Teeth, God of Small Things, Fugitive Pieces, Life of Pi, etc etc - only to hurl them across the room, or at least break into yawns, that I start to wonder if critics know jackshit. Contrarily, I have read and thoroughly enjoyed mega-blockbusters like the Da Vinci Code, which have been universally panned.

But maybe it is me? Perhaps this is a "deformation professionelle" - as a novel writer, maybe I know too well the tricks of the literary fiction trade (e.g. ostensibly poetic prose) to be impressed by this fancy stuff; yet, at the same time, I am still admiring of the professional, Hollywoodish skill of sheer plotting - a la Dan Brown. Or maybe I have reached literary middle age, when stories aren't good enough any more, when I just think 'this isn't true, this didn't happen' about too many novels, and I yearn for the reality-voltage of non fiction.

Or maybe lots of modern novels are just crap and overhyped.

Anyhow this is why I am posting. You people are smart; lend me your smartness. What's the five best novels you've read in the last five years? I would like to have my faith in the novel reaffirmed. I'd like to read one or two great contemporary novels. The only modern novel I have really admired in the last couple of years is The Reader, by Bernard Schlink. There must be others?

If you have a second, I'd welcome your opinion.

Thankyou.


* Weekend Update. Actually, I've just had a couple more nice reviews of 'Millions' -the book is "captivating" according to thefirstpost, and "absolutely terrific" according to the Sunday Telegraph. But my point about overhyped novels remains, I reckon. All the good reiews of my memoir are, of course, entirely true.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Dowsing the Fires of Optimism


Good with spoons, but what about the hair?


The last few days I've been in Northumberland, checking out Hadrian's Wall, striding across Holy Island, and clocking my book's position on amazon every six to seven minutes.

And you know what? I'm number eight right now in the amazon hot one hundred. Yes! Number EIGHT! Out of several million! So: eat crow, David 'knobhead' Mitchell (number twelve); bog off, weirdy authors of so-called Freakonomics (number nine); tough titty to you, Londonstani ethno-novelist Gautam Malkani with your £800,000 advance (number fortynine). Bwahahahahahahaha!

Of course I shall probably have sunk to my normal position at number 567,935 on the amazon rankings by tomorrow. And that'll learn me.

Anyway, here's a post on dowsing. It seems kinda fitting, when talking about wild and foolish optimism.




How To Find Water With A Twig


Come again?
The art of dowsing, a technique for locating hidden corpses, secret tunnels, cancerous tumours, as well as water and minerals, using just the human hand and the odd twig, is technically known as ‘biolocation’ or ‘radioesthesia’. Whether it works by electromagnetic vibes, or simple human intuition, dowsing’s got a pedigree: ancient Chinese kings used dowsers, the Egyptians swore by the technique, and in the Middle Ages dowsing was used to source coal deposits. In 1528 Martin Luther denounced dowsing as ‘the work of the devil’.

Oo-er...
To dowse for water you will need, unsurprisingly, dowsers. Traditionally these were forked twigs of hazel, beech, or alder - ‘wishing rods’ - which were held in the hands as the dowser traipsed across a patch of land: the twig would twitch down when the dowser was walking over an underground stream, lake, treasure chest, or long-buried aunt. You can also use a pendulum. These days, though, ‘L-rods’ are said to be the thing: basically these are two bits of bent coat hanger.

Coat hangers?
Yep. To make your very own L-rods, just snip the long bottom bit from two wire coat hangers. Bend the resultant rods four inches from the end, by ninety degrees. Sheath the short bent bits in drinking straws. Now gently clasp these short bits of the wires in each hand, and point the long swinging bits outwards. Walk across your chosen piece of ground, and wait for the two long bits of wire to swing inwards. When the two rods cross, you’ve dowsed: start digging and eventually you should find a viable source of drinking water. Or a BT cable.

Load of old bollocks, right?
Maybe not. As dowsing has become increasingly fashionable, scientific tests have been conducted to see whether it’s pants. A rigorous test in 1971 by physicists Chandwick and Jensen reported results that were ‘sufficiently significant to warrant further investigations’. What’s more, dowsers were used by the US army in 1967 to locate Vietcong tunnels, and ‘Dowsing’ has been an entry in Russian Army training manuals since 1930. And ‘map dowsers’ - dowsers who work by poring over geophysical surveys looking for gold, oil, or uranium - are nowadays lucratively employed by multinational companies. Uri ‘oh God, not the spoons again’ Geller makes pots of cash doing precisely this.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Pitiful Reduction in Status


OK, I'll say this one more time.... Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze buy my book. If every third visitor to my blog buys my book - which is, after all, 'absolutely terrific' according to the Sunday Telegraph, 'hysterical' according to the Sunday Times, and 'full of weird vibes' according to others - then I will make the top 100 in amazon in a week.

Please. Pur-leeze. Pliss?

See the post below for a link DIRECT to amazon. Thankyou.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tony Blair's Nazi Past


OK, that got your attention. Now to my real agenda...


My Book Is Out!


Yes, at long last, my new book, MILLIONS OF WOMEN ARE WAITING TO MEET YOU, A Story of Love, Life and Internet Dating, has been published by Bloomsbury Book this very May morning. At a notably reasonable £10.99.

But you can get it even cheaper here.

Happy reading!