Guardian Masterclass

I’ve just been to visit the Guardian’s offices again and see their training rooms. Now I’m really looking forward to my Self-Publishing Step by Step masterclass. I’ve chosen a smallish room, to make it as easy as possible for everyone to talk, with a big window and a view over the canal, because I think everyone needs as much daylight as possible at this time of year. I should have taken a photo.

Everyone there is extremely nice, and there’s someone there for the whole weekend in case something breaks down – and also to give everyone a guided tour of the newsrooms at lunchtime.

I’m particularly looking forward to my two guests. On Saturday afternoon we have Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors (of which I’m a member). I’ll be interviewing her (and everyone can join in) about why she went independent and why this is such a good time to self-publish. And on Sunday we have Fiona Robyn, author of the bestseller The Most Beautiful Thing. We’ll be talking to her about how she marketed her book in a way that felt easy and natural.


Another good review on Amazon

This appeared today on Amazon:

Really funny and pacy. Some of the writing is reminiscent of P G Wodehouse. Very witty and accurate descriptions of London mixed with complete fantasy.

There’s very little I like more than hearing that people like my book, especially when they have no reason to be nice about it. This reviewer is anonymous, but I’m pretty sure she’s not my mum. (Why do I think this is a woman? I don’t know. The soubriquet is ‘SR “Solipsist”‘, which doesn’t give much away, except for a good vocabulary. Then again, women have, on average, larger vocabularies than men, and they read more.) Anyway, thank you very much, SR. Your review is concise yet specific: a model of its kind. And I apologise if I’ve mistaken your gender.

P.S. Thanks too to S Beaton, whose Amazon review I’ve also just noticed. I’m very glad that TPAOJF has made it to Japan.

Quirky, absurd, whimsical

The Guardian review got me thinking about these words. In a way I’m surprised they exist, since there is very little in Britain that isn’t quirky, absurd or whimsical.

I was in Derbyshire last weekend, where I visited Chatsworth House, the ancestral home of the dukes of Devonshire (the earls of Derby, of course, live in Knowsley House near Liverpool). Here I found that the Sixth Duke of Devonshire had caused the local village to be moved about a quarter of a mile away because he felt it spoiled his view.

I then went to nearby Haddon Hall, where I found that the 600-year-old great hall had a manacle attached to one wall. Apparently, if a man didn’t drink enough at dinner, his wrist would be put in the manacle and the wine he hadn’t drunk would be poured down his sleeve*.

And that’s just two stately homes in the Peak District.


*Has anyone done any research on the effectiveness of sleeve-based penalties? I instinctively feel that even the most hardened criminal would mend his ways rather than have something poured down his sleeve.


Guardian review

Today I’m overjoyed by this review by the beautifully named Alfred Hickling in the Guardian:

Anyone suspicious that the publishing industry may be run by a small group of corporate-minded killjoys will applaud the DIY-ethic of Shevlin, who has published this quirky comic novel himself. The perpetually astonished hero finds himself in a conspiracy involving murder and the theft of cabinet-level documents, having done no more than give directions to a large man wearing a balaclava on the Holloway Road (mental note: men in balaclavas are either thugs or terrorists, unless they have very poor circulation in their ears). Shevlin’s offbeat brand of urban absurdism should appeal to anyone susceptible to Nicola Barker’s whimsy, though the penchant for made-up onomatopoeic verbs can become a bit trying: “scooshed”, “tocked” and “prunked” in a paragraph about parking a car. But you can’t help being tickled by Shevlin’s view of Covent Garden as a place “thick with mildly diverting notions which now had their own branded carrier bags”; or the Holloway Road afflicted by “the North London disease that turns any unwary building into a chicken shop”.

It should appear in the paper this Saturday, or possibly the next (i.e. the 13th)…

Low-key supernatural, part II

On Thursday evening I went to a pub called the Lamb, on Lamb’s Conduit Street. I was sitting in the low bit at the back, beside the door leading to the stairs (and thence to the lavatories and powder room). Kerry came back with our second drinks while I still had about an inch of my first, so she put it on the table next to me and sat down.

She told me that she had found out about the glass screen around the bar. It’s a very old pub which still has a lot of its Victorian features, including a raised frosted glass partition running all around the bar, with each pane on hinges allowing it to be opened so that you can speak to the bartenders. (See the picture below) Apparently it allowed the middle-class people in the left-hand side of the pub to avoid being seen by the working-class people in the public bar on the other side of the pub. Kerry told me this and then said, “It’s called a snob screen”.

As soon as she said these words my beer was knocked off the table and spilled all over the carpet at my feet. It was done neatly, avoiding my trousers and bag and leaving very little spillage on the table. In fact, there was a tidy ring of beer on the table, showing that the glass had been a bit over six inches from the two nearest edges. On one side of this ring, there was a trace of beer running perhaps three inches, as though the glass had been taken up from the side of the table nearest the door. All the rest of the beer was on the floor, along with the glass, which hadn’t broken.

I was frozen in place, waiting for my senses to supply an explanation – which usually follows when some surprising event happens. I thought I’d suddenly realise that I had made an expansive gesture without realising, or that someone had walked past. But no explanation followed. Neither of us had moved, no one had passed, the table wasn’t on an angle.

I went to the bar to replace my beer and told the barman what had happened. “Funny you should say that,” he said. “We’ve had five or six people tell us the same thing in the last few weeks.”

He still charged me for the new pint though.

I went to Gdansk and all I got was this lousy short story

Actually, the story isn’t all I got – I also got a ton of good memories.

I’ve just come back from Gdansk, in Poland, where I was doing Once Upon A Deadline – a writing event run by Hungry Arts as part of the Polish Arts Festival. It was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had, and I’m extremely grateful to Alex Gilly (@getalex) for mentioning my name to Robert Mac, the creator of the event – and also to Robert for including me and to Ros Green for making me welcome.

On the Saturday, each of the five writers involved was taken separately by a Polish guide to five different places: the Library of Gdansk, the shipyard where Solidarity began, a children’s playground, the Academy of Music, and St John’s Church. We spent about 90 minutes in each place, looking around and writing. The event began at about 9am, and by 8.30pm we had to have written a story of 2,000 words or less. The next day the stories were translated into Polish and read by their translators (mine was the excellent Polish prince, Piotr Ivansky) to an audience at the Gunter Grass Gallery.

My story was 2,250 words, cut down from the 3,500-word story below. The full set of stories will be published by Off_Press, and videos, photos and sound recordings from the day will be edited together in various forms, including an iPad app. A group of Polish writers will be doing the same thing in reverse in Southend this Sunday (2 September).

I’ll be writing a proper account of my weekend, so that I don’t forget it. In the meantime, here’s my story. It’s a bit odd, but here we go…

Free City

Have you ever walked into a room and realised that you have no idea why you are there? You stop, scratch your head, and then wander about, making vaguely purposeful gestures with your hands, hoping to remember what brought you there. It’s disconcerting.

Imagine then how much more disconcerting it is to stride out into a city, as George September did, and realise with a jolt that not only have you no idea why you are there, but also that you have no idea which city you are in. Or, indeed, who you are. Continue reading

The first bookshop copies go on sale

The Broadway Bookshop on Broadway Market in Hackney today became the first bookshop to stock copies of the Perpetual Astonishment. I took them a copy a couple of weeks ago, and when I went back on Saturday they said that their manager had really liked it. So, now they have two copies on the shelves. Coincidentally, I got my first order today from Bertram, one of the two biggest book wholesalers. (This might be for Foyles, who asked me for a reading copy a week or so ago.)

Used by thousands of bookshops across the country and carrying millions of titles, Bertram placed an order for one copy. And because my account with Nielsen is set up wrongly, I had to fulfil the order myself, which meant it cost me money. But if I get another order, Lightning Source will take care of it all.

Now I just need to summon up the courage to ask another nice local bookshop if they’ll stock the book.