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.

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Today’s Metro review

Well, I’ve now read the Metro review. Here it is:

★★★

Self-publishing has its successes, as EL James’s racy ebook series, initially posted on a fansite, proved. Yet there are reasons why editors and publishers exist, as demonstrated by Christopher Shevlin’s debut novel.

That’s not to say that The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax isn’t a good book – it is and Shevlin was rightly picked up by the literary agency that represents the likes of David Nicholls. However, it could have been great: the comic hero is caught up in a murder plot that unravels into a political thriller, which is by turns absurd and engaging.

Although the plotting can be confusing, the perceptive one-liners reveal an author unafraid to laugh at the concept. At one point, Fairfax muses that reading a secret file makes him feel like he’s in a film, although only ‘the sort that would be on TV on a Wednesday morning’. Yet the same page has ‘she thought Kathy new what she was doing’ – the book is full of errors. Also, Fairfax’s bumbling astonishment at everything gets wearing – surely something an editor would have ironed out.

Ben East

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Errata

Copies of Perpetual Astonishment that don’t say “Full release edition” on the technical page (is that what it’s called? The bit with all the copyright notices on it) contain the mistakes listed below, which I corrected on 24 July. I hope they don’t spoil your enjoyment of the book. If they do, let me know and I’ll replace it. If you spot any other problems, or want to give me feedback, please contact me.

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On becoming less apologetic

Today I rewrote this post about my book to sound more confident and adduce some evidence in favour of the proposition that the book might be good. I’d almost forgotten how diffident and apologetic I felt about this whole self-publishing thing a couple of months ago, before some people started liking the book.

I still get twinges. A couple of days ago I found that there is now one review of the book on Amazon.com (they’re kept separate from the UK reviews). It’s a four-star review, but there’s something about it (the words, principally) that suggests that the book really isn’t that person’s sort of thing at all.

Today’s top search term

Of the searches that brought people to my website today, my favourite by far is “grow a beard like Nicholas II”. It’s great that someone out there wants to grow a beard like Tsar Nicholas II’s and is using the internet to find out how. It’s even better that Google thinks my site (this post) can help.

I think that beats “banana piano” and “what looks like a bunch of bananas but isn’t” as my favourite searches leading people here. Perhaps I should run a competition.

Stylist review

Well, here we are. I cycled and Tubed all over London this evening trying to get an early copy of Stylist, only to find that my housemate had one. Here is the (extremely nice) review from their Book Wars section at the back of the magazine. I’ll start with their verdict – but read on for the full review.

(You can also read the review of Perpetual Astonishment on Stylist’s website.)

The verdict: read the comic gem The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax

Exuberant is the word that comes to mind when describing this book. It’s one of those reads you can take an age to get through – simply because you find yourself re-reading joyous passages of comedy and revelling in the carefully constructed characters. One scene involving a murderer, a gym manager and a copy of The Cat In The Hat left one of our reviewers giggling helplessly. It’s a rare book that does this. Utterly recommended.

(And here’s the rest of the review…)

The Perpetual Astonishment vs Comfortably Awkward

Thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey, independent publishing is in the spotlight, so we’re putting two new self-published titles to the test

The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax

Stylist.co.uk’s online writer Anna Brech backs The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax by Christopher Shevlin

Not many books make me laugh out loud, but The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax is one of them. Like Comfortably Awkward, it stars a hapless and bumbling lead – Jonathon – who is struggling to come to terms with life in the urban fast lane. But while I found Albert Ferenzo’s never-ending neuroses over corporate life in New York grating, Jonathon’s foot-in-mouth persona is wonderfully endearing and acts as a perfect launch pad for the rest of the story. Continue reading