Thursday, 31 January 2008

Lowering the tone

This is doing the rounds in blogworld. The caption is 'do not swallow your chewing gum'. Sound advice, I'm sure.


I have to confess that a very bad thought lurks within my breast. I know I shouldn't but I do.
Yes I know! Cycling is very good exercise. Cycling is very ecologically sound. Cycling is a means of mobility for those of limited means. No doubt the list of benefits of cycling continues on and on.
Now a little confessional stuff. I have never been a cyclist and never will be. When I was about 7, the 7 year old next door but one had a terminal argument with a Leeds City Transport bus on a bike. My parents reacted - possibly wrongly but undoubtedly understandably - that I would not have a bicycle. I never did. I have (very occasionally) ridden a bike of course but always under some form of coercion. I hated the experience every time. Therefore my starting point must be a confession of lack of empathy due to not really having shared the experience.
So what is my problem with cyclists? Observation shows that there are broadly two categories of cyclist. The first is the feral youth on a bicycle. These are distinguished by dark clothing, no helmets and as a matter of deeply held conviction, no lights at night. On the off-chance that any feral youths are reading this, do you know what a danger you are? Principally to yourself? I can only assume that they have no insight into how easy it is for a driver to fail to pick them up at night or for some bizarre reason don't care. Potential result - SPLAT! The feral youths also lay themselves open to the police doing to them what the police do best, namely harass adolescent males to overwhelmingly no good purpose, in the unshakeable belief that the feral youth is in dark clothing and without lights so that they may snatch pedestrians' mobiles/bags/whatever is snatchable. In the overwhelming majority of cases feral youths cycle about in dark clothing and with no lights because they are dumb like that and for no other reason but in police eyes they 'fit the profile' and once a profile gets into the police mind, there is no getting rid of it.
On balance, I prefer the feral youths to the second category of cyclist: the neek. For those not in the know, neek is adolescent slang and my theory as to its derivation is that it is a conflation of 'nerd' and 'geek'. Unlike the feral youth, the neek is ostentatiously visible, being festooned with flashing lights attached to front and end of the bike and various parts of their dayglo clad anatomy. The neek invariably wears a helmet, often with a flashing attachment. The neek in cycling mode screams 'look at me! I'm here and don't you forget it!'
At least the feral youth does not share the neek's overweening sense of self-righteousness but the two disparate tribes of cyclists do have two things in common. Firstly, they have an unshakeable belief that red lights do not apply to them. Quite apart from being an irritant per se, this constitutes a regular hazard to pedestrians (speaking as someone who walks far more than he drives). The second common factor is that both groups share another unshakeable belief, namely the belief that they own everything: roads, pavements, footpaths. A few years ago, I was jogging slowly and sedately round the local common. I ran down a dirt track and turned at no great speed to my left past a shed (obscuring my view) onto a footpath (note the 'foot' bit). This caused a cyclist (neek variant) who was booting it down the footpath to complain that he had to take evasive action. He then cycled onto the grass following me and bleating his complaint. I pointed out that he had been on a footpath and not a cycle track and uttered an invitation not unconnected with sex and travel.
Which, being a neek, he did.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A poem

My friend Kathryn Turnier died on Christmas Day, far too young and with so much to live for. When her papers were being sorted out, it was found that she had written a number of poems, unknown by anyone else. They are very good. Here, by kind permission of her daughter, is one that made me smile. It doesn't have a title but I call it 'Yorkshire Girls'
Yorkshire water is very soft
And so are the hearts of the girls
They built the mills around it
And the work was hard
Weaving and washing, cooking and cleaning
The girls got hard hands
But they laughed
And drank
And danced on Saturdays
And wore short skirts in the bitter cold
Made puddings and parkin
Mothers, then grandmas,
With songs to sing
And tales to tell.

Monday, 28 January 2008

It's the size of a bus!

Paranoia is generally to be discouraged, but a small news item in today's Guardian caught my eye. I copy and paste...
'Out-of-control satellite could hit Earth soon

A US spy satellite thought to be the size of a bus has lost power and could hit the Earth in late February or early March, government officials said. The satellite could contain hazardous materials, and it is not known where it might come down, they said. A National Security Council spokesman said that ways of mitigating damage were being considered but would not say whether the satellite could be shot down by a missile. John Pike, director of the defence research group, said the satellite might contain beryllium, which can cause incurable respiratory problems'.
Now, something the size of a bus containing hazardous materials hitting the earth at some stupendous speed seems to me to be just a touch serious, not least for the unfortunates in the vicinity of where it lands. I know this is a 'may' and not a 'will' and we don't have any handle on just how serious it may be but I'm surprised this is such a small news item. I must also confess that the use of the words 'may', 'might' and 'could' are less than comforting.

Saturday, 26 January 2008


The estimable blogger Charon QC turned my mind to the original Charon, the ferryman who took the dead across the River Styx (otherwise Acheron) to Hades. Charon seems to have been the original grumpy old man and only transported the dead if they had the fare - a coin called an obolus which was put in the mouths of the dead. Not dispatching the dead with the coin was distinctly unsporting on the part of the living as the fareless dead were fated to wander the shore of the Styx for one hundred years, which sounds a bit of a bore.
Charon makes Blakey in my 2 January post seem like light relief by comparison. He is variously portrayed as - in his milder form - straggly bearded, scrawny and ugly and in his more extreme form as demonic, featuring blue-grey skin, a tusked mouth, hooked nose and sometimes serpent-draped arms. He apparently was distinctly lacking in the good manners department and was prone to insulting the dead. St Peter at the pearly gates he aint. Charon worked with Hermes, who was apparently a sort of delivery boy for the dead. The picture is Greek C5 BC and shows Charon taking a delivery from Hermes. All in all, being dead sounds no fun at all in ancient Greece and Hades would appear to have been a bit of a dump where the dead wandered around glumly doing nothing much. A bit like Wolverhampton really (once described to me as 'practice for hell')...

Thursday, 24 January 2008


I'm not going to be much of a critic as regards Shameless as being a critic involves - well - criticising. All I really have to say is that - in its fifth series when comedies/dramas tend to flag - Shameless is still compulsory and compulsive viewing. In Frank Gallagher (pictured - perhaps I should add for overseas readers) one of the great comic monsters of all time has been created.
For the uninitiated, Shameless is set in a council estate in Manchester and centres around the Gallagher family. The early scripts were written by Paul Abbott, who drew on his own childhood in the same part of the world, the ninth of ten children. His mother left the family when he was nine, to be followed by his alcoholic father two years later, the children being left to fend for themselves, with the eldest daughter taking over the maternal role. The domestic life of the Gallaghers - and indeed their neighbours - is like entering a kind of demented hyper-reality where none of the usual rules apply and the world is inhabited by a collection of grotesques, monsters and inadequates.
It is also convulsively funny, wonderfully scripted and acted. It can even be moving. There is something touching in particular in the character of Debbie, the young daughter who despite her youth is the mother, not only to her older siblings but also to her drunken, drugged and generally demented father, an oasis of embattled sanity in a sea of lunacy.
The ironic social commentary has spread to the Shameless website, I notice, with features such as 'win a chav-tastic T-shirt' and a 'win a year's dole money' competition. I have entered the latter. A year's dole money would come in very handily down the rabbit hole!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

sportsmen behaving badly and biscuits

Readers indifferent or hostile to cricket - or indeed sport generally - bear with me! This posting is only about cricket by way of background. Okay - let's get the background stuff out of the way. There is a 5 Test Series being played between Australia and India (international games - and yes American readers - the games can go five days without a result, except Australia play a highly aggressive turbo charged game meaning that their opponents have usually been steamrollered into submission well before the fifth day). Annoyingly, Australia are the best team in international cricket by a country mile. India are pretty good and the financial powerhouse of international cricket commanding dizzying sums as regards sponsorship TV rights etc and aren't afraid to use their financial clout to try and boss events. Rivalry is intense. End of background stuff.
Australia won the first two Tests. The atmosphere between the two teams was poisonous. Matters came to a head when Youvraj Singh, one of the Indian players, called Andrew Symonds (pictured - the only non-white member of the Australian team) a 'monkey'.
The matter was reported to the match referee who suspended Singh for three games. The outraged Indian team threatened to literally take their bats home and walk out of the remainder of the tour. Singh was unsuspended.
Now there is a history here. The Australians are past masters of the art of 'sledging' - verbal abuse of opponents on the field of play. The objective is intimidation and/or distraction of the opposing players and takes the form of insults as regards the opposing player's appearance, alleged personal habits, abilities (or lack of them), claims of a sexual nature as regards the player's wife and - yes - racial abuse. Australian Darren Lehmann got away with calling a Sri Lankan player (and this has never been disputed) a black word we don't use in polite society. Mark Ramprakash (mixed English/Guyanese background) said that the only time he had been seriously racially abused on the field of play was against Australia. This surly crew are somewhat bemused to discover that - while admired for their abilities - they are unloved by even half the population of Australia. It is against this background that Singh opened his mouth and - in mitigation of him - although to the Western mind to call a black man a 'monkey' is beyond outrageous - I strongly suspect he hadn't a clue what buttons he was pushing.
What happened next?
Well the Third Test was played in Perth. Everyone was on their best behaviour and having won their last 16 games on the reel....
Ha! Ha! Ha!
The rest of the cricketing world was rolling on the floor laughing.
A modest proposal and a parting shot...
The modest proposal: why not ban sledging?
The parting shot: Australian Glenn McGrath was annoyed at his inability to get Zimbabwean number 11 Eddo Brandes out and asked (hardly an incisive or witty sledge) "Why are you so fat?"
To which Brandes replied "Because every time I make love to your wife, she gives me a biscuit."
The biter bit...

Monday, 21 January 2008

The great British salad

Okay, the connection between the following and Hopper's Nighthawks is tenuous at best but I like the picture and an internet search for a picture of a naff salad proved (I suppose unsurprisingly) - um - fruitless.A few years ago a book by John Lanchester - The Debt to Pleasure - was a surprise success; it was basically about food and is described by amazon as 'part cookbook, part thriller, part eccentric philosophical treatise'. Anyway, he has a section on salads and quotes a Victorian traveller, a Captain Ford, as saying 'the salad is the glory of every French dinner and the disgrace of most in England'.
Now isn't that so true? You may know the great British salad: shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced cucumber, slivers of tomato and, if you are 'lucky' for some bizarre reason radishes (don't ask me why radishes) sometimes figure. These items (excluding the lettuce) are sliced so thinly they bring to mind the scene in Goodfellas where Henry Hill and his pals are in prison but manage to acquire a razor blade to slice the garlic for their feasts as finely as possible. The great British salad of course has not a hint of dressing and is dry and as bland as can be imagined. This monstrosity is usually, but not invariably, peddled in catering establishments. I was presented with one in a certain Crown Court last Friday. I asked hopefully if they had any salad dressing. After a blank look a sachet of salad cream was produced.
Insist on decent salads!!! Ones with beds of rocket or herb leaves, with interesting tomatoes, with diced sweet peppers, with spring onions, with celery, with diced avocado, above all with thick splodgings of dressing - vinaigrette, balsamic, honey and vinegar, whatever!
Rise up!!! You have nothing to lose but a pile of sachets of salad cream in an old box somewhere!!!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Something worth reading...

It is only a few years ago that I first read anything by John Grisham, having for some time been vaguely aware of him but leaving him sniffily unread. I bought a double volume edition of The Rainmaker and The Chamber for, I think, the princely sum of 30p from the second hand book stall at a local fete. I read and enjoyed both as light reading - though the end of The Chamber was and was always going to be a cop-out and the studied neutrality on the death penalty grated. He was obviously going out of the way not to antagonise either section of his US readership. Okay, I thought, this guy has one plot - struggling young lawyer stumbles across amazing case - but he does his one plot well enough. I later bought (at full price) The Broker. I then discovered that Grisham had more than one plot but rather wished he didn't.

There matters rested as regards Grisham until the other week when I found myself at Isleworth Crown Court - yes there again! I was told my case was listed for 10.15am. On arrival, I discover that I was last on at 2pm. Not best pleased, I decided that an extensive walk around Houslow in pursuit of a bookshop was in order. The extensive walk tended to suggest that the population of Hounslow are not avid readers but I eventually found a sizeable WH Smith. Rejecting the delights of My Booky Wook, assorted celebrity cookbooks and guff from Jeremy Clarkson, I eventually settled - almost by process of elimination - on The Innocent Man.

I rather suspect that John Grisham doesn't need any bigging up by me but I'm going to recommend The Innocent Man - his first work of non-fiction - anyway. It is an account of how two men, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were tried, wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a particularly brutal rape and murder in Ada, Oklahoma. After years on death row, they were finally exonerated and freed. The focus is on Williamson (note the singular in the title) as Grisham obviously worked out that he was the more interesting character for his purposes. Williamson was a former baseball might have been (Grisham is a baseball nut) who deteriorated into alcoholism, drug addiction and schizophrenia. Experience tells that being odd is a dangerous characteristic for a defendant in a criminal trial, especially in an emotive one. By the time Williamson was brought to trial he was not merely odd but floridly mentally ill. The tale is genuinely shocking: the stupidity, loutishness and dishonesty of the investigating police. A prosecutor vindictive and delusive in equal measure. The hopeless nature of the 'evidence' (any properly conducted trial would have been stopped at the end of the prosecution case). The unfairness of the Judge (to put it mildly). The incompetence of the defence lawyer. The brutality of the prison system in general and death row in particular. I won't give away any more. Go read...

A couple of random comments: firstly, sometimes Grisham's breathless purple prose can irritate. Describing a relative's visit to death row, he writes 'moving through the layers of the Big House was like sinking into the dark belly of a beast'. Erm, right...

Secondly, occasionally (sadly not often) a client gives an answer in cross-examination that has you thinking 'oh you beauty!' There is such an answer in Williamson's trial. I quote..

(Question in cross-examination)

'Isn't it a fact, Mr Williamson, that you and Dennis Fritz are about the only friends each of you got; isn't that right?'


'Well, let's put it like this. You framed him and now you're trying to frame me'.

Oh you beauty!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

there is something faintly disturbing about this

This is obviously posed. Those little ducklings didn't really fall down the drain. Did they? Did they? :-O

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Middlesex Guildhall and other Crown Courts...

When I started this blog, I resolved to keep legal and political topics to a minimum, however a visit to Isleworth Crown Court today started a train of thought. Isleworth Crown Court has two defects: it is a dump (a former mental hospital as is evident by the central corridor running its length) and it is not terribly accessible from anywhere sensible. It is to be pulled down and a new court to be built in its place (annoyingly still in Isleworth). The reason for the new and much larger court is that Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court has been closed down so that the building can be used as the new Supreme Court building. I have mixed feelings about this. In principle, I am in favour of a Supreme Court as opposed to the present arrangement, namely that the highest court in the land is the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords on seperation of power grounds. Oh - plus an intense dislike for the idea of a House of Lords. Say what you will about the French - but they had the right idea as regards aristocrats! Yes I know that the old style aristocrats (beneficiaries of a female ancestor being on the receiving end of a fast and filthy seeing-to by Charles II etc) have been replaced by the new (tedious placemen and women largely, many of whom - wholly coincidentally of course - have given or 'lent' money to political parties) but there is nothing to be said for patronage - in either form - the new as well as the old.
And therefore what? Well - I regret the disappearance of one of the more attractive Crown Courts. There are few attractive Crown Courts. Of the older ones for example, York and Exeter are nice, Aylesbury isn't. Then there the modern horrors - Southwark and Leeds - again by way of example. Then there are the most recent: breeze block legoland monuments to naff, functional but dispiriting.
Middlesex Guildhall was run down but had a certain charm. It was also very convenient. It had seven or eight courtrooms - the memory fades - and most of the courtrooms weren't much cop. Oh but courts 1 and 2! Above is a picture of court 2. Court 1 was even prettier. They were, like most old courtrooms, damn uncomfortable to work in, but they were so pretty. Court 1 also had a list of resident Judges of the Court. The first was Judge Jeffries - he of bloody assizes fame. Apparently in the mid years of the seventeenth century, he earned £10,000 a year at the bar. So not much change there... He eventually became James II's Lord Chancellor and presided over the bloody assizes after the Monmouth rebellion - a notorious example of judicial over enthusiasm (casualties about 350 by way of assorted gross forms of execution out of about 2,000 dealt with). After his patron fled, Jeffries was incarcerated in the Tower where he died of liver disease - he was apparently a notorious piss artist. It always amused me to see his name on the wooden panel. The second and third resident Judges were brothers Henry (writer) and John (blind) Fielding (do keep up at the back).
Middlesex Guildhall is a listed building and is to be refurbished in a way that has caused howls of horror from traditionalists. I don't really have a problem with this generally - the place did look pretty tired and the refurbishment plans actually look pretty good, albeit ones that I can't imagine they would ever get past English Heritage in any other context. Okay, it's staggeringly expensive also but after the Millennium Dome we are probably inured to that sort of stuff. Governments are for wasting money. My gripe is - they are mucking about with courts 1 and 2!!! This should never be allowed to happen....
Next thing you know - they will take Judge Jeffries' name down!
Okay, having done law - sort of - I'll do a little politics. A quote from Malcolm McLaren I came across recently - Tony Blair was our first karaoke Prime Minister, miming the words of others and not taking any responsibility from the moment the performance ends.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Cracking, or what?

I've got to confess this guy Beau Bo D'Or is growing on me by the day. Okay - I've only been aware of his existence for about two days but there ya go - link below. I particularly like the 'Traditional Muggers'. There are plenty of other phoney pseudo-traditions about so why not muggers?

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Literary Agents II

Returning to the subject of literary agents, the question of how to get one arises. First of all, there are a couple of 'dont's'. Firstly, conventional wisdom is to never deal with an agent who charges up-front fees. Conventional wisdom is right. Agents make money (conventionally 15%) out of selling your book. The ones who charge up-front fees are making money out of - well - up-front fees and not out of selling books. Avoid! Secondly, there are some agents about who are frankly sharks. They are careful to avoid the up-front fees tag and advertise extensively on webpages connected to literary agents. Warning signs are buttering up the 'new' unpublished writer, an enthusiasm for electronic submission and a technically correct trumpeting of 'no advance fees'. The sting comes later with fees for activity, 'independent' editing fees and links with vanity publishers. 'Writer Beware' maintains a list of these agencies (Thumbs Down Agencies List). Take a look. The most notorious of these agencies, run by a convicted conman, regularly rebrands itself and has appeared under a series of names. I wrote about two years ago, asking that dismal volume the Writers' & Artists Yearbook why their webpage carries an advert for these sharks. Still no answer and I notice that it continues to do so. The answer would appear to be that the adverts are placed by google. Perhaps a protest to google would be in order from the distinguished people at the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook but apparently not.

Okay, that's what shouldn't be done. How should the great unpublished go about finding an agent? Firstly, do your research. There is no point in approaching an agent who only does children's literature as regards your thriller. If the agent says they are not taking on new clients he/she can be taken to mean it. Secondly, there is no need to spend money on the dismal volume mentioned above or equivalents whether printed or online (some bodies charge for lists of agents). It's all there online and for free! Just googling 'literary agency' will produce an avalanche of links. For more systematic research, two resources should be mentioned. Gerard Jones's website, everyone who's anyone - - is pretty much what it says on the tin and much more. The website does two things - firstly it is a vast resource base as regards US/UK/Canadian agents and publishers and secondly it is Gerard's rage against the machine. Gerard does anger bigtime and conducts a one man guerilla war against the publishing industry. He not only posts agent/publisher contact details (not all of whom are best pleased at being so posted) but also his exchanges with them. Some are hilarious. My personal favourite is an exchange with an agent called Warren Frazier who requested his manuscript and sat on it for months without responding. It can be found (if you are impervious to language that would make a Tourettes sufferer blush) about a third of the way down under Part 2 of US Adult Trade Literary Agents. The 'Thanks' at the end is a nice touch.

As regards Gerard's anger, he has been writing for something over thirty years. He has had one book published. It is called Ginny Good (cover above) and it is - well - very, very good. It ought to have been a best seller but wasn't. Go cheer the old boy up and order it. You won't be disappointed.

Everyone who's anyone is now under maintenance only but a new resource has burst forth - Litmatch - which I mentioned in the first part under this topic. It is run principally by a writer called Christopher Hawkins and again is free. It also is accumulating a database of agents but tries a new approach in that it attempts to match agents to projects. It is at a relatively early stage of development but looks very promising. Go see.

As Forrest Gump didn't quite say 'and that's all I've got to say about literary agents'.

At least for the moment.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

I completely corpsed at this...

And have to confess that I pinched it from Gavin Whenman's website - - but it turns out that it comes from a guy known in blogworld as Beau Bo 'Or - take a look at his blog - - well worth a peep!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Literary Agents I

As threatened, here follows some thoughts on literary agents for the benefit of the great unpublished and indeed the struggling writer in the form of questions and answers.

1. Do I actually need an agent? Not absolutely necessarily but there is no doubt that it helps a lot. The larger publishers treat agents as a form of quality control and will not even consider unagented submissions. If your search for an agent is fruitless, Jacqui Bennett's website - - has a list of publishers who accept unagented submissions. That was how I found a publisher for my novel twentytwelve (the first on the list, and first approached, he wrote smugly).

2. Is it true that a variant on Catch 22 applies - you pretty much need an agent to be published - it is practically impossible to attract the attention of an agent without having been published? Yup.

3. Should I make electronic or paper approaches to agents? Some agents are still furiously attempting to disinvent the wheel as regards electronic submissions and insist on paper submissions. I suspect that the reason for this is that these agents feel themselves besieged by a tidal wave of unsaleable rubbish and don't want the punters getting too close, ie all over their inboxes like a rash. Some also appear to live in permanent terror of attachments, I'm not quite sure why. Haven't they heard of anti-virus software? Christopher Hawkins on his LitMatch website - - of which more later, argues that electronic submissions are more ignoreable. There may be some force to this but two points arise. Firstly, agents are entirely capable of ignoring postal submissions. Secondly, postal submissions are a laborious process involving printing off letter of approach/synopsis/sample chapters, parcelling them up and taking them off to the Post Office. Then there is the cost of posting, especially if a sae for response/return of synopsis and sample papers is required. Unless you abolutely insist on approaching an agent who will only consider postal approaches, then I recommend electronic submission. It's so much quicker and easier. At least you tend to get your rejections faster.

4. Do they actually read what I submit? I suspect that most of the time they do not, or at least give it only the most cursory glance. They can be extraordinary capricious; one told me that he rejects any manuscript that starts with an alarm clock going off without reading further.This would have meant that he would have rejected David Lodge's rather good Nice Work among other works. My most blatant personal experience of non-reading was when I approached an agent as regards twentytwelve, sending her synopsis and sample chapters. She e-mailed me back, sounding very enthusiastic about what she had read and asked for the manuscript. I duly printed off the manscript and posted it off to her. Sometime later, she returned the manuscript with a rejection letter saying that she had read the manuscript and was not offering representation blah blah. Somewhat crestfallen, I removed the manuscript from its box. I had printed it off in 50 page segments on two elderly and temperamental printers. This created a castellated effect as the segments were not exactly aligned. The castellated effect was undisturbed. I e-mailed her saying that I wasn't seeking to re-open her decision not to offer representation but I didn't believe she had read the manuscript, saying why and saying that I was not aware of the castellated effect until I took the manuscript out of the box and this was not a trap. In fairness to her she wrote a very apologetic reply fessing up that I was right and she had not read the manuscript. In passing, some people do evidently put markers in manuscripts and then check the returned manuscript to see if they have been disturbed. My advice: don't bother. What's the point?

5. I have just got a standard form rejection. Is this fair after all my effort? Frankly, get over it. The agents are in business, they are not gratuitous literary critics. Albeit that the tired cliches of the standard form letter ('not for us', 'didn't feel strongly enough about it') may grate, there are only so many ways of saying 'no'. Intone the Tallulah Bankhead quote in the previous posting here and move on. Prove them wrong!

6. I have just had a 'rave rejection'. If they genuinely really like my writing why have they turned me down? I've had a few of these and the sense of 'so near and yet so far' can be dreadfully deflating. The answer is that writers tend to think aesthetically ('this is good writing') but the agent commercially ('is this saleable?'). Again, prove them wrong! At least you are getting warm.

7. What about multiple submissions? Just do it. Agents want to control the terms of trade between you and them despite the unequal relationship between agent and supplicant and hate 'reading in competition'. Multiple initial approaches seem to me to be an entirely legitimate way of avoiding growing old and dying waiting for responses to a series of one-off submissions. If an agent shows a genuine interest and asks for the full manuscript then that is different. You should put the brakes on further approaches until you get a response. If they take forever in replying, then a chasing communication to the effect that you have put other approaches on hold and how is the agent getting on can be a good idea.

8. Some agents never respond at all and others keep me waiting months for a form rejection. Is this usual? Yup.

9. What's the picture of Evelyn Waugh about? I just felt like it.

To be continued...

Friday, 4 January 2008

Satan's wake up call

The picture is Blake's 'Satan arousing the fallen angels'. I post it for no particular reason apart from liking Blake and idly wondering what Satan was getting them up to do. Nothing good I'm sure. No doubt the fallen angels included sloth among their vices and getting them out and about doing evil would appear to have been a bit of a chore for Satan.
It is a little odd that Blake. who was entirely capable of producing hideous and surreal images (see his 'Ghost of a Flea') portrays Satan with a normal young man's face and an athletic body rather than as some grotesque, but no doubt our man had his reasons.
Otherwise, I am away for a few days so no further postings for now. I will resume with an attempt to give the benefit of my experiences with literary agents. This may take more than one posting and actually be of some use to one or two of you.
A parting shot. A quote I came across today from Tallulah Bankhead to Somerset Maugham after he rejected her for a part in a play: 'Mr Maugham, I have two words left to say to you, and the second one is "off"'.
A parting parting shot: avoid people with dogs called 'Satan'.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Blakey has been located and is working for First Great Western

As an unenthusiastic driver, I spend a lot of time on trains. The last serious week's work before Christmas was in Oxford and I commuted from Paddington on First Great Western trains. As I sat slumped in my seat and staring glassily at a lever arch file of papers, I became aware of the ticket inspector (actually, I don't think they are called ticket inspectors any more but 'revenue protection officers', a particularly crass piece of rebranding).
This particular - ahem - revenue protection officer, it quickly became clear, was the reincarnation of Blakey from 'On the Buses'. For the benefit of younger readers, 'On the Buses' was a particularly inane 1970s TV sitcom. I duly produced my ticket to his satisfaction and Blakey shuffled off to a young woman sitting in the seat in front of me.
The young woman produced her purse and asked for a return ticket to wherever it was she was going. She hadn't bought one. The frisson of excitement passing through Blakey's jobsworth frame was palpable.
'That will be an £80 penalty fare to the next stop, which is Reading, plus a fare for the rest of your journey...'
He was in jobsworth paradise.
The young woman said that the ticket machine she was queuing at hadn't worked and she ran out of time.
'There are other ticket machines' Blakey exclaimed, warming to his theme.
Now I don't know why. Maybe she hadn't the money or did but could scarcely afford the penalty fare or was just having a bad day, but the young woman became very upset.
I said to Blakey. 'Don't you have any discretion? You can see she's upset and she obviously wasn't trying to cheat the system'.
Apparently not.
By this point the woman was in tears. Blakey just kept badgering her for ID.
'You can't feel good about this. Or perhaps you do?' I asked, wondering if Blakey got his rocks off bullying young women.
Of course the reply was to the effect that he was only doing his job.
Then someone else joined in telling the young woman what she should do and adding that he was a lawyer. I chipped in that I was too. At this point Blakey was feeling somewhat ganged up on but the train arrived at Reading and the woman got off, still distressed. She gave me a pat on the shoulder as she went in recognition of support. Of course, I don't know what happened then but hope she found someone with an elementary sense of decency to deal with.
The whole thing left a sour taste in the mouth.
Funnily enough, on the train back from Oxford on the same day the revenue protection officer (not Blakey!) found that a woman had the wrong ticket.
'I'll let it go this once', he announced cheerily and pottered off down the compartment.
'Good Lord', I thought. 'A human being'.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Reuben and Cerise...

I thought I knew most of Jerry Garcia's stuff as he has been a musical hero since I was an undergraduate and he was the coolest man in the known universe. I would also have subscribed to the proposition that his - and everyone else's - best music is well known because it is, erm, best. The obscure stuff is obscure for a reason. Until a few days ago, I had never even heard of Reuben and Cerise.
It is one of those songs you fall in love with. Or I did anyway. It's not just the music - although of course there is that. It's the words. For the uninitiated, the usual arrangement was that Garcia did the tunes. Robert Hunter did the words. And he did them so well...
Reuben and Cerise is set at a New Orleans carnival. Cerise (cherry red) needs reassurance of Rueben's love.
Reuben Reuben tell me truly true
I feel afraid and I don't know why I do
Is there another girl for you?
She is dressed as pirouette (he must mean pierrot) in white. She receives reassurance from Reuben. Then Ruby Claire (bright red) appears as pirouette (sic) in red.
The crowd pressed round
Ruby stood as though alone
Reuben's song took on a different tone
and he played it just for her
Oh dear. Now there is where the lyrics get seriously strange...
Ruby freezes and is turned into stone. Reuben reaffirms his love for Cerise. the song ends as follows...
The truth of love an unsung song must tell
The course of love must follow blind
without a look behind
Reuben walked through the streets of New Orleans 'till dawn,
Cerise so lightly in his arms
and her hair hung gently down
Where are we going here? Okay I cheated a bit and did some researches. These lines are an echo of the myth of Orpheus, who is allowed to recover his dead lover Euridyce from the underworld on condition that he does not look back. The biblical story of Lot and his unfortunate wife would seem to be from the same stable.
Now that's not just a lyric for a rock song - that's a class act.
Robert Hunter is by all accounts a good bloke too. Quoting lyrics in books is a hazardous exercise. Unauthorised publication of someone else's lyrics breaches copyright and copyright holders will usually seek their cut for allowing lyrics to be used.I had a scrape myself as regards permissions but that's another story. Someone once told me that someone he knew approached Robert Hunter seeking permission to quote some of his lyrics in a book. Hunter simply replied...
'Use what you like'
No charge.
Top bloke!