Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Elliott Smith and John Martyn 

I didn't take to Elliott Smith's music at first. I checked him out because reviews described the sort of act I normally like. I found the singles I bought a bit wimpy, lacking in substance. Then I saw him on the first night of Glastonbury 2000. He was following the highly touted (and hugely overrated) Badly Drawn Boy in the New Bands Tent. I was knocked out. He had a full band and a sound reminiscent of late period McCartney Beatles. A lot of the songs were about heartache and the meaninglessness of life. They were beautiful pop constructions whose beauty and zest offset the mournfulness of the lyrics. I bought his latest (and, as I've since discovered, best) album Figure Eight from a festival stall the next day.

Elliot Smith killed himself yesterday. He was 34, ten years older than Matthew Jay, who I also saw play that day, and who also took his own life earlier this month. I haven't got anything to say about Smith's death that I haven't already said about Jay, below. Both of them appear in my novel about that year's Glasto, 'Festival'. After reading about Smith's suicide, I superstitiously went to the John Martyn website to check on John's health. He's one of my favourite singer-songwriters. I've seen him many times since 1976 and did a long interview with him in '78. I had to push to get him included in 'Festival', as he wasn't terribly hip, but was able to convince my editor on the grounds that he'd appeared on a recent dance hit.

John's had plenty of ups and downs, many of them chronicled in his songs. He had a car crash last year. In April this year, he had a leg amputated below the knee. He's lost a lot of weight since then and, from a brief video clip I saw, seems to be in good spirits. He plays his first gigs since the operation on November the 7th and 8th, in Ireland.

Welcome back, John.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Back In Print 

Eleven years ago, my career was knackered. I'd published a well received, much translated first novel and half a dozen short stories. But I couldn't get my second novel taken anywhere. Or the third. The Young Adult market was in deep recession and nobody was buying. I'd quit my full time job three years earlier. It was beginning to look like a mistake.

Then I got invited to write for a new series, Point Crime. I was commissioned to write what turned out to be the first book in the series (which fed off the success of the Point Horror series). The title I chose was controversial, but the publishers thought we could get away with it, and we did.

My first novel sold a respectable four thousand copies in two years. The publishers were going to print three times that many of the first Point Crime. It seemed a bit optimistic to me, but I was wrong. They had to reprint after four weeks.

The novel in question remains my best selling UK novel (though Love Lessons is running it close). Yet it's been out of print for eight years. Why? To find that out, you'll have to read the long afterword I've written for the new edition which is published today by the excellent Five Leaves Publications.

When somebody says a book is published today, it usually means that the book has been in shops for at least a fortnight and with reviewers for a couple of months. But Five Leaves is a small press. The book was, literally, finished yesterday. The publisher is away for a week. I collected the first copies of the book from the printers a few minutes ago. It looks great, although, as is often the case with these things, there's one irritating glitch. My nephew Conor has been missed off the list of dedicatees (the one thing I didn't see a proof of). If you're reading this, Conor, it wasn't my fault and I promise to rectify it in the next edition. Honest.

As I type, a van from the printers is taking the finished book to the wholesalers in London . So, if you were to ring up your local independent bookshop and order the book today, you should get a copy by Friday - a good week before reviewers will get theirs. Or you can order it direct from the publisher at 5.99 post free.

Normally I'd do what most sites do and print a link like the one above so you could buy the book from Amazon. I'm not doing that this time because, apart from your having to buy 25 pounds worth of stuff from them before you get free postage, the following appears on the page describing my new book: "This hard-to-find title is subject to an additional handling charge of 1.99 per item (excluding VAT)". I'm assuming that this 'hard to find' business is to do with their having the book down as coming out a month before it actually does. I hope it's got nothing to do with the book coming from a small publisher who they can't be bothered to deal with. If you click to a link asking them to explain the charge, you read: 'Some books take more time and effort for us to locate than others.' Hmmm. Isn't that why people go to the internet and a store that specialises in everything, rather than ASDA or WHS? And in the case of Five Leaves books, the 'hard to find' bit certainly isn't true.

Anyhow, the new name of the novel is Dead Teachers Don't Talk. (It's not that I can't tell you the old title, just that I want you to find it out for yourself). It's a fast paced mystery set in a Summerhill-like school with no rules and has an ace new cover by my favourite cover artist, David Wyatt. It's suitable for readers of 11 to 111. If you're feeling flush, why not buy two copies and use the spare as a Christmas pressie? Or, if you're skint, order it from your local library.

End of advert.

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