Those seven letters are shorthand for the Thirtieth International Festival of Authors, in Toronto, from which I’ve just returned. The trip was bracketed by two nights in Barcelona, a crazy schedule that meant I was on six different flights in seven days, with the inevitability that somewhere I was going to pick up a dose of ‘flu, but it’s of the man rather than the swine variety, so no big deal.
I may have more to say in detail when I’ve had time to reflect on the trip, but first and foremost I’d like to thank Geoffrey Taylor, the inspired director of IFOA, for his invitation, and for extending the hospitality of Toronto to us all. Thanks also to Mike Russell, the Scottish culture minister, for our Government’s support of the event, and to those with whom I shared a couple of platforms, Mark Sinnett, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Linden McIntyre, John Bemrose, James Nichol, Colm Toibin, Iain Weir and Martin Levin.
Oh yes; cheers also to the chef in the CN Tower restaurant, to the team of cyclists who make it revolve, and no hard feelings to the inimitable Joseph Kavan, for the elegant but unintentional way in which he insulted my son.
I wish you’d left your full name, so that I could thank you properly for your generosity in sharing that observation with me, and for reminding me that even the smallest minorities have a right to express their views, within the limits set by the law. The best advice I can give you is to restrict yourself to reading short stories, in the hope that they’re more suited to your attention span.
To tell you the truth, I’m rather immersed in Bob’s world myself. He gets more real by the day. I’m scheduled to spend another few months with him, pretty soon.
I reckon I can help you. I suggest that you click on the purchase link on my website and get in contact with campbellreadbooks. Even if a title isn’t listed there, it can be obtained, and it will be delivered signed.
Amid all the furore over Jenson Button it’s important that another sporting achievement of Sunday October 18 is given due recognition. Today, who’s Scotland’s top male pro golfer, according to the official world rankings. Monty? Not any more? Paul Lawrie? Still making money but no longer a short odds bet. Alasdair Forsyth? Still not quite there. No, step forward Martin Laird.
Who’s he, you ask? Let me tell you. He’s a Glasgow guy who went to college in the US and stayed on there, qualifying for the PGA golf tour by the long distance route, through the secondary Nationwide Tour. In his rookie year he barely retained his card, and this year’s been tough too, but his form has improved steadily, until finally, yesterday, he took a huge step forward in his career by winning the Justin Timberlake Open, after a three-man play-off in Las Vegas, the first Scot to take an event on the modern PGA tour since the great Sandy Lyle. (Yes, I know; technically, Paul Lawrie is a PGA tour winner, but he did it at Carnoustie.)
I hate to suggest that the British media has an inbuilt bias towards English sportspeople, but I’ve just done a check of UK on-line newspaper site, and I find that twelve hours after Martin’s victory, only the Herald, his home-town journal, has caught up with the fact. It doesn’t rate a mention in the Times, Torygraph or Guardian. If it had been England’s Ian Poulter, they would have been all over it, but as it happens, he’s never won in America.
So, on behalf of all Scots, well done our guy. I look forward to seeing you in next year’s Ryder Cup.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, congratulations to Jenson Button, his boss Ross Brawn, and the entire racing team on a remarkable achievement. I’ve got as much admiration for him as I have for Lewis Hamilton, another guy with an inspirational father to nurture his awesome God-given talent. I read somewhere that Sir Frank Williams once described Jenson as ‘a gentleman racer’. If that was a compliment, I’m pretty sure that it was meant to be back-handed, but I’d prefer to take it at face value. Jenson strikes me as a driver in the finest traditions of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, his son Damon, and the survivor of the founding era, Sir Stirling Moss. I’d rather watch him than a handful of Schumis.
And I mustn’t forget. All praise to Beth Tweddle, who fell off, got up, dusted herself off, and won.
Glad to hear that. I have plans for at least five more, by permission of the Man upstairs (and I don’t mean Tim Hely-Hutchinson). Skinner Twenty . . . no, I can’t believe it either . . . is ready and waiting, and Headline have asked for four in addition to that. Then there’s the Primavera series. In five years I may take a rest.
You and Brian won’t have long to wait. As you’ve probably seen from the site home page, Blood Red is due for publication on January 7.
I’m looking forward to it also, Christine. What does C.A.T.S. signify? As an incentive to your group you may tell them that anyone who turns up bevvied will not be admitted.
Sadly, Dave, the Queen’s Hotel in Gullane is no longer trading. After a brief and unsuccessful period as The Templar Lodge, it closed, and has lain derelict for several years, thanks to the local council’s obduracy in refusing to grant a change of use to potential developers. Although consent has now been given, the present owner has been slow to start the project, no doubt citing ‘the economic climate’. Although that whole area is listed, the building has been allowed to become a scar on an otherwise attractive village. Do powers exist to compel owners of such properties to show them some care and attention? I don’t know, but if not they bloody well should.
As for the Empuries Greco-Roman ruins, you would be surprised by the lack of commercialisation attached to the site, for all that it attracts thousands of visitors, all year round. The site is very well run, very patiently excavated, and very well presented. (A remarkable contrast with the old Queen’s Hotel!)
Thanks for that. Sorry about Oz, but he’d gone as far as he could at that time. Funnily enough, I’ve come up with a theoretical means of bringing him back to life, but I’ll have to think long and hard before actually doing it.
Great surname for someone in your job. Ever seen the excellent movie, titled thus, with Stallone and Harvey Keitel?
Thing is, Moe, there is no ‘Scottish accent’ any more than there’s a unique accent in America, or England, or France or Spain, or Germany, or any other Western country. (I’d need to ask my daughter-in-law about Japanese.) Ultimately, it’s what the characters say that matters, and how well it’s understood. I like your suggestion, though; it implies that they cross borders. Question for you. What’s the difference between the Sheriff and the chief of police?
Sweden in midsummer? Never been there; I hope it’s warm enough for you.
Paul is right about Edinburgh, but that’s cities for you, fortified hilltops that spread out over the centuries.
Just when we thought it was all over, the fuss over MPs’ expenses’ has been stirred up again. From what’s been leaked so far an auditor without powers of compulsion is about to ask a couple of hundred members to repay money paid in respect of claims agreed by the Commons fees’ office. If I read that right the man is saying, ‘You didn’t break the rules, but fork out anyway.’ If I’m also right about subsequent comments, may of those members are going to refuse, politely or otherwise.
I’d like to see a line drawn under this business, once and for all. Yes, the Daily Torygraph’s exposures have succeeded in ridding us of a couple of people whose misuse of the system clearly stamped them as unfit for public office, and have exposed some ludicrous lesser abuses. But enough’s enough. It’s time to recognise that the system was as unfit for purpose in that it allowed some of these claims to be passed, even after scrutiny, and leave the new Speaker to fix it. The fact that Bercow was chosen when nobody actually likes him indicates that he’s probably the best person for the task.
We’re going to have a general election in Britain next year. Undoubtedly, public anger over this affair will be reflected in the results. But it shouldn’t be allowed to distract voters from the really important issue; which of the contending parties do we trust most to dig us out of the ordure that Captain Barbossa and his crew have piled up around us by falling asleep at the wheel, and creating a banking regulatory system that was even more open to abuse that the Westminster feeding trough.
There’s one other thing. A review of MPs’ expenses is long overdue, nobody doubts that. But there’s something about the sanctimony of the media that has stuck in my craw all the way through this. Glass houses? Stone-throwing? Maybe a little humility rather than triumphalism, some of it pretty vicious, would have been in order.
My firm plans for the future don’t extend beyond November at this time, and they don’t include Dundee. It’s like this at the venue you mention; they invite, we accept, or not as the case may be. If they do and it fits my timetable, I’d probably say ‘yes’.
Some of my English readers who follow football may have been a little upset last week by a character called Jack Warner, who chose to mount an unprovoked attack on the FA’s bid for the 2018 World Cup. Roy Keane once described Mr Warner as a ‘clown’, but he’s far removed from that. I urge those who care about this issue to get hold of a book called ‘Foul!’ by Andrew Jennings, and read it from cover to cover. You may find that parts of it stretch credibility, but if you do, bear this in mind; to date, nobody’s sued Mr Jennings or his publisher.
QJ thanks you very much. Yes, the new style seems to be going down well. It gives me a great deal more freedom, and feeds my control-freakiness. There were also space constraints on the old journal format; there are virtually none on this thing.
The new campbellreadbooks site might make your friend irrelevant if you’d care to use it. Publication dates of individual titles vary around the world, but it will always be up to the minute.
Haven’t been to New York for a while, or to the US for that matter. Maybe next year.
They’re big on questions in Canada. As part of the very thorough preparation for the thirtieth International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront, Toronto, I’ve been asked to answer seven questions. I thought you might like to see them also, with responses.
1 What was the first music album you bought or remember listening to? What are you listening to now?
An Evening With Belafonte, 1954.
Now I listen to around 14,000 songs at random on my iPod. Most recent CD/download purchases include ‘ I feel apocalyptic today’ – Monoceros, ‘Moon glow’- Jimmy Scott, ‘American Saturday Night’ – Brad Paisley, ‘Greatest Hits’ – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, ‘Gurrumul’ – Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.
2 Favourite film(s)?
Con Air. In Bruges. The Deer Hunter. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Silent Movie. Blazing Saddles. The Fifth Element.
3 Favourite pastime?
Watching football. (North Americans call it soccer)
4 Favourite places to visit/vacation?
Toronto, (no kidding) Singapore, Chicago, Granada, Sevilla, Sydney.
5 Three books that you would recommend to friends?
Foul! by Andrew Jennings. Power of the Dog by Don Winslow. A Darkness More than Night, by Michael Connelly
6 Your guilty pleasure?
Playing five-a-side football (soccer) with guys half my age.
7 Words to live by?
Try to learn something new every day, regardless of the number of days that have passed by already.
In advance of the IFOA in Toronto in a couple of weeks, I was sent an interesting questionnaire by Geoff Pevere, the Toronto Star’s book columnist, as part of his research for an article he’s preparing. Here are his questions and my answers; we’ll see how many make the cut.
How do you get started writing?
Slowly. I produce two books a year, and I try to maintain some sort of disciplined schedule. By that I mean I know when I should be starting what is usually a four-month cycle, although actually doing it is a different matter. As my designated start day approaches I try to clear my mind of other things . . . for example I stop reading . . . and ease myself into the creative mind-set. I hide all the games on my computer. I try to leave phone answering to my wife, but that never works for I have a reflex that won’t let a phone ring three times without my picking it up, even though most of the calls are for her anyway.
How do you avoid getting started writing?
I fail to hide all the games on my computer. (Windows won’t let you delete them.) I take on other tasks, including public events. I decide that the weather’s still good enough to play some more golf or use the pool.
Where do you write?
In my office. I have two, one in Scotland and one in Spain, where the phone rings less frequently, so that’s where I tend to do most of it.
What is the optimal creative atmosphere?
Peace and quiet. Once I’m started I’m reasonably disciplined. I tend to write in two shifts per day morning and evening, leaving the afternoon for siesta – exercise. I do a lot of my best thinking in the gym or ploughing up and down our very small pool.
Idiosyncrasies: dress, music, food, furniture, etc.?
Yes, I usually dress to write, although sometimes in not very much. No, I don’t divert myself with music, unless I’m editing a draft and then it’s okay. No, I don’t eat when I’m writing, other than the biscuit my wife will bring me with mid-morning coffee. My wife’s a gem. (Literally; those are her initials.) Yes, I have a chair a desk and a computer. Etc., thinking while you’re swimming or pounding away on a treadmill could be described as idiosyncratic, I suppose. There is one other, though; what I call my ‘F G moment’. That’s when everything falls into place and I can see the whole book as a piece in my mind’s eye, I can see the light and it is good. That’s when I go down to my wife and say, ‘Babe, I’m a F*****g Genius.’
Do you actually like writing?
When I get up on a dull November morning, as I will soon, with a scenario in my head but little else, and I crank out the first thousand words of the next Skinner, or Primavera, that’s when I like it least. But I still like it, always. And as each work progresses, gaining momentum until the finish is in sight and I’m producing up to 5,000 words on a good day, I like it more and more, until I reach the two magic words (‘The End’, in case you’re wondering. Ever seen Romancing the Stone? Remember how it starts?) and I’m reminded once again that there is no greater gift than being able to sit down and create something from your own mind, and when you do it for a living, no better job in the world. Okay, maybe I’d be of more value to more people if I was a brain surgeon or a cancer researcher or a supermarket check-out clerk. But on the other hand, brain surgeons and cancer researchers and supermarket check-out clerks need to be distracted too, need to escape from their work from time to time if they’re to function with 100% efficiency. If I can provide an escape route through my work, what’s not to like about that?
What you have to remember is that this idea of digging up golf courses to plant fruit and veg has been mooted by the people who gave Edinburgh the tram project. Leaving that presentational problem to one side, though, I have no strong view about it, but I’m not biased in favour of golf. My step-daughter has an allotment in London, and loves it. Maybe the cooncil should put all six of its courses on the market. If the Scottish Golf Union is serious about encouraging the development of the game, it might buy a couple and continue to run them as pay and play courses, which are important to people who can’t afford to join a club or are stuck on a waiting list. Any that don’t sell . . . if they’re not viable, it’s difficult to argue against a change of use. But would a golf course necessarily be suitable for division into allotments? Don’t they have to be on ground that’s more or less level?
One thought does occur. Are the police geared up to cope with any sudden increase in veg theft?
This is on TripAdvisor, but I feel that I have to share it with you too.
Eileen, my lovely wife, is from South Shields, and on the occasion of her 40th birthday, she asked me to take her back to her roots. For that purpose she chose the Little Haven Hotel, right on the mouth of the Tyne; to be frank I’d rather have gone to the Malmaison, but what she wants she gets, so I booked in and arranged a dinner party for the six of us who were in on the secret.
I’d have thought that Bank Holiday Monday would have been a big day for any hotel, but that was far from the case. The impression we were given from the moment that we checked in was that we were in some way an inconvenience. Before we were seated in the dining room, we were told that we would have to be finished our meal by 9pm, because ‘the chef is going home then’. Having gone along with that I expected that he would extend his best efforts, but what was put before us was mediocre in quality, and served by staff in the manner of McDonald’s counter clerks. ‘Plonk! There you are.’
The wine service was incredibly bad. The Little Haven needs to learn the difference between a barman and a wine waiter, and so does the individual.
When a wine waiter brings a bottle to a table, he will assume that the guests wish it to be opened and poured.
A proper wine waiter will uncork a bottle of red anything at the table, and offer it for approval before pouring. He will not present it with the cork already pulled, then stuck back in the neck of the bottle. Nor, unless he has been specifically been asked to do so by the guest, will he bring it in an ice-bucket!
Finally, although I have no prejudice against white wine with screw tops, in this day and age a wine waiter will not leave even the most robust of guests to unscrew the thing himself!
Having gone through those experiences and then slept very badly in an uncomfortable bed, I had low expectations when it came to breakfast, and again the Little Haven lived down to these, indeed below them. When I feel nauseous even before I leave the table, I know that something is not right. On reflection, it may have been the fact that the corridors smelled faintly but persistently of curry, even though there didn’t appear to be any on the menu.
All that w as bad enough, but when I got home and unpacked, I discovered that the uncomfortable chair on which I had been seated at dinner had ripped the back of my best jacket. Yes, this was taken up with the hotel; when it became clear that I wasn’t going away, I was promised a full incvestigation by a chap who identified himself as The Manager. A full investigation should have taken five minutes, but it was four weeks later that he denied responsibility, on the ground that I hadn’t discovered the damage on his premises.
All that said, guess what angers QJ the most?
My ruined jacket? No; I have other jackets.
The mediocre food and beverages and appalling service? No; I survived.
The fact that my wife chose the Little Haven for a big day in her life and it let her down? Yes. That I will not forgive.
I’ve given the management every chance to mollify me … not even with money, for a simple apology, or even the faintest indication of concern, would have been enough … but they haven’t taken it. That being the case, I intend to use every means at my disposal to discourage my world-wide circle of friends and acquaintances, and every one else I can reach, from ever darkening the doors of the Little Haven Hotel.
Welcome, friends, to what used to be QJ’s journal. From now on, I won’t be posting messages on or around the first of every month, but whenever I damn well please. Also, if you send me a message through the main site’s email facility, you can expect a response rather quicker than before.
So, visit early, visit often.