Archive for January, 2016

The author as stand up comic

January 31, 2016

You’re up there for an hour, doing nothing but talking, and they’re all laughing, hundreds of them, sometimes.  You’re being FUNNY! You’re a comedian!

IMG_8811This was not what I expected.  Not even slightly.

“Are you up for doing some promotion?” they asked.  “Perhaps touring schools, signing some books, talking to the kids a bit?”

“Um…sure? Yeah.  Whatever.”

I didn’t know that what they really meant was: “Are you comfortable talking to 300 ten year-olds for an hour.  And making them laugh?”

This, it transpires, is life for a modern author – especially one who’s just written a children’s book.  As the mainstream press continues its precipitous decline, children’s books – always something of a poor relation in the review pages – are covered even less.  What hope for my offering (Time Travelling With A HamsterHarperCollins since you ask, thanks) to gain the attention of the book-buying public?

Well, a promotion by the very excellent bookshop chain, Waterstones, helped.  With it came an invitation to embark on a “book tour” around the UK and the enquiry if I could talk to groups of children about it.

IMG_8863As it happens, I’ve done a bit of children’s entertaining in my time, largely as an outlet for my love of magic and illusion.  More recently my magical alter-ego “Welly Wizard” (don’t judge) has made rather fewer appearances.  Hardly any, in fact.  But it does mean that standing up in front of children is not entirely alien to me.

But what do I do?  How do I fill an hour talking to a classroom/assembly hall full of children most of whom have not the faintest idea who I am or what my book’s about?

Well, I start by reading chapter 1.  That’s e

Then it’s a time-travel related magic trick.  Freed of the burden of being “the magician”, it turns out to be much more fun.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 18.17.16

Gasp in astonishment as the hamster travels in time!

Then I teach them how to memorise a list of ten random objects using mnemonic memory links, and this is when it starts to get properly funny, because the crazier, the sillier, the more outlandish the mental images created, then the easier it is to remember them.  It fits the theme of the book: the main secondary character has a super-power memory.

Another reading is next, and I tried loads of different chapters before deciding that the best reaction came when I read the chapter involving the torturing of a cat.  (Don’t worry: it sound more gruesome than it is.)

I finish with writing a story, collectively, with the children volunteering ideas for what happens next.  It takes five minutes – and the results are always different and always hilarious.

And that, more or less, is it.  They seemed to like it and there was – usually – a gratifyingly long queue of children wanting to buy the book and have it signed.

O2 Arena next.




The glorious myth of the “book launch”

January 24, 2016

Well, it’s out.  Officially.  My book, that is. (Time Travelling With a Hamster.)

I know that because I have had a “launch party”, which – it appears – is something that everyone (myself included) assumes happens for every book that is published, more or less.  And which, in actual fact, almost never happens unless:

  1. The author is famous writer or another sort of celebrity;
  2. The author is not a celebrity, but has loads of celebrity chums;
  3. The author pays for it him- or herself

Almost as soon as the words, “My book is being published'” were out of my mouth, my lovely friends, a bunch of freeloaders to the last, were saying, “Oh great, where is the launch party?”

It’s one of those enduring myths.

image001According to a fascinating chart on Wikipedia – here – there were 184,000 new books published in the UK in 2011.  No wonder publishers cannot afford to give them all a launch party.  This was put to me fairly bluntly when I raised the subject.  Even if everyone who turns up – and there were about 80 people at mine – buys a book, that goes nowhere near covering the cost of the event and unless you fit into categories 1 or 2 (above) then journalists are simply not going to turn up.  Think about it: why would they?  It’s just a book.  There’s 183, 999 others…

As it turns out, when I stated my intention to go down route 3, my lovely publishers at Harper Collins could not have been more generous with organisational help and booze provision.  And Waterstones, Kensington High Street, provided an excellent venue.

IMG_1580We sipped wine, ate lovely canapés;  there were speeches (mine was a little less polished than I had hoped owing to leaving it in the Uber car and having to wing it, but people laughed anyway.  In a good way, I think); there was an old friend who endured an hour in a hamster outfit before revealing himself; and there was baffling magic by my friend Max Somerset who, in a final genius flourish,  produced a hamster from nowhere to proper gasps of delight.

I think next time, though, I’ll launch a book in the kingdom of Oman.  There, they publish only seven books a year, guaranteeing stand-out status!


Master of deception

January 17, 2016

Derren Brown: is the joke on us?

A lifetime love of magic and illusion means it’s no surprise that I’m a fan of Derren Brown, and especially the way that, by pretending to be totally open about how he achieves the remarkable effects he does, he has avoided being “exposed” on YouTube as many more conventional magicians are these days.  In truth, he isn’t totally open about his methods.  At least not always.

A recurring theme in his work has been his (apparent) ability to persuade, trick or otherwise get people to do things they may not otherwise do.  Pushed To The Edge (Channel 4, UK) was a highly sophisticated version of  the old stage hypnotists who who persuaded volunteers that they could eat a raw onion like an apple.

But this went much, much further in persuading three people to commit a murder by pushing someoe off a tall building.

No one died.  Unbeknownst to the volunteers their “victim” was on a safety harness.  The edgeparticipants had been drawn into an elaborate and minutely-planned deception, to demonstrate – in a take on the old “Milgram Experiment” – that humans’ desire to comply, to obey authority figures, will push them into some pretty dark places.

If all was as it appeared on the programme, it would be very, very disturbing.  I, for one, was duly disturbed.  I mean you’re getting someone to believe they had murdered someone.  Well, until Derren turned up like a latter-day Jeremy Beadle, to tell them that they had been had.  Erm…ha ha?

Except…I don’t believe it.

I think  that the joke is on us, the viewers.

Here’s why:

It seems obvious that there is a real risk that convincing someone that they are  a murderer when they are not might well be, to say the least, massively upsetting. Short or even long-term psychological damage?  Imagine the lawsuits!  Besides, it’s a truly horrible thing to do.

So I think it’s (nearly)  all been scripted and staged. A fabulous, well-thought-out hoax.

Remember: the one volunteer that was followed all the way through the 90-minute show did not go through with the murder.  The three who did were included in a montage sequence in the last part of the show. They were, I contend, actors.

I think we got the show Derren, and his writers, and producers, and Channel 4 wanted.

Just as well made, but  easier, less cruel, and a lot safer.

And he is, after all, a self-professed deceiver, by trade.


What do you mean, you haven’t watched it?

January 7, 2016

Game Of Thrones, I mean.  It’s awesome, and anyone who hasn’t watched it is missing out big time.

I know: you’ll  be late to the party, but the advantage of that is that you’ll be able to binge-watch them all on a box-set.

To be honest, I think watching it in weekly episodes would be tricky.  Even after watching four series, Mrs W confuses Tywin and Tyrion Lannister, and – to be fair – it is a fabulously complex story.  It involves (if you haven’t heard) multiple warring dynasties in a fantasy world that’s part Lord of The Rings, part Ivanhoe, and part pervy sexploitation flick (so kids: definitely not suitable for you.)

It helps to watch the first few with the handy charactyrionter guide that comes with the box-set.  Or you can watch along with the GoT Wiki on the iPad, but beware of spoilers.  It’ll tell you which series a character appears in, which indirectly tells you when they are bumped off – and they nearly all are, sooner or later, usually very violently

The magicky aspect put me off for ages.  Dungeons?  Dragons?  Dwarves?  Oh for heaven’s sake…  But give it half an episode and you’ll be hooked.

One tip: don’t bother with the audio commentary.  Somewhere the quality control slipped.  I watched the last episode of series 4 with an audio commentary by the actors who play Tyrion, Cersei and Jaime Lannister and it was awful: three actors giggling and making childish double-entendres.  Well, two of them: Nicolai Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) at least had the decency to sound embarrassed while his co-stars chortled at penis jokes.  (I know: it seems a bit prissy to be complaining about knob gags in the context of a programme as debauched as Game Of Thrones, but…time and place, folks, time and place.)

So now we have to wait until March (March! ) until Game of Thrones series 5 is available on DVD, while series 6 starts shooting in April – even before the book it is based on is finished.

And if you’re already a fan, here’s my guess.  Jon Snow will marry Danaerys Targaryen.  Isn’t she the “rightful” queen anyway?  The good have to win.

Don’t they?