Friday, February 2, 2007

So, farewell then…

As regular readers have probably noticed by now, activity on the STML Litblog has been noticeable by its absence for some time now. Because there’s nothing less impressive than an inactive blog, I’ve decided to go into mothballs for the foreseeable future.

This is a real sadness for me personally, and I would like to think for a few of you, as it’s been fun. I’ve had a personal blog in one shape or another since 1998, and I like the format: I’ve had fun writing it, I’ve started some really interesting conversations, and I’ve met a lot of interesting people; but I’ve no intention of continuing to run what is essentially a vanity project when I can’t keep it running at a respectable level.

Events have taken over, and other activities have taken a higher precendence. I’ll continue to run the main as a personal project, and I intend to revamp the site shortly to better reflect my current interests. I hope some of you will keep on visiting, and keeping in touch via stml at I’ll also continue to blog at, my site focussing on the various convergences of technology and literature, and I’m going to be contributing regularly to 3:AM Magazine’s Buzzwords blog, as well as performing editorial duties for the magazine.

Never say die, and a resurrection may occur at some future point, but for now this blog will no longer be updated, although it will be maintained as an archive, to the best of my ability. For those hungry for more book-related blog material, may I suggest BritLitBlogs for all your litblog-related needs.

To those who’ve dropped by, contributed, commented or just read this site over the years, thank you. You’re too kind. See you around.


tags: Personal History | permalink | 4 Comments

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Alan Moore on Resonance

Resonance FM has recently been broadcasting (and podcasting) a great comics series, and the latest show is an interview with Alan Moore that’s definitely worth a listen.

For those that don’t know, Resonance FM is a listener-supported, London-broadcasting, available-worldwide, dedicated Arts radio station, full of the most wondrous, bizarre, fascinating stuff, all of the time. I started listening about five years ago when they’d frequently broadcast birdsong for hours at a time – which was wonderful as I was living in a highrise in Camden at the time.

Resonance is currently in severe financial difficulties, and struggling to stay afloat. If you like what you hear, please think about donating to keep this unique and utterly deserving project going. That it needs our help is sad, but its passing would be even more so.


tags: Comics + Radio | permalink | 1 Comment

Thursday, January 25, 2007

3:AM Magazine Redesign


It’s been a while in the making, but I’m very pleased to say that STML’s redesign of 3:AM Magazine is now live. Go check it out.

I was asked to redesign the site back in the autumn of last year and it’s taken far longer to do than I’d hoped, but not quite as long as I expected. I hope people are pleased with the result. There is a lot of work to be done to design the literary magazine of the future, and the latest iteration of the 3:AM website is not that, but it’s a start.

I’ll be writing more about this at some point over at In the meantime, just enjoy the lit.


tags: News | permalink | Comments Off on 3:AM Magazine Redesign

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bedtime Stories

IndoMonday 15 January 2007, from 8pm
133 Whitechapel Rd
London E1 1DT

The first of a new series of spoken word nights at Indo, Bedtime Stories will feature readings from Adelle Stripe, Lee Rourke and Clive Murphy. Compered by Heidi James, there’ll be music from Zan Fracaroli and fanzines on sale by Zakia Uddin.

tags: Events | permalink | 6 Comments

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ewige Blumenkraft

Robert Anton WilsonOne of my complete, all-time, supergenii God-like heroes died yesterday. One of the few writers who succeeded in pulling my mind out through my posterior, kicked it around the room, and stuffed it back in the wrong (or perhaps the right?) way round, filled with new and glittering ideas. Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the mighty Illuminatus! Trilogy, and its blinding appendix, the Principia Discordia, author of Cosmic Trigger, Prometheus Rising, the Schrödinger’s Cat trilogy, and a host of other thrilling, mind-bending, confusing and enlightening literature died at home after a long illness.

If you’ve never read Wilson, it’s hard to imagine the sheer density of knowledge, wordplay and allusion present in his work – although a Joyce fixation gives some clues – or the humour of the man. I for one still believe that Dolphins can not only talk, they can travel through time and have created a canon of epic poetry that far exceeds our own in emotion and complexity. Wilson revelled in invented and revealed religions, most notably Discordianism, and formulated endless libertarian, anarchist manifestoes, including the resounding Celine’s laws. He taught me to laugh, question, and look for the fnords. I’ll try and post some of the best jokes over the weekend.

Wavy Gravy once asked a Zen Roshi, “What happens after death?”
The Roshi replied, “I don’t know.”
Wavy protested, “But you’re a Zen Master!”
“Yes,” the Roshi admitted, “but I’m not a dead Zen Master.”

Every man and every woman is a Pope. Hail Eris!

[UPDATE] So, I never did post those jokes, but if you want to know more about RAW, this article is a good place to start – links to obits, remembrances and more.

tags: Authors + Death + Personal History | permalink | 1 Comment

Friday, December 29, 2006

Books of the Year 2006

As usual, everyone else is doing it, and noone asked us. Which is fine, because we couldn’t possibly pick a winner – plus we only read about three books this year that weren’t published by friends. So. Here’s an informal, unordered list of books we read in the last few months, that we enjoyed, that didn’t make it into these pages but that we’d recommend, and, in some cases, why:

The Mad Man
Samuel Delany’s The Mad Man (1994) was conceived as a grand Fuck You to apologetic novels about the gay experience in the age of AIDS: as the protagonist John Marr researches deeper into the life of a former professor, he finds himself increasingly drawn towards his mentor’s sexual practices, which seem to have been assiduously erased from the impressions gathered from even his closest friends. The book sets out to catalogue, Sade-style, the most extreme excesses of dirty sex – sex with homeless men, foot fetishism, piss sex, shit sex – and to find in them as much validation and humanity as any other sexuality. Delany’s prose is frequently disturbing to the point of nauseousness, even for hardened readers such as us, but his genius is never in doubt. Must read more Delany: a new book, Dark Reflections – his first full-length novel since Mad Man – is due next year.


Earlier in the year, I read two novels by Peter Handke, Across (1983) and Absence (1987). This was prompted by the repeated entreaties of Steve at This Space and Mark at RSB, who both claimed him as one of the unacclaimed and unfairly maligned greats. So. I wanted to like them, but they really got under my skin. There was something extraordinarily loveless about them – not just misanthropy, but a real self-hatred, and a kind of sexless passion. There’s also a terrible dichotomy of a writer who clearly hates modernity and its embodiment in America, but longs for wide-open spaces, grand vistas and a very American kind of freedom. I didn’t write about this then because I didn’t want to judge a prolific writer on the contents of two (oldish) novels – and they have stuck in my mind more strongly than much else I’ve read this year, so I expect I will return…

What to say about J-K Huysmans’ A Rebours (‘Against Nature’) except: tortoises, tortoises, tortoises. The STML family seat has a tortoise, named by the Grande Dame ‘Milly’, for the Millennium Dome, as it was acquired in the year of our Lord Blair, and is fed each day with live snails crushed by the matriarchal foot – a truly horrendous procedure. We also spent some time this year on the Twain-blessed isle of Mauritius, home to one of the finest specimens of Giant Tortu found upon the earth: a most magnificent specimen (more of this later). But nothing can compare to Huysmans’:

Against Nature

The tortoise was the result of a fancy which had occurred to him shortly before leaving Paris. Looking one day at an Oriental carpet aglow with iridescent colours, and following with his eyes the silvery glints running across the weft of the wool, which was a combination of yellow and plum, he had thought what a good idea it would be to place on this carpet something that would move about and be dark enough to set off these glaming tints… Alas, there could be no doubt about it: the negro-brown tint, the raw Sienna hue of the shell, dimmed the sheen of the carpet instead of bringing out the colours… Des Esseintes accordingly decided to have his tortoise glazed with gold.

… Soon it struck him that this gigantic jewel was only half-finished and that it would not be really complete until it had been encrusted with precious stones… asparagus-green chrysobels, leek-green peridots, olive-green olivines – and these sprang from twigs of almandine and uvarovite of a purplish red, which threw out flashes of harsh, brilliant light like the scales of tarta that glitter on the insides of wine-casks.

And so on. You know the rest. Suffice to say that nothing enlivens a bus trip through Hackney more than tales of decadence, and Huysmans should be taught in schools, and downloaded to all the jewel-encrusted phones.

From one libertine to another: A. J. A. Symons’ The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography illuminated the life of Frederick Rolfe, the sometime Baron Corvo, in ways that couldn’t help but be reminiscent both of Delany passim and of the Alexander Maitland biography of Thesiger we’ve mentioned previously. Corvo was an enigmatic figure who published a number of experimental novels and biographical sketches in the early years of the twentieth century which are now largely unknown – through no fault of the writing. But it is Rolfe – or Corvo’s – life which has come down to us, a flurry of insane wanderings, incomplete, incomprehensible battles with publishers, newspaper attacks on rivals, pleas and threats to the Catholic church which denied him a priesthood, and paeans to his beloved Venice, which gave him refuge on the glittering lagoon which finally took his life. “Make a trip with Corvo,” reads the dedication in my copy, “and life will never be the same again.” Not wrong.

Funny Books
George Saunder’s Pastoralia and, for shame, David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day have been our humours these long cold months: one read by part in baths from here to January, the other read aloud, stoned, in a cottage in Sussex – all funny books should be consumed like this. George Saunders’ tellings of an American hinterland entirely populated by low-wage actors enacting historical dioramas is especially brilliant: somewhere, in a valley in the great South-East, there are people living day to day in their Separate Areas, Thinking Positive / Saying Positive, and, when the crunch comes, pretending to catch and eat small bugs. In fact, when the time comes, and there’s no goat in the chute, they actually catch and eat small bugs. Not to be missed.


Luther Blissett’s Q kept us going for several days in a hammock: a rollicking read of surprising thud and blunder in the sixteenth century as the forces of the reformation and the counter-reformation rage across central Europe. Sure, you’ve probably all read it before, but we’d been meaning to for ages and the sheer horror, bloodshed and sacrifice carried us away. What’s wonderful about this book is the way that the contemporary politics of the authors shine through the devastation of the period: all utopias are immanent at all times, and need only the raised voice of the believer to be called forth, even if they end upon the wheel. Stewart Home puts it better, but, gottverdammt, this is good stuff.
Torture Taxi

And then there’s Trevor Paglen and A.C. Thompson’s Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights. There have been a wealth of political, American books in the last few years, promising to lay bare the full scale of the abuses we – and I do mean we – are heaping upon our fellow man in the name of terror, but few do so with the honesty and dedication that this little book offers. Paglen and Thompson are investigative journalists: two individuals who set out to trace, as best they can, the outlines of a plot they fully admit are beyond the ken of civilians, but which none of us can, in all good conscience, bear to ignore. So they interview plane spotters, aircraft controllers, and the women with big hair who man the empty desks of those who make beasts of us all.

Fair warning: skip this para if you’re queasy. Now. But in a room not far from here, men are having their penises slit with razor blades in your name; electrodes are being attached to wet flesh in order to extract ‘truths’ which are disowned as worthless the next day; human beings are being broken on new wheels to provide us with a hazy sense of security which we don’t trust anyway. There are monsters abroad, and if Paglen and Thompason’s badly xeroxed boarding passes and flight plans save one man from the Dark Prison of international obscurity, they’re going to heaven. Read more books.

Adair, Vian, Conrad

Ach, we’re tired. But honourable mentions go to Gilbert Adair’s lyrical Love and Death on Long Island, which is more about a few square feet of Hampstead than we’d supposed, and kept conjuring visions of Ian McEwan panting over a box of kleenex; Conrad’s short stories in ‘Twixt Land and Sea, which painted Mauritius a darker and more heavy place than we found it (God it’s lovely, and so’s he, but diff’rently), and Boris Vian’s J’irai cracher sur vos tombes (‘I spit on your graves’) which we finally got around to reading, and which shocked and excited in the prescribed (and proscribed) measures.

We’ve read much more of course, and would like to have written more – two-thirds of the way through Alan Moore’s fantastic Lost Girls, for example, and haven’t even got started on our long-awaited Pynchon – but we’ll have to wait, and leave the rest to others. Catch us down the pub if you can. The New Year brings strange changes, and lots of work, but hey, we hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves, and hope to see you back here soon, or soonest, or whenever you can drag yourselves away. Merry Saturnalia – here’s to us.

tags: Personal History + Recommended | permalink | 5 Comments

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas comes but once a year

3:AM Xmas Bash

For this year’s 3:AM Xmas Bash we’ll be joined by Iain Sinclair. He’ll be joined by Nicholas Royle and Stewart Home (making his fourth appearance at our Xmas event).

Come join us before the season gets too much.

Monday December 18, from 7pm
The Wheatsheaf
25 Rathbone Place
London W1T 1JB

Oxford Circus/Tottenham Court Road tubes
Free entry


(Yes, sorry, we know. These are busy times. We’ve been reading loads of good stuff. It’s just writing it up. It takes time.)

tags: Events + News | permalink | 1 Comment

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Homeric Age

Heroes are unfashionable these days, but we are unrepentant in our reverence for Wilfred Thesiger, last of the great explorers, as he is dubbed by Alexander Maitland’s recent biography. Born in Addis Ababa to British parents in 1910, by the time he was twenty Thesiger had tracked animals in the bush, crewed on Icelandic fishing boats, attended the coronation of Haile Selassie, the “colour and savagery” of which left a strong and abiding impression on him, and planned and led an expedition to discover the source of the Awash river, deep in the closed Sultanate of Aussa. The latter trip, into one of the last blank spaces on the map of Africa, took him through the lands of the Danakil, one of the Horn of Africa’s most fearsome tribes, who took pride in castrating their defeated enemies (using their traditional curved dagger which, this author can attest, they still carry today).

One of those lives that simply could not be lived today, Thesiger’s took him first to the now-infamous Darfur region of Sudan as an Assistant District Commissioner in the 1930s, about which he spoke fondly and where he, among other things, raised twin lion cubs as house pets before shooting them on their first birthday “for their own good”, and undertook arduous week-long treks on horse and camel to outlying stations which were to prepare him for his future journeys. The war saw him a key player, alongside Orde Wingate, in Gideon Force, which liberated Abyssinia from a particularly brutal Italian occupation – and, notably, returned it to Abyssinian rule shortly thereafter – as well as in the famed Long Range Desert Group.

After the war, Thesiger became famous for his books documenting his double crossing of the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia, Arabian Sands, and his time spent among the peoples of Southern Iraq, The Marsh Arabs, alongside numerous other works. Arabian Sands is an extraordinary book, capturing the magnificence of one of the least hospitable places on earth (as seen below), together with informed, passionate but unsentimental portraits of its Bedouin inhabitants. The Marsh Arabs is in much the same vein, including startling portraits of the grand reed architecture of the marsh peoples and boar hunting among the waterways. Both are testaments to a vanished, destroyed world: the Bedu irrevocably changed by the arrival of motor vehicles, the marsh arabs by the Ba’athist draining of their lands, which, despite now-stalled restoration attempts in the aftermath of the Second Iraq War, are now less than one tenth the size they once were.

Thesiger published his own autobiography, The Life Of My Choice, in 1987, a wonderful read for the adventurously inclined, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, pretty short on anything approaching feeling or emotion. This only served to inflame our more prurient interests, largely because for us there has always been a constant and undeniable homoerotic motif running below the surface of much of Thesiger’s work.

Whether it is the intense friendships with other boys at prep and public school; the beautiful, otherworldly figures of his Nuer porters in the Sudan; his constant companions in the Empty Quarter, Salim bin Ghabaisha (right) and Salim bin Kabina; or his extended family of Samburu houseboys and servants in Kenya in his later years; Thesiger’s pen, and camera, seem to linger over male adolescents and young men wherever he travels. Despite this, and his notable lack of a wife, he maintained an aura of hardbitten asexuality throughout his life, up to his death in 2003.

Now comes the authoritative biography by his friend and amanuensis Alexander Maitland, and we read it, we must shamefully admit, desperate for new information. We were not disappointed, but the information we came to – and which, for once, we have no desire to spell out here – left us with a bitter taste in the mouth. Thesiger could be overbearing and occasionally cruel but he was in no way a bad or unpleasant person, and it is clear his sexuality was formed early in such a way as to make him reject most intimate contact for the rest of his life. On second thoughts, we would rather not have known this.

We can’t blame the biographer for this: it is his duty, and probably the most telling detail about an otherwise fairly straightforward and plain-speaking man. That the rest of the book is made up of daily minutiae and extensive quotes from Thesiger’s own writings – which, to be honest, we have and have read already – does not help matters.

We’d be very happy indeed if this post, which we’ve been meaning to write for ages, got one more person interested in our hero, but we’d advise against the biography. For the life, read the auto-version. For the expeditions, read Arabian Sands, The Marsh Arabs and The Danakil Diary, and for the stunning photographs (which illustrate this post, courtesy of the Pitt Rivers Museum) see Maitland’s far more enjoyable contribution to the legend: Thesiger: A Life in Pictures. Many, unprurient, pleasures await.

tags: Recommended + Reviews + Travel | permalink | Comments Off on The Homeric Age

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The wheel’s still in spin

So, this is what we have been up to:

We wanted to populate it a little before opening it up to the grubby masses, and there is certainly enough there now to show it to you squeaky-clean folks. Read all about it, read what we have to say. And, for the last time, yes. We are serious about this. And we’d love to hear your thoughts, here, or there.

That said, we have no intention of letting STML die. It’s still a personal site, in case you hadn’t noticed, and we still love books. There’s been some excellent stuff on the lectern recently, incidentally, we’ve just been busy, so here’s to hoping there will be more reviews, views, tangents and dirty lit here before too long. Thank you for reading.

tags: Book 2.0 + Personal History + Publishing | permalink | 6 Comments

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Remember, remember…

Trocchi Evening

Hope to see y’all there…

In other news, we’re afraid there’s going to be a bit of a hiatus in these parts for a while. Plans are afoot, and you shall be the first to know them.

tags: Events | permalink | 2 Comments

Friday, September 29, 2006

And this is exactly what we were talking about.

See, Penguin aren’t so dumb.


We’re off to Frankfurt next week. For our report on last year’s Book Fair, see here. Expect more of the same, some time after the 10th. Be good.

tags: Book 2.0 | permalink | Comments Off on And this is exactly what we were talking about.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chronicle of a death foretold

There’s been a bit of a creative block in these parts for a while. Half-formed thoughts. Unfinished articles. Sweaty, 5am thinking jags. Please ignore the elephant in the corner. He’s not really there. La la la la la.

The book is going to die. It’s over. Five, ten years. No more books. And we really, really need to start talking about this. We need to put in place structures for coping with this. For ensuring that authors survive, that our stories survive. I’m really not kidding.

All the publishers have absolutely no idea what is about to happen. They’re worried about Google Book Search, for Christ’s sake. Google Book Search is for indexing academic books, for redistributing academic information that’s needlessly locked up in physical locations, and whose freeing up will launch humanity on its next great evolutionary leap. Woohoo. Side effect: no more royalties for authors. No more fat advances. No more lunch money.

Also, in the mid-term, we’re going to see publishers die even before the book does. Hey HarperCollins, what does POD stand for? Random House, can you say Lulu? One of you guys, buy a POD Printer now, please, before it gets embarrassing. Invest in some tech. Start paying attention. Because one day you are going to wake up, Amazon is printing books, and you are out of a job. Oh, look: BookSurge.

We are a couple of years – quite possibly less – away from an eReader that looks like a book. It’s been so long coming we forgot it was about to happen. This whole I’ve-got-the-first-edition thing is really sweet, but do you actually use CDs any more? (Note: if you do, you’re really going to have trouble with the next bit.)

I was talking to someone about this the other day, trying to figure out where all that information now written down in books is going to go, how it will continue to present itself to us. I realised that this isn’t like the move from vinyl to CD, or CD to MP3, although it will initially appear as the latter. It’s the difference between chamber music and the gramophone, between the illuminated manuscript and the paperback. The book as we think of it now has really only been around since the 1930s, since Allen Lane. They’re not as permanent as we’d like to think. Books are about to go back to being written by monks, and the rest of us are going to have to find another way to read. A historical window is about to close.

I don’t know what I’m worried about, really. Well, the dole office. But aside from that. Should anyone apart from publishers be worried about this? You’ll keep getting stories to read. Authors will keep on writing. They won’t get paid much, but hey, they never did. In fact, there’s a chance they’ll get paid more, if they’re smart, but probably not.

We brought this on ourselves, to a large extent. For all our bleating, we’ve been substandard for a while. Cheap paperback editions, with glue that lets all the pages fall out after five years. A total disregard for quality, editorial or otherwise. A craven, backslapping literary culture. Oh well. Bye bye.

Is the format important? Will stories written for a screen rather than a page – even screens that look like pages – differ that much? There’s something bizarre and incredibly nineteenth century in the development of eReaders, a kind of cultural redundancy. We just need to get them to look enough like books in order to kill books, then they’ll look like something else. It’s just a design issue.

It’s 6am. I’m writing this on a computer. Later, I’m going to format it in XHTML and put it out on the internet for people to read. You probably don’t know me, and you probably don’t care. Salman Rushdie is going to really hate this next bit, almost as much as his publishers, but you’re not. Readers will be fine. Take hope in that.

I just want to smooth the transition. Make sure there are enough smart people in the right places so that we don’t lose too much on the way through. There’s enough of them on the web – we should be looking to the W3C, to web standards, to information technologists and engineers, to people who’ve been thinking about this for twenty years. You know, smart people. Not the ones thinking about in at quarter past six on a Monday morning. In bed.

Oh, it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to the first really good, genuinely collaborative novel, wiki-style. Chapters written by people on different continents, subplots by experts in their field. Proper editing. I can’t wait to be able to go travelling with five hundred stories on my eReader/iBook/USB SuperDonglePage thing, because I always take Moby Dick and I never read it. The best bit? Readers are going to decide what they’d like to read, not idiots in industry offices, or on lilac sofas. The first MySpace author phenomenon should be about next week. Please, God.

It’s the Frankfurt Book Fair it two weeks time. This should be funny. There’s going to be a man there who publishes books exclusively about angels. Who thinks he actually is an angel, or something. Everybody thinks he’s mad. In ten years time, he’s probably going to be the only one still in business. The angel people will still buy books. No one else will.

We’re going to start thinking about this. A lot. We have no idea what is going to happen, but, just like everybody else, we’d been quietly enjoying this whole internet thing, while pretending to ourselves that it was not going to completely destroy everything we were currently working on. Five years ago, I was studying Computer Science. I got a Master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence, and then went to work in dead tree publishing. I am an idiot. And, looking around, I’m not the only one. But I know what I’m talking about.

Don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to see this through. Because we love stories, and we love great writers, and we just need to start separating that concept from your actual, paper books. Good morning. Hello. Wake up now.


UPDATE: Ultimately, this article provided the founding stimulus for, crossposted as Birth pangs of a new literature.

tags: Book 2.0 + Debate + Publishing | permalink | 8 Comments

Friday, September 22, 2006

Not dead, only sleeping

And in honour of that get-out-of-jail-free headline, we’d like to present our favourite headstone in one of our favourite and most literary cemetaries, the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris:

[Stolen, shamelessly, from this lovely Flickr stream, but will be replaced by our own photos, and a longer post, as soon as the monkey on our shoulder has stopped trying to chew through our ear.]

tags: Death + Personal History | permalink | Comments Off on Not dead, only sleeping

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jack the Stripper: Paul did it

While we are semi-officially still on our annual August hiatus (try saying that with a mouthful of candy floss), we did appreciate a happy confluence of interests in Saturday’s Grauniad: Chris Petit’s review of David Seabrook’s Jack of Jumps. In the follow-up to his much admired (by Petit’s mate Sinclair, unsurprisingly) All The Devils Are Here, Seabrook looks at the not-quite-as-famous-as-the-other-Jack “nude murders” of West London in the mid-60s, which we’ve mentioned before in the form of Brian McConnell’s superlative (and better-named) Found Naked And Dead.

Petit clearly enjoys the book, appreciating its hard-won evocation of London as a “a city haunted as much by a lost popular culture as by its missing souls.” However, he makes virtually no comment on the facts of the case: an opportunity not missed by Stewart Home in his review of the book (as elaborated upon at a recent 3:AM event). Home considers Seabrook’s version of events both improper – he implicitly accuses an untried, and very possibly innocent, man – and unoriginal: the main thrust of the book is culled, uncited, from an old Times article.

Home also points to an earlier review of Jack of Jumps in the Grauniad‘s sister paper, The Observer, wherein the reviewer takes issue with Seabrook’s “rancid” and “lip-curling” distaste for the victims. Two reviews so far apart are unusual, and as much as we love Petit we can’t help but note that he is, like Seabrook, a Granta author.

This increasingly forensic examination of the details of past crimes brings to mind Alan Moore’s ruminations on the obsessive ranks of ripperologists he joined to write From Hell. What Petit considers “forgotten, luminous detail” (citing “On this occasion she bought a bottle of Lovibond’s Vat 30 whisky”), Moore, in the appendix to From Hell, sees as strip-mining the field, tracking over the same turned-over earth until it becomes a quagmire. Repeated investigations cross-reference one another, the amount of information increasing but it’s value dropping, forever trapped within the same area, in the manner of Koch’s snowflake; for the ripperologists it is Whitechapel, 1888, for Seabrook, McConnell, Home and others it is Hammersmith, 1964-5. Such an approach is not too distant from Petit and Sinclair’s filmic aesthetic either: the grainy close-up, the lurking camera, an attempt by art to recoup the damning immediacy of CCTV.

As such true crime accounts multiply, they increase the likelihood of others being attracted to the field. Just as it took decades for the Ripper crimes to start to auto-generate ever wilder potential murderers – the initial Jews, butchers and local psychos graduating to the police force, society painters, royalty – so it has taken 50 years to actually name a scandalous (i.e. conspiratorial, establishment) figure in the Hammersmith killings. We may now expect to see others piling in, the boundaries of West London expanding to envelop the smarter ends of Town.

For instance, it’s not hard to see how the hookers and coppers of the nude murders could be tied to that other defining trope of 60s London: the Fab Four. Much like the Ripper murders, the Hammersmith killings stopped abruptly, and in both cases criminologists professional and amateur looked to contemporary obituaries to explain such a sudden and unusual cessation of violence. Only a few years later, rumours began to surface of an even greater conspiracy: Paul Is Dead. Paul McCartney, Beatles’ guitarist, departed this earth scant months after the last known killing in West London, decapitated by the windshield of his Austin Healey on the streets of St John’s Wood. We think we should be told.


Update: For the sake of completeness, we also found this little piece of puff by Iain Sinclair in The Guardian’s summer reading recommendations (scroll down). And yes, we know Paul played the bass (see comments).

tags: Authors + Death + Debate | permalink | 6 Comments

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Unfortunates

The Crown

Last night’s Value This Man event was a grand success. Even though events beyond our control forced us to spend most of the night skulking around outside, it was fantastic to see so many people assembled in one place to pay tribute to a favourite writer. Salman Rushdie wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, but pretty much everyone else did.

The Crown

The panel, or whatever they were, from left: Philip Tew, author of B. S. Johnson: A Critical Reading, Jonathan Coe, author of the Samuel Johnson prize-winning biography of B.S. Like A Fiery Elephant, Paul Tickell (hidden), director of the film adaptation of B.S.’s Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, and David Quantick, journalist and enthusiast (his review of Malry here), who was invited out for a drink by an audience member during the Q&A.

The Crown

And on the right, Johnson’s widow Victoria, who graced us with her presence. Yes, the Crown is that shiny (Hey! It’s a really warm evening! Let’s sit in a gold-plated box for three hours!), and yes, it was so well-attended we had to sit on the floor.

Particular plaudits must go to Paul Ewen, Lee Rourke and Andrew Stevens for setting up the event, especially the latter who pulled it off on the night with such aplomb. Keep an eye on Through A Glass Darkly for the hotly-rumoured next event.

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