Saturday, 30 January 2010

Bully in the Market Place


My name is Michael Malone and I’m a bookaholic.

Therefore when I read a report in the New York Times (get me) about Amazon excluding the titles of e-books from MacMillan, one of America’s biggest publishers from its marketplace, I get the shudders.


As a keen reader I want choice. As a writer with aspirations I want a marketing platform. The sheer size and power of a supermarket like Amazon is a threat to all of that.

The book-buying world is changing on a daily basis. The real engine of variety in the publishing world – the indie bookshops – are dying off; the limited shelf-space of Tesco/ Asda is getting more and more powerful; the one decent book chain in the country, Waterstones is losing its direction. And Amazon is getting too big for it’s bully-boy boots.

Apart from this most recent flexing of their over-sized musculature they were also having a spat with Hachette in the summer of 2008. They demanded a bigger discount on Hachette’s titles, were refused and this led to Amazon removing its “Buy new” button from key Hachette front and backlist titles, and dropping books from promotional positions. Titles affected included those from the likes of Stephen King and James Patterson.

It’s the equivalent of going into a bookshop and asking for “Under the Dome” and being told to fuck off. Now I worked in a bookshop for a couple of years, and when people came in to buy books by Katie Price I was seriously tempted to give just that response, but I wouldn’t dare. You give the people want they want – no matter how terrible their taste might be.

You could argue – and Amazon has done just that – that the consumer will be the winner in such a battle. But here’s the nightmare scenario: Amazon become the biggest book retailer in the planet. They dictate terms with all of the publishers. They fine (and this has already happened) those who don’t deliver books on time – a difficult situation for the smaller publisher. Publishers can only make enough to cover their overheads if they publish titles with a massive and proven audience. The independent publishers go the same way as the independent bookshops. As for writers? The experimental, the new, the literary...anyone who comes under the category of being Less Than A Sure Thing is faced with the choice of publishing with an online and on-demand “publisher” or publishing limbo for the rest of their career. Which to be fair, between these two choices is surely one and the same thing.

Wonderful (can you TASTE the sarcasm) the consumer gets cheap books. They just all happen to be from the same dwindling group of writers and the odd ham-fisted attempt from the latest celebrity-author. Never mind the quality, folks feel the price.

As for choice... what choice?

The bloggy world is full of authors who are now removing the Amazon buy button from their sites, but ultimately the decision is yours. You, the consumer get to decide. Do you want choice and a continued strong reading experience or do you want the scenario outlined above? If you don’t the option is simple. Get off-line, walk into your nearest bookshop and buy a book. And NO, Tesco and Asda don’t count.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Oops


Oops


So there I was having a glass of water and reading through the 62 entries for the Scottish Association of Writers’ annual poetry competition. I pushed my laptop out of the way to give me some more room and...

Water and paper don’t mix too well. Who knew?

Dinnae worry, it’s all good. Disaster was averted by lightning-quick reflexes. And some kitchen paper. Thankfully, the entries remain readable, but I can tell you my wee heart was pounding for a minute there.

How are the poems? I ain’t telling. I know that there are some peeps from the Scottish writing community who read this blog and I don’t want to give anything away.

I have to write a critique on each entry and find a top 3 and perhaps “some” commended pieces and then deliver the adjudication at the annual conference in March to an audience of around 200.

I was explaining this to the wee fella. He sought some references in his own experience in order to understand what I was saying.

- So, you’ll be like Simon Cowell?

- Well...kinda. But without the ego, the high-waisted trousers and the obscene wage.

- But you’ll be nicer than him, won’t you? X-factor ruins peoples’ dreams, dad.

- I know it does, son, but sometimes people need to know that they don’t have the talent...and you might have to be cruel to be kind.

- Don’t be cruel, dad.

- No. I’ll be one of the nice judges. I’ll be ...Cheryl Cole.

He gives me that look. Like I have one foot in Stupidville and the other wedged in the toaster.

- She’s a woman, dad.

- Ok. Right. Who’s a nice male judge then? Louis Walsh?

- NO. He’s stupid. He said the kids liked John and Edward and we didn’t. We thought they were rubbish.

- Ok. Right. What about Randy Jackson?

- Then, you’ll have to call everybody “dawg”.



But just in case you were wondering, here’s me about to read 62 entries and I’m enjoying the work. Dawg.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

As Cute As...

In case you haven't come across this....this is me sharing the joy.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Random





So Avatar wins a Golden Globe for best drama. Have they lost their fuckin’ minds? Did they even watch the other movies? For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the film. It was an experience. That’s the key word here, experience. I loved the 3D and the visuals. But the plot? Gimme a break. Blue Pocahontas Dances With Wolves. Clunking themes and two-dimensional characters do not a great drama make. If I was the writer of the Hurt Locker I’d be feeling robbed right now. Let’s hope the crew who decide on the Academy Awards go against the hype/ box office and look beyond the hype/ CGI.



Ok #takes deep breath# this is maybe too much honesty...but I’m trying to shame myself into keeping this going...after getting into too many bad food and exercise habits I’ve taken myself in hand. So to speak. Remember the new exercise programme I mentioned? Seven pounds lost so far. Only the same amount to go. Times three.

I’ll keep you posted.



The pro-climate change wallahs have taken a big kick in the nads with the admission that their report that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 was bogus. As I said before until we take the politics out of this issue we’re never going to get anywhere. Simples?



If I ever want to increase the traffic to this blog from Italy all I need to do is mention Naked Girls. Who knew? Oops, there I did it again. Naked girls.


Some cracking TV on at the moment; new series of Dollhouse, Heroes and Being Human. And isn’t Glee a joy? Favourite moment from this week’s show was the Principal requesting that the Acafellas sing I Wanna Sex You Up at the Parent council meeting to distract them from the fact that they’ve been serving the kids “prison food”. Genius.

The wee fella was with me when I watched the first episode of the new series of Being Human. Mistake much? My thinking was that we could deal with any bad language. He hears worse at school, right? And the special f/x or scary moments he could also deal with. So my inner parental censor decided it should be a goer.

Half-way through, and it’s the day after the full moon and the werewolf is back in his human form and seduced by a vampire out in the forest. They’re making the beast with two backs. Wolfie is driving into the vamp like he’s trying to nail her to the forest floor with his pecker.

I’m trying to look all grown up and Not Bothered while a cringe is locked onto my expression. I look over at the wee man. His face is twisted in disgust.

‘Oh NO,’ he shouts, ‘I’ve never seen humans humping before.’ (As a fan of wildlife programmes he has seen any number of creatures “hump” he was happy to tell me later. But never humans. )

‘Oh my god that is HORRIBLE.’ He looks at me. ‘Do you like this?

‘I could do without it.’ I go for studied nonchalance, wondering if there’s going to be a repeat later on.

‘Did you do that with my mum?’

I give him THAT look.

‘Just asking.’

Friday, 15 January 2010

Naked. Girls. Reading.



It’s official: readers are not only among the most intelligent, witty, fun, well-rounded people in society they are now the sexiest.


Where is your proof of this assertion, I hear you ask? It’s here... http://nakedgirlsreading.com/about/

Go there and visit.... once you’ve read the banner I’m sure I couldn’t stop you, Bill...and I’m sure you’ll agree. So what’s it all about? A movement has started up in the US where, quite simply, a group of women get together in public places, divest themselves of their clothing – yes, all of it – and read a book.

The ABOUT page on their website reads ... “There’s something beautiful, something altogether more intimate, about a woman reading pretty much anything in her, well, altogether. It’s just that simple. So why are we still talking about it? Because people can’t seem to accept its simplicity.

Naked Girls. Reading.

or Girls Reading. Naked.

However you need to explain it to yourself is fine. And while you do, we’ll be over here…reading.

Naked.”

The first event was in Chicago in 2009 and franchises have bust out (sorry, couldn’t resist that lame pun) in a number of major US cities. (Marley, soon you won’t have to wait until the body scanner breaks down at the airport, you can just get nekkid at the bookstore)

This is me nodding my head in appreciation of a fantastic idea. What could be simpler than that? I say yay, thrice yay to this sort of event. And not for the reason you are thinking, smutheads. This is a genuinely cool way to promote reading and books. If you don’t believe me here is a reading list from one of the events in Chicago.



• Nabakov – Lolita

• Frank O’Hara – Poem

• DH Lawrence – Give Her a Pattern

• Jon Savage – England’s Dreaming

• Venus in Furs

• ee cummings – somewhere i have never traveled

• Eleven Minutes – Paulo Coelho

• An excerpt from “America’s Hidden History” by Kenneth C. Davis

• Declaration of Independence

• Ted Hughes – Crow

Those of you who have gotten over the first mental image of all that flesh will have noticed that there are a couple of poems in this list. Hey, Sheila and Rowena, how about the Makars Press Poets doing a series of Naked Poetry? D’ye think EIBF will get over their snobbery if we appear in the buff? Nah. Don’t think so.

I read somewhere on the site that they are thinking of having a Naked Guys Reading event. This got me thinking...I read a lot... under my clothes I’m naked. Should be easy enough, right?

Time to practise...

Clothes off. Check.

Book to hand. (Robert Crais’ The First Rule.) Check.

Curtains ... open. Check.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

RIP Teddy

Sad news today is that soul legend Teddy Pendergrass died at the age of 59.

He had soul and passion by the bucketload. Have a listen to this and prepare to get you some goosebumps...




And have a listen to this...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Books, glorious books...







This is me happy as a pig ‘n shit and like a pup with two tails. Some lovely publisher types have sent me some free copies to review for www.crimesquad.com.


Can anyone think of a plausible excuse so I can take some time off work to read all of these?

Lemme see who’s on the pile...

Robert Crais- The First Rule (4 March 2010). Frank Meyer walked away from the life as a merc ten years ago. Armed men break into his house and gun him and his entire family down. Big mistake. Frank’s friend was Joe Pike and he’s on the hunt for everyone involved. Nobody, I mean NOBODY kicks ass like Joe!

First line – “Frank Meyer closed his computer as the early winter darkness fell over his home in Westwood, California.”

Brian McGilloway – The Rising (2 April 2010) Ben Devlin (that rarity – a happily married fictional detective) is on the hunt for drug dealers and a neighbour’s missing child. Compromises he is forced to make on the job are badly affecting his family.

First line – “I should have kissed Debbie and the kids goodbye before I left the house.”

Tony Black – Loss (7 January 2010) Gus Drury is off the streets and back with his missus. AND off the bottle. Then his brother goes and gets killed. Bit of a bugger that.

First line – “Calls in the middle of the night rarely bring good news.”

Christopher G Moore – Paying Back Jack (oops, that was out in December 2009) I’ve not read any of this guy, but we have a detective called Calvino in Bangkok uncovering political intrigue and stuff. What’s not to like?

First line – “Calvino’s last sports jacket was ruined when Nicky “the Toad” Marras’s blood splattered over the lapel and down the pocket.”

Joseph Wambaugh – Hollywood Moon (21 January 2010) The man who brought us The Choirboys is back. I’ve not read any of his stuff for yonks and I’m REALLY looking forward to this one.

First line – “Hollywood Nate rents midgets,” the long-legged, sunbaked surfer cop whom the others called Flotsam said to his partner while 6-X-32 was passing Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, cruising east on Hollywood Boulevard at twilight.”

David Hosp – Among Thieves – we have Boston’s underworld, art theft, the IRA, a young boy, aged 9 who saw his entire family murdered who has now grown up and is going HULK on any fucker he can find (hey, I should write up some book blurbs...any publishers out there interested? Gimme a call. I can do cheap.)

First line – “Liam Kilbranish looked down at the lump of flesh curled in front of him on the cement floor.”



This is me racking my brain...excuses...excuses...excuses...

1) I’m staying in to do my hair.

2) My back is really, really hairy and it is annoying me.

3) My in-grown toenail turned sceptic after I tripped over that sausage.

4) The wee fella’s never had the chance to make a snow angel. We should do it before he becomes a teenager because then he’ll be deeply embarrassed by me lying in the snow.

5) Tesco.com can’t give me a delivery time, and I need to eat, right?

6) I have like, all this gunk coming out of my nose.

7) I drank some Dr Pepper and the worst really did happen. (I could go vague here – if I give specifics nobody will believe me.)

Which one do you think would work best? Can you come up with something better?

Laters,

M

Friday, 8 January 2010

The week that was...




The UK National Obsession is The Weather and now that we are receiving such extreme conditions over such an extended period of time, we are receiving commentary of orgiastic proportions. Inches of snow...degrees centigrade...amount of grit...composition of said grit...amount of salt...how long said salt is going to last...streets where cars have slid into a wall...councils are reducing the amount of grit/ salt they are spreading...how much warmer we are than the South Pole...numbers of schools closed...swans trapped...gas use hits a record high...passengers stuck in airports throughout the country...numbers of homes without heat...hospitals asking for zimmer frames because they’re running out...young men car snowboarding (in case you need to ask stupid, this involves sticking a snowboard on the roof of a car and driving through the snow) ....


...and I find the whole feckin’ thing absolutely fascinating. I could watch and read about it for hours. Paint me white, stick a carrot in my gob and call me Saddo.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When he said, “and now, we’re going to get your heart rate up above 90% of its maximum.’ ...THAT'S when I should have fled the building. Well, I would have if I wasn’t leaning against the full-length mirror
(I knew it had a purpose) and wheezing like a geriatric asthmatic. For those of you of a smutty mindset, I should explain I was being given a new series of workout routines at the gym. And OHMYGOD I am gubbed.

My gym instructor plays rugby at a very high level and I was tempted to say, “I’m 47, gimme a fucking break.” But it would have just come out like a breathless whine.

This routine involves a “circuit”. Five minutes on a bike raising my heart rate to 70-something percent of its maximum. Five minutes on a stepper raising my heart rate to 90-something percent of its maxmimum. Five minutes on a bike “allowing” my heart rate to settle at 60-something percent of its maximum. And then you do it all again. Twice.

Forty five minutes of torture. And not in a good way.

The bastard.

He was more specific than the 70-something example that I am giving you, it’s just that I was so freakin’ knackered I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than getting through that particular 5 minutes without puking. I swear I saw stars at one point in my peripheral vision.

I know I’ve lost some fitness over the last few months with the whole ankle thing, but really. I think I’ve been kidding myself on for years.

Today was a good wake-up call. There is a six-pack here somewhere, if I keep this up I might just find it.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------


“Two teams of celebrities”...the man said and my jaw tightened...”in a highly competitive bird-watching competition”...and it was all I could do not to spear my TV with the Christmas tree. (I know, I know, I’ll put it away in the morning.) Who is the knob-end that is coming up with these ideas? This is me on my knees, people...can we please stop watching this shit?

Here in the UK we’re having a Celebrity TV fest at the moment. We’re not long finished with getting the dumb feckers out of the jungle and ballroom dancing, and now we’ve got them on Mastermind, Dancing on Ice, in Big Brother and feckin’ bird-watching.

If you cannae beat them...

...how’s this for a pitch for a new TV programme? We join our celebrity obsession with our fetish for the weather and dump a load of the feckers on Altnaharra (the coldest place in Britain right now only a couple of degrees warmer than the South Pole) wearing mankinis, sipping from toilet bowls and counting the grains of salt in a grit bin.

Colour me white, stick a carrot in my gob and call me a programming genius.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Inspirational Heroes: Olivia Giles



As the clich√© states: a picture is worth a thousand words and an incredibly moving programme on BBC called Africa’s Walk of Hope began with the image of a beautiful, blond woman applying her mascara by gripping it between the stumps of her wrists.


Olivia Giles, the driving force behind Miles for Smiles and 500 Miles was a successful Edinburgh lawyer when she lost both hands and both of her lower limbs after collapsing into a coma caused by meningococcal septicaemia.

At the start of the programme she talked about her realisation that when she was given prosthetic limbs of how fortunate she felt she was. She was going to be able to walk out of hospital. Subsequent to this huge event in her life she became more aware of the issues faced by the limb-less across the world – and in particular, certain areas of Africa.

The ability to walk is something that those of us who are able to, simply take for granted. It is core to the human experience that we are ambulatory and “normally” that is from the vantage point of a straight back and a pair of strong limbs. We can stand up and meet the world eye to eye. Easy peasy. As simple as breathing.

However, for many people in the world this is not the case. Reports say that every 30 seconds somewhere in the world, someone has just become an amputee and for many of these people the dream of a replacement limb is just that: a dream.

And this is where Olivia stepped in. While most of us who might have found themselves in her position would be bemoaning our fate, Olivia strapped on her feet and started her tireless work to help numerous other individuals who are less fortunate than she is.

The blurb on the BBC website for the programme read: “In March 2009, 500 Miles established a clinic in Malawi and the film charts its progress and Olivia's attempt to spread her charitable work to Zambia. With over 10% of the population being disabled, and with one of the poorest health services in the world, the challenges are immense. Olivia hears of some of the prejudices that surround disability in southern Africa and the practical difficulties the medical staff face in trying to meet the needs of patients who can often travel hundreds of miles for a consultation or treatment.”

The experience makes Olivia even more determined that her charity is successful. She says: "I am incredibly lucky to be alive at all. To be able to come here and do this is a golden opportunity. It is inspiring for me that I can use the second chance I have had to help other people."

For more details of Olivia’s work and to make a donation go to...

http://www.500miles.co.uk/

As the programme drew to a close, I was struck by a number of things...my mini-grumbles were put into perspective – how much the new limbs meant to the recipients – the courage and determination of Olivia to succeed in her aim to help - and how apt the name of the charity was; Olivia Giles is a woman who is rarely without a broad and warm smile, while offering hope and renewed self-respect for others.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Christmas 2009 Remembered



Oh well. The annual food/ drink/ over-indulgence fest is over for another year and it’s back to old clothes (work suit) and porridge (with honey and cinnamon) tomorrow morning.


Despite my weary attempts at cynicism in this blog I am actually a simple soul and I love the whole shenanigans. Without it the winter months would be just too miserable.

What are my highlights, I hear you ask? As usual, my twin-sister (Queen Of Chaos) provided a few “moments”.

She bought me a jumper. So did my dad.

-Did you like it, she asked.

-Yes, I replied.

- Did you like my jumper better than dad’s, she asked.

- No, was the reply. (QC is brutally honest, so I thought I should answer the question in the same way she might - truthfully. Don’t get me wrong, she’s never deliberately nasty. She just doesn’t possess the edit button the rest of us have.)

- Aww, she replied, I feel a wee bit offended.

- Not sorry, I said, you wouldn’t want me to lie to you, would you?



Dad also bought QC a jumper. Over Boxing Day dinner the conversation went something like this...

- Dad, see that jumper you bought me?

- Aye.

- I look like shit in it.

Cue much laughter from everyone around the table.

The wee fella was also a big presence during the holidays. As part of his Xmas gifts I bought him DJ Hero for his Xbox. He was delighted with it. Big beaming smile. The conversation went like this...

- THANKS Dad. That was really thoughtful of you.

- What age are you?

- 11 and three quarters. Why?

- You sound about 31 and three quarters.

- You’re weird.

For Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) I said he could stay up with me. There were some strong comedic moments on BBC 1 Scotland earlier in the evening with Still Game – “enhanced” by the moments when I had to translate the following “baw bag” (scrotum) and ”baw hair” (a hair found on the aforementioned scrotum). Then BBC Scotland resorted to the tried, tested (and failed) Jackie Bird (WHY?) to bring in the New Year with some folk/ pop musicians. As soon as the first fiddle was strummed the wee fella was out of the door – give me a shout when it’s nearly midnight, he said. This stuff is rubbish.

The bells rang out. Fireworks exploded across the TV screen.

- Eesh, it’s only another year. Don’t know what all the fuss is about.

- You’re only 11...

- ...and three quarters.

- ...and three quarters. But wait until you’re my age, a new year becomes a chance to review your life and all the things you want to achieve.

- You’re not THAT old, he replied, and I don’t understand the rest of what you just said.