Monday, June 10, 2013

RIP Iain M Banks

I haven’t written on this blog for a few years, spending more time on Facebook and Twitter, but the sad news yesterday of the untimely death of one of my favourite authors, Iain Banks made me think I needed to write something longer than 140 characters and more permanent than the ephemeral nature of a Facebook status.

During the late 80’s, early 90’s I worked in the book industry for the, now defunct, retailer Dillons and I was fortunate to meet Ian on many occasions through my various marketing roles. I would even say we became friendly and I want to share a few moments of my recollection of the man himself.

First about his writing, I was always a fan of his books, his dark humour, complicated characters and casual disregard for traditional story telling – like not killing off your main characters in a particularly gruesome fashion in an unexpected moment. When I read George Martin’s Songs of Ice and Fire books, I thought of Iain when reading the “Red Wedding” scene. Of course this week, that scene was also brought to life in the HBO series causing a lot of anguish amongst the fans who haven’t read the books. I can imagine Iain sitting there watching that giggling and nodding in agreement.

One moment I will always recall happened when I was reading my favourite Bank’s novel – “Use of Weapons”. The book has a wonderful convoluted plot with a two interwoven timelines, drawing you in as one unfolds in the past informing the other that is the now. The book kept me riveted right down to the last page, when he hits you with the most unexpected twist – I will not say more if you haven’t read it.

Anyway, that twist wasn’t the moment I am talking about. The bit I remember most fondly is part way through the book and happened whilst I was travelling on the underground one day, reading. There is an undercurrent of dark humour through all of Bank’s books, but this one scene involving an unusual gift for a character had me guffawing out loud on this packed tube train. I didn’t even realise I was doing it until the woman next to me shuffled a few feet away with a worried look in her eye.

In my role at Dillons, as Promotions Manager, I was responsible for choosing which books to promote across the chain and when Feersum Endjinn was published in 1994, I chose it to be one of our featured titles across over 90 stores. It was the first time that Dillons had ever promoted a single science fiction title and the publisher, Little Brown was delighted. Some of our shops were unhappy about the choice of promoted title, but with a bit or persuasion and once they saw initial sales, were also pleased and It certainly seemed to help his backlist sales.

At the time, I was going through one of my periodic times of hirsuteness and I have to say there was slightly more than a passing resemblance between Iain and myself (unintended). This became clear at the launch party for Feersum, in a dark dingy bar somewhere in London, when I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to convince a few booksellers from Waterstones that I wasn’t in fact the man himself. The lack of a Scottish accent should have been the giveaway, but they were not convinced until I dragged them over to Iain and introduced them. Iain found the idea hilarious and said that on his next book tour, could I come along as his signing “stunt double” for when he got bored and his wrist was tired.

After moving on from the book trade into more general marketing roles I lost touch with Iain, but met him again last year at a British Library lecture on “Utopia” in fiction. I had a brief chat with him, he seemed to remember me and actually reminded me of the stunt double story.

I wish I had known him better, not just through his books and those brief work related incidents, he seemed always full of life, full of humour and humble, never quite believing that he had created such wonderful worlds and characters. Like most successful authors, I believe he wrote for himself and we were just lucky to be able share in his creations.

Finally, I believe one of Iain’s favourite things was the naming of the spaceships in his Culture novels - if you haven’t read them, he ships are sentient, self-aware and names themselves things like: “No More Mr Nice Guy”; “Very Little Gravitas Indeed” and “Just Another Victim Of The Ambient Morality*

In an infinite universe, it is entirely possible, if not probable, that Iain himself has re-incarnated as a ship in the Culture universe and I wonder what he would call himself. My other mind is an Author”??

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rip Off Britain

I saw a link on the BBC website to submit story ideas for Rip Off Britain - so I submitted this idea - something that has been bothering me for a long time.

One of the biggest rip offs in Britain today is the selling of concert tickets months if not years before the actual event.


Typically events from major music and comedy stars sell out within minutes of going on sale, for example earlier this year I bought tickets for Michael McIntyre’s tour for dates in September 2012, almost 18 months before the actual show at the O2. The O2 has a capacity of over 20,000. The tickets are sold for £35 each, that is a total of £700k gross ticket revenue for just one show.

Michael McIntyre’s tour has over 58 dates, 6 of which are at the O2. I decided to do some quick maths for his entire tour – the dates for which are published here


Tickets for the tour went on sale at the end of March, 2011 and according to the Daily Mail sold out quickly

So, over £24m was paid out, about 18 months before the events. What happens to that money? Presumably some of it goes on fees for the venues, booking agents etc. – but I assume a substantial part of it gets paid to the artists up front. The Daily Mail article says not, claiming that he will "only" make £2m from the tour if it sells out. So who is getting all that money?

But what really concerns me is the fact that I have to pay the money so far in advance. If I bought 4 tickets for the show, costing £140, I am missing out on the potential interest for that amount. Over 18 months that is equal to approx. £6.50 at 3% savings rate. So the actual cost to me of the tickets is £146.50, approximately 4.7% more than the advertised price.

Now that doesn't sound a lot, but if you multiply that by the total amount of tickets sold in the tour, that is 688,200 x £35 x 4.7% = £1,132,089 of missed interest by fans who bought tickets for this tour. How many big tours are there every year, 10, 20, 50?

If I place an advance order on Amazon for the latest album by Coldplay, or new novel from JK Rowling, they do not charge me anything until the product actually ships. So why should we be paying all this money so far in advance?

These big stars could advertise their tour as early as they like, but don't actually put tickets on sale until a month or two at the most before the shows. Anything else and I believe they are ripping off their loyal fans.

What do you think?

Last Day of NaNoWriMo

So this is the last day of NaNoWriMo and I have to admit defeat. I started OK, lost some groujnd, then pulled it back about mid month. However, this has also coincided with a manic period at work and something had to give.

But I don't think it's a complete failure, I've written more in the last month than I have done in years and I think it's good stuff too.

So my personal commitment is to keep on writing and get this novel out of my head. Obviously long term goal is to be published, but that, as they say, is another story.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 14 of #Nanowrimo

So after Day 14 of NaNoWriMo, I am up to just over 17,000 words. To hit the goal of 50,000 words by end of November, I need to maintain another 2,000 per day. From a practical POV, I am totally capable of creatively writing 2,000+ words per day, but it is a combination of motivation and time that stops me.

I wrote over a 1,000 words on the train to work today and aim to do it again on the way home, but yesterday was a different story. On the train into London I didn't get a seat, nor on the way home, so no writing there. When I finally got home about 8.45pm, I knew I should write something, but the combination of TV and family meant it was soon past 11 and I was just too tired.

I suppose if you are talented and lucky enough to become a full time author, you don't have these issues, but I'm a long way from that. But I will persevere, this is the most writing I have done for years and I feel really good about it

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 8

So Day 8 of NaNoWriMo and it's been a busy few days, unfortunately mostly Birthday related at the weekend, so not as much writing done as I would like. After 7 days (not counting today yet), I'm only up to 3,737. Which is an average of only 467 words per day.

So to hit the 50,000 I now have to do over 2,000 per day for the rest of the month...ho hum

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Day 1 of Nanowrimo

Spent several hours planning and writing last night, in a Mcdonalds of all places, whilst waiting for Hannah at her Irish dancing lesson. Only managed 790 words, but that was after a lot of planning and laying out several sections before actually writing something - could have written more, as was in good flow, but had to go and pick Hannah up.

If I get back into that flow today, then I hope to write 2-3 times that and get my stats back on track to write 1666 words per day. Note to self - must remember to update stats on the Nanowrimo site each evening as today it thinks it's Day 2, so my average is 395 words per day and it's predicting I will finish next March!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Taking part in National Novel Writing Month


After years of procrastination, I decided that drastic action was required and have signed up for NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. That works out to 1,666 words per day.

Now nobody expects to have a bestseller at the end of this, at best you will have a rough first draft - but as several of my author friends have told me - just get it out, get it on paper, onto your computer, anywhere than in your head - you can then edit, rewrite etc far easier because it's out.

Looking back at my pas efforts to write a novel, the best I did last year was writing about 7,500 words over a couple of months - so the pressure is on. The good news is that I still like that idea and plot, so can use the same broad outline and characters.

Just to add extra pressure and no doubt to give me an extra outlet for procrastination and do anything other than actually write anything, I will update this blog, my Facebook and Twitter profiles with my progress.

All comments, suggestions, offers of beer welcome - email me

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Successful Conclusion to Churchill Dispute

This actually happened a few weeks back, but I've been on holiday for two weeks, so no chance to update before now.

After disputing the offer I was made by Churchill, I finally got to speak to a far more reasonable and understanding person in the Customer Complaints team. He agreed that it wasn't just about specification, but also about the brand of the product - even though this is not clear in the policy wording.

We haggled a bit over the final amount, but in the end I am pleased with the result and believe it was a good compromise that allows me to go out and buy a laptop of similar style.

It's a shame it took several complaints and emails before getting to that point - I even had to chase up after receiving a letter promising a prompt response, after I had waited two weeks.

Personally I think Churchill Insurance keeps the language on their policy deliberately vague in their policy for this sort of issue, as I doubt many people would push as hard as I did. If that is the case then I do not like that business style, as it comes across as trying to provide a minimum level of service and not caring about the quality. If you compare that with the level of service you get with a brand like Apple, it just doesn't stack up.

Anyway, a good result and yet another reminder that it pays to be persistent and stand up for your rights