Toby Litt – Wrestliana

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When we visit Toby Litt in his office at Birkbeck University of London he tells us that all the books in the building have had to be removed because the Georgian building can’t take the weight. All, it seems, except those in his office, which appears to be single-handedly keeping the faith. This seems right. Toby is very much a man of literature – he teaches creative writing at Birkbeck and he has published thirteen fine novels and collections of stories. But Toby’s new book is not fiction. It is by turns a meditation on his ancestry, the meaning of being a father, an examination of the neglected sport of Cumberland and Westmoreland Wrestling, an essay on writing and a treatise on masculinity. Somehow it all adds up..

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Grady Hendrix – Paperbacks From Hell

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You might think it eccentric to speak of a golden age of satanic possession, murderous infants, flesh-eating crustaceans and Nazi leprechauns, but for enthusiasts of paperback horror novels, the 70’s and 80’s were the glory days.  This was a time of the most lurid nightmares spawned, it seemed, from the very bowels of Hell. This was a time when books were proud to be horror rather than ‘chiller’ or ‘thriller’, and when the word Satan on the cover was a guarantee of sales (even if there was nothing supernatural inside). Grady Hendrix has written a hugely entertaining history and celebration of this splendid time. We talked to Grady via skype from a restaurant kitchen in downtown New York. At least that’s where he said he was… we haven’t visited our basement since. Continue reading

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Christopher Fowler – The Book of Forgotten Authors

Christopher Fowler is a good friend of this site, having appeared with us three times already. But then, he will keep writing books that we find irresistible. This time he has assembled an Aladdin’s Cave of writers who have been neglected in one way or another. Some of them have been completely forgotten, as the title suggests – Rosalind Erskine anybody? –  but then there are the writers whose names are familiar, but whose books we have forgotten to read – Ronald Firbank, Leslie Charteris? – or who have fallen out of favour (or print) – Dennis Wheatley, Sven Hassell, Barbara Pym?

This is catnip to Tim. He dived into the contents list like a kid in a sweetshop, finding the authors he has read, noting the ones he should have, and discovering some he is certainly going to. He got together with Chris in his palatial, minimalist flat to discuss their shared enthusiasm over a cup of tea.

 

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Ben Aaronovich – The Furthest Station

You might think a man who had a couple of Dr Who serials under his belt (1980’s – the Sylvester McCoy era), might rest on his laurels, but like the rest of us Ben Aaronovitch has a living to make. Ben has a solid CV of writing for television and TV spinoffs, but he has recently been making serious waves with his series of supernatural police procedural novels and graphic novels, starting in 2011 with Rivers Of London. He allows that the success of these Peter Grant books has considerably exceeded his expectations. But we’re not surprised. There is always room for well-written, funny, urban fantasy, right?. We met Ben at his publishers in Blackfriars to discuss the latest instalment – The Furthest Station. Continue reading

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Steve Richards – The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost its Way

Click here to buy the bookSteve Richards has presented a series of half hour broadcasts for the BBC about British prime ministers, which he delivers as live and without a script or even notes. They are brilliantly insightful, and wonderfully fluent. With characteristic modesty, Steve says that any of us might have made these programmes, on the grounds that we all lived through those times. He is wrong. He is among our most distinguished and trenchant political journalists, and I doubt that there are six people in the country who could have made them.

His new book considers the most fascinating development of recent politics – the rise of the outsider. A loss of trust and faith in the mainstream, he says, is a trend and he considers how the political mainstream has lost its mojo while the agenda has been hijacked by individuals and organisations that in times past would never have come close to power. Essentially, says Steve, the centre-left and the centre-right in one case abandoned ideology and in the other lurched into incoherence. In this interview, we discuss how this happened, what it is doing and what it is going to mean.

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Robert Newman – Neuropolis: A Brain Science Survival Guide

Click here to buy the bookSince his Entirely Accurate Encyclopaedia of Evolution, Robert Newman’s entirely iconoclastic re-examination of the evidence has excited readers and listeners with its unashamed linking of the science with wider issues, specifically socio-political ones. In his latest book, Neuropolis – a brain science survival guide, Newman targets a sub-species of pop-neuroscience that he dubs bro-science – a pessimistic, denigrating take on the brain that is based more on macho posing than on research. He sets out to destroy it using proper science. Continue reading

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Tim Haigh – Z is for Zeugma

“Since his death in 1960, Timothy J Haigh has been widely recognised as the least gifted of the great mystery novelists of the golden age of travel writing…” So begins the introduction to Z is for Zeugma. Yes, Tim has killed himself off for fun.

Switching chairs for the purpose, he finds himself as interviewee rather than -er, for this playful little book. John Mindlin is obliged to step and ask the questions just this once.

In this not-really-a-novel-at-all Tim gives free rein to his propensity for embracing any joke that occurs to him in a loose narrative that sends up every cliché of crime writing, and quite a lot of several other genres.

“Z is for Zeugma is the first of (Tim Haigh’s) posthumous works. Let us hope there will be many more.”

If you’re outside the UK, please click on the book cover image to buy the book.

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Philip Norman – Paul McCartney: The Biography

Click here to buy the bookWhen Philip Norman published “Shout” in 1980, it quickly became and long remained the standard Beatles biography. It was noted at the time that there was a marked preference for Lennon over McCartney in that book and Philip was pretty much tagged anti-McCartney. In the years since then, he has reassessed his attitude and came to the conclusion that he had been unfair. McCartney, he now acknowledges, is colossally talented, nobody’s lightweight and is a better and more interesting man than he had been given credit for.

As it happens, Tim didn’t pick up on the bias in “Shout!” because he shared it and, like Philip, has followed a parallel path to a huge admiration fo Paul McCartney. Tim loved Philip’s recent biography of Mick Jagger so he was dying to read his superb full life of McCartney.

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Lawrence Block – The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes

Click here to buy the book We last spoke to the great American crime writer, Lawrence Block, nearly two years ago. Although Larry is one of the world’s great travelers – he has visited something like 135 different countries – he was at home in New York on this occasion, while we are in London, England. We toyed with the idea of going to the shore and rigging up a transatlantic telephone with two tin cans and a very long piece of string, but opted instead for the technological wizardry of Skype.
The new book finds Larry very much on form: The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes is a steamy noir thriller of sex and violence, reminiscent of James M Cain. We were intrigued by the moral ambiguity, the insalubrious setting of inland Florida, and especially the consummate skill with which he handles the pretty full-frontal erotica. But of course, Lawrence Block has form in that area…

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Jamie Cawley – Beliefs And The World They Created

Click here to buy the bookIt goes without saying that there is a difference in kind between what you “believe” and what I “know to be true”. Whether it is the True Religion (be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam), Dawkinsite scientific certainty or the Demonstrable Facts of realpolitik, we all have our cherished articles of faith, and it can be fighting talk to question the shibboleths. So you might think that Jamie Cawley is a brave man to undertake a panoramic discussion of belief as a recurring phenomenon in human societies. Between the worldwide emergence of polytheism and the contemporary creed of Environmentalism, he makes a brisk and entertaining tour of the high watermarks of belief around the world, which will almost certainly offend many, and that, in Tim’s opinion, is a noble ambition.

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