Guess who isn’t coming to dinner?

Kim at Reading Matters is currently running a poll on "if you could invite one author to dinner, who would you choose"? So far, "none of the above" is easily winning, with Dan Brown coming a poor second.

Kim is wondering how on Earth Dan Brown could be second (after "none"). Well, look at the options: John Banville, Zadie Smith, Paul Auster, Anne Tyler, Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell) and David Mitchell. One may well have a view on the merit of the books written by these authors, but in terms of dinner companions, they pale by comparison with the thoughts of a meal with Minx, Skint, et al. (Hovis and gin, delightful — easy on the Hovis in my case).

I am emphatically not a fan of the books of Will Self, but I would take odds that he’s a more rewarding dinner companion than those listed in the poll. (Frank will be relieved that Bill Kaufmann did not get an invite.)

Of course, my vote would be for JKR:  honorary witch, author supreme, mother and generally brilliant person in virtually all of what she says — which isn’t much, or often, or PC, and all the more welcome for it.

Debi Alper’s reading

Last night, Debi Debi Alper, author of Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana, was the star guest at the Dulwich library reading group. I was lucky enough to be able to attend. It was the first time for a very long time that I’d been out alone going to "an event" that wasn’t to do with work, but I am very glad I went.

Arriving promptly at 7.30 pm, I was met by Anna, the organiser of the group, and the people who’d arrived so far. We chatted about books, libraries and so on until Debi herself arrived. What a fabulous, warm, alive and vibrant woman she is! On her blog and website she has a very scary, serious photo of herself which looks very little like this gorgeous woman with wild, mad, red curly hair; beautiful red Indian tunic; glinting bangles; and a smile of such radiance you wouldn’t believe. The picture on the right is a bit closer to the real thing, but does not do her justice.

We quickly settled down in a "reading circle", and Debi told us how she came to write her novels via her writing group, and read us the first chapter of Nirvana Bites. (Talking of bites, yesterday was Debi’s birthday (25th I guess ;-) ) , and Anna had baked her a delicious cake. ) Debi wrote her novel as "assignments" for her writing group, Dickens style, rather than having a whole book in mind when she started. Her characters take lives of their own, she follows them not knowing where they will lead. She writes in longhand, whenever she can — on the bus, on school trips, in the garden, etc. When she’d finished her first book, a friend of a good friend turned out to work for a publishing company, and ensured that the draft was actually read rather than going on the slush pile. Before she knew it, Debi’s book was en route to publication – no agent, no "product placement", just obvious talent.

Of course it hasn’t all been easy; one thing that we discussed was how hard authors have to work to market their books. The publisher puts a lot of effort in when the book is launched but after that it is pretty much left up to the author. Blogging is one way to create a "presence" (I won’t use the term "brand".) A lively discussion of blogging ensued at this point, and the evening drew to a close with a collection of eager purchasers clutching signed copies of Debi’s novels.

It was such a wonderful evening — partly the atmosphere of the readers’ circle (Anna is a great chairperson), with the many, varied questions and opinions being voiced, and partly the focus of Debi, who charmed us all. Thank you, Debi, for giving us all your time: for your naturalness and openness. I am sure I speak for everyone present when I write how much of a pleasure it was to meet you and hear what you had to say.

Polygon 30 June

Polygon puzzle
Using the given letters no more than once, make as many words as possible of four or more letters, always including the central letter. Capitalised words, plurals, conjugated verbs (past tense etc), adverbs ending in LY, comparatives and superlatives are disallowed.

How you rate: 9 words, average; 12, good; 15, very good; 19, excellent.

Click here for rules and tips on how to play Polygon

Source: the Times

Answers in the comments.

Out and in, lost and found

Our building is open again now, so we can work as normal and the Macmillan New Fiction people can get on with reading Pundy’s manuscript, after having to reluctantly put it down mid-read on Monday morning when evacuated from their offices, they have been on tenterhooks all week to find out what happens in the end.

I have not been into the office today as I’ve been at Imperial College London hearing people talk about data webs. So tomorrow will be my first day back. Thank you all so much for your good wishes and kind comments, which are without exception very much appreciated.

I’m a bit wiped so will just mention that the interesting (I think) writer Carolyn Parkhurst has a new book out, called Lost and Found. Her first book was called Loreili’s Secret (but seems to also be called The Dogs of Babel, maybe a difference between the US and the UK). It is a story about a husband whose wife died in an incident witnessed only by her dog; the husband spends the book trying to find out what happened, the reader in the process gradually building up a picture of what his wife had really been like — very different than she first appeared. A very good, unusual read and a 90 per cent satisfactory resolution of the mystery.

Parkhurst’s new book seems to be somewhat different, about a team of contestants on a TV reality show which takes the form of a global scavenger hunt. There is an interesting Q/A interview with the author at Powell’s books (contains link to the book on the Amazon US site). And a good post about the new novel on MetaxuCafe (which doesn’t).

Here is an excerpt from the Powell’s books interview about the new book: "The novel follows several two-person teams — a mother and her teenage daughter, two middle-aged brothers, a pair of former child TV stars, and a married couple who met through a Christian "ex-gay" group. But even though reality TV provides the backdrop for the book, that’s not entirely what the novel is about; it’s also about the limits of intimacy and the destructive power of shame. Each character starts out with a secret, something that haunts them that they’d like to keep private, and each one finds that the trial of being on the show brings these things to the forefront in ways they hadn’t imagined. And each of them begins to wonder if they knew their partner as well as they thought they did."

Polygon 28 June

Polygon puzzle
Using the given letters no more than once, make as many words as possible of four or more letters, always including the central letter. Capitalised words, plurals, conjugated verbs (past tense etc), adverbs ending in LY, comparatives and superlatives are disallowed.

How you rate: 11 words, average; 14, good; 18, very good; 22, excellent.

Click here for rules and tips on how to play Polygon 

Source: the Times

Answers in the comments

No posting today

Apologies for lack of posts today. I have spent a day coping with the ramifications of this  Kings Cross fire on Monday (see below somewhere)  — we are still locked out of our building as there is an exclusion zone round our offices. I have just in the last 10 minutes had a phone call from a colleague who has heard that the fire is now out, so the fire brigade can begin to cool down the gas cylinders. (The fire has still been burning all day today, and when they’ve tried to cool the cylinders with water, the water has evaporated in the heat. Cooling can only happen when the fire is out…)

We still have not managed to get all the pages for the 29 June issue passed, though we hope to do so by later tonight. If we can’t get into our building by first thing Thurdsay it is beginning to look grim for the 6 July issue. But this phone call I’ve just had makes it look as if we will get in later on in the afternoon tomorrow (Wednesday).

I am too tired to post anything now. Tomorrow I am out at a meeting all day, and probably offline. I will try to post tomorrow evening if I have any time and energy.

My biggest disappointment in all of this is that I heard Minx had posted a picture of herself on her blog for Pundy’s party, but by the time I could get there she had taken it down. I need something to cheer me up, Minx, so relent!

My best wishes to you all. Good night, hope to see you tomorrow.

(PS Jenny, or Jenii, has finally posted on her blog after a period of being a bit low — it is a competition to design a football strip. Please comment if you can!)

Polygon 25 June

Polygon puzzle
The Times archive is back, so here is today’s puzzle, warts and all. Using the given letters no more than once, make as many words as possible of four or more letters, always including the central letter. Capitalised words, plurals, conjugated verbs (past tense etc), adverbs ending in LY, comparatives and superlatives are disallowed.
Click here for rules and tips on how to play Polygon
How you rate: 13 words, average; 17, good; 21, very good; 26, excellent.
Source: The Times
Answers in the comments

Pick of the Week

The_week

I can’t post a polygon puzzle at the moment as the Times search engine/archive is down, though I’ll try later if Switzerland v Ukraine (?) goes on for long enough. In the meantime, with apologies to Debra Hamel, I thought I would introduce a new feature. Debra often posts about the Week magazine, seemingly a US edition. I’ve been a subscriber since the Week first launched in the UK in 1995 — this was pre-blogging and pre-me getting an Internet connection at home, and I loved (and still do) the mixture of the informed and the bizarre. So with virtual permission from Debra, I thought I’d share with you a couple of items each week (if I remember and get time to read it— those weeks seem to come round quicker all the time).

24 June. Good week for The Moon, which has become a property hotspot. Cornish estate agents Sue and Francis Williams have sold £4 million worth of land on the moon, exploiting a loophole in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (;-) ) which failed to prevent private individuals laying claim to celestial land. Since 2000, more than three million plots on the Moon have been sold, to buyers including George W. Bush, William Shatner and Carrie Fisher.

Bad week for Oxford police, as local prostitutes have started riding bicycles in order to blend in. Instead of loitering on street corners, they now pedal about trying to look like students.

"It must be true, I read it in the tabloids" column. A 70-year-old shoplifter who tried to evade capture by biting a policeman was arrested after leaving his dentures at home. Gustav Braunschweig sank his gums into the officer’s arm — but to no effect. "He had forgotten to put his false teeth in", said a police spokesman, "so no harm was done".

Off kilter

When I walked up the road to my office today, located at the end of platform 1 of King’s Cross station, I was met by the sight of scores of my colleagues getting damper by the second. I thought at first that it was one of the now-ubiquitous fire alarm practices, but no — this one was for real.

Kingcros_fireFrom the BBC news "King’s Cross station is still closed after a fire at a nearby building site raised concerns that four gas cylinders on the site could explode.

Thousands of travellers have faced disruption while hundreds of residents have been told they may not be allowed back in their homes until Wednesday.

A 200m exclusion zone was set up as firefighters tried to cool the "extremely dangerous" cylinders."

Well, for a weekly magazine with a news press day of Monday (yes, that’s today), all our efforts were spent on rounding up our print and editorial production, subeditors, art editors, news editors and writers, and working out what the **** to do, given that all the in-progress copy was on the firewall-protected office servers. Round the table in a local cafe, we swapped mobile phone numbers, called up a freelance designer in Norfolk who could make up our pages, sorted out server access via a Macmillans site in Oxford, phoned printers to ensure all editions (USA, Japan and UK) could deal with late pages, and assorted similar tasks. After that, nothing else for me to do but to get home somehow (Kings Cross station was closed of course) — and hope that by the time I got there, our US colleagues would have accessed our production server and sent me my articles for this week’s edition of our peer review debate for me to edit via Webmail.  Thankfully, when I got home and logged on to Webmail, Alex, one of our news editors in Washington DC, had indeed sent me the articles, so I spent the afternoon editing them and phoning/being phoned by the disaster recovery team and our subs/production editors. We won’t be able to get into our office tomorrow, it seems, but it looks as if the journal will come out, if a day late, thanks to my wonderful colleagues and our IT department.

Only now have I looked at the news — and reality has, well, hit, frankly. And only now am I feeling a bit shaky — well, to be honest, very shaky. Those gas cylinders could have exploded. It could have been a terrorist attack, or the fire could have been a lot worse. So I’m grateful to be here, but wobbly!

Polygon 25 June

Polygon puzzle
Using the given letters no more than once, make as many words as possible of three or more letters, always including the central letter. Capitalised words, plurals, conjugated verbs (past tense etc), adverbs ending in LY, comparatives and superlatives are disallowed.

How you rate: 12 words, average; 16, good; 20, very good; 24, excellent.

Click here for rules and tips on how to play Polygon

Source: the Times

Answers in the comments