Saturday, 25 October 2008

Paperback Crisis

One of the benefits of the Internet is that it saves one’s publishers having to communicate directly.

I knew that Aurum Press were thinking of bringing out my book from earlier this year, Crisis? What Crisis?, as a paperback, but it wasn’t till I was idly surfing through Amazon that I got to see the cover and to learn the details.

So for those of you already planning your beach reading for next year, can I recommend this fine piece of work, available for only £9 and published on 19 March 2009:

And in the meantime, of course, the hardback is still available and would make a splendid Christmas gift.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Halfway to Paradise

My latest book was published on Monday. It kind of passed me by a little, since there was no big party to celebrate this momentous occasion, but then I’m not quite sure whether such things as launch parties actually exist – certainly I’ve never seen one.

Anyway, whingeing aside, the book is completely wonderful. Published by the V&A and titled Halfway to Paradise: The Birth of British Rock, it contains around 250 photos by the great Harry Hammond, accompanied by my own fine text. It tells the story of the early days of rock and roll, covering roughly the decade of 1954-64, from skiffle to the Beatles, or – in media shorthand – from Austerity Britain to Swinging London.

Yours for a mere £25, or for an even more mere £17-50 from Amazon, it’s about as perfect a Christmas gift as you could ever hope for. There are some extracts and images available if you click on this link.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A Spoonful of Sugar

I’ve been getting fascinated by a blog titled The Hospital Shop, and feel I ought to draw it to your attention.

There are these two women, Sylvie and Joyce, who are volunteers working in a hospital shop in Lancashire. And their boss appears to have sent them on a course of evening classes to learn how to use computers. They don’t seem to have quite got the hang of it, but they’re great value for money, as they take turns to gossip and snipe at each other – genuinely very funny, though I don’t know how much of the humour is intentional.

I’d say they reminded me of Alan Bennett characters, except they’re the wrong side of the Pennines.

Much recommended. However odd it sounds.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Failed Gods

‘Depressions can be seen as what happens when inequality gets out of hand in a market system. At one end of the scale there is a growth in poverty, which in turn leads to high debt as people struggle to maintain their living standards. They either borrow or consume less. At the other end inequality encourages bouts of wild speculation as the rich find themselves with piles of spare cash. Speculation leads to bubbles, and bubbles lead to crashes...’

That was Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson in their classic (if slightly neglected) book, The Age of Insecurity, back in 1998.

At the time, of course, they were wildly out-of-step with the times – off-message, as it was then known. Certainly no one in the triumphalist Blairite camp wanted to hear their warning that New Labour was ultimately headed for disaster, and that it was a mistake to abandon time-honoured social democratic values of egalitarianism in favour of the fantasy of the free market.

For ten years the Cassandra warnings have continued to pour forth. And, like Cassandra, it turns out that Elliott and Atkinson were right all along. Their devastating summary of the Blair years, Fantasy Island, came out in Spring 2007 and rained all over Gordon Brown’s parade just as the band was striking up.

Their most recent book, The Gods That Failed, dissects the roots of the current crisis. Its sales figures suggest that maybe people are listening: ‘Markets are not Magic. Debt is not Freedom.’

Whether the Labour Party has the courage to return to its egalitarian traditions is another matter.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

John Summers’ funeral

The funeral was held on Tuesday, 7 October 2008 of John Summers at Swansea Crematorium.

It was a sad occasion, obviously, but also a real honour and pleasure to meet many of John’s friends and family, almost all of them for the first time. He was a very special man and will be much missed.

There was a reading from one of John’s novels, The Raging Summer, and - for those new to his work - this passage is probably as good a place to start as any. It contains so many of the elements that are found in his work: sensually descriptive writing that touches on nature, on his Welsh roots, on politics and on why anyone would want to be a writer:

‘To write books. Just words. So that afterwards the reader would feel, yes, that it had all happened to him and to her. Then each book would no longer belong to me but belong to them too and they would, with even more than my own small determination, fight for it and protect it because it was for ever theirs now.’

As one of those readers, I do indeed feel the need to fight for and protect John’s work. The Raging Summer is out of print at present (though copies can be found at, but a couple of years back, when John was in hospital, I promised him that it would one day be republished.

I intend to honour that promise.