When Rod Liddle is trending

The heart always skips a beat when a famous person’s name appears in Twitter’s “trending” chart. It usually means they’ve died or been implicated in sex offences. So when Rod Liddle turned up the other night, my immediate reaction was to wonder whether he’d punched another pregnant woman in the stomach. Thankfully no: he was trying to defend apparently racist columns on TV. I’m surprised he didn’t claim his column had been hacked, like he did when his account was caught posting racist bilge on a football fan forum.

Liddle is a terrible human being who writes terrible things on behalf of terrible people. And now he’s excreted another terrible book.

Is it any good? Of course it isn’t. But at least it means Fintan O’Toole can review it.

Never,” Rod Liddle writes in his jeremiad on the “betrayal” of Brexit, “have so many blameless people in this country been held in such contempt, or been subject to such vilification by an elite.” Really? Who wrote in 2014 of Britain as “a nation of broken families clamouring about their entitlements siring ill-educated and undisciplined kids unfamiliar with the concept of right and wrong”? Who described with relish “the hulking fat tattooed chavmonkey standing in the queue at Burger King”? Who characterised the British masses as inhabiting “a dumbed-down culture”, being in thrall to “the background fugue of idiocy, the moronic inferno, of celebrity fuckstories”, and spending their time “watching TV, masturbating to pornography on the internet, getting drunk”? That would be Liddle in his last book, whose title, Selfish Whining Monkeys, may just possibly have had a slight whiff of contempt and vilification.

And that’s just the opening paragraph.

Amazing journalism about an amazing musician

Music fans of a certain age will recognise the name of Ian Penman, one of the best writers ever to work for NME (the NME of its glory days, not the shallow lifestyle brand of today). Here, the London Review of Books gets him to review two biographies of Prince. It’s an incredible article about an equally incredible story.

Even here, he glows distantly like a quasar; it’s hard to make out the lineaments of a true inner life. There is a hummingbird effect: he keeps so busy you can’t see through the blur to make any sense of why he behaves in the ways he does, or makes the decisions he does. A workaholic who writes endless songs about how much he just hangs out. A perfectionist who releases way too much sub-standard work.

“Sweaty with rage”

I haven’t linked to a good literary kicking for a while, so here’s Anna Leszkiewicz giving Bret Easton Ellis both barrels in The Guardian.

There are too many good bits to quote them all, but these are some highlights:

like a recently dumped partner ranting about their ex for 90 minutes before adding that they don’t care.

a resentful, bitter man still caught up in the heat of arguments, years after everyone else has left the restaurant.

a nonsensical, vapid book, written by a man so furiously obsessed with his right to speak that he forgets to say anything at all.

Wonderful.

Read it in books

My life isn’t all glamorous launches and rock concerts, you know. Sometimes I’ll stay in and read a book, usually a music one. Here are a few recent reads:

Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out by MARTIN ASTON

This is incredible. It’s the queer equivalent of Revolution In The Head, an incredibly exhaustive (592 pages!) chronicle of the history of LGBTQ musicians in modern culture.

Anything that begins with John Grant’s Glacier and segues into 1920s lesbian blues guitarists is going to win me over, and that kind of contrast is what makes the book so much fun: it’s not a dull historical tract, but a celebration of some incredible music by some equally incredible people.

It’s also a sober reminder of how much progress has happened in a very short space of time. The chapters on music in the time of the AIDS panic are particularly sobering.

UNCOMMON PEOPLE BY DAVID HEPWORTH

I’m a big fan of Hepworth, who helped create Q Magazine, Empire and the much-missed Word magazine. This felt more like a collection of one-shot magazine features than a book, though.

The uncommon people of the title are rock stars, with Hepworth giving each of his chosen ones a chapter (or in the case of The Beatles, a few chapters). He argues that the era of the rock star is over: today, even financial traders call themselves rock stars. The book is his attempt to illustrate the rise and fall of a group of people we probably won’t see the likes of again.

It’s still interesting in places but felt a little insubstantial: perhaps the problem is that it feels aimed at the kind of people who don’t normally read rock stars’ biographies for whom the tales of Fleetwood Mac, The Who and Led Zeppelin may feel sparkling and new.

PLEASE KILL ME: THE UNCENSORED ORAL HISTORY OF PUNK BY LEGS MCNEIL AND GILLIAN McCAIN

I hated this one.

I hated it because like most oral histories, the talking is mainly done by the people left behind by those who ascended to greater things – so it can be hard to concentrate over the sound of axes being ground.

I hated it because it’s terribly edited, giving very minor characters far too many column inches.

But the main problem I had with it is that I was reading it with a 2018/2019 sensibility. Reading about your supposed rock idols committing statutory rape, abusing groupies and generally acting like misogynist arseholes palls very quickly in our more enlightened age.

SMALL VICTORIES: THE TRUE STORY OF FAITH NO MORE BY ADRIAN HARTE

This promises to be the definitive biography of one of my favourite bands, and it’s well-researched with good access to most (but not all) of the band past and present.

But beware: it suffers from the rock-biog curse of pomposity, with some sections almost hilariously overwritten.

If you can get past that – and if you’re not a picky, whinging writer like me, you probably can – it’s probably as good a biog as FNM are going to get.

Hat’s entertainment

This is one of my new favourite things: it’s I Want My Hat Back, a children’s book by Canadian writer Jon Klassen. It’s just wonderful, a simple tale told with style and great wit. My son and I both giggle like loons when we read it and its follow-on books This Is Not My Hat and We Found A Hat. There’s a wickedly dark sense of humour to it all, which of course is what makes the books so appealing.

Another writer my son and I are really enjoying is Chris Haughton, whose books are just as economical and just as funny, if not quite so dark.

This image is from Shh! We have a plan, in which a group of hunters attempt to track a bird while shushing one of the group. Inevitably the shushed one turns out to have the best plan of all.

It’s a great time to be reading to your children, because not only are we having something of a golden age of picture books but we also have access to all the classics too – so the work of these writers and illustrators sits happily in my son’s bookshelf alongside Dr Seuss and Maurice Sendak. Reading is one of life’s great joys, and introducing it to your children is another.

“It was my first taste of what it meant to have my freedom taken from me.”

Helen Taylor is the author of The Backstreets of Purgatory, which is ace. She’s a hell of a writer, a genuinely lovely person and the writer of this heartbreaking piece about being sectioned.

We were supposed to have one-to-one sessions where I told him what I was feeling. It was meant to help, to give me some kind of release.

‘Ronnie, I think you are a prick,’ I told him.

‘I don’t give a fuck what you think,’ he told me in reply.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “sectioned” means being detained under section 25 of the Mental Health Act. Taylor was sectioned after a traumatic experience made her existing depression considerably worse.

It’s not an easy read, but it’s a powerful piece.

Oh, the places you’ll go!

I’ve written about my love of children’s books before, but I didn’t mention one of my absolute favourites: Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

It’s the last of Dr Seuss’s books to be published during his lifetime, and it’s a very warm, witty and wise book that’s as relevant to adults as it is to children: apparently it’s a popular gift for newly graduating students, and I got a new copy as a birthday present from a great friend.

I was reading it to my son last night and I could barely get the words out: while the book is full of joy it’s also touched by sadness, and reading lines such as…

All alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
You’ll be quite a lot

…is devastating when you’re reading it to someone you want to keep in bubble wrap, protected from sadness forever. But of course, we’ll all experience sadness and loneliness in our lives. That’s one of the reasons the book resonates so much.

This video should be everything I hate: it’s a bunch of people at the Burning Man festival reciting the book. But you can’t mess up such beautiful words, and just like the book this video made me cry.

And when you’re alone there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

Writing For Social Media, by me

The second of my British Computer Society books was published as an ebook today.

The print editions of the series (there are four books in total) will go on sale in a couple of weeks.

Here’s the info:

Writing for social media is different to standard business writing and it can be difficult to get right. Even big brands can get it very wrong. This book walks you through how to deliver maximum benefit for your business through your social media writing. Topics include how to develop a consistent online persona, how to tailor your messages across different social media platforms, how to appeal to your core audience, and useful tools to help you craft and monitor your posts. The dark side of social media is also explored, with examples of social media writing gone wrong, tips on how this can be avoided and advice on how best to handle online criticism.

Beauty and sadness in children’s books

One of the great joys of being a parent is reading to your children (or as is happening more and more often these days, having them read to you). There are more kids’ books to choose from than ever before, and I’m often struck by the power and beauty of them.

This, from Town Is By The Sea (Joanne Schwartz; illustrated by Sydney Smith) is glorious.

It’s a deceptively simple book set in a mining community in Nova Scotia but relevant everywhere. In it, a child talks about his day and his routines while his dad mines for coal under the sea. It’s quietly heartbreaking – the book very cleverly hints at the danger and fear of the men working underground without breaking the spell of the main narrative – and very beautiful.

Another writer I’ve come to love is Oliver Jeffers, whose children’s books are just perfectly pitched: my son’s current favourites include The Great Paper Caper, in which a bear is ruining the forest because he wants to follow in his father and grandfathers’ footsteps. I don’t want to spoil the excellent twist. My son also loves How To Catch A Star, which really evokes the way kids think, and pretty much everything else Jeffers has produced. We’re big fans.

Jeffers is probably best known for Lost And Found, a tale of a boy and a penguin that was animated for TV, but I think his best work may be The Heart And The Bottle, which I can barely think about without getting all teary.

It’s about love and loss, and it will take your breath away.

Back to the day job

I don’t usually post links to my work because I do an awful lot of it, but it’s been a while since I’ve had the thrill of seeing my name on the cover of a book.

Business Writing for Technical People is part of a series I’ve written for the British Computer Society, and I believe the ebook is now available for BCS members. Other editions will come out in September.

The book is aimed at technical experts who want to communicate more effectively, and like all my work it contains some really bad jokes. However, it also contains some good advice on getting your message across in the most effective way.

I don’t get to see endorsements before publication, so it’s a nice surprise to see quotes like this on the Amazon page:

Carrie takes the fear factor out of writing. Her clear tips and guides will make your writing instantly more readable. Practice what Carrie preaches and start to get complements on the style, persuasiveness and impact of your written work. Don’t write another word until you have read this book from cover to cover. — Prof. Brian Sutton, Professor of Learning Performance at Middlesex University and author

I love the cover designs too.

I’ve been a professional writer for 20 years now, and I still get a rush seeing my name on a cover or spine. And when that name is “Carrie”… let’s just say I got a little bit emotional when I saw the cover proofs.