You may imagine sometimes that this blog is dead, but it never quite goes away. Today it awakens once more from sleep to tell you a little bit about the new novel which I’ve been working on compulsively for – pretty much – the past year.
The novel is called Hotel Alpha and it takes place over thirty years in a five-star hotel in Central London. The hotel is run by a charismatic, slightly Gatsby or Willy Wonka-like man called Howard York, and his wife. The book is jointly narrated by their adopted son, and by their concierge who has been there since day one. The son is blind, the concierge – because of his devotion to the job – is all-seeing. But both of them must confront some awkward facts about the man who’s their hero and the place they call home. That’s right! It’s one of these books where NOT EVERYTHING IS AS IT SEEMS and someone has a SECRET FROM THE PAST. I experimented with writing books where everything is as it seems and all characters are perfectly transparent, but they lacked a certain narrative tension.
The action takes place largely in the nineties and the decade just gone which some people, but not me, called the ‘noughties’. The novel is heavily concerned with the coming of computers and the internet, and the way that revolution quietly transformed our understanding of the universe and the way we interact with it, and with each other. It is also about a man who builds a fabulous life story for himself and has to try and bend reality to keep the story going. Like The Great Gatsby, one of my (and everybody’s) fictional yardsticks. The publishers and I are hoping for people to say ‘it’s like the Great Gatsby with computers’, so if you could start tweeting stuff like that, that would be brilliant. Failing that, we will just keep saying it ourselves.
And – here’s the twist – this is quite a fun twist – the novel comes with 100 extra stories which will be online, and which readers will be able to access once they’ve read the main thing. These stories, taking place around the hotel, will be a sort of ‘alternative version’ of the tale, focusing on little moments from the novel, following minor characters who we only saw very briefly, tying up loose ends, jumping off to unexpected digressions which there wasn’t space for. A little bit like a massive-scale version of my earlier book ‘Eleven’, if you read that. The reader will be able to navigate between the 100 stories in any order; there’ll be clickable links and everything will connect to something else. The idea is that the online version of the book will be to the printed version what the internet is to a newspaper: the same base material, but (almost) infinite where the original is constrained. Or, to put it more briefly, it’ll be like Choose Your Own Adventure for adults.
This way of presenting a story (from 100 angles, all different from the first version you heard) will mirror some of the book’s questions about how we gather information and how we understand ourselves/the world, since we live in a time where virtually unlimited versions of ‘the truth’ all co-exist and are equally accessible and often equally vocal. But also, it should be fun. Quite a few books have had extra ‘online content’, but not too many to date have really exploited the medium of the internet to create a piece of work that’s vastly bigger and broader than a novel can be on its own. That’s the aim.
Over the coming months on this blog, I’ll occasionally announce ways you can sneakily read some of the stories before the whole thing appears – which is not for ages, by the way. Hotel Alpha won’t actually come out till next July/August. When it does, though, it will be marked by a couple of launch events which are fairly elaborate even by my calamitously ambitious standards. For details of those, and more ‘leaks’ about the book itself, stay tuned. And by ‘stay tuned’ I mean don’t do anything, just wait for me to tweet every couple of months or so.
The most curious among you (who also live in appropriate parts of the country) can find me at various literary events over October, which are below. I’ll be talking partly about ‘The Knot’, partly about writing in general, but will probably throw in some bits and pieces about this project.
I’m – I wouldn’t say optimistic, but I think this is going to be quite interesting. I suppose for me, that is optimistic.
October 6 WARWICK WORDS
October 9 OXFORD BROOKES UNI
October 11 CHELTENHAM LIT FEST (with Danny Wallace)
October 12 DURHAM LIT FEST
October 24 GUILDFORD BOOK FEST
I mentioned that I’d be doing some book-based events which were slightly ramshackle in structure, and ‘mashed up’ (as young people say) readings, stand-up, question-answering, and other as-yet-unplanned elements of literary entertainment. The overall effect being a show beyond the dreams of even the friskiest bookworm.
So, now the first few of these ‘bookomedy’ outings have been confirmed. The dates are below. The only complication is, a couple of them will have proper moderators or MCs, and so will more or less resemble the traditional book event after all. These have been denoted with a *. Even in those cases, I’ll try to ensure there is a refreshing strand of mayhem. At the others – hold onto your literary hats!
Here they are. I haven’t provided much in the way of venue information. I’ve just named the cities. That’s because I have a lot of faith in people’s googling.
August 16 EDINBURGH BOOK FEST (*)
October 6 WARWICK
October 8 OXFORD BROOKES UNI
October 11 CHELTENHAM LIT FEST (*)
October 13 DURHAM LIT FEST
October 24 GUILDFORD BOOK FEST
You should feel absolutely free to come to any of these events. I would be very pleased if you did.
It doesn’t happen often these days, but this is a blog.
(I’d remind you that the original intention was a ten-year-blog, though – nothing more than that – so as I’ve said before, there’s plenty of room for substantial lulls in the frequency without actually betraying the original gameplan. In fact I could take another two years off and there’d still be every chance of doing it justice, eventually.
As I’ve also said before, though, the main thing preventing me from keeping the blog up like a hobby, as I used to, is the competition from more interesting projects. I’m popping up now to mention a couple of them quickly.
This year – surprisingly even to myself – I am not doing an Edinburgh show (other than an event at the Book Festival, which is on August 16) and not touring in the autumn, and so I’m not currently running the treadmill of ‘Edinburgh previews’ which most comics are slogging along right now. Instead, I’m focusing on the next novel, which is coming along nicely, and another book beyond that, and various other writing projects which I think you will like when you find out about them. But I am continuing to do the odd ‘work-in-progress’ where I perform 45 or 60 minutes of rambling, unfocused comedy. ‘Work in progress’ where it’s not entirely clear what the eventual ‘work’ is meant to be. If you’re new to this blog you may feel I’m not selling myself very well, but most readers will be aware that by my standards, this is actually hard sell. And more to the point, if you didn’t like rambling, unfocused comedy, why would you be listening to me in the first place?
So – the previews for an as-yet non-existent show, these breeding grounds for new material of wildly varying quality, will be on these dates and at these places:
July 1 (this Monday), Monday Club (which is on a boat, the Tattershall Castle)
August 5, Phoenix Festival (google this; they’ve just put tickets on sale)
September 12, Invisible Dot, Kings Cross (you might have been here before, if you like rambling comedy, which etc etc)
There could be more added at short notice, but that’s something to be going on with, isn’t it?
Also. Instead of a proper tour, I plan to do a kind of experimental show in a very few selected literary venues this autumn. It’ll be a little bit like my normal book events – in other words, readings from my novels which I continually interrupt to chat about other stuff; Q and, as they say, As; miscellaneous talk… but interspersed with a bit of Actual Comedy and some surprises. It’ll be about three parts book-fun to one part standard-fun. I have about four venues lined up for this – most of them, this time, not in London, but at literary festivals where people might tolerate this kind of business. As soon as they are confirmed, I’ll be here again telling you about it.
Lest I seem too low-key even by the standards I normally keep, I will just make absolutely clear: I’m not just banging on about these shows to pass the time. I’d really like you to come. And given that ‘you’, by reading this blog, have proved yourself to be (probably) the sort of person who enjoys me and my various efforts and entertainment, that is not even an end-of-blog platitude. It’s a fact. I want you to come to these things, please.
Thank you. See you (here at least) soon.
Two weeks from now I will be around 17 hours into my stand-up show for Comic Relief; maybe 19, or 22, depending on when you read this – but in any case an awfully long time, I think we can agree. Much longer than you’d ever want to do comedy for, or probably even WATCH comedy for. But that’s exactly what is going to happen.
I will probably have had the same clothes on throughout. I will have had minimal access to my family, to fresh air and toilet facilities, to the outside world in general. My voice will be all buggered. I’ll be like the idiot you get at a party who rants on and on while everyone else crashes out on sofas. I will have lost, as they say, my marbles.
I’ve put various pleas for help up here, and help has indeed been forthcoming. We have people doing a dazzling range of sponsored challenges and it is shaping up to be a fairly spectacular, messy, great/awful event. But I now need to ask for one more chunk of help, the most basic form of all. That’s right: money.
Ooh, it’s a filthy subject isn’t it. It’s not mentioned between gentlemen. Never a borrower or a lender be. Or maybe it’s ‘neither’.
Anyway, to hell with all that. This is Comic Relief. They support desperately poor families across the UK and in some of the world’s most impoverished spots. They provide food and water and medicine and shelter for people with unimaginably hard lives. Oh, you know all this. It’s Comic bloody Relief. Right?
So here’s the link. Anything you can give me will be enormously gratefully received. I’m going to start with a modest target and work up, hopefully. To put it in context, someone already has £400 to get hit in the face with a custard pie every hour while learning to play piano. Am I going to be outdone by a goon like that?
Please sponsor me. I know I’ve occasionally troubled you like this before, when I ran the half-marathon for my sisters’ charity, and so on. Or when I went to Senegal for Action Aid. But rest assured, after this I will shut up. Sponsor me now and I promise not to do anything public-spirited or in any way kind for the foreseeable future.
You can help by going to this address (it also takes you to a place where you can set up your own challenge, if you’re still keen on doing that). I will see all donations so I can honestly claim I’ll love each and every person who chips in. Unless I have a pre-existing grudge against them. But even then, I’ll put it aside.
This is going to be quite difficult. Your support will help enormously. And more to the point, help people you don’t even know. Thanks.
As you might have gathered from tweets or from news or from angrily refreshing your web browser, tickets to the 25-hour show sold out in four minutes. This commercial success makes me think perhaps I should tour with a 25-hour show next time, but the implications of doing fifty of them back-to-back probably need a bit of thinking through. So for the moment there is only this last chance to squeeze in to the ludicrous events which will take place at the Pleasance Islington, between the end of February 28th and midnight of March 1st. We’ve managed to make a very small number of extra tickets available by overriding some old fire regulations which were only getting in everyone’s way. These will go on sale on Thursday week, but there’s going to be an element of fortune involved once again, what with computers sometimes not working and sites going down at crucial moments and people having to work. So I wanted to give deserving individuals a chance to stake their claim.
Which brings me back to the main point of the show: sponsored challenges for Comic Relief. Since I last appealed for people to do this, we’ve had some spectacular offers. We now have – to take just a few examples – two of Countdown’s greatest players going head-to-head for 25 hours, in the world’s most horrendous word-marathon ever; an entire school spending the day teaching a curriculum of 25 lessons which we will dictate; two men on stage throughout hugging 25 hours for a Guinness World Record. Incredibly someone is busking in London for 25 hours, linked to us by camera and phone. One lady is using the venue to conduct 25 dates, another is going to try and achieve 25 life aims with the audience’s help. And there is quite a lot more besides, as I’m keeping some of the best stuff secret till the show itself.
All these quests are being sponsored, with the money going to the excellent causes Comic Relief works for (here and in Africa). Making this – and you know I wouldn’t use this phrase lightly – one of the year’s biggest day-long charitable fuckfests.
But I still want more.
So, of the remaining handful of tickets, I’m going to keep some back for people who want to volunteer to do something sponsored actually in the venue – or coming and going from the venue to an appropriate location. In my last blog I made a load of suggestions, about ¾ of which were taken up, but I don’t want to be too prescriptive, because some of the best ideas have come from people out of the blue.
Don’t worry too much about how you’d attract sponsorship. There’ll be a central page on Red Nose Day site where everyone will have their own little challenge profile – this should be set up on Thursday – so you’ll have the chance to reach a lot more people than your immediate friends and your kind aunt Susie who already sponsored you £50 to go to Peru that time. Focus on the challenge itself. Go for something interesting, ambitious, maybe a little stupid. Something you’ve always wanted to get around to in life, but could never justify it. YOUR JUSTIFICATION IS HERE. Something you could never achieve by yourself, but might be able to with the support and resources of a large number of tired people.
(But also, don’t be put off by the thought of being the centre of attention. There’ll be a lot going on, and whole challenges will probably be forgotten about for chunks of around 18 hours as my brain turns to papier-mache. Anyway, I’ve kind of signed up to be the centre of attention myself.)
Now, if you’ve thought about this – maybe you’ve thought about it long and hard every time I’ve put a blog up – and you’re still pretty convinced there’s nothing you can do, and you’d really rather watch and cheer for 25 hours (which is perfectly valid, and indeed rather crucial to proceedings)… that is absolutely fine, and as I said, there will be still be a window to buy last tickets on FEBRUARY 21st, a week before the big day. I will blog again the day before, to remind you.
And even then, the very last five-or-so tickets are going to be eBayed, in the hope that someone like Sheikh Mohammed thinks ‘shit, I’ve not sorted myself out yet’ and panic-buys one for £70,000. But you don’t want to wait for that. You don’t want to go up against the Sheikh. Trust me.
Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org (rather than leaving a Comment here).
There’ll be further blogging about this as the day approaches, which, alarmingly, it sort of is already. Back to my training regime. See you soon.