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Mark’s Blog


Hotel Alpha: a story in 101 parts

It seems as if I’ve been talking about this an awfully long time, so for those of you who’ve been good enough to keep listening, it must seem longer still. Anyway: here we are. The novel-plus-a-hundred-stories work, Hotel Alpha, is finished. A stylish-looking blue/gold volume appears in the shops this week, and a handsome website – www.hotelalphastories.com – has just become operative, or ‘live’ as modern people say. Once you’ve read the book, you can go onto the site and navigate your way through the myriad of extra tales, which pick up loose ends from the main novel, provide ‘deleted scenes’, catch up with characters you only glimpsed beforehand, and so on. You can read them in any order, by character or topic or time period, or basically DO WHAT THE HELL YOU LIKE. Just as, in the age of the internet, we can consume and perceive reality in completely new ways – whether they’re healthy ways or not. That’s part of what the book is about, and I’ve tried to make form match content and give the reader something new by doing this.

In all probability it’s not really new: I’m sure online stories with multiple/interactive plot streams have been pulled off many time in the past few years. But there are surprisingly few mainstream novels that exploit the hugeness and non-linearity of the digital age in this way. One day, there will be. One day it’ll be impossible for writers to avoid confronting the changed universe that we find ourselves with, in the time of internationally-linked computers and a near-completely virtual landscape. Remember me when that happens. Thanks.

I’d recommend you read the book first, then dipped into the stories – it’ll make more sense that way round. But you could delve into the website to get a taste of what Hotel Alpha is about, and then tackle the novel itself if it takes your fancy. I see it as all part of one big piece of work: to get the full experience you need to read the novel and the stories together, in total. The whole point, though, is that you can select how much of the ‘full experience’ you want.

It took a long time to do this. I hope you enjoy it!

As I say: www.hotelalphastories.com.

Mark. x


Road to Rio: ACTUALLY TONIGHT

If you’re the sort of person to keep a casual eye on my movements, you might know that I spent quite a lot of January and February in South America with lovable German comedian and sociopath Henning Wehn. The two of us were brought together by car manufacturers Kia, who are sponsoring the World Cup, to embark on a ‘road trip’ across what turned out to be a very large continent. Our aim was to visit Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil – South America’s World Cup qualifiers – find out about football there by meeting players and fans and so on, and also learn a little about the cultural climate in each place in the way only comedians can: by dicking about with salsa dancers and attempting to ride horses and getting immersed in volcanic mud. And so forth.

We had to cover tens of thousands of miles, check in and out of 21 hotels, board a couple of dozen flights, interview around thirty people and, above all, sit in a car in 40-degree heat without killing each other. Henning quite often takes his shirt off in the car and likes to sing.

The results of this unwise odyssey begin broadcast on Dave tonight, at 7pm, in Uruguay, and eventually culminate in Rio where I distinguished myself by hang-gliding off a mountain, screaming like an animal. Uruguay and Brazil are next to each other, so it shouldn’t have been much of a road trip, but thanks to the whimsical demands of TV we proceeded clockwise through South America, taking in Argentina (Maradona-quest; live appearance on TV in a Spanish-speaking show we didn’t understand); Chile (UFO hunt, footballer’s birthday party, sex motel); Colombia (mud volcano, drug lord’s ranch), Ecuador (a single day in a valley in the clouds) and finally Brazil (waxing, meeting Pele’s teammates, and then that hang-glide). I also had to write a novel in my time off. Fine.

The tone of the show is as you expect from Dave (not-quite-young men bantering in a car) and the subject matter is fairly football-y, obviously, so I think the show is largely for people to whom one or both of those things appeals. There are quite a lot of interviews with legendary or semi-legendary football geniuses, but on the other hand, there’s also quite a lot of me or Henning dancing badly and getting lost.

So I’ll take no offence at all if it’s not your kind of thing, but if it is, do tune in either tonight or at one of the many other times Dave are planning to screen it, and you can watch me trying to get on a horse.

There’s a trailer here which will whet your appetite further, if it has already been whetted; or might take you out of the equation altogether if you’re feeling doubtful. Either way, this is healthy. Enjoy it!

www.roadtorio.tv/international/en/about.html

(PS If you’re not in the UK, I don’t think you can get Dave. But the thing is being shown in about eighty other countries. So unless you live in a really weird one, you’ll see it eventually.)


New book: what it is, why, etc

Hello.

A while back, you might remember me using this now ill-tended blog to talk about my new novel HOTEL ALPHA and its companion volume, an electronic collection of 100 short stories. The book itself is about a London hotel and the way the internet changes the lives of two people who lives there. The 100 stories serve as a sort of alternative version, taking up the little stories there’d be no space for in the main novel, giving a new life to some of its minor characters, clearing up the odd mystery from the book but mostly spinning a web of new tales spanning the twenty or so years of HOTEL ALPHA’s action. Remember me going on about that? It was here: www.markwatsonthecomedian.com/2013/10/the-next-book/

As I may have remarked at the time, there are two main reasons for this (maybe too) ambitious project. First, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of the ‘encyclopaedic novel’ – a book which tries to encompass as much as life as possible, acknowledges the chaotic and unmanageable nature of human experience, and refuses to be bound by the traditional strictures of the novel form. But as you will know if you’ve made your way through a novel in this genre, they are as massive and frightening and often as much a pain in the arse as one would expect a book about ‘all life’ to be. By offering a vast range of extra material which the reader can either take or leave (and, because of the electronic format, consume in any order, dip in and out of, etc), I’m hoping HOTEL ALPHA will be a new spin on the ‘encyclopaedic’ idea: a novel that can be as big or as small as you want it to be.

And secondly – since the book itself is about the re-shaping of our universe by the coming of computers, it made sense to write it (and let people read it) in a way which mimicked that process. The internet has shown the complexity of what used to seem linear and simple stories: look at the way that newspaper articles now attract 1,000 counterclaims and approvals and amendments within minutes of going online – some of them from experts, some from nutjobs who think Romanians are in their garden waiting to steal food from their children, but all given roughly the same level of space. The internet, and computers in general, have also taken a lot of human interactions out of the physical sphere and into the virtual. For example, you used to buy a book in a bookshop, using cash. Now often you buy it on a computer, using a series of numbers on a plastic card which doesn’t correspond to actual money in any way you can accurately describe, and the ‘book’ that arrives is often not even a physical object either, and you put it on your ‘desktop’ which, again, isn’t really etc. etc. In the age of computers we are more empowered than ever to shape the world, but we’re less connected than ever to a lot of its physical realities. Interesting. Hopefully. Interesting to me, anyway.

So that’s why I decided to write a book in a format that’s not really been explored much before – to encompass the fact that storytelling is a different game now from the one it used to be. It’s not just that people consume books in new ways (on Kindles, iPads, probably on their fingernails by now for all I know), it’s that we understand stories in slightly different ways (as multi-faceted rather than linear). And a hotel is the perfect setting: it has its loosely connected cells of action, all influencing each other but often in mysterious ways, just like the internet does. Also, I’ve stayed in more hotels than most people alive and I’m slightly obsessed with them.

The trouble with all this, obviously, is that it takes ages to write a complicated novel and then a hundred stories. This might indeed be another reason why it’s not happened much before. But now, now things are finally starting to take shape. The main HOTEL ALPHA will come out in the last week of July. The ‘shadow-version’ made up of short stories will be released around the same time, but some of the stories will sneak out beforehand, and on this page you’ll be able to hear how that’s happening. Actually, even later this week I should have more news on how this is all going to work, practically.

Also: FUN EVENTS. Who here doesn’t enjoy an event? Over the months to come, I plan to do quite a number of readings of (some of) the 100 stories, allowing audiences to get involved and pick topics and plot a la ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’. There’ll be at least one of these in London around the time of the release (and probably with some monstrously overwrought structure or timeframe), and one in Edinburgh in August, and some at literary festivals. Keep an eye out for news.

The first one, though, is this very week. But in Germany, so you won’t be there. Specifically, at lit.Koln, which is a great festival in Cologne whose patrons seem not to mind (a) listening to stuff in English and (b) humouring my less-than-fluent stabs at German. To celebrate the fact that HOTEL ALPHA is definitely happening and its release is within sight, I am going to be reading all of the stories that exist so far (about 80) in a twelve-hour-long spectacular that will also include audience participation, a bit of comedy, and a considerable effort of stamina and goodwill by all concerned. But in Germany.

If you follow this blog or my life, you’ll be aware that events of this duration are nothing new – in fact twelve hours only really counts as a half-marathon in comedic terms. But it’s the first time I’ve tried a purely literary event over this sort of duration. The Germans are big book-consumers and enthusiastic goers-to-experimental-arty-things, so I am hopeful it will be quite enjoyable. But in any case it’s another step in my general aim of uniting literary shindigs with the sense of chaos I aim for in my stand-up shows. I’ll learn lessons and refine material and unleash a devastating series of book-themed happenings over the rest of 2014 and beyond. Be warned.

As I say: more on everything to do with HOTEL ALPHA will follow in a fairly regular stream from now on.

And if you’ve been ploughing through this thinking ‘yes, yes, but you’re a comedian. When the hell are you going to do some comedy?’, it will relieve you to hear that I’ve got a brand new show for Edinburgh which will tour all over the country from October. Some of the shows are already, quietly, on sale. Others are to come. They’ll announce all the dates in one neat pile in the next few weeks, I think. Don’t panic, comedy-but-not-really-book-fans!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have about twenty stories to write by Friday. Any ideas?


The next book

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.

The dates:

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


Literary performances you will enjoy

Oh hello.

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.

Thanks!