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by Andrew Gallix


LONDON'S SMOKIN' 10/28/2003

The second issue of the brilliant quarterly magazine devoted to London's idiosyncrasies, Smoke: a London Peculiar, has hit the streets. The spanking new issue contains inter alia: "London's Campest Statues. London's Stupidest Pigeons. The Devil Goes Abroad in Deptford. Poets, Perverts and Shameless Abomination: Why so many District Line trains terminate at Putney Bridge. The Poodle Excuse-Me: a Canny Canine Can-Can in the East-End. Please Stand On The Right: Danish Backpackery Insulted. The London Shipping Forecast. King Arthur, Drag Queens, UFOs and A Giant Pod: should we worry about Vauxhall? Sam Selvon: Pavement Poet of Fifties London. The Pied-Piper of Camden Town: London's Nature Wonderland. Peckham 'Not Actually in Peckham': Del Boy's Biggest Scam yet. The Trocadero: No Place to Buy Socks. Gilbert & George. Dirty Pretty Things. Remembering Shoreditch Unwontedly. Body-Piercing, Bangkok Fry-Ups and Victorian Drainage: Lower Marsh gets Tattooed on our Upper Thigh. Quiet Flows The Medway Through Tufnell Park -- we Doff our Headcoats to Thee Headcoatees. Anarchist Cadre Of The Month: King Mob. Boudicca, Hawksmoor and Jack the Ripper: A Vision From Hell. A-to-B without an A-to-Z: Iain Sinclair's Sneaky Short-Cuts for the Time-Starved. From Camberwick Green to Camberwell Green: Doctor Mopp's Life on the Skids after Trumpton. Alfie: What's It All About? 'Psycho' Geography: Former Notts Forest Hardman Stuart Pearce tells us all about Ox-Bow Lakes. 'A Nice Elm on Mare Street': Freddy Krueger shares his thoughts on Improving Hackney Town-Centre. 'London's Paper!': Mass Panic in Parson's Green as Ambiguous Apostrophe on Evening Standard Billboard creates Fear of Papier-Mache Hell in Sudden Downpour. And, of course, BUS OF THE MONTH, this issue featuring the 360, Elephant & Castle to South Kensington via Pimlico." If that doesn't prompt you to order Smoke straight away, nothing will!


Bertie Marshall former member of the legendary Bromley Contingent, film director, novelist and member of the 3AM Magazine writing team (see his excellent Been There Done That column) is about to become homeless again! He is looking for a studio flat in London for no more than £90 a week. If you can help out this talented punk legend, please contact me.


The great Irvine Welsh reviews "magnificent" Alasdair Gray's new collection of thirteen "sorry stories", The Ends of Our Tethers. Read the whole review here: "Brian Eno once remarked that although very few people got hold of the first Velvet Underground album when it came out, all those who did went on to form a band. Alasdair Gray enjoys a similar sort of status in the world of fiction. In discussing his work, much is made of the glorious literary forefathers he's regularly compared with. Yet if any contemporary author can be described as a 'writer's writer' then it's the massively influential Glaswegian, his list of acolytes reading like a Who's Who of modern British fiction. When teaching Chicago graduate and post-graduate fiction students a module in Scottish contemporary fiction earlier this year, I was gratified (though not surprised) to witness the ecstatic impact Gray's first book, the magnificent Lanark, had on the aspiring American writers. His new collection of short stories contains almost everything we have come to associate with its author. The pages glow with keen and incisive wit, are stuffed with quirky and downright weird occurrences, while the philosophical ruminations make us pause for thought, and the sad, flawed, often cowardly, but ultimately humane and decent protagonists are back with a vengeance. Once again, the book is beautifully illustrated by the author's own hand, and in the appendix the critics are playfully baited in advance. As the dust jacket proclaims, the stories are generally about people in 'the last stages of physical, moral and social decrepitude', which explains the reflective and occasionally melancholy undercurrent in many of the tales. . . . Gray and his characters emerge as disappointed idealists, saddened by setbacks both political and personal, the latter usually of a romantic nature, and their progress charts more than the customary replacement of youthful idealism with the cynicism of old age. The protagonists in The Ends of Our Tethers live through the socialist and Christian ideals of the brotherhood of man and notions of loyal, everlasting love between men and women, usurped by shallower, baser and more selfish principles. Our heroes in this collection are coming out from those margins and staggering across the stage of our more atomised society, where love, often seeming more elusive and transient than ever, is at a premium. The Ends of Our Tethers is a far from depressing read though, as Gray and his characters are simply too cheerful, mischievous and optimistic to let the bastards grind them down. It's this un-erring sense of humanity that makes the 'decrepitude' bearable and provides the moral force of the book. . . . This (unfortunately) will probably not be the book to give Gray the mass international readership his work richly deserves, but it will serve to remind those of us who have enjoyed him over the years of just how good he is. And that, lest we forget, he is one of the most gifted writers who have put pen to paper in the English language."


The results of Britain's most important literary prize, the Man Booker, will be announced in a few days. Many (including us) believe the winner will be DBC Pierre, author of the instant cult classic Vernon God Little. Whether today's revelations about his "murky past" in The Guardian will have an impact on the judges' decision remains to be seen. A few weeks ago, the author told me how his first novel had been the "product" of his "misspent youth" which he described as a "pressure cooker". He mentioned "crazy schemes" and letting people down "big time". Fiachra Gibbons spills the beans: "His name is Peter Warren Finlay. But to his friends, and his many creditors, the mysterious and eccentric first-time novelist, a favourite to win the Man Booker Prize next week, will always be Dirty Pierre. Now we know why. In an extraordinary series of confessions to the Guardian, Finlay has admitted to selling his best friend's home and running away with the money to feed his cocaine and gambling addictions. He has also 'put his hand up' to fleeing debts of 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' racked up in Australia and Mexico trying to make a film about his search for the mythic gold of the last Aztec emperor, Montezuma, in an attempt, he claims, to pay back his hapless friend. 'I am not proud of what I have done, of all the women I've lost, and all the good people who trusted me and were burned. I have lived in dread of this for 15 years -- that one day someone like you would come along,' he said yesterday. 'Living with it has been like waking up every morning to find that you have shit the bed. In a way, I'm relieved it's finally come out.' Finlay, 42, claims to have been weighed down with guilt and remorse and to have spent the last 10 years as a virtual recluse 'retuning my head with Russian symphonic music... I had to repolarise and deconstruct myself'. Those feelings of regret went into the writing of his award-winning Rabelaisian black comedy Vernon God Little, about a Texan teenager who pointlessly lies himself into a corner and ends up on trial for his life after a media witch-hunt. With redemption in mind, Finlay wrote the novel under the pseudonym of DBC Pierre - 'Dirty But Clean' Pierre. It was meant as a symbolic statement that this was a 'new start' after years spent in a 'pit of deceit and failure', as an unsuccessful film-maker, gambler, graphic artist and sometime smuggler. 'I let some very fine people who believed in me down,' Finlay said. 'I thought that if the book worked I could start to quietly pay some of them back.' But as the acclaim for his novel grew, and the prizes and nominations for the likes of the Booker and the Guardian First Book Award rolled in, Finlay's fears multiplied that the day would come when he was found out and unmasked. That moment came a little over a fortnight ago when his principal victim opened the Guardian Weekly at his home in Philadelphia and saw that the charismatic young man who 16 years before had left him with nothing, and broke his stepdaughter's heart, had reinvented himself again, this time as a novelist. And in a twist worthy of Victor Hugo's humanist masterpiece Les Misérables, the man who has suffered most at Finlay's hands -- losing even his health -- wants to forgive him despite the protestations of his indignant family. Robert Lenton, an elderly American artist, who met Finlay in the Spanish city of Granada in the mid-1980s, saw himself as a father figure to the young Australian. Finlay was the son of a wealthy scientist who moved his family to Mexico City. But he went off the rails after his father died of a brain tumour when he was 19. . . . The painter was left penniless and homeless after his family claimed Finlay conned him into signing his apartment over to him. . . . 'There are some inaccuracies in what the family are saying, to my mind, though I have to admit I was burned out of my head on drugs at the time. In the final analysis, I hurt the man and I did take his place.' The writer has now agreed to pay Mr Lenton $70,000 in compensation. 'The day I decided to work my heart into this book,' he told the Guardian, 'I decided that I wanted to pay up my past no matter what it cost me. Then and only then will I be able to shed this weight that has been crushing me... I have had no peace, no rest. It's been an nightmarish odyssey of Homerian proportions. Now I want to put things right.' . . ."

Lots more here: ". . . Finlay/Pierre -- whose initials DBC stand for Dirty But Clean -- a nod to his murky past -- said he was saving his most explosive revelations for his memoirs. 'I'm keeping quite a lot back - there are some things you would never believe. At one stage, I won the lottery in Mexico. To be honest, I've got a shit load more stuff to work through. It's going to be a long road back.' The rights to Finlay's novel has already been optioned by a French producer working in Hollywood. There is likely to be no shortage of takers for those to his life either."


A new upmarket bi-monthly literary magazine entitled Zembla has just been launched in Britain. Nerve's amusing unsexy list. The Cheltenham Festival of Literature runs from 10-19 October (England). French arts weekly Les Inrockuptibles is holding its first literary festival this year (10, 11 and 12 October at the Théâtre national de la Colline, Paris). Speakers include Jay McInerney. Check out Britney in 60s sex kitten mode! Did Kafka write Winnie-the-Pooh? Ricky Gervais of The Office fame is interviewed in Nerve. There are stacks of new reviews at the ever-excellent Bookmunch. There are interviews with Jonathan Lethem and Richard Bausch in the autumn issue of the mighty Failbetter. (A short story by Failbetter editor Thom Didato will be appearing in 3AM.) The late George Plimpton's ultimate interview (see also 3AM's tribute to the founder of the Paris Review by Jane Friedman). Michael Bracewell in The Independent on Sunday on rock'n'roll's "life-long romance with death". What men's brains are like! The impact of music blogs. Scottish publishing (link though the Literary Saloon). Peter Relic's 3AM story is mentioned in Broken Wrist Project. Ukrainian computer-smashing. The very talented Tom Sheehan has published a new collection of poems entitled This Rare Earth & Other Flights.

3AM TOP 5 10/05/2003

Booker-shortlisted author of Vernon God Little, novelist DBC Pierre, is currently listening to:
  1. "Trip Back to Childhood" -- St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review.
  2. "Symphony No. 3" -- Ross Edwards.
  3. "Hurt" -- Johnny Cash.
  4. "Lucha de Gigantes" -- Nacha Pop.
  5. "Out There (5th Dimension)" -- Masters & Nickson Feat Justine Suissa.

(Pic: DBC Pierre outside his local in Ireland which doubles as a funeral parlour!)


The nice people at Canongate have launched a Dan Rhodes website where you will find, among many other things, news of the Year of the Mongrel World Tour 2003 which will take the author of Timoleon Vieta and DBC Pierre (what a double-bill!) to North America throughout October and November. There's also a nice link to our interview with Rhodes: "3AM Magazine have recently interviewed Rhodes. Click here to read to his latest stream of evasions and inanities. This extraordinarily well-put-together interview contains links to various Rhodes-related corners of the www." Much appreciated, guys, cheers!


3am Chief Editor Andrew Stevens reviews Suhkdev Sandhu's London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City (HarperCollins, 2003, 512 pages):

The postmodern version of events implies that Black culture arrived in Britain clutching a suitcase at Tilbury when the SS Empire Windrush docked in 1948. For years there wasn't even a version however, only events. Sandhu's contribution to the assessment of London as a haven for writers, particularly the ethnic habitu in this instance, is therefore to be welcomed. Because it deals with ethnic side of the story however, it was always destined to be controversial. More of that later though.

The title itself, London Calling, explains the attraction of London to the inhabitants of Britain's colonies and beyond and Sandhu bravely stakes out their claim to be part of London's history for longer than most modern historians would credit. He evokes many examples and brilliant works in his analysis of their contribution to the capital's works, the many that one would naturally expect to find in a history such as this (Ignatius Sancho comes in for a lengthy consideration) but it is Selvon, Headley and Kureishi with which we find most interest. Selvon, a Trinidadian of Indian descent made London his home in 1950 and his prose finds favour with many writers, regardless of colour, to this day. Few, if any, if any of his books remain in print however. What Sandu describes is Selvon's awareness of surroundings that is conveyed so well through his writings, the evocation of space, the detail of behaviour, the use of dialect. Dialect defines the work of Headley, not one for surroundings or definitive locales himself, but a keen advocate of dialect to bring about authenticity and carry along the narrative for his honest discussion of Yardie culture (seen?). Kureishi, the well-regarded observer of behaviour and filter of culture brings the book to a successful conclusion.

The only requirement for any fiction is the presence of space and a protagonist to narrate and propel the story. Few would dispute Peter Ackroyd's claim that London is a character in itself in any novel set here (though any other 'World City', Paris and New York in particular, may make similar claims of almost equal value). The concept of the locale in London goes further however than the arrondissement or the borough and Sandhu assess the contribution of Shadwell and Whitechapel, sixties Soho, Selvon's Shepherds Bush and Sancho's Westminster in his remit.

Of course, there are those to which it does not suit to prove the existence of a pre-Windrush Black literary scene in London, particularly Mike Phillips, who must have been sat on a drawing pin when he wrote his barbed review of London Calling. It is worth pointing out that Mike Phillips (alongside brother Trevor, the Labour politician, journalist and Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality) wrote a history of Black Britain a year or two ago, which basically argued that 1948 was the year zero of Black history in Britain. Rather than welcome the emergence of a new voice in the discussion, instead Phillips overplays his hand in dismissing the literary worth of Victor Headley's Yardie trilogy. He has something of a point when he mentions the absence of new black writers such as Courttia Newland, but this is lost in the weight of his general criticism, especially when he argues that as a "non-Caribbean critic" Sandhu fails to comprehend the ethnic divisions between "blacks and Indians" in the region. As mentioned however, in a domain so jealously guarded as Black history, London Calling was never going to be published to the sound of silence. Sandhu has not provided the history of Black and Asian literature in London, only a history. A history was all that was ever required, however the baton has been now passed for others to collect.


3am Magazine is a proud sponsor of Project: QueerLit, a competition for "unpublished authors of English-language novels with queer/bent/outsider worldview content". The winning novel will be published by Suspect Thoughts Press. The deadline for submissions is 31 December, See the complete submission guidelines here.


Revolutionary socialite Thierry Théolier is becoming a star in Paris. Ecstasy use has doubled in Britain over the past five years. The Fever interviewed in Popmatters. Hugo Young and Edward Said have died. New York Metro on the Big Apple's hottest new bands. Spiked on Johnny Cash. Slate on Jean-Paul Sartre (thanks to Kimberly Nichols for this link). Sharleen Spiteri writes about Blondie. The new Strokes album reviewed. The "Beckham Effect" prompts an increasing number of Brits to learn Spanish. Rock stars' weird riders. Booker Prize contender Zoë Heller is interviewed in today's Observer. Another Booker contender, our favourite DBC Pierre, is interviewed by Bookmunch. There was a big Iraq demo in London yesterday. The Literary Saloon reviews Conversations with William H. Gass (thanks guys for mentioning our interview with Jeffrey Eugenides). The anti David Blaine campaign. The Morning News review the New Yorker Festival. An online petition to save the Batofar -- yet another Parisian venue to be threatened with closure. Pete Libertine may be released from prison within three months. Check out Maud Newton's great blog. An interview with Robert Wyatt. WH Smith's famous Parisian store (Rue de Rivoli) is a hundred years old. The Observer on Slavercise, the increasingly popular S&M aerobics class: "Be very afraid - and prepare to be whipped, slapped and intimidated into shape". Watch a news clip here.


3am Magazine's Kimberly Nichols (right) has just given a book reading in New Orleans to promote her new collection of short stories, Mad Anatomy. This was the perfect opportunity for Kim to meet up with another 3amer, Utahna Faith, who is launching a lit journal called Wild Strawberries. Wild Strawberries will have a table at the New Orleans Bookfair on 25 October. Several authors included in the first issue will take part in a reading at the Contemporary Arts Center cybercafe. Check out the 3AM Fotolog for pictorial evidence of Kim and Utahna's two "wild nights together".


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