The Perfect Ten, Random House and the end of Jackson

The end of last week piled up like cars careering out of control in a Michael Bay flick. Thursday, or it might have been Wednesday, saw Phill and I back in the basement of USP recording a Perfect Ten (our podcast that is very much all about adults themes and situations) that will go up in a week or so when Phill’s hopefully lounging on a beach somewhere. I showed off my complete misunderstanding of basic mathematics, but we got through somehow, we might even have made each other laugh at one point or another, but was it funny? As always, you’ll be the judge of that. That was followed by a meeting, one about 5 Live and another about food, I’m a vegetarian, I can see holes in the idea already. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the 5 Live thing, but like the Ten, I try not to self-edit. By the time I’d got back to my neighbourhood (yes, I have spent far too much time in the US), the giant screen in the local estate agents was flashing up stories that Jackson was in a coma, by the time I’d got home he was dead. Enough idiots are on here telling you things you never needed to know about Jackson so I’ll desist, but it was certainly to impact on my Friday afternoon, more of which later.

Friday morning came with a head full of cotton wool and a slick feeling on the back of my neck that told me I’d drank too much. I stood in the shower until the feeling went away and headed to see Dan the Editor at Random House. Dan is the head of Jonathan Cape or one of them at least (yes, I am vague on the subject, he signed me and that’s pretty much all I know), he’d mailed me the book edit and Friday was the time set aside for us to go through the manuscript and reach a consensus on my book. We sat side by side as if we were seated in a car and counted off the pages with a query here and the occasional rewrite there. The sun came through the boardroom window as the early afternoon wore on. We talked American editors, film options and Dan showered me with far more praise than I’ll try to pretend I could bear, but that wouldn’t be true. I was surprised to leave the building without some kind of a literary award under my arm – I stole some books from Dan’s shelves insetad. We’re waiting on the artwork now and the copy to be read just one more time (and then a few more times after that), then the proofs and then  – most excitingly for me – a bound copy to impress strangers with. I have a bound copies of Cormac McCarthy and Tim O’Brien (years before either found fame) novels and can’t wait to have one of my own. I find publishing sexy, it’s the nerd in me.

Friday afternoon was spent at BBC London co-hosting (his description, he’s very generous) Danny Baker’s show. The first of six afternoons spent in his company. Jacko’s demise had rather taken away Dan’s effusive mood as he’d interviewed the King Of Pop back in the day. He’d liked him too even if Jackson had tried to have his brothel creepers away. Jackson came over to London a few months after that and sought out Dan again. It was nice to talk about the young legend rather than the caricature he sadly became. Dan played suitably downbeat tunes and ended the show with a Jackson classic, though not one you would have heard anywhere else on the radio spectrum that day. That’s because most (not all) people working in radio are gormless tossers who know little or nothing about music. It was as good a way to remember his passing as any.

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Got my Mojo working, everyone else made that gag so why not me?

With perhaps the exception of the Empire awards, the Mojos might well be my favourite time of year. For chaperoning a pop star or similar around (last year my chum Phill Jupitus, this, my chums the Manic Street Preachers) you then get access to the free bar and earwig on and occasionally get involved in conversations like the one I had with Jeff Beck and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Jeff still has the most startling hair in the west, while Billy sported what can only be described as a tea cosy and cheap sunglasses (yes!). They were talking guitars – really – while I scanned the room trying to spot the Manics. Wire’s about seven feet tall with a thatch of blonde hair while James and Sean, by their own admission, are set somewhere below the radar. So naturally, it was Wire I was trying to pin down. “Isn’t that right?” said someone to my left, said someone was Jeff Beck, I turned to face him and an expectant looking Billy Gibbons. Not only had I missed their point they now wanted my opinion on it. Yes, I said, absolutely and then I said yes about eight times changing my intonation with each one. This seemed to work and we all clinked our glasses in agreement. Shaken I made off into the main room to find three Welshman and brushed up against Johnny Marr who smiled and asked me how I was. How I didn’t kiss him for acknowledging my very existence I will never know, but then I saw Wire waving and did the right thing; left Marr alone.

Duff McKagan made a rather touching speech as he gave the Manics their Maverick gong and brought a tear to Wire’s eye. Something had almost certainly got in mine too. A mote of some kind I’ll wager or maybe just the moment. Last year I made a beeline for Neil Diamond and shook his hand (until his PR shooed me away) and this year I did the same with Chris Blackwell who was grace personified especially in the face of a shaggy haired Taff. I love the label he founded, I might have mentioned this to him, bet no-one else ever has… Blur went bouncing by and made me realise how much I’d missed them as a band while the Pretty Things had a strange air of menace about them, in a way that’s to be admired. It’s rare to be wary of a pack of grey haired gents.

This may sound like I have a social season, but I’m here to tell you that I do not, though having said that, I then went to the Metal Hammer awards a few days later. It wasn’t without the odd A lister, but myself and Neil spent a good portion of the evening scratching our chins quizzically and asking each other who the hairy men in the VIP bar were. They could have probably bought and sold us with their record sales in Italy alone, but they still remained a mystery in our middle-aged heads. Saxon were a live delight (yes, I really wrote that) and touched the teenager in me (take your minds out of the gutter) with a stirring Princess Of The Night, a song about Welsh steam engines, which I bought on seven inch when I was denim-clad teen. Anvil played too and even though they have a surprise cinematic hit on their hands – and very good it is too – no-one needs to hear Metal On Metal again. It’s the giant elephant in the room, musically, they were never very good the first time around, but nobody wants to admit it. Naturally, I did my usual thing of getting in at 1AM, realised that I hadn’t eaten and cooked dinner. Then decided it was far too late to eat and placed it in the fridge, it’s still in there now like a curio you might find on the Marie Celeste.

No book news to report, I’m still waiting on the edit and the artwork, I’d say almost patiently…

Cross Country Murder Song

So almost a year after completion and months of waiting I finally got the call from my editor on Monday. What, he wanted to know, ideas did I have for the cover of my first novel. Said novel – Cross Country Murder Song – comes out in hardback via the good folk at Jonathan Cape early next year, the paperback via Vintage later in 2010, in the autumn possibly. Black and white, I told him, preferably a photograph, a car moving towards the camera, something ominous. He, surprisingly, agreed almost instantly. He’s called Dan and he’s arguably the best book editor this country’s ever seen, certainly the sharpest one working today. Even though he’s late with the edit of my book I’m still terrifically happy to have him onside, he’s worked with the great and the good and now he’s working with me, sometimes I’m still not sure why.

When I first met him at Random House he sat behind a massive desk that could best be described as worn. It once belonged to Jonathan Cape, he told me, Hemingway sat where you’re sitting, Lawrence of Arabia too, he quoted chunks of my manuscript back at me (without a manuscript to hand), he made me coffee, he asked me if i could see myself signing with Random House, with Jonathan Cape. In truth, he had me at Hemingway. Right now, I’m meant to be working on Book 2 (working title; Resolution), but all I can think about is seeing a bound proof of my first one, I can’t remember the last time I read it, I hope I’m not appalled by it when I finally get to hold it in my hands, even though I know it cover to cover it still sometimes feels like I’m waiting for my exam results. God help me when it goes to the critics, that’s a Sunday morning when I’ll buy up all the broadsheets and not have the heart to open even one of them… Though, that’s a long way off yet.

Tomorrow I have to go on set to interview Andy Serkis about his upcoming role as Ian Dury for Empire magazine, I spent some time with him and the cast last week and out of the corner of your eye it looks like Dury’s slipped into the room and is waiting to slap you hard on the shoulder with a throaty chuckle. Dury’s son, Baxter was also on set and he said that Serkis’ portrayal of his late dad sometimes unnerved him too. I can’t wait to see him with his curls and his cane again.