Monday, May 19, 2008

What's Your Story?

I asked Jon Howells, Waterstones National Press Officer, about the story card on which I wrote an original short story -- what would happen to it and when. There's some information at the Waterstones website , but he filled me in on the rest of it:

What's going to happen to your card? The original, along with those by all the other authors involved, will be auctioned on June 10th at Waterstone's Piccadilly, the largest bookshop in Europe. This is an invitation only event (your invite will be with your shortly - it would be lovely to see you there but, given where you live, we'll understand if you can't make it), and the auction will be run by a Sotheby's auctioneer. Margaret Atwood will be joining the proceedings live from Paris, and will write her story using her LongPen machine. All the money from the auction will go to English PEN and Dyslexia Action.

The following day, all the storycards will be available to read at Outsize facsimiles of the cards will also be on display in the windows of all our stores for people to read, and they will remain there for a month.

There's also a chance for our customers and the general public to get involved with writing a story for the What's Your Story? campaign. They can pick up a storycard in our stores to fill in and return, and online we've developed a nifty tool that allows people to write (and customise) their own stories - full details can be found at This has only been live since late last Thursday and already over 700 stories have been posted.

Three (2 adult and one child) of the best of the public's stories (and the best from a similar competition for our booksellers) will be published alongside all 13 of the author stories in a one-off print run Postcard Book, which will be available from the beginning of August at our stores and - price is TBC. The winners of the public competition will also win a place on an Arvon Foundation writing course (if they are over 18), or £500 of Waterstone's vouchers (if under 18). All profits from the sale of the postcard book will go to
English PEN and Dyslexia Action.

So now we all know. Sounds a wonderful project. (I assume the writing a story competition bit is only open to UK residents, but I may be wrong as it's not listed as such in the terms and conditions.) I don't know if I'll be able to get to the auction in person. But it sounds wonderful. And I need to find out how people can put in remote auction bids and suchlike for the cards (or, if they plan to bid in person, how they can get invitations to the event).


I took this yesterday from the kitchen window. As a small child, I was convinced that all animals walked around on their hind legs when we couldn't see them, and spoke fluent English; sometimes they wore clothes and probably drove really tiny, brightly-coloured cars down hidden streets between the bushes. This raccoon did nothing to disabuse me of the idea:


Michael Dirda wrote a lovely article about Charles Fort, and Jim Steinmeyer's biography of the man. When I read,

Steinmeyer views Fort as a representative 1920s figure, but to me he seems in a slightly earlier mode: The antiquary with a hobby horse. Fort and his 40,000 slips of paper recall Marx researching economics in the British Library, H.W. Fowler compiling his picky Modern English Usage, the editors of the Variorum Shakespeare and the Oxford English Dictionary noting arcane interpretations and elaborate etymologies, J.G. Frazer tracing hanged gods and ancient ritual in The Golden Bough.
I remembered a long-abandoned idea for a short story I meant to write, probably called "Charlies", in which Karl Marx and Charles Fort, both working obsessively in the British Museum Reading Room Library sixty years apart, wound up with each others notes and books, so Marx published The Book of the Damned in 1867, prompting international revolution followed by a Russia organised on Fortean lines, with falls of fish and such everywhere, while Charles Fort published Das Kapital in the 1920s, and is still remembered today as a beloved crank, The Fortean Times a small press publication dedicated to economic theories about the eventual downfall of capitalism. (I gave up on it mostly because, whenever I'd tell communists about it, they'd look disapprovingly at me, which I figured took out half the potential audience for the story then and there.)

(On the other hand, the companion piece, "Kens" about Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Halliwell, may still get written one day. You never know.)


Here's a review of The Dangerous Alphabet.

And finally, The Graveyard Book has its own dedicated website at, courtesy of Subterranean Press. It has an interview with me on the front page, but it also has many exciting things up, such as Dave McKean illustrations --

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