Writing in Elsewhere

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16 Sep 2008  |  5 min read

Two years before she had a hit record, Madonna told her friend Erica Bell: “I don’t just need attention. I need all the attention. I want everybody in the world to know who I am and to love me.” And the game plan for Madonna Ciccone – an all American cheerleader with an IQ of 140 – was to “travel through people”, to use them to fulfil her own needs... > Read more


16 Sep 2008  |  1 min read  |  1

This dark and depressing novel is an impressive debut by Vlautin, the frontman and songwriter for the American alt.country band Richmond Fontaine whose music is, unfortunately, little known here. The band’s melancholy album The Fitzgerald was a result of Vlautin living in the rundown Reno casino of that name and is peopled by marginal, stale cigarette characters who live whisky-soaked... > Read more

Richmond Fontaine: Exit 198B


15 Sep 2008  |  3 min read

That there's yet another version of Jack the Ripper in cinemas - From Hell starring Johnny Depp, and based on this graphic novel - is hardly surprising. The mysterious Jack has fascinated generations of film-makers for three reasons: location, location, location.Think London in the late 19th century: narrow cobbled streets barely illuminated at night by flickering gas lamps; thick mist to cloak... > Read more

ANCIENT MARINER, BY KEN McGOOGAN REVIEWED (2005): Ice cold and Coleridge

13 Sep 2008  |  1 min read

In the middle of the 18th century only 20 per cent of ordinary sailors in the Royal Navy were volunteers, the rest had been press-ganged into service. The reasons why so few willingly joined were simple: the money was lousy, the conditions woeful - on a typical frigate there would be two or three floggings a week. A Navy career also tested the immune system. During the entire Seven... > Read more

THE BOOK OF THE FILM OF THE MAN (2006): From silver screen to serious stuff

12 Sep 2008  |  4 min read

You know how it is, you see Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea and you think, “Man, I should read that book. It looks kinda neat.” Or you watch Michael Jackson: The E! Hollywood True Story and decide you’d love to read a biography of that troubled and troublesome soul. Right now there is a glut of bio-flicks in cinemas which, by the very constraints of film, sometimes... > Read more


30 Aug 2008  |  9 min read

Art Spiegelman – like many authors one suspects – can’t resist looking for his book in stores. But the categories bookshops have are seldom very useful he says, and his book Maus, a 160 page paperback-sized comic, defies convenient pigeonholing. Store owners think it is “humour” because it’s a comic (”people looking there certainly aren’t... > Read more


22 Aug 2008  |  8 min read

It was an afternoon in June 1846 when Charles Dickens finally broke the writing block which had been troubling him. It had been two years since his previous novel, but these last weeks present walking in the hills of Switzerland above Lausanne had allowed him to sketch out the framework of a book. In his study overlooking the lake, Dickens – a man of curious personal superstition... > Read more

POSITIVELY GEORGE STREET BY MATTHEW BANNISTER (2000): Rocking and popping in Flying Nun

3 Jul 2008  |  3 min read

Credit Giles Smith’s hilarious Lost in Music if you will, but recently there has been a proliferation of stories about bands which, if not exactly losers, didn’t quite get a seat in the Business Class of Life alongside Bono. Smith’s story of his time in the ill-fated 80s band Cleaners from Venus (“one man’s journey into rock and back home to his... > Read more

Sneaky Feelings: Husband House


2 Jun 2008  |  3 min read

With this 2004 year about half gone we appear to be in a volatile time. Some days you just don't want to get out of bed. In politically precarious North Asia both South Korea and Taiwan are suffering internal ructions. Islamist terrorism has cast a shadow of fear over the "coalition of the willing", there have been bombs from Baghdad to Madrid and southern Thailand, and the... > Read more

CRAIG UNGER INTERVIEWED 2004 : Inside the house of Bush and the house of Saud

26 Apr 2008  |  5 min read

American author Craig Unger doesn't sound the lefty conspiracy-theory nutcase his opponents paint him. Back in New York after a European speaking tour supporting his House of Bush, House of Saud -- which persuasively lays bare the complex relationship between the ruling dynasty in Saudi Arabia, and the family and friends of the first and second presidents Bush -- Unger is credible, jocular... > Read more

THOMAS KOHNSTAMM INTERVIEWED: Finding comfort and hell on this Lonely Planet

6 Apr 2008  |  4 min read

Some years ago I was invited by Lonely Planet to write for them. This was flattering and exciting, but there was a catch: I would have to undertake a research trip at my own expense and write it up within their strict guidelines. Around the same time the American writer Thomas Kohnstamm was also approached. He abruptly quit his boringly corporate Wall Street job, threw his cellphone in the... > Read more

ALAIN DE BOTTON ESSAY (2006): The Sin of Being a Populariser

4 Apr 2008  |  5 min read

As someone with an amateur’s enthusiasm for architecture and design, I was disappointed to miss the recent talk by the English essayist Alain de Botton, author of the popular book The Architecture of Happiness. I call him an essayist because that is what he is: as someone who travels often and writes about it I had previously enjoyed his provocative little book The Art of... > Read more

TONY PARSONS INTERVIEWED (2004): About a Man in the Family Way

4 Apr 2008  |  26 min read

British author Tony Parsons used to take drugs with Johnny Rotten but now prefers taking his two-year old to the park and writing about families in the suburbs. He now lives the life of a best-selling author with blockbusters like Man and Boy behind him, and reflects with some wry amusement on his former life.  Hello Tony, thanks for your time. How are you?  I'm alright, how are... > Read more

ANTONY BEEVOR INTERVIEWED (2003): The Anatomy of War; Berlin 1945, Baghdad 2003

4 Apr 2008  |  10 min read

In the final weeks of the siege, battle-weary troops defending the capital were forced back through the inner suburbs by tanks and artillery. They fought out of fear of capture, and some from loyalty to a failed ideology. They were outnumbered and outgunned.By day their city had been bombed into submission by American planes taking advantage of their unchallenged freedom of the skies. At night,... > Read more


4 Apr 2008  |  24 min read

Last week, late-night US television host Jay Leno quipped about a matter diverting American attention - the long-awaited US$8 million ($13.85 million) memoirs of Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Hillary Clinton's book hits the stores this Monday," he said. "Oh boy, it took her a long time to write it. But in her defence, every time she tried to use the desk, Bill was always using it for... > Read more

MARK KURLANSKY INTERVIEWED (2005): The author and his wide, wide world

2 Apr 2008  |  13 min read

Mark Kurlansky is the writer many others want to be: his career in journalism took him to Europe, China, the Caribbean and Middle East, and he lived for a time in Mexico City. His award-winning books are enormously popular despite addressing unusual subjects, notably the complex histories of cod, salt, and the Basques. He has also written an acclaimed novella, and has a column in Food and Wine... > Read more

BILL WYMAN, STONE ALONE REVIEWED (1990): Insider looking out

30 Mar 2008  |  7 min read

It’s probably a bit cruel to destroy people’s faith in myths -- like telling a six-year old the truth about Santa Claus -- but the reason there are so few decent autobiographies and biographies in rock music is simple: the central characters aren’t that interesting. Being a musician at that fascinating interface of low art and high commerce doesn’t necessarily bring... > Read more

The Rolling Stones:I'm Free (1965)

PAUL McCARTNEY'S OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY REVIEWED (1997): Still can't buy the love?

4 Mar 2008  |  6 min read

Paul McCartney is the Beatle old fans love to hate: his sins are manifest in Silly Love Songs, a Linda and not a Yoko, the permanent Mr Thumbs Aloft attitude, the knighthood which his old colleague John Lennon would doubtless have declined …. But there is worse. This past decade, by quiet incremental steps, we have witnessed the rehabilitation of Paul McCartney; mostly at his own... > Read more

JURGEN VOLLMER PHOTOGRAPHER, CAPTURING THE WILD DAYS (1994): The man who clicked with the Beatles

1 Mar 2008  |  4 min read

If the name Jurgen Vollmer isn’t familiar at all, it’s because it only ever appears somewhere around the first chapter of even the most brainless Beatles biography -- then drops out forever. Vollmer was one of a group of self-styled existentialist art students in Hamburg -- photographer Astrid Kirchherr the most well known -- who, around 1960, adopted the Beatles, then playing... > Read more

THE LENNON LEGEND BOOK, REVIEWED (2003): More or less Lennon

14 Feb 2008  |  2 min read

Had John Lennon lived, he would have turned 63 last month. It's interesting to speculate what kind of music he might be making today. Interesting, but pointless: Lennon never saw the trickle-down of punk and new wave; the big-hair 80s; the rise of rap, Madonna and Springsteen; Guns N' Roses, Nirvana and grunge; trends like nu-metal, nu-jazz and boy bands ... Lennon saw none of this. Not... > Read more