This blog is in a state of suspended animation

I am much more active on twitter (@mark_haddon) and on instagram (@mjphaddon)


kit kats are to get fairtrade certification. i don't know which is more depressing, that nestlé should have pulled off such a pr coup, or that the fairtrade foundation should have handed it to them on a plate.

1.5 million children die every year around the world because they are not breastfed. nestlé aggressively market breastmilk substitutes. the world health assembly has marketing requirements to protect breastfeeding and make sure substitutes are used safely if they're needed. nestlé continues to violate these requirements more than any other company. i've been boycotting them for years.

buy a flapjack instead and read more here:

i've just stumbled on this. some people (including, i assume, the person posting in finnish) realise it's not my page. others think they're leaving messages for me. in which case... sorry for the lack of response.

stuff that's been making me happy recently...

shamefully I’ve never read a biography of jane austen before. I can’t imagine there is one better than this, or will be, unless a cache of new documents come to light. astonishingly, claire tomalin manages to make jane austen’s story engrossing and moving despite the fact that her life is largely a hole in a huge tapestry of busy sibling and cousins and uncles, of banking and naval expeditions church appointments, of fortunes won and lost, big houses and crowded cottages and a sad litany of early deaths.

a footnote: how did I not know that spencer perceval was the only british prime minister to have been assassinated, and in the house of commons to boot? I keep asking people and, historians apart, no-one else seems to know; what a bizarre fact to have slipped out of the schoolbooks.

tarot sport by fuck buttons, whose inappropriate name seem designed only to… to what? to reduce sales? wrongfoot any potential listeners? this has been on constant rotation for about a month now. long slowly evolving electronic dance instrumentals tracks that veer between glitchy industrial techno and really, really good tv theme tunes. utterly addictive, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on (though some nicely out-of-phase rhythms help).

I don’t do cars or power tools or cameras, so I don’t get equipment-thrill very often, but… I’ve been doing some long runs recently. anything over two hours and I need this to prevent myself going home in an ambulance. you can stick everything in: 3 litres of water, thermal shirt, waterproof, hat, mobile, cash, kendal mint cakes (chocolate flavour).

I’ve always loved john hoyland’s paintings. a couple of weeks ago I wandered into henry pordes books in the charing cross road and picked up the the mel gooding book about his earlier work, which I didn’t know. he starts by trying out variations on other people’s styles (bridget riley, hans hoffman, bits of Rothko and barnett newman…). then suddenly, c. ’85-87 the pictures explode and he becomes gloriously himself (this is ’kong sleeps’ from ’85).

a strange book but not quite strange enough. a fictional memoir by j m coetzee about the recently deceased novelist 'j m coetzee' whose main failings (coolness, dryness, distance) mirror what are sometimes perceived (by those who think he has failings) to be the main failings of the real j m coetzee. it feels like an attempt to expiate that failing in the catholic manner. but it doesn't quite work, anymore than confessing to being a habitual liar makes one honest. indeed, the coolness, the dryness and the distance, are only compounded by the fact that it isn’t a fictional memoir as such, but a collection of fictional interviews and (i presume) fictional notebook fragments which purport to be research material for an intended biography. convolutions which wouldn’t matter if the conceit had a decent emotional pay-off. but, with the exception of a few passages, the conceit is invisible. that is, the book would lose nothing if the main character were called john smith. clever conceits can work. in rosencrantz and guildestern for example (what are minor characters doing when they’re offstage?). or nicholson baker’s mezzanine (what happens in one man’s mind during his lunch hour). but they work because the literary cleverness generates insights of real wisdom (we’re all offstage, victims of greater forces happen elsewhere; a lunch hour is a rich and real as fighting in the trenches or being cast away on a desert island if we look closely enough). but i don’t think this happens here. in fact, if you know nothing about j m coetzee or his work (which is hardly mentioned in the novel) the book would lose nothing by changing the name of the central character. in spite of which it is very readable, mostly because of coetzee's faultless prose (maybe that's his failing, writing too well).

‘me cheeta’ is based on one of those rather brilliant conceits. a hilarious, bitchy, warm, sad and very moving hollywood memoir purportedly written by tarzan’s chimpanzee helpmeet. it seems merely clever at first, then the richness of the metaphor starts slowly to unfold. some of this you can see coming (there’s not a great deal of difference between a talented ape and the stars of hollywood’s golden age). some of it takes you completely by surprise. it's tempting to kill the humour by quoting some of the (great and very rude) jokes. so i won't. just read it.

for anyone who wonders what i've been writing recently...

on every count i couldn't be more pleased. i've been trying to write a play for years. naively i assumed that, having written radio plays and screenplays and won a few prizes for both, writing for the stage wouldn't be that difficult. i was wrong. it's bloody hard. i've written a great deal of rubbish en route and wondered often whether the attempt itself was foolish. to have written a play which worked was a huge relief. to have it on at the donmar is borderline fairy tale. it's always been one of my favourite theatres, that apron stage surrounded almost entirely by the audience in such an intimate space. plus it's been on a huge roll under michael grandage (the last two productions, streetcar with rachel weisz and life is a dream with domnic west were not just good but revelatory).

cast to follow.

for anyone outside the uk who doesn’t know about the bnp leader john griffin being invited onto question time:

i don't think any event in recent domestic british politics has given rise to such heated and complex debate. should the leader of a fascist party have been allowed prime air-time? (i feel too strongly to trust my own opinion about this). was the programme an ambush (yes, though i can't think of anyone more deserving of an ambush). did the man come across as inept and evasive? (certainly). will it lead to further tv appearances (it probably will). did the programme increase his support? (it seems so) did it foster divisions within the bnp? (it did) has he softened his views about the holocaust? (until explains he his supposed change of mind and performs some kind of public atonement, i'm going to assume not).

but there is one thorny issue around which most people have been pussy-footing for fear of offending those voters the bnp wants to win over.

the bnp don't speak for the disenfranchised white working class (whoever they are - i'm never entirely sure). the bnp is so riven with internal disagreements it's hard to work out exactly what they're saying at all. but there are members of the disenfranchised working class (and others) who think the bnp speaks for them. not least because some of their polices are entirely sensible. their view that we shouldn't be in iraq, is perhaps the most obvious.

but... anyone who votes for them on these grounds is badly educated. i don't mean that they're idiots or that they got poor exam results or that we should dismiss their opinions as worthless. i simply mean that they haven't been given the information and skills to understand the potential consequences of their actions. and that's the fault of the education system, the media and the government. people need to learn enough history to realise that fascist leaders nearly always rise to power by speaking for the disenfranchised (hitler was hugely popular among those germans who had suffered as a result of the inflation of the 20's and the ensuing depression of the 30's). people need to learn enough politics to realise how quickly parties can start to treat the voters not as employers but as impediments (witness the steady erosion of civil liberties by the present labour government). the media needs to tell us more, not less, about the bnp. not just about their semi-polished leader, but their other senior members and the thugs that surround them (only last week the bnp's legal officer, lee barnes, was saying that they needed a few white riots around the country... before the idiot white liberal middle class and their ethnic middle-class fellow travellers wake up; why not put him on question time?). and the government should start publicly standing up for the humane, anti-racist principles they supposedly hold dear (treating asylum seekers like human beings would be a quick, simply and effective place to start).

of course, there will always be people who, despite the best education, remain racists and supporters of fascist political parties, but there numbers are relatively small and they really are idiots and for my money i'd happily see them given some remote island where they can form a pure aryan community and breed with one another until the biological pile-up of recessive genes wipes them out.

for anyone who hasn't seen it, this is worth watching:

so, just one entry after saying i hardly ever give quotes i read an advance proof of jon mcgregor's third novel even the dogs. absolutely brilliant. a story about a group of homeless drug-users and alcoholics that makes them seem real and warm and deeply empathetic despite being fuck-ups on a variety of levels. and told in a way that's both experimental and (for me at least) unputtdownable, which is a pretty rare combination. exactly what a novel should do. not published till early next year, though...

(coffee stain author's own)

this is an entry of little interest to casual passers-by, but something to which i can direct certain people over the coming years.

i get sent two or more novels very week in search of quotes. and whilst i know how important quotes are (curious got two wonderful ones early on from ian mcewan and arthur golden) most of these books won't get read. i've got small children, books i want to write, artwork i want to do and very little free time. i can read a novel or so a week. most of these novels are novels i've chosen to read. it's not a lack of interest which prevents me reading unsolicited novels it's simple numbers.

i'm also a very picky reader. i enjoy only a small proportion of the books i read. in my defence this applies equally to my own writing. 

and while i'm on the subject... i made a vow shortly after curious took off, that i would never give quotes to people i knew, or people from whom i might want any kind of favour. there are groups of writers who give each other enthusiastic quotes. it's a trivial kind of fraud, but it's a fraud nonetheless. if i give a quote i want it to be enthusiastic and honest. plus, if you give a friend a quote because they've written a book you love, there will come a time when they write a book you don't love, their publicist will come back to you for another quote and then you're stuffed.

in short, and at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, if you send me a novel in search of a quote it will probably end up in my local oxfam bookshop.

(photograph of recent unsolicited books pixellated for legal and diplomatic reasons)


the kindle e-book has just been launched in the uk. i'm still wondering what it's for. books are one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world. they're cheap and portable. you can read them in blazing sunlight. you can drop them in the bath, stamp on them, bury them in sand and stick them in the oven. their batteries don't run down, they insulate a room excellently from noise and sound and when you're finished with them you can give them to a friend or a local oxfam bookshop. the only good reason for having 60 digital books in an unreliable battery-powered device is if you're stuck for a long period in a part of the world that has no good shops selling books in your own language and a reliable power supply. actually, that's not quite true, there is another good reason, but it only applies if you're a large corporation selling e-readers. it turns reading books into a way of making more money. it destroys the democracy of reading by preventing you borrowing other people's books and it forces you to buy a new device (and new contents) every time yours breaks down.

e-readers are like the sinclair c5. they've been aimed at a non-existent gap in the market. when podcasts came along they felt like something the world had been waiting for. we no longer had to sit in the kitchen or in the car while listening to radio 4 or a favourite audiobook. we could do it on the bus or while walking to work. e-books just complicate and commercialise something we were doing very well already on our own, thank you.

e-readers will take off when you can upload text files and spreadsheets, those sheaves of paper and reports and typescripts that fill people's briefcases on the morning train and end up in the bin by the end of the day. but e-bumph is just not as romantic a word as e-book.