RIP Jonah Lomu. I watched the 1995 Rugby World Cup semi-final in the Cock Inn in Hatfield Broad Oak. The barman, Sam, was so confident that England would win that he said he’d streak round the village if we lost.

If memory serves me, he was naked and running by half-time.

How to help your editor.

Bad advice on writing, a sad truth, and the way round it:

[H]ow do writers achieve… excellence?
Certainly not by following another piece of writing advice: Just keep writing, you’ll get better. Really? Can you imagine a hitting coach saying to a kid who wants to be a professional baseball player, Just keep swinging the bat, you’ll get better?
…When you’re working on a draft or a revision, does your mind give you the words, the sentence structures, you need to accomplish this? And, if not, why not? The default answer to this last question is “talent”: Some people have it; others, less fortunate, do not.
But the default answer, happily, is not true. Researchers have discovered that innate talent has very little, if anything, to do with expertise. Instead [it is down to] practice.
This approach requires (among other things) breaking down a complex skill – like writing – into its component sub-skills, then practicing each skill separately until it’s mastered, then putting them all together.

I’ve just finished reading David Nobbs‘ memoir I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today. David was a comic novelist and screenwriter whose most famous creation was Reginald Perrin (the title is taken from the catchphrase of Reggie’s boss, CJ). I tend not to talk about books unless I can be really positive, because I know how it feels to both authors and publishers, but David is now dead and Random House are doing okay so I’ll admit that I found it slightly disappointing. In the ‘con’ column, it’s often rambling – at nearly 500pp in the paperback edition, it could have been hacked back – and in places it feels like a series of discrete and not enormously interesting anecdotes. Often he simply admits that he can’t remember relevant details, though I suspect that he kept back some very good stories for reasons of propriety or good manners. In the ‘pro’ column he’s interesting on early showbiz – writing for That Was The Week That Was and The Two Ronnies and others – and on the business of writing for TV, albeit some years ago. There are lots of places where his slightly surreal, gentle humour shines through. He had a great ear for dialogue, and some lovely one-liners, but if you haven’t read his stuff before (and you should) I’d start with Henry Pratt and Reggie Perrin.

Now reading:



LANCE CORPORAL JON McKinlay would have been celebrating his thirty-eighth birthday today, had he not been killed by a hidden Taliban gunman in Nahr-e Saraj, Afghanistan.

L/Cpl McKinlay was part of a joint British Army/Afghan National Army patrol, and the men had gone firm for a few moments to allow the Afghan element to pray. As Jon took out his compass to find east for them – a simple act of friendship – his attention was diverted and the gunman open-fired.

He left behind Lisa, his second wife, and her little girl Piper (whom Jon had raised as his own), his mum Valerie and a daughter and step-son, Megan and Olly, from his first marriage.

Megan – who was twelve when her dad died in 2011 – spoke to Graham Bound about Jon (as did Lisa, Valerie and a number of his Army mates) for our book At The Going Down Of The Sun.

She told Graham how she liked to remember her teaching her to ride her bike, and taking her rock-climbing.

‘One memory that makes me smile still is the time, when I was seven, when I swallowed a ring,’ she told Graham. ‘Dad rushed me to the hospital, and they said that if it didn’t pass through me, they’d have to operate. Dad had the job of checking to see if I’d passed it! He found it the day before they were due to operate on me. Dad always laughed about this and said that it was an example of true love.

‘In a way, now, after three years, it’s a lot easier to cope with, because I’ve got used to knowing that he was killed. But only in a way. I think about dad all the time. I have lots of pictures of him in my room, so I see him every day. I feel sad when I think about him, but I have memories and pictures. I wish I had more. I’m very proud of my dad. He is my hero.’

It was and is an honour to be able to tell LCpl Jon McKinlay’s story, the more so as Remembrance Day approaches.

Jon McKinlay and MeganJon and Megan

Image 1Jon and Lisa on their wedding day


Gary Bell QC – author of Animal QC – is speaking live in Nottingham next Thursday (November 12). If you live anywhere near it will be well-worth attending – Gary’s an exceptionally funny and interesting speaker. All profits from the event will go to ‘Help a Nottinghamshire Child’ which aims to keep Nottinghamshire youngsters away from crime – ironic, given his own brushes with the law in his youth.

After highly successful appearances at the Ilkley and Wigtown book festivals, Gary will also be appearing at various other festivals next year. He’s also talking in Clitheroe and Cheltenham in the New Year – more details as and when.

In other news, good point – what is so bad about trying to make money out of ‘middlebrow’ books (which is very much not easy anyway)?

I mean, come on – we all know that ninety per cent of the books which win the Booker Prize and probably half of those which get reviewed in The Guardian or the London Review of Books are read by virtually no-one in the actual world, and are much more about intellect-signalling by the editors, reviewers and purchasers who just want to put them on their shelves. This is certainly what I do – here’s a random shot of one of our bookcases:

intellect-signalling bookshelves

This counts as intellect-signalling by my standards

I know I’ve read the PJ O’Rourke and Belloc, but of the others… if I’ve read half of these I don’t remember it (which is possible, I suppose) (and many of them are pretty middlebrow anyway). If literary types are coming round, I just bone up on a few wiki synopses so that I can talk knowledgeably, or skilfully divert the subject to what was on telly yesterday or the weather if I haven’t had time.

(On that latter point, I’ve often thought it would be a good idea to produce jackets for Gogol or Proust which could be slipped over one’s Lee Child or Dean Koontz for train-reading purposes. It would only work with people opposite, of course.)

Where was I? Books bound with human skin (don’t be eating your lunch while reading this).

Amazon is opening its first actual book shop, in Seattle. (The story was originally broke by Shelf Awareness.) It will stock 6,000-ish titles (which isn’t very many for the size of the place), all face-out, and will order them in based on some sort of algorithm which uses local peoples’ preferences. Prices will be in line with online, apparently.

Some people seriously want to nationalise Twitter. It lost $132 million in the last quarter and is struggling, apparently.

Five books about Guy Fawkes.



I never joined the Army, mostly on account of the cowardice and the idleness.

Eddy Nugent – star of our books PICKING UP THE BRASS and EDDY NUGENT AND THE MAP OF AFRICA – was made of sterner stuff than I, and did take the Queen’s shilling.

He’s currently hard at work on the third episode of the trilogy – in the person of his creators, ex-squaddies Ian Deacon and Charlie Bell (Eddy is a kind of amalgamation of their own experiences in the Royal Corps of Signals, so the books aren’t novels but aren’t exactly non-fiction, either).

The first book took the sixteen-year-old Eddy from the streets of Manchester into the madness of basic training. The second took him to the even madder madness of BAOR in Germany, and then to the sheer, tropical insanity of Belize.

The third will deal with Eddy’s transition back to Civvie Street, which isn’t always easy for soldiers.

Here’s a brief extract from the first book, PICKING UP THE BRASS.

It’s 1985, and Eddy and his best mate are walking through Manchester, scratching their spots and generally loafing about, when they stops outside the Army Careers Office…

We had a look in the front window, and were greeted by cardboard cut-outs of young blokes windsurfing, abseiling, and generally having lots of fun.

Another guy, looking suitably dirty, was firing a big bazooka, with a huge grin on his face.

The last cut-out was of a bunch of lads, drinking in a bar, raising their glasses to the camera.

It all looked pretty interesting, though one nagging thought struck me. The lads in the bar looked very 1970s. This was 1985, and to a lad like me, having the correct amount of Sergio Tacchini or Ellesse clothing was of critical importance.

It didn’t occur to me that the display was a bit out of date. I assumed that squaddies wore some sort of civilian uniform as well, one that followed contemporary fashion but with a seven-year time lag.

I found out later that this is a recurrent problem within the Forces. Torn between the need to recruit, and the reluctance to spend money on anything that doesn’t actually kill people, they always tended to wring every last drop out of every video/presentation/slide show or cardboard cut out. All the brochures and guides I was subsequently given to entice me featured blokes in flares with big sideburns. By the mid-1980s, only snooker players were dressing like that.Nevertheless, the display was alluring enough for me to want to know a bit more. ‘Shall we go in Jim?’ I said.

‘Fuck that.’

‘Come on, we’ll just ask a couple of questions.’

‘Go on, then. You first though.’

I laughed and made my way to the door. As I was pulling it open, a guy came out – a big, bullet-headed, shifty-looking fucker.

I moved out of his way.

‘Alright, lads?’ he said. ‘Don’t do it. You’ll fucking regret it!’

But I’d stepped inside and, before I knew it, I was on one side of the door and Jimmy was on the other.

The door was thick glass so I couldn’t hear him, but I watched his shoulders shake with silent laughter as he walked off down the road.

‘Come in son, take a seat.’

It was the same fat Sergeant who’d been to the school a couple of months before. He was sat behind a large, highly-polished wooden desk, with a brass name plate announcing grandly that he was Sergeant Pete Chapman, King’s Regiment. There were two flags on the wall behind him, a Union Jack and the British Army standard – a lion and a crown on a red background. I shuffled towards the desk as he stood up and stretched out his hand. It was the first time I’d ever shook anyone’s hand and it made me feel… older.

‘What’s your name?’ he said.

‘Eddy Nugent,’ I said.

‘Nice to meet you. I’m Pete Chapman – Sergeant Chapman, but you don’t have to call me Sergeant – yet.Sit yourself down.’

We sat down at the same time, and remained there in silence for a second or two.

‘Thinking of joining us then, eh?’

I thought nervously for a second or two. ‘Nah, not really, just thought I’d have a look at a couple of brochures or something.’

He starting moving into his tried-and-tested sales pitch. ‘It’s a great life you know, son. Twenty years I’ve been in, and I’ve enjoyed every last minute.’

I looked at him dumbly – my natural resting expression – and waited for more.

‘I’m not saying it’s easy,’ he said, ‘but it’s a fantastic way of becoming a man and seeing the world at the same time.’

‘What parts of the world?’

‘Oooh, all sorts. Germany, Cyprus, Belize, Norway… Ireland. And loads of others.’

At the time, I didn’t notice that he’d left the word ‘Northern’ out when mentioning Ireland. Maybe he thought this subtle omission would dupe potential recruits into thinking that a portion of their career would be spent fishing in Galway.

From there, it all goes downhill quicker than Franz Klammer.

For (irregular) updates, follow @eddynugent1 on Twitter (tip: don’t follow @eddynugent).

Picking Up The Brass_PUTB full cover jpeg ARRSE

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Lance Corporal Peter Eustace had been a ‘big Scouse bear’ of a man who was often in trouble with the law and gave his family a fair bit of grief in his time.

But the Army – and specifically his regiment, The Rifles – helped him turn his life around.

Peter was planning to propose to his girlfriend, Aimi Matthews, but he never got chance; tragically, he was killed by an IED in Afghanistan on November 16, 2011.

In that moment Aimi’s world collapsed and she struggled to come to terms with his death. In an interview for our book At The Going Down Of The Sun, she said, ‘I wake up every morning and for the first two minutes everything is fine. Then it hits me like a bullet to the chest that he’s gone…. I’d cut my right arm off for two more minutes with him.’

Nearly four years on, Aimi, a nurse, is featuring in a calendar in memory of the man she will ‘love until the day I die.’

It is being sold to raise money for military charity Soldiering On Through Life Trust. The charity holds an annual awards ceremony and helps wounded military personnel and their families.

Aimi - Peter Eustace's girlfriend

You can buy a calendar here: http://www.hottiescalendar.co.uk/.

Peter left behind the following letter, full of love for his mother and regret for past misbehaviour. Remember, this is written by a big, tough squaddie; it’s among the most moving things I’ve ever read:

Peter Eustace final letter

aimi and peterPeter and Aimi

…to one person who visits and ‘likes’ our Facebook page and leaves a comment explaining that they’re doing so out of purely mercenary motives, viz that they’d like a copy of the book.

Animal QC full jacket

Winner selected at random tomorrow (Friday). Free sample here: ANIMAL QC – FREE CHAPTER.

In other news:

Stuff found in old books.

28 literary accessories all book-loves must have (must?).

The 15 best book blogs of 2015 (somehow they missed ours).

Why libraries are not over.

Theodore Dalrymple on a 2009 economics book he picked up on the cheap (it was Alistair Milne’s The Fall of the House of Credit):

Of course, doctors make mistakes; the most eminent oncologists, for example, sometimes are erroneous in the prognosis. But the admission of personal error in the book contains a pretty damning indictment of the economics profession as a whole: like most others, he says. They were mistaken, and not just in matter of detail. They were like airline pilots who set out for New York and landed at Tashkent.

He remains one of the best living writers of English, whether or not you agree with his views.
For more Monday Books news, please subscribe under ‘EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION’ at the top right hand corner of the page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter via @mondaybooks

Gary Bell QC’s ‘extraordinary’ and ‘riotous’ autobiography Animal QC will change your life, or at least your outlook thereupon, according to reader ‘Was’:




That’s one of the many excellent reviews the book has achieved on Amazon so far this month. ‘ladybgood’ was very taken:



As was ‘Amazon Customer’:



Jacqueline Bingham was brief and to-the-point:



Lucinda Phillips found Gary ‘a true inspiration’



Christina (actually, this is from September) found it very funny:



Finally, the inscrutable ‘Cliviscus’ (we’re grateful to him/her anyway):


People do seem to like Gary’s optimism and can-do-ness.

In other news, why you should never lend anyone your books.

Robert Louis Stevenson was arrested for throwing snowballs and invented the sleeping bag (which really ought to have made it into our book So THAT’S Why They Call It Great Britain).

The hotel that inspired Stephen King’s brilliant book The Shining is planning to open a horror museum.

Sugar-crazed ponies.

Why the International Space Station doesn’t exist and we’re all living in an episode of The Truman Show:



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