Publicity week

The Pogues flew back to London last Friday.  Since then, I’ve been doing publicity for the book.  First it was the Laugharne Weekend in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, where Dylan Thomas lived, in the boathouse.  His writing shed (with a tatty woollen jacket thrown over the chair inside and balled-up paper thrown on the floor – like what writers do – under the table) overlooks the heron-priested shore and the tidal estuary of the Tâf River. Every man needs a shed, and I’m told that a man with a shed tends to live longer.  Thomas died at the age of 39.

I’m going to post up links to all the things I’ve done in the past week where there are links to things worth looking at or listening to.  These include:

  • the Laugharne Weekend, where I was interviewed by Mark Ellen, editor of The Word magazine (and presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test when we played on that programme in the Spring of 1985).
  • Faber Social Monday 16th April
  • The Idea Store at Whitechapel Library
  • Later with Jools Holland
  • Interview with Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe for Radio 6
  • A bunch of stuff in Dublin – RTE, Newstalk, TV3 among them


Uncle Tom Cobley and the Lash – March 17th

I don’t know how many bands have taken up playing, on St Patrick’s Day night, from beginning to end, Rum Sodomy and the Lash, the record we made in 1985, produced by Elvis Costello. In years past, Decemberists’ splinter group KMRIA (short for Kiss My Royal Irish Arse, a choice quote from Ulysses and a lyric from ‘Transmetropolitan’ from our first record Red Roses For Me) has performed most of the Pogues’ Rum Sodomy and the Lash – along with bits of Red Roses For Me and most of our third album If I Should Fall From Grace With God – in their home town of Portland. (Colin Meloy is a fan of the band and of Rum Sodomy and the Lash in particular.) This St Patrick’s Day night, KMRIA are playing at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland.  Across the country, so are a few others.  I made the mistake of thinking that the Conspiracy of Beards will be singing all of Rum Sodomy and the Lash at the Make Out Room in San Francisco, but it turns out that it’s a band called Brandy of the Damned (now called, amusingly, The Bogues) who will be covering our difficult second album again next March.

March 17th is the 10th anniversary of East LA Chicano band Ollin’s rendition of all of Rum Sodomy and the Lash, this time at the Satellite in Silverlake in Los Angeles.  We came across Ollin playing in the  bar at the Fillmore in San Francisco in 2006 and had them do a support tour with us.  To celebrate the anniversary – coincidentally in the year of the Pogues’ 30th –  KPCC-FM,  a Southern California Public Radio, member-supported station, is devoting a programme to Ollin and their tribute to the Pogues.  The show’s called Off-Ramp and it’s hosted by John Rabe.  I’ll be doing an interview with John Rabe as part of the programme.  I hope to go over to the Satellite on March 17th too.

Off-Ramp airs Saturday 12-1 p.m. and Sunday 7-8 p.m.  KPCC-FM is on 89.3 in the Los Angeles area and streams live on

Laugharne Weekend

I’ve been invited to join the likes of, so far, Simon Armitage, Howard Marks, Cerys Matthews, Robin Williamson, Simon Day and Robin Ince at the Laugharne Weekend which takes place the weekend 13-15th April in Camarthenshire, on the estuary of the River Tâf.  I’m looking forward to making the long journey from Sydney – the day after the Pogues Australian (and a gig in Tokyo) tour – out to near-as-damn-it the Pembroke Coast.

Details are here:

Cerys Matthews joins line-up for Laugharne Weekend – Showbiz – Lifestyle – WalesOnline

and here:

BBC – Wales Arts: Line-up unveiled for Laugharne Weekend 2012

The Thought Fox

I was asked to write 500 words for Faber and Faber’s blog, The Thought Fox .  The brief from my editor was, ‘perhaps if you have time (and inclination) you could write a little piece about the experience of being edited, and proofing, for the first time.’  As it turned out, my article was appended – under the heading ‘Cultural Highlights: 2011 (Part 3)’, which included round-ups of the year by Faber and Faber writers.  I had wondered why the blog’s editor had referred to my article as ‘a little different’.

Here’s the complete article:

I’d been writing for years but never finished anything, accumulating tens of hundreds of thousands of words – confessions, chronicles, vignettes, anecdotes, and things my writers’ group calls ‘pieces’.

‘What you want is an editor,’ everyone said.

I wanted one along the lines of Maxwell Perkins, who lopped 90,000 words from Thomas Wolfe’s first novel, or Ben Wasson, who sheared a quarter from Faulkner’s third, or even maybe, at a push, Gordon Lish, who adzed up to seventy percent of a collection of Raymond Carver’s stories – and changed a couple of characters’ names too. I wanted a professional who would stand before the block of marble of my writing, see the finished sculpture inside and give me the bag of chisels to get it out.

I first met Lee Brackstone in July 2009, a month after Faber bought the rights to the memoir of my life with the Pogues. Brackstone described a book of between 80,000 and 100,000 words.  By the time of my first deadline nine months later, I had rendered the collections of notebooks, diaries, letters, commonplace books – twenty years of setting reminiscences down in black and white – down to 145,000.

I awaited the return of my manuscript. I imagined a thumbed, dog-eared pile scrawled with carets, deletions and transpositions and maybe a tea stain or too. I’d revise, send it back and we’d be done. When it came, there was indeed a bracket and strikeout or two, and a mug-ring on page 247, but nothing to help me shed the 45,000 words needed. This wasn’t Max Perkins. I didn’t know what to do. In the accompanying letter Lee described my writing as ‘cultivated’. I attended to his notes and then sat on my hands.

I met with him again the Christmas before last at a pub in Islington. We talked about my manuscript over a couple of pints, but it wasn’t until we were standing in the snow outside the pub waiting for a cab, that I got the note I had needed from the start. As we trod our cigarettes out, we agreed that some of the writing was pretentious and long-winded – cultivated indeed.

‘Cut out the writing that makes you look like a knobhead,’ Lee said.  I couldn’t have wished for a better note.

In my writers’ group, we talk grimly about the editing process. We call it ‘killing babies’ – a misquotation, misattributed to William Faulkner, of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who wrote that a writer should whole-heartedly obey the impulse to perpetrate exceptionally fine writing, but should delete it before sending the manuscript to press.

‘Murder your darlings,’ Sir Arthur wrote.

I lined my darlings along the edge of the ditch and hacked them down – along with the knobhead, hoping he wasn’t just lying under the corpses faking not breathing.

After the slaughter, the 115,000 words I was left with went to the copy-editor. I never had so much fun as trying to best my copy-editor’s eye for detail, but he trumped me with the deletion of a possessive apostrophe in the name of a guitar shop in Manchester.

I’d been warned, though, about proofreading. ‘Snow-blindness’ and ‘self-disgust’ were just two of the terms that came up. It wasn’t long before I was staring between my fingers at what I’d written, haggardly perplexed that anyone would want to publish what, to me, had turned out to be the textual equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster.

‘How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe,’ Victor Frankenstein says about his creature, ‘or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath.’

I can’t wait for publication.


The cover design

The memoir is coming out in the UK at the beginning of May.  I’m in the proofreading stage at the minute.  By way of illustration of this part of the process, here’s a bit from Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’:

‘How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe,’ Victor Frankenstein says about his creature, ‘or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath.’