Friday 30 April 2010

Billionaires Put Their Money into Searching for Answers

Last year, as I started work on my book about the futurologist James Martin, he had just pledged to give another $50-million of his own money to the school he had founded at Oxford University, The James Martin 21st Century School, if other benefactors would be willing to match the money. He had already given the school $100-million to get them started.

There were many who were sceptical that he would be able to find enough people willing to take up the challenge and match his offer during a time of apparent economic meltdown.

A couple of nights ago I went to hear him give The Commonwealth Lecture in the Faraday Theatre at the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street and found him bubbling with even more enthusiasm than usual. The pledges were all in and other donors, including such mighty names as George Soros and Bill Gates, had come up with an astonishing $90-million to add to Jim’s promise of $50-million.

The aim of the school is to “foster innovative thinking, deep scholarship and collaborative activity to address the pressing risks and create new opportunities for the 21st Century”.

It’s grand to know that so many people are willing to put their cheque books where their mouths are when it comes to sorting out the problems of the future – if only we could find some political leaders cut from the same cloth.

My book about Jim – currently entitled “The Change Agent – How to Create a Wonderful World” is scheduled for publication by Tonto Books in October.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Dinner With Zippy

People complain about the corporatisation of modern publishing and at the London Book Fair smooth be-suited purveyors of digital wonders did seem to outnumber the traditional tweeds, bow ties and boxes of remaindered titles.

Stuart Wheatman of Tonto Books, however, shines like a beacon of hope for those who like their publishers to be mischievous and eccentric, happier following their own hunches and enthusiasms than attending sales and marketing meetings.

The estimable Wheatman has bought a couple of titles off me and so we arranged to meet for supper in the Earls Court Road after the show had closed its doors, along with his editor in chief, Jill Morris.

Flushed and panting, Wheatman exploded through the crowd of new arrivals waiting around the door a couple of minutes late, lugging what looked like a school trunk, which he dropped beside the table as he sank gratefully into his chair, struggling for breath.

‘It’s Zippy,’ he said, gesturing to the trunk. ‘From Rainbow. I’ve got to guard him for the night and get him back to Soho in the morning.’

Zippy’s alter-ego, puppeteer Ronnie le Drew, is doing a book with Stuart and he and Zippy had been making a personal appearance at the Fair.

This seems a good start towards Stuart’s professed ambition to build a list of ‘quirky left-field lives’ in the style of John Blake. The wisdom of this ambition was born out by the news from the Book Fair that John Blake himself would not be able to attend this year as he was ‘trapped on his yacht in Turkey’ by the volcanic dust crisis.

The following evening I was back in a crowded Earls Court pub with Stuart, who was sandwiched between one of my clients, the colourful rock and country impresario, Mervyn Conn, and one of the pub’s regulars, a mighty seven foot transvestite of African descent.

What a wonderful and varied world book publishing still is.

Friday 16 April 2010

A Despised and Secretive Breed

Feeling crushed today upon reading in the Daily Mail that Chris Tookey, the esteemed newspaper’s film and theatre critic, believes ghostwriters are “a despised and secretive breed”.

It must be wonderful to belong to two breeds as adored as theatre critics and Daily Mail journalists. Note to self, must try harder to break into a more revered circle of folk.