Posts Tagged ‘douglas adams’

THE FROOD: FIT THE FINAL?

This month The Frood is excitingly relaunched in paperback form – which, after all, was always the natural format for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, from its first release.

This is a completely updated, fine-tuned edition, which will hopefully spread Douglas Adams’ incredible, improbable, never-holistically-told-before story further than ever, and see this Hitchhiker celebration finally reach the legions of froody fans in the USA and all around the world, who seem to clamour for it despite there being no US publisher as yet. The first editions’ few niggles have been extinguished with the strictest niggle destroying technology, the back end has been updated, and I’ve even requested that the cover be made at least 25% more shiny (sending the Arrow designers grabs from 1980s Doctor Who credits as reference material).

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I’ve also added many more acknowledgements, thanking everyone who helped with the original release last year, and the events that followed. Sadly – very sadly – the book went off to the printers before the news emerged of the loss of Susan Sheridan, the original and ultimate Trillian, otherwise extra tribute would have been paid to her within. She was wonderfully generous with her time for this book, sharing an article she’d written as well as putting up with all my impertinent questions. It was an honour to meet her, and tragic to lose another of the Hitchhiker family.

This time last year there was a rather cheeky story in the Radio Times (It’s £2 these days! Honestly!), in which some staffer who had stolen into The Frood’s wonderful Cheltenham Literary Festival event with Terry Jones, Clive Anderson and Douglas’ brother James Thrift, specifically ignored the very existence of The Frood itself, but instead selectively quoted James (a really wonderful bloke who was unstintingly helpful and enthusiastic throughout the book’s creation) when he suggested on the hoof that The Frood would be the last word from the Douglas Adams archive. Of course, if there is a firm insistence on this from everyone who makes up the Adams estate, then yes, that is so, and The Frood is all that you can expect to read, unpublished Adams material-wise – certainly for a generation or three.

However, even though I did not have time to cover more than about 80% of the archive at St. John’s college, the material I was lucky enough to capture two years ago is still very exciting. A tiny fraction of it – not so much all the cream, just the most pertinent passages – has made its way into The Frood, and all of it a real fan-frothing dream-come-fact to read, after so many years believing that the Salmon of Doubt was the full stop. But what about everything else I have lovingly secreted here on this hard drive? The tale of Dirk Gently and the Nameless Horror? Or the Demon Mafioso? That weird sketch extract starring Theseus and Ariadne? The Zaphod chapters in the courtroom at Argabuthon? Be assured, none of these Adams pieces could be described as scraping any barrels. Of course, there’s plenty of rough Adams material which should never be thrust into the public gaze for all sorts of reasons. But there’s still a large amount of well revised laugh-out-loud comic material here, and if there’s one thing of which I am certain, it’s that making people laugh out loud was always one of Douglas Adams’ core reasons for being. For his jokes to continue to make his fans laugh after he’s gone is the best posthumous respect you can show the man.

With so much activity in the Dirk Gently camp, both from IDW’s comics, and the related BBC America TV series, I am tempted to tentatively suggest a kind of special profile of Mr. Svlad Cjelli and his holistically shady interconnected world, examining his two published adventures, unravelling the Salmon of Doubt, presenting the very best, cogent, funny material to build up a truly definitive picture of Adams’ own plans for his singular detective. This would be the true story, to be kept distinct from the further adventures dreamt up (extremely entertainingly and convincingly, let’s presume) by those who follow in the creator’s footsteps: IDW Comics, Max Landis, and the BBC. To me, this seems the most respectful course of action, faced with the possibility of Douglas’ ideas being recycled in various media – to present the real stuff, tastefully and entertainingly, once and for all, and then let the portly private eye go off and have all the new adventures he likes. I have many irons in the fire, but what an honour it would be to compile this celebratory dossier on Dirk!

It’s one of the hardest jobs imaginable, to decide how any beloved artist’s work should be presented after their terminal taps at the keyboard, and thank the universe that there’s such a loving and furiously protective network surrounding Adams’ reputation, so only the most worthwhile projects can carry his name. But then, as he was the author of the introduction to PG Wodehouse’s posthumous, unfinished novel Sunset at Blandings (which Plum wouldn’t even have named that), it would be hypocritical to deny Douglas a similar tribute, if the rarities he left behind are of sufficient quality. I’m hoping to discuss some of this with a live audience at this year’s Chortle Book Fest – perhaps in the company of Dirk Maggs, who has similarly laboured with the question of What Douglas Would Have Wanted. Adams’ fans are so passionate, we all have the right to debate these issues openly. If Chortle can’t accommodate, perhaps we’ll find some other route.

So there may be a very eye-opening hour on the Adams archive coming up (right now the paperback publicity runs to a chat above a chippy in Ludlow – such is publishing), and there MAY even be the possibility of a new book. If any of the above ideas do come to fruition, you’ll probably hear about it here first, but for now, I hope any Adams admirers who have yet to take the intergalactic journey that is The Frood will get to experience it for themselves in paperback, and see for themselves just how much gold the great man left behind for us to enjoy.

TV Doug & 42 Wall

Pic ©Kevin J Davies, I believe…

PS This is my first blog since the great political disaster of May 2015, and in today’s Britain, we need Douglas Adams’ utopian – or rather, anti-dystopian – philosophy more than ever before:

‘It’s very important that we give ourselves optimistic views of the future. If we allow ourselves to be hypnotised by the view of the future where the whole world will look like a sort of rusty version of LA, then that’s what we’ll get. But on the other hand, if we see the technologies coming along at the moment… in the best possible way, then we’re more likely to get something great coming out of it. The models we have in our mind are very important… The future is invented by those who are excited about it, and it has never been as inventable as it is now.’

I sincerely hope that tomorrow, victory is announced for Jeremy Corbyn, and politics can begin to turn the corner, and advance into the 21st century. Either way, I’m equally proud to have joined the Women’s Equality Party. Be positive. Have hope. Stay Froody.

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2014: A Hitchhiker Odyssey & ENDPAPERS

2014: A STRANGELY ADAMSIAN YEAR.

This year has had one overwhelmingly apparent theme for me – it was the year that I all-but unwittingly became the official Douglas Adams biographer, and raider of the Adams archives. The honour of this will probably hit me a few minutes before I die. But I was far from the only person still working to fly the towel for Douglas this year – it has been a bizarrely Adamsian year from start to finish. What follows is adapted from an article written for a paper thing…

Douglas Adams

‘Forgive me if you knew this already, perhaps I’m the last person in the world to find this out,’ Douglas Adams worried unnecessarily in one of the numerous tech columns he wrote towards the end of the last millennium, in this case on the problem of communicating via ‘palmtop’ technology: ‘the answer is this: you grip the palmtop between both hands and you type with your thumbs. Seriously. It works. It feels a bit awkward to begin with, and your hands ache a little from using unaccustomed muscles, but you get used to it surprisingly quickly.’

The rapidity with which our species has developed these muscles and now uses them unthinkingly is testament to how far ahead of the curve the avid Mac collector and gadget obsessive Douglas Adams surfed, for so long. The great humorist and thinker’s cautious discovery now seems quaint – which, along with being hopelessly over-ambitious, is one of the risks of being in the vanguard of technological philosophy. The further ahead your thinking, the bigger the margin for error, and likelihood of looking naïve in hindsight.

But as we take a look around at the techie landscape we all enjoyed, inhabited and maybe even suffered in 2014, we see a world which would have delighted and amused Adams in equal measures. The publication of a wealth of top-grade composition from the infamously painstaking author for my official celebration of HitchhikerThe Frood – endorsed by Douglas’ family and estate, does in a way give the sadly missed philosopher and joker a fresh presence in the new century. It’s often hard not to see this brave new world from his unique perspective, which was tragically halted at the start of the millennium.

The author always diffidently batted away any claims for him as a predictive visionary: from the very start, he was a frustrated comedian turned humorist, with making people laugh generally his utmost priority, and if it suited his framework of jokes to have his hero carrying around a compact electronic book connected to an information source known as ‘Sub-Etha’, boasting all the knowledge in the Galaxy, that was just, in every sense, a device. That this Guide rather neatly presages actual devices which are now stuffed into nearly everyone’s pockets in real life is just one of an endless stream of coincidences that daisychain Adams’ career. In the 1984 novel So Long and Thanks For All The Fish, the Hitchhiker’s Guide’s froodiest field researcher Ford Prefect visits the violent metropolis of Han Dold City, connects his copy remotely to the Sub-Etha and watches the infamous entry on Earth – ‘Mostly Harmless’ – being updated in real time, in scenes which struck most readers as cool fantasy thirty years ago, but would not raise a single eyebrow in today’s wi-fi-filled world. Technology that was sci-fi has now become humdrum.

One glance at the high street would show Adams that his beloved Apple, the company whose sleek, simple machines he had passionately adored since clapping eyes on the 128k model (released in the same year as SLATFATFish), are no longer the Rebel Elite, the underdog championed by only the most fervent computing connoiseurs, but have become the Empire, ubiquitous and triumphant. Douglas’ life ended in April 2001, just short of the launch of the iPod, but he would have ended up with drawers full of them – he was even happy to appear in promotional videos for the Apple cause. He certainly wouldn’t have had to queue up for the new iPhone 6.

Incidentally, the entertainment being enjoyed on iPhones, iPads, and i-otherwise would also be right up Adams’ alley in 2014 – if The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has any two cultural parents, one would be Monty Python, who have just bade the world an explosive farewell at the O2 (sans Adams’ wild mentor Graham Chapman). For a whole decade, the other major progenitor of Hitchhiker has also been impossible to escape in any entertainment arena – Russell T Davies’ rebooted Doctor Who being by common accord largely inspired by the blend of wit and wonder realised by Adams in his own time on The Show, particularly in his script for the fan favourite City of Death. As a final uncanny twist, Pink Floyd have released their last album, their first such release since The Division Bell twenty years ago – a name suggested by their number one fan, Douglas, in return for David Gilmour making a sizeable donation to a charity for Silverback Gorillas.

If Adams’ latter work in the technological world is still continuing anywhere in cyberspace, it’s at h2g2.com. As the ‘Chief Fantasist’ of dotcom company The Digital Village, Douglas posited an Earth-bound Guide that would not only cover all shades of existence, but even allow users, like field researchers, to leave reviews for cafés and such, for the benefit of other users. Wikipedia, Google Maps and many more services have taken on these ideas until they have become par for the course, and yet the h2g2.com ball Adams started rolling at the end of the last millennium is still very much a continuing project, placing itself in the same position to Wikipedia as the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ was to the ‘Encyclopedia Galactica’: the snarky option, which tells it like it is – sometimes.

On a similar note, there are many sadly missing wits who would have flourished on Twitter, but it’s so hard not to reflect on how surely the incurable epigrammist Adams may well have been crowned King of the Tweets, entertaining his millions of followers when he should be honouring novel deadlines.

Despite his Dirk Gently-ish reticence to claim any clairvoyance, Douglas was to become feted by the scientific and technological communities, and was often paid to pontificate on our electronic future, but in 2014 maybe we were still a fair distance from the realisation of some of Adams’ presumptions, such as computers as tiny and numerous as grains of sand. The number 2014 provided no urgent anniversary for Hitchhiker, bar the autumn’s 35th anniversary of the first novel’s release by Pan Books. Perhaps 2013’s marking of the radio programme’s first broadcast would logically have been the most obvious celebration. Therefore it must just be yet another extraordinarily random coincidence that, besides the release of an all-new iteration of the classic Hitchhiker computer game, the deadline for The Frood was screeching towards me just as the original radio cast were brought together in the BBC Radio Theatre this March for an almost unprecedented honour – a live broadcast of a mash-up encore for Arthur Dent and cohorts, as devised and directed by Douglas’ last radio comedy collaborator, Dirk Maggs.

I could spend the rest of my life trying to think up any rational explanation for this all happening in 2014, but I give up. It may all have just been coincidence, or it could well be that Hitchhiker, even nearly fourteen years on from the loss of its creator, is still just very, very hard to put down.


ENDPAPERS

As a slightly random New Year’s gift to those who are interested, here’s a couple of Photoshop offerings from my own meagre talents. I’ve always believed in squeezing as much added value into my books as possible, and particularly feel that the hardback’s endpapers should be anything but dull – an issue which triggered a highly unusual argument with my esteemed publisher, with whom I generally have an unwavering accord. Apparently it’s plain endpapers FTW in publishing circles, but I still feel fans should be given as much as possible.

Sadly, my campaign to include the Hitchhiker collage below in The Frood hardback failed miserably, largely due to clearance issues, sobeit. Nevertheless, although the quality of artwork here is quite deliberately rough as arses (the idea was that one of Preface Publishing’s designers would do a better job of it, but it never got that far, sadly), I can include it here for download. If anyone fancies brightening up the drab existing endpapers by printing out this and sticking it into their copy of The Frood… You may need a better hobby, but good luck to you.

COLLAGE

Anyone who already has The Clue Bible in hardback will recognise this collage as it appeared – strangely, without any further design work, this is just as I designed it. So this is what paperback owners will have been so badly missing…

The Clue Bible Collage

The top image contains elements which are kindly reproduced by the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge and numerous ©opyrights including the excellent Kevin J Davies, DC Comics, BBC TV and what-have-you. The bottom one is mainly thanks to Tim Brooke-Taylor and Humphrey Barclay. 

Sincere thanks to everyone who has bought any of my books or in any way persuaded me to keep at it this year. I hope not to let you down in 2015.


MAY YOUR 2015 BE FROODY OR OTHERWISE FORTUITOUS, ACCORDING TO TASTE!

THE FROOD: Fit The Fifth

THE FROOD – Fit The Fifth

First things first – come along to a very special BFI DOUGLAS ADAMS & HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE RETROSPECTIVE on Sunday 14th December! There shall be rare material and cosplay and Trillian and GargleBlasters and fun! More details follow…

10676179_10152733708388855_2155694169793331630_nOne of these froods is hoopier than the other – me and the remarkable Toby “Slarts” Longworth.
Pic taken by the excellently-monikered Janko Dragovic.

I may have gone where I intended to go, but I do not think I have ended up where I wanted to be – to subvert the words of an occasionally wise detective – which is another way of saying that the publicity splurges for The Frood brought a lot of pleasure both to me and to audiences around the middle bit of this island… However, it seems that amid the avalanche of selective-memoirs from the likes of Cleese, Merton, Fry et al, even a figure as beloved as Adams can get a bit lost. It may well be that soon it will become illegal to write a book unless you are a celebrity.

In short, it occurs to me that a massive shake-up of the way books are published is in order – even though The Frood missed ‘Super Thursday’ by coming out a week or two earlier, there’s simply no commercial sense in squeezing a year’s worth of book releases (many specifically aimed at the exact same readership) into one day in autumn any more – if indeed, there ever was any sense in it. Perhaps a new model will come along, in which books sort of stay in publicity mode for a lot longer, being updated, re-printed (if popular enough), and dusted down for suitable occasions, to help spread the word.

For instance, I tend to meet about one person a week who claims to be the biggest Blackadder fan of all time, ever, no comebacks – and almost without exception, these people never even know there is a widely available great big official-as-dammit book on the subject, packed with exclusive material. It looks like The Frood might be a similar situation, Hitchhiker fans the world over need to be told about it – but with every single media outlet in the UK currently being all-but run by unpaid interns , their Culture coverage cut down to around one sentence every second month, how to let them know? I’m currently favouring a special series of supernovae explosions on New Year’s Eve which will spell out “BUY THE FROOD BY JEM” across the firmament – keep an eye out at the end of the month to see if my plans have come to fruition.

Nonethefewer, in the meantime, after a year of chilly isolated composition on The Frood, I can at least sincerely say that the publicity splurge we did have was a genuine pleasure. First there was the honour of the top floor of Foyles’ brand-spanking new metropolitan store, debating with author Marie Phillips  about Adams’ problems with fictional females:

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Next came the interesting challenge of improvising 90 minutes of stand-up on the subject of The Frood for Bath’s Toppings, followed by a friendly chat with the Douglas Adams expert par excellence, David Haddock, in Heffer’s Cambridge:

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Then came the biggie – being on the Cheltenham Literary Festival main stage with Douglas’ brother James Thrift and old friends Clive Anderson and Terry Jones – a slightly smaller venue for the latter than his most recent gig at the O2, but a great pleasure for all of us. The Radio Times rather naughtily stole a non-story moment from the event without even bothering to mention the actual book, but that report is very misleading indeed – at this stage, it’s impossible to say precisely what is happening with the Adams archive…

Oh, and as an extra jolly, of course, there was the unexpected pleasure of an added date in November, at the Chortle Comedy Book Festival in Camden. I thought I would make this more of a comedy event than a book plug, and could think of nobody better to join me on stage than the current reigning Slartibartfast in the official Hitchhiker tour – Toby Longworth – to aid me in performing some ultra-rare slices of Hitchhikeriana. With an eye to the fundamental inter-connectedness of all things, you see, comedy stalwart Toby is actually from my adopted home town in Bath, and we share a number of close friends, but had never actually met up until this occasion. We each chose a favourite passage from the H2G2 legend – he plumped for Marvin’s death, I chose the initial Dent/Slarts dialogue:

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Yes, I know I’m a poor stand-in for Simon Jones… but I wouldn’t be the first! Pic ©Amanda Leon-Joyce

But we also performed some exclusive never-before-seen material – the highlight being our very ad-hoc reconstruction of the beginning of the abandoned Hitchhiker TV Series 2, with Toby standing in for David Dixon and me still failing to capture the brilliance of Simon Jones. Still, my ukulele stayed in my bag (no ‘So Long…’ singalong!) and many laughs were had – I was even stopped in the street and asked about the possibility of further fringey stagings of this Longworth/Roberts ‘show’ as it were, but that would depend totally, like everything else, on the feelings of Douglas Adams’ family and estate. I’m up for it.

So, this ‘rent horizon’ season has been packed with pleasure, then, but thankfully we’re not done yet! Somebody lovely from the BFI and the Loco Comedy Film Fest rang me up with an offer to chair a special panel on Sunday 14th December, as part of a whole day of celebration of Adams’ work, for froods of all ages! The hoopy day will be starting off with a special Dr Who slant by showing all of City of Death, filling in the middle with chats and rare programmes from us – including the original Trillian, Susan Sheridan – and culminating in a complete marathon of the BBC TV sitcom version of Hitchhiker’s Guide. Simply click the link at the top of this blog to get involved in all the fun, and let’s hope that more people continue to discover (and above all, enjoy) The Frood in the coming days, weeks, months, years…

As the most comprehensive official guide to The Guide in the known Galaxy, The Frood will always be out there now, and as long as my writing does as much justice to Douglas’ memory as people have told me it does, that’s all that really matters.

Now, will somebody please buy me lunch?

THE FROOD: Fit The Fourth

THE FROOD: Fit 1  Fit 2  Fit 3

FROODPIC

GETTING THE HANG OF THURSDAYS

15 months is a long time in publishing. It’s an excruciatingly long time in politics. And is also quite a bit of a wait in the fields of medicine, confectionary, and professional equestrianism. For me personally, it’s the time between sitting down to suggest to you the reasoning behind my all-new and utterly official guide to the life and work of Douglas Adams, THE FROOD – and actually having the book right here in my grasp, composed of actual molecules and everything.

Perhaps the worst thing an author can do on publication is to issue long lists of disclaimers and special pleading, and hopefully the previous three Fits on this blog detail the journey with enough honesty to show that this book has been created from start to finish with openness, sincerity and love for Adams and Hitchhiker paramount at every stage – this is why the Adams estate, Ed Victor, Polly Adams et al have been so supportive and made it an official part of the Douglas Adams library. Whether the finished volume makes them feel it deserves this distinction it’s still too early to say, but the love and devotion with which THE FROOD has been constructed can never be doubted, except by the most bitter bystanders.

However, when I was invited to take part in a Reddit Q&A back when the ‘Archive Hitchhiker Found’ stories were doing the rounds of UK media, Rolling Stone, and so on, it was made clear to me just how firmly and publicly my fragile spuds are being served up on a platter for Hitchhiker fans the world over to take a run up and kick. I’ve nothing against Reddit, but have never ventured on there, and didn’t feel keen to start when invited – not least as I’d already said all I could on the subject. But I was sent a link to the FROOD thread there, and could see the gangs lined up around the corner with the stuffed eelskin ready to give me a good pasting – “Who is he? Did he even know Douglas? Who does he think he is?” One thing I’m not a glutton for is punishment, and so I begged leave to skip that particular mauling. This is the place where I’m happiest to explain myself right now…

But I do understand the prejudice from fans who consider themselves in some way ‘truer’ fans of any comedy or sci-fi creation, that some apparent chancer has come along to meddle with the thing they love. It was precisely to avoid any such impotent rage from myself, indeed, that I decided to write my first book, the official I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue Bible – if anyone else had dared to spoil the fun of my favourite radio comedy, given away the secrets of Mornington Crescent and so on, I’d never have forgiven myself, let alone them. Nonetheless, anyone who thinks that I am jubilantly celebrating a long-held plan to become ‘The Official Douglas Adams Biographer’ should read on…

It has been an intense year and a bit, the most undiluted period of composition of my life hitherto. But in fact, let’s go back even further, to March 2012:

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Me and fellow Hitchhiker-loving pals at the Hammersmith Apollo to mark Douglas’ 60th.

At this stage, I was on the verge of handing in the manuscript for THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE BLACK ADDER after three years, and nothing could have been further from my mind than actually writing about Hitchhiker in any way, I was just there as a life-long fan, enjoying the show. As far as I was concerned, Gaiman and Simpson and Webb had pretty much totalled the subject forever more, and… Hang on, sorry, I feel a sudden uncontrollable need to create doggerel:

Gaiman & Simpson & Webb,
(Plus Roberts, that come-lately pleb),
Though different in looks,
Have all written books,
That marvelled at Douglas’s neb.

… That’s better.

The totally un-inter-connected jumble of coincidences, freak occurrences, and a plethora of d’you-mind-if-I-don’ts which have taken me from that state of innocence, to this current situation, marvelling at a first edition hardback with an unusually low level of teething glitches*, thanks to the sharp-eyed folk at Preface:

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Remember, at no stage have I claimed not to be a tosser. And that beard’s looking a bit Dirk Maggs (not deliberate, I promise, Dirk, yours is much better). But I hope I can be a bit proud… Of the book, not the beard.

… Reading this blog should make clear that all these steps on ‘The Road To THE FROOD’ bely any suggestion that I am a hardcore ZZ9-er who plotted to rise to the top of the Hitchhiker fandom heap. My requirements for devoting myself to a project remain the same: That the subject matter is already automatically a passion of mine, and that the story deserves either telling, or in this case, retelling, in a refreshing way. It was hardly an entirely sunlit experience, months of winter frozen to my desk psychologically stuck on the depressing musings of a miserable robot in a cold and bureaucratic universe… but Adams’ facetious, silly, philosophical humanist humour kept me going, and I have come out the other side loving the man and his work more than ever before. This was always my main hope, and why I have to genuinely adore my subject matter, so this process can intensify that love, not diminish it.

The discovery of reams of unpublished material from the Adams Archive has of course both upped THE FROOD’s USP a hundredfold, and given other fans some room for caution. But anyone who feels there’s the slightest tang of cash-in involved here, that we are capitalising on work Douglas did not want shared with the public, really should avoid panic. The material used in THE FROOD is, I would estimate, about one tenth (just the most polished, funny, insightful, and/or pertinent extracts) of the publishable material I uncovered in my researches – and the ‘publishable material’ constituted about a third of all the writing in the Archive. This isn’t like John Lennon’s letters, we’re not printing shopping lists here, we could have included several times’ this amount of ‘lost’ Hitchhiker material without getting within scraping distance of any barrels, or in any way compromising the genius of Douglas Adams. I saw plenty of stuff not fit for publishing, and we chose only the best of the prose that was worthy of the public’s gaze – albeit there’s so much more hidden away…

Now comes the traditional worst bit of being an author: actually getting people likely to buy the book to know all about it, and part with some currency for it. In fact, it’s inspired me to define a new term, familiar to me by now: THE RENT HORIZON. The Rent Horizon is the point at which a project conceived and created entirely from love finally has to actually provide some form of income. I’ve written a piece on Comedy Archives for The Independent, there’s something going in The Times, and above all, where my previous book was launched with a quiet dinner for three at Pizza Hut and later, a modest rainy afternoon at the Penarth Book Festival (who were utterly lovely, should you be reading this! Do have me back), THE FROOD has a comparable media blitz lined up. Well, when you’re taking on the might of Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Danny Baker and Paul Merton all at once, it’s best to make something of a song and dance about it.

So anyone keen to know more about this new guide to the Guide has numerous chances to see me pontificate in person:

• First at Foyles in London on the 23rd…

• Then back home at Toppings in Bath on the 24th…

• Next day, back over to Heffer’s in Cambridge on the official launch day, 25th September…

• And then, the really scary one, Saturday 4th October THE FROOD takes the lunchtime limelight at this year’s Cheltenham Literary Festival

• Plus, just added, is this evening at Rossiter Books in Ross-On-Wye on October 24th.

With reference to the big Cheltenham event, being the author, of course I was naturally the last one to know, but I discovered from a random post on the ZZ9 Facebook page that the Cheltenham event will involve me (with Ed Victor and Douglas’ brother James Thrift), being quizzed on stage by none other than Clive Anderson, 20 years on from devotedly watching his chat show every Friday night (I promise not to do a Bee-Gees). As if that wasn’t treat enough, extracts from my book and Hitchhiker lore in general will be read by a real living Python – Terry Jones. So if you’ve ever wanted to see what I look like paralysed with fear, it’ll cost you about £12.

With The Rent Horizon passed, of course I hope Hitchhiker fans buy THE FROOD, but it is genuinely most important of all that they ENJOY it. And indeed, SHARE it with other fans, whether I get a penny or not. I set out to make a book worthy of association with the all-time King of Sci-Fi Comedy, and I hope you all feel it’s been worth my effort, the effort of all of the team at Preface Publishing, and indeed, the effort of Douglas’ friends and family who felt I had it in me to provide the icing on the cake originally baked by Gaiman & Simpson & Webb. I know that the experience has deepened my fandom for Douglas and the Galaxy he created, and I only want it to do the same for Froods everywhere.

TV Doug & 42 Wall

*Hardly anything, comparatively: one rogue cloned book cover in the second plate section, the insane phrase ‘Betamax VHS’ when it should obviously have been ‘Betamax VCR’, and of course I meant ASTRONOMY not astro-bloody-logy… Howl… Still, for a 150,000+ word book, this is quite a remarkable strike rate, and all creases are being immediately ironed out… We apologise for the inconvenience.

THE FROOD: Fit The Third

A VERY VERY FROODY TOWEL DAY, EVERYONE!

Update on The Frood? To quote Sir Guy, “GETTING IT READY FOR YOU NOW.”

This article made a rather good point yesterday, that Douglas Adams would probably have been more bemused and befuddled by the concept of folk all around the world celebrating his work via bathroom linen than anything else – but then, as we only do it because he’s no longer here, that’s no reason for anyone to hold back, from Innsbruck to Santa Barbara, grab your towel and have a good time…

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The last time I had a pass for this building, I was pitching a show to a Radio 4 producer circa 2001. A callow youth.

The high probability that fans somewhere will still be celebrating this day after we have all joined Adams is a very pleasing thought, but even though last year was the 35th anniversary of Hitchhiker’s first leakage into public consciousness, 2014 has turned out to be a particularly auspicious year for towel-carriers everywhere. Of course, it’s the 35th anniversary of the publication of the novel that turned a cult Radio 4 comedy into an international sensation, but it could well also be the year when that radio titan finally reached its conclusion.

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A thoroughly unprofessional photograph of a thoroughly geektastic experience – being the one audience member for the Hitchhiker Live technical rehearsal.

Returning to probability – or this time, Improbability – what odds would you give? That one year ago I would sit down and begin to write an all-new updated history of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, roughly ten years on from Nick Webb’s previous Official Biography but without any particular anniversary guiding me… And then, within the very last FORTNIGHT of the writing of The Frood, I would find myself in the BBC Radio Theatre watching the ultimate embodiments of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trilian Astra-Mcmillan, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Random Dent, and TWO embodiments of Marvin, taking their quite probably final bows for a brand new live broadcast of the programme that started it all? I still hadn’t quite recovered from the honour of being handed an unproduced Blackadder script by Richard Curtis two years earlier, but this was further off the scale.

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And yes, the Hitchhiker Live experience was made even more exciting by discovering this book in the small BBC shop, one of only three or four titles they were featuring. Still available in all… places.

The other way in which ‘Blackadder In Bethlehem’ was just a taster for the archival treats to come has already been detailed in this blog, but it has deepened since, with my second trip to Cambridge. Sadly no palatial quarters for me this time, I had to find myself thrillingly seedy digs as I documented every last scrap of the private Adams Archive at St. John’s that I could – very hard work, and worth every millisecond.

THE FROOD will now be out this September (pre-order here why don’t you? Have Amazon started paying their bloody tax yet? Apologies if not. Buy it from a proper shop in four months then), and in addition to the teases already teased, I’ve been able to work in whole chapters of a totally different draft of ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’ previously believed destroyed, sections from the planned second TV series which never got beyond the rough script stage, and… well, too much to document here. We could only fit the cream of the discoveries into the book! And last time I shot my mouth off in this arena the lovely folk at St. John’s College told me off, and I had to remove images and await rights clearance, so for now, perhaps this Fit should keep shtum.

There will be much more to come at the start of the autumn – including special Hitchhiker events in Cambridge and as the centrepiece of this year’s Cheltenham Literary Festival, so keen Froods should keep their eyes non-literally peeled for further information. But if they’re real fans, they will quite probably BURST. Like a Drubber. Sorry, that’s a Hitchhiker reference which will only make sense to you after reading THE FROOD…

Right, I have an afternoon gig at the Spiegeltent as part of the Bath Fringe, and as it’s Towel Day I’ll be ending on ‘So Long & Thanks For All The Fish’, so I’m off to get ready. For now…

WE APOLOGISE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

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THE FROOD: Fit The First

Douglas Adams would have honed this long and flabby blog entry down to about fifty words. This is why he can with relative safety be called a genius, and I can be called something else. Nonetheless…

This is to announce the forthcoming publication of my third book, THE FROOD: A COMEDIC HISTORY OF DOUGLAS ADAMS’ HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Or at least, this is a displacement activity when I should be writing my third book, THE FROOD: ACHODAHHGTTG. It has the full official blessing of Adams’ family, agent and estate, and will be published by Preface in the autumn of 2014, to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the release of Adams’ first novel in the trilogy of five (or six now, lest we forget, which is one of the issues this book will mull over).

My previous book on Blackadder was composed entirely in secret, not announced until it was ready for publication. This time, I am adamant that I want to do things differently, and let the interested world in on what Preface Books and I are up to, as we go along.

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THE FROOD: Original pitch, as cordially okayed by Ed Victor, Polly Adams and the Adams estate.

“It’s all been said!” is of course a perfectly understandable reaction to this announcement – at least, it was the one I made when the idea began to take root, and it was also the initial response of John Lloyd, the comedy Yaweh so intricately bound in to the H2G2 story, who has also been kind enough to help and advise me throughout the travails of constructing my first two books. Since handing over THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE BLACK ADDER in the spring of 2012, I had been labouring to push a number of book ideas off the starting blocks, with a heart-squashing absence of success, until, in one of many wranglings with my wise publisher, the subject of H2G2 arose. Both of my existing books had intersected interestingly with the Adams story, and I have been a huge DNA admirer pretty much all my life, reading all the H2G2 and Dirk Gently books before puberty set in and having a number of well-thumbed Adams biographies and the like on my shelves. I enjoyed attending Adams’ 60th birthday celebrations at the Hammersmith Apollo, and considered myself a definite fan of the man and his works. Indeed, I think the shaken, confused feeling which set in when I first heard the insane news about his early death is one which I will never quite dispel. But while all this is true, I hadn’t ever been a card-carrying, ZZ9-Plural-Z-Alpha-fee-paying H2G2 obsessive, certainly not in the same all-encompassing way that Blackadder was branded indelibly on my soul. Would the view of a non-cultist be a refreshing change to what had already been published about the most remarkable book ever to come out of the great publishing corporation of Ursa Minor… Pan Books?

I was as surprised as I would really love you to be right now to discover that a new book about H2G2 could definitely be not just justified, but positively required, in 2014. First of all, Douglas Adams is a huge cultural figure. When James Boswell said his piece about Samuel Johnson, did the academics of the world say “well, that about wraps it up for Johnson”? No, they did not, so it’s a testament to Adams’ lasting vision and creation that further books on the subject can be welcomed, and hopefully will continue to be written long after you and I are dust. But what scope is there for further H2G2 study?

At no time will I deny that this book will in part be written by standing on the shoulders of – if not giants, then certainly rather tall people.

First and foremost, I would say that the oracle for Adams and his work is HITCHHIKER: A BIOGRAPHY OF DOUGLAS ADAMS by MJ Simpson, who was a definite contender for Adams’ Boswell. Particularly bearing in mind the schedule I am facing, I cannot try to contend with that book’s sheer density of meticulous research and truth-refining. I owe Mike Simpson a titanic debt, not just for writing that work, but for his kind blessing to forge on ahead with THE FROOD. When I open HITCHHIKER, I recognise the same valiant determination to slip in every single salient and entertaining fact, creating a definitive profile, that I aimed for with THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE BLACK ADDER. I point anyone who wants to take the travels of Arthur Dent with them into the Mastermind chair to engorge themselves on Simpson’s book. Although not a flashy piece of writing, it is, I maintain, the H2G2 bible.

That said, of course Simpson has not been alone in chronicling the H2G2 story. By-passing several titles which are either handy remixes of available sources, like the recent ROUGH GUIDE, or drastically loosely based around the H2G2 theme (42, THE SCIENCE OF H2G2, PHILOSOPHY & H2G2 and so on), Simpson’s HITCHHIKER forms part of a trilogy of three non-fiction books.

Neil Gaiman was the first to hang on Adams’ anecdote-spinning, writing DON’T PANIC – the first ever book on the subject, back in the 80s, before Adams had even written his last word for the Guide. However, as is to be expected, DON’T PANIC is a naturally superseded patchwork quilt of a book, which has already been briefly patched up and updated twice by other authors (Simpson included), and though it contains much exclusive material and is a must-see for dedicated fans, it remains light reading. The sadly no-longer-with-us Nick Webb, Adams’ good friend and first publisher at Pan, wrote the excellent and entirely authorised WISH YOU WERE HERE at the Adams family’s request, and that too I would thoroughly recommend to any lover of DNA’s work. Webb’s book is perhaps the most intellectual of the trilogy, with many pages mulling over Adams’ philosophical musings at length, and is therefore perhaps the closest we will get to Adams himself as it digresses regularly into ultimate questions of physics, metaphysics and lunch in a way which gives you more of a feel of meeting the man himself than any other non-fiction title. That said, by being a very personal take on Adams’ life and career, WYWH skirts over a thousand themes which Simpson was to subsequently nail down.

To top all of this, the fanclub ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha has been publishing its fanzine MOSTLY HARMLESS four times a year for three decades, so what chance does any comedy historian stand when it comes to digging up anything new about Life, The Universe and… That?

Well I hope I have the germ of a very worthwhile idea, in THE FROOD. Firstly, science fiction fans tend to pay lip service to the very basic fact that H2G2 was, and remains, COMEDY – but although Simpson writes with genuine knowledge and zeal about Adams’ humour, it’s always apparent that it’s the robots, spaceships and distant galaxies fuelling the passion. THE FROOD will be the first book to fully engage with H2G2 in the intended context. Don’t misconstrue me, I do love science fiction: I’ve read my Wells, I bought every issue of the Red Dwarf smegazine, I watched all the Star Trek the BBC pumped out throughout the 90s (well, until Voyager came along, but… SCHTUM!). Nevertheless, Sci-Fi is not actually top of My List Of Favourite Genres. In my first book I was lucky to get the chance to detail the creation of one solid gold classic of BBC Radio 4 comedy, and this will follow a very similar thread: creating sonic humour.

Secondly, I have had to take the assertion that MJ Simpson admirably covered the H2G2 saga in exquisite detail not as a bar to my book’s worth, but as a ticket to freedom. I can and will point anyone towards Simpson’s work if they want the nitty and/or gritty of how H2G2 happened (although there are numerous elements absent from Simpson’s book which I will investigate), but that done, THE FROOD has the licence to come at the story from an entirely new angle. At the risk of being labelled a pseud, I can only think of what I do as story-telling, whereas none of the existing books on H2G2 allow themselves to tell Adams’ story with any kind of pleasing narrative flow, because there’s simply too much to crowbar in there. I love telling tales about the birth of great comedy, and by focussing on the creation of H2G2 in all its forms, chronologically and in a compelling narrative style, I think THE FROOD could become a great read both for die hard H2G2 fans and those who have barely dipped a toe in Adamsian waters. A true picaresque narrative.

No matter how terrifying the prospect of sieving through all the endless material on Adams and his greatest creation might be, I can definitely see that drawing together all the numerous sources afresh, more than a decade on from the last efforts to chronicle the story, updating it with all the latest developments (The movie, the tribute, the live tour, the Eoin Colfer sequel, the action figures…), is an honourable pursuit worth taking a year of this smoker’s presumably relatively short lifespan.

Not that it was anything but a long dark teatime, coming to the decision to accept this deadly responsibility. Faced with the invitation from Preface Publishing to be the latest H2G2 chronicler (not Adams biographer, by the way, DNA had a few choice words to say about biographers and I refuse to label myself one, my subject is primarily H2G2 itself), it was suddenly as if I had tripped and fallen into a very similar parallel universe where everything was Adamsised. It’s a well-known phenomenon – this preponderance of the number 42, etc.

Douglas Adams’ one lasting virtue could be said to be his ability to make us all look at existence, from the smallest puddle to the end of the universe itself, from a startlingly new and entirely unexpected angle. As I agonised about whether to sign up for the project, it felt like that was the only angle from which I could see. For medical reasons (now thankfully eradicated, thank you) I had been compelled to up my number of baths considerably, and so the first half of this year was largely spent, as a struggling, depressed, un-contracted, Beatles-obsessed writer, sat in the bath in bubbly procrastinating anguish, guitar and towel within reach, listening to H2G2 and Pink Floyd and wrestling with this problem of whether I wanted to mount the podium and paint a target on my forehead for the most rabid science fiction fans to take aim. Just over the road, I could see bulldozers knocking down a rather handsome Victorian cottage (This is all utterly true, the proof is on my Twitter feed for June). Then I sat in my bathrobe in hospital and watched the 42 bus travelling up and down a West Country highway, as I mused about Vogons, mice, dolphins and that damnably daft number, faced with the prospect, thanks to an irksome deadline, of being frustratedly chained to my desk, in a valiant bid to get the manuscript in on time.

All of this should sound rather familiar to any Adams aficionado.

Douglas Adams’ life was liberally peppered with astonishing coincidences, but of course, no rational human ever for one second draws any real meaning from the seemingly spooky incidents that life pukes up – yet still, for me, the Adamsian angle never seemed to dissipate. An at least penultimate straw came on a jolly day out with a number of fellow comedy lovers to BBC TV Centre, to see Vic & Bob’s (incidentally, utterly superb) new sitcom being piloted, one of the very last recordings at the legendary lynchpin of our National Heritage. This was the epicentre of my anguish about taking on the FROOD job, life was pushing me to come to a decision. As our crowd milled along in a random line, a BBC employee was coming up the untidy queue, handing out numbered badges for the recording audience. Guess what number they gave me.

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Me, far left, that is – and a number of clever gentlemen who may not want to be named on my site. Although the photo is ©Susannah & Louis Barfe.

Yes, as I say, it’s steaming bunk, all this 42 conspiracy business, I know, but I did feel that the best way to stop it seeming like the universe was frankly taking the piss was to take on the mammoth job, and begin dutifully amassing quotes from Douglas Adams’ fourteen trillion chat show appearances. I’ve often said that I need a book project to scare me if it’s worth doing at all, and there’s nothing more scary than this.

However, where once the fear came from the difficulty of tracking down material, this time it comes from there just being too much out there. I often bash my head against the wall with regret that I never managed to interview Sir David Hatch in more detail before he died, and I mourn the rich comedy knowledge which went with him. With Adams, it sometimes seems as if the poor chap did little from 1978 to 2001 but be interviewed about every last element of H2G2, so where does that leave me when it comes to finding NEW material for THE FROOD? What old scripts will I uncover? What fresh insight can be gained? Not least considering the fact that all of Adams’ surviving friends and collaborators tend to be understandably sick to every last tooth about being asked about what they were up to three decades ago.

It’s been a hard puzzle to wrap my monkey brain around, but aiming for such things will not help this project one iota, I simply have to revisit all existing research, and hope that time may have allowed some exciting forgotten baubles to surface, or that some character in this story is now prepared to share stories which seemed untimely when MJ Simpson was asking the questions over a decade ago.

However, if anything in this blog post concerns you, don’t panic, you can actually help. Whether you’re in the Douglas Adams fanclub, or just a casual admirer, I would be deeply grateful for any insight, archive pointer or general froody tip which might come to mind – you can send them to thefrood@hotmail.com, and I hope there will be plentymuch constructive advice, suggestions of what appendixes you feel are needed, and so forth, and ideally a minimum of “YOU’RE TRAMPLING ON THIS THING THAT I LIKE A LOT” abuse. I know what it’s like to be a fan of something and worry that some author is pulling it apart behind closed doors; I’d like THE FROOD to have some kind of open source approach. The provider of any idea or lead which helps make this the best Adams guide it can be, will of course be fully acknowledged in print.

Similarly, I will be contacting some of Adams’ closest living friends and collaborators, to explain the project to them, and invite them (rather than the begging which is the norm) to kindly have a ponder and see if any fresh info comes to mind now, for this first attempt to re-tell the story, such a long time after the devastating loss of the man at the centre of it. There’s no point asking any of these great and busy people to just sighingly remix an anecdote already harvested by Gaiman, Simpson or Webb. But it may well be that somebody out there is ready to share new insight without the meek cajoling which usually takes up so much of a comedy historian’s waking hours. In September I’ll also be visiting the Science Fiction library at Liverpool University, and, of course, Cambridge – St. John’s, to be precise.

Then, it’s ultimately my job to sift through everything, and arrange the ingredients as truthfully, honourably, and entertainingly as I possibly can, for this time next year. I do not wish to be proprietorial about this project, I would like all H2G2 fans to feel that they can get involved and help it become the best possible book on the subject for this period in history, a worthwhile and loving celebration of the universe which was so painfully squeezed out of Douglas Adams’ brain three decades ago.

I hope you’ll not post too much anthrax to me for cutely crowbarring in the phrase, but it does seem to sum up this approach quite neatly: Share And Enjoy.

Be a Frood. Hitch a ride. You stick your thumb out, and I’ll pull out mine.