Book Review – Francis Plug: Writer in Residence

Francis Plug: Writer in Residence, by Paul Ewen, is the follow up to the author’s remarkable debut. How To Be A Public Author introduced the unsuspecting world to the inimitable Francis Plug during the period when he was conducting booze fuelled research for his Booker Prize winning novel. In a travesty of justice that first book was not awarded the prize. It did, however, lead to Francis Plug (and in real life, Paul Ewen) being offered the post of Writer in Residence at Greenwich University.

Francis takes the job title literally and moves into an empty office on campus with his camp bed. The Christopher Wren designed surroundings prove more comfortable than the rat infested garage in West Hampstead where he had previously laid his inebriated head. It also saves on travel costs, an important consideration since he lost his gardening equipment and thereby any means to earn an alternative living.

Francis’s immediate superior in the Creative Writing Department that now employs him is Dr Alex Pheby. Dr Alex is organising The Greenwich Book Festival and asks Francis if he could use his connections to persuade other authors to participate. Francis regularly meets the big hitters of the literary world, usually at their events where he enjoys the free drinks. He sets about fulfilling his appointed task with gusto. Despite many drinks being consumed the authors do not appear amenable to Francis’s mostly incoherent invitations.

As Writer in Residence, Francis is expected to write his next book while in residence. The office environment suits him best when it is empty of colleagues – when, for example, he may race up and down the corridor on his office chair. For actual writing he works best in a pub, preferably one in a backstreet location not frequented by students or charging tourist prices. He locates several local establishments that suit his needs before being barred due to drunken infractions that upset other regulars.

Francis intends to write a campus novel (which will include the blowing up of a neighbouring power station) so sets about reading other author’s previously published works on this theme and attending their events. As a published author he must also appear before the public, the prospect of which requires a great deal of lubrication. He travels to Paris for an event at Shakespeare and Company, staying in their writers’ accommodation. He participates in the book festival despite complaints about his behaviour.

Francis may have written a helpful book on how to be a public author but performing in public is not an activity he is comfortable with. Neither is teaching students, although he makes an impression. Even when schmoozing with the literati at exclusive events his publishers, Sam and Elly, grant him access to he struggles to make appropriate conversation. When he is recognised it is not for lauded authorial achievements.

This book is best read in chunks rather than in a sitting to fully appreciate the wit and wisdom. The antics, conversations and observations are laugh out loud funny while also being percipient. The inclusion of real people and events, some of whom I have met, adds to the entertainment. I hope that those name checked are happy with their depictions.

If you read books, attend author events, have any interest in the literary world, then this novel is for you and comes highly recommended. Francis Plug may be a socially inept alcoholic, one you may hope never to encounter beyond the page, but his salient thoughts, poignant musings and indecorous behaviour deliver a comedic triumph.

 

If you wish to purchase the black limited edition of this title, pictured above, buy direct from the publisher here.

The purple paperback will also be available from the publisher, discerning book retailers, and from Amazon.

Gig Review: Tore Renberg in Bath

One of the books that I have recently had the pleasure of reviewing is Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author. In this helpful guide, Francis Plug advises authors on how best to behave at the increasingly popular literary events. No longer can writers hide at home behind their desks. They are now expected to promote their books by giving talks, readings and signing their works in bookshops and at festivals around the world.

I had never before been to an author event. One may reasonably think that, having read of the escapades of Francis Plug, I would be inclined to keep it that way. However, last night I had the opportunity to meet Tore Renberg, author of another book that I have recently reviewed and enjoyed, See You Tomorrow. He was due to appear at a book shop in the city of Bath, a mere fifteen or so miles from the rural idyll where I live. I decided that I would eschew my more typical avoidance of crowds and attend.

The event was held at Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath, which is a fabulous independent book shop close to the heart of this beautiful city. As one would expect of such a venue, it is chock full of books, meaning that the audience could never be overly large. Arriving early, I gratefully accepted a glass of wine and seated myself on a fold up chair close to the table where the author would stand. Again I was breaking habits which would normally have drawn me to hide in a back row. I wanted to observe this writer whose work I admired up close. Already I was thinking of the question that I wished to ask, wondering if I would have the courage to do so.

After a brief introduction from the proprietor, Tore Renberg started his talk. Despite being a native of Norway, his English is excellent. He told us about his background, how he had wanted to be a writer since he was a teenager. He explained how ‘See You Tomorrow’ started as a twenty page idea, evolving into a six hundred page, character driven thriller over a number of years. He spoke eloquently and passionately about his influences and his work before reading from the book being discussed.

Hearing him read was fascinating. The voices that he gave his characters differed from the voices that I had given them. I gained perspective on the lives that he had created.

After the reading the audience had a chance to ask questions. One of the aspects of the book that intrigued me was the supposed humour which had eluded me. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for its insights, believable characters and compelling plot. Where others saw the dark humour that the author intended though, I had seen pathos. When I asked him about this I realised that it was I who was out of kilter with the general view. Each reader comes to a book bearing their personal experiences and prejudices. It would seem that, in this case, my concept of humour is atypical.

Hoping that I had not upset or offended (I know that creative types can be sensitive to criticism) I queued to have my copy of the book signed. Having managed to quell my anxieties sufficiently to attend and take part in this event, I reverted to type and became tongue tied. I hope that he took on board that I enjoyed his book even if I did not find it funny.

As well as the author, his publicist attended the event meaning that I had the opportunity to introduce myself to a lovely lady who I have only previously conversed with via social media. Naturally she was busy so I did not linger. Clutching my personally inscribed book I made my way home, thinking about how pleasurable the evening had been. Literature can bring together such disparate yet interesting people.

‘See You Tomorrow’ is available now with the paperback version being published tomorrow. Tore Renberg will be appearing in Waterstones, Piccadilly at 6.30pm this Friday.

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Book Review – Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author

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Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author, by Paul Ewen, is unlike any other book I have ever read. Full of humour, pathos and insightful observations on the literati, it is a book that should appeal to all who are interested in successful writers and the world that they inhabit.

It tells the tale of Francis Plug, an aspiring author with a vivid imagination. He is often drunk, meaning that it can be hard to tell at times how much of what he sees is real. This book is his attempt at offering fellow authors instruction on how they should be conducting themselves at the increasingly popular, public, literary events. His research involved attending talks where he listened to Booker prize winners discuss their writing before signing copies of their work. I would love to know if authors ever encounter the likes of Francis Plug at such events.

Until he succeeds in winning the Booker prize for the novel that he intends to write, Francis Plug works as a gardener. He does not have enough money, yet somehow manages to get to where he wants to go, often by ingenious if unscrupulous means. His encounters with the literati are detailed for the edification of his readers. In his writing he has a proclivity for scattering random metaphors around with abandon, taking inspiration from the works being discussed at the event he is attending.

The book is laugh out loud funny. Small incidents, such as when he adds the friendly dog to his phone contacts list and subsequently texts it, are dropped into each chapter as easily as his discussions on what each author is wearing. The random musings are quirky, sometimes surreal, always perceptive.

Books are for everyone, including an all but friendless, drunk gardener who is not just socially inept but clearly bizarre. His encounters and conversations with the great and the good are awkward and hilarious in equal measure. I was torn between sympathising with those who had the misfortune to meet him, and his underlying loneliness and desire to fit into their world.

This is a light hearted read that will also provide plenty of food for thought. More than anything though it is consistently funny in an offbeat way that should appeal to those who do not take themselves too seriously. I laughed at Francis and I laughed at myself for harbouring some of the thoughts he showed to be ridiculous. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and hope that I never have to deal with anyone like its protagonist.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Galley Beggar Press.

 

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