Wednesday, September 30, 2015


"You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace." (Frank McCourt)

I decided to call this post “Seven” because that’s what it is: seven of my favourite authors, seven gosh-I-wish-I'd-said-that quotes, and seven must-read-before-you-die recommendations. That's a lot of sevens, so, without further ado, here we go in no particular order. Well, actually, that’s a blatant lie; I’ve ordered the authors chronologically. It was either that or list them according to the year they were born...

1. Jerome K. Jerome

Jerome K. Jerome, 1859-1927
“It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.”  Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

“I don't know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me.” Three Men in a Boat

“It is so pleasant to come across people more stupid than ourselves. We love them at once for being so.” Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

“It is always the best policy to tell the truth, unless of course you are an exceptionally good liar.” The Idler Magazine

“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” Three Men in a Boat

“Cats and dogs never talk about themselves but listen to you while you talk about yourself, and keep up an appearance of being interested in the conversation.” Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

Read before you die: Three Men in a Boat (1889)

Be careful with Jerome, he's seriously addictive! I enjoyed Three Men in a Boat so much, I moved straight on to Three Men on the Bummel, raced through Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow and, before I knew it, I had downloaded his complete works to my Kindle. That said, Three Men in a Boat is the absolute must-read, in my opinion. 

2. Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007
“Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it. If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information.” Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Mother Night

“Practising an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow." A Man Without a Country

“If you can do no good, at least do no harm.” Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!

“Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” A Man Without a Country

“The universe is an awfully big place.” The Sirens of Titan

Read before you die: The Sirens of Titan (1959)

I must have read most of Vonnegut's works over the years - they all contain flashes of brilliance - but, to my great frustration, I never found one to match The Sirens of Titan, the first novel of his that I read and, to my mind, head and shoulders above anything else that he wrote.

3. Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller, 1923-1999
“When people disagreed with him he urged them to be objective.” Catch-22

“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.” Catch-22

“There is no disappointment so numbing as someone no better than you achieving more.” Good as Gold

“Destiny is a good thing to accept when it's going your way. When it isn't, don't call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery, or simple bad luck.” God Knows

“Insanity is contagious.” Catch-22

“The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.” Catch-22

Read before you die: Catch-22 (1961)

Essentially, there are two kinds of readers: those who love Catch-22, and those who loathe it. No prizes for guessing which side I'm on. I re-read this recently and enjoyed it even more than the first time; I even managed to follow parts of the plot. Yes, this is definitely one of those books I'd want to take with me to that desert island. It's such a shame that many of Heller's other greatest works - Something Happened, God Knows...  - are still unavailable on Kindle. 

4. Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt, 1930-2009
“Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” Angela's Ashes

“There are so many ways of saying Hi. Hiss it, trill it, bark it, sing it, bellow it, laugh it, cough it.” Teacher Man

“Are we put into this world to be busy or to chat over a nice cup of tea?” 'Tis: a Memoir

“It’s lovely to know that the world can’t interfere with the inside of your head.” Angela's Ashes

“There's nothing sillier in the world than a teacher telling you don't do it after you already did it.” Teacher Man

“Sing your song. Dance your dance. Tell your tale.” Angela's Ashes

Read before you die: Angela's Ashes (1996)

To my knowledge, Frank McCourt never wrote a bad sentence in his life. My only complaint is that he didn't write more of them before he was cruelly taken away from us. I've recommended you start with Angela's Ashes, though I might equally recommend 'Tis or Teacher Man as, regardless of which book you start on, you'll end up reading the lot. 

5. Robert Rankin

Robert Rankin, 1949-
“Now, it's a fact well known to those who know it well that prophets of doom only attain popularity when they get the drinks in all around.” The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

“I had a happy childhood, so I can't blame my parents for the fact that I'm barking mad.” Bizarre Magazine

“Have you ever heard this theory about drinking yourself sober? It's a very popular theory. Amongst drunks, anyway.” The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

“What is believed to be a fact is only a fact until another fact supersedes it.” The Book of Ultimate Truths

“Everyone gets away with as much as they can get away with. And the more they can get away with it, the more they will.” The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

“There was a lot of joy to be had in the contemplation of a pint glass; in terms of plain reality of course, there was a deal more to be had in the draining of one.” The Antipope

Read before you die: The Antipope (1981)

The father of  'far-fetched fiction', Robert Rankin never disappoints. This particular title, The Antipope, is the first in a series of nine, the so-called Brentford Trilogy. It sounds to me as if he nicked that idea off my next guest...

6. Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams, 1952-2001
“You know what a learning experience is? A learning experience is one of those things that says, You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.” The Salmon of Doubt

“The quality of any advice anybody has to offer has to be judged against the quality of life they actually lead.” Mostly Harmless

“Don't believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose.”

“Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.” Mostly Harmless

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” The Salmon of Doubt

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools." Mostly Harmless

Read before you die: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

Surely the most famous trilogy of them all - "in five parts" - and undoubtedly the most entertaining. In contrast, I found the Dirk Gently novels very hard-going, although I seem to be in a minority here. Either way, we all mourned when Douglas left our galaxy at the tender age of 49. His gravestone in Highgate states with admirable modesty, "Douglas Adams, Writer, 1952-2001". I'd argue that he was rather more than that.

7. Karl Ove Knausgård

Karl Ove Knausgård, 1968-
“But Dad was no longer breathing. That was what had happened to him, the connection with the air had been broken, now it pushed against him like any other object, a log, a gasoline can, a sofa.” A Death In The Family: My Struggle Book 1

“Saying what you want others to hear is, of course, a form of lying.” A Man In Love: My Struggle Book 2

“I have a longing for fiction - to try to believe in it and to disappear into it.” The Telegraph

“I can’t speak for other writers, but I write to create something that is better than myself, I think that’s the deepest motivation.” The Paris Review

“There is only one thing children find harder to hold back than tears, and that is joy.” A Time for Everything

“And death, which I have always regarded as the greatest dimension of life, dark, compelling, was no more than a pipe that springs a leak, a branch that cracks in the wind, a jacket that slips off a clothes hanger and falls to the floor.” A Death In The Family: My Struggle Book 1

Read before you die: A Death In The Family: My Struggle Book 1 (2009)

I was hooked on Knausgård from the very first sentence: "For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops." At times, Karl can be a little too depressing for many people's tastes - he takes about 200 pages to describe his father's funeral, as I recall - but he never fails to raise my spirits. Does that make sense? Probably not, so now seems as good a time as any to draw this post to a close before I write any further nonsense.

By the way, can it really be seven years since I sat down to write dayrealing, my first and last novel? That thought alone depresses me seven-fold, so I think I’d better read some Karl Ove to cheer me up. 

Thanks as ever for making it this far.


Colin’s recipe for literary success consisted of seven simple steps:

1) think of something to write about
2) write it
3) find an agent desperate enough to consider taking me on (or in)
4) persuade a publisher with a large screw missing to publish my work
5) pray
6) cash cheque
7) run away to a nice country home in Devon before angry punters start asking for their money back.

Think, write, find, persuade, pray, cash, run. Piece of cake, especially the last three.

So what now? Taking a leaf out of Julie Andrews’s book, Colin decided to start at the very beginning. After all, no publisher was going to pay him for writing thin air; well, not until he was rich and famous. It was a Catch-22 situation; or so he believed, for he had never read that book, either.

dayrealing, chapter 45, “Wonderful  Life”


  1. I've managed two of these. Never heard of most of the others. Fine examples of why some indie authors fail.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kris. Now, let me guess: Angela's Ashes and Three Men in a Boat?