Tuesday 1 March 2016

Invest in Unreliability

London, just as you remember it, but utterly different. I'm proud to be part of An Unreliable Guide to London, a forthcoming anthology by the good people at Influx Press. The UGTL stretches the definition of "non-fiction" by presenting fantastical, warped, disguised and downright untrue versions of the capital city. Just check out this list of contributors:

M John Harrison
Yvvette Edwards
Will Wiles
Irenosen Okojie
Nikesh Shukla
Courttia Newland
Gary Budden
Koye Oyedeji
Paul Ewen
Gareth E Rees
George F
Stephanie Victoire
Chloe Aridjis
Sunny Singh
Juliet Jacques
Noo Saro Wiwa
Salena Godden
Tim Wells
Aki Schilz
Stephen Thompson
Eley Williams
Kit Caless
Tim Burrows

My own contribution is a few notes on London's housing crisis - but not the housing crisis we're all so familiar with. This is London, 2016, a city of Ringways, universal basic income, and housing megastructures, where the GPO built the internet in the 1970s ... And that's just one of 21 wildly eclectic stories.

Like the rest of the anthology, it's written and almost ready to go. However it needs a little bit of help from you. If you like the sound of all this, please consider pre-ordering via the Kickstarter, and you'll find there are all sort of additional goodies available. Pledge, pledge, pledge! 

Thursday 2 April 2015


I like the sound of #TBR20 - a reading challenge in which one makes a pledge to read 20 books you already own before buying any more. I'm industrious when it comes to buying books and much less systematic when it comes to sitting and reading them. This doesn't bother me too much. I am in fanatical disagreement with the idea that there is something embarrassing or dishonest about having large numbers of books on your shelves that you have not read. What on earth is the point of having lots of books if you have already read them all? It's wonderful to have plenty of untouched reading matter on hand.

But like I say I'm rarely very organised about reading, and that leads to a lot of distortions - for instance I tend to neglect novels for nonfiction. So my TBR20 selection is skewed very heavily towards fiction, as an attempt to catch up with the novel-reading - 14 f to 6 nf.

A few other notes. I've cheated very slightly and included Richard Adams's SHARDIK, a book I was already reading - and what's worse, one I've read before, in my teen years. In my defence I haven't finished it yet and I remember precious little about it (which is why I started rereading it in the first place). The Shirley Jackson volume in the pile contains more than one novel, but I'll be reading WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, so it counts as one. The alert among you might realise that this means only 19 books are pictured - because I'm including Nina Allan's highly acclaimed THE RACE, which I have on the Kindle.

I fear the main result of this process will be to reveal how slow I am to finish books and how ready I am to discard them halfway. I will do my best to update with progress.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Malign Interiors 2: Bigger on the Inside

In September I'm running a reprise of Malign Interiors, a book club that's part of the Architectural Association's excellent Night School. The first series was a real pleasure, with three fascinating discussions of architecture and literature over three successive Tuesdays - you can get a taste of what it was like from this precis at the RIBA Journal blog.

Here are the details for the second series - again, it runs over three successive Tuesday evenings:

2 September: Vathek by William Beckford (1786)
A gothic classic, Vathek is a sprawling orientalist fantasy set in the court of the depraved Caliph Vathek, whose quest to unlock the high mysteries ultimately leads him to the underground city of Hell. I'm aware there's only a week to read it but it's pretty slim for an 18th century gothic novel: only 90 paperback pages in the edition I have. Out of copyright and widely available.

Further reading for the keen: Notes on the Underground by Rosalind Williams

9 September: Report on an Unidentified Space Station by J.G. Ballard (1982)
Explorers in an abandoned structure in space find much more than they expect. A short story, available in volume 2 of The Collected Short Stories (Harper Perennial) or elsewhere. Only five pages, so for this one at least the suggested further reading is strongly suggested: The Enormous Space and The Concentration City, another two J.G. Ballard short stories.

16 September: The Way Inn by Will Wiles (2014)
An anonymous motorway hotel is transfigured into a literal hell in this paranoid satire. The Shining as reimagined by J.G. Ballard. My second novel - 300 pages, but you've got three weeks and it's a real page-turner, obviously.

Further reading for the keen: Junkspace by Rem Koolhaas

You don't have to have read the texts to attend, and I'm sure the discussions - which were very wide-ranging last time - have much to offer all the same; also it's all in the AA's Bedford Square Bookshop, so the books are available to buy. Each session starts at 7pm and costs £5. Last time they provided wine.


Monday 27 January 2014

Book Club: Malign Interiors

At the invitation of Prof Sam Jacob, next month I'll be presiding over three sessions of the Architectural Association's Book Club. The three texts are joined by the theme "Malign Interiors" - rooms that derange, abduct and kill. So plenty of interest for architects, but the sessions are open to all. Here are the details:

18 February: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Confined to bed by illness, a woman is tormented by the hideous wallpaper in her sickroom.

25 February: The Dreams in the Witch House by HP Lovecraft
A student of advanced maths and quantum theory is haunted by the irregular geometry of his room in an ancient house in New England.

4 March: Care of Wooden Floors by me.
Looking after a friend's flat in a foreign city, a man expects its beautiful minimalist interior to make him a better person - but it leads to chaos and humiliation.

Starts 7pm each time in the AA's Bookshop. The first two stories are out of copyright and free online (here and here, for instance), but I recommend buying them in anthology so you can explore more by their authors. The third is reasonably priced in all good bookstores. A man's got to eat.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Where You Are - pre-order now!

You can now pre-order Where You Are, Visual Editions' stunning book of maps & writing about maps. It's out for real on 14 November, handily before Christmas. And here are some more images to whet your appetite.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Where You Are is (almost) here

Where You Are, Visual Editions' beautiful anthology of authors writing about maps, will very soon be available for pre-order. In time for Christmas! It's an exciting project: In a boxed edition there are 16 pieces by writers including Sheila Heti, Tao Lin, Geoff Dyer, Leanne Shapton, Joe Dunthorne and myself. Take a look. You'll want one.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Ink stuff

It's been a while. Sorry about that.

There are a fair few pieces by me on newsstands at the moment, although I'm afraid not many of them are available online. One prominent exception is my second piece for the New York Times, published on 23 March, probing the idea that a perfect home is the key to happiness, and tracing it back to modernist ideas about housing, health and hygiene. You might, if you have been kind enough to read it, of course recognise this as being an underlying preoccupation of Care of Wooden Floors.

Speaking of COWF, the German edition - Die nachhaltige Pflege von Holzböden, published by Carl's Books - is now on sale. Buy buy buy!

"The Anxiety of Influence" in Frame magazine issue 91, looks at copying and plagiarism in contemporary design and asks if too much emphasis is placed on novelty. Has fear of plagiarism led to "amnesiac design" that denies its own history and is disingenuous about its influences?

In Disegno issue 4 (S/S 2013) there's an essay by me examining press trips, a fundamental but little-remarked aspect of architecture and design discourse. Do they warp the way we see architecture and design? Are they, in fact, fundamentally corrupt?

I can be found in two places in Icon 119 (May 2013) - in the News section I talk to Sou Fujimoto about his plans for the Serpentine Pavilion, and the role of landscape in his architecture, and in Review there are my very positive thoughts about David E Nye's fascinating history of the assembly line.

A labour of love in the current issue of Art Review (#66, March 2013): reviewing the superb Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with JG Ballard 1967-2008.

In the spring edition of Audi magazine I mark the 40th anniversary of the first mobile phone call by talk to the man who made it, Martin Cooper.

Also now on sale is Metahaven's excellent essay Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? (Strelka Press), which is did not write but helped edit. It looks at the potential for anarchic viral online humour to overturn the present neoliberal austerity consensus, and the role of design and designers can play. Also it's witty and provocative, so please do take a look.