Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Book cover preview

Hi guys.

The good folks at my publisher Unbound have been hard at work designing the cover of my book. And here's a sneak peak:

Fancy huh? Although I do wish they'd airbrush out my paunch.

If you've pledged already then thank you. You should receive your book by April this year, and it's due to be in shops in June.

If you haven't pledged, then there's still time! You must pledge by January 12th

Everyone who pledges gets the book three months before everyone else AND they get their name immortalized in the back of the book for all readers to see. Plus there are loads of other perks too. So check out the link before it's too late.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

What it’s like writing a book

This year I wrote my first book. It’s a comedy in the genre of “Yes Man” by Danny Wallace, and it’s called “My Groupon Adventure”. It’s based on a true story and will be published by Unbound in early summer 2016.

My Groupon Adventure was originally a stand-up comedy show written for the 2014 Edinburgh festival. And when the opportunity presented itself to turn it into a book I was blasé about it.  “Yeah. Seems like fun.” I said. “How hard can it be?” The answer, it turns out, is very hard. Hard not just because of the stamina and creativity involved in writing 65,000 words. But hard because of the emotional labour that defines the process from start to finish.

The most exhausting thing about writing a book is how often you get judged. Judged by readers, by editors and most of all by yourself. Early on in the process I realised that I wasn't as good as I thought I was. I’d written blogs before, I’ve written and performed numerous hour long Edinburgh shows, and had various scripts at various stages of development with TV production companies. But there is no hiding place in a 65,000 word manuscript: your flaws, your tropes and your own damned inexperience is brutally butterflied in front of you.

The book was an amalgam of two years of blogs, the live show and also lots of new material. And one of the most interesting (and excruciating) parts of the process was comparing what I’d written near the beginning of the project, to what I was writing near the end. On the bright side, my most recent writing was clearly a huge improvement on those early efforts. But that nascent prose, words that at the time I believed to be beacons of talent, was embarrassing in hindsight. Flabby, pretentious and often crass: if I knew then how bad it was I would never have started a book! But that I suppose is the beauty of naivety.

What was the antidote to the poor prose? Time and hard work. The usual recipe. Gradually my craft improved: by reading more, by writing more, and by getting good notes.

I studied narrative theory and also how other writers in the genre had made it work. Borrowing what I’d enjoyed and making it my own, and rejecting what I hadn’t. Slowly it all came together.

So if you're a budding writer my advice to you would be to start now. Start early, fail lots, and don’t stop until you’re good. Greatness looks like futility until it happens.

Writing a book is an elegiacal experience. Over time I’ve witnessed the death of one writer, and the birth of another. In fact, I’ve witnessed numerous deaths and rebirths. As various doe-eyed iterations of the original scribbler stuck their wet head out of the womb. And then made their first tentative steps onto the blank page. This constant interaction between destruction and creation, between self-loathing and pride, are what came to define the writing journey for me.

I’ve learnt that you’re never as good as you want to be. You never know enough words. You’re never wise enough. You’re metaphors never quite soar like they should. You always hate what you write as you write it. Then it gets a bit better as you go back and rewrite it, but it’s still shit shit shit.

So why push through? For me it was fear of embarrassment. The book had to be good because it would have my name on it and be out in the world possibly forever. That gives you a much less forgiving pair of eyes. And it gives you the necessary doses of pig-headedness required to wade through the thick mud of doubt.

When I finally submitted the book to my editor, and to various other readers too, to my surprise they were complimentary. Yet still the voice of inadequacy sung its siren. How can an imposter have written something good? So I became paranoid about the praise. What was going on? Could they not see that it was crap?

Of course, it’s not crap. Christ, please don’t go away thinking that! PLEASE READ IT! It’s good, I promise. In fact some of it is really excellent. Cross my heart.

After finishing the manuscript, and then acting on the editor’s notes, the next problem was finally letting it go. Sending my baby off into the world. Out of my grasp. Where I could no longer tinker.

But if you want a piece of creative work to be perfect you’ll never make anything. At some point you need to let it go and allow it to collide with the market. To touch the flames of the punters’ disdain. Or hopefully the opposite. But you catch my drift. A book is never finished, it’s abandoned.

So there we have it. The book is done. It is soon to be printed and sent to pledgers, and then to book shops too by the good folks at Penguin-Random House.

But you can still support My Groupon Adventure:

The deadline to get your name in the back of the book is January 10th 2016. Just click this link HERE.

What’s more, Groupon are doing a special deal between now and January 1st where you can TEN POUNDS OFF your pledge my choosing the discount code “FESTIVEREADING ” at the checkout. What a bargain!

To all those who have supported this book so far: thank-you. It’s made me very happy. And to all those who haven’t: it’s not too late. And I’d be very grateful.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Valentine's Day 2060: a modern love story

I killed her in the end.  She’s the fifth woman I’ve slaughtered this year.  I had no choice really, she really was immensely tedious. I think there was a bug in her software or something, which you get with these cheap robots. She kept telling me the same dreary anecdote again and again. I won’t bore you with all the details, but basically the story was about how she once met a man whose surname was “Crisps”.  That was it. “Design your perfect woman and have her delivered directly to your door!” the website said. And to be fair they all do look exactly like my perfect woman: pretty, blonde, terrifying knockers. But something’s not working; I’ve just never clicked with any of them.  I think it’s because maybe I don’t really know my “type”? Well, I thought I did, but they keep getting delivered and I keep knocking them off after dinner.

The first robot date I had was a disaster. My Wi-Fi went down due to a drone attack by the People’s Republic of Mars and she literally lost the ability to speak.  She was fine until we’d finished our mains, then she just buffered till dawn.  The second wasn’t much better either. I mean, she was absolutely gorgeous - perfectly designed to my spec- but no conversation at all.  After that I made sure I shelled out extra to download the personality software too. I went for “functioning alcoholic”, and she was great fun. Yeah, I thought the third doll was the one. She was called Kate. Amazing smile, totally life-like skin, free updates.  I was really into her. I’ll never forget our first date. It was like we’d known each other forever, which I suppose from her perspective we had: she’d been manufactured only a few hours previously. I made parsnip soup for starter. But I tripped on the way to the table, spilling it down her back, causing a short circuit and she burst into flames. She tried to laugh it off, bless her, but all her skin had melted off. She exploded during dessert.

I had a lot in common with the fourth robot, the exotically named “Faith”. We both had strong political views, agreeing that the massacring of the Kardashian peoples in the East by President Bieber was entirely justified.  President Bieber had visited every citizen in the state to explain his plan, (in hologram form, obviously), and had reasoned that The Kardashians had recently discovered cloning and were now creating an army big enough to launch an invasion. And I was like, “Hey Kardashians! 2030 called, and it wants its science back!” Justin loved that, grabbing his crotch in appreciation. “So are you a Belieber?” he said. And I was like, “ bears shit in the woods?!” He laughed again, as did Vice President Buble, which was generous, considering bears have been extinct for over 30 years, and plant life is impossible in our atmosphere.  

It was all going swimmingly with Faith, but then she was hacked by some teenage Kardashians, and she tried to electrocute me with her nipples.  Just my luck! So she had to go too. I lured her onto the balcony with a magnet and then pushed her off. She would have died quickly, the lava moat below burns at about 1000 degrees centigrade. The balcony trick was also what accounted for my latest victim, dull old Alice and her stories of men named after snacks.  You don’t have to kill the robots, (the website says they’ll pick them up and recycle them), but there’s a call out fee, so it works out cheaper to just do it yourself. In fact, it’s important you do finish them off.  My friend Dave went out with his robot for 18 months. He broke up with her when she ran out of hard-disk space, and sent her back to the shop. But she escaped, and two weeks later she came back and strangled him. The last thing you want is a mental ex, especially if she’s made out of titanium. He was only 146 when he died, such a waste.

I know from what you’ve read here that I probably don’t come across as a nice guy. But I want you to know that there was a girl once. Yes, a real girl, who I loved more than anything else in the galaxy. She was pretty and weird and loved the smell of second hand books and wore her dressing gown too much. We met at university, Emma and I. We were both studying modern history and decided to write our dissertation on the same subject: the war crimes of Nigel Farage. She was totally not my type, but somehow it worked. We dated for five years and then, a day before I planned to propose, she told me she’d been offered a dream job on Saturn as a policy advisor to the new King, Brooklyn Beckham.  I begged her not to go, wet pleas shimmying down my face, but she’d already packed. She’d been planning it for months. Emma disappeared that evening, and I was left, aimless and pointless. That’s when I found the robots.

You see, you can control a robot. You design and programme them. They won’t leave you. What could go wrong? Well lots of things, clearly. I’m a serial killer, robot wise. The trouble is, right, and here’s the rub, ok, is that in order to fall in love with a robot that you’ve designed, you have to have known what you want when you designed it. And to know what you want, you need to know who you are. The trouble is, the horrible truth is, that I don’t, really. I know nothing.  I’m just a bloke with a broken heart looking for someone or something to make this whole fucking mess worthwhile. Anyway, I better go: I’ve got a date tonight. I’m going virtual reality shark fishing with a girl I met in the teleporter terminal. Fingers crossed.

I've written a funny book. Please support me by pledging here

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Becoming a Groupon: buy a date with me!

Regular readers will be aware that I have been on a Groupon adventure. Last November, amidst the ruins of a numbingly dull life, I embarked on a coruscating journey through the magical wilderness of Groupon, doing a deal a week ever since.

About 100 deals, and 5 grand later, today I became a Groupon, so for the next week you can buy a date with me on the site.

At the time of writing you'll notice that 444 people have bought dates!And there's seven days left. In fact, the deal's been so popular it's caused havoc with servers around the world, for example this message a stranger sent me on Facebook:

Obviously, the price isn't too steep. I suggested that people might pay £10 to go on a date with me and Groupon laughed in my face. According to them I am literally worthless. I would suggest to any of my homeless followers out there that this might be a good chance to get a free meal. And a shag.

This morning I was front page on the Huffington Post, and made The Daily Star:

So it just shows you: dreams can come true.

The deal went live last night and within about half an hour I received a text from my ex-girlfriend informing me that her Dad had got involved:

I'm delighted to say that take-up seems to have been strong. A number of lovely ladies have been getting in touch on Twitter letting me know they've purchased:

I'm glad that a date with me constitutes an "all time low". I also got this message from a stranger on Facebook:

I resent that. If there's one thing I am not it's cheap.

This came in too:


So it looks like I'm a heart-throb these days. But that isn't the only thing I've got in common with Johnny Depp, because according to Heat magazine:

They say, “If he can get a good price for something, he’ll go for it. He just bought a new barbecue for the patio of his house in LA.” 

Perhaps Depp might buy a date with me? After-all there's nothing sadder than a BBQ for one. Come on Johnny: you know you want to!

I'd prefer a woman, obviously. But if it's a bloke I'd rather it be Johnny Depp than some doorman from Gateshead. Not because he's so good looking, but because a man of his profile is much less likely to murder me. That's the thing: anyone can buy this date. I could end up going for a Nandos with an arsonist on day release, or a cannibal, or a Tory. I'm not sure what would be worse.

Or perhaps it might be an old flame? I had a PE teacher at school who took a bit of a shine to me, maybe he might make a bid? Having said that I am probably a bit old for him now. 

But in all seriousness, this sounds like it's going to be great fun and I'd love you to be part of it, so why not make a bid? After-all, what have you got to lose?Who knows, this could be my next Groupon:


Just a heads up: you can see my Groupon stand-up show in London on the 23rd and 26th of July. Tickets here.

And at the Edinburgh festival in August. Tickets here.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Can I become a Groupon?

Readers of this blog will know that all year I’ve been immersed in a Groupon adventure. Since November 2013, I‘ve done a different Groupon every week, and it’s changed my life. From a deep rut I‘ve slowly emerged a new man, having rediscovered my passion for life, resuscitated by the oxygen of new experience. I’ve done endless bizarre activities: colonic irrigation, spray tans, bee-keeping. I’ve visited psychics, become a Lord, and changed my name by Deed Poll to “Max Groupon”.

But it’s suddenly begun to feel a bit superficial. Groupon doesn’t hold the same mystique that it once did; I’m drunk on novelty and any more will make me sick. Back in November, I thought filling up my life with new experiences, new things, would make it feel less empty. I poured Groupons into my life, as if were a bucket, believing that once it was full I’d be happy again. But the thing is, I’ve realised that life isn’t like a bucket at all: it’s got a massive hole in the bottom. It’s more of a tube. You can never fill the bucket up, it’s futile. If you want to be happy, you’ve got to somehow transcend the bucket. It dawned on me that what I really need is love. And I thought: “Groupon has solved every other problem in my life, perhaps they can solve this one too?” So I’ve put out a plea to Groupon: help me find love by selling a date with me on your site. You can watch the video here, including footage of me trying to break into the Groupon offices..

Did they go through with it? Find out on The Tab next Tuesday. In the mean-time, here’s a story about one of the first Groupons I went on:

Alpaca Annie

In February last year I went Alpaca trekking in Kent. Apparently in a car-park.  Annie the Alpaca was very suspicious of me. It was like a really awkward first date.
You’ll notice I’m wearing an alpaca wool scarf there, which is adding insult to injury for the alpaca. That’s like going to meet a pig wearing a skirt made of bacon.

I think the alpaca trek is aimed at children, rather than 26 year old men. I know that because on the trek it was just me and a 7 year old girl. We got given some carrots to feed to the alpaca, but the little girl wouldn’t let me have any of them. And I honestly think she wouldn’t have given me any carrots if I hadn’t burst into tears.

The little girl was such a brat. She just wouldn’t stop talking, I couldn’t get a word in edge ways.

“Where’s his mummy?”
“Do alpacas go to school?”
“Does he do a wee wee or a poo poo?”

All questions that I wanted to ask, but couldn’t.

Alpacas are famous for their thick and soft fleece. The thing is, alpacas don’t like you touching it. In fact they don’t like you at all. They’re prey animals, meaning that everything is trying to eat them, which makes them really jumpy. I discovered fairly early on that Alpaca Annie was terrified of fart sounds, which was hilarious. Eventually, our guide Laura let the eight year old lead the alpaca around because I wasn’t “mature” enough.
Alpacas are very hierarchical animals, and walk together in a straight line like a woolly conga. If anyone tries get above their station and jump the line they get spat at. Yes: literally spat at. Alpacas have two stomachs (like cows, and Americans), and they regurgitate green bile from the first chamber and gob it at you. They’re like sheep with ASBOs basically.

A fun day ended with Laura giving me and the little girl our certificates:

After handing me the card, Laura also gave me a badge, with the words “Total Star”, written on it and then ruffled my hair. It was at this point that I realised Laura thought I had special needs. I didn’t say anything.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Bee keeping

I always thought bees were wankers. Summer terrorists, suicide stingers; obsessed with sugar, like flying toddlers but with knives for an arse. When I heard that the world was facing a “bee shortage”, it sounded the same to me as if the world were facing a “fart drought” or a “dickhead famine”. Good riddance I thought! We can do without honey, can’t we? Who’s it going to effect? Winnie the Pooh? He can do with laying off the honey away, that’s all he eats: he’s probably diabetic by now. He’s also very fat for a bear, and yellow, which is not at all normal. He’s got jaundice, basically.

But I got a call from my mate Andy. “Do you fancy coming bee-keeping for a day?” He asked. “It’s in Brentford”. “Of course it is Andy”, I replied. “I’m writing a film about bee-keepers and I need to do some research”, he continued, oblivious to my sarcasm. “Don’t you mean beesearch?!” I quipped. “What?” he said. “A film about bee-keepers, what a good idea”, I said, “I’d love to come”.

So that’s what led me here:

A small family home in Brentford. In the back-garden were two hives containing almost 1000 bees, and 16 hens. (The hens were in a coop, not living a harrowing existence in the hive). “We eat all the cocks”, said the bee-lady, “I’ve got a brilliant recipe for cock soup if you want it?” This was going to be a fun day.

What do you think of when you hear the words “bee-keeper”? You probably think of an old man with a beard, living a hermit-like existence in rural Somerset, who drinks milk straight from the cow’s udder. Basically, you think of someone mental. But what struck me about this bee-keeper was that she was totally normal, a lovely lady, living in a nice house with two children and a husband. I’m almost certain she’s never had an udder in her mouth.

Amateur bee-keeping is much more popular than you’d think. After-all, having a bee-hive in your garden is like hosting a cunt-farm. Apparently there are 50 bee-keepers in Ealing alone, so if we extrapolate that to the countryside, (where there is nothing else to do), that is an awful lot of bee-keepers. Over honey-cookies, I asked the lady if the neighbours objected to her keeping a tonne of bees? “Oh yes, they’re allergic to bees”, she said, as if that wasn’t relevant. “The bees do sometimes swarm, and obviously they get upset”, she added, “Also there’s a school down the road and they’ve been swarmed too, ruined their GCSE exams one year”. Well, bees will be bees.

A swarm happens when the queen leaves the hive and everybody else follows her. A Queen bee will mate once in her lifetime. She will go on a flight looking for mates, and have sex with 4 male bees from a different colony in one outing. She will have a lifetime of semen contained in her body. Returning to the hive she’s basically an airship filled with spunk, like Jordan with wings. The rest of her life is spent laying eggs. After the males have ejaculated, their genitals fall off and then they die. Male bees are the lowest of the low in the bee-hierarchy. You have the Queen bee at the top, then the worker bees who collect the nectar that becomes honey, and then you have the male bees who are murdered after a while if they haven’t got their end away. It’s a tough bind being a male bee: shag and die, or don’t shag and also die. So, bees are incredibly progressive as a society: only inter-racial breeding and the girls run the show. Not much social mobility though, the proletariat exist solely to serve a regal bourgeoisie. That's why Marxists never eat honey.

Now it was time for what I’d been waiting for: the bee-suit!

We went out to inspect the hives. You blow smoke into the hive before you take the lid off, because it makes the bees think the hive’s on fire so they gorge themselves on honey expecting a long fly, and end up eating so much that they can’t be bothered to attack you. People are always more docile after a big-feed, which is why it is always best to mug someone after lunch.

Taking care of bees-ness. What a buzz.

"Honey! I'm home!"
The bee-keeping experience concluded with honey-tasting. You taste honey much like wine, taking in the aroma, and then taking a mouthful, before making conceited and pretentious remarks about it. “I’m getting floral tones here and an after-taste of GCSE exam papers and regret”.  Our host presented her award winning honey from last year, which was delicious. “At the competitions the honey is tasted blind”, she said. “Well, they say blind people's other senses are more acute”, I ventured. “No”, she said, “Blind as in there are no labels on the jar”. She bought out another honey that was pale and stiffer than the others; I rushed a stick-full into my mouth. “Can you taste the rape?” she asked. “Sorry?” I said. “It smells and tastes like rape”, she underlined, “As in...the crop”. “Yes!” I said, “the crop! I thought you meant….forget about it.”

Got to be seen to bee beelieved. My fellow bee fans.
I had a brilliant day. There is something wonderfully life-affirming about someone living out their passion, in a cynical world which can sometimes feel like a threnody to dreams. I’m all for the eccentrics, heroically defying the moulds of what a life should look like. It was also great to have a go at rearing my own food, like a man of the soil, although briefly. We're all haunted by the thousands of other lives we could be living. The infinite number of forks in the road we could have taken. We’ve all fantasized about what else we could be doing with our lives. Whether that be as a barrista in Rome, or a pig farmer in Circencester, or a painter in Provence. Experiences like these feel like becoming the ghost of a life that died when we decided to do what we do now. It is a glorious escape, a seductive tease. I heartily recommend it.


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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Changing my name by Deed Poll

This week I saw this offer come up on Groupon:

And I obviously bought it immediately. I’m not a twat. I know a bargain when I see one. The offer is from a company called UK Deed Poll, and their website has a number of testimonials from happy customers. Including this one:
“I rang the Deed Poll and the young lady was very helpful. Made my payment over the phone. Received in a couple of days.
Peter Cockburn, Berkshire. September 2013.

No wonder he changed his name! Peter Cockburn! Imagine being called Peter! It’s so old fashioned.

My name has always been a problem for me. Everyone seems to struggle with “Max Dickins”; people always spell it Max Dickens, and then ask me whether I’m related to Charles. I’ve actually stopped correcting people who spell it wrong, I haven’t got the energy. Unless it’s mentally wrong. British Gas once made out a bill to “Axe Dickend”. Which is less a name, and more an order.

I've often thought of changing my name for sheer convenience, but also because “Max Dickins” just isn’t very showbiz. It's hard to see it up in lights. Have you seen Great British Bake-off? The bloke who presents it is called “Paul Hollywood”. That's his actual name. I bet they didn't even make him audition. He just walked into the casting room, and the producers went "So, what's your name?" And he would have purred "My name's Paul Hollywood" And they would have given him the job on the spot. And then he probably made love to them for hours. 

So on Wednesday evening last week, sat on my living room sofa, Groupon voucher in my hand, I decided it was time for a change. But I've had so many loyal readers of this blog that I thought I would let the public decide. So on Facebook and on Twitter I laid down the gauntlet to my followers: 
“I'm changing my name by Deed Poll to whatever your best suggestion is. Go nuts.”
And there were hundreds and hundreds of responses. The first one was:

Ulrich Van Der Hoogstraaten

I loved it! So much of getting a new name was about throwing off my old identity. My Groupon Adventure had changed me. I was living a different life now, full of risk and fun and spontaneity. Groupon was the tool I had used to create a new me, and I needed a new name to match. Max Dickins sounds like an accountant in Slough with three kids and a fat wife. Ulrich Van Der Hoogstreaaten sounds like a dildo entrepreneur with a pet cheetah.

More and more suggestions flooded in:

Troy Spectacular
Noah Swallows
Lance Turtleneck
The Plan
Ghost Cop
Fax Me
Mr Prick Whimper
Shandy Mattress
Weepy Rugs
Max Groupon
Dirty Naan
Pardon Me
Cornfed Hen
The Hotel Brothers
The Woolf

Imagine being called "The Woolf"!

"Do you, Emma Jane Hattersley, take "The Woolf", to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

"I do".

Turgid Steel
Notta Spy
Moist Cake
Twelve Inches
Wasabi Burns
Whatha Dickens
Publicity Stunt
Lone Gunman
Blonathan Dunce
The Feast
Minty Clam
Rempklt Sassoon

Some great names there, and weirdly I think I regularly get spam e-mails from a lot of these guys already.

There are some rules when you change your name by Deed Poll. For example, it can't be offensive, so I ruled these suggestions out:

Jimmy Saville
Black Guy
Peter The Rapist
Captain Cunt Smasher
Crumbly Gash
Cleaveland Steamer
Roger Mee
Dick Blisters
Clive Bastard
Mucky Dickend

And the names must be pronounceable, so these were out too:

Malcolm Muhlnumnuhmehrr

It also can't contain numbers, symbols or punctuation marks, so these were gone:

Dirk Sad?
Mine’s The Beef
That's Not My Hat
Oleg’s Bollock-Hammock
I’m Spartacus

There can be no copyright protection of names, meaning all these were fine:

Justin Bieber
Sir Trevor McDonald
Lil Wayne
Google It
Michael McIntyre (imagine the extra bookings!)
Ask Jeeves
Whoopi Goldberg
Tim Henman

So what did I go for? I was keen on Ulrich Van Der Hoogstraaten, but if I got irritated by people misspelling Dickins, this would be leaping straight from the frying pan into the fire. So it had to be spellable, but I also wanted to keep my first name. Otherwise the confusion would be terrible. If I changed my name to "The Woolf", say, then someone trying to get my attention would just end up shouting "The The The The The" repeatedly, and I'd obviously ignore them, assuming they had a stutter.

So it would be Max Something. But was that Something? Surely it had to be a nod to my new ideology? A passionate endorsement, a linguistic shrine to Groupon? Surely it had to be:

Max Groupon

Yes, last week I became Mr Groupon. Or more specifically Lord Groupon, after receiving my peerage in January.

Where will it take me? Only Groupon will decide.


You can buy tickets for my Edinburgh show here:

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