Is there life in the political memoir?

  • August 31, 2010 13:08
  • Katy Scholes

By Iain Dale

I make no bones about it. I love political memoirs and biographies. OK, I may read the occasional football biog, but political autobiographies and biographies are what I read most. I’m in the middle of Peter Mandelson at the moment. Hmmm. Perhaps I should rephrase that. However, the genre of political biography has been on the decline for some time. This is because the major publishers have caught massive financial colds in publishing them. A few years ago Bloomsbury paid a huge amount of money for David Blunkett’s diaries. They clearly thought he would be the next Alan Clark. Boy were they wrong. Blunkett rather cannily held onto serialisation rights, which fetched a six figure sum. He was rumoured to have made £400,000 from the book, and the publisher? They paid a quarter of a million pounds and sold, er, 4,000 copies in hardback. I don’t think it ever made it into paperback. Other publishers duly took note.

There was a time when every two bit backbencher would be able to get their memoirs published. No longer. I reckon there will be very few takers for the memoirs of most ex Labour cabinet ministers like Geoff Hoon, Jacqui Smith or John Denham. I may be wrong, but I doubt it. Even smaller publishers would blanche at taking them on. This is a shame because no matter what you think, they all have an interesting story to tell. But none of them would sell more than a couple of thousand copies. Is it worth the bother?

I can see the day when such politicians might well get their memoirs published but only as an e-book. The biggest cost of any book is the print cost. This is usually well over 50% of the cost – sometimes up to 80%. If that cost can be taken out of the equation then suddenly a book may become viable. What no publisher has yet worked out is how to price e-books. I suspect there is a £10 price barrier, although it could be as low as £5. Biteback is about to make its entire catalogue available as e-books. But even now, we’re not sure how to price them. But if publishers can get the pricing right for e-books it could mean that the political biography and memoir genre gets a new lease of life. Let’s hope so.


Johnny vs Johnny

  • August 31, 2010 11:00
  • Katy Scholes

John Nicholson, author of new Biteback release We Ate All the Pies, received his first copy over the Bank Holiday weekend, and by way of celebration went out, had a few drinks and ended up on stage with Johnny Vegas at the Edinburgh festival.

To watch what happened, click here.

WARNING: This video contains some moderate violence and the odd expletive...


A little taster of Biteback's new release We Ate All the Pies

  • August 27, 2010 12:49
  • Katy Scholes

To whet your appetite, here's a little taster of our new book We Ate All the Pies by football-mad John Nicholson. (Sorry for the food puns, couldn't help ourselves!)

"Pies have become a legendary football ritual that many feel obliged, compelled or delighted to indulge in. Recently, it was claimed on the BBC news website that one in three people who went to watch Scottish football had a pie on match day. That’d be over 20,000 just at Celtic Park! A volume of pies so huge it would need to be transported in the sort of big trucks normally reserved for Emerson, Lake and Palmer in their seventies pomp.

The first pie I ever ate at Ayresome Park was memorable. It was a freezing cold afternoon in 1974 – it always seemed to be freezing at the Boro; I don’t recall one warm day in the whole of the 1970s. As I bit into it, a belch of hot air was released in a steamy cloud into the smog-filled grey afternoon. It smelled fantastically savoury and meaty but it tasted somewhat different. First, the filling was bouncy, as though partly comprised of rubber bands. This is because it was padded out with gristle: eyes, lungs and arseholes. The flavour was peculiarly tangy and unlike anything I had ever tasted previously. It was salty but oddly perfumed. Looking back, this was probably because it was past its sell-by date – not that such a thing as a sell-by date existed back then. But I was used to vaguely unpleasant food at home so I ate it all.

It left me with a sore throat! I’m no doctor but I’m sure a pie shouldn’t make your throat sore. God knows what was in that thing but whatever it was it wasn’t in me long as it had exited out of my arse at speed a couple of hours later. <!--more-->

So that wasn’t a good start and it put me off the whole football pie experience for many years. Indeed, I’m fairly sure I’ve not actually eaten a pie inside a football ground since! But as usual I was very much in the minority in this regard. I did have an especially good curried pasty at Boston United once though and a vegetable samosa at Leicester City too. Both highly recommended.

Eating a pie full of thick, viscous gravy and a few pieces of undefined protein while standing on a terrace surrounded by thousands of people is actually a tricky business. The tendency is for pie innards to burst and pour down your arm, giving you third degree burns in the process, rendering your lips numb and blistered, as though you had just witnessed a nuclear explosion at Bikini Atoll. Then the whole thing falls apart and you are compelled to cram the last half of the now fractured miasma into your mouth, all in one go, to prevent losing the whole lot on the ground.

These days a TV camera will inevitably be trained on you as you inhale the bloody thing and you will briefly be the laughing stock of the watching football nation.

But this has not diminished pies’ desirability – quite the opposite.

Go to any ground and you’ll hear the chant ‘Who ate all the pies?’ directed by fans, ironically often on the chubby side themselves, towards a ‘husky’-sized player. It is the only foodstuff to regularly feature in such mantras in any sporting venue, so deeply entrenched has the humble pie become."

We Ate All the Pies is available to buy from the Biteback website priced £9.99


Failing Intelligence by Brian Jones

  • August 26, 2010 15:25
  • Katy Scholes

FAILING INTELLIGENCE: The true story of how we were fooled into going to war in Iraq by Brian Jones

"Compelling and depressing stuff from the Whitehall expert on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." Professor Peter Hennessy

This book provides the truth about Iraq’s WMD and how the British government used and misused intelligence to lead us into war, by the UK’s most senior and experienced intelligence expert on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

As the former head of the UK Defence Intelligence Staff's nuclear, biological and chemical section, Brian Jones is ideally placed to explain how Britain was taken to war and the way in which the intelligence reporting on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was manipulated to justify Saddam Hussein's removal from power.

Jones calls on his own experience and knowledge, a variety of leaked documents, and the expert testimony given to a series of inquiries, including the current Chilcot inquiry, to examine how and why Tony Blair and George W. Bush managed to deceive their legislatures and their electorates into believing that Iraqi WMD were a real threat that could attack the West within 45 minutes.

He describes how Blair and Bush sought to use subsequent inquiries to cover up their own culpability in the deception, in order to facilitate re-election and keep their jobs. In conclusion, Jones pulls together the lessons that should have been learned both in relation to the use of intelligence to justify policy-making and with regard to broader international issues of security and governance.

Failing Intelligence is available to buy from the Biteback website priced £9.99


Why the hell do we love football?

  • August 26, 2010 12:05
  • Katy Scholes

In his regular Football365 column, John Nicholson discusses his new book We Ate All the Pies.

"Football is a major part of millions of people's lives, a part that they simply cannot live without, as compulsive as any addictive narcotic. We buy the shirts, the season tickets, the magazines, the TV subscriptions and of course, the pies. We drink in pubs and watch it on big screens, we meet up and talk about it - talk about it endlessly. We visit websites to find out news, views and to abuse those with whom we disagree on message boards. We take it all for granted as a normal part of our daily lives. But how did we get here?

In We Ate All The Pies I go back through the history of my football life to better understand how football gets under your skin from an early age, buries itself deep and never leaves you; how it helps to create a lifestyle and an attitude for you, how it expands your horizons and helps shape and express the person you are."

You can read the whole column here.