Random Excuse Generator

For those of us with a professional interest in procrastination theory the news from Australia that Henry Hoke’s Random Excuse Generator has been recreated brings a welcome injection of optimism amid falling financial markets, slipped deadlines, and stumbling projects. This short film produced by Mark Thomson, Research Director at the Institute for Backyard Studies, explains:

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Key Ideas in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language: Finished at Last

Academic books are a curious thing. They are essential to the careers of academics, who now need to write lots and lots of them to reach the dizzying heights of Assistant Lecturer (grade B) while their superiors reached the same level 30-odd years ago by having lunch with the Dean and offering to pay for the coffee. Students complain that the library doesn’t have enough of them, but publishers worry secretly that there are too many. For non-academics like me who might be tempted to take on an academic project as a sideline the only reward is the work itself. And what a lot of work it is. Siobhan and I finished off the proof reading and indexing of our co-edited book Key Ideas in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language last night. This final stage of the book has been a real slog. There has been too much other work to get through at the same time, so we’ve done the work in the evenings over the last few weeks. We’re exhausted.

But this is an important milestone for us. It marks the end of a project that we began in 2002, when we started looking for writers for the first book in the series, Key Thinkers in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language. We’ve worked with some great people and it has been a real pleasure thinking about these ideas and their significance not only to the way linguists and philosophers think about the world, but the rest of us too. We think it’s been worth it. So now the proofs and the index for this book are done and will go off to the publisher on Monday. Relatively few people will read it; mostly students and academics working in the field. But I hope that those who do use these books together will find them helpful and enlightening. Our own copies of Key Thinkers are certainly starting to look well thumbed. We’ll probably see Key Ideas in paperback in January.


Catching Up, Moving On

Siobhan and I sent off the manuscript for Key Ideas in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language earlier this week after an intense month of re-reading, revision, collation and correction. We’ve done very little else since early January so there is a lot of catching up to do, but there are also exciting new projects to begin. It’s never easy moving on from one big project to the next but this morning I began work on the first of the entries for 100 American Crime Writers. I’m not going to be writing them in alphabetical order, but for the record I made a start this morning on ‘Paul Auster’.

Also coming up is the Literary Art of Murder conference in April, and my piece on ‘Crime and Detective Fiction for Young Readers’ for the Blackwell Companion to Crime Fiction.

In case anyone is interested I am going to be writing the 100 American Crime Writers book using a very slick piece of software for writers called Scrivener. I started using it part of the way through the Cain’s book, but it seems even better suited to this kind of work. I am more impressed with it every day. If you do your writing on a Mac it’s a bargain and if you have to buy a Mac in order to try it, it’s still a bargain.


100 British Crime Writers

Just to note that this morning I posted off the contract for the 100 British Crime Writers book, which is the companion to 100 American Crime Writers, and part of Palgrave Macmillan’s Crime Files Series. So far the project website reflects only the American book, but an update is coming right up.


Literary Art of Murder Conference

Siobhan and I are getting through the Key Ideas entries steadily now, aiming for our January manuscript submission deadline, but my attention is increasingly drawn by my crime fiction projects, including the two books. I received information today about the Literary Art of Murder conference (April 4-6, 2008) where I’m going to be talking about “The New Noir: Cold War Stories in the Twenty-First Century”. This is essentially an academic conference and I’ve been listed, rather charmingly, as an ‘independent scholar’, but the lineup looks appealing, including an appearance by The Murder Squad. There are some well-known speakers from crime fiction studies, including Stephen Knight, Laura Marcus, Gill Plain, Susan Rowland, Paul Cobley, and Andrew Pepper.

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Key Thinkers Review

The journal Forum for Modern Language Studies has a nice short review of my co-edited book Key Thinkers in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language. This is encouraging at a time when work on its sibling volume, Key Ideas is underway. Here’s the review, which appears in Forum for Modern Language Studies 2007 43(1):102-103:

Key Thinkers in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language. Ed. Siobhan Chapman & Christopher Routledge. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. xii + 282 pp. £55 (hardback); £16.99 (paperback). ISBN 0–7486–1757–4/1758–2

Eighty key thinkers in linguistics and the philosophy of language are each presented concisely and clearly here in articles penned by some thirty distinguished international scholars. The articles aim to give an overview and a closer analysis of one or more aspects of the individual’s work, not necessarily repeating perhaps well-known facts but endeavouring to cast new light on relevant facets and bring out the development of ideas. The articles enthuse, promote further interest, and are particularly handy in this relatively small volume. Thinkers featured include Aristotle, Bakhtin, Benveniste, Boas, Chomsky, Descartes, Firth, Greenberg, Halliday, Hockett, Humboldt, Kristeva, Labov, Martinet, Marx, Milroy, Peirce, Piaget, Popper, Quine, Sapir, Saussure, Skinner, Strawson, Trubetzkoy, Whorf and Wittgenstein, and the whole is concluded by an Index, enabling cross-reference and further investigation. Each article has in addition a list of Primary Works and of suggested Further Reading. One might, needless to say, think of other thinkers who deserve inclusion – R. M. W. Dixon, to mention one –, but the essential value of this considerable volume remains secure.


Key Ideas Sample Entries Available

Now that the Cain’s book and Siobhan’s book about the influence of the Vienna Circle have gone off to their respective publishers we can concentrate on the Key Ideas project, which has been running alongside up to now. We have most of the entries in now and have begun the editing process. I have just added some sample entries from the project to give an idea of what we’re doing: Definite Descriptions by Siobhan Chapman and Linguistic Variable, by Dominic Watt. These are not yet finalised for publication in the book, but they should give an idea of the sort of thing we are aiming for. Here’s the link to the Sample Entries pages.

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Robert Cain: Irish Slummy, Victorian Gentleman

I have just heard that my proposal to give a paper about Robert Cain at the Liverpool: A Sense of Time and Place conference on September 14-15, 2007 has been accepted. The conference is being organised by the University of Liverpool in association with Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool Hope University, National Museums Liverpool and the Culture Company, Liverpool. It will be held in St. George’s Hall. I’ll post more on this nearer the time, but here’s a summary of what I’ll be talking about:

Robert Cain, the Liverpool brewer, died on July 19, 1907, aged 82. He left a personal legacy of over £400,000 and a brewing business that was one of the top regional breweries in the country and one of the UK’s top 50 companies of any kind. Cain’s is a remarkable story. He was born in County Cork in 1826 in what he later described as “humble origins” and began brewing in Liverpool around 1848 or 1850. Within a decade he owned a substantial established brewery in Stanhope Street and several pubs. He also ran a small commercial hotel near to the brewery on Stanhope Street. By the 1880s he was able to build one of the most advanced breweries in Britain and had acquired huge personal wealth. He battled with the licensing board and applied his considerable influence to local Tory politics, though he never stood for office himself. He became known as “King of the Toxteths” and two of his sons became baronets.

But while Cain’s is a dramatic rags-to-riches immigrant story, it is also the story of the making of a Victorian gentleman. Cain chose to abandon his explicitly Irish background, moving his business and his family away from the Scotland Road area, and changing his place of birth in official records to “Liverpool, Lancashire.” He was conspicuously modern, acquiring a telephone as early as the 1890s, and equipping his brewery with the latest technology. But in common with many Victorians of his class he was also a collector of plants and paintings, including those of the “Liverpool Rembrandt,” William Daniels, whom he entertained as a house guest in the 1870s. His houses, pubs, and the brewery building itself were built in the most fashionable high Victorian Gothic and Art Nouveau styles.

This paper will trace the story of Cain’s self-making, both as an entrepreneur and as a Victorian gentleman, from his origins in County Cork and Liverpool’s Irish slums, to his burial in St James’s cemetery, which was attended by so many people that the police had to close the gates against the crowd. It will also reflect on the extent to which Cain’s personal re-imaging matches the re-imaging of his adopted city in the decades leading up to its 700th anniversary year.

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Cain’s: The Story of Liverpool in a Pint

I’ve just posted off contracts for a book about the local brewery here in Liverpool and its place in the history of the city. Robert Cain’s brewery (often known as Higson’s, because that’s who owned it for several decades) is a well-known local landmark, a striking building dating back to the 1880s. Its history, which begins in the 1850s, and the history of Liverpool are very closely tied together; from boom in the nineteenth century to bust in the twentieth and rebirth in the twenty-first. After years writing popular American history books and series, writing British history for a popular market is a new challenge. I’m going to be starting work on this in September and will post a project page then with more information. In the mean time, here’s the link to Cain’s and here’s the link to Liverpool University Press, the publisher. Added 2 October 2006: I still haven’t found time to make a project page for this book, but I have a couple of illustrated features on Cain’s and Liverpool pubs in the November 2006 issue of Lancashire Life magazine.