Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows for the BBC

9 October 2014

beach

A piece for the BBC about how Brian Wilson and Tony Asher composed God Only Knows.

These conversations were fractured. Wilson, who had been denied a childhood, would break off to show Asher his mechanical parrots or to watch episodes of Flipper, an “aquatic Lassie” series about a dolphin which invariably reduced him to tears.

In time, Wilson played Asher the pieces of music he had in mind for an album called Pet Sounds and Asher essayed some lyrics to fit the themes Wilson had in mind. When they got to God Only Knows, things didn’t start well. Wilson felt that “I may not always love you” was absolutely the wrong way to kick off a love song. Too negative, he insisted.

Indebted to Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff, Kingsley Abbott’s Pet Sounds: The Greatest Album of the Twentieth Century, Timothy White’s The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the Southern Californian Experience and Brian Wilson’s Wouldn’t it be Nice: My Own Story (with Todd Gold (and Eugene E Landy)).

The Crossword Century: 100 Years of Witty Wordplay, Ingenious Puzzles, and Linguistic Mischief for Gotham

3 July 2014

Amusing and informative
— Pultizer-winner Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

such a fun read
— Dinesh Ramde, Washington Times

the_crossword_century_alan_connorMy book about the fun of crosswords, The Crossword Century: 100 Years of Witty Wordplay, Ingenious Puzzles, and Linguistic Mischief, has been published by Gotham.

A couple of responses…

“Alan Connor’s Crossword Century is a fun and fascinating tale of language, commerce, culture and play. Before reading this book, I didn’t have a clue about the crossword’s checkered past. Now I can see its extraordinary future, too.”

— John Pollack, author of The Pun Also Rises and Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation and Sell Your Greatest Ideas

“If you love language and history and marvel at the genius of puzzles, codes, and game design, Alan Connor’s deep dive into the crossword will keep you smiling and eagerly turning pages. Connor playfully explores the history of the beloved, gamified fever dream of sentences, definitions, letters, and words that is the modern crossword and reveals the dance that strange invention has enjoyed with its caretakers across history. If you adore words and wordplay, if you see language as an endless mutating jungle of puzzles and experimentation, you need this book in your life.”

— David McRaney, author of You Are Not so Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb

…some press…

…and the reviews of the British edition as a word cloud:

two_girls_connor_reviews

It is available at your local bookshop, or at IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Books-A-Million, The Book Depository, iTunes, and so on.

And… it contains a puzzle by Brendan Emmett Quigley.

Listen: Think, from KERA

Ary Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil for BBC News

25 June 2014
060812football.JPG

A piece for the BBC News Magazine about Aquarela do Brasil:

One rainy night in 1939, he wrote the opening lines of Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolour of Brazil): “Brasil, meu Brasil brasileiro.” This translates as “Brazil, my Brazilian Brazil”. Never have four words been more Brazilian, before or since.

The censors had issues with some colloquialisms and a folksy reference to tambourines, but Barroso persuaded them that his “samba exaltacao” was modern and patriotic enough to meet their exacting requirements.

I thoroughly enjoyed Misha Glenny’s radio documentary The Making of Brazil, Bryan McCann’s book Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil and Scott L. Baugh’s reference work Latino American Cinema: An Encyclopedia of Movies, Stars, Concepts, and Trends. I am indebted; they are recommended.

My favourite versions:

And here’s that Disney, and Ze Carioca alive and well in 2014:

Stevie Wonder’s Another Star for BBC News

7 June 2014
061201star.JPG

A short-form piece for the Beeb on Stevie Wonder’s Another Star, the theme tune for the BBC’s World Cup coverage:

Another Star closes side four of Songs in the Key of Life – the very end of a four-album run in which Wonder relentlessly outdid himself. He had originally intended to follow his previous, Fulfillingness’s First Finale, with a sequel.

Fulfillingness’s Second Finale was to be a darker, socially conscious experience, but Wonder’s ambition overtook him, and he spent two years putting together a double album (with bonus single) instead.

No space this time for a collection of cover versions, so here they are.

With the Tokyo Philharmonic:

Salome De Bahia:

Caron Wheeler of Soul II Soul, Afrodiziak:

Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge:

And, of course, with Nile Rodgers and Daft Punk:

Two Girls, One on Each Knee: The Puzzling, Playful World of the Crossword — a Penguin Paperback

5 June 2014

My book about crosswords, Two Girls, One on Each Knee, is out today as a paperback.

Two Girls One on Each Knee

It costs no more than £8.99, and I have removed an error, one concerning the PG Wodehouse story with the strawberries. It now begins with some commendations:

‘Connor’s wry, good-natured tone and his commitment to the serious business of play make him the perfect guide to a great pastime’ John Gallagher, Telegraph

‘Alan Connor’s charming, fascinating history of how the crossword went from a space filler in the back section of an American newspaper to one of the world’s most ubiquitous and addictive habits – he estimates that in Britain some 14.7m people do a crossword at least once a week – is the guide you have been waiting for. In a single, gloriously decipherable chapter he lays out with perfect clarity the entire range of rules and devices through which cryptic clues work their magic’ Robert Collins, Sunday Times

‘Connor’s scholarly knowledge doesn’t stop him extolling the vocabulary of The Simpsons. The solution to the title, by the way, is ‘patella’.’ Ben Felsenburg, Metro

No crossword addict, be they a compiler or a solver, can ignore itAlan Taylor, Herald

‘Connor’s book is cleverly constructed around an initial cryptic crossword in which each clue provides the title of a chapter. And each chapter can be read independently of the others. There is something to entertain even the most infrequent dabbler, from a primer on how to actually do a cryptic crossword to the puzzle’s famous fans – the Queen, Sepp Blatter and Frank Sinatra among them – and its connections with the trains (one line in the US used to carry dictionaries)’ Carl Wilkinson, Financial Times

‘The brilliant new book on crosswords . . .  Delivers fun galore whether you’re a doer or a duffer . . . Two Girls, One on Each Knee consists of a series of short, sparky chapters on topics as various as ‘Crosswords and detective fiction’, ‘Can machines do crosswords?’ and ‘The many ways of being rude in a crossword’. . . And this is also the guiding principle of his book — it favours the byway over the highway, and can never say no to a red herring’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

‘This book shows you, among other things, how speaking aloud unpromising phrases such as ‘Tooting Carmen’ and ‘Servants Tease’ can yield obvious answers, and how sociable the crossword is. Of course, it can be tackled alone, and in Brief Encounter, it represents the antithesis of the longed-for romance, but it’s also perhaps fun to tackle with two or more heads rather than one’ Michael Caines, The Times Literary Supplement

‘Connor writes with great flair . . . it is nice to dip in and out of his entertaining essays’ Don Manley, Church Times

‘It is the relationship between setter and solver, between words and fun which provides the narrative thrust for Two Girls, One on Each Knee … ‘The experience of reading this book’, Connor says in the preamble, ‘should be equivalent to that of solving a cryptic puzzle…’ In fact it is rather better; it does not demand as much of the reader as a good puzzle does of the solver, but it delivers far more of its own accord. It is witty, charming, encyclopaedic and highly readable – and it can be read in any order. Take a chapter or a paragraph, a puzzle or a clue. In each the reader will find something to intrigue and delightSandy Balfour, Spectator

‘A wonderful little book that looks at the fascinating, often baffling world of the cryptic crossword. What connects Bletchley Park and the Daily Telegraph? And why should you always start in the bottom right-hand corner? Most of all, it’s a celebration of languageJon Stock, Daily Telegraph

Delightful . . .
Verdict: Top rating for odd number of celebrities (4,5)’ Brandon Robshaw, Independent on Sunday

A joyous paean to the history of puzzlement and an essential guidePD Smith, The Guardian

Delightful celebration of crosswords’ The Observer

‘A glorious guide that explains the history and universal appeal of the crossword’ Sunday Times, 100 Best Books for the Beach

You can buy it from your local bookshop, or from Penguin, Waterstones, Amazon, on Kindle, via Google etc…

Charlie Brooker’s 2013 Wipe for BBC Two

28 December 2013

I am a proud member of Team 2013 Wipe, the fruit of whose toil will be on BBC Two tonight:

Update 6 Jan: And the second series of Weekly Wipe begins on Thu 9 Jan on BBC Two.