Paul Ewen – Funny surrealist's pub adventures, or Almost 50 ways to get thrown out of a pub

Paul Ewen, London Pub Reviews (Shoes With Rockets, 2007)

"London Pub Reviews is a collection of forty four fictional reviews of London Pubs. The stories themselves are written like pub reviews, and are all set within real London pubs. However, due to the very odd behaviour of the reviewer, each review ends in a slightly disastrous way."

"London Pub Reviews is a work of comic genius - this is essential reading for anybody who enjoys going to the pub. You, for example." - Dan Rhodes

"Paul Ewen is the funniest new writer I have read in years. Join him on his one man Campaign for Surreal Ale." - Toby Litt

"A surrealist's dream, a landlord's nightmare!" - Steven Hall

"Paul Ewen has given voice to that perennial figure who haunts the margins of all our lives: the pub weirdo." - Tom McCarthy

"An astonishingly workaday title for a book that features a singing otter, flying dinosaurs and a sheet of electronic tissue paper. Welcome to the madcap world of Paul Ewen, a softly spoken New Zealander with a knack of finding trouble in public houses. It’s a world not unlike that of Michael Hodges, only with less vitriol and more adjectives.
The just-published paperback collects together 44 ripping yarns, each set in one of London’s famous bars. Paul staggers from pratfall to misadventure, in what Toby Litt describes as a Campaign for Surreal Ale.
There’s very little ‘reviewing’ going on here. The book would be more accurately titled ‘Almost 50 ways to get thrown out of a pub’. Typical tales end with a trip to the casualty department, or the intervention of Her Majesty’s Constabulary.
So we follow his efforts to drink 19 pints in 10 minutes in the Pembroke Castle, travel back in time inside the Sun Tavern, and communicate entirely by handwritten notes in the Blackbird, Earl’s Court (which only a Kiwi could file under ‘Central London’).
The transition from pub-lashed to published was helped by the remarkable illustrations of David Le Fleming. His unique style establishes a whole new school of art that will come to be known as ‘drunken toddler with eyeliner pencil‘. The incoherent scrawl fits perfectly in this terrific book that’s best read inebriated.
One question remains: how, in the devil’s wine cellar, is it possible to write a chapter on The Albert, Victoria Street without mentioning the ejaculating penises etched upon the windows?" -
"Dunno why, but I’ve been doing one or two pub reviews on here recently, so I thought it was about time I sang the praises of this book.
For a while I’ve been wanting to have a go at doing pub reviews a little differently, trying to evoke the atmosphere and character rather than rigidly evaluating the food and drink selection. After all, ‘atmosphere’ and ‘my kind of place’ are, in survey after survey, the main reasons people give for choosing a particular pub. Paul Ewen, author of the deceptively dull-sounding London Pub Reviews has beaten me to any notion I might have had about reinventing the pub review. If the dull, plodding, workmanlike-yet-practical Good Beer Guide exists at one end of a scale, Ewen, a Kiwi living in London, has pegged out the other extreme.
According to the blurb, ‘although wanting to follow the Kiwi tradition of working in English pubs, he was thwarted by a complete and utter lack of social skills, forcing him to write about them instead’.
And how he writes about them.
His warped vision often nails a pub’s character completely: the Dublin Castle in Camden reminds him of the alien bar in Star Wars, an observation affirmed by “the pierced faces, weird clothes and outrageous hair styles of the Camden locals”.
Each review ends with him being forcibly ejected from the pub. In the Holly Bush in Hampstead, this is precipitated by Liam Gallagher walking in, inspiring our hero to climb on the table and shout “I’M ON STAGE, I’M ON STAGE, I’M ON STAGE NOW!”
In the Jeremy Bentham, a university pub, he approaches the blackboard advertising the day’s specials and begins an impromptu lecture, attempting to keep order by yelling and hurling beer glasses to the floor.
For the first few reviews, you’re wondering if this man, Dom Joly-style, really did go to these pubs and do these things. He was in there, as his descriptions attest, and he does enjoy his real ale. (And the Bentham piece was originally commissioned for The Times Higher Education Supplement by my mate Steve Farrar. When Paul sent Steve the invoice, it included the itemised cost for the smashed glasses.)
But as the book progresses, we take off through the beer glass and into a world that Alice would recognise if she had been a Camden bag lady on a Tennents Superdiet.
In Effra at Brixton, the bar person is working the pumps “like a submarine engine room attendant, darting here and there pulling levers and plugging holes.” Paul’s small round table is “shedding its varnish like skin”, and a sign advertising the daily special – Jerk Chicken – reminds him how often he was called “jerk”, “chicken” and indeed “special” during his formative years.
In the Prince of Wales on Clapham Common, “My table was covered by a strange, grey, cocoon-like coating, as if it were soon to emerge as a more beautiful pub table.”At the Half Moon in Herne Hill, the flowery pattern on the carpet comes to life, unties his shoelaces and empties out the contents of his satchel (yes, he carries a satchel).
A secret passage at the Eagle in Battersea Park Road leads him to the secret underground lake where custard comes from.
By the time we get to the King’s Head in Tooting, he’s carrying his disembodied head under one arm, which hampers somewhat his attempts to catch the rabbits that infest the pool table, mocking him from the pockets.
All this, and he still makes you want to visit the pubs in question.
The review on the cover, written by Toby Litt (another of my favourite writers) says it all in one brilliant sentence: Ewen has created the ‘Campaign for Surreal Ale’.
Marvellous. Buy this book. Make an unhinged Kiwi bastard happy. He deserves it." - Pete Brown
"I went out the other night! It was fun. I went to a book launch, because that’s what sophisticated, literary people like me do.
The launch was for Paul Ewen’s London Pub Reviews. I won’t give an account of the event, because it will make you jealous of my fun.
But the book. It’s terrific, of course: If you haven’t encountered Paul and his reviews before, you can read a few at the website linked above. They’re shortish pieces, a few pages long, in which the narrator-reviewer goes to a real London pub, and then imagination and reality get into a muddle and narrator is ejected, arrested or assaulted. They’re deadpan pieces, plain-voiced with nice little flourishes, very odd and very funny.
I’ll expand, if you don’t mind. I really like the fact that there’s a neat, repeated form there; also that the tone is strong and clear. If you’d described it to me without my having read it, I would have been intrigued, but worried that it might fall into that pseudo-surrealism that taints a lot of writing, particularly stuff that’s circulated on the web. The style and form prevent that. I also like that the reviews really are grounded in the pubs; so, if you know The Champion, you’ll recognise the stained-glass representations of Victorian sportsmen. Also that the acuracy is a jumping-off point for the strangeness; so, in the Champion, Paul turns to glass, and gives a precise description of his new state. It appeals to my imagination too: it’s full of time-slips, living figures in pictures, lots of great fun stuff like that.
Haha I just thought up this sentence: ‘the important thing is that it’s funny; however, the funny thing is that it might be important.’ It makes me want to punch myself; however, if you scrub the euphuistic chiasmus, it’s not too far from the mark.
It’s published by ‘Shoes with Rockets’, which is essentially Paul: he had offers from houses I like a lot, but decided to keep control. The book looks terrific: good cover, nicely designed page, well-set and accurate. We’re very, very far from old-school self-publishing here (and, from what I recall, the bulk of Athena Press books don’t feature blurbs from Toby Litt, Tom McCarthy, Dan Rhodes and Steven Hall.)
There’s a lot of this coming up this year: interesting, good-looking books coming out from one-man (or woman) operations. Some are self-publishing, others aren’t. Social Disease is the most obvious example coming out of web world, but there are other things brewing. Small presses have been around forever, yes, but this I think is something new: costs are down, design tools are more easily available, and, if still hard work, it’s all a bit more possible. This is the interesting story at the moment: papers should be paying attention to that, rather than saying ‘omigod the offbeat brutalists use teh myspace!’.
I’d guess this one of the big themes over the next year or two; interesting writing – and writing that’s made for the page, that isn’t designed to be read on a screen – getting into print thanks to publication bars being lowered by the spread of design technology and short-run printing. Plus there’s a developing community around this - but I’ll get my crayons out and draw a map of this world on another day.
Maybe it’s just a last hurrah for the medium. But there are people thinking more carefully about the future of the book than me.
In summary: London Pub Reviews is very good." -
"I was rolling around Broadway Market the other day when I finally decided to step into Broadway Bookshop but I picked up a copy of Paul Ewen’s London Pub Reviews and ZOMG it’s SO AWESOME. Imagine Hunter S Thompson being sent out on assignment for Time Out reviewing the capital’s boozers. Imagine Jorge Louis Borges writing for Imagine some lunatic trying to flood Bradley’s because he thinks it would make an awesome swimming pool. Or a dude trying to drive a piano out of the Golden Heart and cruise round Shoreditch. To be honest I couldn’t possibly do him justice so here is an excerpt from a review of the Jeremy Bentham and then following a little interview I did with Paul.
I was clutching my last full pint of ale as I strode purposefully across to the "Today's choices" blackboard. After placing my glass on the mantelpiece beneath it, I proceeded to wipe the entire menu off with my sleeve. Turning to face the bar, I clapped loudly for attention. Then seizing a stump of chalk I wrote in capital letters: LESSON ONE.
Blank, uncomprehending faces stared back at me, and when a cheeky fellow continued talking aloud, I pointed my finger at him and shouted "HAH!"
Announcing the title of my lecture as "A study of knee and nose tissue fibres", I was met with a barrage of open scoffs and sniggers. Despite my stern tone, I realised there were clearly some problem elements I would need to contend with.
Wiping chalk dust off my ear, I pressed the upper rim of some non-existent spectacles into the base of my forehead. "HEADS, SHOULDERS, KNEES AND NOSE, KNEES AND NOSE," I began. Great booming laughter erupted throughout the bar, and I felt my cheeks redden and the back of my neck boil with sweat.
"SILENCE!" I screamed, throwing my pint of ale to the floor with an almighty crash. "SIT DOWN!"
A deathly quiet descended and satisfied that a sense of order had been recaptured, I cleared my throat to continue. But my lesson was again interrupted when members of the bar staff began approaching the front of the class without permission.
Later, seated on a wooden bench outside the Jeremy Bentham pub, I proceeded to write "FAIL, FAIL, FAIL" on the backs of random beer mats I had grasped on the point of my sudden departure.
When did you move from NZ? Why? How was it when you got here? - I left NZ in 1996, but I spent six years living and working in Asia before arriving in London at the start of 2002. A huge number of New Zealanders travel because we feel rather isolated at the other end of the world and we want to see what's out there. My father is English, so I had a greater draw to the UK than most. London is a fantastic city if you're willing to embrace it. A great way to discover it is through its pubs.
Is there a pub culture in NZ? If so, is it much like ours? - The best pubs in New Zealand are lovely old wooden hotel pubs. Like in the UK, they are disappearing as developers move in, rubbing their greedy hands. Sport is a huge part of NZ society, and pubs play a big part in that. But I think NZers also tend to visit friends' houses much more than in the UK, either to watch sport or to drink and have BBQ's. Maybe I'm just not invited to many English houses because I'm an oddball.
Do you smoke? Do you hate the smoking ban?
- I definitely miss smoky English pubs. Especially against the stained glass window backdrop of The Champion in Fitzrovia. I fear that drinkers will be targeted next in the public health crusade.
What prompted you to start writing? - I write best in public places, like pubs, in tube trains, airports etc. I can be in a heaving pub and write loads, as long as I have a seat. There's something about surrounding bustle that I like when I write. Sitting at a table in a quiet room I find much more difficult. The pub reviews came easily this way, and I am writing a novel at the moment, which is mainly being scripted in pubs and on tube trains also.
Do you have a favourite tube line? If so why?
- I travel most often on the Victoria Line, but I like the District & Circle line because it's a bit old and wonky, and one minute you're in a tunnel and the next moment you're out, like some dodgy ride on Brighton Pier. And the DLR has a rollercoaster feel to it when you go out around Canary Wharf. I sometimes think I'm going to die on the DLR, so that makes it quite interesting.
Your stories remind me of David Sedaris and Hunter S Thompson - are you into those guys? Do you have any literary heroes? - I very much like the work of Barry Yourgrau, a contemporary American writer. He was put onto me by English author Dan Rhodes, who I think is great too. I used to read a lot of Janet Frame, a NZ author, whose work, although very different from mine, I love. And my father writes, and my mother reads heaps, so they have been great influences.
Do you get pissed when you write the stories?
- All the stories in London Pub Reviews were written in the pubs in question, and I left some of them rather worse for wear. There are times when drinking can help my writing, and other times when it spoils it. I think it is a matter of being in the right mood either way.
So did you self publish the book? Was it hard? - London Pub Reviews is self-published. Two of the stories were originally published in the British Council's New Writing 13 anthology, edited by Toby Litt and Ali Smith, and I got some great press from that so I thought I'd try and put a collection together. Apart from stumping up the cash, the biggest problem initially was distribution. But thankfully, I was very well supported by the independent shops, and the bigger chain shops took it on soon after.
The reviews always end with you being escorted from the premises - have you been chucked out of many pubs in real life? - I do get asked to leave a fair few pubs, but usually only at closing time. That's when I start running around the pub shouting, You can't catch me!
What are your favourite pubs in London?
- My favourite pubs in London are the ones that have an appreciation of their history & features and haven't been in a rush to modernise. The Samuel Smiths brewery is very good in this regard: they have helped preserve some of London's oldest, most beautifully decorated pubs, such as The Princess Louise in Holborn and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street. The Champion and The Fitzroy in Fitzrovia are good Sam Smiths pubs too. I have a preference for 'old man pubs' because old gents (and old dames) don't tend to yabber loudly about ridiculous nonsense, and they have good manners at the bar.
Have you ever hung out in a Wetherspoons before 12pm? - Of course. But sometimes I wait for bingo to kick off. JD Wetherspoon pubs are slightly similar to Samuel Smiths, in that their drinks are very affordable, their pubs are quiet and full of pleasant old timers, and they have saved some amazing old buildings (such as cinemas, theatres and banks), tastefully converting them into pubs that can be appreciated by all." - Interview with Charles O at

Paul Ewen, How to be a Public Author, Galley Beggar Press,  2014.

Francis Plug is a troubled and often drunk misfit who causes chaos and confusion wherever he goes—and where he most likes to go is to real author events, collecting signatures from the likes of Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Eleanor Catton. As he adds to this collection of signed Booker first editions, Francis—a wannabe author himself—is also helpfully writing a self-help manual. Devised with the novice writer in mind, it is full of sage wisdom and useful tidbits to help ease freshly published novelists into the demands and rigors of author events, readings and general life in the public eye.
If you’re provided with a hands-free mic, clipped to your lapel, don’t forget to turn it off when you visit the toilet, or if you need to vomit before your event. Likewise, it’s always good to be wary of the germs of fans—and considering the use of elbow-length dishwashing gloves at book signings, and a large, easy-wipe kitchen apron.
And so too, cultivating a photographic ‘look’ for the many publicity shots you will be subjected to is also a good idea—Francis’s personal choice being that of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. With advice like this, and Francis’ warm and deranged personality, How to Be a Public Author will prove essential reading for anyone with an interest in the literary world.
The Man Booker Prize becomes a springboard to explore what it means to be an author—and a human being—in the twenty-first century. This novel is certain to be one of the main talking points when the Man Booker Prize is discussed this year, as well as one that will endure long after the controversies have died down. It is an exceptional piece of writing—a novel that readers will love and return to, time and time again.

In the most controversial year in the history of the Man Booker Prize comes a book certain to add fuel to the fire. How To Be A Public Author will take the debate to another level. It will get everyone talking – and laughing – even more about Britain’s biggest annual book bonanza.
Francis Plug is a troubled and often drunk misfit who causes chaos and confusion wherever he goes – and where he most likes to go is to real author events, collecting signatures from the likes of Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Eleanor Catton.
As he adds to this collection of signed Booker first editions, Francis – a wannabe author himself – is also helpfully writing a self-help manual. This is devised with the novice writer in mind, and full of sage wisdom and useful tidbits to help ease freshly published novelists into the demands and rigors of author events, readings, and general life in the public eye.
So, "If you're provided with a hands-free mic, clipped to your lapel, don't forget to turn it off when you visit the toilet, or if you need to vomit before your event." Likewise, it's always good to be wary of the germs of fans – and "considering the use of elbow-length dishwashing gloves at book signings, and a large, easy-wipe kitchen apron." And so too, cultivating a photographic 'look' for the many publicity shots you will be subjected to is also a good idea – Francis's personal choice being that of Macaulay McCulkin in Home Alone.
With advice like this, and Francis' warm and deranged personality, How to be a Public Author will prove ESSENTIAL reading for anyone with an interest in the literary world.
How to be a Public Author is a brilliant slapstick comedy, blurring fact and fantasy to astonishing effect, and it is also a surprising and touching meditation on loneliness and finding a place in the world. The Man Booker Prize becomes a springboard to explore what it means to be an author – and a human being – in the twenty-first century.
This novel is certain to be one of the main talking points when the Man Booker Prize is discussed this year, as well as one that will endure long after the controversies have died down. It is an exceptional piece of writing – a novel that readers will love and return to, time and time again.
I love it to distraction -- Dan Rhodes
It's very, very funny -- Simon Crump
This might just be a modern comic masterpiece -- Ben Myers
Funny, clever, and quite unlike any book I've read … Impressive. -- Steve Finbow
Totally deranged and very, very funny -- James Miller

This may be the funniest book I’ve ever read; I certainly can’t think of another that had me stopping so often to laugh. It’s a catalog of narrator Francis Plug’s attendance at readings and lectures by Booker Prize winners, and those invariably wine-soaked misadventures are absurd and hilarious. But the novel is much more than “just” funny as it punctures the bubbles of pretension and illusion that insulate the cult of the “literary author” (the chapters recounting Francis’ visit to the Hay festival do this with particular verve). Francis’ behavior, while shocking, is also the kind of thing we used to expect from literary people, from writers and would be writers, and the gap between the placid gentility of the events he attends and the wild (Wilde, even) interruption he repeatedly brings made me wonder when literature and its celebration became so safely professionalized, and how the danger and excitement were all wrung out.
I’m not generally prone to novels about novelists and such “inside baseball” reading, funny or not, but the depth of How To Be A Public Author comes from the desperation of Francis Plug to enter into this insulated world, in all his drunken, delusional, chaotic glory. That desperation is painfully familiar to me as a someone who has himself spent years trying to break into the bubble, simultaneously mocking and daydreaming of being feted at the kinds of events Francis renders ridiculous. And that overblown, defining desire of an outsider to become an insider is likely to make any reader cringe in recognition, whether from the world of writing or elsewhere. So yes, this is a novel about a writer and familiarity with the world of readings and prizes and contemporary authors will go a long way, but I suspect this book could be just as hilarious and provocative for a reader who knew nothing about all of that. - Steve Himmer

The romantic perception of the author is a solitary figure toiling away in a lonely garret but, in the 21st century, the ambitious author is forced to assume a far more public role, taking centre stage at bookshop talks, signings, interviews and literary festivals.
This role is often not one which comes naturally. Thankfully Francis Plug has made it his mission to attend a sequence of events featuring Booker Prize-winning authors, get stupefyingly drunk then share his observations and insights into the life of the modern author in this invaluable primer.
This is a book of invigorating originality and Francis Plug is a creation of twisted genius [PH]
Plug has a personal incentive for gleaning tips on how successful authors operate because he is anxious about how winning the Booker Prize will thrust him into the limelight. The fact that he has yet to start, let alone finish, writing a novel is a minor detail.
However minor details are Plug’s stock in trade. His unorthodox observations take in everything from the lack of fanfare surrounding some author events (“No inflatable Salman Rushdie [outside the theatre] with long, billowing limbs”) to ‘at home with…’ interviews, telling Hilary Mantel that there is no such place as her home town of Budleigh Salterton, accusing her of inventing it to throw fans off the scent.
While some of his insights are not especially practical, Plug has a gift for description, whether setting the scene at author events or describing the writers themselves (like AS Byatt: “The closer I stare at her, the more she reminds me of an illustrated personification of the wind”. Google her. It’s uncanny).
He relays all dialogue with the celebrated authors who sign his books and some of their responses to his drunken ramblings are perfectly plausible while others veer into the realm of wild fantasy. The line between fact and fiction is as blurred as you might expect from a raving alcoholic.
When Plug attends events serving complimentary wine, instead of accepting a glass, he takes a full bottle. Money is always short so on occasion he sips wine from glasses which guests in the row in front have placed beneath their chairs. On a train to the Hay on Wye book festival, he buys miniatures that “are mere splashes of alcohol but they can provide one with the bare fuel to line the bottom of the tank, enough to start the engine… and travel a small distance”.
Until he wins the Booker Prize, Plug is forced to take work as a jobbing gardener. His relationship with one wealthy employer, a banker called Mr Stapleton, deteriorates throughout the course of the book and this from the starting point of an angry Mr Stapleton coming home unexpectedly early to find “me lying on my back on the lawn, trying to pedal a ‘sky bicycle’”.
In order to break up a steady succession of encounters with authors, I would have  liked to read more of Plug’s back story which offers occasional flashes of poignancy (there is a tantalising mention of a perfectly normal family). Overall, however, for those with a taste for dark, unpredictable and sometimes surreal comedy, this is a book of invigorating originality and the character of Francis Plug himself a creation of twisted genius. - Charlotte Heathcote

Francis Plug’s Top Backstage Tips For Authors
By Francis Plug (as told to Paul Ewen).
Author events can be a terrible strain on the nerves, and this anxiety can be particularly savage in the build-up to the event itself.
So I’ve put together some handy ‘backstage’ tips to help authors take the edge of the nightmare to follow.
- Have a cigarette. Have several. You won’t be able to smoke in the event, even if you’re in a tent in the middle of a friggin’ field. So get your quota in early. With any luck you’ll set off some smoke alarms and the venue will be evacuated and you can slip off to the pub and stay there.
- Drink brown spirits or beer. Alcohol is absolutely essential to the public author. You cannot cope without it. No way. Once you’re in your event you’ll be able to drink white spirits, but you need to get the brown stuff in early, because it doesn’t look like still water.
- Read your book. You can lose yourself in a good book, and your book must be one of those because if it wasn’t why would you put yourself through this whole event debasement? Try and keep it neat and tidy because you might be able to flog it for money later.
- Do the turkey head. Music is a good way to relax and zone out before your impending horror show. Headphones are ideal in this respect because they help deter any other backstage people from wanting to talk or engage with you.
- Laugh Out Loud. If you’re behaving in a jovial and carefree manner, you may convince yourself that you’re untroubled by the idea of strangers staring at you for an hour or so and posing really awkward questions. Put your shoes on the wrong feet because that’s always good for a laugh.
- Run away. What’s the worst that could happen? Most people probably bought your book before the event anyway, and events don’t get reviewed like books do. Also, your interviewer can probably yabber on happily by themselves because they probably know more about you and your book than you do.


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