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London, Ep. 16

June 16, 2011 — A dazzling night before a wonderfully packed Concrete crowd, sponsored by Picador, ended when three-point expert John Butler narrowly outshined co-finalist David Whitehouse 5-4 in an anti-book burning netball shootout that won Butler the coveted Literary Death Match crown!

But before book-saving hero Max Brod's picture was center-stage, the night kicked off with Butler going up against verbal and performative pyrotechnician Dan Simpson. Butler led off, reading a pitch-perfect excerpt from his highly-praised just-released novel The Tenderloin about a man's attempt to lose his virginity. Next up was Simpson, who read a triptych of poems about: 1. changing for a girl, 2. Pac-Man, and 3. the mathematics of love.

John Butler sentences his opponents to death at Concrete. CLICK FOR MORE PICTURES!

Then the mic was handed to the trio of all-star judges: Orange Prize champ Naomi Alderman (author of Disobedience and The Lessons), T4 hunk Rick Edwards (of Tool Academy), and general culture critic Gareth McLean. About Butler's excerpt, McLean laughed off the myth of the straight man who doesn't like a finger in his ass, and Alderman admitted loving Butler's reference to the erotic 'folds of the valance' as it made her think about what was going to happen next... Edwards — in an orange t-shirt — admitted mild offense that the orange ghost in Simpson's Pac-Man poem was the pariah. 

Then the judges huddled and with a tough decision ahead of them, but after a long deliberation decided it was Butler that would advance as the night's first finalist. 

After a drinks-laden intermission, Round 2 blasted off with the legendary David Quantick reading about has-been TV presenter Harry Mack, who plans his comeback by faking his death/popping out of the coffin at his own funeral. Whitehouse followed with a startingly rich excerpt from his novel Bedabout a man bathing his morbidly obese brother Malcolm. 

The mic was again handed to the judges, with Alderman saying of Quantick that he had an advantage as everything said in his accent was automatically funny, while Edwards considered himself unfit to judge Quantick, and admitting he slightly pissed himself, in the literal sense, over his story. About Whitehouse, Alderman said she found his story incredibly moving and very very sad, while Edwards said he felt bad by being amused by it. 

Then, after a long deliberation, they made the very difficult choice of selecting Whitehouse to move on to the finals. 

Then came the frantic finale that pit Butler v. Whitehouse in a "netball" shootout, in which they had to ball up pictures of infamous book burners, and fire them through a basketball hoop, with the goal to be the first to score five baskets (with the ghost of Max Brod's support — he saved Kafka's works from the flame). Butler started off hot, netting three before Whitehouse was on the board, but then Whitehouse stormed back, nailing three in a row right as Butler took the 4-3 lead. Then Whitehouse struck from distance, a fall-away jumper, that set up the next-one-in-wins drama, but Butler's sharpshooting skill was too much for Whitehouse. Butler stuck his final shot to make it 5-4, simultaneously snaring the Literary Death Match crown and literary immortality with it! 

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