Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 13/05/2002Disaster has struck our noble news mogul, Matt Loney. Not only is he in charge of our news output, but he's also one of those chaps wot takes a keen interest in the welfare of the developing world.

Monday 13/05/2002

Disaster has struck our noble news mogul, Matt Loney. Not only is he in charge of our news output, but he's also one of those chaps wot takes a keen interest in the welfare of the developing world. So much so, he spent a couple of years out in Papua New Guinea -- or PNG as it's known to anyone who's been near the place -- running a newspaper as a VSO volunteer.

There are a couple of corollaries to this. First, as anyone familiar with PNG will know, it is not somewhere that bothers with boring old normality -- if you manage to come back, you will end up with hundreds of tall tales of derring-do and near death. Second, Matt is a journalist and thus has always wanted to write a book. Aha!

However, Matt is unlike many journalists in that he actually sat down and wrote the thing -- Mercenaries, Missionaries and Misfits. There then followed the normal round of publishers' rejection letters, but he managed to pin one down, extracted a cheque and settled down to polish the prose. It got finished -- told you he wasn't as other men -- and proof-read by our princess of production, Laura. Happy in his achievement, and days before the deadline for handing in the work, our hero stops off in an Islington pub after work to refresh himself and a friend. His laptop, on which the masterpiece resided, was safe in his rucksack, sitting right by him on the bench in the pub.

Suddenly, it wasn't.

The manner of the snatch would gladden the heart of any Bill scriptwriter. Mr Loney felt a strange sense of emptiness to one side, and looked down to see his bag disappear in the company of -- in his words -- a chap "in a black T-shirt, black hat and black jeans. And a black heart. I wish him the black death." Being as resourceful as any PNG survivor, Matt gave chase across the pub and into the street. He was pounding after the miscreant when a battered old car sped past them both and pulled up.

It was backup for the blagger. The door flew open, matey leaped in, and the car started to make good its escape. Matt was just making a note of the numberplate when another car barrelled around the corner and blocked the view, quite deliberately. Take that numberplate instead? If only. No sooner had this second vehicle taken its place in the procession of thievery than three mopeds appeared and began weaving across the road in an impressive display of visual confusion. At which point, Matt admitted defeat and called the local plod.

They arrived in force, clearly as fond of a good tale as anyone, and investigations continue.

"So what about the backup?" I asked Matt on Monday. "The backup on the floppy in the bag, you mean?" he said. Ah.

Fortunately, Matt has not forgotten the one golden rule of writing -- when you're stuck in a very deep hole, tell production. They work miracles. In this case, Laura had kept a copy of the edited file and was able to email it back to the forlorn Loney and restore his place in the pantheon of authors.

It would be far too cynical for me to say that this is the sort of thing authors find happen when a new book's on its way and in dire need of publicity: but just in case, I'm not going to tell you -- you can find details of it, and much else beside, on Matt's Web site for all things sustainable and developmental, www.kularing.org.