Monday, November 07, 2005

Literary agent hits author's husband

The story behind this Sunday's main heading is further down. First, I want to discuss an interesting comment posted here last Sunday by Adrian Weston, who describes himself thus
"More ex-s than I care to think about - ex-journalist, ex-broadcaster, ex-arts-administrator, I now work on the literary fringes running a small agency where I do a mix of marketing, agenting and book PR. In real life (ie the fantasy parallel existance I've been harbouring since my teens) I'm a writer and musician. I play Sax & Flute with a combo called Carnival Collective and currently have a novel for 8-12 year olds sitting making promising noises on an agent's desk. Oh yes, my drawers are FULL of manuscripts. I've had short fiction published in Australia in Meanjin and in the UK by Serpent's Tail."

Looking at his list of clients, I see they include Bloomsbury Publishing. His comment on my October 23 blog, in case you haven't read it, was
"Wesley is really really good - Jumping the Queue and The Camomile Lawn remain etched in my memory with great clarity even though it must be more than 10 years since I last read them. I have a horrible feeling that she's one of those writers who now she's dead so not able to support the marketeers quite the way they like will slowly slide off the horizon. There are sooo many of them - people like Rumer Godden and Pamela Frankau... I know people still read Godden because I got some nice emails after posting a review of The Greengage Summer - but does ANYONE read Pamela Frankau? And what about Sarah Gainham and Ann Bridge? Unless, of course, someone decides to make a 'period' TV series of them. Grrr. Stomp off in a huff at the wrongness of the fickle world PS I agree with you that Part of the Furniture was weak in places - I was thinking more of her earlier books"

Rediscovering Rumer Goddon

As I've mentioned, I'm in the process of listing all the books in my winter pad. Last Monday, one of the 20 books I added to the list was the Corgi paperback of Rumer Godden's A House With Four Rooms. It's Vol 2 of her autobiography, and there's an explanatory note about the title.

"There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person."

Fisticuffs at the Ritz

I dipped into it at breakfast and came across an account of a fight between Rumer Godden's second husband and her literary agent.
"The only person now who was not pleased with James's new role in my life was Spencer Curtis Brown. Spencer was always possessive of his women authors, preferring them to be unmarried, widowed, divorced or at least detached and, if James so much as looked at a contract, Spencer would go into a fury. He would seldom answer the most reasonable query or letter if it came from James; if I wrote a covering letter his answers were caustic.
One evening the three of us met for dinner at the Ritz Grill, for what reason I cannot remember. At first it was friendly, almost genial, and I was beginning to relax with relief when Spencer had one of his swift turnabouts, was suddenly angry, became offensive, and shouted which was embarrassing. James signalled to me that we must leave before we were asked to go, which we did, but Spencer followed us outside, still shouting. Then he hit James. No-one hit James with impunity and there, on the pavement under the Ritz portico, it became fisticuffs. I saw the commissionaires hastening towards them, one blowing a whistle."

If you want to know what happened next, get hold of a copy of the book which is full of fascinating anecdotes about the publishing and film worlds.
I must add that I would not have reacted to the situation as Rumer Godden did, but perhaps, from the point of view of avoiding publicity, she was right to jump into a taxi and go home alone.

The mystery of the unpublished Ann Bridge biography

Ann Bridge has long been one of my top twenty favourite authors and, when I wrote about her in The Bookseller on 1 October 1999, I hoped that Benita Stoney's recently completed Bridge biography, then in the hands of Stoney's agent, Andrew Hewson of Johnson and Alcock would soon be published. But it hasn't happened.

I've read the typescript and feel sure it would be lapped up by Ann Bridge fans of whom there are still a great many about.

Corporate power

There are not many people who earn their living by writing who have not experienced the fallout when previously family-owned firms are bought by giant corporations.

I've been through it twice and consequently felt a lot of sympathy when I read at Grumpy Old Bookman that Gerard Jones was being bullied by Universal Studios. Feeling that if I emailed the Studios' spokeswoman, it wouldn't cut any ice, I contacted someone who writes for a national newspaper and who, I know, admires Gerard. What the outcome of the situation will be, who can say? But as his book Ginny Good proves, Gerard is nothing if not resilient.

My comments on your comments

A visitor called spectator asked : "Anne, would you and your friends be able to recommend good book cataloguing software?" I'm sorry, spectator, I've asked and searched but haven't come up with anything. Maybe your best plan is to consult your nearest public librarian, assuming you live within reach of one.

Re my piece about dealing with long, dull books, a visitor called J's girlfriend wrote …"So could you boil down the how to into handy bullet points? I would have loved to know before I forced myself to read LoTR, but I still have War & Peace ahead of me".

As novels don't have indexes, the system I used for dealing with Statecraft doesn't work with them. I wonder why you forced yourself to read LoTR? The men in my life both enjoyed it [ages ago] but the first few pages were enough to tell me it wasn't my kind of book. A Grumpy Old Bookman blog about Terry Pratchett's new book Thud made me feel I ought to try Mr Pratchett. But A S Byatt's review has put me off.


At 06 November, 2005, Blogger Liz Fielding said...

Anne, I devoured Frankau's books when I was in my twenties. My memory is that they were charming. An older friend who I loaned one to at the time, said she'd enjoyed it, but it was a bit "silly". I must admit was I surprised when Virago republished her. Maybe I should have another look. She did also write a memoir, Pen to Paper (I think), which I did enjoy for its insight into the a writers life.

At 07 November, 2005, Blogger Adrian Weston said...

I think in retrospect Frankau's output was a little uneven - I have a great fondness for A Wreath for The Enemy which definitely deserves re-reading. It has similar qualities to books like the recent The Great Fire (Shirley Hazzard) and the less recent A Compass Error (Sybille Bedford). Virago only republished a couple of her books - I dug out several more that were not the equals of the ones Virago re-issued, she also got bogged down as many writers of her generation did by questions of faith, catholicism, morality. I guess some of her themes feel a tad dated (obviously morality, faith etc remain - more the aspects of them upon which she focused). But when she was on her best form, as in Wreath for the Enemy she was an evocative writer of quite some range.

Glad to know, scrolling down the rest of the Blog, that I'm not alone in loving Ann Bridge - Peking Picnic is exceptionally entertaining but rather chilling as if The Quiet American had been observed from the Ambassador's wives tea-parties.

So, any takers for Sarah Gainham? Night Falls on the City? Out of print - I actually toyed with the idea of trying to acquire the rights for it to republish it and some other of my favourite out-of-print books. It took me forever to trace her agent (Sarah Gainham is a pseudonym) and then when I did - they never returned my calls. SO, I remain agent, writer, PR, but not yet backlist publisher!

At 07 November, 2005, Blogger Adrian Weston said...

Ah me - my memory. I've just realised that the Pamela Frankau novel I've been referring to as A Wreath for the Enemy was in fact The Willow Cabin. I did like the former, but The Willow Cabin is the one I meant to bestow my blessings upon. Clearly too much going on for proper continuity of thought.

At 03 May, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meg Rosenfeld
I've read all of Pamela Frankau's works which I could get hold of; the internet makes it easier to find the out-of-print works of dead authors. I think that her trilogy, Clothes for a King's Son, is a masterpiece. It rises above some of her earlier preciousness of diction and occasionally heavy-handed religious themes while still using the language with the dazzling precision of which she was so superbly capable, and still presenting the underlying religious theme, but with a twin, equally serious, theme of magic. The characters are wonderful; I think of them as people I've known for a long time. This trilogy was a fitting culmination of her life's work. Her right hand did not forget its cunning, not once.

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At 03 August, 2009, Blogger Kit said...

I love Ann Bridge and Rumer Godden too. Was just rtrying to find some biographical details about Ann Bridge and your blog popped up.

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At 13 April, 2012, Blogger Unknown said...

I too would love to read a biography of Ann Bridge. I have just reread Illyrian Spring and Four-part setting. Lovely books. I enjoyed the Julia Probyn books, but her earlier books had so much more depth to them. It would be interesting to know why she changed.

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