Sunday, June 26, 2005

Desmond Elliott's Prize delayed by red tape

Over the years I've had many memorable lunches with publishers. The Ritz…Le Gavroche… Inigo Jones…Le Caprice. I've lost count of the visits to London restaurants and the snippets of book world gossip.

One of the most amusing lunches was with the late Desmond Elliott who died in New York in August 2003 when he was 73. It was Desmond who introduced Tim Rice to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Desmond who, 30 years ago, encouraged Jilly Cooper to write her best-selling novels.

Desmond, who, later, was both literary agent and publisher, arrived in London in 1947 with £2 in his pocket and a letter of introduction from the editor of the Irish Times to Macmillan & Company. They engaged him as an office boy whose duties included writing advertising copy and publicity material.

In "From post room to Concorde", an appreciation of Desmond published in The Bookseller in the month Desmond died, Dallas Manderson wrote, "With characteristic generosity Desmond has directed that the proceeds of his estate should fund an annual award, to be known as the Elliott Prize, which will recognise the best first work in book form by a new author."

When a Web search for the Elliott Priz produced nothing, I emailed Dallas Manderson, Group Sales Director at the Orion Publishing Group. He replied – "The Elliott prize is not yet set up as we first have to establish it as a charity with the charity commission which will take some time so to do as they require reams of documentation and proof that it will benefit and educate a wide section of society."

At the time of Desmond's death, The Bookseller's columnist Horace Bent wrote "In 1998, I noted the celebrations of Mr Elliott's 50 years in publishing. In his speech, he recalled how he had left Macmillan after upsetting the Sitwells with his description of their works as "Sitwelliana", only to move to Hutchinson, ruled by the fearsome and unstable Walter Hutchinson. Walter, who fired people routinely, fired Mr Elliott several times; on one occasion, Mr Elliott confided what had happened to Mrs Webb, who effectively ran the firm. "Really?" she replied. "I didn't know he was in the building."

Mr Elliott, like many effective book people, was dictatorial. He kept a printed notice in his bathroom bearing the legend, "The three greatest tyrants of the 20th century: Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Desmond Elliott." But unlike many tyrants--Walter Hutchinson, for example--he inspired affection and respect."

I don't think he would be pleased that his bequest is taking so long to get off the ground.

Another author Desmond helped to launch is Penny Vincenzi at whose website I read, "A contributing editor on Cosmopolitan and deputy editor on Options, Penny asked Jilly Cooper for advice on writing a novel whilst interviewing her for a magazine profile. Jilly put her in touch with her own agent, Desmond Elliott, who auctioned a synopsis of her first novel (still unwritten). It was bought for £100,000. A self-taught course in fiction writing followed ('I really didn't know if I could do it!') and her compelling style [was] discovered. Bestseller followed bestseller and after 10 years as a novelist and over 3.5 million novels sold, Penny is undoubtedly one of the UK's most popular writers."

Birthday lunch on island with literary associations

Quote : "For almost 40 years Leslie Thomas has been one of Britain’s most popular novelists, a best-seller with thirty titles to his name and international sales figures exceeding fourteen million."

Thomas's own story is interesting.
He was born of a seafaring family in Newport, Gwent, South Wales, on March 22nd, 1931. His grandfather was one of the old Cape-Horners, who voyaged on sailing ships around the dreaded Horn. He is said to have left the sea because he objected to his shipmates' bad language. Thomas's father was drowned when his ship was torpedoed in 1943, and his mother died six months later. He and his younger brother, Roy found themselves in a Dr. Barnardo's Home, an experience evoked years later in his first book ‘This Time Next Week’ (Constable 1964). This book remains in print and is used as a set book for schools. He is now a Vice-President of Barnardo’s.

Experience as a National Serviceman resulted in his first novel, the best-selling ‘The Virgin Soldiers’ which has been published all over the world and was made into a successful film produced by Carl Foreman. (Thomas' entry in ‘Who's Who’ encapsulates his army career: “1949-51. Rose to Lance-Corporal.”)

Thomas was a widely-travelled newspaperman, covering Royal tours, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill and many other notable events. After the publication of ‘The Virgin Soldiers’ he became a full-time writer and has now produced twenty-five novels and three travel books – ‘Some Lovely Islands’, My World of Islands’ and ‘The Hidden Places of Britain’. He has also written a second volume of autobiography, ‘In My Wildest Dreams’.

Early last Monday morning, I searched my bookshelves for Thomas's book Some Lovely Islands which I knew was lurking there somewhere. [A re-organisation and catalogue is long overdue.]

The reason I wanted to find this book, published by Desmond Elliott's imprint Arlington in 1968, was because I knew it included a chapter about Herm, one of the smaller islands lying between the largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey, and my adopted home island, Guernsey.

Herm was once the home of Sir Compton Mackenzie, of Whisky Galore fame.

After my birthday lunch at the White House Hotel, we walked over to Shell Beach and then along a path through thick ferns and tall wild fuchsias to Belvoir Bay for tea. Then over the crest of the island and down the hill to the harbour and the ferry's berth.

The crossing from Herm to St Peter Port was more fun in the days when it was done in an open boat with an outboard engine and a weatherbeaten fisherman wearing a guernsey at the helm. Then, it cost peanuts. On Monday, tickets for the 20-minute return crossing in the Herm Trident cost us £35 for four adults and a baby.

Charity shop book bargains

On Wednesday I walked to the Red Cross charity shop in the Rohais [many of the streets in St Peter Port have French names] where I bought four paperbacks for £1.80.

They were
Robert Browning in the Everyman's Poetry series pub. 1997
Pemberley : The Sequel to Pride and Prejudice by Emma Tennant, first pub. In 1993 by Hodder & Stoughton
Flowers in the Rain : a collection of short stories by Rosamunde Pilcher, 1991
Enchanted Ground by Sarah Woodhouse, Penguin Books 1994

This brought my June spend on books up to UK £17.20, not an impressive outlay. But it seems to be a law of life, at least for my generation, that when you are young and strapped for cash the world is full of tempting things to buy. But, when you are older and more affluent, the temptations become much scarcer.

Even bookshops are no longer as full of irresistibles as they used to be 20 years ago. I would rather re-read the books I already own than buy disappointing new ones. Sometimes, scanning our bookshelves, I come across unread books, a recent example being Occasion, Chance and Change – A Memoir 1902-1946 by Henry Colyton. As it was published in 1993 and I'm pretty sure I didn't buy it new, I think it must have come from Bibliophile who bill themselves as Britain's Best Postal Book Bargains. Which reminds me that I have a credit note from them.

The future according to this week's Publishing News

Two interesting articles in this week's issue of PN, as it is known by its devotees.

[On the writers' forums I belong to, I sometimes harangue colleagues about the importance of reading the book trade press, but they often protest that "the trades" are too expensive. These same people probably spend £30/£40 having their hair cut eight or more times a year. Publishing News is currently offering Society of Authors members a year's subscription for only £52 plus a 15% reduction on the full rate of £105 thereafter. The offer is open to NEW UK subscribers only.]

I should be lost without the book trade press. On Friday the piece I read first was by Caryl Holland who is European editor for Cygnus Business Media's Ink Maker magazine which has been serving the printing ink and colour industries for 81 years. "Ink Maker has consistently been the first to identify and cover emerging concerns in the industry and the first to offer expanded, original editorial on its Web site, as well as an Online Buyers’ Guide."

In her PN piece, Ms Holland quoted Frank Romano, Professor Emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the US, author of 40 books, including the 1000-page Encyclopedia of Graphic Communications and a publishing industry expert. He believes that digitally printed books will represent one-third of all books printed within five years.

Also in Friday's PN was a piece about a book by fcrmer Reuters journalist and lobby correspondent John Morrison who has decided to self-publish his latest book Anthony Blair: Captain of School by An Old Boy. The book is described as a satire on Tony Blair, New Labour and the Iraq, written with what the author describes as "a fair amount of my own anger about the war."

The book is coming out as a £9.99 hardback in October, distributed by Gazelle Book Services and John Morrison has also taken advice from Amolibros. He told PN – "…I knew that if I took it to a mainstream publisher I would lose control of production and design, and I doubt they could have published it in time." By this last remark he means he wants publication to coincide with the tail-end of the Blair era.

A prolific UK-born author based in Australia

While in the Guille-Allès Public Library the week before last, my eye was caught several times by the name Anna Jacobs on the newly-returned books trolley and on the fiction shelves. Because Anna Jacobs is the popular Moderator of the Romantic Novelists' Association's private forum, I mentioned this in a private email to her. Last Monday, she replied –
Thanks for the info about your local library, Anne. I'm vain enough to have nipped over there on line and checked my titles. A lot of them. Picture me beaming at you here.

I then went and read your blog, not for the first time, enjoying it, though I have to say I don't share your taste in reading. I enjoy fantasy (though not the male hack at 'em sort) and had four fantasy novels published in the 90s (only in Australia) under the name Shannah Jay, one even being shortlisted for Best Australian Fantasy Novel of 1996 - but sadly someone else won. Try reading a book by C J Cherryh, especially 'Foreigner' which in my view is the first of the best fantasy series ever written, an intellectual challenge, as all her books are. I believe her to be the most intelligent writer of SF/F and she's certainly challenged my beliefs and views of the universe many a time. Donaldson is dated now, I think. I could never get into Lord of the Rings, either, but Cherryh is rather special.

I've decided I'm too busy to blog, and not analytical enough, either.

Anna's current email "signature line" gives details of her awesomely prolific output. 'Threepenny Dreams' (pbk 2/05, 'Calico Road' (pbk 7/05), 'The Wishing Well' (pbk 7/05), Pride of Lancashire (hbk 8/05), 'An Independent Woman' (hbk 9/05)

I've finished reading Geoffrey Wall's translation of Flaubert's Madame Bovary. The copy I borrowed from the library is full of Post-it note comments. But this week the family side of my life has taken precedence over everything and I shall postpone posting my reactions to Madame B until next Sunday. For the moment I will only say that they are not in line with the Literary Establishment view of her.