Sunday, August 07, 2005

The high cost of being a bookworm

In today's blog

The high cost of being a bookworm
A memorable moment at the Guille-Allès library
How many authors can share a book title?
More about Patrick O'Brian
Frenchwomen Don't Get Fat
Humour is so hard to do : Jenny Crusie's new look

The high cost of being a bookworm

Yesterday morning I sat in the sun in the outdoor part of the Terrace Café overlooking St Peter Port harbour, reading the Books section of the Saturday Daily Telegraph.

It included reviews or mentions of eight books I want to read, but they nearly all cost more than I want to pay for them. It's not that I can't afford to indulge myself. I can. But for the same reason that I cut my own hair and do my clothes-shopping at Oxfam and other charity shops, I jib at spending £20 on a book which, if I am patient, will be on sale for much less in twelve months' time.
These are the books that tempt me.
  • Before the Fall-Out: from Marie Curie to Hiroshima by Diana Preston £20

  • Shockwave: the Countdown to Hiroshima by Stephen Walker £20

  • Take a Girl Like Me : Life with George by Diana Melly £15

  • All My Friends Will Buy It : a Bottlefield Tour by Leo Cooper, husband of Jilly £20

  • Bertie, May & Mrs Fish by Xandra Bingley £15

  • Princesses : the Six Daughters of George III £10

  • Alibi by Joseph Kanon £16

  • Living Proof by Michael Gearin-Tosh £8

That lot would add up to £124 [US$ 220, Aus $287] which wouldn't put everyone off but to me would be mad extravagance. OK, so this morning's bill at the supermarket was £24 with not a lot to show for it, and what there was will have been eaten and drunk in three or four days.
But food and household stuff such as lavatory paper and soap are necessities. New books are not. I couldn't live without books but I don't have to buy them in hardback form, especially now that hardbacks are seldom as beautiful as they once were.
Apparently the Leo Cooper book is a nice piece of old-fashioned-style publishing with front endpapers by Osbert Lancaster and back endpapers by Nicolas Bentley. Sadly those sort of refinements are becoming increasingly rare.

How many authors can share a book title?

Bernardine Kennedy, a member of one of the writers' forums I belong to, happened to mention one of her books My Sisters' Keeper. [I haven't misplaced the apostrophe.]
I went to Amazon UK to read the reviews and when I keyed in the title, the first book that came up was by Jodi Picoult, followed by books given the same title [not necessarily with the apostrophe in the same place] by Mavis Applewater, Rachel Lindsay, Beverley Butler, Nora Kelly, Shirley Lord, Kerry Duke, Don Merritt and possibly even more authors had I continued to click on the Next button.

Using another author's title seems unforgivable, particularly now that it's so easy to check titles at the two Amazons.

Long ago, Vivien Stuart, the founder of the Romantic Novelists' Association, wanted to call a book The Captain's Table. Her publisher discovered that this title had already been used by Richard Gordon some years before. They wrote to ask if he would mind if Vivien used the title. He wrote back that he wouldn't.

I very much doubt that any of the publishers of the authors listed above bothered to confer with the publisher of whoever was the first author to use My Sister's Keeper. Courtesies of that sort seem to have vanished in 21st century publishing. If anyone can report an example of old-style courtesy in today's publishing world, I shall be delighted to publicise it. But I don't expect to be inundated with emails.

By the way, although I'm not crazy about her hairstyle, I think Jodi Picoult has one of the most attractive faces I've seen in a long time. I wasn't planning to read her novels, but now that I've seen her face I shall give them a whirl.

A memorable moment at the library

Last week's blog marked the end of a three-months [14 Sundays] run during which I posted 29,916 words and gave 225 links to bookworld websites.

The site statistics relating to first time visitors and returning visitors encourage me to continue the blog for another three months. Whether it will continue for seven years, as the realworld column in The Bookseller did, who knows?

I was paid for the printed column. The fee more than covered my subscriptions to The Bookseller, Publishing News, the Society of Authors and the London Library: the first three being, in my view, essential for all full-time writers.

This blog is a non-earner but, at the moment, I enjoy sharing my online book world discoveries even if it doesn't benefit my bank balance.

The London Library was an extravagance for someone living outside the UK and last year I decided to resign. But I shall always be grateful to the LL because it was in their stack tower that I came across the inspiration for Flora, the half-Chinese heroine who, although the book about her has long been out of print, has brought me more letters from readers than any of my other fictional characters.

Indeed only yesterday morning, this dropped into my Inbox –
Dear Ms. Weale - I just read you for the first time in an older book I
found in a recently acquired house. It was called "All My Worldly
Goods". I really enjoyed it and was wondering if there ever was a
sequel to it? Thanks – [name withheld by Anne]

As the prequel and sequel to AMWG were published in the Eighties, it's very nice to know they're still finding readers. When I finally get my long-postponed website up, I may re-publish them in serial form.

Now, getting back to the heading of this section, something lovely happened last week. I walked into the fiction section of the Guille-Allès Public Library in St Peter Port, formerly the Assembly Room where John Wesley preached in the summer of 1787.

There, face-forward on the display shelves, just round the corner from the computer terminals and the duty librarian's desk, was a book by one of my favourite authors which I had neither read nor - until that moment – even heard of. Hussein by Patrick O'Brian.

I haven't read the library's copy yet but my husband has and he says it's a good story but more suited to boys of around 12/13 than to adult readers.

Published in 1938, Hussein was the first work of contemporary fiction to be published by Oxford University Press since their foundation in 1585. Patrick O'Brian was paid an advance of £50 [the better part of £2,000 in today's money] and a 10% royalty. It was the glowing reviews in the US which established him as a writer to watch.

The very next day I had another stroke of luck. At the top of the library's handsome staircase, where new books are displayed on shelves outside the children's library, what should I see but Patrick O'Brian : The Making of the Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy.

You may remember that I wrote about this biography by the novelist's stepson on 17th July in the blog headed Resisting temptation to buy an expensive book.

I quoted the opinion of Professor Hugh Roberts who wrote 'my advice would be to stick with the author you imagine and spare yourself this sad imposter's dreary tale'.

However having read most of the biography, which only goes as far as the author's move to Collioure on the Mediterranean and will be followed by another volume about the rest of O'Brian's life, I think it's a marvellously interesting book.

Tolstoy seems surprised by the extent to which O'Brian used incidents from his real life in his stories. But surely all authors do this? We can't conjure events and conflicts out of thin air.

Frenchwomen Don't Get Fat

Sub-titled The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, this was another lucky find at the public library.

The author, Mireille Guiliano, has an attractive website where I learnt that she lives in Manhattan with her husband, Edward, president and CEO of New York Institute of Technology,
Her book, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, in which she recommends bread, Champagne (Veuve Clicquot, of course), chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and lifestyle, captured the imagination of an overweight world tired of yo-yo diets and became a runaway best seller around the globe in 2005. In less than six months, well over 1 million copies of the book were printed, and sales drove it to the top of the best seller charts in many countries, including the USA. It has been translated into 28 languages.

Like most people whose occupation involves sitting down for long hours, I've tried many diets and none of them has been a permanent cure for my tendency to put on weight. About twenty years ago, the Bradenton [Florida] branch of Weight Watchers got me down to an American size 10 for a while, but not forever. But the advice in this book is really good, so good that I'm going to overcome my Mrs Scrooge tendencies and spend £12 on it.

Humour is so hard to do : Jenny Crusie's new look

The American novelist Jenny Crusie [formerly known as Jennifer Crusie] is one of the few women writers whose books make me laugh. I haven't been to her website for some time. Yesterday I discovered that not only has the site been re-designed but she has started a blog called Argh Ink which seems likely to become one of my regular reads.

Rumours had reached me that there had been an almighty row about the recent Romance Writers of America conference – held at Reno, of all places - and in particular about a three-hours-long programme to mark RWA's 25th anniversary.

For a time I belonged to this organisation, covering my subscription by writing articles for their monthly magazine. But after a while I decided to opt out. Explaining why would take too long.

On Friday 5th August, Jenny Crusie blogged about 'the problems inherent in writers' organisations'. Sensible stuff. Well worth reading.

Last week's apology

Oh dear, I did get in a muddle last weekend. The person I should have apologised to was not Michelle Reid [who tells me she doesn't read blogs] but Michelle Styles. It was Ms Styles who posted a comment about Sir Roy Strong's book, and she is the author of The Gladiator's Honour and co-author of The Lady Soldier. A forbearing soul, as soon as she returned from a cruise to Norway, she emailed to say in effect 'don't worry' and to tell me The Gladiator's Honour will be hardbacked in March 2006 and paperbackd in May 2006.

I don't read many Mills & Boon romances. When you earn your living writing them, why read them? But this is one I shall make a point of reading because it breaks new ground.

Coming next Sunday [probably]

I expected to cover these subjects in today's blog, but it has been a frenziedly busy week and a lot of things I planned to do have had to be postponed.

A Working Life : Jeremy Treglown's biography of V S Pritchett
Advice from a New York literary agent
Arabella [Does My Bum Look Big In This?] Weir
Fifth edition of Who Else Writes Like…?

If you wish to respond to any part of today's blog, you can hit the comment button or email me direct.