Sunday, October 01, 2006

October 2006

In this month's blog

Shoot the Puppy
Independent booksellers' website
Rocking horses, old and new
Googling for Marqua
In praise of John Ward
Trance by Stanley Morgan
The War For All The Oceans
New editor of The Author
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

Shoot the Puppy

Our son has lent me his copy, bought from Amazon UK, of Shoot the Puppy, sub-titled A survival guide to the curious jargon of modern life by Tony Thorne, Head of the Language Centre at King's College, London.

Can it be true that "In the middle of business discussions we recreate the nursery or kindergarten with triumphant cries of bish bash bosh! (meaning roughly 'job well done'."?

The author goes on, "But when the boss exhorts members of the group to get your ducks in a row ('get organised, come to an agreement'), what exactly is he up to? Is he (it's usually a he) being patronizing? Is he trying desperately to bond, to flatten the pyramid momentarily so that everyone feels equal?"

Shoot the Puppy is an interesting book, but a £7 paperback would have been better than a £13 hardback, though I suppose, to most of the corporate types it is aimed at, £13 is small change.

Local bookshops go online

I clipped an article headed "Local bookshops go online to fight the giants" from the Daily Telegraph, which also had a leader headed "Bookshops fight back", and then paid a visit to the website "that could allow traditional local bookshops to rival the internet giants and large chains." Chris Conway, the MD of the site, was quoted as saying it could do everything Amazon and one of the UK book chains could do, but "potentially even better".

Have a look and see what you think.

Rocking horses, old and new

Usually, in September, I spend a week in London. This year I broke the habit to concentrate on research for what writers call the WIP [work in progress].

But last weekend I took an afternoon off to visit the Channel Islands Festival of Arts and Crafts at Guernsey's Beau Sejour Leisure Centre which provides many useful resources for islanders but, visually, is a bright orange blot on the landscape.

Describing the original Beau Sejour, an elegant neo-classical house built before 1815, in Buildings in the Town and Parish of St Peter Port compiled for the National Trust of Guernsey in 1974/75, the late Sir Charles Brett CBE wrote that the house was "due unfortunately for demoliton, to make way for a 'leisure centre' (whatever that may turn out to be: the term has some curious in-built ambiguities: deck-chairs? snooker? bridge? bingo? chemin-de-fer? Leisure means different things to different people.) …impending doom hangs over the whole building, surrounded as it is by wire-mesh fencing and bulldozers' footprints."

Why the original house could not have been restored and made the centrepiece of a less hideous modern complex is a mystery.

Of the 73 exhibitors at the Festival, most from mainland UK, the stand I liked best was Terry White's White Horses. Last year, exhibiting in Jersey, Mr White sold all the horses he had brought with him. I hope his trip to Guernsey this year was equally successful.

At his website I learned that he and his wife "have been designing and hand carving traditional rocking horses since 1983, creating individual, unique and timeless works of art. Oak, walnut and dapple horses emerge from our stables resplendent with real horsehair, hand washed and carefully groomed to achieve that unmistakable sheen, adjustable hand stitched leather work and nickel-plated stirrups."

On another page I read "Most of our horses are on a safety stand - invented and patented in 1878 by Philip J Marqua, whose design has altered little since - yet we also supply horses on bows if requested."

Googling for Marqua

Naturally I went to Google to find out more about Philip J Marqua, but only one link came up - to the White Horses site I had come from. It was the first time in many years of Googling that this search engine had disappointed me.

On Monday, at the island's Guille-Allès Public Library, I searched the catalogue for "rocking horse" and found that, as well as several stories for children, there was a hardback copy of Anthony Dew's Making Rocking Horses, first published by David & Charles in 1984, in the library's reserve stock. The same year a paperback edition was brought out by Sterling Pub Co Inc in the US, and Amazon UK has five of these for sale, but only from US booksellers.

On the way home from the library, I asked a Guernsey antique dealer, Sue Le Cras, if she had sold any rocking horses recently. Sue shook her head, but advised me to ask another dealer, Anne Drury, who turned out to have two late Victorian horses undergoing restoration. When I asked what they were likely to cost, she mentioned a price far lower than the cost of a new horse.

Googling for references to Anthony Dew led me to the information I wanted about Philip J Marqua. It was in a long and fascinating article at the Smithsonian Magazine from which I extracted -

"Queen Victoria's nine children insisted on bringing a dapple-gray on family vacations. Napoléon's young son, Joseph-Charles-François, treasured his painted pony. Sweden's King Karl XV and King Prajadhipok of Thailand rode rocking horses in their youth (as did the current heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, on a model carefully selected for him by Queen Elizabeth II)."
"An American also scored a safety breakthrough: in 1878, to guard against horse and rider going head over heels, not to mention scratching floors, bumping into furniture or squashing small fingers and toes, Philip Marqua of Cincinnati patented a safety stand to which the horse's legs are attached. (Purists, of course, disdain the stands.)"

In praise of John Ward

Like most people who have been extremely hard up at some stage of their lives, I'm not a spendthrift. But 15 years ago, when it was serious money, I splurged £40 [US $76, Australian $99] on a hardback which has given me endless pleasure : The Paintings of John Ward published by David & Charles.

This summer, this delightful book was re-published in paperback by David & Charles at £20 and is on sale for substantially less at Amazon UK where it is described as "a spectacular showcase of the art of John Ward, bringing together many of the artist's best and most familiar works. It includes the artist's famous portraits of the Princess of Wales and the Princess Royal. The commentary puts the plates into context with a wry and witty account of his career and the story behind each painting. It features work in the medium of pen and ink, pencil, oils and watercolours, all of which the artist is equally at home with."

I first encountered John Ward's work long ago in the pages of Vogue magazine. In 1988, in Trinidad, I had an unexpected real life encounter with him and his wife which I'm writing about in the WIP. John Ward was born in 1917 so is now in his late eighties. In a civilised world, the new edition of his book would have shot to the top of the UK bestseller charts instead of the ghosted celebrity biogs and misery memoirs too often to be found there.

Trance by Stanley Morgan

Anyone who has been involved with publishing world for several decades is forced to conclude that some, perhaps many, of the people in it have lost their marbles. The latest proof of this to come my way is Stanley Morgan's first rate thriller Trance.

I wrote about Mr Morgan last month under the crosshead 'The first million sales'. Since then, I have read his book as has Mr Bookworm. We both thought it excellent and are baffled by why the author - particularly with his Russ Tobin track record - was unable to find a mainstream publisher to take it on.

However, thanks to the existence of Twenty First Century Publishers and Lightning Source, the book has been published in a stylish paperback format with pages that don't need to be held open by force as is the case with a lot of current pbs.

Pencilled at the back of my copy are my notes, including a dialogue quote from p 126, "These people have power. They give power to one another in the guise of government regulations, military protocol. They operate in a twilight zone called national security where the rules of behaviour are as flexible as a potentate's whim. I suspect that more crimes have been committed against Americans by Americans, in the name of national security, than by any alien nation. And the same is probably true for all nations, your own included."
One of the reasons Mr Bookworm and I enjoyed this book is because it deals with matters which are increasingly worrying to all intelligent people.
Another note reads, "p 131 One of the best 'curtains', to Chapter 13, I've read.", followed by, "p 147 an even better curtain."

What I also liked about Trance was the relationship between the central character, Los Angeles hynotherapist Paul Drummond and a British-born L A crime reporter Karen Beal. This was handled in a far more intelligent way than the "love interest" in most thrillers.

The straight-backed, no-nonsense great-aunts who were my formative influences believed that most of life's problems could be cured by common sense and long walks. So usually I'm wary of all types of therapists, and cynical about hypnosis. However such is Stanley Morgan's skill at characterisation that he soon made me warm to Paul Drummond.

On p 157 Drummond says, "The word 'cause' has kind of fallen into disrepute lately, hasn't it? It sounds old hat, naïve, silly. This country, maybe the whole damned world, is in the hands of the grabbers. I get so sick of this 'Gotta win' mania…'number one is everything, number two is nothing. Christ, Dick, the world's full of number twos. Do they get nothing? Tom Keegan was made a number two by the grabbers, and that's what he got - nothing. Not even a life. I think it's time the number twos got together and made their presence felt."

The War For All The Oceans

On 10 August 2001, when this blog was a column in The Bookseller, it began, "Every time I see a spare tyre cover on a four-wheel-drive, I remember the one with the slogan "Everyone Is Reading The Keys of Egypt. Aren't You?", a photograph of which appeared in The Bookseller of 26th January. It struck me as the best book advertisement I had seen in a long time. Since then, the authors of the title, Lesley and Roy Adkins, have been expanding their website. I was impressed - its meta tags, navigation, content, graphics are all first class."

Five years on the Adkins' website is even better, and on the desk beside my laptop is their magnificent new book The War For All The Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napolean at Waterloo.

It was published last month by Little, Brown with front endpapers showing the names of the sails on an 100-gun ship of the line and back endpapers showing the standing rigging, masts and decks.

Almost 500 pages long, and splendidly illustrated, this book is sure to be found in a parcel under many Christmas trees this year.

Long ago, I spent a childhood holiday at Happisburgh in Norfolk, but wasn't taken to see the stone plaque in the churchyard, photographed by the authors, recording the burial of many who drowned in the wreck of the Invincible in March 1801.

I see in this week's issue of The Bookseller that Roy and Lesley Adkins will be appearing at an Ottakar's Barnstaple event on October 4th. Details here.

New editor of The Author

Some published writers have a strange compulsion to advise and encourage would-be authors/prospective competitors in an already grossly overcrowded marketplace. The only advice I ever give is - "As soon as you're published, join the Society of Authors. It's expensive - a year's membership costs £85 or £60 for those under 35 - but worth every penny."

The Society's quarterly magazine, The Author, arrived the other day. I see that Andrew Taylor is retiring as editor, his successor being Andrew Rosenheim who is probably not as fobidding as the photograph of him, borrowed from his agent's website, suggests. His most recent novel, Stillriver, described as a powerful love story, is now in paperback, but with my customary caution with new-to-me authors, I shall request it from my public library where it is currently out on loan.

Unexpected parcel of Glass Books

Last month I received an unexpected parcel. The covering letter, unsigned, was from someone at Penguin Group UK. It began, "Welcome to the world of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. Sexy, fresh, addictive and enthralling, this world is hard to leave. Enjoy it. Each episode is in its own beautiful perfect-bound instalment. They are a limited edition and totally unique. These can't be bought in any bookshop, only by subscription, but are being given to you to welcome you into this world. Read them. Talk about them. Share them with others who are visiting the Glass Books world. But don't get trapped there."

The parcel contained ten paperbacks, their jackets shading from pale blue-grey to deep blue, each one a chapter of a book by G W Dahlquist. On the back of Chapter One is a line drawing of the author whose clothes,hair and moustache suggestion a late Victorian and who was said to have "served as a doctor in two major conflicts before putting pen to paper in a series of highly acclaimed plays. Turning his hand to fiction, he claims that his work is loosely based on events that befell a distant relative. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is his first known novel."

Before settling down to read, I went to the website where a notice came up "This content requires Adobe Flash Player 9. Would you like to install it?"

Those of you who read Bookworm on the Net when it was a column in The Bookseller may remember that I had several rants about site designers who require visitors to install programmes they don't have, or don't want, and expect them to waste time watching Flash screens. However first-time authors usually have to accept whatever their publishers' marketing departments inflict on them, so I didn't blame G W Dahlquist for this annoyance.

It was soon clear that he was writing American English, and while "she climbed off of the railing" [page 9] may be acceptable usage in the US, I'm doubtful about "who's" for "who has" [p 19] being acceptable anywhere. The opening scenes seem to take place in London at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century. The principal character is 25-year-old Miss Temple who not only goes about unchaperoned but more than once says "Beg pardon?" On p 25 the author writes "disinterested" when he means "uninterested".

In Chapter Three we meet a man who may be the hero, Doctor Abelard Svenson. "He sighed, opened his cigarette case, stuck one of the dark, foul Russian cigarettes in his mouth, and took a match from the bureau near the lamp, striking it off of his thumbnail."

The whole book is packed with unnecessarily long-winded sentences. What I found even more off-putting were the scenes towards the end of the first chapter when Miss Temple finds herself in the theatre of an isolated country house where another woman is being subjected to treatment which, far from exciting Miss Temple, would have made her faint with disgust and terror.

At I found 28 reviews, most unfavourable. This is from Publishers Weekly. "Debut novelist Dahlquist aims for a blockbuster with a mishmash of Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre and Eyes Wide Shut that never quite comes together. Three months after 25-year-old Celeste Temple travels from "her island" (a Bermuda-like place) plantation home to Victorian London, fiancé Roger Bascombe breaks their engagement. Driven more by curiosity than desire, she follows him from his job at the foreign ministry to Harschmort House, where, with little prodding, she quickly finds herself in silk undergarments at a ritual involving masked guests and two-way mirrors…Meanwhile, through science and alchemy, evildoers capture erotic memories and personal will in blue crystals. Dahlquist introduces so many characters, props and plot twists, near-death experiences and narrow escapes that the novel has the feel of a frantic R-rated classic comic book-if comics were arch."

Far from getting trapped in the Glass Books world, I found even skim-reading an effort. Porn-addicts might find it readable, but this is not a book for admirers of Patrick O'Brian, the Waughs and Elizabeth David whose A Book of Mediterranean Food I bought for 60 pence in a charity shop last week. Long ago I owned one of the earlier editions but it disappeared.

In Mrs David's introduction to the 1988 edition, which I hadn't come across before, she has some scathing things to say about publishers, apart from the late John Lehmann of Penguin New Writing who, in 1949, wrote to say he was interested in publishing her. But she writes that Macdonalds "proved a sorry exchange for John" and "From the hands of a publisher called Robert Hale, of whom I shall say no more than it seemed a singular misfortune to have had my books acquired by his firm, I was rescued by Messrs. Dorling Kindersley…"


I'm not sure where I shall be on November 1st. With luck, settled down in winter quarters, or at least within reach of an internet café where I can access the text of the November issue of this blog and hit the Publish button. But anything might happen on the 1,000-mile drive from A to B. If the blog isn't "up" on its due date, please be patient.