Thursday, February 15, 2007

Editor defends The Adultery Club

[Posted 15 February 2007]

Also in today's blog

Reading obits
Anonymous comment
Commissioning editor defends adultery book

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from a senior sub-editor on a provincial daily. In those days, all the national newspapers were laid out on a table in the subs' room and the reporters were expected to skim-read them before starting work or during gaps between assignments.

Soon after I joined the paper, the sub said, "Do you read the obits? You should. They're the most interesting part of any paper."

At 19 I wasn't much interested in the lives of people who had died in their sixties and later, unless they were exceptionally famous. But I took his advice and reading the obits became a habit. This morning, at The Times website, I read the obit of magazine editor Jill Churchill. After breakfast, while curling my hair with an electric flexibrush, I read the obit of Cynthia Longfield, "Intrepid traveller and naturalist who searched the world for dragonflies." [See photo]

Unfortunately this obit was published in July 1991 so you are unlikely to find it online, but it can be read in a marvellous book Chin Up, Girls! edited by Georgia Powell and Katharine Ramsay and published by John Murray at £17 in 2005. But now it's out in paperback and not to be missed.

Here's the Amazon UK synopsis - "From the self-styled 'Queen of Soho' who sued BA, claiming to have been bitten on the bottom by a flea, to the butcher's daughter from Oldham who performed topless as 'the world's strongest woman' before becoming becoming the mistress of a peer whom she met while living in a Pyrennean mountain hut, this is a celebration of the women who refused to fulfil society's expectations. Their company includes the woman who survived four months adrift in a dinghy in the Pacific and the woman who played professional polo disguised as a man for fifteen years, as well as the inimitable Dame Barbara Cartland and Fanny Cradock. And there are over one hundred more. This is the first time that the Daily Telegraph has dedicated a book to women's stories; very few of the women featured were 'celebrities', yet their stories represent a century of progress and change, capturing the spirit of those who came of age between Emancipation and the Equal Opportunities Act, whether high life or low life, pioneers or bluestockings. Taking its title from the inspiring lines of a matron whose nurses faced a WWII firing squad, this is a fascinating portrayal of unforgettable and extraordinary characters united by their refusal to accept society's constraints."

Anonymous comment

Commenting on Monday's blog, Anonymous asked, "So why should we take your comments seriously?"

Because I've been spending my pocket money on books since the Thirties, and keeping a close eye on the publishing/bookselling world since the Fifties. My views are based on a lifetime of enthusiastic reading and a strong desire not to see British publishing become increasingly rubbishy.

Editor defends The Adultery Club

Also yesterday I received, by email, the following -

Dear Ms Weale
Richard Charkin drew my attention to your comments on Tess Stimson's THE ADULTERY CLUB on your blog, and as the commissioning editor reponsible for publishing it, I felt I should respond.
Reading is, by nature, a solitary matter, and what one person thinks is a good book, another thinks is dreadful. This, for me, is part of the rich variety of human nature. How dull life would be if we all liked the very same thing. I'm sorry you felt compelled to quote the entire amazon review in full. There are others on the amazon site which are favourable, and as the book has featured in the Sunday Times top ten bestseller list, and we have over 100,000 copies out in paperback, and many re-orders coming in, clearly some people like it and are happy.
Adultery may sometimes be followed by murder, but often it isn't. If there are readers out there who feel that adultery is 'on a par with shop-lifting', then so be it. How very small-minded they are. They don't have to buy the book - it's quite clear from the title what it is about. What I admire about it is the way the author manages to keep all three voices very individual, and we see all three sides of the proverbial 'eternal triangle'. It may not be a literary classic, but it's well constructed and beautifully balanced, as well as being extremely compelling. And as for Tess Stimson's own background, why shouldn't she write this sort of fiction? It sells, and she enjoys writing it. Many well educated and clever individuals make a living out of entertaining people.
I really don't think THE ADULTERY CLUB reaches the 'murky lower reaches of chick-lit', and actually, I think these remarks show a rather unpleasant snobbery. Having said that, I'm not sure that you've actually read the book. Yes, you've read the blurb, the author biog, and you've clearly clicked on amazon, but then we can all do that, and jump to the wrong conclusion about something.
Yours sincerely
Imogen Taylor
Editorial Director, Fiction

Ms Taylor's comment "If there are readers out there who feel that adultery is 'on a par with shop-lifting', then so be it. How very small-minded they are" was surprising.

My ancient copy of Collins English Dictionary defines small-minded as "having narrow views; petty; ungenerous". It defines adultery as "violation of the marriage vows".

Has the moral climate in Britain really sunk to the point where it's seen as narrow, petty and ungenerous to disapprove of breaking promises? I can't believe that. I know too many people whose word is their bond, and who have been happily married for decades, to be convinced that the tabloids' view of UK society is accurate.

If I spot a copy of The Adultery Club in a charity shop in Spain or Guernsey - and in both places they are awash with "bestsellers" - I will read it. If it really is as well constructed, beautifully balanced and compelling as Ms Taylor claims, I'll admit my conclusions, based on the title, the blurb and one Amazon review, were wrong.


At 26 February, 2007, Anonymous Scott Pack said...

Personally I take anyone's comments seriously if they are a lover of books and can string a decent sentence together. More power to your elbow.

At 01 March, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Not a comment on your blog but rather a question. Came across your blog from July 2002 about Evelyn Anthony. I am trying to locate contact info for her. Any ideas? Thanks . . .

Joan von Sternberg

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