Interesting men...Dr Thurley, Sir John Soane, Ptolemy Dean
An oasis of engrossing television in the desert of tripe dished out most evenings by the four TV channels we receive was Simon Thurley's Houses of Power from 7.35-9.05 on Channel 4 last Saturday night.
Dr Thurley, who is head of English Heritage, was comparing the history of No 10 Downing Street with that of the White House and the Kremlin. I particularly enjoyed the part where he examined one of the splendid drawings of Sir John Soane's plan for the reconstruction of Downing Street.
The Soane Museum at 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields has long been one of my favourite places in London. It was there I discovered the beautiful drawings of Ptolemy Dean, now one of my favourite artists.
[See jacket of his book below the picture of the Soane Museum facade.]
"Soane was born in 1753, the son of a bricklayer, and died after a long and distinguished career, in 1837. Soane designed this house to live in, but also as a setting for his antiquities and his works of art. After the death of his wife (1815), he lived here alone, constantly adding to and rearranging his collections. Having been deeply disappointed by the conduct of his two sons, one of whom survived him, he determined to establish the house as a museum to which 'amateurs and students' should have access."
Getting back to Simon Thurley, he tells an amusing [for the reader] ]anecdote in a
My Hols piece he wrote for The Times last summer.
"Wherever I go, I try to mix with the locals, assimilate myself. That can backfire, of course. My car got broken into in Tunisia, and the policeman was so chatty, he ended up inviting us to supper at his home. What a nice idea, I thought: but we arrived to find a really grim police barracks, where he was cooking up vile-looking goat stew over a Bunsen burner on the floor. My girlfriend was a doctor, and I could see she wasn’t going to eat this stuff, but I felt I had no choice. She knew I was going to be poisoned; I knew I was going to be poisoned; even the policeman knew, probably — and sure enough, I spent the rest of the trip delirious in bed with a temperature of 103 and my girlfriend shoving Valium suppositories up my bottom. That serves me right for a piece of typical English folly. I’d rather die — almost literally — than offend somebody by not eating their food."
I hadn't heard of Valium suppositories before. They sound a useful addition to the first aid kits of those of us who travel to places where the food can be dodgy.
Susan Hill's piece on the state of play for writers
On Friday May 4, author and publisher Susan Hill posted
a piece about the difficulties currently facing writers. This seems to have cast some aspiring authors into deep gloom.
Ms Hill wrote : "But professional setback is occurring more and more to established writers who until the last year or so have enjoyed good, even extremely good, lifestyles, as a result of large book advances. They may not, as new and aspiring writers also may not be aware just how these have fallen. The public and indeed the Trade only hears about the 2 million pounds for a footballer, a politician, a z-list celeb. It assumes these amounts are normal. But even people in the writing business will be shocked when, based on their past reputation and ability to command a LOT of money in advance, they discover that the offer for their new book is below 10K. Foreign advances are even lower – Germany, France etc regularly pay 2/3,000 euros in advance.
It is even harder for a writer who changes genres. Supposing someone who has had great success as a popular novelist decides to write a biography, or a Science Fiction Big Name presents with a Literary Novel, a children`s book writer whose name is a byword for big sales in that genre, decides to turn to crime. Or let us suppose the writer had a big success and could command six figure advances fifteen or twenty years ago but is now re-emerging with a new book after a long gap. All of these are going to be shocked by the fall in advances. To be offered 5 or 10K – and 25 for world rights, is very very usual now but I have heard of many a writer calling the figures ‘an insult’ ‘a slap in the face.’ The fact is that these are now the NORM.
A top literary agent told me that if a novelist has had modest success – decent reviews, not bad sales but not HUGE sales – with three books, they are simply not going to find a publisher for a fourth. Many writers will find their careers over after two books unless something big happens."