Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The lunch guest who brought a book

Also in today's blog

The private libraries of 40 bibliophiles
Last blog until September

I was introduced to artist and author Oliver Jeffers by my eldest grandson who was three earlier this month.

Arriving for lunch last Sunday, he took off his bright yellow wellies and then produced from his backpack a book called The Incredible Book Eating Boy, the latest addition to his already extensive library.

The author's website is interesting but requires a bit of patience as the pages don't load instantly.

At his publisher's website, I read -

"He has had a number of adventures that he has collected into his books for children; his debut picture book, 'How to Catch a Star', was inspired by a moment sitting on the end of a jetty in Sydney, looking at the stars. Not having an agent, Oliver sent his work unsolicited to HarperCollins Publishers. Its potential was immediately recognised, it was whisked off the slush pile and the publishing process began. In 2004, the book was published by HarperCollins Children's Books and was also short listed for the Booktrust Early Years Award for Best New Illustrator. In 2005, 'How to Catch a Star' won a Merit Award at the CBI/Bisto Book of Year Awards."

At Amazon UK someone has written – "My son aged 3 loves this book. It is by far the best book I have ever bought for him. The illustrations are fantastic. My son was amazed when he saw the picture of Henry with the books
inside his stomach and refuses to go to sleep until has seen the page of what happens to Henry when he has eaten too many books! At the back of the story book you will see the indents on the pages where Henry has
literally taken a huge chunk out of the back of this book. You must buy this book."

And at Foyles there's a page about the book including this -

"The mouth-watering new book from acclaimed author illustrator, Oliver Jeffers. Henry loves books...but not like you and I. He loves to EAT books! This exciting new story follows the trials and tribulations of a boy with a voracious appetite for books. Henry discovers his unusual taste by mistake one day, and is soon swept up in his new-found passion -- gorging on every delicious book in sight! And better still, he realises that the more books he eats, the smarter he gets. Henry dreams of becoming the Incredible Book Eating Boy; the smartest boy in the world! But a book-eating diet isn't the healthiest of habits, as Henry soon finds out... "

The private libraries of 40 bibliophiles

Yesterday, sorting out clutter, I came across a page from the Weekend Telegraph dated November 18, 1995. It was headed "Every library tells its owner's story – You may not be able to judge a book by its cover but you can judge people by their bookshelves, says Lesley Gillilan."

Further down the page, I read, "Living With Books (published on Monday by Thames & Hudson at £29.95) looks at the book-lined homes of 40 bibliophiles whose private libraries reflect their inner passions and peculiarities of taste. In essence, American authors Estelle Ellis and Caroline Seebohm have compiled a practical guide to collecting and caring for books but the focus of their lavishly illustrated work (photographs by Christopher Simon Sykes) is a study of the bookshelf as art and of books as furniture and ornament."

This sent me to Amazon UK where I found the book has been re-titled At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries, and a new edition was published in April 2006. The Amazon synopsis reads –

"… takes the reader into the houses of forty booklovers to view their very personal libraries and reading spaces. Not only is it a visual delight, but it also includes professional advice on editing and categorizing your library; caring for your books; preserving, restoring and storing rare books; finding out-of-print books; and choosing furniture, lighting and shelving. This indispensable resource, newly available in paperback, will be an inspiration for every bibliophile with a growing home library."

A reviewer writes, "The moment I saw AT HOME WITH BOOKS, I put my bag full of books down, sat on the floor at Blackwell's in Oxford, and drooled at the luxury of others. I'm not a materialist person. And yet I envied EACH and EVERY person in this book, envied them their remarkable libraries. There are so many of us who live with our noses in books. Here are people who do it in grand style! Buy this book for a book lover!"

For those who, like me, think twice about spending £30, Amazon gives a link to 38 used & new copies from £11.00.

Last blog until September

I'm taking August off to concentrate on a project needing undivided attention. So this will be the last Bookworm on the Net blog until Monday, 3 September. Meanwhile good reading and my thanks to everyone who has posted comments.

Monday, July 30, 2007

New novel for adults by Adele Geras

When Bookworm on the Net was a quarterly column in The Bookseller, each time I used to give links to around 25 publishing world websites and pick out one as Bookworm's Choice. In February 2003, the Choice section read –

"When the first novel for adults by children's author Adèle Geras Facing the Light (Orion, £12.99, 0752851543), is published in late March, readers will enjoy visiting her recently launched site. Ms Geras has provided interesting content, and site designer Wendy Wootton of Artemis Website Design has done another good job with the design. Artemis now has a waiting list of authors who want fast, easily navigable sites."

Adèle Geras has written more than 80 books for children. Her fourth novel for adult readers, A Hidden Life, comes out on August 8th. Orion have sent me a copy but, as I shall be on holiday next month, I'm writing about it today.

I have not met this author but we have exchanged emails from time to time and she comes across as a delightful person. Which makes me feel uncomfortable about criticising the novel. However any publicity is said to be better than none, and my comments about A Hidden Life tie in with what I wrote about John Sutherland's book last week i.e. the possibility that authors are being encouraged to use certain themes which are known to bestsell.

Here's an extract from a long Q&A between Mark Thwaite and Adèle.

"MT: Do you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Do you write specifically for them?

AG: No, not at all. Not even when I’m writing for young children. I write entirely for myself. I have to fall in love with the hero, cry when it’s sad, laugh when it’s funny, be spooked when it’s scary and then there’s a chance that you might be too….or someone might be. Once you start considering the readers, you’ve had it, I reckon. But I do try to ensure that as many people as possible might like my novels by deliberately including protagonists of all ages in my adult novels….see the ‘old ladies’ referred to in question 1. These ladies have daughters and granddaughters and I try to appeal to several generations in my books."

The main character in A Hidden Life is Lou, full name Louise Barrington. We meet Lou on page 3 when she is about to attend the reading of the will of her disagreeable grandmother who, we have already learned, intended it to upset her heirs and successors.

Although Lou is short of cash when the novel opens, this is a prosperous upper middle class milieu and the late Mrs Constance Barrington has left a large house and a substantial estate. But to Lou she has left only the copyrights of her grandfather's books which were never bestsellers and now are long forgotten.

So far so good. But then the reader learns that while Lou was starting her second year at York University she met a man called Ray, not an undergraduate. He looked "like a male model for a particularly butch brand of aftershave."

On their third date, she went to bed with him, and when Ray suggested she should drop her course and live with him in London, she didn't hesitate. They had been together for a month when he behaved in a way – including hurting her physically – which would have made any sensible girl ditch him on the spot. But Lou stayed until, when she was six months pregnant, he threw her out.

It stretches my credulity, but I can just about swallow the idea of a girl opting out of uni if she thinks she has met Mr Right. However when his brutality proves he's a thug, and she not only tolerates that but, without any sign that he wants to marry her, starts a baby, my sympathy evaporates.

The novel runs to 343 pages and we have to wait until p 264 - by which time Lou has had another abortive relationship - for Mr Right to appear.

The only thread in this novel I enjoyed was that of Lou's grandfather's life. He had spent part of his childhood in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and written about it in his unsuccessful book Blind Moon from which there are extracts.

It may be that the various other threads involving unsatisfactory marriages and a love affair between two women will appeal to other readers. But the novel was a disappointment to me.

However, of Mrs Geras's last novel, Made In Heaven, an Australian reader posted the following at Amazon UK.

"I've enjoyed all Adele Geras' adult novels(the other two are Facing the Light and Hester's Story) but this is my top favourite. It's a story that enthrals from the very first chapter, when we're led into the lives of the (about to be combined) Gratrix and Whittaker/Ashton families. They're about to be combined because of the impending wedding of Zannah Ford (nee gratrix) and Adrian Whittaker--but actually there's a lot more that links them than that. There's a secret which is about to be revealed and which ticks away like an unexploded bomb under the increasingly elaborate and frenzied preparations for the 'big wedding.' And there are unresolved things from the past which loom larger and larger even in the unclouded horizon that is Zannah's dream for her big day..Will there be a catastrophe? is there any hope to be salvaged? will it all end happily?
There are many pleasures in this wonderfully warm and entertaining novel--the subtle, deep exploration of character, a story superlatively well told, and the rich, fun details of planning that big wedding. Minor as well as major characters are really well depicted; you get a real sense of family and how weddings brings often very disparate people together--not necessarily in mutual understanding.
It's a totally involving, gripping, and vivid read and is very highly recommended."

So, despite my own reservations, it wouldn't surprise me to see A Hidden Life climbing the bestseller charts next month.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Book Depository and ReadySteadyBook

Did you read Mark Thwaite's comment on Wednesday's blog about The Boy Who Loved Books? If you didn't, he wrote -

"I'm not a fan of Sutherland but, still, I'm disappointed that this isn't wholly about the "books he read from early childhood to his late teens." Surely, we don't need another misery memoir? And, surely, a book by a literary critic about the books that shaped him as a young man would appeal much more to what you would gather was Sutherland's target audience."

Clicking on Mark's name above his comment, I was taken to The Book Depository where, on the About Us page, I learned that the business was founded in 2004 "with the aim of making "All books available to All" through pioneering supply chain initiatives, republishing and digitizing of content. It is a continuing project, still in its infancy and one of the most ambitious ventures in the Book Industry."

"Currently The Book Depository is able to ship 1.3 million unique titles at keen prices from our fulfillment centre in Gloucester, United Kingdom (within 48 hours) and this figure grows and grows everyday. Apart from publishers, distributors and wholesalers we even list and supply books from other retailers! Amazingly we are also able to arrange the reprint of over 300,000 out of print titles which again we can dispatch from Gloucester within 48 hours."

Further down the page, I read – "Our Managing Director and Founder, Andrew Crawford was part of the start up team at Bookpages which in its time was the fastest growing online bookstore in Europe. When Amazon purchased Bookpages in 1998, he subsequently moved and helped to start up Amazon in Europe. Andrew looked at different ways of achieving his personal ambition of making as many books available as possible - and the result is The Book Depository!"

Mark Thwaite [see photo] is TBD's Managing Editor. A librarian by profession, he spent five years with Amazon UK before founding "the acclaimed literary website ReadySteadyBook.com. His writing has appeared in many journals including the TLS, Context and PN Review. If you have any interesting book-related news and/or you are a publisher wanting to suggest books for review, please email mark@bookdepository.co.uk."

Later I discovered that Mark has an online literary journal at ReadySteadyBook.

Both these sites are packed with interesting articles and interviews I haven't had time to explore fully yet.

Looking for a photo of Mark, I came across an interview with him at
Simon Owens' Bloggasm
. Here's an extract -

"Simon Owens: You’ve said in a previous interview that you’re falling away from modern literary fiction. What is it about the genre that turns you off?

Mark Thwaite: Its lack of perspicacity, skill, wisdom, depth, relevance and artistry. I keep my eyes peeled for good, modern fiction (I’m always desperate to read a new, relevant voice), but, sad to say, there is very little new good stuff out there. Certainly, few British writers are up to much (there are some, of course: Tom McCarthy has started well; Gabriel Josipovici is a vital, ongoing presence; Dai Vaughan is vastly under-read), but mediocrity rules. I do see some fine modern works in translation, however. But British writers? Who are our most vaunted? Monica Ali and the war-apologist Ian McEwan? Please …"

If you're curious about the breed of Mark Thwaite's puppy - I thought she might be a very young husky - her name is Lola and she's a German Spitz (Mittel).

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Antidote to all the depressing books around

If you're interested in art, check your public library's catalogue to see if they have a copy of High Relief, the autobiography, illustrated with more than 60 photographs, of sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler.

I came across a forgotten copy on our sitting room bookshelves and have been re-reading it as an antidote to the gloom and doom, in both fiction and non-fiction, coming my way recently. High Relief was published at 45 shillings for Country Life Books by The Hamlyn Publishing Group in 1968. I think I must have spotted it in Bibliophile's catalogue about 20 years later.

Although there is nothing about him on the Academy's website, Sir Charles Wheeler was the eighteenth President of the Royal Academy and the first sculptor to hold that office. But, more importantly in my view, he fell in love with his wife while still in his teens, was engaged to her for five years because they were too hard up to marry, and loved her all his life.

He writes – "I met Muriel Bourne first when I was 16 and when we were art students together at Wolverhampton… She had artists as forbears, I had none that I knew of."

And, on the next page – "Muriel and I studied in the Antique and Life rooms and in the same modelling studio, often working back to back. Sometimes we would collide in stepping back to look at our models. This was the beginning of a life long devotion which has been undimmed and undivided from then until now... The £100 [prize money] was about all I possessed and she married me on that in St Peter's Church, under the torture of whose practising bells we had sat many examinations together in the adjacent Wolverhampton Art School, and in whose lovely interior we had together made many drawings, labouring to improve our art. With what care and calculation we had to order our affairs few couples in these more affluent days can conceive. However, with pinching and her courage and care we got through some very lean times."

A little further on, we read – "I was often tempted then to vacate my studio, save the rent and take a safe teaching job. I was well qualified for that, but when I spoke of it she would never listen. 'The last thing you do,' she would say, 'is to give up your studio.' And so I held on till after about two years of Spartan living there was a knock one morning at the door of my Justice Walk studio. When I opened it I saw a short man standing in morning dress and wearing a tall silk hat. My first thought was – here is someone selling encyclopaedias, and then he handed me his card. On looking I was so astounded that I handed it back to him. It read 'Rudyard Kipling'. I've ever since regretted my stupidity for his card would have been a thing to treasure as it brought relief, not before it was needed, and from that day to this I have never lacked commissions."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not the memoir I was expecting

I'm beginning to wonder if publishers are pressing authors – the literary ones as well as commercial writers – to include best-selling elements in their books.

The thought occurred to me because Professor John Sutherland's memoir, The Boy Who Loved Books, is so different from the book I was expecting. I thought it would be largely about the books he read from early childhood to his late teens, but in fact it is more of a fashionable misery memoir.

It isn't until page 38 that he mentions having Wind in the Willows (sic) read to him by an American admirer of his war-widowed mother.

On p 44, Sutherland writes, "I recall my mother in London spending six shillings she could ill afford (or was not keen on parting with) on a book for me at the Marylebone W.H.Smith's. I must have been around eleven at the time. It was They Died with their Boots Clean by Gerald Kersh. I was at the station to be sent off to some relatives in Nottingham and nagged her for the book. It was, as she would see it, a sacrifice – but I was being discarded. And, now I think of it, the subject of Kersh's docunovel – patriotic guardsman undergoing basic training and preparing to be posted abroad – had a certain significance. He was not otherwise a writer I was interested in."

John Sutherland was born in 1938. In 1942 his father was killed in a Royal Air Force flying accident in South Africa. You might think that a four-year-old would quickly get over the loss of a parent. But his mother, whom he adored, put her interests before his. He was sent to live with relations in Scotland, ostensibly because of doodlebug air raids, but actually so that he should not witness "her intimacy with a man to whom she was not married."

There's a lot about class in this memoir. From the author's perspective, working class people were admirable, upper class people were not. Of the Rt. Hon Alec Douglas-Home, he writes, "He probably passed a dozen historical replicas of his vacuous, overbred physiognomy when he ascended the stairs every night to his four-poster."

I have no political leanings but was put off by that contemptuous reference to a man I thought totally trustworthy, more than can be said of many people involved in politics.

So, on several counts, the book is a disappointment with, at least for this reader, too much about the author's time as an alcoholic and not nearly enough about the books he read.

However, as I said at the beginning, it may be that his editor at John Murray pressed the professor to concentrate on the aspects of his life which would appeal to those who enjoy misery memoirs, and to cut out a lot of the bookish stuff he had intended to include.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Boy Who Loved Books

Last Friday I showed the jacket of The Boy Who Loved Books by John Sutherland.

It seems unlikely that any bookish person will not have heard of him and enjoyed his books
Is Heathcliff a murderer?
Can Jane Eyre be happy?
Who betrays Elizabeth Bennet?

But in case you have not, read an article by him, published in The Guardian just over three years ago and headed -

"As John Sutherland prepares to leave the halls of academia, he reflects on the - good and bad - changes in higher education over the past 40 years"

When I read about his memoir The Boy Who Loved Books, my first thought was "Must buy that."

Second thought, on noticing the price was £16.99, was, "Chances are the G-A will have it so might as well wait for the paperback."

G-A is my mental shorthand for the Guille-Allès Public Library founded by Thomas Guille and Frederick Allès, two young Guernseymen who were apprentices in New York in the 1830s. Their experience of using the apprentices’ library in NY made them determined to provide something similar for Guernsey. In 1882 the two men realised their dream when they purchased the Assembly Rooms in Market Street in St Peter Port.

Checking the G-A's online catalogue showed that the book was in stock and borrowable. The blurb on the front jacket flap reads "This is the story of how books saved one man's life – twice" and, further down the flap, "…the story of one man's, often desperate, love affair with reading, with drink and with an adored, but absent, parent. Books in many ways changed John's life, propelling him to university, and sustaining him in the dark times that were to come. It is also a personal account of the shifting twentieth century and the profound changes that shook society, as well as what it was like to be a grammar-school boy, a national-service man and a redbrick graduate during this period."

My reaction to the book tomorrow.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Alfred Wainwright, Hunter Davies, Beatrix Potter

On Friday evening we watched Wainwright : The Man Who Loved The Lakes, a profile of the fell walker Alfred Wainwright.

Afterwards, on the sitting room bookshelves, I spotted A Walk Around the Lakes by Hunter Davies, hardbacked in 1979 by Weidenfeld & Nicholson at £6.95 which now seems dirt cheap for a book with maps as endpapers and 12 pages of illustrations.

Hunter Davies [see photo] was in the TV film about Wainwright but, when I opened the book, my attention was caught by a photograph of Belle Isle, built in 1774 and said to be the only circular house in England.

I was also interested by a reference to The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter being turned down by seven publishers.

As I've probably mentioned before, the Beatrix Potter books were among the delights of my early childhood but somehow I haven't got around to reading any of the biographies of their creator. I was sorry to learn from A Walk Around The Lakes that she had difficult parents.

They disapproved of her first engagement to Norman Warne, the son of her publisher who had changed his mind about her book after she had published it herself. Norman died of leukaemia soon after they became engaged.

Her parents were also against her engagement to William Heelis, a Lakeland solicitor, but eventually, in 1913 when she was 47, she married him.

I'm looking forward to reading The Tale of Mrs.William Heelis: Beatrix Potter by John E Heelis. A second paperback edition was published by Sutton in 2003. The Amazon UK synopsis reads –

"Much has been written about the life of Beatrix Potter, the celebrated children's author. Yet one area of her life that has been relatively undocumented is her relationship with Willie Heelis, to whom she was happily married for nearly 30 years. In this account of the Heelis family, which draws on a wealth of anecdotes from family and friends, the author, Willie's great-nephew John Heelis, casts a welcome perspective on this relationship - as well as tackling such controversial questions as whether Beatrix really did like children. Among the strengths of this edition are first-hand reminiscences of family and Lake District friends of the couple, including extensive extracts from some previously unpublished letters. These with the correspondence between Beatrix and Miss Louie Choyce written in the 1920s and 1930s, add to the information about Willie's and Beatrix's life together in Sawrey."

Friday, July 20, 2007

The birth of bestsellers 3

Also in today's blog
The Boy Who Loved Books

Continuing his chapter "Bestsellers – Born or Made?", George Greenfield writes
"Which brings us on to the third way in which a novel may become a bestseller – by 'hype'. In a later chapter 'The Crunch', I suggest that the British agent who felt he had a big bestseller in the making would probably take the script, or a detailed treatment and a few specimen chapters, to auction in New York before repeating the process in London. Arthur Hugh Clough was a prophet as well as a poet when he wrote, 'But westward look, the land is bright!'"

Greenfield continues, "The 'hypable' novel is usually by a newcomer (or an experienced author working under a pen-name). The reason is simple. Publishing nowadays deals in 'futures', rather like the Stock Exchange. The new is exciting; it has no track record to quantify hope. Publishers know from long and hard experience that it is virtually impossible to shift a novelist who has brought out six or more novels above the sales record he has established in the trade. However much advertising or publicity is devoted to his new book, the sharp edge of the battle is at the point where the representative goes into a bookshop soliciting orders. He may well say – and indeed believe – that 'this is X's best novel by far' but the seasoned bookseller will usually shrug and reply, 'I've heard that one before. Let's see, I took half a dozen of the last one – put me down for another six this time.' It is so much easier to wax lyrical when there are no previous results to measure the book against.' "

"The novel to be hyped often turns out to be aimed at women readers, who provide some 60 per cent of the general readership…It usually includes some esoteric (more than erotic) sex passages. Recent examples are Destiny by Sally Beauman and Shirley Conran's Lace."

"This third method of entry into bestsellerdom is the only one that supports Mr Sutherland's contention that bestsellers are 'made', not 'born'. Claud Cockburn, who in 1972 published a book with an almost identical title, Bestseller, took the opposite view. His book concentrated on novels published between the turn of the century and the outbreak of war in 1939."

The rest of the chapter, and indeed the whole book, is well worth reading if your public library has it, or you can find a second-hand copy.

The 'Mr Sutherland' referred to is now Professor John Sutherland whose memoir, The Boy Who Loved Books, was hardbacked by John Murray last month.

Details of his books about bestsellers are to be found at this page at Amazon UK.

There was a long comment on yesterday's blog by Kit Berry, creator of Stonewylde, but she didn't give a link to her website. Worth a look if you enjoy fantasy.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The birth of bestsellers 2

Also in today's blog
An undiscovered [by me] Paul Scott novel

Here, extracted from George Greenfield's Scribblers for Bread [Hodder & Stoughton 1989], is the second part of his theory on how bestsellers happen.

"The second way is the gradual approach. The author in question usually starts more than moderately well and turns out to have a steady, sometimes prolific output where each succeeding novel fares that much better than its predecessors. Examples would include Paul Scott, Dick Francis, P D James, Ruth Rendell and Wilbur Smith. In each case it took perhaps ten to twenty novels, often published at yearly intervals, for the respective author to break into the charmed circle of top-selling novelists, although Heinemann did print and sell 20,000 copies of Wilbur Smith's very first novel. Both Dick Francis and P D James benefited through a latish breakthrough in the United States, which reflected back favourably on their British status. In all the popular arts – films, television, the novel – America since the war has had a far greater influence on European sales than we often care to admit. Unless the subject matter is highly arcane, a bestselling American novel will almost certainly hit the British bestseller lists, whereas many bestselling British novels will get nowhere in the States."

Can it really be almost 30 years since Paul Scott died? On his page at Wikipedia, I read "Scott published his first novel Johnny Sahib in 1952 (after seventeen rejections) to modest success. He continued to write and published a novel every year or so until deciding in 1960 to try to survive as a full time author."

It's interesting that even in the early Fifties, when publishing was still "an occupation for gentlemen" and publishers and literary agents were not inundated with book proposals to the extent they are today, he had so many rejections.

Looking for Johnny Sahib at Amazon UK, I came across a Scott novel I hadn't heard of, Six Days in Marapore paperbacked by the University of Chicago Press in 2005.

There's an interesting piece "Paul Scott as a Postimperial Author" by Jacqueline Banerjee, Ph.D here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The birth of bestsellers 1

In May this year I wrote "In 1989 Hodder & Stoughton published George Greenfield's Scribblers For Bread which I bought in hardback for £15.00 and last night started re-reading."

That blog ended "More about Scribblers later." But, as so often happens, other things intervened.

I've forgotten how much of Greenfield's excellent book I re-read then. Yesterday, before a solitary lunch – Mr Bookworm having decided to take advantage of the contrary-to-forecast blue sky and take a packed lunch on his coastal walk - I spotted it on our main bookshelves and, opening it at random, came across Greenfield's analysis of bestsellers. He believed they arose in one of three ways.

1. "There is the 'thunderclap' way – the book that makes a loud bang out of a clear blue sky. It is usually a first novel or a second or third novel by a virtually unknown author. Examples are The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean, James Jones's From Here to Eternity, Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal and John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Almost without exception, novelists who take the public fancy by storm in this way continue throughout their careers – or at least for a considerable time – to attract a large band of loyal readers."

It's interesting that all Greenfield's examples of thunderclap authors are men. Were there no thunderclap books by women during his long overview of the publishing scene? Surely there must have been? Yet no names spring to mind.

Tomorrow I'll write about the other two ways he felt bestsellers arose, and perhaps I'll have remembered some feminine thunderclap titles.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Never too late to try something new

A few days ago this dropped into my Inbox.

Elaine has left a new comment on your post "The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop in Paris":

"I am a huge Trollope fan and the Palliser/Political novels are quite magnificent. Try The Way we Live Now to discover a truly Maxwellian figure alive and kicking all those years ago. Nothing changes, nothing new under the sun"

I clicked on the name Elaine which led me to a blog called Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover by "A commuting book and opera-aholic personal assistant living in the oldest recorded town in the UK, Colchester."

Almost immediately I realised I had been to this blog before, lured there by a book called The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower. But what I had not discovered on that first visit was that the owner of this blog has a remarkable mother.

This link should take you to a photograph of her, in a garden in Bath with Elaine's sister.

Elaine writes, "My mother has just celebrated her 95th birthday and is amazingly fit and well and going strong. I think the main reason for this is she keeps her mind alive and alert. She lives in a warden controlled block and though she is the oldest inhabitant there, she has twice as much get up and go as most of them and I really believe this is because she does not spend her entire day watching tv which an awful lot of residents seem to do. She will not switch it on until the evening and only then if there is something she wants to watch."

"Mum took up water colour painting at the age of 90 when the local council had a brilliant idea of taking on an instructor to visit care homes. She simply loves it and finds it very relaxing and spends hours with her paint brushes and paints. The initiative did not last of course, with the council cutting costs so this went by the board, but she still continues to paint on her own. She is also a great reader and dismisses most of the books that she calls 'old ladies books' as rubbish…"

Earlier this year, I had to visit a residential home for elderly people and was disturbed by fact that most of the residents were not watching TV, reading newspapers or books, or chatting. They were sitting in the public rooms in a state of inertia which seemed to confirm the rumours that the staff at some old folks' homes give their charges soporifics.

For the rest of that day I was troubled by what I had seen, and appalled by the thought that, one day in the future, I might find myself in a similar establishment. Then the demands of a busy working life pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A unique correspondence coming in September

On Friday I complained about the physical weight of the book I'd been reading in bed.

Over the weekend I switched to a 217-page Hamish Hamilton hardback bought for £12.50 in 1986 : A Talent to Annoy : Essays, Journalism and Reviews 1929-1968 by Nancy Mitford, edited by Charlotte Mosley. [The word Journalism on the dust jacket is replaced by Articles on the title page.]

The blurb begins –

" 'Hell would be a more suitable place for you than Ireland,' wrote an Irish correspondent when Nancy Mitford's article on that country appeared in the Sunday Times. Such violent reactions to her journalism were not uncommon; a piece describing a visit to Rome was solemnly burnt by an Italian countess in front of her friends and an article branding Marie-Antoinette as a traitor who richly deserved her fate led more than one Parisian to cut Nancy dead…[her] idiosyncratic point of view, her sense of the comic and her lack of pomposity make this collection of articles as fresh, funny and enjoyable as when they first appeared in print."

I agree, but many of the writers I encounter in online forums would not. Today political correctness is rife.

Six years ago, in the Telegraph, Oliver Poole wrote : "…the publishers Fourth Estate, are paying £200,000 for the right to print the 500 letters, which are kept at Chatsworth House, the home of the youngest Mitford sister, Deborah, who married the 11th Duke of Devonshire. The family was known as the "mad, mad Mitfords", taken from the headline of a 1930s newspaper story that recounted some of the sisters' exploits which scandalised society."

Gill Coleridge, the literary agent for the collection, said that 500 letters between the sisters would be issued in a one-volume edition. It had taken her five years to persuade the family to allow them to be made public. She said: "I think they realise that this is an important historic archive and that it is time it was opened up to a wider audience."

Finally coming out in September, the book's title is The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley, daughter-in-law of the third Mitford sister, Diana Mosley. In October there will be a reception and an illustrated hour-long lecture by Charlotte Mosley in the theatre at Chatsworth. How I should love to attend, but I don't think it will be possible. Tickets £10 per person, or £17.50 for two.

The book is described thus –

"The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century's signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Spanning the twentieth century, these magically vivid letters between the legendary Mitford sisters constitute not just a superb social and historical chronicle (what other family counted among its friends Hitler and the Queen, Cecil Beaton and President Kennedy, Evelyn Waugh and Givenchy?); they also give an intimate portrait of the stormy but enduring relationship between six beautiful and gifted women who emerged from the same stock, incarnated the same indomitable spirit, yet carved out starkly different roles and identities for themselves. Nancy, the scalding wit who transferred her family life into bestselling novels; Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life; Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII; Unity, an attempted suicide, obsessed with Hitler; Jessica, the runaway communist and fighter for social change; and Deborah, the genial socialite who found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Writing to one another to confide, commiserate, tease, rage and gossip, the sisters wrote above all to amuse. A correspondence of this scope is rare, for it to be penned by six such born storytellers makes it unique."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Trollope biog heavy reading in bed

According to our bathroom scales, the hardback of Trollope by Victoria Glendinning [Hutchinson 1992] weighs 2 lbs or 0.91 kilos, a heavy weight on the tum when reading in bed.

The biography runs to 510 pages, plus Introduction, Notes and Sources and Index. Why wasn't it cut, or published in two vols?

Trollope lived in some delightful houses – I wonder who occupies 5 Seaview Terrace, Donnybrook, near Dublin today? But, according to the photographs of him in the biography, at "just over forty" he looked an elderly man, bald and bushy-bearded.

There being no photographs of him in his youth, on the dust jacket of the book there is an artist's impression of how he might have looked, before growing his beard, by Tom Phillips R A.

My picture of Victoria Glendinning is borrowed from the site of her literary agent, David Higham, and was taken by Susan Greenhill who specialises in photographing writers. Her site has an interesting gallery of them, "taken from the thousands of freelance assignments she has undertaken for publishers, authors, newspapers and other clients since 1980."

About 50 pages into the biography I started to skim-read, a habit learned in my newspaper reporting days when I sometimes had to "gut" long documents for the few newsworthy lines.

Page 197 made my skimming eye slow down. "Anthony Trollope is commonly credited with the introduction into Britain of pillar boxes for posting letters. It would be more truthful to say that it was his persistence and enthusiasm that resulted in their adoption. Rowland Hill among others considered the idea.

When he was reviewing postal services in the Channel Islands, three months into his new job, Anthony wrote a long official report to his immediate superior in the Western District which included a recommendation to try out in St Helier, Jersey…Within a month he had the authority to go ahead, and immediately pressed for pillar boxes in St Peter Port in Guernsey as well. The pillar boxes were established in the Channel Islands the next year, and the year after that (1853) they began to appear in mainland Britain."

Trollope's mother, Frances, was a successful writer of more than 40 books. The Literary Encyclopaedia has an interesting piece about her, but they don't allow visitors to copy and paste extracts.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop in Paris

In April 2006, in The Bookseller, I read this -

"At the heart of the city of Paris' 4th arrondissement, le Marais is steeped in literary pedigree. In previous years, it has played host to Victor Hugo and Madame de Sévigne; its narrow streets are now home to an idiosyncratic bookstore called The Red Wheelbarrow."

The shop opened in September 2001, a few months too late for me to visit it while celebrating a special wedding anniversary in the city where Mr Bookworm and I honeymooned. I clipped the article and put it in an enveloped marked Next Trip to Paris. Yesterday it surfaced during a tidy-up.

My favourite part of Paris is on the Left Bank. The Red Wheelbarrow is at 22 rue St Paul, north of the river. According to The Bookseller article, the name comes from a poem "So Much Depends Upon" by William Carlos Williams, an American poet of whom I had never heard.

The shop is run by Canadian Penelope Fletcher Le Masson and American Abigail Altman. According to Suresh Ariaratham who wrote the piece in The Bookseller, they have complementary characters : Penelope generating wild ideas and Abigail providing the attention to detail to make them happen. [Photo borrowed from Lit Minds blog.]

My main memories of the Marais are of the Pompidou Centre which we thought an abomination and of the Places des Vosges which was lovely.

Somewhere in my files, but I can't lay hands on it, is an article from House & Garden or The World of Interiors showing the interior of an apartment, in one of the old buildings surrounding the Place des Vosges, which has been rented or bought by Richard Rogers and furnished in a way that made me roll my eyes. I seem to remember huge yellow bean bags in place of the kind of furniture suited to such a building.

The Red Wheelbarrow has some interesting book reviews. It's years since I read Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels, reviewed thus –

"… I need to tell any of you who are interested in democratic political systems and above all in parliamentary government, these books are a wonder and a delight. There has been a radio reading in Britain of The Prime Minister and the popular reaction seems to be to confuse this late nineteenth century prime minister with Tony Blair. The books are spookily prophetic. Lady Glencora has her clone in Cherie Blair, we find a politically correct suicide, leakings from the press and their consequence on the political developments, the questioning of the government's integrity—it reads as though you had already seen the movie in most of the details. Unlike the versions in our press, the author's humor is ever present. Plantagent Palliser is the prime minister's name. Isn't that enough to make you want to dip into the nineteenth century and discover the mirror replay in our times?"

Yes, it is.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

DVD advertising for books

The inside back cover of this week's issue of The Bookseller [link in sidebar] is an advertisement - "Ebury and BBC Books have joined forces to produce 2007's megasellers. From bald tops to how to shop, from Moyles to murder and Great Britain to the Ganges. Take a look at this year's biggest titles."

Attached to this page, with that useful transparent gluey stuff which I keep forgetting to ask my stationery shop about, came a DVD promoting four books from Ebury and four BBC books. I have no idea what this kind of advertising costs. But I'm sure we are going to see a lot more of it in future.

The promotional spiels on the disc are aimed at booksellers. I played the disc, read the info pages and watched the eight short films. My reactions, as a reader and private buyer, were as follows –

Laid Bare by Gail Porter. Had to go to Amazon UK to find out who Ms Porter is. In case you are also unsure, she "burst on to our TV screens in the late 90s presenting The Movie Chart Show, Alive and Kicking and Top of the Pops."

The Difficult Second Book by Chris Moyles. Another one I had never heard of. He's a Radio One dj, but I don't have time to listen to the radio.

The Nature of Britain by Alan Titchmarsh. Might reserve it from public library.

Murder Most Fab by Julian Clary. Another name new to me. Don't like the sound of his main male character who has been a prostitute. Might borrow it from the library, should I happen to spot it there.

India : An Epic Journey across the Subcontinent by Michael Wood.

Will certainly watch the TV series and possibly buy the book for someone I love who loves India.

How to Shop with Mary Portas, Queen of Shopping. Was put off the author when she used a four letter word. She was quoting fashion photographer David Bailey, but I think she should have censored his comment.

Rick Stein's Mediterranean. Watched Rick Stein's delightful French canal trip so will definitely watch this new series and probably buy the book if/when it comes out in a cheaper-than-£25 edition.

Don't You Know Who I Am? by Piers Morgan. He was editor of the Daily Mirror, a paper I don't read. I saw Mr Morgan being unpleasant about Cherie Blair during the Fiona Bruce TV interview. I'm not a Cherie fan, but I didn't think the point he was making – about her being paid for a few of the huge number of speeches she made while PM's wife – held water.

So only two out of eight of "this year's biggest titles" are appealing to this book enthusiast.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Elizabeth Oldfield realises ambition

Yesterday was publication day for Elizabeth Oldfield's novel Vintage Babes, published by Accent Press.

I knew Elizabeth when we both wrote for Mills & Boon. When, last month, she asked if I would like to read her latest and very different book, I was keen to see what form her break-out had taken.

Here's our Question and Answer exchange.

Bookworm's first Question : As a reader (who has been happily married since I was 21), I find it difficult to empathise with characters in novels who have a string of unhappy relationships and/or a divorce behind them. Elizabeth, you and your husband are also happily married. Did you find it tricky to get inside the head of 55-year-old Carol, the central character in Vintage Babes, who thought she was happily married to a fellow journalist for more than 20 years until she found he was having an affaire?

Elizabeth Oldfield's Answer: Although I am happily married, I have several friends who are divorced and was able to tap into their experiences and recall their feelings. So empathising with Carol came easily.

Q : How much is Vintage Babes a reaction to writing 40 romances for Mills & Boon?

A: It is not a reaction, but a long-term ambition. Back in the Eighties my husband's job took us to live in Singapore - a great little island. I had articles published in magazines and newspapers in the U.K. and Singapore. Then I began to wonder whether, on our return to the U.K., I could make a living out of writing. I decided to write a book - mainstream women's fiction - but first I would practice on a small book. Simplistic, I know, but that's how it was. The small books which came to mind were M&B romances, which I had never read, so I bought a dozen, studied them and thought 'I can do that'. Amazingly, my first book was accepted. I had enjoyed writing it and so I continued.

Eighteen years and 40 novels later, I retired from romance. I wanted time to relax, go travelling with my husband, and, finally, to attempt my original ambition of writing a mainstream book. Vintage Babes is the result.

Q : When deciding to write a book very different from your backlist, did you consider other genres such as crime fiction, fantasy, literary fiction or even non-fiction?

A: I did attempt a 'cosy crime', which fell by the wayside, but fantasy, literary fiction or non-fiction held no appeal. My main interest - even in the crime novel - was women 'of a certain age.' Whilst a proliferation of chick-lit satisfies the younger female readers, there are few books targeted towards those of fifty-plus. Yet the majority of women readers are over fifty.

The age angle fascinated me. We all know we're destined to become old codgers one day, yet it is often a mental truth and not an emotional awareness. When the realisation dawns that you're close to being a senior citizen - or, heaven forbid, have hit sixty - we can feel shocked, cheated, traumatised. I was never meant to be OLD. How can I be when I don't feel any different to how I felt at forty, even thirty? But then look in the mirror, try running for a 'bus and listen to your conversation - there's the proof.

Q : As a former newspaper reporter, I was delighted to find the main character in Vintage Babes is a senior reporter on a small town newspaper. Your main male character is the new editor of her paper. On p 75 he says, "I've also taken a look at the wages bill…and it seems that you don't get paid overtime for the evenings nor for any weekend work." In my time on newspapers, there was no such thing as overtime. One of the pleasures of staff journalism was that it wasn't a 9-5 job. But times change and it may be that things are different now. Did you check your facts with a local reporter or editor?

A: No, I didn't research the overtime angle, I used author's prerogative. I reasoned that as the newspaper was owned by a disinterested and unaware proprietor and pretty homespun - and as Steve was allowed to do his own thing by a grateful Mr P-J - Carol getting paid overtime would be acceptable.

Q : Nowadays very few books are accepted on first submission. How many publishers did you approach before Vintage Babes found a home?

A: Umpteen.

Q : You don't have a website at present. Is there one on the drawing board?

A: No, but if Vintage Babes takes off I could be tempted.

Q: Can you reveal what the next book is about?

A: The highs and lows of women in their sixties.

Writing for women in their sixties

Readers aged 60-plus are a neglected segment of the market. I look forward to Elizabeth's next book.

Meanwhile, I wish her publishers, Accent Press, would re-design their site so that visitors aren't forced to download Adobe 8.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The cost of a smart London lunch in 1931 and 2006

Mr Bookworm's current reading is Big Money by P G Wodehouse, re-published in hardback in May by Everyman's Library. His copy is a Spanish edition published by Plaza & Janes, Barcelona, in 1982 under the title Un Dineral.

Here's a summary of the story I picked up at Amazon UK.

"Lord Biskerton, son and heir of the sixth Earl of Hoddesdon, and known to his friends as Biscuit, had red hair, a preliminary scenario for a moustache and a noble determination to escape the disgrace of work. His friend Berry Conway, however, had succumbed to economic pressure and become the secretary to T. Paterson Frisby, a dyspeptic American who had twenty million and loved every cent of it. When Biscuit and Berry pooled ideas for their mutual betterment, and one idea concerned Ann Moon, Frisby's beautiful niece and heiress, they had to lean heavily on Aunt Vera, an old campaigner in the field of love. How Uncle Paterson was caught short and rushed to cover, while Aunt Vera hedged the market with a double play and salted down two money-making engagements for the House of Hoddesdon, is one of the most irresistible tales of the one and only P. G. Wodehouse."

A page Mr B thought would amuse me is about Biscuit borrowing some money from Aunt Vera to take a girl to lunch at London's Berkeley Hotel. His aunt said the meal would cost £8.10d a head, and if his guest wanted lemonade or mineral water that would be an extra two shillings. Coffee for two would be half a crown. Two shillings would be an acceptable table tip and the cloakroom tip would be sixpence. A total of twenty five shillings would be more than sufficient.

According to this bibliography, Big Money was first published in 1931 by Herbert Jenkins. [The photo of Wodehouse, courtesy of Wikipedia, is dated 1904.]

Measuring Worth tells me that 25 shillings in 1931 had risen to £58.37 by 2006.">"

Today lunch for two at the Berkeley's Petrus restaurant costs £120.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A rich grocer's Literary Ventures Fund

Also in today's blog

Richard Havers' comments

Two years ago, The Bookseller columnist William Boot wrote a piece headed "Hurrah for grocers". Boot had picked up a story from the Boston Globe about Jim Bildner, a former grocer who, having made his pile, was devoting himself to philanthropy, one of his targets being the publishing business.

"His Literary Ventures Fund will "apply venture capital rules to book publishing"," wrote Boot, adding, "So far, so dull; venture capitalists have been the bane of publishing for 20 years although Nigel Newton would disagree."

This made me curious to find out how the Literary Ventures Fund was faring two years on. It's a well-designed and interesting site with a list of the books they've helped to publish so far.

But although Boot wrote – "Instead of chucking all his money at unworthy chief executives, Mr Bildner is, in effect, chucking it at authors", the money is actually being chucked at small publishers, not at authors who deserve to be published but are not.

The publishers include Waveland Press, Illinois, Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, and Archipelago Books, Brooklyn.

Looking at the book jackets page, my interest was caught by Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali by Kris Holloway, first paperbacked in 1980 and re-published last year. The book now has 44 reviews at Amazon US, 42 of them 5-star.

The Literary Ventures Fund mission statement page starts with this -

"Literature has a profound impact on our lives. Great books transport readers, illuminate their values, and bring meaning and context to their lives. They have the power to inspire, console, and provoke; they enlighten us and affect us long after we've put a book down. We believe that literature is at risk, as are the economic and support systems that traditionally have connected great writers to readers. In many cases these systems no longer exist, disrupted in part by consolidation and the intrinsic pressures on the remaining large publishing houses to give preference to books that sell to the mass market. LVF is built on the premise that, given a level playing field, great works of literature can thrive in the marketplace."

Is there a British equivalent of LVF? Not that I know of.

Richard Havers' comments

How many readers of this and other blogs miss interesting comments posted on earlier blogs. Richard Havers, whose blog is called Havering On, posted an amusing one-liner on my yesterday's blog.

He wrote – "Both publishers and prostitutes keep a keen eye on turnover and on profits."

But readers may have missed his comment on my June 19 blog headed – "Bookshop v supermarket customers". I might have missed it myself had I not arranged to have comments emailed to my Inbox.

He wrote – "Anne, I'm just back from holiday (a week on a boat off the west coast of Scotland - idyllic). On re-reading my post I feel I should have said "the [extra)ordinary people who get awards for doing what are really good and amazing things". Having had time to reflect on the former Mr. Rushdie's award, and having read the comment on my blog about standing up against Islamic fundamentalists as being 'in', I'm even more upset by his knighthood. I've never read one of his books, never even been tempted, but that is not my beef with this ludicrous giving of such an honour.

If indeed it is a gesture, it is both futile and silly. It's the national equivalent of thumbing a nose against many who follow Islam. I agree with you on his marriage stakes. One cannot help thinking there's a good deal more 'celebrity' surrounding the former Mr. Rushdie than is healthy. p.s. Misery memoirs will burn out, there's only so much of that stuff that people can read without over-dosing."

I hope he's right about miserylit, but I'm not sure, having just read a book about a dying teenager which is expected to have massive sales. More about that next week.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Hippocratic Oath and Call Girl Lit

Also in today's blog

A writer as well as a doctor?
The grit in the oyster : More re Monday's blog about Hurst v Headline
Danuta Kean on The Squalid Truth About Call Girl Lit

I'm sure I don't need to explain why Mr Bookworm and I were discussing the Hippocratic Oath yesterday. Later I looked it up.

"The Hippocratic Oath is an oath traditionally taken by physicians pertaining to the ehtical practice of medicine. It is widely believed that the oath was written by Hippocrates, the father of medicine, in the 4th century BC, or by one of his students … Although mostly of historical and traditional value, the oath is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of medicine, although it is not obligatory and no longer taken up by all physicians."

"Changed portions of the oath: Never to do deliberate harm to anyone for anyone else's interest. Physician organizations in the U.S. and most other countries have strongly denounced physician participation in legal executions. However, in a small number of nations, most notably the Netherlands, a doctor can perform euthanasia, by both his and the patient's consent.

Several parts of the oath have been removed or re-shaped over the years in various countrie, schools, and societies as the social, religious, and political importance of medicine has changed. Most schools administer some form of oath, but the great majority no longer use the ancient version, which praised Greek deities, advocated teaching of men, and forbade general practitioners from surgery, abortion, and euthanasia. Also missing from the ancient Oath and from many modern versions are the complex ethical issues that face the modern physician."

A writer as well as a doctor?

I wasn't sure if Hippocrates was a writer as well as a doctor. His name is used by Hippocrates Publishing and at Harvard University's site, I read "The works available in the Loeb Classical Library edition of Hippocrates are the following … Of the roughly 70 works in the 'Hippocratic Collection' many are not by Hippocrates; even the famous oath may not be his. But he was undeniably the 'Father of Medicine'."

The Loeb Classical Library is a registered trademark of the Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College.

The grit in the oyster : More re Monday's blog about Hurst v Headline

Essential reading for anyone interested in the publishing industry are two pieces about the late Christopher Hurst about whom I wrote on Monday. The following are short extracts. Do read them in full.

Under the heading The Grit in the Oyster, Giles de la Mare starts his tribute with –

"For Christopher Hurst, small was beautiful and that was a leitmotiv in his life as a successful publisher, C. Hurst & Co, over forty years. In the late 1970s he emerged as a champion of small publishers in general — and an inspiration to them — and a champion of democracy in the occasionally murky world of publishing politics. Which was where I first met him, when I was a director of Faber. We were soon to become friends. We were both on the University, College and Professional Publishers Council of the Publishers Association, and he was still on the Council when I became Chairman in the early 1980s. Subsequently, we were both elected to the Council of the PA. His passion, his analytical powers and his unshakable integrity were a potent mixture when it appeared to him, as it did quite frequently right into the new millennium, that Machiavellian deals were being done between the big conglomerates, or crucial book trade issues were being neglected. He was the necessary grit in the oyster of complacency and expediency that is sometimes found in the book world. I greatly valued his judgement and his polemical approach, even when I thought his arguments were over the top."

Julian Rea wrote an obituary for The Bookseller.

"Four years ago, Christopher was diagnosed with cancer. He was admitted to hospitals and hospices several times in the expectation of imminent death—only to reappear at his desk a few weeks later, brushing aside the concerns of his friends and colleagues. He had a strong sense of unfinished business—the house of Hurst.

Born into a distinguished medical family and educated at Eton and Oxford, Christopher’s passion was publishing books. In a trade world dominated at the top by the listed corporations and elsewhere by subject and market niche specialists, it was a major achievement to remain afloat as a publisher of general and academic interest for forty years. Hurst & Co. grew modestly. It never made large profits, or, indeed, large losses. Its purpose was not to make money but to provide a quality list of abiding, often specialist, interest."

In case you didn't read Monday's blog, I quoted a letter Christopher Hurst wrote to The Bookseller in July 2005. Here's part of that quote –

"The news that John Murray is being restructured by its new owners, Headline, to publish "high quality commercial fiction [a possible contradiction in terms here?], aimed primarily at the female market" should induce feelings of nausea combined with rage in any member of the publishing community with a sense of propriety, not to mention history. Why keep the illustrious John Murray name if they only want to prostitute it? This crime against the light is not unprecedented; those who acquired the also greatly honoured name of André Deutsch did the same."

I wonder how he would have reacted to the jacket of a book published by John Murray last month?

Danuta Kean on The Squalid Truth About Call Girl Lit

Arts journalist and publishing commentator Danuta Kean [link in sidebar] has written a strong piece about call girl lit on her blog.

Many people will feel that sleeping around a k a promiscuity is not a life-style that should be promoted by reputable publishers, especially by imprints once associated with all that is best in publishing.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Why change Rosamunde Pilcher's bestselling novel for the television/video version?

Also in today's blog
Review by US reader of The Shell Seekers
Evelyn Anthony's 79th birthday

Browsing our public library's video shelves, Mr Bookworm spotted The Shell Seekers and, knowing it was one of my favourite novels, borrowed it. We watched it last night after supper. Angela Lansbury plays the central character, Penelope Keeling, who is described on the video cover as "reaching her early seventies". In the film she remarks several times that she's 63, although at the end of the book she is 64.

This is a trifling detail compared with some of the major changes made by the film-makers. The book starts and ends with Penelope as a woman in late middle age, but the main emphasis is on her young life; how, as a Wren [which the author also was] she met her unsatisfactory husband, and how she met the great love of her life, Richard, a British soldier killed in action during WW2.

In the film, Richard is changed to an American serviceman and reappears as grey-haired San Wanamaker, but only briefly. The film-makers stopped short of inventing a happy ending for him and Penelope.

My "best" copy of The Shell Seekers is in Spain, but I have a book club edition here on the island, and I took it to read in bed instead of watching Joanna Lumley in Sensitive Skin on TV, 10-10.30 p.m. being rather late at night for an early riser.

Review by US reader of The Shell Seekers

For the benefit of those who haven't read the book, here's a review by an American reader, Antoinette Klein, whose comments are the first of 60 reviews at the Amazon US website.

She writes – "I doubt that anyone who reads "The Shell Seekers" will ever forget Penelope Keeling and her three children---Nancy, Olivia, and Noel. Nor will they be likely to forget Sophie, Lawrence, Danus, Antoinia, Richard, and the other characters that move through this spell-binding, heart-enriching novel."

"Mrs. Pilcher sets out to explore the disastrous effects that the prospect of an inheritance can have on a normal family. She also combines the lifestyle of upper-class Bohemians and the days before, during, and after World War II to tell a story that will be forever fresh."

"From the beautiful beaches of Cornwall to the idyllic setting of Ibiza to the bustling life in London, Rosamunde Pilcher transports readers to a world as satisfying as a cup of tea with a plate of warm scones. You will see Penelope grow up in the sheltering world of her artist father and young, French mother. You will share her first love with Ambrose, her true love with Richard, her most wonderful joys and her deepest heartbreaks. You will see her anguish with her three adult children as she struggles to give them independence and feels their venom. You will see her come to terms with her life and her beloved painting of "The Shell Seekers." "

"I first read this book several years ago and only yesterday finished a second reading of it. I found it even more warm and heartfelt than ever. I will make it a point to savor this most marvelous book every few years just for the pure joy it gives."

Evelyn Anthony's 79th birthday

The 79th birthday of another of my favourite authors was in "Today's birthday" list in The Times yesterday. Last month another distinguished author, military historian Correlli Barnett, whom I had the pleasure of knowing in the Sixties/Seventies, turned 80. More about him in a future blog.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

How easy it is to miss a desirable book

Also in today's blog
773 applicants for Susan Hill's writing course

Although I read the realworld issues of The Bookseller and Publishing News every week, plus book reviews in a wide range of online and printed papers and magazines, I still miss books I should like to add to our bookshelves.

An example is The 8.55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames. Yesterday, going through the 2 July 2004 issue of PN for articles to clip, I came upon this –

"In 1928, Agatha Christie travelled to Baghdad by Orient Express, a trip that was to change her life and lead to 30 more subsequent visits to Iraq and Syria on archaelogical digs. The journey, and the destination, today are very different prospects, as travel writer Andrew Eames discovered when he set out to follow her footsteps … He arrived at the Iraqi border at the same time as the UN weapons inspectors, and thus was one of the last tourists to experience the reality of Saddam Hussein's regime."

Andrew Eames doesn't seem to have a website and the only photograph of him I can find is the one shown.

The paperback of his book has been re-issued with the same jacket as the hardback. I prefer the jacket on the first pb edition [top]. Which do you prefer?

There are two national newspaper quotes and two reviews at Amazon UK.

Daily Mail, 2 July 2004
Eames can boast a lively, entertaining style. He has two great stories... and he tells them both very well.

The Independent, 9 July 2004
Eames' journey becomes absorbing in its own right... He gives vivid and atmospheric accounts.

"After her marriage broke up, Agatha Christie made a trip to Iraq to see some archeologist friends, taking the Orient Express most of the way. For a single woman to make that trip on her own in the 1920s was adventurous and fairly unusual. At the end of her journey she met her second husband, Max Mallowan, an archeologist. Almost 80 years later, Eames retraces her journey from England through Western Europe, the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East, staying--whenever he could--in the hotels she stayed in. When Christie travelled to Iraq, it was still a protectorate of the English. When Eames made his journey, the US was threatening to bomb Iraq and the Balkans had been through a vicious war. It's a fascinating travelogue, full of contrasts and links between the past and the present, which Eames weaves seamlessly together."


"Someone gave me this book, and I didnt expect to like it because i'm not a fan of Agatha christie. But actually there's a lot of great stuff in here and all the Christie bits are a bit of an excuse, really. I now understand the whole Yugoslavia disintegration - well I think I do. And Iraq in the last months before war sounds so different to what we hear about at the moment."

Wouldn't you think that if someone is bright enough to read this book, they would write "different from" rather than "different to" and also check their review and notice that "didn't" needs an apostrophe and the author's surname should be capped. I conclude the writer is a victim of the mess made by government interference in education.

There's an article by Andrew Eames about taking his small daughters to Vienna at Travel Intelligence, a site I haven't come across before.

773 applicants for Susan Hill's writing course

See link in sidebar. I have already expressed my dismay at publisher/author Susan Hill encouraging more people to clutter an already overcrowded market. Born writers don't need this kind of help. Hopeless hopefuls need active discouragement.

Yesterday I intended to continue the John Murray topic today. However it will have to wait until later in the week because I've already exceeded my 500 words allowance.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Small publisher castigates giant publisher

Also in today's blog

Response from Roland Philipps
21st century equivalent of Mary Renault?

In July 2005, an angry letter from a distinguished British publisher appeared in The Bookseller.

He wrote – "The news that John Murray is being restructured by its new owners, Headline, to publish "high quality commercial fiction [a possible contradiction in terms here?], aimed primarily at the female market" should induce feelings of nausea combined with rage in any member of the publishing community with a sense of propriety, not to mention history.

Why keep the illustrious John Murray name if they only want to prostitute it? This crime against the light is not unprecedented; those who acquired the also greatly honoured name of André Deutsch did the same. In its latter years Murray did not even publish fiction.

Hearken to the spectral voices of John Murray I-VI, if not also to the living voice of JM VII: respect what we stood for – don't use our name at all if you cannot do better than this."

The letter was signed Christopher Hurst, C Hurst & Co (Publishers) Ltd., 41 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3PL.

Had I had the pleasure of meeting him, I should have tried to convince Mr Hurst that "high quality commercial fiction" is not necessarily a contradiction in terms. But I shared his anxiety about the future of the John Murray list.

This week I was appalled to discover that a book called Sleeping Around : Secrets of a Sexual Adventuress has been published by the formerly illustrious imprint.

To my regret I shall never meet Christopher Hurst because he died in April and a memorial service followed by a reception is being held in London on July 17.

Response from Roland Phillips

In the following issue of The Bookseller, there was a letter from the MD of John Murray, Roland Philipps.

"I am frequently puzzled by Christopher Hurst's pronouncements on trade publishing, but never more so than by his letter of 15th July…As part of Hodder Headline's (sic) acquisition of the company, it was expressly stated that one of the benefits for the house would be investment in a fiction list that would be invigorated in the spirit of the great days of John Murray's past publishing.

For the publisher that has published authors who are the very definition of high-quality commercial fiction such as Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Conan Doyle, the massively selling P C Wren, Kathleen Norris and A E W Mason and, more recently, the wonderfully readable and bestselling Mary Renault, Françoise Sagan and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (still writing at the top of her form), it is an absolutely logical progression that we should once again assert our ability to publish the 21st-century equivalents of these authors."

21st century equivalent of Mary Renault?

Is a book called Sleeping Around : Secrets of a Sexual Adventuress really the 21st century equivalent of The King Must Die by Mary Renault?

I have not – and have no desire to – read Sleeping Around, but its title and jacket do not suggest it's in the same league as Mary Renault's books. More on this subject tomorrow.