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.


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