Friday, March 16, 2007

Guides to historic hotels

I've been searching the web for Wendy Arnold. There's plenty of info about her books but, so far, I've found nothing about her. In 1986, Mrs Arnold published The Historic Hotels of London, A Select Guide from Thames & Hudson.

In the Preface she wrote, "London's historic hotels are as fascinating as the city itself…After investigating England's country hotels for my first book, The Historic Country Hotels of England, we settled in rural Hampshire…After six months of careful research…Of the many places to stay in London, these are the ones I would recommend to my friends…"

Both the books are illustrated with photographs taken by a New Zealand photographer, the late Robin Morrison who died untimely young.

"Until his death early in 1993, Robin Morrison was generally acknowledged as New Zealand's pre-eminent photographer. He produced work in Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and India as well as New Zealand.

He was the originator of many published works and was awarded a New Zealand 1990 Commission medal for services to photography."

My quest for Wendy Arnold also led me to the website of Clare Books which is well worth a visit, particularly if you are searching for out of print biographies.

Later I discovered that Mrs Arnold also wrote guides to the historic hotels of Paris and Spain which I'll look forward to reading.

I'm going to take the weekend off. Back on Monday.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I Married A Bestseller

I've been dipping into some of the books on our shelves which haven't been opened in a long time.

In 1978 I spent £5.50 on the hardback, published by Michael Joseph in association with Souvenir Press, of Sheila Hailey's I Married A Bestseller "an affectionately indiscreet memoir about life with Arthur Hailey".

The photo of the Haileys comes from The Bahamas News

As the peak of Hailey's fame was a long time ago, I shouldn't have been surprised to find little about him online. But he didn't die until 2004 and there's plenty of information, including this obit from The Daily Telegraph.

Extract : "Arthur Hailey, who has died at his home in the Bahamas aged 84, was one of the most commercially successful authors of all time, producing 11 books which sold more than 150 million copies, were translated into some 40 languages, and brought him tens of millions of dollars; much of it from his role as the inventor of the disaster movie."

Here's a bit from The Blog of Death.

"Although several of his books (Hotel, Wheels, The Moneychangers and Strong Medicine) were made into TV shows and films, Hailey was best known for writing Airport which stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for 65 weeks. Airport was adapted to the big screen in 1970 and helped launch the disaster movie genre. Hailey didn't write its three sequels, but he received more than $100,000 for each of them."

This is from Wikepedia.

"Each of his novels has a different industrial or commercial setting and includes, in addition to dramatic human conflict, carefully researched information about the way that particular environments and systems function and how these affect society and its inhabitants.
Critics often dismissed Hailey's success as the result of a formulaic style in which he centered a crisis on an ordinary character, then inflated the suspense by hopping among multiple related plotlines. However, he was so popular with readers that his books were guaranteed to become best-sellers.
He would spend about one year researching a subject, followed by six months reviewing his notes and, finally, about 18 months writing the book. That aggressive research — tracking rebel guerrillas in the Peruvian jungle at age 67 for The Evening News (1990), or reading 27 books on the hotel industry for Hotel - gave his novels a realism that appealed to readers, even as some critics complained that he used it to mask a lack of literary talent.
Many of his books have reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and more than 170 million copies have been sold worldwide in 40 languages. Many have been made into movies and Hotel was made into a long-running television series. Airport became a blockbuster movie with stunning visual effects.
Each of his novels has a different industrial or commercial setting and includes, in addition to dramatic human conflict, carefully researched information about the way that particular environments and systems function and how these affect society and its inhabitants.
Critics often dismissed Hailey's success as the result of a formulaic style in which he centered a crisis on an ordinary character, then inflated the suspense by hopping among multiple related plotlines. However, he was so popular with readers that his books were guaranteed to become best-sellers.
He would spend about one year researching a subject, followed by six months reviewing his notes and, finally, about 18 months writing the book. That aggressive research… gave his novels a realism that appealed to readers, even as some critics complained that he used it to mask a lack of literary talent."

The birth of a hugely successful teleplay

One of the most interesting passages in Sheila Hailey's book describes how her husband conceived the idea for his first success as a writer.

"It was late 1955. He was returning to Toronto by air from a business trip to Vancouver. The aeroplane was a four-engine Trans Canada Airlines [now Air Canada] North Star – large by standards of that time. His mind wandered to the flight deck and he visualised the two pilots at the controls. He speculated what would happen if they both got sick and couldn't fly the aeroplane. I wonder if I could fly it?

He was a rusty wartime pilot who hadn't flown for nine years, and even then, the largest aircraft he ever handled had only two engines. His mind raced on. What could put both pilots out of action? It was a Friday and there had been a choice of fish or meat for the evening meal. The answer flashed back: food poisoning from the fish.

Would there be a doctor on board? Yes – and he would also have to treat some of the passengers who had eaten the same food as the pilots. The others would have eaten the alternative choice – meat – including Arthur Hailey, who would have to fly the aeroplane, and the stewardess, who would help him at the controls.

For the rest of the trip he thought about his make-believe experience from beginning to end. By the time he reached Toronto he had worked out a scenario.

I met him at the airport.

His first words were: "'Darling, I have the most wonderful idea for a television play. Listen…' He was bubbling with excitement as he described the plot. I was caught up in his enthusiasm.

He wrote the play over two weekends and the five evenings in between…The teleplay was called Flight Into Danger, and it was presented on April 3, 1956…That single play, that single flight of the imagination, changed our lives. It was like winning the sweepstake.'

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Travelling for a book background?

I'm told that adventurous novelist Rosie Thomas is currently travelling in the Libyan Sahara and will be back next month.

Her short-listed novel Iris and Ruby is set in Cairo, partly during World War 2 and partly in the present.

The nearest I've come to Cairo was, long ago, as a soldier's wife returning from S E Asia to Europe on an old-fashioned troopship which sailed through the Suez Canal. I remember there was a sailor on board with whom I used to chat while he did canvas work, known to the uniniated as "tapestry". It may have been watching his skill with a needle that led me, much later, to become a member of The Embroiderers' Guild. More recently I've enjoyed a spasmodic email correspondence with a Egyptian novelist.

In Rosie Thomas's book, Iris is an 82-year-old retired doctor and Ruby is her 19-year-old granddaughter who arrives in Cairo uninvited and at first unwelcome.

In the war-timeflashbacks, Iris is an upper class girl working as clerical assistant to a senior Intelligence officer. She meets Captain Alexander Napier Molyneux, known to his friends as Xan. The reader senses immediately that he's going to be killed, and he is.

A paragraph I found particularly interesting is on page 237 when the young Iris, having inherited from her father the belief that British involvement in Egypt was largely benign, says to the woman doctor who inspires her to take up medicine, 'The Europeans dug the Suez Canal, laid railways lines, built hospitals and schools and colleges.'

To which the other woman replies, 'Yes, de Lesseps built the Canal but Egypt paid for it, and for all the other modernisation as well. The country ended up a hunded millions pounds in debt because the developments were financed by money borrowed from European banks at extortionate rates of interest, and the fellahin had to be taxed to the point of starvation in order to repay it. Then Disraeli took advantage of the economic crisis to buy the khedive's shares in the Suez Canal Company at a rock-bottom price. When there was an uprising the Royal Navy bombed the harbour at Alexandria, the army massacred the rebels at Tel el Kebir and occupied the country. You know the story since then.'

At which point Iris thinks : I did. The sovereign country that had finally emerged from fifty years of British control was still effectively occupied and ruled by the British.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More about Rosie Thomas

Also in today's blog - Germaine Greer biography.

To continue from yesterday, Rosie Thomas's fourth novel, Sunrise, was winner of the 1985 Romantic Novel of the Year Award.

On 6 May that year, I wrote to her. "Probably not many of your fans know yet about The White Dove; but as I am also a writer who, being sequestered on the edge of the Ebro delta, reads The Bookseller eagerly for news of the London book world, I was delighted to learn from Maggie Pringle's column that Sunrise is to be followed by a longer novel.

A letter today from the secretary of the Romantic Novelists' Association brings the news that Sunrise has won the Major Award. What an excellent choice. I thought it a splendid book from its gripping opening scene to your skilful handling of the relationship between Harry and Laura. My heart rather ached for nice Jamie, left adrift at the end. However I have a theory that books with untied-up endings linger in the mind longer. Gone With The Wind is a classic example."

The letter rambled on for a page and I sent it via Rosie Thomas's agent,
Caradoc King
of A P Watt, [see photo] unaware that he was then her husband.

Rosie Thomas sent a charming reply to my fan letter which I can't quote without her permission, and so far no one at Curtis Brown, her present literary agency, has responded to my request for her email address. They have revealed that she is out of the country and planning a website.

Will post my thoughts on Iris and Ruby tomorrow.

Germaine Greer biography

Attracted by a photo of Germain Greer on the jacket, I borrowed Untamed Shrew by Christine Wallace, the first biography of "one of the most influential and controversial figures of her day, the woman whose book The Female Eunuch defined feminism for a generation." It was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia in 1997 and by Richard Cohen Books in the UK in 1999.

In the foreword, the author, also an Australian, writes, "Greer opposed this book from the outset, and went to some lengths to sabotage what was always an honest and well-intentioned project. Her attack included personal threats and vilification, and the warning off of sources by letter, in print and through speeches. This was part of her long-expressed hostility towards literary biography, in particular that concerned with living writers."

At I found the following comments on the book.

"Germaine Greer didn't want this book to be written. Indeed, she described its author, an Australian journalist with a background in parliamentary reporting, as an "amoeba," a "dung-beetle," and a "brain-dead hack." Greer's loss, however, is a reader's gain. This profile of the nonfeminist's feminist is an admirable attempt to analyze Greer's celebrity, and the sales of The Female Eunuch, as a paradigm of postwar media success: "Take a great title, arresting cover artwork, a promotable, quotable author, add sex...." Greer's life makes a compelling story because, like so many professional polemicists, she has never been inhibited by fact, logic, or consistency. Christine Wallace's efforts to unearth the successive layers of Greer's myth reveal her as a young nonfeminist who initially dismissed her agent's suggestion for a book on the status of women; a sexual libertarian who attacked her Cambridge women's college for hiring a transsexual; and a trained scholar who subsequently declared all women academics hopelessly neurotic--only to return to the ivory tower at financially expedient intervals."
"In this unauthorized biography, Australian journalist Wallace relentlessly stalks Germaine Greer, ultimately finding few redeeming intellectual, creative or social attributes in her subject. Wallace starts out with an apparently even-tempered investigation of Greer's upbringing in 1950s Australia, her early career as actress-cum-journalist and her completion of a doctorate in English literature at Cambridge, leading to Greer's explosion into celebrity in 1970 with The Female Eunuch, a book Wallace calls a testament to "hegemonic heterosexuality." Although the bestseller made Greer synonymous with women's liberation, Wallace argues that Greer was an opportunist who took advantage of a historical moment to feather her own nest."

Reader from Malta irked by Brayfield's view

Yesterday Julie, a reader from Malta, hit one of the links I gave, then hit the comment button to write : "I just found Celia Brayfield's article about Jane Austen absolutely ridiculous. It's hardly Jane's fault if her books are constantly being adapted for the screen, is it? I think that instead of blaming Austen, Ms. Brayfield ought to blame screenwriters for failing to come up with their own plots and ideas as well as TV channels for taking the safe option and not opting for original drama if she's got a problem with too many Jane Austen movies. It's not Jane Austen's fault though if women writers aren't taken seriously by critics but rather it's the publishers' fault for always seeking to pigeonhole female authors."

Julie will be pleased to hear that, in today's issue of The Times, columnist Libby Purves disagrees with Brayfield. Her piece starts, "A backlash is a healthy thing, if only because it provokes a sharper defence of whatever is being lashed out at. Celia Brayfield’s attack on Jane Austen here yesterday struck some amusing chords — yes, many of us are bonneted-out and do not hunger for more films full of luminous Hollywood divas and chaps in breeches. Yes, there is only so much sprigged muslin one can take."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Rosie Thomas, an author deserving more limelight

Also in today's blog
Celia Brayfield's rant on Jane Austen

For the next day or two I'm going to be blogging about Rosie Thomas, one of the most interesting British writers around today, but who doesn't seem to be receiving the attention she deserves from her publisher, literary agent or the media.

Go to her publisher's website and what do you find? The briefest possible bio, sans photograph.

"Rosie Thomas is the author of a number of celebrated novels, including the top ten bestsellers White, The Potter's House, If My Father Loved Me and, most recently, Sun at Midnight. Once she was established as a writer and her children were grown, she discovered a love of travelling and mountaineering. She has climbed in the Alps and the Himalayas, competed in the Peking to Paris car rally, and spent time on a tiny Bulgarian research station in Antarctica. She took inspiration for this book from a trip to Egypt and a dramatic excursion into the desert. She lives in London."

Unable to find a picture of her at Google – even at Google Images the pictures are of another Rosie Thomas, the American singer-songwriter from Seattle – I had to email HarperCollins publicity department who sent the photograph seen here.

Before you read on, go to Meet The Author and watch and listen to Britain's Rosie Thomas talking about what she considers her best book, the non-fiction Border Crossing.

"The remarkable adventure of a recreation of the first ever international motor rally, the 1907 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. In 1996, Rosie Thomas was invited by a photgrapher and mountaineer she had met only once at Base Camp on Everest, to drive half way round the world in an antique Volvo Amazon."

Now, having seen and heard her, wouldn't you agree that she has one of the most interesting faces you've seen in a long time, plus a delightful voice which, as I wrote last week, is something not often heard on radio/TV these days?

The reason I'm blogging about her is because I've started to read my way through the short list for the Romantic Novelists' Association's annual award, to be presented at the Savoy Hotel, London, in late April. One of the final judges is Grumpy Old Bookman.

On Sunday, June 11, 2006, I blogged about last year's winner under the heading "Regretting £6.99 spent on £10,000 prize-winner".

This year I shall borrow the books from libraries or buy them in charity shops, starting with Rosie Thomas's Iris and Ruby which I found in St Peter Port's Guille-Allés Public Library.

As I already have a number of her books on my Spanish and Guernsey bookshelves, why didn't I buy Iris and Ruby? Because I've ordered a copy of Border Crossing which I read but didn't buy when it came out and have since regretted.

Here's an Review
"In December 1996 Rosie Thomas received a cryptic message. You know you want to do it. Just say yes. P. The note was from Phil Bowen, a mountaineer and photographer Thomas had met on a trek to the Everest base camp several months before. Bowen wanted her to drive half way round the world with him in an antique Volvo Amazon, in a recreation of the first ever international motor rally, the 1907 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge.
Thomas, mother of two and best selling novelist pushing fifty, didn't exactly fit the young, male rally driver stereotype but decided to do it anyway. As a young woman she hadn't travelled: "Travel was dangerous, and demanded a sense of inner strength and adjustment that I didn't possess." Now she felt more confident. "I held all the threads of my life in my own hands now, and if I wasn't going to travel while I was at the peak of my abilities and still had some physical capacity left, then I probably never would."
Border Crossing is packed with antique cars, millionaire drivers, and, of course, breakdowns--but at its core this is less a book about rallying than about personal challenges. When Thomas's health breaks down she gets little support from the mostly male crew and doctors. She craves emotional support that Phil can't always give. This travelogue takes a refreshingly frank look at the relations between women, men and cars. --Kathleen Keefe –"

More about Rosie T and her short-listed novel Iris and Ruby tomorrow.

Celia Brayfield on Jane Austen

"It is a truth universally . . . oh, give it a rest, will you? Jane Austen built a gilded cage for women novelists"
Don't miss Celia Brayfield's rant about Jane Austen in today's
The Times

It includes this – " Fast-forward two hundred years. and there I was, in my very first editorial conference at an immaculately feminist publishing house, being firmly told to cut the Second World War scenes in my novel because they didn’t belong in “books like this”. Every popular woman writer I know has had the same experience of being cut down to Austen size. Somehow I doubt that his editor told Sebastian Faulks to cut the war stuff out of Birdsong. "