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.