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.