Friday, February 02, 2007

Did you have a problem yesterday?

Also in today's blog
The Expendable Man
How long is too long?

When I finished checking yesterday's blog and clicked on the Publish button, up came a message advising me there was a problem.

At first, because the message was in Spanish, I thought the problem must be local. But a visit to Blogger's help group quickly revealed it was international. More than 7,000 bloggers had been affected.

Whatever the problem was, it was dealt with quickly, and the following statement published.
"Thursday, February 01, 2007
Some users see the error code bX-vjhbsj when trying to view a blog. We have identified the source of this error and will push the fix to the site shortly. In the meantime, hitting Refresh in the browser may workaround the problem. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Update 10:50AM(PST): The issue has been fixed. Unfortunately pushing out the new build involved a few minutes outage. We apologize for trouble."

I long to know more details but I don't suppose we shall ever learn What Went Wrong.

The Expendable Man

Some time ago a member of the small rural book group I belong to in Spain lent me the 2006 Persephone edition of The Expendable Man, first published by Random House in 1963, by Dorothy B Hughes [1904-1993].

The author bio says that Hughes' first thriller was published "to great acclaim" in 1940, with 13 others appearing over the next ten years.

The Expendable Man is well worth reading but I can't write about it without spoiling the plot for you.

Instead I'll write about Persephone, a publisher which "prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women. The titles are chosen to appeal to busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial. The books are guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget. We sell mainly through mail order, through selected shops and we have our own shop."

They have 10,000 people on their mailing list. I used to be on it myself but, after a while when I hadn't bought anything from them, quite understandbly they took me off it. The reason I didn't buy was not because they weren't offering books I wanted to read, but because, unlike many of my friends, I'm not terribly keen on online shopping…or indeed any shopping apart from occasional sorties into charity shops. Perhaps shopping, apart from necessities, is something people grow out of.

However, for those of you who haven't grown out of it yet, there are some tempting titles at the Persephone site.

How long is too long?

I don't often disagree with Grumpy Old Bookman [see link in right-hand sidebar] but I'm not sure his view on chapters lengths is sound.

He writes: "I have developed a crude rule of thumb these days. Turn to the back of the book, note the number of the last chapter, and the total number of pages. Do the arithmetic and work out the average length of a chapter. If the answer is 10 pages or below, you're probably going to be OK -- well, I am, anyway. If the answer is 35, one's heart sinks.

Here the average chapter is just under 6 pages long. Indeed the prologue is about two thirds of a single page, and it sets the scene perfectly. Chapter 1 confirms the impression that we are in safe hands, and so it goes on."

I'll do some test-counts over the weekend and return to this subject on Monday. Will also share a particularly nice email with you. For the moment…adios!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Private Peaceful - highly recommended

Michael Morpurgo was British Children's Laureate from 2003-2005, preceded by Quentin Blake and Anne Fine and succeeded by Jacqueline Wilson.

Morpurgo who, this year, is writer in residence at the Savoy Hotel, London, has written 100 books, so why I hadn't read any of them until last week was a puzzle.

Then I discovered that his first book was It Never Rained: Five Stories, published in 1974. By then our son was 15, a phase of his life when he was more interested in playing rugby, the school Cadet Corps and canoeing than in sitting about with a book.

Later, as young people do if they've been surrounded by books from birth, and both parents are enthusiastic readers, our son mixed outdoor pursuits with reading books for adults.

So it was just our bad luck, and a matter of timing, that Mr Morpurgo's output escaped our notice. However as soon as we return to summer quarters, I shall buy a copy of The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips to lay down [in the fine wine sense] for my eldest grandson, at present two and a half.

When you visit Michael Morpurgo's site, don't miss this interview which explains his extraordinary childhood.

Private Peaceful, which I read last week and recommended to Mr Bookworm, is described as "Reading level: 10-12 Interest age: 10-14". Interest age 10-95 would be more accurate: it kept two seventysomethings riveted, and the last chapter brought a lump to my throat, something which happens rarely.

The website is packed with interesting stuff, including this -

"In 1976 Michael and his wife, Clare, started the charity Farms For City Children (FFCC), which aims to relieve the poverty of experience of young children from inner city and urban areas by providing them with a week in which they work actively and purposefully on farms in the heart of the countryside. They now have three farms – Nethercott in Devon, Treginnis in Wales and Wick in Gloucestershire. "As a teacher I realised many children had little real contact with the world around them – to them the television was real. I wanted them to experience life at first hand." In the last 30 years over 50,000 children from cities and towns throughout the UK have spent a week of their lives living and working for a week on one of the three farms."

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Publishing phenomenon

Also in today's blog

Anonymous comment
No passport? How bizarre!
Two signed comments

There was a fascinating article in last Friday's Publishing News, but it isn't on their website yet.

The heading is On the road again, the shoutline Three decades ago a motorbike trip around the world became a travel classic, author Ted Simon, who has retraced the journey, reflects on a publishing phenomenon.

The article reminded me that I once rode pillion on a motorbike along jungle roads from Taiping to Penang. In recent years my acquaintance with motorbikers has been limited to seeing groups of them – many not in the first flush of youth – riding around the island of Guernsey.

Mr Simon starts his PN article – "My latest book, Dreaming of Jupiter, which Little, Brown will publish in March, could not exist but for Jupiter's Travels, a book I wrote almost thirty years ago – a book that continues to surprise me. It was the second of only six books I have written in 35 years, so I am hardly a paragon of profligacy. Furthermore, they were published at almost equal intervals and, aside from a couple, were pretty dissimilar…However, that one, Jupiter's Travels, has turned out to be a phenomenon…After 28 years it remains my major source of income and it is as close as I've come so far to a promise of life after death."

Anonymous comment

There was an anonymous comment on last Thursday's blog. "I find it hard to believe that you really feel this way about interacial [sic] marriages. They are not easy and make a lot of demands on both partners, families and friends, but they are not foolish. "

I'm not comfortable with anonymous comments. Why bother to express a view if you aren't prepared to put your name to it?

As for interracial marriages, whether they were foolish or not can only be judged several decades after they took place. If the couple still delight in each other's company thirty years on, then obviously they were right to marry.

However, judging by the number of unsuccessful same-race marriages around, choosing a husband or wife from a different race is increasing the chance of disaster.

No passport? How bizarre!

Writer, publisher and blogger Susan Hill revealed last week that she doesn't have a passport. Whether she has never had a passport isn't clear. Surely she must have been outside the UK at some time? Never to have travelled anywhere seems bizarre.

On 10 April 1951, Mr Bookworm and I, having spent our wedding night in a cheap but respectable hotel near London's Victoria Station, caught the boat train to Paris. The other day I came across my train ticket but, having put it in a safe place, now, of course, I can't find it.

Mr B had already travelled to most parts of the Mediterrean, but for me it was an unforgettably exciting first trip abroad. I loved every minute and, later that year, flew from London to Singapore and then "upcountry" to the backwoods of northern Perak.

Recently, I re-read one of my most treasured books, Ann Bridge's Facts and Fictions, [Chatto & Windus 1968] in which she writes, "In each of my novels the main character is a region or a country…"

At a more modest level, the same goes for my own books. Malaya gave me the plot for the first. The last one was based on a trip to southern Morocco. In between came Antigua, Bali, Fiji, Nepal, Nantucket and many more.

Two signed comments

It's always nice to hear from readers, particularly when, as did Lorna of Sacramento, CA, they add some interesting info about the subject of a recent blog, in this case Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I was also pleased to hear Jane had enjoyed Nick Clee's cookbook as much as I did.

The blog I posted yesterday [Tuesday] came out dated Monday. So it will be interesting to see if today's blog [being posted about noon on Wednesday] comes out with the right date.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tarzan of the Apes

Also today
Clee's new food column

It's not often that we watch television, but on Sunday evening Mr Bookworm noticed that Spain's Channel 9 was showing a film of a story he enjoyed as a schoolboy, Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The movie, made in 1983 and starring Christopher Lambert, was called Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and you can read a plot summary at CD Universe.

Extract : "GREYSTOKE is a spellbinding screen version of Edgar Rice Burroughs's 1914 classic tale. Tarzan (Christopher Lambert), the seventh Earl of Greystoke, is raised by a family of apes after he is lost as a child in the jungles of Africa. Captain Phillipe D'Arnot (Ian Holm), a Belgian explorer, discovers the adult Tarzan, now lord of the apes, and reintroduces him to the English language and to the British aristocracy. Tarzan becomes John Clayton and is taken to meet his elderly grandfather, the sixth Earl of Greystoke (Ralph Richardson), and his beautiful American ward, Jane Porter (Andie MacDowell). Living in a grand estate instead of in the trees of the African jungle proves daunting for the struggling student of British formality, but he is protected by his loving and eccentric grandfather. Jane continues to teach him about life in British society and before long has captivated John, who must learn how to deal with the strong emotions of human love. John and Jane begin their courtship despite the disapproval of British high society and are eventually engaged to be married. In the wake of family tragedy, John is forced to face his responsibility to the Greystoke family, but he is unable to reconcile his mounting distaste for modern civilization. Ultimately, he finds himself torn between his animal and human families and is forced to make a profound decision about his future. "

Rice Burroughs' first book at Tarzan was originally published in a "pulp magazine" in 1912, followed by a book edition in 1914. "So popular was the character the Burroughs continued the series into the 1940s with two dozen sequels."

Next month I'm going to read a chapter a day at The text is online at several other sites.

Wikipedia has interesting entries about Tarzan and about
the author.

What I find particularly interesting is Burroughs reaction to the book's success.

"Burroughs liked to think of himself as a hard-headed businessman and concluded that he could make an even better living if he founded his own company. And so in 1923 Burroughs became an employee of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. This was an unusual step for an author to take, although it is now quite common. Burroughs would even start publishing his own books, beginning in 1931 with Tarzan the Invincible. The last book to appear under the Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. imprint was I am a Barbarian in 1967."

I also found this -

"Tarzan was a cultural sensation when introduced. Burroughs was determined to capitalize on Tarzan's popularity in every way possible. He planned to exploit Tarzan through several different media including a syndicated Tarzan comic strip, movies, and merchandise. Experts in the field advised against this course of action, stating that the different media would just end up competing against each other. Burroughs went ahead, however, and proved the experts wrong—the public wanted Tarzan in whatever fashion he was offered. Tarzan remains one of the most successful fictional characters to this day and is a cultural icon. In 1923 Burroughs set up his own company, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., and began printing his own books through the 1930s."

But perhaps the most interesting snippet, from the Wikipedia pages on ERB, is this comment attributed to him -
"...if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines."

"Aiming his work at the 'pulp' magazines then in circulation, his first story "Under the Moons of Mars" was serialized in All-Story magazine in 1912 and earned Burroughs US$400 (roughly the equivalent of US$7600 in 2004)."

I remember thinking along similar lines when an elderly Bristol landlady introduced me to Mills & Boon romances. Not that I would have described her favourite novels quite as witheringly as "rot", but I did feel it wouldn't be difficult to write one in my spare moments between reporting assignments for the Western Daily Press.

However, the book advance plus the Woman's Own serial rights came to only £405 [in 1955] so I don't think I did as well financially as ERB on his first sortie into print.

PS According to Measuring Worth,"In 2006, £405 0s 0d from 1955 is worth £7,332.80 using the retail price index" so maybe I did do as well as ERB. But, alas, I never had a book idea as inspired as Tarzan of the Apes.

Clee's new food column

If you're into cooking, you may remember that on 4 June 2006, I wrote about Nicholas Clee's book Don't Sweat the Aubergine. Yesterday I discovered he has started to write a food column for the New Statesman, in addition to his Sceptical Cook, "a blog about everyday cooking, and how to make it work".

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Has your child/grandchild ever dammed a stream?

Also today
Charlotte Lamb and her daughter Jane Holland

On Saturday, in his Charkinblog, Richard Charkin, CEO of Macmillan, wrote a piece headed Crime shouldn't pay. It ended with this comment -

"I cannot believe that the Government would be silly enough to try to enforce unenforceable and constrictive legislation in this area. The problem is that Governments sometimes do silly things in response to tabloid headlines. The book trade should help the Government not to be silly on this occasion."

Having been around rather longer than Mr Charkin, I can easily believe that governments of all colours are capable of any folly. They have demonstrated this, usually more than once, in every decade of my lifetime and long before.

Earlier on Saturday morning I had read an article by Ross Clark, "a freelance journalist and columnist on the Spectator, Times and Sunday Telegraph" with a blog called The Red Tape Blog, described as "A look at the silly rules and ridiculous regulations that are strangling Britain".

His article was headed Big Nanny rules - When did your child last build a den, or dam a stream? Ross Clark reports on the red tape binding parents' hands and narrowing our children's horizons

Mr Bookworm spent his boyhood playing in woods and by rivers. As long as he was home by tea-time, nobody worried. Even I, an unadventurous child, was allowed to take an old frying pan to the wood at the bottom of a large garden where I managed to get a camp fire going and cook baked beans.

How many children are doing that sort of thing today?

Mr Clark starts his piece, "The growing interference of the state in the bringing up of children came home to us the day in 2005 when my wife went to a post box 50 yards from our house with our eight-year-old daughter.

Unknown to my wife, shortly before they set out our daughter had managed to lift the telephone receiver and dial 999. While my wife was out, the police rang back and found that our 10–year–old son was alone in the house. Was there, they wanted to know, anyone else with him? Who normally lived with him? Briefly, the Cambridgeshire constabulary had a major incident on its hands.

My wife returned to another call from the police. The policewoman she spoke to accepted her apologies for our daughter having caused a false alarm for the 999 service, but told her that leaving a child under the age of 11 alone in a house, no matter for how short a time, constituted neglect.

Whether my wife thought our son trustworthy or not was irrelevant, said the policewoman. As far as the police were concerned, a 10-year-old left alone in a house was on a par with a missing child."

By the way, this article is supposed to run to three pages, but I couldn't get the 2 and 3 links, or the Next page link, to work.

Ross Clark's book How to Label a Goat : The Silly Rules and Regulations that are Strangling Britain
was published in November by
Harriman House. Read the comments in the right-hand sidebar.

New look for Charlotte Lamb memorial blog

The young woman in the photograph is Jane Holland, daughter of Sheila Holland, better known as bestselling romance writer, Charlotte Lamb. I borrowed the photo from Jane's website where we read – "Award-winning poet, novelist and editor Jane Holland was born in Ilford, Essex, in 1966. She is the daughter of best-selling novelist Charlotte Lamb and classical biographer Richard Holland, moving with them to the Isle of Man in 1977, where she lived for 23 years before returning to mainland Britain.

From 1989-1995, Jane Holland played snooker on the women’s professional circuit, rising to 24th in the world, but retired from the game after a dispute with her local governing body in 1995. She began writing poetry the same year and won an ERIC GREGORY AWARD from the Society of Authors in 1996.

She founded BLADE in 1995, described by Neil Astley as ‘one of Britain’s gutsiest poetry magazines’, and edited the magazine for nine issues until 1999.

Her first collection of poetry - THE BRIEF HISTORY OF A DISREPUTABLE WOMAN - was published by Bloodaxe in 1997. The same year, she performed on the New Blood UK Tour with fellow Bloodaxe poets Roddy Lumsden, Julia Copus, Tracey Herd and Eleanor Brown.

Jane's first novel, KISSING THE PINK, came out with Sceptre in 1999 while she was at Oxford University, reading English as a mature undergraduate. Her poetry, reviews and critical articles have subsequently appeared in many UK journals, including Poetry Review, Acumen, Poetry London, The North, Mslexia, Stand, Thumbscrew, London Magazine, The London Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. She has run poetry workshops for adults and children, and has tutored for the Arvon Foundation alongside Alan Brownjohn."

Some time ago, Jane set up a blog in memory of her mother, and this has now been given a new look which I like much better than the rather gloomy original version.

Extract : "The late 70s was a golden era for Charlotte Lamb; she was working at full stretch during those years, her writing at its most confident and flamboyant, the tireless author regularly producing more than ten novels a year, some of them 100,000 + word romances and historicals for mainstream publishers.

Why was this? Perhaps because, as mentioned above, in 1978 she had moved with her family to settle in the Isle of Man, exchanging the crowds of suburban London for rolling green hills and a restless seascape. This radical move certainly seems to have inspired some of the best writing of her career, with spirited independent heroines falling in love against their will with rugged demanding heroes, often in settings of great beauty and scenic intensity. This was also the time when some of her settings became far-flung and tropical - a row of palm trees grew outside Lamb's sea-facing study in the temperate Isle of Man - while other novels still nestled cosily in rural areas of England or drew on the familiar backdrop of London's cosmopolitan bustle."