Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More ado about nothing new

On Monday we noted that the Sunday Times was attempting to claim credit for exposing a book-trade scandal (retailers charge publishers for display space et cetera) when in fact the 'scandal', if such there be, was known about at least five years ago.

On Monday the ST's sister paper, the Times, rehashed the story: Secret of fees that make a bestseller. And yesterday, also in the Times, the columnist Libby Purves took a third bite at it: Reader, you're a right dimwit.

So much so fairly standard operating procedure, I suppose, at least in the newspaper world. And there's no real need to read any of it. But it's worth noting that Libby Purves repeats the statement which I do not believe to be true, namely that it was the Sunday Times which first broke this story in 2001. If the Times staff repeat it a few more times it will become established fact.

However, it seemed to me that Libby Purves did make one good point. Here it is:
You would think that, knowing how skewed the trade has become, book page editors would question the status quo as journalists do in every other area. You would think that their mission was to seek out interesting new books while scornfully ignoring hype-fests. There is little evidence of this, except in some odd and praiseworthy corners. Journalists like to feel they are up there with the “buzz”, even if the buzz is largely artificial. Where reviews do diverge from the well-trodden track of the week’s “key” books, it is often only into a cosy circuit of settling old scores, or bigging up friends who will soon return the favour. This is often undeclared, which shocks the strait-laced American media (read the New York Times arts ethical policy online, boys, and hang your heads).
Hear, hear.

1 comment:

Francis Ellen said...

Good for Libby.

It was interesting for me to read your piece on Mr. Crum.

I was trawling the web one day when I came upon something penned by the man himself. It was a paragraph encapsulating exactly those 'qualities' he looks for in a 'Novel'.

As usual, he had been bashing 'The Novel' and now he was telling 'us' what 'The Novel' should look like.

Well, stroik me dahn wiv a fevah if he didn't quote (almost verbatim) part of a review I had received from the good folks at Scotland on Sunday.

I was overcome with religious fervour. A miracle! And verily did I send off my unworthy scribblings to The Great Crum so that he might consider it, in his wisdom, and goodness. Someone who 'cares' so much about 'The Novel' would surely be stricken himself that a review should so closely resemble his own description of 'The Novel' (or at least what he tells us 'The Novel' should look like).

Now, I know these journalists are busy people. I used to be one myself and even in my tiny corner of hackdom I used to have to spend a lot of time fighting off expensive lunches in-between catching forty winks at press conferences. But Mr. Crum is the busiest of them all.

I was not naive enough to believe that the great man himself would agree with the reviewer but I had hoped that he might send a return e-mail in response to two e-mails, a copy of my novel (how do I use a smaller font for that?) and the evidence that a reviewer had used his very words to describe my lowly efforts. Perhaps some strange quantum literary effect was afoot? Perhaps a faster-than-light signal was being transmitted? Maybe it was memes moving backwards and forwards in time? Could it be written in the genes? Does coincidence really exist at all? I knew that Crum was on it and he would 'feel the pain' to get to the truth.

Alas, I live in a self-aggrandizing dream world where synchronicity seems unlikely, but such wild happenstance must be quite normal in the World of Crum.

It seems that Mr. Crum knows exactly what a 'Novel' should be, and if only he didn't spend so much time, and suffer such pains, getting to the heart of matters then he would no doubt write the 'Novel' of which he speaks, himself.

I'd bet that he didn't even give my novel the most cursory of glances; and he's quite right. Why should he spend time examining actual stories when what we really need from him is advice on what 'The Novel' should look like?

Libby Purves is spot on and good for you for ferreting it out for all to see.

Indeed, journalists should be falling over each other to find the 'story'. But they are not. To use the proper technical description: They are up the 'arses' of the publishing industry (save Mr. Crum who is too far up his own arse to bother with anyone else's shitey passages).

Why are our newspapers strewn with so many complete wankers? Why do we still have to listen to people talk about 'The Novel' as if to do so is not entirely delusional?

If Libby takes the time to find out, she'll see that the whole industry functions thus. Indeed, will we see The Times give itself over to actual journalism? Will journos at The Times read the novels before they are sent to the second-hand market? Will they dig for interesting stories or will they spend their time musing upon Holy Blood rewrites like everyone else?

Yes, I know his name is McCrum but I like Crum better.

By the way. An indpendent book shop in Glasgow is sponsoring my novel. They're giving it away free. They seem to believe that it's worth helping out writers and they hope that it will help them in the long run. I've written to forty newspapers teling them about this. I told them that the novel comes with music created by the characters within the novel. I told them that it's the first time in a hundred years that a (truly) self-published novel was reviewed in the TLS. I've told them that I have numerous e-mails from actual humans who liked the book so much that they took the time to tell me.

Not a single newspaper has run the story. Even if my book is shit, this IS a story. This is a more important story than having to listen to Crum fill his column with hot air (albeit divine hot air).

Damn. I was invited to The London Review of Books party last year (my agent couldn't go). I know I should have gone there and got rogered instead of writing to fucking newspapers.

Francis Ellen
(embittered writer)

PS apologies to Crum. I didn't feel any pain at all writing this (and we know what that means). Now I have to go back to work.

And apologies to Michael. I love this blog and I'm probably spoiling it but I have to write something every morning with a lot of keystrokes otherwise my bosses think I'm shirking.