Seth Godin's post about blog traffic led me to PostSecret, a bizarre and sometimes disturbing place where people write their secrets on a postcard. For those who care about novelty, this is a wholly new 'art form' (for want of a better word), enabled by the internet. Either that or it's a clever wheeze to make money out of other people's work. There's a book involved.
Read the small print before you contribute. And it's hard on the eyes, because it's one of those white text on black background things that drive me crazy.
Was, were, and the subjunctive
A commenter on the ghostwriting post takes me to task for writing 'If I was...' instead of 'If I were...' In other words, I am told that I should have used the subjunctive mood.
Well, yes. And then again, no.
When I was writing the sentence complained of, I did actually pause before tapping further on the keyboard. I contemplated writing 'If I were...' and decided against it.
Why? Well, because of a general sense that the language is changing. And because a blog is not the most formal of contexts. And besides, I said to myself, will anyone not understand me if I write 'If I was...'? I decided not.
But, for the record, I have now consulted Authority on the question of the subjunctive.
Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd edition, as revised by Burchfield (and not, I understand, in itself universally admired) says that the standard reference work on historical English syntax has 156 pages on the subjunctive. Which is too many for me. But in the conclusion of his own (rather complicated) article on the subject, Fowler/Burchfield says that the subjunctive 'is seldom obligatory.'
If we go back 58 years to Sir Ernest Gowers's Plain Words, for a mercifully simpler explanation, we find that he does accept that it was common (in 1948) to find the subjunctive used after 'if'. However, after, quoting various instances of the subjunctive, he concludes: 'It is probably true of all of them that the indicative would have been equally correct, and certainly true that the subjunctive has a formal, even pedantic air.'
Well, as you may have noticed, the style of this blog varies wildly between the twenty-first-century informal and the eighteenth-century formal, so you may find all sorts of usages occurring. And I do not guarantee consistency in the use of the subjunctive or anything else. But I don't think I would accept the argument that 'If I was...' is, in and of itself, necessarily wrong.
As to the anonymous commenter's question -- does the ability to spot things like this qualify him as a good ghostwriter -- I suppose my answer to that is that this ability is certainly useful, and, insofar as it is indicative of close attention to detail, it is a Good Thing. But don't count on it to get you a contract.
Rosemary de Courcy
In a quiet way, Rosemary de Courcy is one of the most famous names in UK publishing. She started out (as I recall) as an editor at Futura, a mass-market paperback firm. It was about thirty years ago, when the paperback firms, particularly the American ones, were cutting each other's throats to buy the rights to books. And Rosie sold the US rights to some really rather ordinary bodice-ripper for about $300,000 -- which was quite a lot of money in those days. Hence she became hot.
She and I had a discussion at that time, about the possibility of writing a paperback original, but we never came to any agreement, and the proposed book (Counter-Coup) was later published by Muller.
Since then Rosie has gone onward and upward, but always making use of her very substantial editing skills. Never (so far as I know) tempted to write her own novels, Rosie has always had a keen nose for what is commercial and what can be sold. Really smart, in other words. Never dumb enough to fall for all the lit'ry glamour.
Now it seems, she is planning a move which will give her 'a more flexible career to take beyond pensionable age.' She has joined up with a literary agency (Mulcahy and Viney) and will also continue to provide editorial services to the likes of Maeve Binchy, Penny Vincenzi, and others. Joel Rickett has the story in the Guardian (link from booktrade.info).
Joel Rickett also reports that the Bookseller has started to publish a special bestseller list derived from the sales at 20 leading independent bookshops. This, it is believed, will give a different picture of the trade from the usual lists, which are heavily influenced by supermarket sales. For better or worse, this new list does not seem to be available online.
April Ashley tells all
You have to be quite old, and British, to remember April Ashley. But she was a big name in the tabloids some forty or perhaps fifty years ago. Why? Because April was probably the first bloke in Britain to 'have the operation' and become -- superficially speaking at any rate -- a woman. Now she's written a book.
The book, The First Lady, is written, interestingly enough, 'with' Douglas Thompson. Our Doug, a name not previously known to me, turns out to be one of the heroes of our time, i.e. a ghostwriter (mainly). As a ghost he has helped along the likes of Christine Keeler, Michael Flatley, and Paul Nicholas. What is more he writes showbiz biographies on his own. Just the sort of career, in fact, that sensible writers would aim for.
You can get a broad outline of the April Ashley story from an interview in the Sunday Times. An old show-business friend of mine performed with April in a nightclub in the 1960s. He ended up flat on his back while April, skirts a-twirling, danced above him. 'It's true, it's true!' he yelled.
Yes, I know. Terribly vulgar. But it was that sort of era. (See Boothby, below.)
Jeanette Winterson bereted
Jeanette Winterson reports that she has been 'bereted by two readers, indeed made into something of an escaped goat, for being sufficiently unfamiliar with the English language to imagine there was such a thing as a damp squid.' And she has whole lot more of the same in her entertaining column in last Saturday's Times.
Pot and kettle
Galleycat reports that John Freeman (whoever he), writing on the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors, has been criticising book bloggers who review books and then offer links to an online retailer from which, if a reader buys the book, they get a commission. Freeman claims that this is immoral and removes any shred of credibility that a litblogger might have.
Well, cheeky bugger, is all I can say. As it happens I don't (usually) link to Amazon or anyone else (although I have in the Doug Thompson bit just above), and I can't be arsed to go through the rigmarole of setting up affiliate status anyway. But what about those newspapers which happily accept advertising from publishers and then, by a curious coincidence, review books from said publishers? What are we to make of that, eh Freeman? Whassa matter --cat got your tongue?
The Boothby affair
Unless you're very old, and English, you won't remember, but once upon a time there was a politician called Bob Boothby, who later became Lord Boothby. He had a number of distinctions, not the least of which was that he was bisexual; in that capacity he not only fancied boys, but also fathered a child by the wife of Harold Macmillan, a man who later became Prime Minister (and remained married to the same wife).
The other day, when looking for something quite different, I came across a fascinating short memoir by John Pearson. It seems to have been printed, if I'm reading it right, in the Independent on Sunday on 15 June 1997.
It's too long a story to go into here, but Pearson tells how politicians, journalists, senior police officers, and various others, all saw fit to save Lord Boothby's skin, purely and simply because it suited their own interests to do so. Also involved are various murders and murderers, gay orgies, blackmail, extortion, gangs... Oh and a whole lot more.
None of this is news, really, We've had it all rehearsed in the press and in books, many a time. But John Pearson's article is an interesting read none the less. And, of course, these events have been dealt with in fiction, most notably I suppose by Jake Arnott -- a writer who does not, I'm afraid, impress me, but who has impressed other people. Unless I mistake me, Arnott's character Lord Teddy Thursby has strong echoes of Boothby.
The Pearson article appears on the web site of Bernard O'Mahoney, a writer who specialises in books on crime.
Jesus Christ never was
Never was what? Well, never was at all. Never existed. So, at least, argues Luigi Cascioli, and he has a web site in four languages to prove it.
There's a book involved. Well of course -- there would have to be, wouldn't there? And there's a law suit. And it all links up with the Da Vinci code. But how did you guess? And the web site has masses and masses of other stuff.
If you're looking for the racy bits, try the essay on Nudism and Satanism: complete with pictures. As you would expect, this has lots of stuff about clerical orgies, witchcraft, and black masses.
The most entertaining aspect of all this is that Luigi Cascioli is being represented, at the European Court of Human Rights, by that well known 'important international lawyer' Mr Giovanni di Stefano. If you want to know why that's entertaining, go here, here, and here.
99 Burning's issue 9 is out. It's just as rude, bad-tempered and pushy as ever, urging you to read something or be labelled a dipshit. The article by Jim Cherry, said to be about the publishing industry, seems to me to be about music. Or are we expected to draw parallels?
Then there's Litro, described as original fiction for the underground -- in more senses than one. What happens is, Mike Fell prints up stories and hands them out free to people going into one of London's underground stations. And you're invited to submit stories of your own.
Well, there's more ways than one to find readers, and some of the stories are also posted online at the Litro site. I recommend Mumbo Jumbo by Lynsey Calderwood. This is, at first sight, tough going because it's written in a kind of Trainspottingese, or Scots. But stick with it -- it's worth it. All in all, the Litro site is more professional and impressive than I thought it was going to be.
Litro also tells me that Foyles Bookshop hold short story readings on the last Friday of every month (in London, that is). Go to Decongested for details. It seems they've contracted Arts Council funding, which can be a fatal disease, so we must hope that they all feel better soon.
Tami Brady on the real You
Tami Brady has a new book out from the Loving Healing Press. Entitled The Complete Being: Finding and Loving the Real You, it is a bit too touchy-feely for me, but it may be exactly what you're looking for.
Tami is an archaeological contractor. (Look, I keep telling you I don't make these things up, OK?) And she is founder, editor, and reviewer for TCM Reviews, which seems to offer an essentially free review service, plus a number of for-pay promotional packages.
Loving Healing Press is what I would describe as a new-age publisher, but it certainly has an interesting range of books which are fully described on the web site. They have also taken advantage of Amazon's facilities to launch a publiblog -- something that I had heard about but not seen before.
The blog offers an intriguing account of how one of the firm's books came to be written: David Powell's autobiographical story of how a tour of duty in Vietnam nearly destroyed him mentally, and how he finally managed to recover.
Bill Liversidge on Octavia Randolph
Bill Liversidge is one of those with some faith in the digital revolution and the internet-viral marketing model -- at any rate as a device for interesting mainstream publishers who might recognise a powerful online performance, in terms of generating readers, and buy a book on the strength of it. But his faith is severely tested by the communication he has had from Octavia Randolph.
My site receives over 50,000 readers a month, from more than 60 nations. On it I have three complete historical novels, a novella, and scores of essays - over 500,000 words of text. Everything is free....
I'd like to speak to the fact that conventional publishers live in a parallel universe to those of us who publish on the WWW. It wouldn't matter to them how many readers download or access free novels on the internet, because that is just not how they decide their lists.
Hmm. Maybe a rethink is in order.
Octavia's web site has lots of good stuff on it, including an essay on Wyrd: the Role of Fate. I haven't quite figured out yet what impact wyrd has on writers, but I'm working on it. Preliminary interpretation: performing with courage and drive may help you to succeed; but if you're doomed, you're doomed.
One could go on for ever, it seems. But we must stop somewhere.
If you were wondering where you could buy a set of nipple clamps which can send and receive SMS text messages, and which can simultaneously download knitting patterns off the internet, then I have the answer. They can be found in Little-Frigging-in-the-Wold, where they are manufactured by Norbert Trouser-Quandary.
What a wonderful thing the internet is. Have a nice weekend.