M.J. Rose talks about the advantages and disadvantages of mass-market publication. As you thought, snobbery in the book world is rife.
Using real people for characters
Most first novels -- at least of the literary kind -- seem to be more or less autobiographical, and frequently the characters are recognisable. This may, to say the least, cause embarrassment. It may cause financial disaster to both author and publisher.
The Literary Saloon describes a case in Germany at the moment which rather proves the point.
Many new and young writers seem to think that basing their novel on real people is a normal procedure, and indeed that it is rather amusing. However... One of my own publishers told me about a book he'd published in which the author had, unknown to the publisher, used the names of all the people in his home village. The book had to be pulped, at considerable cost. And I don't think the publisher asked to see the author's second book.
Many and numerous are the cases where an author has been too ignorant, or lazy, to check the name of his professional doctor or army officer character against the lists of various members of these professions; this can be an expensive failing. Even the experienced Fay Weldon got caught out once.
And so on. The list is extensive. My advice: make everything up. Invent the story, invent the characters entirely from scratch; check names against lists. For bad guys use very common names (there are thousands of Michael Allens, for example). Don't really on real life for inspiration: use your imagination.
Writers are, after all, supposed to have an imagination. It goes with the job. It's like... undertakers having a long face, and pawnbrokers having three balls.
Clancy Sigal, whose book about his 'fast-talking, redhaired, sexy, unwed mother Jennie, a firebrand union organizer', was mentioned here on 21 March, is interviewed in the Chicago Sun-Times -- Chicago being her home town. Link from Publishers Lunch.
New indie paradigm (I think that's the right word)
Independent bookshop owners all over the world are scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to survive in the face of Wottakars and the equivalents in every nation. Well, here's the latest wheeze as worked out by the owner of BookBeat in Fairfax, California: get rid of the books.
This isn't as silly as it sounds. Gary Kleiman, the owner of BookBeat, has stripped out the big bookstacks in the centre of his shop and has just retained those along the walls. He gave most of the store's 4,000 books to charity.
He also built a stage, where musicians play three to four nights a week, he got himself a beer and wine license, and now offers free wireless Internet access. BookBeat has become mostly a virtual bookstore. Instead of stocking a large inventory of new and used titles, Kleiman offers next-day service for most book orders. Customers order books by phone, then pick them up at the store.
Full story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Link from Publishers Lunch.
Brick Lane meets brick wall
A while back, Monica Ali wrote a novel called Brick Lane which attracted a good deal of favourable attention and was shortlisted for the Booker. Now someone is making a movie of it.
However, Dibs has noticed that the residents of the real Brick Lane neighbourhood (in London) are trying to prevent the film being made in their area, on the ground that it's racist. The residents are mostly Bangladeshi and they are none too pleased with young Monica. You know how it is, if a neighbourhood gets the wrong reputation, property prices go down the tube.
Dibs hasn't read the book, and neither have I, so we can't possible comment. However, one commenter on Dibs's post understands what is going on perfectly:
The book tries to make out that all Sylheti people (Bangladeshis in this country mostly from Sylhet, Hobigonj, Moulvi Bazaar and Shunamgonj) are backward. No community likes to be perceived to be illiterate. Anyway, we know most Dhakaiya Bangladeshis donÂt like Sylhetis because we are better off than them because there are more Sylheti people living in UK, US, Canada, Italy etc than from any other region. So it is envy that makes them attack us.Right... I think I've got that.
Susan Hill's new blog
Susan Hill has a new blog, as of yesterday. The old one is still open for reference but will not be updated and comments are closed.
Chief item to look at is Susan's suggestion for a 'Book Bloggers' Prize. This will be -- if it takes off, and it's still in the early discussion stages -- a prize for a new book published in 2007. Susan herself has offered to put up an initial £1,000 as prize money, which is above and beyond the call of duty, and details are still to be worked out. Input is requested.
As many readers will know, Susan is a well established novelist, playwright, and publisher; her books are actually set for examinations, and she gets thousands of letters from students. She also blogs. And, as if that was not enough, she's doing an MA in Theology. 'The new module arrived,' she says gleefully, 'in a huge exciting parcel. It is the last module before the dissertation as I am moving into my 3rd year, and it is on THE CISTERCIANS IN THE 12TH CENTURY IN ENGLAND AND WALES. Bliss.'
Well quite, quite. Nothing to brighten one's day like a module on the twelfth-century Cistercians, as I'm sure you'll agree.
The Museum of Just Not Getting It
Jon Jermey and friends have a site called The Museum of Just Not Getting It. This is dedicated to descriptions of devices and dodges used by big, famous companies to prevent -- oh my God!!! -- anyone copying their precious digital files. Result, as often as not, catastrophe, big company made to look extremely dim, bad publicity, and a lot of really pissed-off users who proceed to exercise their not inconsiderable skills to get round any and every stupid piece of DRM ever introduced, and to to spread the word as far as possible.
This is what's known in the non-digital world as shooting yourself in the foot.
Jon Jermey, by the way, is based in Australia and is a hotshot indexer. Both the old kind of indexer (books published by McGraw Hill et cetera), and a new-fangled webindexer. No, I didn't know you could either, but Jon and Glenda Browne have written a whole book about it.
Jon has also written three novels.
Value for money?
Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly, this week tells an everyday story of a big-time author transferring from one publisher (Random House) to another (Harper). Name of writer: Adriana Trigiani. (Obviously has a Welsh background.) Alleged advance involved: $3 million.
Can't say I've ever heard of Ms Trigiani, but that's neither here nor there. Point is, she sells. But what caught my eye was this: 'Don't forget the woman's amazing gift for promotion; surely Jonathan Burnham, the newish Harper head who is himself no stranger to razzle-dazzle, is factoring in her tireless book-clubbing and reading and greeting, all of which move books.'
Note that: tireless. See, another thing you need to be a big-time writer these days is boundless energy. And it seems that Ms Trigiani once travelled on the comedy circuit, so no wonder she's good at working audiences. Energy plus other talents too, you see.
I hope you're taking notes of all this. Oh, and she's already been on Richard and Judy, 2004. And she's been a writer/producer on The Cosby Show, and it seems that, to get her first novel off the ground, she spent a year and a half getting up at three in the morning, in order to write before she went off to work on a TV show.
I don't think I'm strong enough to read any more of this. Especially with it being so hot. $3 million sounds pretty cheap to me.
Oh, I've just noticed. She has a three-year-old daughter. Well, you know how it is. You need something to fill up your spare time, or you get bored.
The London Magazine
Just a reminder that The London Magazine is still around. Originally founded in 1732, the magazine was re-launched in 2002, when Sebastian Barker took over the editorship from Alan Ross. Today, the magazine is intended 'for those who enjoy reading stories, poems and articles by the leading authors of today; for those who want to follow the development of new talent at home and abroad; [and] for those who look for first-class criticism by a first-class team of reviewers.' Recently the magazine has decided to cover all the arts.
I used to read this magazine in the 1950s, but I was much more highbrow then than I am now, and it's got a bit ethereal for me. However, it's a prestigious place to get published or reviewed.
Gin palace and royal gossip
Before I forget, last weekend's Sunday Times carried an extract from Behind Palace Doors by Major Colin Burgess, which will be published by John Blake on August 7. Burgess was once an equerry (= gofer) to the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at the age of 101.
The Queen Mum (mother of the present Queen Elizabeth II) was, shall we say, a bit of a character. She wasn't an alcoholic, says Burgess, but she was a keen social drinker, and her life was very social. He gives us an amusing and fairly no-holds-barred account of life in the royal family, and his book will no doubt sell well.
If you're into royal gossip, however, there are two other books which are essential reading. The most famous is Kitty Kelley's The Royals. This was so scurrilous that, even today, the book is clearly marked NOT FOR SALE IN THE UK on Amazon.
Of course, with a family as big and as ancient as the Windsors, there is masses of scandal which is undeniably true. But, as with every other public figure, there is also masses of gossip which is wildly exaggerated. The problem with Kelley's book, at least to a trained historian like myself (he says modestly), is that she doesn't distinguish between the two. Total nonsense is presented alongside established fact, as if the two were equally valid. And frankly, as often as not, the established fact is at least as shocking as the conjecture.
A better book, if you really enjoy scuttlebutt, is Lady Colin Campbell's The Royal Marriages. As I remarked on 30 November 2004, The Royal Marriages makes Kitty Kelley's opus look a bit tame. Campbell's technique is quite different from Kelley's. Instead of asserting that such and such is a fact, she tells us that various wicked lies have been told about the British royal family, and then proceeds to tell us what they are. (E.g. that at least two of the present Queen's children were fathered by someone other than her husband.) And there was lots more in the same vein.
In today's Times, the blogger Tim Worstall has an excellent Comment piece about the need for free speech. Well said Tim. And on his blog today, Tim is less than pleased with the outcome of a recent prosecution of some alleged terrorists.