Oh woe, and again I say woe. Various news reports say that W.H. Smith, the UK's leading bookseller -- give or take a bit -- saw a rise in annual profits but a fall in sales. Book sales were down 5%.
Kate Swann, the boss lady, for whom my regard rises (admittedly from a lowish base), says that spending on books remains subdued. Christmas will be hard this year -- employees will be forced to dine on supermarket chicken rather than turkey. (Links from booktrade.info.)
Publishers Lunch says that UK bookselling still looks grim.
Nicolas Clee's Hot Type column in the Saturday Times is usually good for an entertaining snippet or two, and this week was no exception.
First, be glad you're not German. Translations from English into German normally add, it seems, one third to the length of a book. So Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games (crime fiction, it is said), which is 900 pages in English, becomes a total of 1350 in German, and is to be issued in two volumes.
Then there's the question of big advances. Agent Andre Wylie, known as The Jackal on account of his charm and co-operative manner, claims that he once sold a book for $2 million and the editor 'entirely abandoned' it. Presumably just got bored. And who can blame him? Lots of $2 million books have the same effect on me.
In the 1960s there was a famous book called Cowboy Kate. It was a collection of photographs, mainly young ladies, dressed -- in so far as they were dressed at all -- as cowboys. And it should have been right up my street, because I was interested in photography in general and decorative young ladies in particular. But I just couldn't warm to it: it was pretentious, in my view, and the girls weren't even particularly attractive. And my personal opinion was that the photography was very run of the mill. An early example of hype, I thought, though I'd never heard the word then.
Even in 1965, however, there was for some reason a lot of weight behind the book, and it was hailed as original, exciting, groundbreaking, and all like that. This publicity drive was so successful that the 1965 edition of Cowboy Kate is currently selling on abebooks for about £175 to £850.
But now we have a new edition of Cowboy Kate, labelled the 'director's cut'. Issued by Rizzoli in the USA, in the current month, its list price is $45. The publisher again refers to it as a 'groundbreaking publication', though quite what that means I am not sure. Reminds me of digging graves somehow. Haskins is also said to have 'reinvented the genre of the nude', which is pure drivel.
What is happening here, you see, is that various parties, for their own good reasons, are trying to drive up the price of Haskins's work. The giveaway is the name of Philippe Garner as author of the foreword.
Philippe is a director of Christie's, and whenever you see his name associated with an artist, photographer, or trend, you know that Christie's have decided, or sensed, that this is to be The Next Big Thing, thus driving up prices in the saleroom and increasing Christie's commission.
Some twenty or more years ago, Philippe Garner was host to the single most paralysingly alcoholic lunch that I have ever attended. I was taken to it by Charles Robertson (of Robertson's jam), who was a wealthy collector in his own right, and a man with excellent taste. He was also Chairman of the Trustees of the Holburne Museum in Bath, and we were there to discuss possible co-operation between the two bodies. I don't recall that anything much ever resulted: apart from an afternoon spent drinking black coffee.
Amanda Craig on the new Peter Pan
In J.M. Barrie's will, he left the copyright of his famous story Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Not surprisingly, the Hospital is seeking ways to generate the maximum income from this gift before the copyright expires, and one recent project was the commissioning of a sequel to the original Barrie book.
Geraldine McCaughrean was the winner of a competition involving 200 writers, and got to produce an official sequel, just published, called Peter Pan in Scarlet. Amanda Craig has reviewed it in the Saturday Times.
Amanda says the Barrie's original tale struck her as 'terrifying', which is exactly the word that I scribbled in the back of my copy when I re-read it a few years ago.
The McCaughrean book doesn't get a full five stars in the Times, but enough to convince me that I ought to read it. After all, as mentioned here before, I myself once wrote a prequel to Peter Pan (by agreement with the Hospital). It was in the form of a stage play, and it featured Captain Hook. Producers keen to make me offers for the rights should form an orderly queue outside my door.
Science fiction wins Nobel Prize
Good grief! Can this be true? A man who wrote science fiction (plus other work) won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Martin Rundkvist has the story. OK, so it was SF in the form of a poem (103 cantos), but even so.
On Saturday night to the Ustinov Theatre, in Bath, to see Entartete Musik, written and directed by Jude Alderson (a woman, it turns out). Entartete means degenerate, and it's what Hitler called all radical music, cabaret songs, jazz, and so forth.
The show consists mainly of Berlin cabaret songs from the time of the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933. Interweaved are a few snapshots of what life was like in Germany at the time, particularly for the Jews.
This particular show was performed by three attractive and talented young women, plus a ditto pianist, and it has been around for a while so doubtless will continue to tour. Very much worth seeing.
I couldn't help pondering, as I watched this performance, on parallels between the Jews in 1930s Germany and the Muslims in today's England. In the 1930s, were there, I wondered, any mad rabbis going around encouraging young men to kill, maim, and generally attack the people of the country in which they lived? Not so far as I know. And yet look what happened to the Jews.
Compare that with some of the Muslim mouth-frothing that goes on here today. (We will allow, for the sake of argument, that this comes from a tiny minority of Muslims; though the allowance is open to question*.) And yet what do the English do? A few outraged articles appear in the Daily Mail, and, er... well, that's about it. Can this situation last for ever, I ask myself.
But not for very long, because this blog does not do politics and religion.
*See Madame Arcati's note on Rupert Murdoch's take on this issue.
Sue Townsend returns
Sue Townsend has another book out soon. You can read about it in the Sunday Times. She has returned, this time, to dealing with the Royal family, who were the subject of an earlier novel and stage play entitled The Queen and I.
The new book (Queen Camilla) is a sequel to the earlier work, which had the Royal family kicked out of Buck House and reduced to living on a council estate. They're still there, but now Camilla is among them.
The Conservative party intends to restore the monarchy, but the Queen herself can't face it. So she sends Charles a letter.
Well it all sounds like fun, doesn't it?
At 9.30 this morning I abdicated my position as Queen of Britain, the Commonwealth etc. etc. etc.
PS It's wheelie bin day today.
PPS Give my love to Queen Camilla.
The news about Sue Townsend's diabetes is not good. It is now robbing her, at age 60, of her balance, kidney function, and, of course, eyesight. Moral: if you're able to breathe and walk around, stop complaining. As my grandmother used to say, there's always somebody worse off than yourself.
The shape of things to come
The Sunday Times also contains a cracking good article by Bryan Appleyard about how the book trade in general, and bookselling in particular, are going to change over the next few years.
Appleyard is a very distinguished journalist (three times feature writer of the year). He is also the author of a number of books.
His current ST piece is entitled 'A novel use of technology', and it is a lucid account of the impact which print-on-demand technology will shortly have on the huge high-street bookshops, and on publishing in general.
There is, in truth, not much that is new here -- at least if you've been paying attention. Unfortunately, many people in the book trade are not paying attention. Proof? Well, anecdote. Back in 2001, when Jason Epstein's Book Business came out, it said all the things that Appleyard is now saying. I bought and read the book immediately, and whenever I bumped into a book-trade participant that year (and I bumped into quite a few) I asked them if they had read it. I never met anyone who had.
Interestingly, Appleyard's prophecies exactly mirror some of my own (and mine aren't original either), even down to the suggestion that many bookshops will soon shrink 'roughly to the size of a branch of Snappy Snaps.' Only the other day I was asked by another blogger for my favourite prediction. Here is part of what I said:
My prediction is that, within ten years, and probably a lot less, many of us will be buying our books from a new kind of bookshop. This 'bookshop' will be small - very similar to a one-hour photo shop - and it will not hold stock. Instead, it will print out books from a digital file, and these books will be indistinguishable from the factory-made paperbacks of today. Instead of being printed in a run of, say, 10,000 copies, these books will be printed one at a time, as and when a customer in a particular shop wants a copy.I'm not suggesting, of course, that Appleyard got his ideas from me (though he does list the GOB as one of the blogs to read to keep up with things). We probably both picked up most of our ideas from Epstein and similar sources. What I am saying is that, both to Appleyard and to me, all of this seems perfectly obvious. But we might be wrong, I suppose.
(See also my note about Jason Epstein on 5 October.)
Jeffrey Archer has a blog. Yes, I do realise that you don't wish to know that, but I thought you ought to be told. For the good of your soul. You have Bryan Appleyard to thank for the info.
The Archer blog looks suspiciously literate to me, for a man who is rumoured to be crap at spelling and punctuation. Perhaps he dictates it to his secretary.
Ali Karim, of Shots magazine, tells me that he has heard a rumour that the No Exit Press is going to publish a novel called Gangsters Wives. This will be written by 'a very well known British crime writer', but will be published under a pseudonym. It is apparently a full-on erotic gangster novel.
Hmm. Presumably this will be some sort of spoof on the UK down-market hit TV series, Footballers' Wives. Plus a dash of Readers' Wives. But so far Amazon haven't heard of it, which means -- last I heard -- that it isn't on the Nielsen Bookdata database. And it isn't on the No Exit web site either.
If the story is true, we can all start to play the game of whodunit. My candidate is Maxim Jakubowski. Although, come to think of it, he probably wouldn't bother with a pseudonym; unless it was for contractual reasons.
More fact and fiction
David Lodge discusses an another reason for not using living people in your novel (or TV play, film, et cetera). It is, he says, an unacceptable invasion of privacy. Story in today's Times. It's OK if they're dead, though.