Now here's a sad story.
Back in October 2005, Publishers Lunch reported that Bloomsbury had bought a novel by Belinda Starling for publication in June 2007. Its title was The Binding, and it was the story of a bookbinder's wife, in 1860s London, who took over her husband's business and ended up working on high-end pornography.
Given my established interest in Victorian porn, I made a note of this, and recently I decided to see what was happening about the book. Finding no mention of it on Amazon, I googled the lady's name -- only to find out, alas, that Belinda Starling died in August 2006. She as 34, and she died of complications following bile-duct surgery. Judging by the photographs accompanying this report, Belinda was a beautiful and multi-talented young woman.
Belinda's book will reportedly now appear in November 2007, under the title The Journal of Dora Damage.
The prolific doctor
Still struggling with your first book? Oh dear oh dear. Why so slow? Follow the example of Dr Vernon Coleman, surely one of the UK's most prolific authors, who seems to produce half a dozen books a year.
Dr Coleman has so far produced 114 books, and has also written some 5,000 articles for 100 or so magazines. He was a columnist on the UK Sunday The People, until he fell out with them about Iraq. The good doctor's range includes both fiction and non-fiction, and he is, you will rapidly discover, a man with firm opinions on all sorts of things, from animal rights to cancer to politics (he regards Mr Blair as a 'traitor and war criminal'). Clearly not a man who suffers from writer's block.
A game of tag
It turns out that Amazon has put money into Shelfari. Some book-world observers hold the view that, in the digital future, readers are going to need new and improved guides to what to read. There will no longer be big window displays on the high street, and piles of books inside the superstore, to give people a nudge. So recommendations from other readers are thought (in some quarters) to be the answer to the filtering and selection process which once used to be performed by the big publishers and their marketing departments.
Some observers argue that sites such as Shelfari, with their user-created systems of tagging, are the answer. See also LibraryThing; AllConsuming.net (another Amazon-backed initiative); and Debbie's Idea. (Links and hints from Publishers Lunch.)
Meanwhile, Waterstone's managing director Gerry Johnson warns the troops of impending change on the high street. Link from booktrade.info.
Lies, damned lies, and favourite books
Most UK newspapers last week carried reports of an alleged list of 'the nation's favourite books'.
What can one possibly say? Well, for a start, I suppose there are some people around who are so young, so badly educated, and so lacking in intelligence that they will actually believe that an 'opinion poll' which uses the data provided, online, by 2,000 self-selected people, is somehow truly representative of what the British nation thinks.
And perhaps it is worth saying that, in terms of social science, the methodology of this opinion poll lies somewhere between the pathetically incompetent and the deliberately fraudulent. This did not, of course, discourage most of the leading newspapers from presenting the results as if they actually mean something. See, for instance, the Times, Telegraph, and Guardian.
Surely even the dimmest young reporter must have smelt a rat, just by looking at the results? You would think so, wouldn't you?
We are asked to believe, for instance, that Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is the fifth favourite all-time book among male readers. OK. Now, just for the record, let me say that I spent my entire working life in academic institutions, the last 25 years of it in a university. So I think I can say that I mixed with some fairly intelligent and well-read people. And in the whole of that time I never, ever, came across anyone who had read Crime and Punishment. I did, on the other hand, meet a lot of people who had read the entire Ian Fleming canon, though Fleming, naturally, appears nowhere in last week's list.
The list of 'the nations's favourite books' can therefore, quite safely, and quite accurately (in metaphorical terms) be dismissed as a large pile of peculiarly smelly horseshit.
Sam Leith's blog post on the Telegraph site got it more or less right.
Abebooks has a feature on the most valuable science-fiction books and book-related material. (Moral: never throw away your old manuscripts, complete with editor's comments.) There's also an interesting piece about collectable film scripts. And while you're over at Abebooks, there's an interview with me, for what it's worth.
Any Amount of Books, which still seems to be on London's Charing Cross Road, despite rumours of rent rises driving the bookshops out, now has a blog. How much are your unwanted books worth? Find out here.
Wanderingscribe continues to keep a rather testy eye (can you have a testy eye?) on the latest doings of allegedly homeless person Anya Peters -- which is not her real name, I now gather. Her book, by the way, is due out on 8 May.
Bear Parade has posted My Eventual Bloodless Coup, by Ofelia Hunt.
The Tempest Press folk ('paradigm-tipping, barrier-breaking, web-aware, blog-besotted publishers') now have a blog of their own.
Barry Beckham has just published his first novel for 20 years, and has made a free preview copy available online.
Noah Cicero has a new book out: Treatise. And one reviewer likes it better than one of Salman Rushdie's.
Bebo have launched a new short-story competition -- for nanotales.
All is still not well at WH Smith. See Kevin Baines's comment on my post of 25 November 2004.
Daniel Scott Buck points out that the truth is always stranger than fiction.
Dave Lull points out that Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan will be published on 17 April. Essential reading after you've read my On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile -- which is free, folks.
Salt Publishing is a UK-based independent publisher doing poetry and short stories and a lot more.
A new issue of the Jimston Journal is just out: fiction, photography, poetry, reviews. And a piece about elders: Are we irrelevant? Should people pay more attention to us?
Lynne Scanlon considers why wannabes are reluctant to pay a modest fee to have their work assessed by a professional judge.
Kitty Myers tells me that J.K. Rowling is suing ebay. And the Guardian (link from booktrade.info) says that UK indie bookshops are trying to work out ways to sell the new Harry Potter when they can't even buy it as cheaply as Tesco is selling it. (And, yes, last time some indies did get their stock from Tesco.)