If you live in England, the writing of anything is complicated by the laws of libel. As indicated here in more posts than I care to contemplate, writing either fiction or non-fiction is a hazardous business from that point of view.
Peter Carter-Ruck was England's most famous and successful libel lawyer. His advice to writers was simple. To be certain that you will never be liable to pay damages for libel, you should 'refrain from writing, printing or publishing or distributing any written matter of whatsoever nature.'
You may have thought, in your innocence, that if you stuck to non-fiction you wouldn't have any trouble. After all, a fact is a fact, right?
Wrong. As usual. In America the laws on libel are less stringent than they are here -- or so one has been led to believe; hence libel tourism -- but apparently there is now a growing movement towards being super cautious and careful and checking everything and getting permission from everyone, and... Oh, forget it.
For a prime example, visit M.J. Rose's blog, where guest writer Dr Susan O'Doherty describes, in painful detail, what it feels like to be messed around by people who have been reading the health and safety handbook and taking it seriously.
That way lies madness. As I say, lie down until you feel better.
I get an email telling me that I might like to look at Schvoong.com, which offers the opportunity to download term papers, essays and the like. Presumably this is a service for students who want someone else to do the work for them. Those who write the term papers, essays, et cetera, earn some income from the site, varying according to the popularity of what they have written. The home page says that 109,077 writers are earning royalties already.
So, OK, not too impressed so far, but I go to the page which offers essays on novels. And the first item which comes up (on my visit) is an essay about Tolstoy's War and Peace. And the extract, which is supposed to entice me to read more, goes as follows:
In the novel what has been done for our present and future generations are a great asset for human civilization for peace and conflict resolving.Hmm. Shome mishtake here, shurely, I think to myself. So, mad impetuous fool that I am, I click to read more. And it really doesn't get any better.
I decide to sample the History section, and I come across a piece on Germany and the Second World War. I am not kidding when I say that I've read essays by twelve-year-old boys which were better than this. Much. English is evidently not the author's first language. Neither is anything else, by the looks of it.
In the old days, what did you do if your business went bust? You started again in your wife's name.
Something similar seems to have happened to Aultbea Publishing, mentioned here many a time, usually with a sigh. The operation seems to have resurfaced as Script Publishing Ltd.
Libby Rees is still listed as one of the authors. She, you may recall, wrote a 'book' about how she coped with her parents' divorce. Six-year-old Christopher Beale, on the other hand, seems to have vanished, as has the young lady who started it all off, Emma Maree Urquhart. Charles Faulkner is again listed as Owner.
Funnily enough, the firm's latest publication, by three brothers, hasn't attracted the national publicity that many other Aultbea authors enjoyed. Can Mr Faulkner be losing his touch?
Not that I mind being called a pompous ass, but I am intrigued as to who might be organising a little campaign in defence of John Twelve Hawks. People, you see, are still writing comments in response to my less than impressed review of The Traveller, even though it appeared nearly two years ago.
Or perhaps I am over-sensitive. Perhaps these comments are not being orchestrated at all. Perhaps it's because of Google. I just typed "John Twelve Hawks" into Google, and my 2005 post came out fifth in a list of 142,000 references. Go figure.
A similar situation applies in relation to Kathy O'Beirne. Type her name into Google and my post of 20 September 2006 comes out top of 61,100. I think this is probably a function of the fact that Blogger is owned by Google.
The Sunday Telegraph advises you to sell your WH Smith shares. 'The retail sector is not a good place to be at the moment... Although WH Smith management, under chief executive Kate Swann, has an excellent track record of delivering profit, observers point out that UK high street sales remain weak.'
Dale Slamma tells us that the Australian Society of Authors is none too amused by the actions of Angus and Robertson (see last Thursday).
In the late nineteenth century, Professor Meiklejohn wrote An Outline of the History of English Literature. My copy is the twentieth edition, 1905. In a general clearout of old books, I am about to get rid of it.
Before dumping it, however, I noticed that I had particularly marked page 51. This tells the story of William Collins (1721-1759), a poet and friend of Dr Johnson. His Odes, says the Professor, appeared in 1747. 'The volume fell still-born from the press: not a single copy was sold; no one bought, read, or noticed it. In a fit of furious despair, the unhappy author called in the whole edition and burnt every copy with his own hands.'
And yet, Meiklejohn adds, this book was, with the single exception of the work of Burns, 'the truest poetry that had appeared in the whole of the eighteenth century.'
There must be a moral here somewhere. If only I could work out what it is.